Chapter 47.2



Author’s Note: First new update to the new website! Here you’ll see the pace of the story shift a little bit as I try out a new format. In an attempt to get back on the horse and make updates easier, I’ve decided to do shorter segments twice a week for a time. Because of this, the story may adopt an almost “slice of life” feel to it. Please let me know what you think!


KALI___________________________

I slept in the room Nyx had been using since arriving at this blasted tower.

The bed felt strange. Uncomfortable. After wasting what precious little night I had left tossing and turning, I gave up and moved to the floor with just a pillow and my back against the wall. 

I only remember shutting my eyes. When I opened them again, the suns had traveled far across the sky and the shadows in the room had grown long. It must have been late afternoon.

I rose and reached my hands high up over my head in a stretch. I paused as I looked up.

My hands

I had hands.

I lowered these before my eyes and furrowed my brow.

So seldom had I assumed this form, and yet I moved with a familiarity that came second-hand from Nyx. It took only a little self-awareness to recognize how foreign this actually was. 

I also felt tall. Not just that. Exposed, too.

As a beast, I walked on all fours, with my belly turned to the ground. Baring my stomach to anyone was a sign of trust. Or, when fighting a threat, a highly defensible position. You could use all four paws to claw and kick with. 

Right now, I didn’t feel particularly trusting of anyone, but I didn’t really want a fight either. My exposed belly fostered uneasy aggression in me, even standing alone in this room.

I wrapped my arms around my stomach to try and quell the feeling as I descended down the spiral stairs to the kitchen.

From my dream-like observation through Nyx’s eyes, I knew that Quincy was usually here, preparing the meals for the day. She wasn’t anywhere to be found. 

Annoyed by her absence, I next crossed the foyer to the study, but she still wasn’t there. Hakeem was, however. He was sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace with his back to me, reading a book.

My nose flared from the archway, and after sorting out the ashy aroma of the fireplace and the moldy stench of the old shelving, I picked out the man’s scent. 

He smelled like the Hakeem I remembered. But Elmiryn was certain he was a pretender. Some evil creation sent by Izma.

It was clear that Quincy didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t really know what to make of the man before me. He didn’t appear to be an immediate threat, but my instincts still murmured to be on my guard. I listened.

I made a point of dragging my feet on the floor as I approached the man. “Where is your wife?” I asked.

Hakeem turned his head. “Oh! Good morning, Nyx. You slept in quite a bit. Arrived late, did you?”

“Not Nyx,” I growled. “I’m Kali.”

Hakeem’s dark eyes went wide. “I see.”

“Where is Quincy?” I asked again.

The man’s gaze cast down and a worried crease appeared on his strong brow. “She’s… ill from overindulging. Quincy has never been a heavy drinker.”

I rubbed my stomach, trying still to make calm my crackling nerves. Even as I did this, I couldn’t help but snap, “I didn’t ask about her wellbeing, I asked where she was!

Hakeem looked at me, clearly startled. “I think she is still in the barn.”

“And has Daedalus returned yet?”

He shook his head. “No. I confess I find it odd. With luck the old elf is safe. His medicine will be needed soon.” The crease in Hakeem’s brow deepened as his eyes took on a shadow of worry. “I went down to relieve Paulo of his watch, but the boy refused. I tried to insist, but he said Elmiryn would react badly to my presence…”

Hakeem looked at me and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as his dark gaze became uncomfortably focused. “Do you have any idea why she would dislike my help?”

I pretended to think about it by placing both hands on my hips and turning my eyes up in thought. I had to be careful. The vermagus powers I shared with Nyx could give away the truth. 

After a short moment, I gave a small shake of my head. “No.”

The man hummed. His eyes turned down to his book again.

I didn’t want to stay here and continue pretending everything was normal. I turned on my heel and started for the front door.

Outside the air was so fresh and pleasant that I couldn’t resist stopping and taking a deep breath. The tension in me eased, and I finally let my arms fall away from my stomach.

I looked out over the swaying field, then to the gray-blue mountains beyond. The peaks cut up into the azure sky, some reaching so high as to vanish into the scattered clouds.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Nyx mused quietly from her place in my mind. Since arriving here, all we’ve done is fret and bicker, and we haven’t paused to take in what a wonderful place this once was.

My lips curved down as my eyes narrowed. “Wonderful, save for the mind witch who allowed herself to be led astray.”

My sister sighed. Yes… Poor Lethia.

I snorted. Of everyone, the young enchantress probably had the least of my sympathy.

I crossed the short distance from the tower to the barn and entered to find Lethia standing at one of the stalls, gazing down. She turned when she heard me approaching. Her eyebrows lifted.

“Kali?” she asked.

I blinked at her, stopping short. “Yes. How did you know?”

Lethia tapped her temple, a slow grin forming on her peach lips. “I can usually sense the top layers of people’s thoughts. It’s like a mental signature. Yours is distinct from Nyx’s.” She shrugged. “I’m not actually familiar with your patterns, but when I sensed it was so different, it was easy to guess who you were.”

I nodded. Despite my reservations, I had a grudging respect for Lethia. She was smart and to the point. But she was still naive, and her ambitions were dangerous. I couldn’t stay blind to that.

Nyx may have been quick to forgive the girl for the crimes she was party to, but I was not. Even being unaware of Izma’s exact intentions, the girl knew the demon was a threat. My sister had suffered much because of their brief collaboration, and I shared in that pain. Every aching part of it. 

Until I saw Lethia do more to repay her debts, I would keep my dealings with her short and my eye wary.

“Oh…” Lethia frowned in the wake of my brooding silence. “You dislike me.”

Every muscle in my body clenched. I hissed at her. “Don’t read my thoughts!”

The girl flinched and held up her hand. “Sorry! Sorry. Even without hearing your thoughts explicitly, you bleed more of your emotion than Nyx does.” She blushed and shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s, um… not unlike my readings from Argos.”

My lip curled. “Did you just equate me to your stupid dog?”

Lethia placed her fist on her hip as her gaze took on a sharp glint. “Do not insult Argos!”

I crossed my arms and shifted my weight to one foot. “Then stop drawing ridiculous parallels! I’m nothing like him!”

“Both of you shut the hell up… I’m trying to sleep!” Quincy groaned from the stall.

We glared at each other for a moment before I approached and stopped at Lethia’s side. Looking into the stall, I saw Quincy lying on her side on a bed of hay, her arms covering her head. 

She was in a state of undress. She’d pulled off her boots, but she’d only managed to remove one of her socks, the other only half-pulled off her foot. Her tunic lay discarded on the ground behind me. Quincy’s blouse was sloppily untucked, the front strings loosened to reveal she’d done away with her chest brassiere as well. 

The worst of it was the bucket she’d failed to vomit into completely. Its rancid stench, mingled with Quincy’s desperate sweat, burned my nose and made my stomach turn.

“You fucking moron,” I said. “I told you drinking was a bad idea!”

“Oh, fuck off, Kali,” Quincy groaned. “Leave me alone…”

“You’re a stupid bitch, and I’m not leaving you alone,” I snarled back.

Do you have to curse? Nyx whined.

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll curse if I fucking want to, Nyx.”

Actually, I quite enjoyed it. It made it easier to voice my contempt.

It’s a lazy way to voice it

“Piss off. I said I’ll do what I want!”

When I looked at Lethia and Quincy, the pair were giving me weird looks. My cheeks grew hot and I snapped, “I’m obviously talking to my sister! Don’t judge me!”

“Nyx is looking like a beacon of normalcy compared to you, Kali,” Quincy chuckled weakly. She stopped almost immediately, giving me a blip of satisfaction as the wizard clutched her head. “Ugh…”

“Don’t tease,” Lethia chided softly. “Kali needs time to get used to being in control.”

“I don’t need your pity, Lethia,” I growled.

Lethia turned a cool eye on me. “When you have my pity, I’ll let you know. For now, all you have is my disdain. May we refocus, please?”

My eyes turned to slits. 

Then a smirk slowly unfurled across my lips.

Yes. I disliked Lethia Artaud… but she had my respect.

Continue ReadingChapter 47.2

Chapter 47.3

Author’s Note: In case you’re wondering, the navigation buttons will always be done ahead of time. This basically means that if you see the latest chapter linked to a non-existing post, it’s because I’m trying to save myself the effort of logging back on. You are, in fact, not going crazy.

 


KALI___________________________

Quincy groggily lifted her head. “Do you two have to loom over me?” she muttered, before letting her head fall back.

I kicked her foot. “Get up! We have to come up with a plan to deal with Jack.” I looked at Lethia. “She’s told you, hasn’t she?”

Lethia bobbed her head with a little shrug. “After some wheedling, yes.”

“There is no plan when it comes to Jack,” Quincy intoned. She stared forlornly into space. “The only power we possessed that could have possibly resisted him was Tonatiuh, and he was destroyed in the spirit realm.”

Lethia leaned on the stall post. “You’re forgetting something.”

Quincy snorted and curled up into a fetal position. “What’s that?” she asked sarcastically.

Lethia pointed at me. “Kali and Nyx are champions of Lacertli.” The girl blinked at me. “At least I assume you both are? Technically he chose Nyx, but I suppose since you both occupy the same body…?” she winced as she trailed off.

I gave her a sour look. “Of course I have all the same powers as my sister!”

Lethia smiled and waved a hand as if to say, There you have it!

“Just because I’m a champion, doesn’t mean I have what it takes to go up against a Legend.” I argued. “Jack has far more experience than I do! It’s why he’s a Legend with a capital L!”

“Exactly,” Quincy said flatly.

I hissed at her, my cheeks burning. “You needn’t agree so quickly!”

“Do we have to fight him, though?” Lethia asked. Her head tilted to the side and her green eyes turned up. “We’d only need to if, for some reason, he found our dealings punishable in some way. But haven’t we done enough to earn a fair hearing, at least?”

My eyes turned down as I considered this. The girl had a point.

Quincy muttered, “First of all, it’s not like we’re going to be given a Higashan court hearing—”

Higashi is the only country with a judicial system that assumes the accused is innocent until proven guilty, Nyx chirped eagerly.

“Second of all,” Quincy continued, “Jack is the champion of Njord, god of wind. Njord’s domain includes a father’s wrath.”

Quincy paused to let loose an unrefined burp before resuming weakly, “Elmiryn has done enough to earn such wrath. And when Jack finds out about me being involved with you all…” Her expression took on a look of disquiet.

Lethia’s eyebrow tilted up. “Njord’s demesne also includes change—”

Demesne. For mortals, it refers to property, usually of an estate, but for gods, it refers to—

My face twisted in irritation. I don’t need play-by-play for everything! Our knowledge is shared, remember?!

I could feel Nyx wilt. I was just trying to help… 

I tuned back just in time to hear Lethia say, “—Our collective efforts have cleared obstacles that kept many parts of the Sibesona stagnant. Those places are starting to flourish. Shouldn’t that count for something?”

I waved my hands, impatiently. “This is stupid conjecture!” I reached down and grabbed Quincy’s foot, pulling her off the hay bed roughly.

“Hey!” Quincy shouted as I dragged her into the middle of the barn. Her azure eyes became large circles as she dug her hands into the dirt and tried to sit up. Her fingers left deep gouges in the ground and her unkempt hair shed hay with her struggles. “Let go!”

“Get up!” I snarled back. She kicked at my hands and I finally released her. “Until Jack gets here, we must assume he’ll be aggressive!” I pressed hotly. “If he is, we need a plan!

“Fuck you!” Quincy spat, crawling pathetically back to the stall. She moaned and collapsed back onto the hay bed. “Stupid crazy cat…”

I spat a hiss from the back of my throat, my hands curling like claws before I stalked forward—.

Lethia blocked me with her body, her head shaking quickly.

“She needs time,” she whispered. Then she grimaced. “And she needs to finish sobering up.”

My lip curled. I paced in front of her a few times before I growled and stomped back to the barn entrance. The girl followed me. 

Once outside, I turned and asked, “Did you at least take away the gods-damned bottle?”

Lethia nodded. “I did. I poured what was left of it far out into the field.” She glanced over her shoulder before asking me seriously, “Is there any more?”

I sighed. “Yes. Two. Some wine and absinthe.”

Lethia’s look darkened. “Kali, we must get rid of it. All of it.”

I gave her an annoyed look. “Obviously!” I sighed roughly and crossed my arms. “I would have done so last night, but… I was tired.”

That wasn’t actually the reason. I could feel Nyx squirm with discomfort.

Lethia waved a hand behind her. “I’ll work with her.”

I nodded. “Do that. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go relieve the boy. Paulo needs rest.”

We started to part… But then I saw Hakeem running out of the tower. My eyes narrowed. What now?

He ran up to us with a deathly serious expression. “Is Quincy well enough to stand?” He asked in a rush.

My stomach clenched.

Oh no… Nyx murmured.

“What is it?” I asked.

Hakeem pointed back toward the tower. “It’s Elmiryn… Paulo told me she’s having a heart attack!”

Continue ReadingChapter 47.3

Chapter 47.4

KALI___________________________

 

Of course…

 

Of course this would happen while Daedalus was gone and Quincy was completely hungover! What was wrong with these people?! How in the world did they even survive this long?

 

I turned on the ball of my foot and charged into the barn. “Quincy, Elmiryn needs you!” I yelled.

 

At her stall, Quincy looked up with evident surprise and dread. “What? Now?

 

“Yes!” I snapped.

 

“Can’t someone else—?” Lethia started, suddenly pale and big-eyed.

 

“Do you know revival methods, or how much tincture to give?” I hissed at her.

 

“N-No—?”

 

“Well, neither does anyone else, so at the least, this cajeck needs to be there!”

 

Without waiting to hear Quincy’s reaction, I stood over her body, grabbed her under the armpits, lifted her up, and hefted her over my shoulder. The wizard yelped, but I didn’t pause. If this fucking warrior died on account of someone else being too drunk to help her…

 

Let’s just say Quincy’s body would have multiple resting places.

 

“Kali, I can walk!” Quincy shouted, pushing against the small of my back.

 

“Don’t care. You’re slow!” I grunted back.

 

I cleared the barn doors and charged for the tower, Hakeem and Lethia following close. 

 

“It’s a heart attack, wizard. What do we need?!” I asked between puffing breaths.

 

Quincy gasped in pain. No doubt all this jostling was torture for her head. “Um, um— There’s a small case in the kitchen, to the left of the entryway on a shelf! There should be a vial of digitalis tincture that we can use

 

“Lethia!” I shouted as we came through the tower entrance.

 

“I’ve got it!” The girl exclaimed breathlessly as she veered a hard right into the kitchen.

 

“What about me?” Hakeem asked.

 

“Bring two buckets, one filled with water, the other empty. Also, whatever cloth you can find!” Quincy hollered as I carted her down the cellar steps. Her voice echoed on the narrow walls. “Leave it at the top of the stairs!”

 

“He can’t be involved, Quincy,” I growled.

 

“I know. We don’t need any of that,” she muttered. “I’m just trying to keep him busy.”

 

When we arrived at the bottom, it was to find Paulo kneeling at the edge of the containment circle.

 

“It’s all right, lia. Just hang on!” He said urgently to Elmiryn.

 

Lethia arrived a short moment after us. “Here is the vial,” she huffed, holding the small bottle up.

 

I set Quincy on her feet and the wizard reeled a little with a grimace as she tried to keep her balance. Lethia handed her the vial.

 

Paulo turned to us, and the weariness of a long night was evident on his glistening face. “She says her arms hurt and her chest feels tight! She’s having trouble breathing!”

 

I pointed at Elmiryn. “Help her, Quincy. Now!”

 

The wizard shook her head vehemently. “Are you mad?! I can’t go in there! She can smell the sake on my breath! Just my being here is problematic!”

 

“Your weakness was problematic,” I snapped. “This hesitance is dangerous!

 

“Kali, she’s right,” Lethia said quickly. She gestured at Quincy. “She reeks of indulgence. Better that she guides from a distance. In fact…” She looked earnestly at Quincy. “May I borrow your knowledge?”

 

Quincy’s eyebrows lifted. “You can extract it safely?”

 

Lethia scowled. “I’ve had more training, you know!”

 

While they talked, I stepped closer to the containment circle, looking over Paulo to where Elmiryn lay, just near her sloppily reassembled hay bed. Her eyes were squeezed shut as she clutched at the front of her sweat-drenched shirt, her breaths coming in quiet but unnervingly quick takes. Her hair was a messy halo about her head.

 

“Are you sure?” Quincy asked Paulo next. “Did she seem lucid to you when she told you how she felt?”

 

“Lucid enough!” he snapped. “Just look at her!”

 

“I need to know for certain!” Quincy snarled. “Lethia will be at risk the moment she steps inside. She’s still healing herself!”

 

She had a point. Was this a ruse?

 

Quincy looked sharply at Lethia. “Can you read Elle’s mind?”

 

Lethia shook her head once. “No. Since the last time, her mind has become an impenetrable maelstrom!”

 

My nose flared, trying to sift through the sweaty, musty, vomit tainted air. Humans had a certain smell to them when they were in severe distress or suffering from illness. Elmiryn was still part human. Could I pick out that fresh scent of body failure, or would her fae nature deceive my nose?

 

If she smells differently from the last time we saw her, then we know this is true.

 

My jaw clenched.

 

But if she doesn’t…

Continue ReadingChapter 47.4

Chapter 47.5

KALI___________________________

 

The longer we took, the closer Elmiryn was to possible death. Maddening obstacles kept us from making quick decisions.

 

Was the warrior lying to us or not?

 

I inhaled again, slowly. I needed to pick out a distinct shift in Elmiryn’s scent. A true sign of malady. If I didn’t find this, then I knew this was an act. 

 

I could sense so much… but there was too much interference. Elmiryn’s specific scent was lost in the cloud of our fear-reeking bodies.

 

We need to get closer, Nyx urged.

 

I knelt by Paulo and went as close to the containment line as I dared. I tried to take a whiff again—

 

“I can’t… I can’t breathe!” Elmiryn wheezed. Her legs kicked weakly along the ground… Then stilled.

 

Her eyes rolled up, showing their sickly yellowness, blotched with angry crimson veins that had burst from her distress.

 

“Get in there!” Paulo shouted waving frantically at Lethia. “Get in there now!

 

I pressed my eyes closed and tried to block out the ruckus…

 

Elmiryn smelled… She smelled…

 

Nyx’s horror jolted down my limbs like frigid ice.

 

NO!

 

My eyes flew open and I jumped to my feet, just as Lethia’s foot crossed the containment line.

 

“Don’t! It’s a lie!” I screamed.

 

My arms wrapped around the girl, just as Elmiryn shot up, quick like a striking panther. The Fiamman’s hand grabbed Lethia’s ankle, wrenching it so hard the girl lost her balance. She pulled her back, deeper into the containment circle, but I held on, shouting incoherent denials as my boots scraped along the cellar floor.

 

“Don’t break the line!” Quincy shouted. “The salt, Kali, the salt!

 

I spared a quick glance at the floor. Fuck. The containment line was made of salt. If we broke it in our struggle…

 

My eyes lifted up and met Elmiryn’s over Lethia’s shoulder, and I could see the crazed vehemence in Elmiryn’s gaze as she bared her teeth at me like an animal.

 

I slid further over the floor and barely raised my right foot in time over the boundary. I felt Paulo grab onto my waist.

 

“Pull!” he shouted in my ear. “Quincy, pull!

 

A frantic look over my shoulder informed me that Quincy had also grabbed the boy’s waist.

 

Lethia screamed as Elmiryn’s dirty hands traveled up her leg. The girl tried to kick her away with her other foot, but the Fiamman only used this as an opportunity to catch her other leg. Now the enchantress was horizontal over the floor, caught in a sick game of tug-of-war.

 

How was the warrior able to keep her grip? Surely the three of us could outmatch her!

 

Kali, look down!

 

With effort, I craned my head to the side and did so. My eyes widened.

 

Elmiryn had used her fae powers to morph the stone to encase around her feet.

 

My head snapped up again, my lips squeezed into a grim line. If Elmiryn’s powers had progressed to such a point, then we were all in very grave danger.

 

“Elmiryn, let go! Please!” Lethia squealed.

 

“Why should I?!” Elmiryn spat. She looked up, her face twisting with her torment. “I see those drinks you’re hiding! I can see the weave of everything from here!”

 

She pushed back against her makeshift footholds, causing Lethia to whimper as we all slid a harrowing inch along the floor. I spread my stance wider, trying to keep my left foot away from the containment line. 

 

I could pull harder. I could use my full therian strength and end this… but doing so would seriously injure Lethia. Maybe even break the containment line. 

 

I couldn’t risk it. 

 

A thick vein appeared in Elmiryn’s forehead as she screeched, “Quincy reeks of spirit, yet you keep me trapped here like some fucking animal and share nothing with me!”

 

“I was stupid, Elmiryn, I’m sorry! I was upset!” Quincy wheezed.

 

I pulled, my arms linked tightly just under Lethia’s armpits, and the others pulled with me. We didn’t budge.

 

“I succumbed to my fear!” Quincy went on. “My fear of losing you! My fear of seeing my father! My fear that what you warned me of is true!”

 

“Nyx bought the drinks on our outing, not knowing what you were trying to do!” I gasped next. It wasn’t that I was getting tired, but Paulo’s hold on me was so intense it was making it harder to breathe.

 

“We should have thrown it all away!” I said. “But…” 

 

I clenched my teeth, wrestling with my own pride to say the rest. 

 

“But Nyx and I both felt the same temptation Quincy did! We wanted to numb our feelings! Her for her pain! Me for my nervousness of this new world!” Every word came haltingly through tight lips.

 

I wanted to seem capable. I wanted to seem confident. I hadn’t even had an entire day out in this sapien form, and already I was admitting my weakness. I could feel my gorge rise.

 

There was still more to say.

 

My eyes closed. I wasn’t good at this sort of thing. Fortunately, I could feel my sister guiding me gently. I suppose I needed the play-by-play after all. 

 

“There was a bottle of absinthe that was meant just for us,” I said. “It was… selfish and wrong. We should have known we couldn’t support you fully if we gave a pass for ourselves!”

 

Shut up! I’ve had it!” Elmiryn barked. Her voice sounded off. Thick.

 

I opened my eyes and was shocked to see the warrior’s face had crumpled, tears streaming down her face. She looked at me, a pitiful creature swept up in sickness, rage, and dogged addiction.

 

“You fucking idiots, it’s all just noise!” She screamed next. “Every single word! I don’t care about what you have to say! It means nothing to me! Understand?! FUCKING NOTHING!

 

She pulled on Lethia again, this time sliding her right leg back. I could hear the stone crackle as it morphed to follow her movement. We slid three more inches. 

 

The inside edge of my left foot dangerously nudged the salt. 

 

At this rate it was clear that we couldn’t win through brute strength. We had to try something different. Drastic, even.

Continue ReadingChapter 47.5

Chapter 47.6

KALI___________________________

An idea leaped into my head, but Nyx recoiled from it.

Kali, wait—!

“Was what Nyx said yesterday nothing too??” I asked through clenched teeth. “Hmm? Did my sister’s pain make a dent in your greedy mania, or are you that far gone, Elmiryn?”

Elmiryn’s eyes fluttered. “What Nyx… What Nyx said yesterday?” Her expression gradually smoothed to blank confusion. “What did— What did she say?”

Kali!

“What Izma took away. What she did. You honestly don’t remember?” I pressed.

Elmiryn’s brow creased slightly as her eyes started to tick rapidly side to side. “Izma… hurt Nyx?”

Her grip on Lethia weakened. 

I let out a sharp kai, signaling my intent to the others, then together, the three of us pulled in unison. The enchantress was wrenched out of Elmiryn’s slack hands with ease.

We crashed in a heap on the floor, each of us panting. I sat up quickly and was glad to see that—though the salt had been harrowingly moved, the line of the circle was still complete. The containment spell held.

Elmiryn hadn’t moved, her hands still up like she still had Lethia’s legs. “What did Izma do…?” she mumbled. “What did she—”

Slowly…very slowly. Her eyes grew large. Her features slackened.

“No…” Elmiryn whispered. More tears slipped from her shocked sickly eyes. “No… no! She stole my face! She stole my face and—”

The stone retreated from Elmiryn’s feet, melting back to the floor as though it were water rolling off of glass. The woman gripped her head and fell to her knees.

I stood up carefully and went back to the line, my boots nearly touching the salt. I stared down at Elmiryn as she pressed her forehead to the floor and wept silently. She punched the floor hard once. Twice. 

Within, I could feel Nyx’s fury with me. She paced inside, sending aching waves along my skull. I sighed. I’d have to hash it out with her. For now, however…

Without turning around, I said, “Paulo, go get some rest. Quincy, check to make sure Lethia’s wounded arm is all right.”

I sat cross-legged next to the circle, my eyes turned away from Elmiryn’s sorrow to the floor. “I’m taking the next watch.”

QUINCY_________________________

Quincy didn’t want to linger. The shame and queasiness demanded a hasty retreat. 

She and Paulo helped Lethia up the stairs where they found Hakeem waiting with a bucket of water and two scraps of cloth.

He looked at her eagerly. “Should I take this down, or–?”

“No,” Quincy said quickly. “No, just… leave those. Kali will fetch them later.”

Paulo gestured for the man to take his place supporting Lethia on one side. “Can you help Quincy? I’ve got to sleep.” He sounded weary beyond words. Heavy dark bags hung under his eyes.

Hakeem nodded, and when Paulo slipped out from under one of Lethia’s arms, he slid in quickly and held the girl by the waist.

“I trust you’ll tell me what happened?” Hakeem said to Quincy as Paulo lurched out the front door to find his usual sleeping spot.

She nodded mutely.

Quincy pulled Lethia and Hakeem toward the kitchen. There they sat Lethia down in one of the chairs.

The young girl was sickly pale and trembling, tendrils of her long wavy hair sticking to the sides of her sweaty face. Her eyes stared glassily forward.

“Lethia,” Quincy said as she pulled the pine box of bandages and salves they’d been using for the enchantress off a shelf. “Lethia, say something.”

“Something,” the girl mumbled.

“Good girl,” Quincy said, trying to feign strength. Trying to feign control.

But they didn’t really have a damn thing under control, did they? Not Elmiryn. Not themselves. And certainly not the dangers that sought them out.

Hakeem watched at the end of the table with arms crossed as Quincy sat next to Lethia on the right and placed the box down.

She gently took hold of Lethia’s amputated arm. “I just want to check your stitches.”

“Of course,” Lethia said quietly. She still didn’t look at Quincy. “Don’t want any setbacks on the road to recovery, do we?”

Quincy frowned at Lethia’s numb response. Being in shock was understandable, but the more Lethia spoke, the less the woman believed this was the case. There was something lurking in the girl’s words. Some muted emotion she couldn’t name.

Carefully, Quincy undid the bandages over Lethia’s stump. They’d been changing it regularly with a steady application of fresh salves, and so far the wound had been healing just fine. Daedalus had been confident that the stitches could be removed in just a few more weeks barring any setbacks.

Too bad they’d just had one.

Still, if the stitches held, then all Quincy would have to do was reapply the elf’s salve (comprised of secret ingredients he refused to divulge) and redress the wound. Otherwise, they’d need to have another painful round with the needle and thread again.

As the last of the bandage wrap came off, the pungent stench of the healing salve filled the room. Quincy’s nose wrinkled a little, but she leaned in and used the sunlight from the small kitchen window to inspect the integrity of the stitches.

She smiled. “Thank the gods. Everything appears all right.”

Continue ReadingChapter 47.6

Chapter 47.8

QUINCY_________________________

Quincy paused, her hands holding the medical box.

Lethia looked at her, chagrined. “You’re right. About me. I lose sight of that.” She shrugged awkwardly. “I’m waiting to heal so that I can do what I have to. I feel like I’m going mad, waiting to resume my life, that I can’t help but get overly involved with everyone else’s. That… that doesn’t mean I don’t actually care.”

She ran her hand through her hair, her forehead wrinkling. “And what I said earlier… about your playing den mother being a charade…” 

Lethia shook her head and placed a hand on Quincy’s wrist, making the woman’s eyes grow a little. “It’s true that we’re not a real family. But thanks to what you’ve done to make everyone feel comfortable here… We’ve all started to get along! That means something! It could even make the difference between us surviving what’s to come or not!”

Lethia took her hand away and stood. She looked steady on her feet. “So, please. I hope you won’t pull away. And know that I’ve already forgiven you. I’m sure the others will be swift to do the same.”

She squinted one eye and held up her hand. “When it’s all said and done, we’ve all almost killed each other several times now!”

Hakeem laughed suddenly at that, and Quincy was startled enough to allow for a grin.

Lethia started for the front door. “I’m going to rest in the barn if you need me,” she said over her shoulder.

Quincy watched the girl leave before rising and putting the medical box back onto its shelf. “She’s hard to keep up with, that one,” she mumbled.

“Yes,” Hakeem said, taking a seat.

He leaned his cheek on a fist and asked, “Now… about what happened below?”

Quincy turned to regard him.

The man before her looked so much like her Taika. He moved like him. Smelled like him. Tasted like him.

“Of course I’ll tell you what happened,” Quincy said, making herself smile. She sat down at the table, but frowned like something had occurred to her. “Though I fear the elf should have been back by now…”

She looked at Hakeem. “Taika, could you tell me how long it’s been since he’s left? Perhaps it’s all in my mind.”

Her husband frowned hard in thought. Quincy’s heart lifted with hope.

But then the man pushed back his chair, stood up, and went to the window. He looked out at the suns. Quincy felt her throat clench as a fierce ice seized her heart.

“Hmm…” He looked back at her. “Judging by the suns movement, I’d say it’s been… nearly ten hours? It’s hard to say,” he chuckled. “Seems we should have asked Nyx to bring back a clock!”

Quincy conjured the spirit of her smile back onto her face, but it was a ghost. Dead and lifeless–

For now she knew that Hakeem was truly gone, and this thing in front of her needed to be destroyed.

KALI___________________________

After everyone had gone, and Elmiryn’s tears had subsided, I finally dared to lift my eyes from the floor.

Elmiryn was now lying on her side, back to me, curled up into a fetal position.

Nyx’s anger was so thick, I could feel it bleeding into my thoughts. The growing heat in my veins spurred me to confront my sister.

I did what I had to do, Nyx.

No, she hissed in my head. You didn’t have to use my pain as a weapon against her!

Our pain,” I snarled aloud.

In my head, I continued, You know as well as I do that just because one of us sinks out of sight from the world, that doesn’t mean we do not experience some of it!

Izma put you to sleep! You weren’t even there for it!

I pressed my hand to my heart and ground the heel of my palm into my breast till it hurt. Tears clouded my eyes. You think I didn’t hurt, going over the memories?

My eyes squeezed shut.

I may as well have been present for every awful moment!

That didn’t give you the right to use it against Elmiryn! My experiences are not your weapon to wield!

I covered my face with my hands and exhaled harshly into my palms.

Against her? AGAINST her? Nyx, remembering your rape was the only thing that got THROUGH to her!

I dropped my hands and looked up at the ceiling, a pleading expression on my face. You’re right. I wasn’t there. I didn’t suffer through it, as you did. But if there is one thing I understand, it’s that Elmiryn cares for you!

No matter how far gone she is, she will ALWAYS respond to your suffering! And right now? We are far past the point of polite decorum!

My eyes turned back to Elmiryn, still curled up on the floor.

I am trying to keep the one you love alive, Nyx. Please forgive me if I resort to uncomfortable measures.

Nyx said nothing to this. I waited a long time for her to respond, but she never did. She felt distant. Her feelings and thoughts were hidden from me.

I chewed my inner lip and leaned back on my hands, my eyes roving over Elmiryn’s form.

This woman… My history with her was fraught. She’d cursed me and hurt me. Her opinion of me had never been high, and neither had mine been for her.

But she had returned me to my sister. We were whole thanks to her. And whatever my thoughts, Nyx loved Elmiryn. She was just too foolish to say it aloud.

So I had to keep the woman safe and alive until she could.

Continue ReadingChapter 47.8

Chapter 48.1

KALI___________________________

The days were becoming a blur for me.

My first night keeping watch over Elmiryn had been remarkably uneventful. She barely moved the entire time. It was actually a rather dull night, as even Nyx was still too sore to speak with me. She hid deep in our mind, also too pained to see the Fiamman in her squalor.

We all took turns watching over the woman. After more than a week went by, even Lethia finally pushed her way into the rotation, against Daedalus’ wishes.

The elf, upon his return, had been quite livid that we’d allowed Lethia to place herself in harm’s way. He called us half-witted nincompoops, then locked himself in the shed to tinker with his gadgets and medicines alone. He only ever emerged to check on Lethia, and to take his turn to watch over Elmiryn.

The Fiamman had an episode with her heart, a real one, the day following her ruse. But the elf was prepared to administer swift care. In the days since, Elmiryn had only suffered fevers and other flu-like symptoms. 

But even as the fevers broke, her hallucinations seemed to be getting worse.

That, or she was really seeing things we couldn’t.

“You’re not sleeping again!” she snarled up into a ceiling corner one night. She had her back to me, both hands clenched. “Don’t fucking try to pretend! I hear time shivering! I know you’re there!

Exactly who was there, none of us could figure out.

Not that we ever could. Thanks to those blasted demons, the rest of us, with the exception of Daedalus, were constantly doubting our eyes.

Quincy struggled to tell the difference between a pinch of salt and a small handful. Paulo sometimes had to touch the walls to make sure they weren’t moving. Lethia had a habit of checking every strange shadow she saw. I kept misjudging the height of the stairsteps, nearly landing on my face for it…

On their own, they seemed like such small inconveniences. But they happened disturbingly often, and with increasing intensity. If any of us were still lying to ourselves about it, we weren’t anymore.

Meanwhile, the elf saw our affliction and tutted at us.

“You’ve ventured too near to corruption,” Daedalus said with a slow shake of his head. “I’ll not make the same mistake! The moment Lethia is well, I will take my leave.”

“What about Elmiryn?” Paulo protested with a scowl during supper. “You’d leave her healing unfinished?”

“She hardly needs me here with the proper supplies, boy,” Daedalus returned sternly. He was helping Quincy clear bowls from the table. “I’ll make sure at least two of you know what needs to be done. I’m not that heartless.”

“Not heartless,” I commented with a wry twist of my lips. “Just smart.”

Paulo turned his scowl on me. “You’re all right with him leaving? Is Nyx all right with it?”

“I’m here, so it’s my opinion that you get, boy,” I hissed at him.

I leaned back in my seat and crossed my arms. “I’ve urged Nyx to quit this path many times already. Now we can’t. It’s nice to see one sane person take the chance before it’s too late.”

“We owe Daedalus a great deal, Paulo,” Quincy said as she set the bowls on the floor next to the washtub. She looked back at him with a reproving look. “The man has no obligation to us. He’s free to do as he pleases.”

“And at the moment, it would please me to resume my work in the shed. Good evening.” And with a tug on his maple brown vest, Daedalus left.

Quincy looked between Paulo and I. “Whose turn was it to fetch water for the washing?”

I pointed at Paulo, and he pointed at me.

Quincy tongued her cheek and shifted her weight to one foot.

I rolled my eyes and stood from the table with a bang. “Fine! I’ll do it.”

Grumbling, I marched out of the tower, grabbing the bucket as I went, and headed for the water pump. I didn’t get far before my sensitive hearing picked up someone following me. I turned and groaned to see that it was Paulo.

The boy held his hands up, and I turned from him, quickening my pace. 

“What do you want?” I snapped.

Paulo was at my side in the next instant, his long legs easily keeping up with my quick gait. 

“Your opinion on Daedalus,” he asked.

I glanced sideways at him. “He keeps to himself, and he’s to the point… unlike some people.”

“I don’t waste words!” Paulo argued with irritation.

I gave him a dry look. “Really? Then what do you want to know my opinion on Daedalus for?”

“Because I’m worried about what he’s up to!” Paulo ground out through his teeth. He gestured at the shed, which was a medium-sized shack just behind the barn.

I shrugged. “So?”

We arrived at the water pump. I hung the bucket handle over the spout, then went to the handle and began to work it up and down. It was easier for me to do it, because of my natural strength, but it still bothered me how long it took for the water to rise up.

“What do you mean, ‘so?!’” Paulo cried. “That cranky elf locks himself away in that shed for hours at a time–!”

“He still takes a turn with Elmiryn,” I pointed out with a small grunt. The water had finally dropped and the bucket was gradually filling.

“Yes, and have you seen the weird gadgets and schematics he works on while he’s down there with her?”

“Not up close.”

“Exactly!” Paulo exclaimed, like I’d done all the work for him.

I looked at him as if he were stupid–and he was–as I finished working the pump handle. I’d need to do another trip before the washbasin was full enough.

“You know elves are naturally secretive, right?” I said flatly. “Daedalus is an inventor. I’m sure he’s just protective of his work!”

“But what the hell is he working on?” Paulo asked tightly. “I’ve seen him and Lethia talking about it!”

“Maybe it’s for her?” I raised my eyebrows meaningfully as I grabbed the bucket and started back, hoping he’d just drop the subject and let me do my work in peace.

“Or maybe he just wants to use Lethia as a test subject!” Paulo pressed with wide eyes. He followed me relentlessly.

“The girl he’s focused on healing?” I asked sarcastically.

“I’m just saying, the man has invested a lot into our survival here, but he’s willing to just cut and run after Lethia’s ‘healed?’” He made air quotations. “It doesn’t sound right to me! I think he’s up to something nasty!”

I stopped halfway back to the tower, my head hanging forward.

“Paulo,” I said wearily. My head lolled over onto my shoulder as I looked at him with suffering. “Just admit that you’re worried about Lethia, and ask her what’s going on. Stop driving yourself, and me, insane with your dumb speculations.”

He sputtered, his cheeks reddening. “I am not worried about that stupid girl! I just think the elf is trying to deceive us!”

My eyes narrowed at him. “You don’t care about her? Fine. Then leave the elf to his ‘evil’ schemes for her, and let me carry on with my fucking work, please.” I marched back to the tower and didn’t hear Paulo follow. “The faster I get this done, the faster Lethia is out of the cellar for you to not ask questions.”

Just as I reached the door, I heard the boy shout, “I’m not worried about her!”

I only rolled my eyes.
Human adolescents were so annoying.

Continue ReadingChapter 48.1

Chapter 48.2

KALI___________________________

When I finished my work, I went down to the cellar. Lethia was there, seated at the small table. It was only her second time down here. Daedalus had grudgingly agreed that the girl had healed enough to allow her to watch Elmiryn sometimes. But only during the day, and on the condition that Daedalus check her well being before each shift. He also checked her often throughout the day, which Lethia complained was unnecessary.

I was inclined to agree with her, seeing as how the girl seemed strangely alert for having just finished a twelve-hour watch.

Then again, I’d be alert too if Elmiryn had nearly dragged me into the circle to do gods’ knew what.

“Lethia, you can go rest now. I have Elmiryn for the night,” I said.

The girl looked at me and smiled. I only stared back at her. I still didn’t know what to make of these congenial gestures. Just what did she expect? For us to be friends?

She stood from her seat and gestured toward the stairs. “Can I speak with you a moment?”

I frowned, bothered that yet another person felt the need to speak to me alone. What was it with everyone today?

Still, I followed Lethia to the steps where she stopped and I did too.

In a whisper, she asked, “You try to talk to her… right?”

I raised an eyebrow. “You mean Elmiryn?” I shrugged. “Not really. I don’t have much to say to her.”

Lethia pouted. “I suppose you wouldn’t.” She inclined her head. “What about Nyx? Do you allow Nyx to speak with her a little?”

I sighed roughly and fought the sneer off my face. As much as I resented the assumption that I would just consult Nyx for everything, I had to admit that in this case, it made sense.

“I’ve… tried asking my sister to come out for a little while,” I grumbled. I crossed my arms. “On top of being upset with me, she feels reluctant to speak with Elmiryn. She worries that doing so might set off another bad reaction.”

Lethia sighed and closed her eyes.

When she opened them again, she placed her hand on my arm and said earnestly. “I know you resent your time in the world being taken. And I know Nyx fears the truth she’s shared has hurt Elmiryn too much. But surely the two of you can see how important Nyx’s relationship is to Elmiryn’s recovery?”

I jerked away from Lethia’s hand and glared. “We know that. I’m willing to give my sister the time, but after the last set back, she’s unwilling to take the risk! Elmiryn’s healing, isn’t she? Daedalus says we’re past the worst of it!”

Physically,” Lethia returned in a hot whisper. She pressed her hand to her heart. “But emotionally? The groundwork must be laid to give Elmiryn the will not to succumb to her addiction again. If we fail that, this will be for nothing!”

“I thought you said you were working with her!” I hissed back. “It’s your specialty to help with these kinds of things, isn’t it?”

“I can help with some of it, but I’m hardly a master. I won’t pretend as much,” Lethia shot back with a frown. “We all have to connect with Elmiryn on some level! Even you! She needs to realize the support that surrounds her is real and strong!”

She held up her hand and pursed her lips. “And the most important support will come from your sister.” She started up the stairs. “Tell Nyx that her trauma isn’t as problematic as she thinks.”

“She can hear you just fine,” I mumbled.

I watched Lethia go until she was out of sight. Slowly, I turned to Elmiryn.

Continue ReadingChapter 48.2

Chapter 48.3

KALI___________________________

The redhead was laying on her hay bed, staring up at the ceiling.

I went to the table and sat down.

Minutes went by. I regretted not thinking to bring a deck of cards down. In my haste to finish my work and start what was supposed to be a quiet night, I’d not taken them from the study.

Paulo had shown me how to play various Santian solitary card games. I particularly enjoyed the game ‘dead man’s run’. Some nights I even bothered with a book… not that we had many to choose from.

Left without my usual distractions, I found myself thinking about Lethia’s words.

I didn’t want to speak to Elmiryn. Just what would I say, anyway?

‘I never liked you, but if you die on my sister, I’ll piss on your grave?’

“Quincy really did think of everything, didn’t she?” Elmiryn muttered suddenly.

I blinked at her in surprise. In all the days we’d spent watching her, no one had ever mentioned her speaking to them. At least, not in a civil manner. The first week especially had been punctuated by violent tantrums that consisted of wild threats and incoherent screaming.

“Um…” I scratched at my cheek and lifted my eyebrows. “I suppose?”

Elmiryn’s head rolled to the side and her craggy eyes fixed on me. Not as bloodshot as a few days ago, but it was a very small improvement. The lantern light had a nasty way of lending a burning edge to her gaze.

“Kali, tell me the truth. You’re all afraid of me, aren’t you?” she asked with an even tone. As if she were only asking what the weather was like, or what I’d eaten for dinner.

I stood up from the table and glared down at her. “You almost killed us all. You tried to take Lethia, too. Of course we’re afraid of you. We’d be stupid not to be.”

Elmiryn lifted her eyebrows. “Is Nyx afraid of me, too?” Her voice gained a touch of breath.

My expression relaxed some. I crossed my arms. “Not like the others. She fears for you.”

“Hmm…” Elmiryn returned her gaze to the ceiling. Her brow now had a small crease.

When it became apparent that she wouldn’t say anything else, I asked, “What were you going to do with Lethia that day?”

Elmiryn didn’t look at me again. Instead she simply lifted her finger and traced a slow indiscernible symbol in the air. “Drink her blood.”

My eyes widened. Was she that insane–?

“Just kidding,” Elmiryn remarked lightly. But she wasn’t smiling. She hadn’t smiled or laughed in days.

The woman sighed and rolled onto her side, away from me. To the opposite wall, she said, “I was going to give her to the upside down voices to shut them up.”

Now my face twisted in confusion. “The what?”

Elmiryn lazily tapped her ear. “The upside down voices. They always start nice, but then, sǝʎǝ ʎɯ uı ɹɐʇɔǝu ǝɹɐɯʇɥƃıu ɹıǝɥʇ ǝɹɐɥs ʎǝɥ⊥”

Sweet Aelurus!

I recoiled from the unnatural sounds, my hands slapping to my ears as I retreated backward toward the doorway. 

Were those even words?! How could she speak like that? Was that even her voice?

No, no, no!

I wouldn’t let her madness infect me anymore than it already had. I had to get away. Back up to the stairway where Elmiryn’s curse couldn’t infect me–

No.

My legs froze. I stared wide-eyed at Elmiryn. She’d gone silent again.

Nyx was at the border of our shared mind, practically on the verge of pushing herself to the fore. But she didn’t. She held herself back, just enough to let her presence bleed powerfully into my fear-stricken senses.

She spoke firmly, and though the pain was present in her voice, I could feel her resolve beating like a massive drum.

Elmiryn is just trying to understand what’s happening to her.

I tried to still my trembling lip. I replied inwardly, Don’t you see her fae nature is gaining strength? She’s searching for her freedom… See how she eyes Quincy’s wards?

Speak to her. Tell her something. Anything.

I grit my teeth.

YOU tell her something! She isn’t interested in what I have to say!

I heard Nyx sigh inside of my head.

Then gently, she said, Let me through.

Continue ReadingChapter 48.3

Chapter 48.4

NYX____________________________

When I regained control, the reaction from Elmiryn was almost immediate.

I could see her body tighten before she sat up and whipped her head around to look at me.

I gazed back at her, my forehead creased with concern. “Hello, Elmiryn.”

She just stared at me, her lips pressing thin.

Slowly, I started to advance back toward the containment circle. “You made Kali very uncomfortable. Please tell me you didn’t mean to.”

Elmiryn’s shoulders twitched up in the briefest of shrugs. “I didn’t mean to, but I can’t say I dislike the results.”

I frowned at her. Softly, I asked, “Why do you want them to stay afraid of you?”

Elmiryn’s brow tightened. “Why do you think?”

I sighed as I came to a stop near the edge of the circle. “I think part of you is feeling peevish. You resent their freedom.” 

My eyes tensed, and much quieter I murmured, “I think the other part of you still remembers how you lost control. You don’t want the others to let their guard down again.”

Elmiryn’s lip sneered. “Is that why I tried to trick Lethy into the circle with me?”

I smiled softly. “‘Lethy’…” I looked down at my shoes. “You care about her. I think you’re very sorry you resorted to that scheme.”

When my gaze lifted up again, Elmiryn’s face had twisted into one of deep anger.

“Oh I feel sorry, Nyx?” Elmiryn spat. 

I nodded. “Yes.” I held up a hand. “Because after the first six days, when the fevers and chest pains left you, you regained enough clarity to regret it all.”

I hugged myself around the stomach, my chin tucking in. “I’ve been watching. All this time. I could see your anguish. Your frustration.”

“So then you can see how much I hate myself, then?” Elmiryn snarled, jumping to her feet with clenched fists. 

She came right up to the containment line and glared down at me. “Do you see how much I hate the upside-downers, and the dream-eaters, and the Far Away Lady?”

Elmiryn struck her chest with her fists and yelled, “They laugh at me! They never let me forget!”

“So you don’t want anyone else to forget either,” I whispered.

“Because they’re fucking gullible!” she screamed at me, her shoulders coiling.

I shook my head slowly. “Because you care. You care what happens.”

“And do you care?” She hissed, tears streaming down her face. “If you do, you have a funny way of showing it.”

I didn’t shrink away. My lower lip pushed up, but I held Elmiryn’s eyes.

Then I did something that made Kali yell incoherently in my head.

I stepped over the line.

Continue ReadingChapter 48.4