I was sideways rocked into f r a c t i o n…
I’ve mastered the tricky art of a person launched wayward to action…
“I think you should get after her,” Sedwick said, gesturing.
Elmiryn thumbed after Quincy. “Why don’t you do it? Aren’t you the one familiar with this place? And I thought I made people want to kill things.”
“The quarrel started with you and must end with you.” The man said, fixing the woman with a hard look. “Both of you ended up here the same way. You both need to find the same person. Given the nature of your circumstances, splitting up is, kind of…well–”
“Stupid.” Nadi finished, deadpan. “Go on, Elmiryn,” The elemental said–not asked. “Whatever differences you two have will need to be settled, or at the least, set aside.”
The warrior considered being contrarian just for the sake of it. She sucked at her teeth as she ran the possibilities in her head.
“Fine. I’ll be right back,” she grumbled through a half-smile.
She stumbled over her own feet. Tension and poor blood flow through her limbs left her feeling cold and on the verge of the pins and needles sensation. All the heat had gone to her head, stuffing her up, clogging her thoughts, crowding her rationality. Unruly emotions. Nettling her. It was like a revolt, a surge of hidden energies attacking her foundations.
Quincy was divided.
“Baghun, mahar-krun ekhep jukatiba…” She’d been saying that to herself since she’d awoken in this strange place. She tried to control her breathing, to keep her tone level. Tried to find comfort in the rhythm. “Baghun, mahar-krun ekhep jukatiba…“ But nothing worked. The warrior hadn’t helped. Now Quincy was even worse off than when she started.
Foreign trees expanded about her, and the woman saw shadows creep quick along the edges of time while others remained recumbent. The world did not sit still. Light was a restless thing, and it was spread thin, its breath the agent of something that wished for all to splinter. Light wasn’t supposed to have breath. Nor were the shadows supposed to move as they did. All was wrong. The woman jumped and turned, rattled as she thought she saw something coming up her leg only to realize it was the phantoms of trees brushing by her.
Hmm…but do you feel haunted, wizard?
Elmiryn’s voice in her head, taunting her still.
Looked for trouble. Found it. All for the possibility of getting…what? Gold? Another useless lead in her lifelong search? A girl’s head trapped in iron, another scar over her breast, grains of time lost for her husband, a hot spray from the sudden headshot–Quincy stumbled again at this micro-thought, this flash and sting on her mind. Did Graziano mean anything to her? She kept seeing his corpse in the snow, life staining the white in a spidery cloud along the frigid ice. She had met him when he was a boy, a little younger than Paulo–
“Baghun, mahar-krun ekhep ju–!!” she tripped on a wrinkle on the ground, stumbling forward once more. A tower ready to fall. She tried to right herself, but couldn’t avoid clipping her shoulder on a tree trunk. When she managed to gain control her feet were at funny angles and her knees knocked together, both arms wrapped around the tree like it were a lifeline. Her face turned red. “Fuck.” She struck a fist against the trunk. Then again, harder. “Fuck, fuck!”
Her chest tightened and her breath turned thin and fast. Quincy rubbed at her face with a shaking hand. “Baghun, mahar-krun ekhep jukatiba… ”
She heard Elmiryn’s voice chasing her through the trees and bared her teeth, her body locking up.
“Wizard! Hey wizard! Wait, will you?” the warrior called.
Quincy said nothing. Teeth clenched together as if to contain the river of expletives that wished to pour forth, the brunette simply shoved from the tree and resumed walking, faster this time.
Despite her quickened pace, Elmiryn caught up. “Quincy, you aren’t being reasonable.”
“Do not talk to me about reason, Fiamman,” the woman snapped over shoulder. She flipped up her hood, darkness about her face. For a brief second she felt comfort in the indefinite mask, but then the agitation doubled back at the sound of her unwanted company.
“Fair enough. I can get unreasonable. Hell, I like to, sometimes. It’s fun. But this is just a bad idea.”
“I see no benefit in being in your company,” The wizard muttered. Quincy cursed as she slipped a little going down a short sandy slope.
Elmiryn snorted as she jumped over it. “You don’t see the benefit? What about the common sense? We need to find the same person to get out of here. Syria. We both have someone we want to find. Nyx and Hakeem. And we both have something we probably have to stab. Meznik and Tonatiuh. The best bet of achieving any of those is through teamwork.”
Quincy chuckled sardonically, “Teamwork. Cute.”
“I’m being serious.”
“Thank you for telling me. It gets hard to see that when it comes to you.”
There was a smile in Elmiryn’s voice when she said, “I find it interesting that most of your knowledge comes from spying on me. You want to confess something, dear?”
Quincy rounded on the warrior her face tight. “Leave. Me. Alone. I want nothing from you!”
Elmiryn didn’t flinch even as she stopped walking. She just batted her cerulean eyes and smiled gently. “Nothing about those chronicles Hakeem kept badgering me about? Nothing about Tobias?”
The brunette narrowed her eyes. “You aren’t the one who knows anything. You told Hakeem yourself.”
“Right. Not me. Nyx. Who I’m looking for.”
“I could probably find her myself and suffer less trouble.”
“It’s like Sedwick says. We just need to find her.”
The warrior chuckled. “But y’know, maybe we won’t have to find Syria at all. Maybe she’ll decide we’re worth the trouble and come hunting us down one by one. Even if you find Hakeem…can you take her? Can you beat her down without your magic?”
The wizard faltered for a fraction of a second. “Fool. My magic isn’t the only thing I–”
“Why is it that you keep stumbling around like you don’t know your own limbs?” The redhead asked suddenly. She looked the brunette up and down, eyes sharp and deconstructing. The intent shone in her eyes, hitting almost as hard as her words.
Quincy sucked in breath. Her right hand tightened over her sword handle. “Disorientation. That’s all,” She said. She tried to keep her voice level, but… “This place it–”
Elmiryn stepped forward, forcing the brunette back a step. “Tonatiuh took more away than just your flashy power, didn’t he?” she breathed, her smile broadening. Her eyes were a bit glassy.
The wizard’s lips grew thin as she paled. “Shut up.”
“How long were you bonded with him? Two years? Five? Ten? What scares you more? That something is missing, or that everything is still there?” Quincy shook her head. She turned and started to walk away. But this didn’t feel fast enough. She hopped into a jog. Elmiryn’s footfalls were right behind her. “He was like a wall, blocking out the noise. Made you focused. Made you strong. But the wall is gone and now all you’ve got are those tricky feelings–making you confused and weak, right!? Have you got anything you feel guilty about? Things you were trying to forget? Fears, anxieties…desires? Does the wizard have a heart?” The warrior was giggling. Delighted.
“SHUT UP!” Quincy started running. Her eyes burned as did her vision. She went as fast as she could. She tripped, rocking her body forward, but she didn’t stop. Just scuttled along the ground on her fingertips, spine curved, knees close to the ground like she were a cat stretching. She straightened again with a gasp but everything was just streaks and smears–
That bitch. That mkundu. That lunatic bastard. Who was she to say…?
Elmiryn didn’t know anything.
The wizard was divided.
Divided, she fell.
That was, until Elmiryn grabbed her by the back of her cloak.
Quincy yelled, but the sound was cut short as the fabric pulled at her shoulders and neck. Her eyes bugged out as she stared down at a great white sea of nothingness below her. One second, there had been an endless stretch of ground, countless trees, a vast promise of space–now she was swinging over oblivion, the ground gone from beneath her, something coming up her legs like it wanted to unravel her down to the bone. When she craned her head up, she saw that the ground had indeed suddenly stopped. It was like a floating island.
Elmiryn grunted, on her knees, her shoulders, and arms strained and already gleaming with a sheen of sweat. Strands of her auburn red hair slipped forth as she started to shift backward, pulling at Quincy’s cloak. The wizard clawed at the dirt with her free hand, her hood falling away, feet kicking into the soft soil for a hold. Stubbornly, she gripped her rusty sword. After several moments of this, she drew herself up over the edge, Elmiryn helping her. When she was safely on the ground, both women lay back panting, Quincy on her stomach, Elmiryn on her back.
For a while, neither spoke. The sound of their breathing became a strange rhythm in the air.
Then Elmiryn started to chuckle, hands going to cover her face. “Halward help you, wizard. You are heavy.”
Quincy pushed herself onto all fours and glowered. “I don’t appreciate your insinuation,” she panted.
“You’ve still got shape. Graceful curves. Makes me a little curious to see more.” Elmiryn sat up and wiggled her eyebrows, a smirk on her lips.
Quincy grimaced. “I appreciate that even less.”
The warrior blinked her eyes at the woman. Her smirk waned and she blinked again, faster.
The brunette scowled at her. “…Elmiryn what are you doing?”
The woman pouted and sat up. “I was trying to wink at you.”
Quincy didn’t know what to say to this so she just stared at the warrior. Russet locks clung to her sweaty face. She sat back onto her ankles and looked down at her lap where her sword rested. “From one thing to the next, hardly missing a beat. Do you ever think about what you do, Fiamman…?” she breathed.
She felt the redhead’s gaze on her. “As in…?”
“Everything. Every moment. Leading to here and now.”
“Oh. Like when I stole a kiss from Lunielle, the wash maid, two days before my thirteenth birthday? And then got her to lay with me within the hour? And then–”
“That wasn’t what I was talking about,” Quincy interjected, her eyes glaring daggers.
“I know.” The warrior smiled, but had a note of exhaustion to it. “I know that.” She sighed and let herself fall back. “If I think I can, I would move things. Always. Without hesitation.” She held up her hands and Quincy narrowed her eyes as she watched the shadows splay across Elmiryn’s eyes like crossed bones. “I would move what I could and what I can because it makes me feel right. I guess I’m immature–still fascinated by cause and effect and all that. I might’ve been a good artist. Or a craftsmen.” Her voice grew faint. “It has to be mine. The cause and the effect, I mean. So long as I see a chance for that, I go for it. I like feeling like I have some weight. That the world still responds to me. It’s been…harder lately. To get that feeling. I think I push too hard, looking for it, but I don’t know till after everything’s said and done. If I think about it, I can sort out everything in my head. But sometimes it takes too long. Sometimes, like I said, I just let myself be irrational. Nyx helps me. Maybe…fuck…maybe I let myself think out of bounds just because I know she’s there? I think, ‘Now I don’t have to fight so hard’. But she’s not here. She’s not here, and even when I fuck up, I still care. That’s a good thing…I guess.” She shifted on the ground so that she could look Quincy more directly in the face. “Hey…”
Quincy blinked at her. “Yes?”
“I was being an asshat, wasn’t I?”
The brunette glanced over her shoulder at the nothingness. She quirked an eyebrow as she looked at Elmiryn with a puckered mouth. “You did nearly chase me off into the oblivion.”
The warrior chuckled. “If Nyx were here, she’d have told me that. ‘Elle, you’re being an asshat. Stop it.’ And then I’d get to hear her curse, because she hardly ever does, and I would’ve done anything she told me, at that point. I might grumble, to prove a point. But fuck me…sometimes…sometimes I forget what my point was. …Is. …Was.” Her humor died away and the wizard thought of Hakeem and the way he’d sigh and bury his face in his hands. The memory of this gave her the desire to make it up to him somehow. She waited for it to pass.
“Anyways–yes and no, Quincy. I think about what I do some of the time. Technically, I think about what I do all the time, but maybe not as much as I should given certain situations. Like now,” Elmiryn finished in a mumble. Then she added. “You’ve calmed down a lot.”
“So have you.” Quincy smirked, but her lips trembled and it was short lived. “I think it’s the shock at work.”
Elmiryn sat up, her legs bending at the knees. She gave the wizard a hard look. “Wizard, you really don’t seem alright. ‘Shock’ aside.”
Quincy lifted a shaking hand to wipe at her nose, which had started to run. At least her sinus pressure was gone. “I don’t feel like me,” she muttered. She expected there to be more questions, and she was prepared to resist them–though she wondered why she admitted as much as she did to begin with–but Elmiryn just nodded, her face going somber as she looked at the worn-out knees of her pants.
Instead she just said, “How about this. How about–if you want, we can have another go. Like in Belcliff. And it’ll be to the death. But it has to be after all our goals are met. We have to work together so that we can fight each other later.”
“What if I don’t want to fight?” The wizard asked, standing. Elmiryn stood as well.
She grinned and pointed at herself. “You want to pass up the chance to punch me in the face?”
“But I can do that now and suffer no real repercussion.”
“Okay, what about the chance to play with my dead body?”
Quincy stared at her, wide-eyed. “Pardon me?”
Elmiryn looked down at herself, then back up. She blinked a few times. “You wouldn’t want this prize meat at your disposal?” Her shoulders sagged as her expression turned crestfallen. “You don’t find me attractive?”
The wizard ruffled her russet hair. “Argh! Why do we have to get on the topic of necrophilia for you to understand that I don’t find you attractive!?”
“I thought you were playing hard to get?” Elmiryn blinked. Once. Twice.
“I have a husband.”
Elmiryn blinked again. “You want to know what that translates to me? Secret rendezvous points and lots of drunken fucking.”
Quincy bared her teeth. “When can I kill you again?”
“We work together now. Kill each other later.” The woman’s eyes fluttered again.
The wizard pinched the bridge of her nose, eyes slipping closed. If her near-death was any indication, she was going to need help getting through this bizarre spiritual realm. Her emotions were hard to control, and she admitted silently that the matter would not be fixed with Elmiryn’s absence. None of this made her any more eager.
“Fine Fiamman, but only if you stop pushing me. It’s…taxing. I’m loathe to say it, but…” and here Quincy sighed, letting her hand fall away. “Tonatiuh’s absence leaves my self-control lacking. I’m not used to feeling so much. I won’t be of any use if half the time I’m wanting to cave in your skull.”
“If by pushing, you mean my teasing, then yes. I’ll stop that.” The warrior wagged a finger. “But that won’t mean I’m going to roll over for you just because you’re apt to crying and throwing a fit. If I’ve got something important on my mind, nicely worded or not, my ass is going to say it.” Elmiryn shrugged. “Of course, you’re free to get mad at me. I’m sort’ve used to it. I’ll even let you slap me. On the ass.” She blinked as she said this.
“Is this your idea of easing off?”
“No, this is just my way of saying I think we’d be great fuck buddies if not a pair of honorable rivals.”
“How about we leave it at honorable rivals?”
“Did I mention I frequently make out with my rivals?”
Quincy, red-faced, turned as if to walk away.
Elmiryn jumped before her, laughing. “Done! I’m done! I had to get that out, I’m sorry.”
Quincy crossed her arms. She tongued her cheek, her gaze hard. Elmiryn seemed to struggle to make herself appear as innocuous as possible. Finally the wizard came to a decision. “Okay, Elmiryn. Alright. We’ll work together for now and settle the rest later.”
“Okay.” Elmiryn blinked in response, her brow turning wrinkled.
The wizard slapped a hand to her face. “And for the love of Halward, stop trying to wink at me. You can’t anymore. Just get over it!”
“But it feels weird!” The warrior complained rubbing at her eyes with both hands.
“That’s just because you keep thinking about it!”
“What if I pulled my eyelid down with my finger, does that count as a wink?”
Quincy’s mouth screwed up, like it wasn’t certain if it should frown or grin. “…When can I kill you again?”
Back at the copse.
“I’m glad you two worked it out,” Sedwick said as they approached.
Elmiryn shrugged. “Yeah, sorta. We’re gonna settle it all later.”
“Once I calmed down, I saw that I wasn’t in the position to refuse what help I can get. Postponing things sounded like the best option,” Quincy added pragmatically.
Sedwick stared between them. “And…you’re okay with this? The both of you?”
The women glanced at each other. Elmiryn noted that Quincy didn’t pull her hood up again, and though her face was still a bit pink and puffy from her previous agitation, her azure eyes were clearer. More focused. She supposed a near-death scare and a gentleman’s agreement was enough to set anyone straight. As promised, the warrior resisted the urge to tease Quincy further. Part of the fun was lost in it, too. Tearing the wizard down when she was at her weakest seemed unsportsmanlike and far too easy.
Both women turned to the man, speaking simultaneously.
“Yeah. It works for me.”
“It’s reasonable enough.”
“I mean, our situations are definitely…”
“Yes. It’s odd but…”
“We’re fine with it,” they finished at the same time.
Sedwick rubbed the side of his face. “Ah…okay?”
“Where’s Nadī?” Quincy asked, stepping away to have a better view of the area.
The man jerked his head. “She went to clear the Way for you both. With all the spirits coming in, it might’ve been dangerous for you two to try and pass through.” He turned and started walking, and both women followed him.
If they were in the physical realm, then they would’ve been heading southwest, but given the nature of the Other Place, Elmiryn wondered what significance such concepts had in the world. They walked in silence. The lack of interaction left the warrior wanting, and her eyes roved over their surroundings for anything of interest. Her eyes fell on something yards away to the right. A small creature, with a teardrop head, one eye, and a lavender puckered mouth. It had a sprout of blonde wispy hair, and no arms. Its skin appeared like a human’s, but seemed shiny like it were hairless and rubbery. Its feet consisted of two long and thick toes, which it used to pick up rocks and stack them up one atop the other next to trees. She saw several trees it had already done this for.
“Hullo, little thing!” She called, waving.
The thing jumped, blowing a raspberry as it looked her way with its singular gaze. Sedwick stopped to see what she was talking to, his attitude unconcerned. Quincy however, jumped as though she’d heard a bang.
“What’s there?” she asked the warrior in a voice skimming a whisper.
Elmiryn pointed, her throat tightening as she tried to keep the laugh from coming up. “There. Right over there. You see that little one-eyed spirit?”
Sedwick pulled her arm down. “Don’t point!” he snapped. “It might take offense.”
“I don’t see it!” Quincy said, vexed.
The being seemed to consider them for a moment. Then it gave a perfunctory bow and resumed its work.
The woman rubbed the back of her neck. “What is it doing?”
Sedwick resumed walking. “It’s just a lesser spirit acting under a spiritual ban. It seems to be trying to help the trees, somehow.”
“If it’s a lesser spirit, then why’d you make such a big deal about me pointing at it?”
“Because lesser spirits can become greater spirits. At any rate, it’s just common politeness.”
“I didn’t see it…” Quincy muttered.
Elmiryn looked at her with a grin. “It wasn’t that big a deal.” She paused, then turned and squinted at the wizard over her shoulder. “Hey, come to think of it, you went charging for that cliff earlier. Did you see where you were going at all?”
Quincy shook her head, a severe frown coming over her face. “I was distraught, I admit, but I think I would’ve noticed that. One second I was running, the next I was falling.”
“What’s this about a cliff?” Sedwick asked, glancing back.
“Nothing,” Elmiryn and Quincy said. The man’s expression soured at their refusal to impart the story, but within the next instant they had arrived at their destination and the opportunity was lost.
Nadī stood, arms spread wide as, within the face of the mountain before her, a Window stood. Elmiryn’s face drew long as she gazed in wonder. This was even bigger than the one she’d previously entered, and it seemed a level bit more coherent too. She saw odd contraptions rattle by, creatures she knew not the names to, and colors that had no place in her world. Off in the distance, she saw the silhouettes of beings traveling, and guessed them to be spirits.
The trees about them had thinned once more, sparing a more open view of their surroundings, which was overrun by tall grass and shrubbery. Daisies swayed, leaves waving in a friendly hello. Elmiryn took her eyes away from the marvel of the Window and smiled, waving back at them. “Hello!” she said.
Quincy had fallen back and appeared to draw into herself. Elmiryn didn’t know why. She seemed unconcerned, or possibly unaware, of the great Window. Instead her eyes were on the meadow grass about her, her breath turned clipped as said grass started to bend in her direction, tangling and weaving into a thick blanket that stopped her from walking forward. The blades roved over her legs and the woman looked to Elmiryn and Sedwick for help, her hands held up like she were afraid the grass would touch them. “I can’t move!” she exclaimed.
Elmiryn bit her lip to keep from grinning. Sedwick brushed by her and went to the brunette, his movements relaxed. The grass seemed to part from him, but in a manner that the warrior saw more as a sign of respect versus fear or revulsion. He lifted a hand. Blowing softly across his palm, a light mist of water appeared, coating the tall grass. A small sigh was heard, and the grass around the woman relaxed, releasing their hold of the wizard.
“There,” Sedwick said. His voice held a smile to it. “Don’t mind them. Sometimes, they get a little too friendly. I bet they just find you interesting. You have a lot residual energy about you. Nadī tells me that’s common among wizards.”
“I like them,” Elmiryn said, reaching down to brush her hand through the sea of swaying meadow. A chorus of giggles met her and she smiled.
“The environment usually gains a sort of cognizance around these Paths,” Nadī said as she came near. The grass parted for her, much as they did Sedwick. “Something about the raw energy makes these things animated. It isn’t possession so much as…spiritual evolution.”
“Agnitio?” Quincy asked, staring at the grass.
Elmiryn squinted. “What?”
“It is higher thought, empathy, emotion. People confuse it with life, but that’s not what it is. A plant has life. Studies have shown that they do have a simple animus. But they lack awareness. That is agnitio.”
Elmiryn eyes glazed, a gentle curve took her lips and a warmth spread through her as words echoed through her head, devoid of images but powerful all the same. “Nyx told me a story once about the Spider of the West. She had figured out how to give agnitio without the gods. Is that the same thing?”
Quincy grabbed the warrior’s shoulder. Her hand felt sweaty. Elmiryn quirked an eyebrow as the wizard stepped near, her brows knitted together. “What story?”
“The Wind and the Web,” Elmiryn said with a shrug. “From that book Tobias gave Nyx.”
Quincy’s mouth grew thin. She looked to Nadī. “How do we travel? We need to get back to Albias.”
“I thought you said there was nothing there?” The warrior said.
The other woman glanced at her. “I said the portal wasn’t there. I didn’t say we wouldn’t find something of interest. Right now that’s our best lead to finding Syria, and possibly the others.”
Nadī motioned for them to follow her before she turned with a sweep of her long beautiful hair. She stopped feet away from the Window. “You’ll pass through here and continue along the Path. I’ve cleared the way of all spirits, but you’ll need to hurry. Some of the greater beings dislike being barred and are pushing at my barricades as we speak.” She gestured toward Sedwick. “As I cannot leave my domain, Sedwick will accompany you for as long as necessary. He will guide you through this realm and help in any way he can.“
“I’m not going anywhere with you until you put that thing away.” Elmiryn pointed at Sedwick’s penis unabashedly.
The man scowled at her. “You didn’t have a problem with it before!”
“I see it this way. This shard is like your house. You want to go romping around naked in your house? Fine. But when we leave here and find Nyx? I am not going to do it with a cock out next to me. Sends the wrong signals, if you know what I mean.”
“No. I don’t,” Sedwick said flatly, but everything from the waist down turned watery and clear. “There?” He said, arms crossed. “Happy?”
“Thank you.” Elmiryn smirked. “…Anyways, I don’t know why you’re pouting. There wasn’t that much to put away–”
The man’s face turned pink. “Elmiryn–!”
“Where are we supposed to go?” Quincy asked the river guardian, sparing a scornful glance their way.
Nadī blushed, her cheeks turning a deeper blue. “My apologies, Quincy. I forget myself. As you and Elmiryn are human mortals, there are aspects of this realm that may remain hidden to you, as you are not of the spiritual level to be aware of such things. Likewise, you may see things that are not there. Before you stands a sort of Way, a Path, an Opening. Stepping through this will set you on the abstract highways that connect the shards. These were carved out by powerful spirits long ago, whose very natures are mysteries even to me.”
Elmiryn frowned as Nadī explained this. She raised a hand, bringing attention her way. “Okay. Okay…wait. You just said I’m not supposed to see this thing? This giant fucking Window right dead in front of me? Are you joking?”
Everyone blinked, exchanging looks. Nadī’s expression in particular turned worrisome. For some reason this bothered the warrior. “Elmiryn,” the elemental said slowly. “You…see this?”
The warrior swiped at her nose and crossed her arms over her chest. A light frown fell over her eyes as she gave a perfunctory nod. “Yeah! It’s a little hard to miss!”
Nadī looked at Sedwick. “Was there something odd about her when you found her, Sedwick?”
The man had a blank look, his mouth a little open. “Ahh…” he rubbed the side of his face. “No. I didn’t see anything.”
“What does it matter?” Elmiryn said with a shrug.
“Elmiryn, you have problems with your perception,” Sedwick said. He gestured to her and the wizard. “Between you and Quincy, it’d be reasonable to guess that you would be the one to have more trouble discerning these surroundings. Now that I think on it, it has been the other way around. In fact, you’ve been pretty good on keeping a straight head here, even given your recent encounters. But from what I can recall from our shared memories all those months ago…you were prone to confusing things even on the smallest level. Only you’ve been very lucid here.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” But Elmiryn’s chest was clenching.
Quincy looked at the warrior sidelong. “Fiamman…even I’m getting the implications here.”
Nadī gazed at Elmiryn grimly. “Did Meznik do something to you, Elmiryn?”
The warrior swallowed hard. “He…gave me something. I was having trouble pulling my body back out of the nothingness. He gave me something and it made me–” but she stopped short as a cold swept over her skin.
Sedwick bowed his head, his face turning hard. “It’s made you less human,” he said quietly.
Nadī stepped near him and gently placed a hand on his back, her expression remorseful. Elmiryn swallowed through a tight throat, feeling surges of anger as she played her conversation with the demon through her head. She pressed her knuckles into her eyes and tried to contain the shiver of revulsion that went through her. When she dropped her hand, her knuckles came away damp.
There was an awkward cough. Quincy spoke. “It might be a bit extreme to put it that way. Maybe she just lost something, like I did? We might be able to get it back.”
“Yes!” the elemental gushed, “This may well be the case! In any case, I’m sorry to be so brusque, but you all must go. I feel my barricades slipping,”
Elmiryn rubbed at her face. When she looked up again, she wore a fixed smile. “Alright.” She looked to Sedwick. “Ready?” Her cerulean eyes pierced into him.
The man gazed at Nadī, his brows pressed together. “I’ll be back soon.” He ran a hand over his bald head and gave a resolute nod. “Ladies, let’s go.”
The river guardian stepped back as Elmiryn and Quincy faced the Window with Sedwick in front. When he walked in, they followed.
The second time there, she found she wasn’t as taken in as she was previously. Her wizard companion, however, seems a bit overwhelmed by the fascinating sights. Elmiryn pulls her along by the arm. You don’t want to dawdle, she says. Believe me.
Sedwick is ahead of them, moving briskly, his arms swinging back and forth and sometimes wavering like his body craved to be as water. She wondered if it were possible to discover other realms by Traveling like this. She thought it had been suggested before.
There was a familiar glow on the horizon.
Much like before, they followed the Way in the direction of this light. But she recalled something the twig spirit had said to her. At the strange crossroads, it had said she must start at the last before reaching the first, where her true desire could be found. If she were returning from Gamath, where she had first wound up, then she needed to go to the next path…
The air grows thick. Her nose wrinkles as she catches a whiff of something strong and repulsive. Do you smell that? Quincy asks. It’s like brimstone…
Up ahead Sedwick shouts at them to hurry. He sounds agitated.
She starts to run, dragging the wizard with her. The air is becoming hazy and it burns her eyes. She starts to cough.
Some part of her knew better. Looking over her shoulder was like begging for the unknown to become known, and that was like an invitation. Maybe it wasn’t aware of them. Maybe all they had to do was hurry on by it, whatever it was. She looked over shoulder anyway.
That was when the smoke spirit fixed its fiery eyes on her and the woman cursed.
Run, run! She screams as she sprints. Up ahead, through the haze, the light was growing nearer.
They make it. It’s the crossroads again, with its five paths. But the spirit is still right behind them. There is a looming hiss that reminds of burning wood. Smoke swirls about her legs and pulls them out from under her. She loses her grip on the wizard as the being pulls her toward it, its smoke swallowing her. Suffocating her.
She hears running water. Sedwick shouts as he cuts a swath through the smoke, his body nearly all water, whipping and lashing and spraying. He has a fluidity he lacked in his human life. She admires this as he pulls her free, his hands wet on her skin. He’s shouting that there’s only one way they can go, and it goes down.
She’s still coughing and wheezing when he literally throws her forward, to the only Way that was open. As she falls, Sedwick and Quincy are right behind.
Elmiryn groaned and batted her eyes open. All around her was dark. “What…?”
“We made it.” Sedwick further ahead of her. He sounded a little winded. “I just managed to close the Way behind us, but…” his voice turned angry. “Elmiryn, why did you look at it!?”
The warrior winced and sat up. “Oh you mean the big–”
“Yes, that–” Quincy sliced in from somewhere to the right.
“It was a being of vengeance. Probably born from a forest being burned down for development. We would’ve been fine if you hadn’t have looked at it,” Sedwick finished, his tone on the verge of being livid.
Elmiryn strained her eyes in the dark and her nose flared to the smell of soil and rock. There was also the scent of some strong gas swirling about the stale air. She coughed and felt like smoke was still in her lungs. The woman wheezed and leaned back, tilting her head. She coughed again into the air.
“Where are we? This isn’t Albias,” There’s a rustle as Quincy stands and shakes out her cloak.
Sedwick lets out a short exhale through his nose. “The other Ways were blocked,” His voice turned gravelly. “I don’t like this. Our path was being guided.”
“Forced sounds more appropriate,” Quincy said. The crunch of boots along the ground. “…Well, clearly we’re underground somewhere.”
“Why the hell would we end up underground?” Elmiryn said with a scratchy voice. “The nearest shards would all be from the Sibesona, right? What place on the Sibesona would be underground?”
The other two said nothing for a moment. Then Quincy cursed. “Tai’undu!”
The warrior crawled around, her hands groping blindly in the dark. “What, wizard?”
“Quincy? Do you know?” Sedwick said quickly.
“I just had an idea,” The brunette admitted reluctantly. “It’s most likely the answer, but I can’t be certain until we explore further…and it might be dangerous to.”
“Well what the fuck’re we supposed to do? Sit on our asses till a solution goes crawling by?” Elmiryn found the wall–made of rock, and used it as her support as she stood up from her knees. “Out with it, Quincy. Where are we?”
“I’m getting to that, you crass idiot,” The wizard snapped. She took a deep breath to calm herself. When she spoke again, she was calmer, but also sounded tired. “I believe we’re in the abandoned dwarf colony of Albias. And given what I know…it is most likely teeming with angry spirits.”
Elmiryn blinked. Then she shook her head emphatically. “Fuck that. Quincy, you’re fired. Sedwick!” The warrior snapped her fingers and pointed at the shadow adjacent to her. “I just found out that I could be not-quite-human, so I really need to kill something. Nothing more human than that, right? Tell me we’ll face something I can actually stab!”
“Elmiryn,” Sedwick sighed, “We’re most likely in the abandoned dwarf colony of Albias which is filled with very unstabbable angry spirits.”
“…Sedwick, you’re fired.”