Elmiryn was so caught off guard that she barely flinched her head to the side in time to avoid a broken nose or a broken front tooth. The impact of Nyx’s fist was so hard she was knocked flat onto her back and her vision went dark before returning in a fuzzy, spinning tunnel. Disoriented, she couldn’t make out what was happening until she felt something pounce on her with fingers digging into her skin like claws.
“Üle hejka, lunae! Üle hejka, LUNAE!!” she heard Nyx scream.
She remembered those Ailuran words. The bond she had shared with Nyx had given her knowledge of the therian language, though it was like giving an incomplete cipher key to a foreign child. The warrior covered her head as she felt punches rain down on her, and she tried to focus her thoughts. The assault only lasted a few seconds before the woman heard a loud, thunk, and felt Nyx cry out as she fell off of her.
Blearily, Elmiryn opened her eyes.
Nyx scrambled to all fours, her back arched, her facial features swimming in an illusory haze of sapien to feline and back. Quincy held her staff at the ready, her body tense but with an aura of certainty she had lacked before. Hakeem appeared at Elmiryn’s side, his little hands helping her to sit up.
“Quincy,” Elmiryn managed to slur out. “Don’ hurt her…”
“That might be a little difficult, Elmiryn,” The wizard responded without so much as a turn of her head.
“Lunae,” Nyx panted, her skin shimmering suddenly in black fur, before shifting back to gray skin, then back to its usual pale luster. She snapped her teeth, and her eyes went cat, fangs clearly in her mouth, before they too vanished out of sight. Foamy saliva dripped from her quivering lips. “Lunae. Och mochitye, ya bodani oobivat. Oobivez, kotorik rak moyet syemta. Och ni da oobivat! LUNAE!”
Nyx leapt at Quincy with remarkable grace and power, her limbs suddenly like that of a cat, before the wizard dodged her and—blink—the animal limbs were gone upon the moment the Ailuran hit the dirt, and she was once more just a bipedal creature awkwardly on all fours. Meanwhile, the redhead managed to grasp onto something meaningful in her thoughts.
‘Lunae’…’Lunae’ means die. She’s telling us to die. And ‘hejka’ means traitor. She thinks we’re traitors?
Elmiryn woozily stood to her feet. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been hit so hard…and was that molar feeling loose? The woman rubbed at her throbbing face and said, “Quincy jes’ hold on a moment.”
“I can’t Elmiryn. Busy,” Quincy snapped back.
Nyx charged for her again and the wizard twirled her staff. Light shot up and down the length of it before the woman snapped it toward her attacker in one quick strike. It hit the Ailuran in the shoulder and the girl cried out as she spun and crashed down onto the dirt.
Elmiryn gave a shake of her head to clear the stars she still saw and advanced on the wizard.
‘Oobivat’. Means kill. ‘Oobivez’. Means murderers. ‘Syemta’ means…
Her eyes went wide.
Nyx began to tremble, and her skin rippled visibly. Her body contorted in agony as she groaned and let her head drop. Elmiryn placed a hand on Quincy’s shoulder. Partly for support, partly to let the wizard know she was there, and partly so she could hold the woman back.
“What’s happening…” she whispered.
Quincy shook her head as Hakeem appeared on Elmiryn’s left. “I don’t know,” the brunette responded.
“Lunae…lunae…lunae…” Nyx breathed raggedly. Her hands went to naked paws, then back to hands. Her spine bulged in her back, then vanished beneath the skin. “Och ni da oobivat. Lunae! Lu–” She broke off in a scream, her forehead touching the dirt as she curled up and pressed her hands to the sides of her head. Then without warning…
They all heard Kali’s voice. “No. No. NO! You idiot! You’re just letting it get the better of you!”
Elmiryn raised an eyebrow and looked at Quincy sidelong. The other woman was doing the same. Hakeem dared to step closer, his hands held up cautiously before him. “Ikati?” he breathed.
Nyx slammed her head into the dirt once. Twice. Three times. It looked painful. “Damn you! Let this go!”
There was a small growl, then suddenly it was Nyx’s voice again, all filled with wrath. “Cajeck! Kincht de nedret! Teme och ni aldan!?”
Then it was Kali again. “You idiot baboon, it’s coming again, it’s–”
“They’re battling each other,” Elmiryn murmured.
“No.” Quincy shook her head.
“They’re battling the beast inside,” Hakeem finished. He bowed his head in thought for a moment, then raised it with a shrug. “Or maybe, they are all battling each other.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Elmiryn asked, feeling almost desperate for action.
Quincy leaned on her staff and placed a hand on her hip. “Unless you know how to dive into that hurricane of a mind, there is nothing left for us to do but wait.”
Elmiryn thought about this seriously, one hand on her chin.
Well I could just use my fae power and…
“Wait.” Quincy looked at her sharply. She thrust a finger into the warrior’s face, her eyes narrowed. “Don’t. Even. Think. About it.”
“But I could make myself really tiny and–”
“What in the fuck? I–no–I can’t even–Gods no. Elmiryn, just shut up and wait. Ugh, you can be such a quack.”
Elmiryn pouted, genuinely stung. “It was just an idea…” she mumbled.
Three monoliths swathed in a cascade of liquid memories, all simmering and shimmering in the transcendent glow of years melded with sorrow, joy, anger, and fear. These giant spires were testaments to a single entity, but they were separated on islands of thought and being, an ocean of darkness and void keeping them from unity. On one island was Kali, her feline head raised as she roared over the vast expanse at Nyx, who sat seized by trailing insanity from the Last, the Nameless One, the Beast, who was on her own island black and featureless as ever, but with a calmness that could have been interpreted as equal parts infuriating and disturbing.
“Nyx!” Kali shouted, her claws digging into the dirt. Behind her loomed her monolith, its colors swathed in times spent resentful of her sister, times spent happily under the full moon. The feline persona paced as she tried to reach her counterpart with Words she had just come to learn the power of. “Listen to me! I know things have been hard! I know things have not worked out well between us! But we have to stop this! We have to come together again!”
“Why?” Nyx snarled, her body trembling as she leaned back against her monolith—a spire of pain and sadness, shame and fear, bittersweet love and unexpected joys. “You never wanted me! You hated me! You always have! Why should we come together when we let something like that out!?” She pointed at the Nameless One.
The Nameless One did not move, did not react. Its monolith was a wavering black, its years spent gathering all the rage and fury and frustration its counterparts had felt almost pure and undiluted. Smooth susurrations came floating in the air from it.
The Nameless One’s island floated closest to the surface, where a bright wall reflected the goings on of the Real World. Kali was the second closest to the surface, but she was not close enough to beat out the Beast, and certainly not enough to bring the monster down. Still, at least she had gotten the creature to stop attacking the others. That shock from Quincy had really helped.
“I know I said all of those things,” Kali growled out in frustration. “I know I haven’t been fair to you…but can’t you say the same!? We have let our troubles pull us even further apart, and for what? For this monstrosity to get the better of us?”
“We are the reason our family is dead. We are the reason that thing got loose and hurt so many. We don’t deserve to come together again…” Nyx said through tightly clenched teeth.
“If we just continue to sit here, it won’t matter what you or I think, the Beast will become loose once more! Don’t you see? We have to deal with this!”
Nyx laughed emptily. “We can’t ‘deal’ with this. We can hardly deal with ourselves.”
“That isn’t true!”
“No?” Nyx glared up at Kali, her face coloring in anger. “Who blamed me for being too weak to keep Atalo safe? For being stupid enough to try and fight for our freedom against the Illuminati?” The black ocean around her island began to lap up higher on the sand.
Kali’s eyes widened. “Nyx, don’t you’re going to–”
Nyx ran her over with her Words, her eyes ablaze. “Who made power plays whenever she could just so she could have an ounce of control, however insignificant, at the possible expense of both our lives!?”
“Nyx, listen to me–”
“Admit it. This isn’t about the Beast, and this isn’t about me. This is about you. You are a base and crass creature and all you can think about is surviving one more day. But what does that day mean except more time for you to ruin someone’s life?”
The void was closing in. Nyx, in her sudden anger, now stood only on a small spit of land. Kali gazed down at this in alarm, feeling her counterpart float farther away so that her voice became a distant thing. She looked up. The Beast was near to breaking the surface again. If it gained total control once more, Kali wasn’t so sure she could bring it back down on her own. The others may end up having to kill them all.
Kali’s ears drooped and she lay herself down near the edge, her head cushioned by her paws. “Nyx…I’m sorry.” The girl below only continued to glare up at her. The feline let out a small rumble and flicked an ear. “I mean it, you idiot! I’m sorry! I was quick to blame you because of what happened to Atalo. And afterwards, all I could do was resent you for being the one in control all the time. I didn’t think you were strong or smart enough. But I was wrong. You’ve gotten us here so far, and while things could be better, I think I’d rather have a chance at having my life mean something than to have it amount to only mourning the dead and slavering over what meager prey I manage to catch for supper. Seeing more of your world…I know now that I could not survive alone in it. Not without someone with the finer understandings like you have. In fact, my sanctuary can feel quite safe in comparison to what you go through. I should be there for you more, but I’m not, and for that I am truly, deeply sorry. We are two parts of a greater whole, and we shouldn’t be in such disharmony. I just want to fix that. The gods know I’m tired of fighting.”
Nyx stared up at Kali with her mouth open, her eyes narrowed.
Kali let out a huff of air and closed her eyes, a tear leaking down her furry face. “If you won’t fight with me, then I will not fight, for there is nothing to fight for without you. There is nothing. And the gods know, that I am tired of battling the world alone.”
Thunder boomed out around them. It was deep and sorrowful, with edges of screams haunting the lowest depths of its waves. The feline did not move. She was tired. But in a bittersweet way, she felt content. Purged from her were years of pain and misguided hatred. She and Nyx would probably never see eye-to-eye completely. She and Nyx would probably die, right then and there. But Kali found her sliver of a heart lighter than ever it had been before, and with that she knew something of peace.
The thunder echoed far off until there was only silence. Any moment now the Beast would take control of their body, and the others would have to kill them. Kali waited calmly for her demise to come.
Instead, she felt a hand on her face.
Startled, the feline raised her head, her eyes flashing open. Nyx was gazing at her, tears streaming down her face, her hand still gently touching the cat’s fur. The girl sniffled, her features tight and glistening wet. Her island had risen quickly from its depths in the void, and it had joined Kali’s to form a larger mass. The girl suddenly giggled.
“Cajeck,” Nyx said. “Cats can’t cry remember?”
Kali blinked, then flashed a sheepish, furry grin.
A shadow fell over them. Both personas looked up as their third counterpart’s island began to descend, away from the surface of control. The Beast did not seem angry or perturbed by this. Its whispers of hate only grew louder.
DIE DIE DIE DIE
Kali looked at Nyx somberly. “Sister, I believe we have a mess to clean up.”
Nyx returned her gaze. “Yes…I believe we do.”
When Nyx had gone still and completely silent, Quincy had dared to come close enough to roll the girl onto her back with the end of her staff. Elmiryn looked ready to hold her now, but Hakeem blocked her, hands on her stomach, his face grave as he gave a negative shake of his head. Quincy sucked her teeth as she watched Elmiryn tense up at his intervention, then deflate, almost like a balloon. The relationship between the Fiamman and the Ailuran was not difficult for the wizard to understand. Though a bit too co-dependent for her personally, Quincy also saw how much one positively supported the other. There was an understanding between those two that not many shared. And dare she say it? Perhaps even she and Hakeem did not know such a bond.
Quincy felt those flames of jealousy flare again and she irritatedly huffed at them, trying vainly to put them out of her mind. She crouched, trying to focus her attention on Nyx before her, her staff held tight and ready, her weight shifted just so for perfect springing. She tried repeating her mantra for focus and calm but gave up after only two tries.
She wasn’t that cold person anymore. Golden Quincy was gone. Normal Quincy was back.
She still wasn’t sure which one she liked best.
Her eyes flickered to her husband for a brief moment as he drifted over to Gudahi’s corpse, his body moving with a heaviness that suggested grief and remorse.
Well, at least my observation skills haven’t gone, Quincy thought caustically. She was only half-serious. What truly bothered her was that she could see her husband’s pain.
In the brief time that they had spent with the Lycans, Quincy had found that Hakeem had made a connection with them. One he hadn’t had since his home village was destroyed as a boy. The therians lived simply, and were ruled by honor and brotherhood. He had made a friend in Gudahi. Perhaps even Sanuye. To see both of them die in so short a time by the hands of those in his company must have been one of the greatest of blows.
Not that Quincy disagreed with Elmiryn’s actions. Sanuye’s death was unfortunate, but the Lycans had let their emotions move them to recklessness. Her demise had been of her own making. And in Gudahi’s case? The wizard thought Elmiryn had tried rather well at getting the therian to stand down. Hakeem must have seen this, even if it hurt him to think so. All of these things, of course, were not the foremost of Quincy’s concerns. Oh no. That prize went to the Ailuran girl currently fighting a spiritual battle before her.
Quincy had considered killing Nyx while she was incapacitated. While she felt Gudahi’s death was unavoidable, that didn’t necessarily mean she didn’t see some of his points. What if the Ailuran couldn’t control the darkness inside her? What if it came back and that was all that was left? A quick blow to the head, full of electric shock, and that would have ended the matter right then and there.
But Quincy had made a promise. To Elmiryn.
Damn it all.
So here I sit, staring at a lit bomb as the fuse sizzles to its end. And what surprises will be in store for us? The wizard shook her head with a sigh. How do I end up in these situations?
The time ticked on.
The woman frowned at her left hand. I’m not getting as much power in my swings without a full grip in my left hand. Damned pugot, biting my fingers like that. I nearly lost my grip twirling my staff before…
Then Nyx started to move.
At once everyone was alert, Quincy, Elmiryn, and Hakeem standing in a wide circle around the girl.
“Get ready,” Quincy breathed.
“She might be okay!” Elmiryn snapped.
“We have to be sure,” Hakeem replied tightly.
Nyx’s hands placed themselves on the dirt and she raised herself with quivering arms. A groan slipped her lips and she raised her head.
Quincy took a step forward and lifted her staff up for a strike. Elmiryn took a step toward her as if to stop her.
The wizard locked gazes with the Ailuran.
It was Nyx speaking…and her eyes were normal.
Still not satisfied, the woman did not lower her staff. “How are you feeling, Nyx?”
“Where’s Elmiryn?” the girl mumbled, touching her head.
The redhead was at her side in an instant, her hands gripping Nyx’s shoulder’s tightly.
“I’m right here, kitten,” Elmiryn said, her voice quivering with excitement. “I’m right here!”
Nyx looked at her, then smiled drowsily. “Elle…” Her head lolled, and suddenly her features blurred. When her head raised again, her face had gone cat, her eyes now feline.
Elmiryn blinked at her. “Nyx?” She looked at Quincy, and Quincy gazed back at the warrior dubiously. Never in all her experience as a bounty hunter had the brunette ever encountered such a situation. She still wasn’t even sure Nyx was safe.
“Where…are we?” This time, the girl’s voice was different…deeper. Rougher.
“Kali?” Elmiryn asked uncertainly.
Nyx’s face blurred, and she was back again, her eyes fluttering. She sat up straighter and gripped her head with both hands. “I…am a little bilious, I’m afraid,” the girl said weakly.
Elmiryn raised an eyebrow. “Bilious?”
Nyx opened her mouth and her face shifted once more to that of a cat-like face. “Bilious,” Kali’s voice started. But she burped with what looked like a strong heave of her chest and ducked her head.
“It’s an adjective,” Hakeem continued, his features holding something of relief.
“It means affected with nausea,” Quincy finished, her eyes still narrowed at Nyx.
Elmiryn stared at them all, her eyes fluttering. “Oh…um…thanks?”
Nyx’s hand suddenly shot out and grabbed Elmiryn’s wrist. Quincy started forward to defend her when the girl suddenly leaned forward and threw up all over the dirt. Now feeling queasy herself, the wizard lowered her staff.
So much for the girl being a threat.
“Yep. She’s pretty bilious,” Elmiryn said as she patted Nyx’s back in sympathy.
Quincy just rolled her eyes.