Elmiryn once had a pet cat of sorts. He was an old fat tabby that hunted on her family’s estate, killing rodents and the like. As a child, she had loved chasing him around the yard, and sometimes she snuck a treat to feed him. The tabby didn’t have a name and wasn’t particularly fond of petting, but in odd turns, the surly creature always seemed to be close by her. If she looked out the window, he was there, sleeping in the plants. If she looked up a tree, he was peering down at her with his green slitted eyes. If she woke in the night, the cat was there, sitting on her dresser and watching her sleep.
Then Warner shot the cat around the time of Elmiryn’s seventh birthday, and the animal was replaced with a yippy little terrier that the girl hated.
The image of her father standing over the tabby’s corpse was something that she would remember for a long time, and though the cat had been nowhere near her thoughts lately, the moment of its death came rushing back to the warrior as she took in the sight of Syria standing over Kali.
Elmiryn was not fond of Kali for a variety of reasons, but despite her feelings, a great sense of outrage came over her.
When she charged Syria, she did it with sword up and yelling. There was no use in being stealthy. Syria may not have been able to read her mind, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t sense her presence.
Syria moved away from Kali, and the cat did not rise, her eyes staring fearfully into the dark. Elmiryn slowed her charge until she had successfully maneuvered herself between the enchantress and the feline.
“Kali,” Elmiryn said, not taking her eyes off of her opponent.
Frowning, the woman dared to move back slowly until she could glance down at Kali. The Twin’s mouth moved, and her throat muscles tensed, but her bulging eyes turned to Elmiryn, and the warrior finally understood what was happening.
“Let her breath,” Elmiryn hissed at Syria, her grip on her sword tightening.
Syria cocked her head to one side. “But why? Will you stop attacking me if I do?”
Elmiryn took a step forward. “Kali is not the one you were ordered to kill!”
Syria’s brow wrinkled and she gave a small chuckle. “She is connected to Nyx, is she not? If one twin dies, the other will soon follow. Nyx’s incomplete soul will be devoured by this dimension, and she cannot escape to our world in her weakened state. I have won.”
The warrior’s jaw tightened. “I can unravel Kali. I can unravel her, save her essence, and put her back into Nyx–no more separate consciousness or any of that bullshit!”
Syria smiled. “But you won’t. You aren’t the Spider. You cannot work with the patterns of others, and attempting to do so could kill them.” She craned her head to look at Kali. “Oh! It appears she’s passed out. Impressive. She managed to beat her childhood record of two minutes.”
Elmiryn nearly turned her back on Syria right then, but her years of training beat out her emotion, and she managed to keep her eyes focused forward. The enchantress glanced at the fight that was taking place in the Real World, and she made a small appreciative sound.
“You’re in a bind aren’t you?” Syria murmured. “You want to keep fighting, but killing me won’t mean that Kali will breathe again. I’ve turned off that part of her brain. You can’t take Kali back to Lethia either, because Kali only exists apart from Nyx in the shadows. Attempting to bring her into the light will only result in her vanishing, and without access to her, the Twins’ fate would be sealed. It’s a paradox, of course, that she could’ve done this to begin with. But that’s what this dimension allows for. Division, even if it has to break the rules to do it.”
“Division…” Elmiryn murmured. She dared a glance at Kali as her mind began to turn, cobbling together a plan. Slowly, the warrior returned to Kali’s side and crouched down. As she did so, she spoke, “And you? The Other Place divides things. It must have taken something from you.”
Syria laughed, but the sound was cold. Her eyes now turned up to Izma. “My joy. But that was something Izma arranged for.”
Elmiryn sheathed her sword and grabbed Kali’s arms, pulling her into a sitting position. The feline’s head lolled disconcertingly. “Arranged for? How do you mean? What could the demon want that for?”
“She didn’t want it,” Syria snapped. “She wanted it gone.” This made Elmiryn freeze mid-grab with her arms around Kali’s torso just as Syria turned to look at her.
“What are you doing…?” The enchantress asked slowly.
Elmiryn finished hefting Kali over her shoulder, her eyes fluttering as she looked at Syria to Izma, then Meznik. “She didn’t like your joy, huh?” she mused aloud.
“You know, Meznik feeds off of my hatred? But he and Izma are different aren’t they? Even though they’re both astral demons, they’re different, and that means they want different things.” Elmiryn flashed Syria a grin. “You don’t have hatred in you. I could see it then at Holzoff’s, and I can see it now. That isn’t what makes Izma want you.”
Syria’s only response was to raise her hands, and with their rise followed the earth before her, the soil and dirt churning into a wall before it blasted outward toward Elmiryn. In all this time, the enchantress had focused on using mostly gravity magic, and the warrior was surprised to see her resort to an elemental approach. But with her fae shield up and her feet kicking her up into the air, where the resulting dust held her, the woman ran, as fast as she could.
Nyx had once explained to the warrior how the Umbralands was the barrier between her mind and the Somnium. The Ailuran had once visited Elmiryn in her mind, could she do the same?
“Cat, there are so many things that can go wrong with this, but the one thing I really hope for is that you can heal that pea-sized brain of yours in time!” Elmiryn huffed.
Behind her, Syria screamed.
In all her life, there was no one Quincy trusted more than Hakeem. She would wake from nightmares to find he was always there, his deep voice a bulwark to any resurgent demons that wished to wreak havoc with her heart. Even in the detached brilliance that was Tonatiuh’s power, her affection for him was something she could not quell. It seemed in those burning, golden days of distance, he was waiting for her to return to him. Patient. Ever patient. And it pained her to admit that Hakeem had adopted a stony disposition because of how emotionally vacant she had become. Her taika had known a greater source of self-restraint since he was a child, but there had always been a passion in his actions, and she had brought him to bury these things for her selfish pursuit of power.
Quincy wondered if she could ever forgive herself that.
Syria was an enchantress. She read minds–saw the hidden truth of people. The wizard was almost certain that Hakeem’s cold and ruthless assault on them was another ploy–another tactic to hurt her with.
…And she hated that she saw it that way. She hated that her mind, even in emotional turmoil, could not stop seeing the angles to victory. This was Hakeem. Not a monster or a rival. This was personal, and yet Quincy wondered if her failure was not in feeling pain, but not feeling enough of it.
Hakeem certainly wasn’t holding back, but Quincy was certain this wasn’t him exercising his ultimate power. Her husband’s armor, like all wizarding artifacts, had drawbacks for its uses–but should one be willing to make those sacrifices, the Aeumani Armor could achieve terrifying things. Ripping a hole in space and time, or leveling a mountain with gravitational force, was theoretically possible, but doing so would kill Hakeem in the process. This was why Hakeem had always been circumspect in what capacity he used his magic armor. What Quincy was observing in this fight, however, was still less of the usual power input. Oh it was certainly still dangerous, and the others were no doubt believing this was Hakeem when he was free of restraint, but Quincy gathered that Syria’s total control of him whilst still functioning herself must’ve lowered what both were capable of.
…It was an effect Quincy had seen once before long ago, with the Spider. Arachne. Controlling others may have been a terrifying concept, but doing so was hubris. A mortal mind could only handle so much in simultaneity, no matter how powerful they were.
Quincy just didn’t know how to capitalize on such information.
It had been a few minutes since Elmiryn had vanished, and Quincy had no idea where she’d gone. Nyx didn’t seem to know, but then again she’d been incapacitated to the point of not being able to crawl, so this didn’t surprise the woman. Lethia on the other hand gave off the air of being unconcerned–making Quincy believe that she had something to do with Elmiryn suddenly leaving the fight. But with Hakeem once again in pursuit of Nyx, the brunette’s suppositions were low on her priority list for the time being.
“Taika!” she cried, as she threw Eate’s Son Hakeem’s way. The resulting cyclone swept the man up and away from Nyx, who had healed enough that she could at least limp away, her balance stumbling as the edges of the winds buffeted her pale form.
While the man was up in the air, Lethia aimed Quincy’s lightning staff at him, and before Quincy could tell her not to, a bolt of energy lanced through Hakeem, leaving the arc of warped space and time he’d just created unused as he tumbled helpless through the air.
“Hakeem!” Quincy yelled as she caught Eate’s Son and threw it again. She took off running, watching as the magical boomerang scythed through the air in high speed toward her husband. The tight arc she had aimed her weapon in reached its apex just as Hakeem neared impact. The resulting effect was a wide gust of twisting air–too wide and weak to be a full tornado, and yet strong enough to affect the trajectory of her husband, whose heavy armored body slowed and swung at the ground at an angle, lessening his impact.
Quincy caught Eate’s Son, its return so quick it stung her hand painfully, and she hurried to Hakeem’s side, one hand checking his pulse, the other holding her sword’s pommel up in case she needed to knock him out with it. Lethia approached, but stopped a few feet off, her chest heaving as she glared at Hakeem’s prone body. She aimed Quincy’s staff at the man’s chest, ready to fire off another bolt.
Quincy was relieved to find her husband’s pulse, but she didn’t spend long rejoicing as she turned to criticize the young enchantress. “You little fool! What do you think you’re doing, blasting off like that?”
“Hakeem isn’t in there anymore, Quincy,” Lethia said without looking at her. “It’s his body, but–”
“And I’m supposed to take the word of an amnesiac?” Quincy snapped.
“You did before!” The girl shot back.
Nyx’s voice floated to them, making them look up. “What matters is whether or not he’ll keep attacking,” she panted, still cradling her chest as she neared. The Ailuran looked like a fresh corpse the way blood and dirt seemed to exaggerate the paleness of her skin. But she looked more or less healed now, and Quincy was relieved. It was getting tiresome trying to keep her husband from single-mindedly smashing the girl’s head in with only unpredictable tornadoes and an ordinary sword to hold him at bay.
Quincy lowered her sword as she gazed at Hakeem again. “I think…he may be done. He must’ve hit his head on the landing.”
“Syria isn’t done with him yet…” Lethia murmured ominously. Quincy could see her staff tip crackling with static as the youth squeezed it with her hands.
“Then I will kill her before she can do more harm!” The brunette snarled.
Nyx let out a cry, making both women turn to look at her.
“Now what?” Quincy groused.
Honestly, how much more time does this girl need to sort herself out?
Nyx looked at them with eyes wide. She had both hands at either side of her head.
“I–I don’t know!” she stammered. “I just felt–”
But the Ailuran’s voice cut off with a dry rasp as she grabbed her throat with both hands. She looked at the others in alarm, and it took them too long to realize that she couldn’t breathe. Just when Quincy thought the girl would take a gasp, Nyx’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and she collapsed.
The wizard jumped to her feet, shouting at the same time that Lethia cast aside her staff to go to Nyx’s side.
Up above, Meznik chuckled in his alien music voice:
Fraying, fraying, little thread…
Izma joined in, matching his sick sing-song:
The sum is totaled…and thou art dead!