Doorways carved from conflict led to new ways of thinking.
She was fretting over the ideas of freedom in the face of the materialist reality, where the senses were just the slaves of perception, and emotion was but an aftertaste of sensation. It was philosophical conjecture that had marooned on the shores of her mind, a castaway of a noble education. Idealism versus materialism. Materialism believed that there was an objective world that existed outside of the mind and spirit, not only known through senses, but through tools and science as well. Idealism believed the opposite, and stated that nothing existed outside of the mind.
The first time she’d heard of the concepts at the age of seventeen, she remembered feeling the sunlight and savoring it. She’d only stopped dozing when her instructor had used a burning home as an example for that day’s lesson.
What if they (the students) had walked through the door of a burning building? They could feel the heat, see the brilliance of the fires, smell the smoke…but was it all really there? Was the environment and the dangers therein illusions of the mind? The objective world was a thing of sense, but reports had come of individuals capable of ignoring such physical tethers through sheer willpower. Magic, too, was always reshaping the environment–was that part of the material world, then? Or was it further proof that their world was just a projection from their animus, and they could shape it to their will if only they could find such control?
Elmiryn remembered feeling intrigued, though her only question had been–
“And what about death? When you die, do you vanish, or does the world cease to exist?”
Her instructor–she had forgotten his name now–only chuckled and said, “Well I suppose it depends on how strongly you believe your own perceptions?”
The next day, her instructor had been dishonorably removed and replaced by another man, who went on talking about Halward’s supremacy like he were reading from a script, and the redhead had resumed her adolescent apathy towards her studies with zeal.
Imageless memories blurred into her present and confused her momentarily. Elmiryn gave her head a shake and her mind cleared enough to take in the scope of her situation.
She and Sedwick had gone to the first place they thought they could help–A half-timbered house that billowed smoke and flames with a woman screaming hysterically outside. Kind folk tried to take her to safety, but she fought them, screaming, “My family! My family is in there, dear gods, please!!”
Elmiryn was deep in the reaches of that very home, aware on some level that it’d been dangerous and foolish, but it had drawn her there. She could hear Sedwick shouting at her further away as he sent his water into the raging flames.
She…had hardly thought about it this time.
She’d just approached the inferno and pushed the flames aside with a thought, moving through the destroyed facade, a feeling like a fresh breeze greeting her before the notion was swallowed in the fury of the fires.
The ruined buildings around them were solid, real, and stark. The gutted giants of mortar and metal were stained hot by the fury of great big beasts, creatures who had been too enthralled by their larger-than-life dramas to stop and take notice of the little skulls they crushed beneath a deadly step. They had weight. They were mammoths of life. Did might make right, here? Was their spirit stronger than the collective belief? Could she withstand such a reality? The bricks crumbled, the glass cracked, and Elmiryn could see the dusty hands of a child reach out of the rubble through the flames down the hallway. Adjacent to the hallway was an open archway that led into what looked to be the study. A young boy lay face down there.
Elmiryn stared up to the sky where once a person’s bedroom could be found, but whose contents now lay crushed and flaming beneath a chunk of meteorite. The husband of the woman outside lay charred two steps away from her, his pale eyes, and blackened face turned toward the redhead’s ankles, as if any second he’d rise from death and chew them off. Elmiryn knew it was the father because he was large and bore the remains of a white sash around his waist–a traditional mark of the head of a noble household. Her father had once worn the same.
The air wavered from the heat, and her lungs would have been burning from the smoke…if she hadn’t been preventing the smoke from entering her lungs to begin with. This effort was making her right eye’s vision snow out in a tunnel, whilst her left eye throbbed from taking up the slack of its twin. She imagined this was what Nyx must have felt that time she’d lost half her sight. A tingling had gone down her arm, and she realized that her right hand was going numb.
Meznik’s music was in her ear.
You needn’t push yourself out so far.
You see? You’re taxing your spirit so much
That your body is being affected.
As I’m sure you’re aware,
I don’t agree with your current course,
But given your bullheadedness
And my inability to stop you at the moment,
I’ll just have to humor you.
Try this instead.
A simple suggestion will do.
The currents, the threads, the waves–
–However you’d like to call them–
They will leave you in peace if you focus.
The smoke has a special taste to it.
Repel it with a thought, and you’ll not be plagued.
She did as he said, and her vision slowly returned to her eye and her hand regained some of its feeling, but Elmiryn was trying hard not to think on the fact that she was doing it again, least of all that she was accepting Meznik’s guidance on the matter.
His musical voice was hidden from Sedwick, it seemed, for the man was more concerned with catching up. A clear path swathed through the flames behind him. Finally, his curses seemed to break through to her as he neared. “A damn, cocky-headed fool is what you are!” he snarled. “What were you thinking running in that way!?”
She turned to regard him, her face somber, her hands clenched in front of her to hide their trembles. “I wasn’t thinking,” she said honestly.
Passion was a doorway. Her doorway.
Elmiryn turned to gaze at the young boy lying just out of her reach. This time she couldn’t brush the flames aside because these fires were stronger, the weave that made them being more tightly knitted together. She couldn’t undo them without harm to herself. It was like touching molten metal. Pain was spidering along her skull and down her neck, where it nestled between her shoulders in a tight knot.
You feel it, don’t you?
The backdrops of our stage.
She frowned and responded in kind, not moving as she felt Sedwick’s water spray the back of her shirt in his attempts to keep the heat at bay.
I can push and pull the flames and smoke.
I can raise the dust and stir the air.
But you won’t tell me how to undo the flames?
The music of his voice made the sound of laughter.
We mustn’t rush the process, now shall we?
Or do you wish to shed your human vestige here and now?
People are dying.
People who had no say, no warning, no way of defending themselves.
This isn’t right.
Chivalrous, are we?
You say people are dying.
I ask you, what are ‘people’
But roaches to be crushed?
You should be honored.
You are not one of them.
You are a demon’s precious toy.
“Elmiryn, look alive will you? I think the house is going to collapse soon!” Sedwick.
Elmiryn’s face softened as she looked at him, and she jerked her head over her shoulder. “There’s a boy over there. He might still be alive.”
“Then let’s handle this with care, or we won’t be of any help to anyone!” He said, his voice a low growl. The man was upset. The redhead could see though, in the lines of his face, that it was concern. She’d scared him.
Elmiryn gave a nod and a grin. “After you, Sed!”
Sedwick’s jaw tightened, but he moved quickly to where the flames rose high and blocked the way forward. With arms raised, water came blasting from his fists and in short time the flames were extinguished with a loud hiss. As soon as a way was clear, Elmiryn ran forward and knelt down by the boy. Overhead, she heard the ceiling crack. She didn’t spare time to look, but tried to touch the boy’s face. Her hand went through him.
He was alive then. Offhand, she wondered if, since she could not interact with the living, she could interact with the dead.
…But she wasn’t going to wait to find out.
Standing, she felt the weaves of dust beneath him–she was familiar with that pattern of reality now–and tried to beckon them to rise. They didn’t budge, and she tried to force it. Her breath grew short and her eyes fluttered as a sharp pain spiked through her, striking down from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. When she swooned, Sedwick gripped her by the shoulders and kept her up. “Elle!?” She fended him off as she heard Meznik speak.
Don’t get cocky.
Just because you can pull a few tricks,
Doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the art.
It’s one thing to redirect inanimate energy.
Another thing entirely to deal with living matter.
Life has weight.
Sedwick gave a wave of his arm, and water swept out of the air to slip under the boy, effectively cocooning him. Without any further gesture, the boy was carted toward the exit with Sedwick close behind. Elmiryn felt disappointed her tactic hadn’t worked…and then decided it was for the best. She ran to catch up, mindful of the debris that began to fall in earnest. The heat around them seemed to double now that she was paying more attention to them. Sweat dripped from her chin, and she swore her hair was soaked to the tips.
They were out of the building.
There, they were greeted by the sight of the mother clutching at her son. Her hysteria had taken on a hint of bewilderment as she stared at the place where Sedwick’s water had bore the youth safely from the flames. Those around her managed to pry the boy from her hands long enough to try to get him conscious again. Elmiryn turned away just as the boy’s eyes opened and he entered a coughing fit. There was an ominous crack, and the building they had just escaped had its northern wall collapse entirely, bringing what remained of the second floor down to the ground. The mother’s joy at seeing her son was silenced with numb shock.
Elmiryn sat on her hands and took a breath, one free of smoke and supernatural influence.
Sedwick loomed over her, arms crossed, an expectant scowl on his face.
“I won’t talk to you if you look down on me like that,” she said. The man grunted but knelt down on one knee. He sought her eyes, and with a flash of annoyance, Elmiryn met his gaze.
“Tell me what you did,” he demanded.
“I thought that was obvious. I’ve just walked out of a burning building.”
Sedwick punched the ground, and Elmiryn gazed at him with brow raised. “DON’T!” he snapped, his face quivering. “No witticisms, no deflection, no pretense Elmiryn! I want to know what’s really going on!”
The redhead’s lips tightened, almost in defiance.
Why not just tell him?
Tell him you are becoming a fae.
Tell him you are not bound by the same laws they are anymore.
Tell him about the dreams that feed me,
Or the lies that feed you,
Or the truths that undermine us both.
Elmiryn spoke slow, not to insult Sedwick, but because she wanted to give herself plenty of time to change her mind. “I am seeing myself in everything and nothing.” She swallowed and repeated herself at the man’s lost look. “I am seeing myself in everything and nothing.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m feeling more than I used to, and I can push things. Pull things.” Her hands clutched a fistful of dirt and she held it up. The man’s gaze turned curious to see the way they trembled, but there was no use hiding it anymore. “Everything has a pattern. Having my soul ejected from my body was like a crash course in learning that lesson. The only reason I’m keeping myself together is because I know my pattern.”
Sedwick blinked slowly at her. “There was something else, wasn’t there? When your spirit left us? You saw something else!”
Elmiryn opened her palm and the dirt she held shifted up into the air in uneven clumps before collecting into a tight, perfect sphere that hovered over her hand. The man, if possible, turned even paler than usual. “I told you I hadn’t found Meznik, and that was true,” she said. “Instead, I found some of his inspiration–oozing like sap from the trees–and it told me how he does some of the things he does.” Her face turned hard. “It told me how I could do those things.”
“His power is a tainted thing! Did you not just get through warning Quincy away from such a fate!?” Sedwick rose to his feet, with a loud curse. “You are impossible!”
Elmiryn made no attempt to apologize, nor did she feel the need to defend herself. Instead she just watched the man pace back and forth.
“Hypocrite.” The warrior turned and saw Quincy standing not too far away, a long metal rod over her shoulders and a glower on her heart-shaped face. “I heard it all, and I say you’re a gods damned hypocrite.”
“I don’t contest that,” Elmiryn said with a shrug. The orb of dirt crumbled, and she let it fall away.
“How can you be so nonchalant!? You just brushed aside fire!” Sedwick shouted, his pale eyes like big polished pearls. “Do you forget the things that creature has done using such powers!?”
The warrior didn’t like the man’s implications, and was quick to respond. “My goal is to kill Meznik, not save the fucking world. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s still completely out of our reach. How do you expect to end his tyranny if we refuse the paths that lead straight to him?” Elmiryn jabbed a finger into her breast, a hard look in her eyes. “Who’s the one who cured Nadi of her madness? Who’s the one who got the clues as to the whereabouts of his other trees? Who’s the only one who can survive Meznik’s song? I’m different, Sedwick. That bastard’s curse is changing me, but he wants this. He wants me to be able to see him one day. If he wants to risk being run through once that day comes, then that’s fine by me. But for now? I have to play along. I have no real choice.”
“There is always a choice,” Sedwick ground out.
“Not when he’s turning me into one of the fae, there isn’t.” Elmiryn was on her feet and feeling horrible for it, as if the whole of the last two hours were pressing down on her right then, but she remained standing to gaze levelly into the man’s eyes. Even as she clenched her fists they shook, and she said again loudly, “I am turning into a fae…” The word sounded horrible to her ears.
Quincy appeared at the woman’s side with a frown on her face and azure eyes narrowed. “What nonsense are you on about? How can that be?”
Elmiryn let out a harsh laugh. “I’m toying with the natural laws as we know it. Is that not enough for you?”
“That can be some obscure form of magic…sorcery or some such.”
“Not when I can see color and emotion as something I could unravel. Something I can eat.” Elmiryn made the motion of pulling delicately at something in the air, then popping it into her mouth.
Sedwick rubbed at his face and said into the palm of his hand, “By the gods and all that is holy, the madness that haunts your life, woman…”
The redhead sighed and looked at her boots. “I…there’s something else.” She coughed and looked toward the sky. “The wine,” she said after a long pause. “I’ve…been suffering since last I had it.” She swallowed at her dry throat and held up her hands. It pained her, to show this weakness, but even she could not deny that this could no longer stay hidden. “My hands won’t stop shaking…and the nausea and headaches seem to come in waves.”
“Fae can’t have wine…” Quincy breathed. There was a look of fascination on her face. “It’s their spiritual ban to be denied one of the basic pleasures lest they become lost in their vices. They say the first taste makes them as bad as a long-time drunk.”
“How can this be?” Sedwick said, still sounding skeptical. “The fae are high spirits, and powerful. Only beings like Nadi can compel them!”
“Can’t you just tell?” Quincy gestured at Elmiryn.
“I’m not a bloodhound for the spirit world, thank you.”
“I don’t care if you don’t believe me,” Elmiryn snapped. “I told you what there was to tell you, and that’s all!”
You’re leaving out the best part.
Sedwick looked at Quincy. The wizard brushed her pearl earring. “Everything she’s said so far, my earring deemed vitally important. I believe her.”
The warrior crossed her arms. “Now, are we still calling my integrity into question, or can we go do some real good?”
The elemental pursed his lips. “So you’re suffering from withdrawal, and you still want to go into the line of danger?”
“I don’t recall needing your permission for that.”
Quincy shook her head. “Elmiryn…the people here are taking care of things. And if you want my professional opinion–“
“I don’t, but I have a feeling you’ll give it anyway–“
“You shouldn’t take risks with this. You don’t know what the long term affects are, and you could be upsetting natural balances.”
“Are you telling me I can’t use this ability at all?”
“Can you name for certain what it is you do?“
Elmiryn said nothing, but looked away and sucked at her teeth instead.
Quincy gave a satisfied nod. “Exactly. We can experiment later. Run some tests. I know a few alchemical tricks that can hopefully contain whatever it is you do.” Elmiryn started to protest, but Quincy cut her off. “We’re not trying to insult you. We’re trying to help you understand. Using an alien power without proper supervision could lead to trouble. If this is another Tonatiuh…” she trailed off, her throat moving visibly.
Sedwick gave a jerk of his head. “Come on. Let’s go back to your home and rest. You look like you need it.”
The warrior swiped at her nose and glared at her companions.
Aren’t they such a bother?
Elmiryn let out the breath she’d been holding and rubbed at the back of her neck. She’d gotten the impression that Quincy had just wanted to poke at her like a scholar who had found a new breed of animal, but Sedwick was looking at her with sympathetic eyes again. This time, she didn’t bunch up and grit her teeth. The ex-blacksmith had also seen his own people suffer. He understood what it felt like.
She turned and let her eyes roam over surroundings, still searching for a reason to stay, to help. But as she watched the Fiamman citizens in their fight for their homes, she knew…she was just a ghost here.
Without a word, the woman turned and began walking the way back to her home. Quincy and Sedwick came alongside and Elmiryn felt a smile tweak her lips despite her frustrations. After a time, she glanced at the wizard.
“New staff?” she asked mildly.
Quincy glanced at her. “Sort of.”
Elmiryn frowned and leaned in close, her eyes fixed around the top of the brunette’s head. The wizard leaned away from her, a scandalized look on her face. “What?” she snapped.
The smile that had fought to surface appeared on the redhead’s face in full.
“…Wizard, some of your hair is standing on end.”
I was seeing things through the Somnium. All was as depressing as when I first came here.
I sat on the bollard, back hunched, the water behind me a gurgling, hissing thing that made me think of mythical beasts and nightmares. Praxidice gripped the platform edge, her claws gouged into the wood, her tail wrapped about the thick columns whose roots were swallowed up by the bay. With her wings folded against her back, she was looking quite slim. Before us sat The Big Brick. The noble dragon’s head craned to me, and I looked at her. I slid to my feet and gave the faintest of nods.
Praxidice let out a hiss, and faster than I’d seen her move, she charged toward the building. It was perhaps an optical illusion, and I rubbed my eyes just to be sure, but the beast broke down the door and slipped in without trouble. There was a commotion as the patrons inside reacted to the entrance exploding, but I doubted if they knew the true reason…
…Then again, I thought I heard the bartender screaming.
With a start, I ran after Praxidice. Please understand, I didn’t want to go inside…but I had to. I had to see this finish. So many nightmares had been born in this place, I needed to know that the beasts of such imaginings would never again haunt me in life.
Inside, the tables were overturned, great claw marks gouged into the wood. The patrons seemed shaken but okay. The bartender, just as I’d suspected, was quite hysterical.
“Didn’t you all see!?” He screamed. “The dragon! There was a great big dragon!!“
I didn’t stay to watch. I went down the familiar hallway, and it stretched farther than when I’d first come with Tristi. At the end, I was confronted with the colored hallways twisting in defiance of natural law. I heard Praxidice screeching off to my right and went that way. All the doors were open, and I could hear a great howling coming from each. These were like pockets of Volo’s subconscious, and yet they seemed entirely aware of what his higher mind was going through. They stopped their vile games and tore at their surroundings. Tore at each other. Two such creatures fell out into the hall, one having the face like female genitalia, the other with a mouth as big and as menacing as a shark’s. As they wrestled on the floor, I leapt over them and kept going.
The shadows of Volo’s mind grew thicker the deeper in I went. Thicker…but not stronger.
With a push, I willed for a way to his intimate chambers to be revealed. As I went, it seemed nothing happened. Then I rounded a corner, and there I was, facing the large hall where the floors were rumpled cashmere, and on either side of the aisle, couches and pillows waited like a hungry sea. The people that had once lounged here were gone.
I hurried through, my heart doing a marathon in my chest. Up ahead, I could hear Volo sobbing.
I came to the concrete chamber, and there I saw the naked backside of Volo curled up before the towering figure that was Praxidice. Volo was still his crooked, angular, revolting self, only he was like a tiny child in comparison to the noble dragon. In fact, as I neared, he looked even smaller than me.
He heard my approach and turned, his lips quivering and snot running from his nose. Tears streamed from his black crusted eyes. “The seekers have found me…” he said in a quavering voice.
“You deserved to be found, after all that you’ve done.” I was feeling apprehensive. Did I really want to see this?
Volo looked at me sadly. For a mad moment, I thought he was going to apologize.
Then he said, “I should’ve raped you when I had the chance.”
At that moment, Praxidice lashed out, and Volo’s horned head was crushed beneath her powerful jaws in an explosion of dark ichor. I turned my face away as she had her meal. It didn’t take long. I heard her shifting toward me, and I looked up just in time to see Praxidice’s wing come round to sweep me close. I could feel a breeze pick up, and that breeze became a powerful wind. I covered my ears and let out a shout as all around us, things seemed to be coming apart.
When the din quieted, Praxidice pulled back her wing. I lifted my head and blinked at our surroundings. We were back in the front room of the whorehouse. The dragon craned her head down and said to me, “Champion, the deed is done. I am willing to take you away from here. Where would you like to go?”
I looked at her carefully. “Can you take me to Elmiryn?”
The dragon’s eyes narrowed, but she nodded. “Aye, I can.”
In the same fashion as before, Praxidice slipped through the door without trouble, and I followed her. I climbed up her offered back, and with arms clutched around her neck, I tried to conjure up my courage for the coming flight.
Once home, Sedwick gestured for her to come upstairs. “I want you to see. It was the best I could do with eight arms.”
“It’s an elemental thing.”
Quincy stayed down stairs and announced she was helping herself to some tea. She sounded exhausted and looked as if she could use it. Elmiryn followed Sedwick up the stairs to her room, where he stood in front of the door like an anxious wife. The mental image made Elmiryn grin, and she momentarily forgot about the wine that seemed to call her from across the hall…
“I hope it’s alright. I know you aren’t going to stay here, but I thought you might like a place to rest should you wish to before we leave,” he said.
The woman shrugged. “Sure!”
Sedwick opened the door. Elmiryn’s brows went up high and she whistled.
The room still had the musty scent to it, but it wasn’t as bad as before. The walls were clear of their stains, and the vomit had been swept up, leaving only a clean patch of wet carpet from where Sedwick had dealt with it. The clothes were gone from the floor, and so was the broken furniture. Elmiryn looked out the window, then at the man. He held up his hands.
“It was the easiest route!” he said.
Elmiryn tried to keep her laughter tamped down, but in the end she was letting out loud and raucous peals that the man suffered with a sheepish grin. Still chuckling, she stepped inside. She glanced toward her closet and her smile turned wider. “Hey! You sorted out the clothes!”
Sedwick gave a nod. “Not all of them. The rest of the undamaged garments I tossed in the corner of the closet, but I pulled out these in case you wanted to change.”
The warrior looked down at herself. “Good thinking!” She snapped her fingers, “Speaking of which, I’d like a bath before we leave.”
The man frowned. “You’d better hurry. Nyx will be back soon, and I get the feeling staying too long will only invite trouble!”
Elmiryn pulled out her forest green gentleman’s coat with gold and black trim. It had twelve ornamental braid loops on the front with gold buttons, otherwise known as frogs. The shoulders were sharp, the coat was long, and the collar low-key. She pulled out a pair of black britches, a cotton shirt, and a brown vest.
Then a mischievous glint came into her eye, and she asked, “I don’t suppose you know where my underthings are, do you?”
The man’s red face had been priceless.
With her clothes in arms, Elmiryn started down the stairs. She nodded to Quincy on her way to the kitchen, and the wizard returned the gesture. Sedwick joined Quincy on the sofa and they began conversing about something mundane. It was the first time they’d been able to rest like this in a while, and the warrior wanted to take advantage of it.
She went through the door to the back where, across from the servant’s room, was the wash room. In the center of the little space sat Elmiryn’s brass tub, and she sighed at the sight of it. Setting her clothes down, she went back into the kitchen and filled up another bucket of water.
Then an idea struck her.
Elmiryn peered out the door to where Sedwick and Quincy still talked. Neither looked her way. Rubbing her shaking hands, she reached up to the top cupboard and pulled out a small bottle of brandy. She unscrewed the top and gave it a sniff. The woman took a deeper breath, her eyes falling shut. She looked at the door again. “Just a splash, then…” she murmured, before taking a sip.
Everything in her pulled, and she felt the warmth spread over her tongue, then settle in her stomach. She resisted taking a longer drink, and quickly replaced the cap. She put the bottle back in its place in the cupboard, as if removing it from direct sight would help. Elmiryn smacked her lips and an almost delirious smile spread across her face. She turned to the bucket of water, and another idea came.
Once more looking to the door, the warrior tried to get a feel for the water’s pattern. It was like air in that it was fluid and whimsical, but it was also heavier and thicker. It would take ages to heat up the tub bucket by bucket. But if she could speed up the process somehow?
Stir the pattern.
The element of excitement will cause heat.
Elmiryn closed her eyes and willed the basest aspects of the water to movement. When her eyes opened, the bucket was steaming.
With a smug grin, she took the bucket to the tub.
We landed some ways from the sight of the great battle. As I climbed off her back, Praxidice spoke.
“Your companion rests in that home there,” she gestured with her head at a two-story home with a red door and a stained glass window over it, which depicted a rose. “I will be expecting your departure soon. You have my gratitude for your aid, but your company brings about trouble.”
I gave a nervous bow. “We’ll be gone within the hour!” I straightened and backpedaled away.
The dragon gazed at me quietly for a moment, before saying, “You and your friends are on a twisting path, one that leads to unimaginable danger.”
This amused me in a dark sort of way, and I paused to bow once more. “Then it is a good thing, Praxidice, that my god and I are good at surviving.”
The beast said nothing, and she took off, her great wings whipping the air into a torrent, and I watched her go with a look of awe. As she became a golden dot in the sky, I slipped back out of the Somnium, and turned to the house that the dragon had gestured to. For some reason, I was nervous. Once in front of the door, I tugged at my clothes and knocked.
There was movement inside. Within the next instant, the door was open, and I was face to face with–
“Oh! I should’ve known that was all the commotion outside.” Quincy stood at the door, a metal staff held before her as she looked me up and down. Her eyes appeared red and swollen, and there was a roughness to her appearance that distanced her from the cold-voiced, blonde haired wizard I had remembered her to be. Still, she had clearly recovered from her previous shock to be able to stand before me as she was.
I stared at her, mouth open. Then, stupidly, I asked, “Is…Elmiryn here?”
The wizard gave a wry smile and stepped aside. “She was puttering around in the back last I saw her.”
I hesitated a moment before entering. Inside, I blinked. The home was clearly belonging to one of the upper class. What really caught my eye was the portrait hanging over the fireplace. “Sweet Aelurus! Is that…!?”
Sedwick stood from the sofa he’d been sitting on. “Elmiryn’s family,” he finished with a grin.
“Hello again, Sedwick.” Even as I said this, my eyes were still on the portrait. Elmiryn had her mother’s smile. It was clear where she got her beauty from.
“We’re waiting for Elmiryn. She said it was fine to help ourselves, so we’ve some fresh tea here. I imagine she has some food in the kitchen, as well.” My stomach, as if on cue, gave a loud rumble. I laid a hand on it as I blushed. Sedwick laughed and pointed. “The kitchen is just there.”
I smiled my thanks, and with a furtive glance at Quincy, I hurried through the parlor and entered the kitchen. Inside, there was pickled pork, fresh herbs and vegetables. I eyed the meat hungrily. I could eat things raw when I was spiritually whole, but without my Twin with me, I wondered if my constitution could handle it. I preferred my food cooked, anyway. Except fish. I could eat raw fish all day.
…Sorry. I’m getting distracted.
Anyway–I started unscrewing one of the jars of pickled meat when I heard someone singing through the back door. My ear tweaked, and I recognized it. That was Elmiryn. Slowly, I set the jar down and began to move toward the sound. It’d been sometime since I’d heard her sing, and I found I missed it. It came from behind a slim wooden door, and I pressed my ear to the surface and closed my eyes.
O’ look, ye braves!
The sun has gone.
The heavens blood,
Has rained so long,
So painted our souls
And belayed our song,
O’ braves, assay, assay.
I didn’t know the song, but there was something haunting about it that had me pull back with a frown. I opened the door and poked my head in.
Elmiryn was sitting in a small tub, sponge in hand, with one leg lifted in the air as she wrung water over it. Her hair was wet, her skin glistening, and her breasts–
She stopped singing abruptly and snapped her eyes on me. I let out a squeak and pulled back, but didn’t close the door all the way. “Oh gods!” I breathed, shaking. I leaned in and said through the crack, “I–I’m so sorry, Elle! I had no idea! They didn’t tell me you were…”
“Naked?” she offered. I could hear the smile in her voice and felt my skin flare red.
I gripped the doorknob tightly. My breath was labored and my heart was turning my ribs into an instrument again. After everything I’d been through, somehow this had been the greatest shock. I was frozen in place, uncertain of what to do.
Elmiryn’s voice floated to me. “Well…we could just sit here with you breathing heavily at the door whilst I finish my bath…OR, you could do one of two things.” I heard water trickling on the other side and swallowed audibly. “First,” Elmiryn went on. “You could shut the door and walk away.” My palms were turning sweaty and I was trembling all over. “Or…” and her voice took on a mild tone. “You could just come inside.”
I pressed my head against the door, trying to will some sense of calm into me. Then I realized that there wouldn’t be any calm until I made a choice.
Walk a path girl. Any path. But walk.
I ran a hand through my hair and let out a breath.
…Then I walked in and shut the door behind me.