The road was little more than compacted dirt strewn with pebbles. Sometimes, Elmiryn’s feet would lose an inch or two when she pushed forward in her haste. Hodge-podge buildings–some done in brick and mortar, others cemented wood logs. It was a mecca city, a location that expanded over decades of settling merchants and families from all walks of life. They were unwilling to give up their cultural backgrounds, and instead, brought it with them. She passed taverns of different sorts, different sizes, different sounds and smells. Wished she could recall the name and place of the last she had been to in her past visit to Tiesmire, but that had been so long ago.
Elmiryn stopped before “The Cannon’s Punch”, a two-story tavern whose facade was painted an odd mauve. Outside, a signpost held a heavy wooden sign featuring an exploding cannon that resembled a bottle. Through the wavy windows, she saw a promising arrangement. The building was large–larger than the previous she’d seen. Enough so that its main floor could house at least ten large round tables. There was a loft where more tables were hidden in shadow. The bar was of decent length, and had spaces available. From the ceiling hung a large candle wheel, which lit the establishment dimly.
“This is it,” the woman announced happily.
Inside, Elmiryn felt her initial impressions affirmed. There were squeaky chairs, and the air raked smoky fingers down her insides. That smell–pleasant but horrid at the same time, of gas, good food, a prostitute’s perfume, and a captain’s overpowering cologne.
“Thisis it, Nyx!” Elmiryn repeated with a grin.
“You’ll excuse me my lack of enthusiasm, Elle,” Nyx grumbled at her side.
The contract guards blocked them from going further. Told them their bags needed to be checked. Nyx’s bag got a pass, but Elmiryn had to put all of her belongings in the item storage near the bar, where two more guards stood watch. She did so without much complaint. She knew–drunkards plus weapons were normally a bad combination, even in her case.
They ventured further, and Elmiryn drank it all in. That was when she noticed. In the cacophony of boisterous laughter and music, through smoke smiles and spirals of streamers that seared fluorescent in her retinas, she saw the ribs of the tavern expand. They were great, beautiful stained bones along a dark hide.
She paused, her grin freezing on her face. “Hey, whose is that?”
“Whose is what?” Nyx asked beside her.
“That, up there!”
Elmiryn blinked. Rubbed at her mouth to contain the explosion of nonsense, because something wasn’t right, and when she looked at her companion, she tried to tell Nyx’s eyes, through concentrated telepathy, to stay put in the paint. “Don’t splash around,” she eventually exclaimed, “I’m telling you, you’ll drown!”
“Elle what in the nine hells are you talking about?” The girl’s brows crashed together. Her face bunched and little dimples appeared in her cheeks. Elmiryn felt something brush her arm. She gave a start, fists clenched to punch, when she looked down to see a petite hand recoil. She followed along its [stem(arm)root] to find that it was Nyx’s–AKA, Twin One, the Turnip, her instrument, her Kitten.
Elmiryn closed her eyes. She whacked the side of her head with the heel of her palm, to see if that would shake the cobwebs and chase out the mist. In her head, a flute bled all over her ideas, and while she knew it was day, she still saw the dark insides of a deer’s carcass steaming in the night.
Quickly, under breath, over tongue, she ran down the certain facts: They were in Tiesmire–the city, the mesh–and Nyx was not a cat; The three suns (one two three) were still burning over the horizon; and the building she was in, was not made of bone–couldn’t be, as that would be against city law. Unsanitary. Unsound.
So maybe the owner just wanted to make it look that way.
“I need a drink,” Elmiryn asserted with a gruff voice. She wiped her forearm over her forehead, felt sweat kiss the skin, and consciously told her body to relax. She led Nyx past the bodies and tables toward the main bar.
“How long are we going to be here?” she heard Nyx ask.
When her hand touched polished wood, cool and like a tether to a room that had a disconcerting feeling of instability, Elmiryn turned to reply when her breath caught in her throat. She was face to face with a wall of inconsequential metaphors (“Fuck”) facades (“Gods damnit”) trees of life rooted in greater meanings (“Not now”) but still esoteric.
Elmiryn tried to keep her eyes from crossing. Fought to grasp the fact that free flowing sound and a hand extended meant that the space she occupied was, indeed, wider than what she perceived. Elmiryn extended her arm before her, eyes unfocused, fingers grasping. Felt the tips touch rough cloth. The corners of her lips twitched upwards as she felt her sense of the world expand. But then a rough sound, like it were fighting through the walls of a box, hit her ears, “Leggo a’ my jacket you priss!” The touch was gone, torn away. She felt further trapped. Let her arm fall as she felt something invisible press it down.
That wasn’t right.
She tried to say, “Nyx, where’d you go?” Heard it, but was certain that it wasn’t her voice. So Elmiryn tried again. “Nyx, where–”
“I’m right in front of you! Right here!”
There she was! That voice, that beautiful little voice of reason! Now all Elmiryn had to do, was attach sound to image. She scrambled inwardly, tried to connect the dots before her brief moment of clarity was lost. Something warm and petite enclosed around her hand. Her body relaxed, her eyes fluttered, and the room came into focus (but when did it blur away?)
At her side, Nyx looked at her, her face bunched with worry. “Elle…I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying proper attention,” she leaned forward and dropped her voice. “It’s happening to you again, isn’t it?”
Elmiryn gazed back at her blankly. Told her face muscles to show relief, to show joy, to show love, but she felt tired. “All I need is a drink.”
“And so do you. I need a drinking partner.”
“Elmiryn.” Nyx used a firmer voice. Frowned in light scorn, even. It was a tempting note to submit to, but the woman knew what she wanted. Until a better way was discovered, it was all she had.
Elmiryn pounded on the counter, cutting through the chatter and music around them. “I’ve still got coin and a dry tongue. Why?!”
A moment later they had a nice sturdy table, sequestered from the others in a dark nook lit only by a single candle. The tavern master took one look at Elmiryn’s ashen face, and seemed to decide it best. The warrior didn’t care. Just enough drinks, and she wasn’t going to stay hidden for long. How much gold did they have? Not much. She didn’t tell Nyx that their funds were close to being entirely spent. Elmiryn made a note to ask for some compensation next time she did some heroic deed. She was a human being, not a fucking Legend. Charity was not required in her book.
Time for the first round.
Elmiryn turned to Nyx. “You’ll need something with extra kick. Something that’ll burn right through your throat.”
Nyx was rubbing her temples like she were suffering from a massive headache. “Are we just relaxing or are we intending on staying here tonight?”
“Nyx, I know we’re supposed to hide who we are, but I think we ought to try and build up some reputation. Something to precede us when we travel. It can help us get some coin.”
“And what if we get a bad reputation?”
“Fuck it. We’ll charge extra.”
“Why…why can’t I lift my body? Elle, is there something wrong with me?”
“Don’t think so.”
“…I–I really need to go to the bathroom.”
“No one’s stopping you.”
Nyx brandished a finger, one eye squinted. “I dun wanna hear ‘uh oh’. That issin even proper ver-nack-ular. Explain yourself Elly! Why…why…” A burp. “Why ‘uh oh’?”
Elmiryn swayed in her seat. Her eyes on the eight shiny coins in her money pouch. Her eyes lifted to the room. The people were only halfway to being people. After all, they weren’t supposed to slither and squawk like that…right?
“Wasn’t nothin’. I thought I saw a fly.” She took out two coins. “Oi! Another round!”
“Hey! Hey! Yesh you! …C’mere! No, no! C’mere! Oh damn it all you beautiful lil’ bacon, dun look so confused, we just wanna tell ya somethin’.”
“Elle, leave ’em ‘lone…”
“No, no…I need help with this ‘un. In fact…HEY!” Elmiryn whistled to the room using her pinkies. Large men, around the edges of the tavern, began to move. The contracted guards. One came up from behind, likely stationed there with the expectation of trouble. She smiled winningly at him and he paused, his bold eyebrows quirking upwards. Elmiryn settled back into her chair. No, she would not start trouble. Finish it maybe, but she wasn’t seeking trouble.
Weight, weight, weight, glorious weight, glorious feeling, with vibrant colors, and boundaries dispelled. Ah yes, now Elmiryn would be okay.
To those whose attention she had, she spoke to in a clear voice. “Men, boys, ladies, an’ lap toys–drop the dull convershation and len’ an ear to my frien’ here.” Elmiryn snickered. “That rhymed…!”
Nyx looked at her in alarm, her head coming up off her arms. “S’cuse me??”
“Tell ’em about yer book.” Elmiryn turned back to the onlookers. “You all’ve heard tales of Legends, right?”
“Elle.” Nyx pulled at her sleeve, her face green.
“Bet ya haven’t heard ’bout…Earth, Wind, and…wuzzit Water, kitten?”
“Oh sweet Aelurus…I’m gonna throw up!”
“Here. Drink up. Enough o’ that, and you won’t care if ya do.”
Spicedwine, sweet, but strong. I had one, thinking I’d tell the waitress to bring me water next…only Elmiryn was quite attentive to me, so I was afraid. In truth I greatly liked the drink. In sad fashion, one became two and so on, and so forth. By the thirteenth drink, I knew, more by illness than common sense, that I had to stop.
“Here. Drink up. Enough o’ that, and you won’t care if ya do.” Elmiryn pushed her drink my way, and some of it sloshed on the wood table, the beverage flowing to dampen my sleeve.
My stomach lurched. I hugged it with both arms, and shrank so that I barely peeked over the edge of the table. “Elle, we have’ta stop, or else we wun’ be able t’leave of our own v-vol-ish-on!” A burp fought its way up my chest, bringing tears to my eyes. Acid burned my throat. I turned and leaned my forehead against Elmiryn’s arm with a groan, “Les’ go!”
“Aww…but looky, we got a’ audience! They wanna hear ’bout yer book. Go on, tell ’em!” Elmiryn gave me a nudge, a giggle coming up her throat. She leaned forward to whisper not-so-confidentially to the patrons, “She’s shy!”
One middle-aged man with caramel hair that receded far on his head, smiled wrinkly at me. “What story have you got, little one?”
I stared at him, unable to move. It seemed this attention was turning infectious. Even the music seemed to fade away. The young man that Elmiryn had first called to, leaned on the table to our left and smiled at me, a little intently. “I think I’d like to hear, too.”
There were murmurs. Then Elmiryn stood up with a bang. “There were three Legends, two men an’ a woman, all ve-ry good friends. They went out an’ had very…adventure-y…es-peer-riences ta’gether…If ya know what I mean!” There were laughs as the woman made loopy gestures with her hands. She started to speak in a nasally voice. “These t’ree braves o’ the earth, wind, and water, discovered the Valley of Eso-me-chanical-whats-its, and single-handedly…no, triple-handedly sealed the Spider of the Weaste!”
“It was fire, not water! Fire! And the girl’sh name was the Sh…sss—Spider, the…yes…the Spider of the West! Not ‘weaste!’” I snapped, giving Elmiryn a reproachful glare. “And it wasn’ the Valley of…whatever da blazes you said! It was the Valley of Eso–ess—ESSS–Es-so-ter-ic Proofs!”
I stood and looked at the room. I swayed a little and tried to steady myself by placing my hands on the table. More wine sloshed as I fought to keep balance. “An’ they weren’ the only ones who fought the Spider! There was Toshi…osh…toshi-hiro, champion of Tenjin, an’ Arlés the Sweet Blossom, the world’s mos’ powerful sorceresh!” I was aware of how stupid I sounded, and it bothered me beyond measure.
“I know of the last one!” The young man said.
I glowered at him. “I bet.”
“But who is this Spider?” the caramel-haired man asked.
“Arachne.” Elmiryn said, with a wide smile. Excited whispers. People in bars and taverns don’t need much to get worked up over when all they’ve got to do is drink, I’ve come to learn.
I gave her another look, displeased that she would offer such information without actual confirmation. But I shrugged. “S’possible.” I placed a hand on my head as the room gave a nasty lurch. I turned to look at Elmiryn, but nearly fell. I clasped onto her to keep from going down. “Elle, really! I think…I think–I–” I burped again, but it was so strong that it turned into wretch. I could feel my insides swirl up. Some of it splashed my tongue, and I felt faint. It was sheer will that I kept from spilling everything onto the table and floor.
Elmiryn held me up as I started to slip, her arm winding around my back and beneath my left arm. The placement of her hand was a bit…dubious, but I was too far gone to care.
“Woah!” She laughed, and the sound seemed deafening to me. She looked to the patrons. “Ah, sorry fellows. Looks like we hit our limit! In more ways than one!” Laughs. I closed my eyes to the sound and whimpered as I felt the world tumble in my head. The room was spinning so fast.
“Elle, this is scary!” I cried, tightening my grip around her mid-riff. “Nothing is staying put!”
“Isn’t it great?” The woman replied, chuckling. “Open your eyes, kitten. We’ll find a trough to dunk your head in.” As she said this, the woman began to kneel to pick me up better when something made her stop cold.
This was awkward for me, as her bent body didn’t offer as much support. The effort of holding on soon became too much, and I found myself plopped onto the ground. Beneath the table, I saw a sea of boots and dress hems. My eyes squinted when I took note of a curious trail of smoke. It was faint, but still distinctive enough from the haze of the room. When I followed it with my eyes, I realized it led to Elmiryn.
She shook her arm violently, and her eyes were alight with anger. The trail of smoke vanished to nothing.
“Whose rope was that?” The woman asked as she straightened to address the room. Her voice was quiet, but dangerous.
The guard near us came forward and took hold of her shoulder. “If you’re going, then go quietly.”
What occurred next happened so quickly, that in my poor state hidden beneath the table, I can hardly recount it. All I know is that when I looked up from beneath the lip of the table, I saw Elmiryn had managed to get behind the guard, where she twisted his arm. “You fucker. You silly bastard. You think jes’ because I’m drunk I can’ get the drop on you?” she snarled.
The man sputtered, “Wh-what d’you think yer doing!?” His face was tensed with discomfort, but I suspected the red of his face to be more from embarrassment.
The tavern went deathly quiet. I shifted further under the table, swept up in the belief that by hiding, I could somehow stay out of the violence that might ensue.
Elmiryn boomed, “Who’s the smart ass that tried ta’ get a rope on me?” She jerked the man’s arm, and he growled in pain. “Was it you, ape?”
“Agh! What the fuck’re you talking about you ditzy–yaaah!” the man’s words trailed into a scream as the warrior gave his arm another twist.
The young man looked at the ground near our feet. Looking at Elmiryn, he frowned. “What rope?”
Elmiryn’s head whipped his way, and he quailed. “THE rope, moron. The one that twisted up my arm.”
The caramel-haired man shook his head. “But woman, there is no rope. Look, you’ll see your arm is free.”
“I know what I saw.”
I heard the ring of swords. My heart took an agitated turn. I could feel it fight in my chest.
“You’re making a huge mistake,” the tavern master said from behind the bar. I could see part of his gray beard. He stroked it, calm and slow. The act itself seemed ridiculously forced, but the message was still apparent. He was unconcerned. Either we’d be arrested, or killed.
Unable to contain it anymore, I threw up all over the paneled floor.
“What isn’t a good idea is thinkin’ that I’m someone to trifle with.” I could hear the smile in Elmiryn’s voice. From where I was, I saw some of the tavern goers shift. One even took a step back. I didn’t want to know the look she was giving them now. “Ya see, I’m the Ghost. I can’t die.” Elmiryn pulled roughly at the guard. This time he screamed and fell to his knee. The woman fell with him, arm going around his neck, purposefully keeping his body between her and the rest of the tavern.
I looked around with weak turns of my head. Was there someone armed with a crossbow?
I shifted to join Elmiryn, and she grabbed me by the bag on my back, pulling me the rest of the way. Quietly she whispered, “Hold on to me,”
“What are you thinking?” I hissed as I hugged her around the waist.
“Jes’, shh!” She turned her cerulean eyes back to the room, batting them over the guard’s shoulder. I looked and saw his arm was limp and twisted at a funny angle. …Broken? Dislocated? Whatever it was, the man’s only interest was in cradling it. His wide muddy eyes blinked, unfocused, but his face dripped with sweat.
“Up, you big ape,” Elmiryn hissed.
“Even if you get out, they’ll put out a warrant for you,” the wounded guard said in a hateful tone.
“They’ll shoot you dead before you even leave this block!”
“I said quiet, or I’ll break your other arm!”
Awkwardly, we stood, like some cripped animal. I looked over and saw her things at the item check. “Wait, what about–”
“Shh! Jes’ hold on.” The woman turned back to call to the room, her voice loud. Ringing. Steady. Where did this control come from? Against all odds, I started to believe her when she said that drinking helped her gain her bearings…
This situation aside.
“I’m gonna fade away. I’m gonna walk out an’ vanish, and there isn’t a thing any of you can do about it. I make men into ghosts, and bring misery to any living person that crosses me.” We started to shuffle forward. I thought I was going to throw up again. Most of the tavern goers just eyed us blankly. But I saw some show fear. Others aggression. The guards looked like they wanted to grind our bones. “My friend here is the Twin. She’ll switch on you, if you’re not careful, and you can meet her sister. She isn’t nice.”
We passed some of the first few tables. One man took a menacing step forward, but Elmiryn jerked the guard’s throat, her fist curling around his jaw and her other hand taking hold of the back of his head. She fixed the man with a stare. He faltered and stepped back.
“It was our doing that Gamath is okay again. We want no trouble, really. But we’ll meet it. And end it.” The room seemed to shift. Fast whispers broke out like snakes. Eyes widened, and realization took a hold of many gazes. Some scowled at us, skeptical of her claim. Our deeds had preceded us, but many failed to attach description to face. How much longer before that changed?
“You’re a liar,” A heavy man shouted. He stood from his seat and flexed his arms. “I heard there was only one person who saved Gamath, and that was a man. Named Aidan.”
“Aidan was a cocky idiot that got himself killed,” Elmiryn shot back.
I buried my face into her side. I didn’t feel the added attention was a good idea.
“I know a friend in Gamath.” A waitress with curly dark hair chimed. “She sent me a letter telling me everything. If you were at least there, then you can tell me the names of the two men who also went to the cave!”
Elmiryn snorted at this quiz, but she answered the question anyway. “First of all, there was only one man. A blacksmith named Sedwick. He isn’t human anymore. He’s become an agent of the river guardian, or some nonsense like that. The other that went with us was a boy. Baldwin. I didn’t want him to go, but he insisted. …He died in that cave.” My grip tightened around her. “The river guardian swallowed me and my friend whole. It was in spiritual union that our knowledge brought her out of her madness. I woke up, days later, half-crazy–thinking I was being fed blood and ants. Now I’m here. Does that get any more detailed for you? Who is this friend o’ yours, anyway?”
I peeked my head out, unable to resist. “…Um…Does she have mousy hair an’ a boxy face?”
I smiled weakly, glad for something nice to recount. “She gave me the boots and clothes I’m wearing now. Please, when ya write to her, tell her thank you for me. I never did get a chance.”
“Oh yes, I will!” The woman breathily exclaimed, her face going flush. A greater stir spread through the room.
Something dawned on me. All this time, we had been moving. The tavern was so fascinated by the prospect of us being Gamath’s saviors, that we faced no trouble in traveling the room.
The tavern master gestured at us angrily. “They’re criminals! They hurt one of my guards!”
“I didn’t like him anyway!” Someone said loudly. The room burst into laughter. I looked around, stunned. Not all had joined in, but most had. The atmosphere of the room had changed drastically. I eyed the caramel-haired man, who didn’t smile, but his expression was light. The “lil’ bacon” was grinning in a sort of goofy awe. The large dissenter sat again, sullen, but his fists had unclenched. A short old man held up a goblet to us, and others matched him murmuring in positive tones. Through the forest of people now standing, movement caught my eye. A man with skin like chocolate, dressed in chainmail sleeves and a black doublet, put something away in his side pouch. He eyed us with a narrowed gaze, but my sight of him was lost as we neared the front of the room.
We reached the guards. Elmiryn smiled at them, a hint of smugness in her expression. “If you’re smart, you’ll let us pass. I’ve faced down a nature spirit, fought therians twice your size, and escaped the fury of an entire fucking kingdom. I have no problem taking on all of you.”
The room jeered insults at the guards.
The two thick men, fitted with leather armor, iron shields, and longswords, glanced at each other. Some silent communication passed between their flat faces. One’s eye twitched. Then, they glared at us for a moment, before stepping aside.
My legs were weak at that point. I dragged along Elmiryn’s side, struggling to keep my grip. We sidled past until our backs were to the door. The woman fiddled with her captive’s sword belt. She managed to unbuckle it.
“You won’t get away,” one of the guards grunted.
Elmiryn smiled at him. “I bet you one man’s life ya can’t catch a ghost!”
Then she shoved her hostage away, swept me up, and we were out the door. The tavern exploded behind us, in what I made out to be a roar of applause.