“Today is gonna be the day
That they’re gonna throw it back to you
By now you should’ve somehow
Realized what you gotta do
I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now
Backbeat the word was on the street
That the fire in your heart is out
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before
But you never really had a doubt
I don’t believe that anybody feels
The way I do about you now
And all the roads we have to walk along are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would
Like to say to you
I don’t know how
You’re gonna be the one who saves me ?
And after all
You’re my wonderwall”1
Quincy awoke with a taste akin to leather on her tongue. With mussed hair and squinted eyes, she sat up on her cot and saw through the haze of smoky incense a large bowed back, draped in gray furs. The person was sitting on a low stool, elbows out, occupied with something at the table they sat at. Their skin was a leathery brown, the skin tight and wrinkling from the lack of elasticity. From the broadness of the shoulders, she was certain this was a man. Peppery hair came down his back in long trailing locks. Glass beads on leather strings tied into the hair, the green, white, and black pattern illuminated in the candlelight.
She thought, “This must be the village healer. I didn’t see him when Hakeem came in earlier…”
He was silent as he worked.
Other cots were crammed up close to hers, the people laying asleep or unconscious under thick fur blankets. The medicine hut was easily the biggest in all the village, but it could hardly fit ten adults. No doubt there were more injured that the medicine man had to see personally at their homes.
Suddenly, Quincy felt a surge of energy course through her. She had no business taking up a cot from someone who really needed it. She was just a silly woman who became faint from lack of fortitude. With red cheeks, the woman rose, the cot squeaking. Spots came into her eyes, but she managed to keep from swaying too much.
The medicine man turned and regarded her with gray eyes flecked with honey. His lips were sunken in, his long face fuzzy with gray stubble. His jaw worked as he chewed his tongue, his owlish brows furrowed deep.
“Kwin-se.” He lisped. She could see that, save for a snaggletooth or two in the front top of his jaw, the man lacked teeth.
The woman frowned, coming closer, the incense smoke stirring in whorls about her. “I’m sorry?”
“Kwin-se. Y’aw nem, o’ no?” His Lycan accent was thick, and his voice a deep bass that made the woman’s hairs stand on end.
Quincy blinked at him, making as if to brush her hair back with her hand, then scratching her head partway through. “Uh…yes. Yes, that’s my name.”
The medicine man turned his back on her, returning his gaze to his work. “Ha-kim seh yoo gud with de art o’ rootsh.”
The woman squinted one eye. “The art of what?”
“Yoo ‘oomans…yoo seh…ul-kemy.”
“Ulkemy? …Oh! You mean, alchemy!”
The wizard nodded slowly, “Yes, I’m good with alchemy. You um…” she shifted her weight to one foot and placed a hand on her hip. “Were you…I mean…do you need help?”
A rumble came from the man, and the woman wasn’t sure if he was growling at her or laughing. “Ha-kim seh yoo was smaht.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Is that a yes?”
The man sighed and turned to fix her with a stare that made her feel as if she were twelve-years-old again, standing before Tobias covered in black feathers and green blood, with a cauldron of “surprise stew” overflowing into the out-of-control fire behind her…
…Which may or may not have happened.
Fiercely blushing, the woman undid her bracers and tossed them onto the bed. She approached the table, rolling up her sleeves, and mumbled, “What do you want me to do…?”
He pointed a thick finger at an open clay pot filled with what looked like dried calendula stems, then at a spare mortar and pestle on the other end of the table. The medicine man had a mortar in front of him as well, and in it was a white substance that looked like thin powder.
“Grine et so is tin,” he ordered.
With lips pressed together, the woman set to work. They worked in silence for several moments, the only sound being the light snores from some of the patients, and the sounds of stone working against stone.
Then the man grunted, “Eidan.”
Quincy looked at him, startled. “Pardon?”
The woman’s hands stilled as she squinted one eye at him. The man looked at her as if she were an idiot. He pointed at her. “Kwin-se.” He pointed at himself. “Eidan.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh! Eidan is your name!”
The man grunted and shook his head, his eyes returning to his work. “Ha-kim seh yoo was smaht…”
Out of the warmth…and into the cold.
I was kneeling in the snow, lost under a frame of time that had been taken out of order—a single shard moment of tangible emotions balled up into a disparate scene.
I was dressed in my mother’s feldgrau gambeson, the top button undone so that my collar hung loose from my neck. My hair was once more long, reaching down my back in messy curls and twists. Tears ran from my puffy red eyes, hands clutching around the limp body of Atalo. His young face was pale, staring glassily up at the sky, blood staining his skin from his throat being entirely ripped out.
Surrounding us in a circle, were pretas, like the ones I’d killed before.
They all sat attentively, with backs straight, mouths closed, and ears swiveled forward. I gazed around at each of them, my short breath a fog that dissipated into the white.
Then Atalo stirred in my arms.
I gave a start, a gasp escaping my lips as a shiver rippled through me. My little brother’s tawny gaze flickered my way, and he smiled.
“Koah…” he whispered.
His hand slowly reached up and I grabbed it, my gaze nearly clouding from my tears. I couldn’t stop shaking. A smile spread my lips.
“Koen, you were just sleeping, weren’t you?” I whispered.
He laughed, blood bubbling from the wound in his throat. I laughed with him, my hands coursing through his mane of dark hair. The pretas threw their heads back, and their horizontal mouths split to let out their unnerving child-like laughter. Somewhere beneath the joy—deep, deep, down—I felt a sense of absolute horror at this scene.
Atalo leaned in close. Closer than was appropriate. The demon spirits still yipped and giggled around us.
My brother hissed, “My hunger woke me up…”
Then he grabbed me and bit into my neck, tearing out my flesh with beastly teeth.
That was about the time I woke up with a scream.
Sweat drenched my skin, leaving a great chill when the cool air breezed into the hut. I sat panting, having kicked off the blanket in my sudden panic.
Elmiryn was up in an instant. Sleepy-eyed and muttering curses, she made as if to reach for her sword, but we’d left her sword belt next to the bed. She patted around for it for another second before she realized there was no immediate danger. Once she saw this, she relaxed, slouching with a sigh. The warrior squeezed my shoulder with one hand, her other hand rubbing at her eyes. “Nyx…wassamatter?” she mumbled.
I wiped at my face, still trying to catch my breath. I felt foolish and couldn’t meet the woman’s gaze. “I’m sorry…it was…I just had a bad dream, Elle.”
The woman let out a low hum in her throat and wrapped her arms around me. She kissed my ear, and I shyly turned my head a quarter her way. She kissed away a tear from the corner of my eye next, and whispered, “Would it helped if I held you?”
I swallowed and nodded.
Without a word, we lay back down onto the blankets, this time with Elmiryn encircling both arms around me. She laid onto her back, and me atop her, my head tucked in just underneath her chin.
“I’m not too heavy?” I asked.
The woman let out a short laugh. “Hell, no.”
I smiled weakly, but the vision of Atalo’s gruesome face smiling at me lingered—the blood staining his teeth, the torn remains of his throat, the hunger in his eyes as he killed me…
Then Elmiryn started to sing.
It was very soft, and yet the sound hummed through me, making my eyes flutter. The melody was slow and had a note of melancholy to it. I listened with rapt attention as the warrior came to the words:
O’ chance, dear sir,
Have ye caught word?
Of my love, so gold an’ true?
Says I, “It’s nigh a turn,
Since that ol’ thief has stolen through.”
He’s long in step,
But short of strike,
His hands not knowin’ blood.
He’s stardust in his hair
From all the heavens up above.
With careful grace,
He sought the place
Where I did keep my heart.
My love in hand,
That braggart fled
An’ left me torn apart.
O’ chance, dear sir,
Have ye caught word?
Of my love, so gold an’ true?
Says I, “It’s nigh a turn,
Since that ol’ thief has stolen through…”
The song wasn’t done, but my eyes slipped closed at some point, and the words were caught in the net of my sleepy mind, not quite making it to memory. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but my next dream was something warm, and I vaguely recall it having something to do with the stars.
Quincy finished tying the bandage on the young girl, her face sour as she thought in her head, “These Lycans are letting children take to the spear…At this rate, they’ll die out!”
She patted the girl’s shoulder, then turned and beckoned at the next person in line. “Next!”
Eidan worked behind her, preparing more medicinal paste for the bandages. Since they’d started, they had sent word around the village requesting the injured who could still walk to report to the medicinal hut for treatment. A long line had formed, winding around the village trails. Quincy had to admit, she was astonished. She hadn’t known this many injured needed attention.
She was just getting through with her current patient when Hakeem’s young form slipped past the line at the door. He gazed behind him, blinking, then at Quincy. “Eidan has put you to work, I see.”
Quincy scowled. “Yes. Yes, he has.” She sighed and the look softened. “But I suppose it’s what I owe. They spared a bed for me, despite all these people…”
Hakeem sat down next to her on the floor, watching as the next person came to her for aid. Her next patient was a teenage boy with a bad cut on his face that ran from the left side of his nose, across his cheek to his jaw. The wound had a white pus in it, the skin around it puckered and turning purple. There was a definitely a pungent smell coming from the gash.
“I don’t understand!” the woman said, huffing at the sight. She reached for the water jug and echinacea cream to clean the wound with. “These are therians, they ought to be healing themselves!”
“Lycan not god.”
Quincy jumped, dropping the jug and spilling its contents onto the dirt floor. She and Hakeem turned to look at Eidan. The medicine man didn’t lift his eyes from his work.
“Lycan paht o’ neshure. The wo’k yoo see, not paht o’ neshure. Is bad, bad magic done tish. Stron’ magic. Owr bodies no heal a’cos still bein’ tacked.” Eidan rumbled.
The woman looked to her husband, and the man-boy explained readily. “He basically said that whatever is out there is not natural, and the wounds it leaves keeps attacking the skin so that the Lycans can’t heal completely.”
“I speak five different languages, and yet I can’t make out a single word this man says…” the brunette mumbled.
“Yoo no lissen gud,” Eidan said with a look over his shoulder.
The woman blushed. “I ‘lissen’ just fine!” she shot back.
“Ah! Yoo un’erstan’ den wen Eidan seh, ‘No talk. Wohk’.”
Quincy went red, ready to jump to her feet when Hakeem grabbed her arm and gave a firm shake of the head. The brunette grit her teeth and settled back down. With a sigh she plucked the water jug up from the floor. She swished the container and made a face at the small splash she heard. “I’m not even sure this is enough for this boy…” She made as if to stand, but Hakeem hopped up with such eagerness, the woman nearly dropped the jug again in her surprise.
“I’ll get more water for you. I have to tell the others it’s supper time anyway,” he said.
Flustered, the woman just managed a nod before her husband zipped back out of the medicine hut. She stared after him for a moment before she returned her attention to the patient with a muttered apology.
It was going to take a lot of getting used to seeing her Hakeem in such a bizarre state. In the subtlest ways, he even…behaved differently. Was his age all that he had lost? Just where did the Other Place (as Elmiryn took to calling it) draw the line?
“Ha-kim. Gud man.”
Quincy turned her head a fraction, still dabbing at her patient’s wound with the cream. She figured the cream was enough to clean the wound with. It certainly helped the sponge glide better.
Eidan went on. “He pro’tek ush. We pro’tek him. Ha-kim gud man. He be nawr-mal soon. No worry.”
“I’m not worried…” she mumbled reflexively. Hadn’t the old man said not to talk? Why was everyone such a hypocrite?
Eidan let out a rumble, and this time the woman was sure he was laughing at her.
Her patient was doing a good job of remaining passive, but he was clearly unaccustomed to such pain, and up close she saw him flinch a few times. The woman pretended not to notice, but adjusted her treatment as she saw him react. Warriors craved to be seen as strong, and the woman knew it was an important role for the healer to be able to handle this psychology with care, lest she lose the cooperation of her patient entirely.
Quincy sighed as she finished cleaning out the pus and evenly spread the echinacea cream. She reached for the gauze and bandages, but paused, her eyes flickering to Eidan’s back. With bit lip, she took up the cloth strips and gauze sponge, then turned back to the boy in front of her.
“Hakeem seems happy here.” The wizard carefully pressed the gauze to the boy’s cut. She saw his dark eyes lock onto hers, and she gazed back into them without blinking. With gentle, but sure hands, she wrapped the bandage around his head so that the gauze would stay. She’d had plenty of practice healing young apprentices back at Crysen and found the skill easy to recall. “I think it reminds him of better times. Times I took away from him.”
“Yoo know what shimá means?”
The wizard shook her head as she finished tying the bandages. She patted the teenager on the shoulder, and he gave her a nod before standing up and leaving. “No. I don’t.”
Quincy beckoned for the next person to come forward. This time, a man close to her age sat in front of her. He undid the old bandages across his chest to reveal open sores on his left breast and shoulder. With a sigh, the brunette knew she’d need the bowl of buckthorn and calendula oil. First, as always, she had to clean the wound. Even the patients that tried to treat themselves did so improperly or with inferior herbs. Thankfully, she didn’t need water for this either.
“Shimá mean wah-man o’ joy.”
The wizard’s hand paused on its way to her patient’s chest. “Woman of joy?”
“Mm hmm. Wen Ha-kim learn’ dat, shimá all he call yoo. Kwin-se Ha-kim’s shimá.”
Quincy opened her mouth, her brow furrowing.
“Wat Eidan seh? No talk. Wohk.”
The wizard snapped her mouth shut with a huff, but when she returned her attention to her patient, her lips twitched at the corners.
The warrior didn’t know how long she slept. Since Nyx had woken her, she hadn’t been able to fall back to sleep. A small throb of pain was blossoming in her head, and an unsteady feeling was creeping into her hands, but for the moment, the discomfort was muted and easily ignored.
Her cerulean eyes watched as the animal hide, which spanned the hut’s ceiling in a conical shape, breathed with the passing wind. The opening in the center was a smoky black from the last inhabitant’s cooking. The sparse furnishings of the hut felt like pieces of another time that didn’t belong to her, and yet she didn’t feel unwelcome. As her mother would put it, the spirit here was a good one.
Her arms held Nyx, and she felt an ache go through her at the feel of the girl’s body, soft and light and relaxed. The girl’s even breath graced the woman’s shoulder in feathery touches.
Elmiryn recalled the sound of Nyx calling out in pleasure, and wished desperately that she could hear it again.
Sleep was no longer an option for the warrior, but she didn’t mind. She didn’t feel tired at all, and she liked laying with the girl in her arms. She didn’t want to wake her companion, so she quietly hummed, hoping that her song would weave a better dream for Nyx. She wanted to protect the girl, even in her sleep.
…Elmiryn wondered if she could undo the threads of bad dreams.
Apart from this single question, her thoughts were remarkably simple. It was true that the redhead didn’t know what to make of her feelings at the moment. It was all new to her. This was all new to her—never had any of her previous partners remained after the carnal fun was had, and never had she ever got the impression of there being more than just…
But the thoughts stopped there.
There was what was, and there would be what would. It ruined the moment to pick everything apart and analyze the motives behind something so pure. There were no ulterior motives, no obligations, no fears or qualms that got in the way. Elmiryn didn’t want to lose it all. She realized with a start, that she’d kill just to keep it.
With a sigh, she placed a hand on Nyx’s head and closed her eyes.
That was when she heard a low cough.
Her eyes flew open, and Elmiryn looked toward the doorway. Hakeem was pulling back out of sight, his eyes on the ground. He didn’t look embarrassed so much as just trying to be respectful. “Apologies. I just came to tell you that dinner will be served shortly at the central tree. If you miss it, you miss out. I wanted to make sure you knew.”
“Thanks,” Elmiryn said, smirking. How far had he come in? Surely he saw the clothes all over the floor?
If he did, he made no sign. The man-boy simply nodded and let the curtain slip back over the doorway. She heard him walk away.
With a sigh, the redhead gently shook Nyx by the shoulders and tried to shift her head to the side enough that she could raise it. “Kitten…hey kitten, wake up. We have to get dressed.”
The girl groaned, turning her face into Elmiryn’s neck. She felt Nyx’s arms latch around her and let out a low laugh. “Oh hell. You aren’t going to be like that are you?”
When the Ailuran still didn’t move, the woman poked her in the side. “Oh Ny-x! Foo-oods waiting!” She said this in a sing-song voice. If there was one big motivation for Nyx, it was food. This was something the warrior had learned quickly.
But Nyx whined and her body shifted over the woman, setting Elmiryn’s skin alight with desire all anew. The warrior let out a low hum, her eyes turning hooded as her hands roved down the girl’s sides to her butt, where she squeezed and ground her hips up into the girl. The Ailuran let out a small gasp, her lips brushing along the sensitive skin of the woman’s neck. “Elle,” she shuddered out.
Elmiryn turned to whisper into the girl’s ear. “Could it be that my kitten still wants to play with me?”
When Nyx raised her head to gaze at the woman, it was with the same lustful gaze in her eyes.
They were not a little late to dinner.
Even so, they walked at a leisurely pace, sneaking glances at each other and smiling whenever their eyes met. Elmiryn wasn’t sure why she felt so hyper-attentive to Nyx’s behavior all of a sudden. The degree of her smile, the twinkle in her eyes, the rosiness that graced her snowy skin… She felt self-conscious in a way that almost frightened her, because the woman was used to knowing her path and walking it without hesitation. But then she heard the girl laugh, the sound open and genuine, and the woman decided she’d stick with her original plan of just letting things unfold as they would.
With a small smile, she held out her hand, aware that it was under different contexts than before.
Nyx slowed to a stop as she saw it, her smile waning a bit as her eyes flickered to Elmiryn’s.
The warrior raised both eyebrows and her smile widened. Stepping closer, she gently took the girl’s hands in hers and jerked her head onward. Nyx stared at her with what looked like awe before the expression melted away to a giant smile. Elmiryn’s heart gave a stir, and she returned it.
Together they returned to the great central tree, and were greeted with the sight of the village all gathered together in one place. There were some rowdy conversations taking place, the custom of drinking having already started. The warrior felt something in her chest give a pull at the familiar drinking games, and she forced her eyes elsewhere. Children ran screaming through the sea of people, the adults laughing and shouting to be heard. Nyx’s smile wiped from her face at the sight, and Elmiryn threw her arm over the girl’s shoulder, giving her a reassuring squeeze.
Over the heads of Lycans seated and around those standing, they saw Quincy, Sedwick, and Hakeem sitting together, each with a wooden bowl in their hands near the great tree at the edge of the gathering. With her arm guiding her companion along, Elmiryn picked their way through the crowd. They greeted the others as they approached.
“And where have you two been?” Quincy asked, her eyebrow quirked as they took a seat on the ground next to her.
“Waking up,” Elmiryn said readily.
Nyx said nothing, her cheeks turning rosy in that endearing way. The warrior was certain, given the wizard’s eye for detail, that she didn’t miss it. She only cared to the extent that Nyx did, and so she shrugged. “We were tired.”
The seriousness of her expression must’ve been what did it, because the wizard gave a shrug and returned to her bowl. She slurped up the contents from the edge, lacking a spoon. It seemed no one had one.
“I tried to get bowls for you two, but they said you had to go there yourself,” Sedwick said after wiping his mouth. “It’s some sort of soup made with artichokes. They call it jektu.”
Elmiryn nodded and turned to Nyx. “Shall we?”
The girl stood in response and the warrior followed her. The youth didn’t look too pleased by the prospect of reentering the throng of people, and the warrior was starting to suspect that big crowds wasn’t really her thing, Lycan or no. But as most had all ready received their meals, it was a simple matter of getting into the short line to the giant cauldron kept hot over the fire pit. They received their bowls in short order, and were soon back to sitting with the others. Nyx looked relieved to be out of the crowd.
Upon returning, they came into Quincy mid-rant about her experiences at the medicine man’s hut.
“…boy tried to heal himself using raw garlic of all things. Halward knows who told him something so stupid, but I had to deal with inflamed skin on top of a possible infection. Seeing all these injuries, I’m sort of glad that Eidan has recruited me. We’ll be busy gathering supplies to heal everyone after the hunt, so I won’t be able to participate.” The wizard’s azure eyes turned Elmiryn’s way as the woman slurped up her soup. With some of it dribbling out of the corner or her mouth, she lowered her bowl enough to look at Quincy inquisitively.
“Well?” The brunette asked.
Elmiryn swallowed and wiped at her mouth as she blinked. “…Well, what?”
“Aren’t you going to say something rude and deprecating?”
The warrior’s eyebrows rose high. “Quincy, do you…want me to?”
The wizard scowled. “Of course not!”
“Then why should I?”
“I…” Quincy blinked. She turned and looked at Sedwick, who sat on the other side of Hakeem. “Sedwick, did you hear that?”
The man nodded, feigning a grim expression. “I certainly did.”
The wizard turned her head again, but this time, her eyes were on Nyx. “And I think I know why!”
The elemental let out a rumble, his pale eyes also falling on the Ailuran. “Mmm…I think so too.”
“It’s settled then.”
“We’re keeping her.”
“Yes, we simple can-not survive without her.”
Nyx looked between them, mouth full of food. Her face flared red and her shoulders hunched around her ears as she swallowed audibly.
Elmiryn tried to cover her smile with her hand, but Quincy let out a sudden laugh, making her giggle in surprise. It was rare to hear the wizard laugh so openly. Sedwick let out his rough chuckle, and Hakeem smiled softly.
Finally, Nyx smiled shyly into her bowl.
The warrior felt good, and decided she liked this scene very much. It was uncomplicated, just as she’d hoped for. But lingering ever present in the background was that damned throb of pain. The quake in her hands was building, even as she tensed her grip to keep them still. Her eyes flickered to the gourds of liquor the Lycans threw back with little reserve, and she felt her mouth water…
Quincy swished a waterskin in her face. Startled, Elmiryn looked at the wizard with furrowed brows.
“Let’s keep things from going south, now shall we?” the brunette said pointedly.
Nyx gave her a look of concern, and the warrior cursed herself for interrupting the gaiety. Snatching the waterskin out of Quincy’s hands, she unscrewed the top and was about to take a drink when a voice boomed out over her.
“Tkelechog, the time has come!”
The woman froze, her eyes squeezing shut. “Aww…damn it.”
“Halian!” Hakeem. She heard the man-boy rise to his feet. “What do you want?”
“I have challenged this woman to owak,” Halian said loudly. The people around them grew quiet, and Elmiryn could feel all eyes turn their way. “Either she faces me now, or she’s a coward!”
Inwardly, the warrior rolled her eyes. “I really need to stop making bets with therians when I’m drunk…” she muttered.
“This is a habit of yours, I take it?” Quincy replied dryly.
Elmiryn opened her eyes and turned her head. Standing behind her was Halian, once more flanked by his men, his body painted in what looked like war colors—a greasy mix of white, green, and black stripes. Her eyes flickered to Nyx, who stared at the woman, her skin pale in the emerald light. The woman spared her friend what she hoped to be a reassuring smile, then moved to her feet.
With a roll of her shoulders, Elmiryn straightened her spine, tilted her head back, and met Halian’s dark eyes.
…She squeezed her hands into fists to hide the quakes she could feel coming into them.
“I’m ready to face you, Halian,” she said loudly.
1.‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis, from the album ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’. Creation, 1995. [↩]