Quincy couldn’t connect the moment she had finished drinking the vial to the moment she woke up, confused and disoriented. It had just happened that way, as if Lethia Artaud had simply switched off her memory, leaving a huge gap for the woman to contend with. The wizard sat up, squinting, uncertain as to the source of the horrendous sounds of roaring and squawking and scratching. They echoed in the air, almost taunting her. The damp smell of wet rock and soil tickled her nose. Was she outside? The wizard groaned and called her lightning staff to her, her hand reflexively wrapping around the magic metal before it had even finished materializing. The energy from her recall spell burned her palm a little, and it helped to rouse her from her grogginess.
More alert now, Quincy used her staff to push herself to her feet.
Where am I? she thought with tensed features as she took in the plant-covered walls and floor. I’m indoors?
It was when she saw the strange stone archway fixed in the back of the room that four beasts slammed into the windows, sending tremors along the floor. Quincy jumped, bringing her staff to bear. The creatures were giant monstrosities with insect bodies and black horse heads gnashing their teeth. Their eyes glowed red as they fixed on her, and their long thin hairy legs scrabbled at the edges of the windows. Their ruddy carapace bodies strained against the stone, scraping and cracking as they tried to squeeze themselves inside.
Repulsed, the woman aimed her staff and sent a bolt into the beasts’ soft undersides, and they screeched as the energy turned their bodies into boiling slush.
When each of the creatures were dispatched, Quincy hurried to shove them out the windows and turned her gaze to the field. Her face turned pale.
The evil spirits…they’re converging on the castle keep!
The woman checked the room again in vain. She knew she was alone, but this fact only served to worry her.
Where was Hakeem? Where were the others?
Hurrying out the door and down the dark stairs, the woman slipped and realized that the reason she did was because the steps were covered in blood. On her guard, Quincy held up her staff and continued at a more cautious pace. Down below, the sounds of combat echoed up, louder and louder the more she progressed, until…
That voice, Quincy thought, picking up her speed. That must be the therian!
Sure enough, at the bottom of the steps was the Ailuran, though the wizard wasn’t sure who was present, Nyx or her Twin. The girl had half-shifted, using bestial claws to render her enemies as she struck, slash, and parried. She was fighting tooth and nail, literally, and for every wound she suffered, she gave back in spades. Quincy was so taken aback by this raw show of defiance and strength that she didn’t think to act until the dark lizard on the girl’s shoulders turned his little head and hissed, “Wilt thou watch, or wilt thou act, wayward sparrow?”
Lacertli. She’d almost forgotten the god took to using this lizard state as his avatar. His words were very sobering, and the woman steeled her resolve.
Quincy shouted loudly so that the therian could hear her over the din. “Ailuran! When I say to, flatten up against the wall!”
A brief glance from the girl was all the brunette received in terms of acknowledgement. It would have to do. With a deep breath, the wizard turned a quarter and widened her stance. With her injured hand, the woman was incapable of controlling her staff as she once could, and this fact became all the more apparent now. But for this trick, she would not need a firm grip. Only focus.
With the tip of her staff, Quincy made circles in the air. Her animus stirred the power of her weapon, and she started to feel the energy coursing from the core of her body along the staff’s length. It was warm. Almost comforting. Soon a bright electrical ring appeared in the air, and within it, cracks of lightning shot across its diameter.
The wizard could feel the static energy tingle over her skin as her staff started to pulse with surges of power.
“NOW!” she yelled.
The Ailuran flattened up against the wall. Quincy pulled back her staff, and with the electrical ring still in the air, she jammed its center. The spirits that had started to push forward didn’t even have a chance to raise their arms before the lightning magic cracked and boomed outward in a violent tunnel, disintegrating those at the fore, and blasting the ones in the rear back down the stairs.
Panting with the adrenaline, the wizard tried to blink sight back to her eyes. The flash of her attack had been bright, and in her haste she made the clumsy mistake of not turning away.
“Nyx? Kali? Are you okay?” She reached blindly toward the wall, slipping on the bloody steps.
A hand snatched her forearm, gripping it tightly. Quincy winced and turned to look. Through the white of her blindness appeared the Ailuran’s face. A second more, and her vision cleared, allowing her to see some scorch marks healing and scabbing over the girl’s features from the attack.
The woman inwardly winced. She needed to find a weapon with more finesse, and soon. It wouldn’t do for her allies to continuously get caught in the crossfire.
The wizard was sure this was Nyx. She could tell, despite the slitted feline eyes, because her Twin had a tendency of widening her gaze and baring her teeth when stressed. Nyx on the other hand, placed the burden of her tension on her brow and lips.
“You’re awake,” the Ailuran said. The wizard noted an almost disconnected tone in the girl’s voice, not unlike the time Nyx was consumed by her dark urges. Needless to say, it did not put the brunette at ease.
Down below, their enemies had retreated…for now. Quincy’s attack had scared the evil spirits, but reinforcements were still storming up the path every second. They didn’t have a lot of time before the fiends regrouped for another wave.
“Where are the others? Hakeem?” Quincy asked sharply, pulling herself free from the therian’s grip.
“I don’t know. You were the only one here when I broke free of Lethia’s spell.” Again with that dispassionate voice.
Quincy could feel her unease grow. “You were the one who dragged me upstairs?”
Nyx gazed at her wordlessly for a moment before she turned away and started down the stairs. “Yes.”
Quincy grabbed the girl’s arm in alarm. “What are you doing?”
The girl ripped free of the woman’s grasp and glared at her. The wizard gave a start. In the few steps the Ailuran had descended down, enough weak light was swathing her face to illuminate the sapien persona Quincy had recognized as Nyx. But on the other side of her face, where the girl’s features were swallowed by the dark of the stairwell, Quincy could see Kali, with her feline nose, her sharp canines, and her cat-like ears.
When the Twins spoke, it was as one.
“What we’re doing, wizard, is surviving. Thou art awake now, and we must take this battle to a more appropriate stage. Or art thou content with bumping elbows in a claustrophobic stairwell until weariness sees us overrun?” Quincy swallowed and shook her head. Nyx turned and started down the staircase again, Lacertli’s glowing golden eyes piercing into the wizard as she went. “Then let us make haste. I am fain to see this battle done.”
The brunette cursed and hurried to undo her magic pouch. Reaching into it, she rummaged around desperately until she felt her hands close on a familiar curve of wood. She sighed in relief as she pulled out Eate’s Son. It was true that she could not wield her lightning staff with the same sure grip she once could, but that did not mean she couldn’t use it. She just needed something else to make up for her lack of martial power.
As she hurried down the stairs after Nyx, she found the Ailuran already fighting the spirits in the study. Kali was no longer visible. Quincy tried to focus on the struggle at hand, because a moment’s distraction could mean life or death, but her mind rebelled with wayward thoughts of what she had just seen.
Did my father ever speak as this girl just did? Is another persona making itself known? What happened to Nyx that she feels so…cold?
Quincy tossed Eate’s Son vertically into the air, making it spin. The artifact produced small scythes of air as it went, cutting into a bipedal pig wielding a giant axe. Its squeal was cut short when it fell to the ground in bloody pieces. When Quincy caught her weapon, she turned to see Nyx maneuvering out the study toward the exit.
She cursed, but followed.
Whatever the case is, I just hope it doesn’t get us killed!
The redhead wasn’t concerned for the wizard. Quincy had a lot of firepower down on that field. But Nyx…she had no armor, no weapons. Just because she could heal quickly and had some new tricks didn’t mean she could do anything. The woman was certain that included diving into a frothing mob of evil spirits. Elmiryn needed to get down there, fast. So she took the quickest route she could…
She jumped out the window.
The warrior heard Lethia scream after her as she fell. The wind howled in her ears as she plummeted feet first, the unsettling sensation of free fall sweeping through her. Elmiryn knew she could die from this. She knew she could scatter across the rocky hillside below like a bug on a windshield. She was also aware that she was using imagery inappropriate for her world, but she didn’t care. The moment she had started turning into a fae was the moment she ceased to really be of any world. She didn’t need to follow the rules if she didn’t want to, and it was lucky for her that the Other Place had very few rules to break in the first place.
She could see the elements around her like threads waiting to be pulled.
So she did just that.
With her will, Elmiryn took hold of the air, and the dust, and the rock, and she ripped them up so that they caught her. The landing wasn’t graceful—in fact it skinned her arms and knocked the wind from her lungs—but that wasn’t what was important. What was important was the fact that Elmiryn had created a path of unrelenting gas and matter in mid-air and could now run safely down to the field. The warrior stumbled, forcing herself to keep moving as she looked back to the window she had leapt from. Lethia was there, staring at her in shock.
Meznik was in the next window, his fist in his cheek. He seemed bored again. It occurred to the woman that leaving her cousin alone with her nemesis was probably folly, but quickly following this thought was the realization that the demon had no interest in the girl. Still, she gestured for the enchantress to follow, but didn’t stop to watch if she did. Too many things to deal with. Lethia had proven she could take care of herself. All the woman could do was make it possible for the girl to stick with her. Her priorities may have shifted, but there was one focus that remained paramount above all else.
Elmiryn drew her sword. Hold on, Nyx. I’m coming!
It was difficult, at first, continuously creating a steady path before her whilst maintaining the one behind as she run full tilt into the chaos. It was doubly hard, because running on air and small debris wasn’t exactly familiar, and she had to keep her balance. But Elmiryn did it. She did it because if she didn’t, Nyx would be…
The warrior leapt into the air. She was over the field now and she had a number of options available to her. First, she could take the obvious route and make herself into a giant in a sort of inverse performance of her miniature transformation. Second, she could will a tornado of dust and rock to sweep a path through the crowd of spirits.
But the woman was a warrior first and foremost, and she did what she felt most comfortable with.
As Elmiryn came down toward the ground, she swung her sword, and using her power, she amplified the kinetic energy. The attack carved into the soil, cleaving those below. Taking a page out of Hakeem’s book, the redhead braked her descent with an opposing push of wind. The moment her boots hit the ground she took off running, cutting with her sword whenever an obstacle presented itself.
As she went, she couldn’t help but marvel at how she hadn’t thought to do this before—marry her new fae abilities with her swordplay. It was almost stupidly obvious, in retrospect. How many video games had she played where a character—
Damn it, this isn’t the time to get mixed up on shit like that!
With this harsh admonishment, the warrior focused herself on the task at hand—and that was getting to Nyx as quickly as possible. No longer distracted, the warrior moved and killed more efficiently. One powered swing of her blade sent an arc of energy slicing through a wood demon with horns. Another dispatched a dark cloaked man that stood twelve feet tall.
Soon she found Nyx. If only that would’ve solved everything.
The Ailuran was dangling by her arm as a giant crocodile with shimmering blue scales and diamond teeth fought what looked like a ghost fashioned out of bed sheets for the right to have her. Smaller spirits shouted and frothed beneath them, their hands and tentacles and claws extended as they shouted their insanity. The sheet spirit seemed to grow weary of the quarreling and made a bid for Nyx. What happened next took all but a few seconds. Long slim black limbs shot out from the spirit’s flapping sheets, and they grabbed the girl around her torso. Meanwhile, the crocodile spirit wrenched his head the other way. Blood erupted from Nyx’s shoulder as her arm was ripped off, and her torso rended of its skin. The monsters below cheered in the shower of carnage.
Elmiryn screamed, putting all she could into the overhand swing of her sword. The sheet spirit lost an arm in the arc of raw energy that blasted from the redhead’s blade, and the smaller monsters down below were lost in the periphery of the blast. The crocodile spirit was only rocked, however, as Elmiryn’s attack struck his scales and failed to pierce his hide. He turned to look at her and opened his mouth, showing his long rows of teeth. Stuck in them was Nyx’s arm, still caught between the fangs.
The monster roared and started to charge toward the warrior, his clawed feet gouging into the soil, crushing the heads of his brethren, making the ground shake as he went. Elmiryn braced herself, bringing up her fae shield of dust and air—
But the monster was wrenched back by some unseen force. Both the crocodile and Elmiryn appeared equally bewildered…that was until the beast started to descend into its own shadow. The warrior watched, feeling waves of relief wash over her. The source of her joy was not the demise of the crocodile, who was sliced in half when the shadows beneath him closed with half his torso submerged. No, it was the fact that Nyx was still alive and well to do these things.
But where is she? Elmiryn thought, her smile waning.
When the woman found her lover, the smile vanished entirely.
Nyx looked like road kill, and the woman used this phrase without qualm because even Fiamma had road kill. The Ailuran’s arm was growing back, and though it was clearly a great feat of healing that left Nyx’s previous healing ability in the dust, to Elmiryn it could not heal fast enough. The stub of the arm was a red, raw wound that seemed to bubble with flesh and blood. And this said nothing of the girl’s chest, whose skin and fatty tissue had yet to completely cover her gleaming rib cage. In fact, some of the flesh that had been ripped off had failed to detach, and instead hung dripping at the girl’s waist.
For once, Elmiryn did not have a cute one liner. She could only stare, and wonder if Nyx were really safe at all.
The girl’s gaze was far away as they regarded the warrior in her stunned silence. Then slowly, she lifted her clawed hand and took up her flap of dead flesh.
“Thou have arrived, Elmiryn,” Nyx said…only it wasn’t her. It was Kali. Only it wasn’t Kali. It was both of them at the same time…and something else, too. Somehow, the warrior knew that all these statements were true.
With the barest flinch, the Ailuran tore off the dead flesh and cast it aside. Elmiryn, hardened to carnage, did not turn away, but her sensibilities protested just the same, making her feel cold and ill. With the skin gone, the body began to cover the girl’s abdominal muscles.
Nyx turned her head and regarded the sky. “It would seem thou hast come just in time.”
Elmiryn frowned and looked up as well. She cursed and raised her sword.