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

Chapter 48.5

NYX____________________________

Elmiryn backed away from me quickly, the white of her eyes showing all around.

“The fuck are you doing?” she snarled at me.

“Getting closer,” I told her.

Getting us killed, more like! Kali shrieked at me.

I could feel my twin pushing forward, all panic and outrage. I resisted her, even as I felt my head ache and my skin burn. I felt bad. It was her turn in the world. She had every right to wrest back control.

I just needed her to hear one thing, and then I would let her flee–

Elmiryn is backing away from us.

White as a sheet, Elmiryn did not step closer. She stepped away. Haltingly, yes. But away.

Sweat beaded on her skin. Her body shook.

“Don’t be stupid,” Elmiryn spat. “Get back over the line!”

I could feel Kali’s efforts to take over again slip away. Her suspicion and fear lingered, but she had gone still, and she watched intently through my eyes. If at any point she feared the situation lost, she would take over again… and I would let her.

I shook my head slowly. “I think I’ve been on the other side long enough, Elle,” I murmured.

Elmiryn balled her hands. Her lips pinched so hard, the blood fled from them.

“I could kill you,” she pointed out.

I smiled. It felt weary, even to me. “You won’t.”

Elmiryn bared her teeth. “Even if I didn’t, I could use your body to break the containment line!”

I shrugged. “I’d have the shadows take me before you ever could.”

“Not if I knock you out first.”

I chuckled humorlessly. “You could try.”

Elmiryn glared at me, the muscles in her neck cording.

Slowly, very slowly, she crouched down, one hand resting on the floor. Her gaze pierced through me. Hunger shadowed her eyes.

“I want to,” she whispered hoarsely. Her hand tensed, and the dirt around her fingers stirred…

Grief grabbed me by the throat, and for a moment I couldn’t speak. I was a fool if I thought I could do this without letting my emotions escape me. Still, I held her gaze.

“I know you do,” I breathed. My brow creased. “But you’re trying not to, and I have faith you won’t give in.”

“I almost hurt Lethia, why do you think you’re fucking safe? Hmm?” She cocked her head to the side. “What’s left for us, Nyx? You’ve hid from me for so long. What’s left?

“If you want to hurt me, I’ll let you,” I said quietly, kneeling down and holding out my arms. “I hurt you, too. I broke my promise. I said I’d be there for you, no matter what.” 

My vision blurred as tears clouded Elmiryn’s angry face. I went on, fighting as grief’s hold on my voice tightened, “I’d let you do anything you want. I just want you back. I just want–”

But I didn’t get to finish. Elmiryn exploded to her feet, yelling.

“Gods! SHUT UP!

Dust rained on me from the ceiling. I swallowed hard as I watched Elmiryn pace in a tight line in front of me.

Her hands were curled before her as she ranted, her slitted eyes trained on me, “Do anything that I want? Do anything that I want?! You are not that fucking foolish!”

She pounded a fist into her chest and screamed, spit flying from her lips, “I would gut you for a drink! Do you understand?? Your sacrifice would mean nothing to me! Just another fucking chapter in the long-running series of your fucking self-absorbed martyrdom, Nyx! It’s shit! I don’t want that! I hate it! HATE IT!

She stopped her pacing and bowed down to look into my tear-streaked face with arms held wide in question. “You broke your promise?” she asked with false sweetness.

The vicious rage was swift to return as she roared down at me, “SO DID I!” 

She jabbed a finger and sneered, “It isn’t just about you! You’re in my containment circle, remember?

I bowed my head.

This was the mask removed. The anger that bubbled deep inside of Elmiryn had always been there, but hidden, like my Twin… Like my darkness. I’d sensed it, but never really knew how to address it. It was easier to wrestle with the symptoms of it.

What business did I have pointing out other people’s hidden issues, anyway? Me, the perverted family annihilator whose anathemic existence indebted her to Harmony in such a way that redemption could only be found through carrying out the will of a forgotten god?

Elmiryn had learned to channel her anger as a warrior. To drown it as a drunkard. To laugh it off and forget about it as a mischievous trickster. But none of those coping methods worked anymore.

Now here it was naked before me, pulsing white hot and threatening to swallow us whole.

I hadn’t meant to make this about me. I hadn’t meant to discount whatever it was Elmiryn had to say with some ill-fated gesture. But I did. I’d been feeling guilty, and in my skewed perception, giving the woman license to hurt me in retaliation seemed justified. Now it was easy to see that it was… well…

Stupid?

Trust my sister to strike to the heart of the matter.

But she didn’t move to take control yet. In fact, she moved back further into the shadows.

 I lifted my face. Elmiryn had stepped away from me again, her back to me, both hands on her head as she breathed raggedly.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured.

My offer to hurt me had ignored her desire not to. My failure to ask for her side of things in favor of relieving my anguish, showed how selfish I still was.

If I could finally stop thinking about my needs… what would address Elmiryn’s?

“How do you feel… About us?” I asked her hoarsely.

Elmiryn’s hands slid from the sides of her head to her face and her shoulders hitched up. I could see the muscles in her back and triceps tightening.

Many seconds ticked by.

Then gradually, she relaxed.

Her hands fell to her sides, unclenched.

She turned to me.

Continue ReadingChapter 48.5

Chapter 48.6

ELMIRYN______________________

She felt so many things.

Elmiryn wanted to say them all at once, but the words clashed and fought with each other, and so none of them made it to the air.

She stared.

Stared so long, the time to reply felt long departed.

Only, who the fuck cared about etiquette anymore?

What did any of that matter to her when her reality was disintegrating around her? She had lengthy arguments with beings cut in half—entities that lived in the corners of eyes, reaching long from places unseen into her animal thoughts. The dream-eaters.

They giggled and flickered. They were half-beings who only partially existed in their realm, like phantoms, and they were just tickled by the sight of the half-breed.

The human-fae…thing.

From her mind they plucked her fears of losing herself. Fears of vanishing like a ghost, not only from the life she knew, but from the world that had cradled her existence.

In contrast, the inverted ones, the upside-downers, did not laugh at her plight. But they nettled her with sharp remarks. Sometimes even promises.

“You waste away in this place,” they remarked coldly.

“Do not worry.”

Oh, but she did. Very much.

“We will come, when your twilight arrives.”

She didn’t know what they meant, but every time their heavy eyes were on her, she’d gaze back with tense vigilance.

These spirits could see her through rips in their reality. Never could they come through completely, but she could hear them. Sometimes she even saw them. Seeing never made it better.

And then there was the Far Away Lady…

“I feel tired,” Elmiryn finally murmured.

Her low voice was raked through from all her hollering, and phlegmy from disuse. She disliked hearing it. It didn’t sound like her. 

Inasmuch as she could remember her true self, anyway.

Her eyes focused on the shape before her. The shape said it was Nyx. Elmiryn could only see self-pity at first. A Self-Pity-Nyx-Shape.

Now it looked like Sadness. A truer anguish.

Elmiryn could feel the wrath in her go dormant. The Sadness… she could sit with this. It felt like regret. She had that. Could share that.

She looked down at her bare feet. They were dirty. A large straw of hay was between her right toes. She squeezed the golden piece in them before half-heartedly kicking it away from her.

“I feel tired about us, Nyx,” she went on, not looking at the Sad-Nyx-Shape. She was afraid it would change and become a new Nyx-Shape. 

She was tired of things fucking changing all the time. 

“At first, I thought I was angry. But now I just feel… Tired.”

Her eyes tensed, but she still refused to look up. “And I don’t mean that I’m sick of you. Just… that I don’t know what to do. I feel powerless. My anger isn’t really for you. Or entirely for you, I guess. It’s for everything. Every gods’ damned thing!

The Nyx-Shape spoke. “I don’t know what to do either, Elle. I want to know. I wish I did.”

Elmiryn’s mouth pulled to the side, the corner of it digging harshly into her cheek with disgruntled energy.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re already doing what you need to do,” the woman snapped.

“And what’s that?”

“Talking to me! It’s all I ever wanted from you!” Elmiryn’s face twisted, and she allowed herself to lift her gaze.

“But is it really you, Nyx? I’ve been calling you her name, but for all I know you’re just another spirit playing tricks on me. I can’t tell anymore! She’s been gone so long that I honestly can’t tell!”

Elmiryn clenched her teeth, making them audibly squeak. Her gums ached. “Do you know how much that hurts?!”

Continue ReadingChapter 48.6

Chapter 48.7

ELMIRYN______________________

Tears filled her eyes, and she tilted her chin up, trying to keep them from falling. The Nyx-Shape became less distinct. But who was she fooling? Nothing in her life was distinct.

“Even when all I could see were the gods’ art, she was beautiful to me. Nyx. And I could always find her thanks to her Meaning. Her voice was sincere. In it I thought I could hear…” her chin crumpled, and she turned away, wiping harshly at her eyes.

She looked up.

In the fabric of existence, she could see the Far Away Lady was listening.

Her eyes narrowed.

Loudly, almost defiantly, she cried out, “Nyx, if you’re here, then I’m sorry I pushed you to tell me. I was stupid. You weren’t ready to say it, and I wasn’t ready to listen.”

She turned just enough to peer sideways at the Nyx-Shape. “The fact of the matter was, I never needed you to tell me you loved me.”

Elmiryn swallowed. Or tried. All of a sudden it became quite difficult to do.

She went to her hay bed and collapsed onto it, her body on her side and facing away from the stairs. With effort, she managed not to curl up.

“So if you’re real, then just… tell me something. Anything.” 

Elmiryn watched the thread of the Lady grow brighter in the air. Wherever she looked it was there. Like it was re-threading itself into the fabric of existence just to hold her attention hostage.

“And when you start, just keep talking,” Elmiryn urged, her voice quieter, but tight with need. “Drown out the spirits.”

The Lady’s thread vibrated with her distant laughter.

Bug scared. SCARED! Stupid bug! the entity taunted. Want to be eaten?

Elmiryn squeezed her eyes shut. “Nyx—!”

She heard someone sit behind her.

“Elmiryn, did I ever tell you about the time Atalo learned how to climb fences?”

The question was so straightforward that the woman actually forgot what she was going to say. Her eyes ticked to the side as a response formed slowly on her tongue.

“Er, no?” she replied. Unable to resist, she let her knees bend like she was about to hug them, but she stopped them getting past her stomach.

The Far Away Lady’s thread vibrated harder as she spoke again. A low hiss filled the air.

Elle-Bug… This one saved you… Not dumb cat. Remember?

The real voice went on. “Oh, well, funny thing… You see, he didn’t just climb our fence. He liked to climb our neighbors too. It started to become problematic when he figured out how to climb back the way he came with whatever vegetables he’d stolen from their gardens.”

Elmiryn’s lips twitched up a little. “Sneak-thievery runs through the family, does it?”

She heard a brusque laugh. It sounded distinctly familiar. “Hardly! He was caught every time!”

This one can wait, The Lady pressed. Her thread hummed with irritation.

“So what did your mother do?” Elmiryn asked with a raised voice.

The Lady could go fuck herself. ‘Saved her’? The woman didn’t owe her anything! Certainly not for her so-called help!

Elmiryn heard the real voice say amidst her indignant thoughts, “A-Ma tied a rope to his belt loop to keep Atalo from leaving our yard!”

Wait… Is it really…?

There was another laugh, this time long and throaty. Elmiryn felt her skin flush hot and her throat clench with joy.

“And?” she asked with a thick voice. She smiled so hard it hurt her cheeks.

The pretty voice only laughed harder. “She forgot that Atalo had no problem taking off his pants in full view of everyone!”

Elmiryn rolled onto her back, and tears leaked from her eyes, streaking through the dirt on her face. 

She looked at Nyx. The real Nyx.

“There you are,” she whispered happily.

The Lady snorted from far away. Her thread dimmed in the weave above them.

And still her broken words eked through.

Can wait… Elle-Bug…

Can wait for…ever…

Spi…ders…

…are…

…patient!

Continue ReadingChapter 48.7