Elmiryn rolled her shoulders with a mild wince as she began to approach Hakeem.
“Hakeem?” she called.
The man didn’t answer, his dark eyes boring into her as though she were a hated mongrel he had to put down. The woman gripped her sword with both hands and continued to approach with caution.
“Hakeem, what the fuck do you think you’re doing hitting us like that?” she asked, unable to keep the edge from her voice.
Still silent, the man widened his stance and began to squat down, bringing his fists up.
Elmiryn stopped, her jaw tightening. “You just hit your wife!”
The dust cleared enough that now the redhead could see the others. Nyx had been launched into the crowd of devils around them, as had Lethia. Quincy had been sent off in the direction of the blackwood forest. She stirred, coughing, but when she raised her head and saw her husband, it was as if someone had lit the woman on fire.
“Bwa-Taika… Wikan?” the wizard said softly as she staggered to her feet. Then again, louder, “Wikan!?”
“Hakeem, answer us!” Elmiryn barked. “Why did you attack us? Where have you even been?” At his reticence, she found her anger got the better of her. “Well come on then, mud man, what is your fucking problem!?”
She heard Lethia scream, “Get away from him!”
The warrior snapped her eyes over as she saw Lethia shoving her way past the devils. The girl looked pale and she was sporting a limp, her face bearing some scratches. “It’s her, it’s Syria. She’s controlling him!”
Elmiryn snapped her eyes back onto Hakeem and saw his attention had turned elsewhere. She followed his line of vision back to Nyx.
Having the world tear me apart was nothing new, but I was getting really tired of it by this point. It was no wonder I couldn’t keep a full set of clothes anymore–what with all of these cajeck magic users always blowing things up.
I stared up at what passed for a sky here in the Other Place, and gathered around me was a crowd of cackling devils, their vile countenances split with grins so wide, you’d think they were the masterminds of my own misery. My body had been pockmarked from debris, and I bit back a scream as I felt my flesh quickly work to reject the foreign objects. I could hear Elmiryn shouting, but I was too dazed and my ears ringing too much from the surprise attack to make sense of what she was saying. Quincy and Lethia’s voice soon joined the warrior’s, and I sat up to try and see what was going on. My body protested, as though miffed I’d take its healing for granted, but there was a fight going on, and I had to be aware.
An invisible force blasted my way, morphing the space it carved through, and I wasn’t sure I would have been able to make sense of the situation even if I weren’t out of sorts. As if my confusion wasn’t enough, something punched me into the ground so hard the breath left my lungs and I felt my sternum and ribs crack.
Stunned, I stared up into a dark face, and in my pain I realized it was–
The wizard said nothing, his eyes soulless, their stare hard and cold as he lifted his black gauntlet and gripped it with his other hand. Raising both hands over his head, I could see the gravity magic flowing around his armor, and I knew this blow would kill me. I held up my hand feebly to stop it. With Hakeem’s shadow joining mine, I couldn’t send us into the shadows. His will felt like a wall, blocking me. I was trapped.
Then a fist of the earth rose up and struck Hakeem’s body off of me and into the crowd of devils. A moment later, Elmiryn ran into view, her face drawn.
“Are you all right?” she asked in a rush.
When I opened my mouth to respond, I coughed and rolled painfully onto my side. Blood trickled onto the dirt. I whimpered as I clutched at my chest, not even capable of a full out scream. My body was healing again, but without Harmony to steel me, I couldn’t help but succumb to the agony. I could hear Elmiryn kneel at my side, her hand on my head.
“How long do you need?” She asked softly.
“F-Five!” I managed to squeal out.
I saw her nod through my tears and she stepped over me to re-engage with Hakeem. As I lay there, I looked up and saw Izma gazing down at me with her alien eyes.
It was about this moment that I wished I were in Kali’s place in the Umbralands instead of here. With her in another plane of existence, I didn’t know what she was going through. I only caught the barest hints of echoes, and they were unintelligible feedback.
If I could sense her clearly, I might not have wished as I had.
I was excited and for once I did not envy my sister her place. We were still connected–but thinly so. This trick, this new ability of ours had been a whisper from Harmony, an idea posited by the mysterious shift in space and time that had occurred at the castle keep. A strength found in the shadows, where the imagination of all present allowed for the impossible to happen. I had been desperate to help Nyx, to help us win that battle for our lives, and the universe granted my wish. I thought, after the light stole away that entry into the present world, that it would be the first and last occurrence. But if the darkness could grant us such freedom, then why, Harmony asked, could the Umbralands not offer the same?
And so there I was, stalking Syria like she were common prey. I could smell her anxiety and reveled in it. This witch had cost us much grief, and for her madness, I was going to rip out her throat and eat it.
Using a small amount of my new champion power, I shifted some shadows, making Syria give a start. While she was distracted, I came up from behind and sliced her behind the knee with my claws. She hissed out in pain, her hand swinging around for a counter–
But I was already gone, slipped back into the shadows and about to lick her blood from my claws when my nose sensed something amiss. Scowling, I brought my claws up to my nostrils and gave another sniff. I bit back a growl. This woman’s blood did not smell right. I couldn’t know for sure, but it had an almost vegetable quality to it.
The enchantress, much to my annoyance, did not favor her other leg, as I had hoped. My plan was to use intimidation tactics to break her concentration, preventing her from utilizing that unnatural control of her mind that allowed her to shut off whatever pain her body suffered. It was a small disappointment. I knew there was a chance that Syria would gather herself enough to fight me.
These were stratagems only possible thanks to higher forms of thought granted through Nyx’s Words. But the master enchantress had a weakness, and that was primal minds. If I was going to defeat her, I was going to have to trust in my instincts and relinquish any further complex schemes. From here on out, it would be animal cunning that would see me through.
And that was fine by me.
I delved forth again, cutting and slashing and snarling. Elmiryn had tried teaching Nyx the ways of combat. What she failed to capitalize on was our natural assets–a fault she faced as a human. Just because she fought Ailurans didn’t mean she knew the finer points of how they did battle.
Thaddeus had tried. Nyx’s brother. My brother. He had shown us how to utilize our claws, our agility, our raw power.
I couldn’t help but think of him as I dueled with Syria. I cut her neck and saw him in my memories, pointing out the major artery in the neck to sever. The enchantress kneed me in the stomach, making me think of the time Thad had demonstrated the importance of guarding my center. I grabbed the woman’s leg, and my mind hit me with the sight of my brother illustrating the devastating nature of reversals.
My heart boiled with emotion. Against my will, tears filled my eyes as I moved to drop Syria onto the ground.
But then the woman touched a hand to my temple, and I could hear her laugh, not just in the air, but in my mind.
“Ooh…little kitten Kali!” Syria purred, her eyes flashing with glee as I felt my body go lax, allowing her leg to slip from my grasp. “It is true that your mind may be primal, and it is true that you are only half of a spirit, but the magnitude of your pain translates well through the ambiance! It provides a nice entryway.”
I sank to the ground, trying to move, trying to breathe. My body refused me.
Syria’s touch on my temple never went away, and she crouched as I settled in a slumped heap, face to the ground.
“Do you remember what I did to you…back at Holzoff’s?” she asked mildly.
I stared at her, my eyes clearing as my tears trailed into my hairline.
Syria’s smile vanished. “I made you sink into the dark. You saved yourself with your hatred, using its raw energy to bring you back to your conscious mind. But without that or Nyx here to save you, do you think you’ll be able to come out of it in time to remind your body how to breathe?”
Elmiryn had fought many men, and she could say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Hakeem had to be one of the most exciting opponents she’d ever faced. Of course, she’d never faced him one on one before. Lethia had joined her in her efforts to subdue the man, and after Quincy had gathered herself, so did she. But even with Elmiryn’s new fae abilities, she didn’t feel quite on par with the raw potential Hakeem could achieve. Syria was dangerous on her own right, but Hakeem didn’t just make use of gravity spells. He could transcend time. Not even the master enchantress had managed that feat in battle. And now, Hakeem had no reason to hold back. He had the upper hand this time. There were no scultones to ambush him, no cold irons to bind him. He wasn’t worried about accidentally killing someone. His intent was clear.
…Or rather, Syria’s intent through him, was clear.
Elmiryn caught Hakeem with the butt of her sword, but yelled in pain and frustration when he vanished and reappeared just slightly to the left and punched her in the cheek.
Those gauntlets hurt.
She went down hard, feeling that molar Nyx had loosened a short while ago pop out in a bloody mess. Hakeem turned away from her as if she were inconsequential, and the redhead tried to rise and stop him, but swooned from sudden dizziness. Fortunately, Quincy was there to stop him from targeting Nyx. Elmiryn watched them fight, spitting her tooth in her hand just as Lethia crashed down next to her, panting so hard she sounded as if she’d come out from a long dive. Quincy was managing to keep Hakeem busy, but with just her ordinary sword and Eate’s Son, she was only able to delay him, not take him out of the fight. In the meantime, the brunette tried reasoning with her husband in his native tongue, but he remained as stony as when he first arrived.
“Elle, you’ve got to get after Syria!” Lethia puffed.
Elmiryn cursed and threw her tooth away–she’d have to grow another one later. Now wasn’t the time. She gave the young enchantress a look as she cautiously stood. Spots appeared in her eyes, but she managed not to fall. “I thought you wanted to kill Syria yourself?”
“Of course I do,” the girl bit back. “But I can’t get to the Umbralands. You can!”
The redhead slowly shook her head. “But what about Nyx?”
“In the future we’ll mention this moment so Nyx can forgive your fantastically thick head, but I think focusing on surviving takes precedence, don’t you?” Lethia shoved Elmiryn, and hissed. “Go! Kill Syria! Or bring her back so that I can do it! Just get there, for heaven’s sake!”
Elmiryn nodded stiffly and pointed at Nyx. “You watch out for her, okay?”
“Yes, yes, just go!” Lethia turned and started to run for the fight. Quincy was currently using her lack of armor to outmaneuver her husband.
“And hey!” the warrior shouted.
With an impatient look, Lethia stopped and looked over her shoulder.
Elmiryn swallowed. “It isn’t just Nyx I’m worried for…understand?”
The girl said nothing. Only pursed her lips and resumed her run.
The warrior sighed and turned away.
Right then…so just a reverse of last time. Right?
She raised her hands, and with a gesture, she borrowed the shadows around her to make a gate large enough for her to slip through. Without looking over her shoulder, Elmiryn stepped through the dark passageway she had created, and felt the cold envelope her.
Without her maintaining the shadows on the other side, the passageway closed behind her.
That’s when she saw Syria crouched over Kali.
Elmiryn’s brow tensed. Got here just in time, it seems.