Elmiryn knew what loss was. Knew the meaning of the word. Felt the effects of it like a person caught in someone’s else’s puddle splash. It lapped her knees, trailed her shins, licked at her ankles, just so much dirty water staining her boots and her stockings. She always tried to remember those under her command had homes to go to, lives to live after the war. They had courage and fear, strength and weakness.
She spoke somberly when delivering funeral rites on the field. She recognized that not everyone’s eyes were on the heavens and beyond like hers were. But those that came under her command were soldiers, and they were placed in her unit of dragoons for a reason. They were necessary assets. Tools of the kingdom’s will. She couldn’t be soft. Couldn’t get attached. Didn’t want to. Many didn’t make it past a year, either because of death or debilitating injury. Only those who stayed, those who she came to rely on for the most vital tasks, earned Elmiryn’s deeper camaraderie. To the others, she was just their captain, and she did for them what she could, but if they were lost… It was a passing sting. It brought on more of a professional criticism on her orders or how she carried out said orders, then a resounding sense of loss. Life became painfully pragmatic in that way, even for her rebellious sense of humor.
So the day Saelin took a sword to the gut, Elmiryn felt her world turn on its end.
She managed to keep the rest of her unit alive from a surprise Ailuran flank attack that surely would have slain them all, had she not had the forethought to call for an echelon formation that lined her mounted troops diagonally along the field. Saelin, being nearest to Elmiryn, was wounded, but managed to stay on his horse. With his reins in hand, Elmiryn defended him while her unit maneuvered around the attacking forces, driving them back.
After retreating to a marsh where they could anchor their position, she ordered the dragoon unit to implement immediate medical attention to their fellows while the able bodied stood guard. The damage was moderate. They were the vanguard of the Fiamman forces and would have to continue to press forward. Only Saelin could not advance. Left with no option, Elmiryn was forced to leave him hidden in the tall grass until the advancing army, with its regiment of healers and medicine men, could tend to him fully.
In a sense, it felt to Elmiryn like leaving a part of herself behind. She did her job, of course. She had to. The disconnect from feeling was not easy, but the warrior knew that other lives still depended on her command. Dying because of worry would not help Saelin survive. If anything, Elmiryn fought harder. If the opposing forces overtook her unit before the Fiamman army could catch up, then her lieutenant was doomed.
Back to the present, in the Umbralands, where Elmiryn’s world turned to noise and confusion as the ground rose up around her and lifted her bodily, pressing in like she were being buried alive. The redhead knew, that in order to ensure Nyx’s safety, she had to repeat that monumental feat of will and overcome her scattered mind. Panic would not save anyone. Despair would not save anyone. Fear would not save anyone.
But what about all three? she thought hysterically as her lungs began to burn for want of air.
Syria’s voice slithered into her head, a far off echo–for the enchantress could still not penetrate the strange workings of Elmiryn’s fae-adjusted consciousness. Small favors. Return us, and I shall not crush you, the enchantress threatened.
Elmiryn, still struggling to control her wheeling thoughts, returned a single clipped word: Mistake.
Syria’s voice soured in the warrior’s head. And it is mine to make. You don’t really leave me with many options, Elmiryn. The Twins were very good at holding their breath. What about you?
The redhead knew the enchantress had her answer already, so she felt annoyed. Not even a full minute had gone by and Elmiryn thought she was going to inhale the dirt. Time… I need more…time… The woman thought with effort. The silence closed in on her, squeezing and pressing until she felt the last wisps of consciousness flee her.
As the dark-bright-nothing engulfed her spirit, the warrior became aware of a window into a place she had forgotten. It was a space cut harshly into the ether, a hole in space and time that she had created in her fear of the godly.
It was a hollow place filled with slow-falling sparrows and kittens.
Regaining my ability to breathe was not so immediate as I’d hoped. Even when Lethia righted what was wrong with my mind, my lungs still shuddered to work, my chest muscles and diaphragm not working in tandem in a way that is hard to describe. Was this what it was like for a newborn to learn to breathe? I sucked in air desperately, clumsily, and could feel my body tingle and twitch as my healing ability repaired the damage I’d suffered in my brain.
Kali stirred, sluggish in her dark space. I could feel her outrage and saw the memories of her underhanded assault from Syria. Mingled in the information was a sense of indignity that she had allowed for herself to be disabled in such a way that both our lives were risked. In the past, Kali was the one who got us out of bad situations, violent, belligerent, and power-hungry as she had been. She felt this was her first real failure–I could feel her sentiment as if she’d said it out loud–and I wanted to assure her that she had done the best she could. The truth of it was, that the two of us, as we were, could not defeat Syria. She was so powerful, and there was still so much we had to learn.
But as I regained the ability to sit up, Izma began to descend, and Kali was just going to have to settle for my unspoken assurances, for as soon as the demon’s feet touched the ground, she began to advance toward us. Lethia, who had been at my side in her attempts to heal me, quickly rose and inserted herself between me and the demon. I could see her body tremble, though. She had discarded Quincy’s staff and so was without a weapon. All she had was her psychic abilities, but what good was that against these abominations, these creatures that drove a person mad just from looking at them?
A glance at Quincy showed that the brunette was prioritizing her husband’s safety over everything else. I didn’t blame her. The man had taken some nasty hits and his injuries were sure to be grievous. He was human and couldn’t heal. What if he were bleeding internally? What if Syria’s mind tricks had put him into a coma?
Izma stopped before Lethia and the demon seemed to take a moment to appraise her. She looked over at Meznik and said in her alien musical voice:
They are stubborn,
Meznik shrugged his bony hands and responded in kind.
It’s such a bother!
Izma rubbed her sharp chin as she peered over at Quincy and Hakeem.
Meznik shook his head.
If it amuses you.
I have no interest.
I have enough of a challenge
With the ones I possess.
I let out a strangled sound as I grabbed Lethia, and in a clumsy and confusing fumble, used her to rise to my feet and simultaneously shove her behind me. I was the godly champion here. If these demons were talking about what I thought they were talking about, then I had a better chance of fending them off then anybody.
At least, I hoped so.
“You can’t,” I rasped out harshly, my body swaying as I fought to strike an imposing demeanor.
And what resistance
Can the little sum spare?
You have been found lacking
Methinks you would offer
Such poor sport.
“You can’t,” I hissed again. Lethia started to tug at my arm insistently and I pulled away. My next words came with effort. I still felt winded, still felt my chest ache with the effort of sucking in breath. “You can’t…because you are known to us, demon. Your mystique is gone. We know what you look like, where you lurk. We will fight.”
At my words, the demons began to crow with their abhorrent laughter.
She sees our masks
And thinks she knows!
Meznik guffawed–a dry sound like a trumpet honking.
Lethia’s voice squeaked in my ear, a whisper that was creeping into a whine. “They’re right, Nyx! We don’t know anything about them, not really. But us seeing them in this form means one thing–that they’ve altered us somehow! We have one foot in the door, and they want to pull as all the way in!” Her voice receded to a breath at these last words, filled with terror.
My eyes widened, and I had to resist taking a step back, both from Izma and Lethia.
…Altered us? I had thought it strange that I could look upon Izma now and not suffer as I had before, but did that really mean she had changed my spirit somehow? How could this be? Did Lacertli not protect me from such evil? Wouldn’t Harmony have found a way to correct this?
Was I going to become like Elmiryn?
The thought terrified me. Kali echoed my sentiment, and we both let out a sharp bestial scream–marked with fear and outrage. My Twin lent me her claws and fangs and I took them eagerly, not even batting an eye at the momentary pain of transformation. I would have launched at Izma right then…
If not for the black portal that opened up behind the demon.
Elmiryn took a breath of relief as she entered into her white-black space, her personal “mindfuck” as she’d once referred to it. It was just as shapeless and infinite as before. The kittens and sparrows tumbled around her in slow motion and she brushed by them as she paced the imaginary floor and tried to think.
Just because she had bought herself time didn’t mean that Elmiryn was free. Syria still had her in her death grip and the warrior had been just seconds from losing all consciousness. So how could she save her life in the next…oh say…two full seconds? What could she possibly do in that span of time to turn things around? And it wasn’t as if time stopped here. It just defied the rules a bit, like a dream often did. A short nap could feel like days in a dream. For Elmiryn, one real world night felt like a year in this space. She just wasn’t sure what the actual exchange of time was, and it made her nervous to take advantage of it. After all, what if it wasn’t constant? What if time was more “wibbly-wobbly” and ended up speeding up on her?
“Fuck!” Elmiryn huffed, after what felt like an hour had gone by.
Up above the watery shadows and lights shifted and rippled, making the woman’s head hurt. The window, where the odd person had been, was gone. The warrior half-wished they were back so that she could talk to them and bounce off ideas, not that they ever responded. It just felt better to think out loud, and while she could do it herself, it never felt as natural as with another person.
“Thou could speaketh to me?” A familiar voice purred.
Elmiryn froze and turned to see Artemis standing very close and wearing her white robes and hunting bow, just as the day they had first met. The goddess laced her hands before her, then took exaggerated steps around the woman. Elmiryn didn’t move.
“Dost thou know this goddess still waits?” Artemis asked after a moment.
“For what?” Elmiryn growled tightly.
Artemis leaned in close and whispered, “For thee.”
The redhead snapped her head toward the goddess and spat out a hiss from the back of her throat, leaning in so that Artemis was forced to move away.
The goddess laughed mellifluously. “My, my, my! Been picking things up from our feline friend, now have we?”
Elmiryn spared her a venomous smirk. “Well what can I say, Arty-kins? We’re like cats and dogs.”
Artemis feigned a pout. “We’re not so unalike…”
“Is that so? I seem to recall never needing to force myself onto someone.”
“Oh come! Thou speaks as though this tactic was unexpected.”
“A person never really wakes up thinking, ‘Welp, I’m getting divinely raped today!’”
Artemis shrugged. “And yet did it actually come to anything?”
Elmiryn actually clenched her teeth so hard, she thought she could feel one of them crack. “It came to plenty,” she finally ground out.
The goddess sighed and fisted her cheek. “By the heavens, such precious seconds paid in honor of my brother Resentment. I shall have to tell him of thy generous contribution to his godly tithe.”
“Fuck you and your pantheon,” Elmiryn spat. She turned away and resumed pacing.
Have to focus. Have to figure out a way to beat Syria!
“Elmiryn…dost thou remember the moment ye imbibed my spirit?”
That stilled the warrior’s feet. Memories came, hot and furious, of Artemis’s attack in the Lycan forest. Elmiryn had fended her off by biting off the goddess’s tongue. There had been so much blood in her mouth that…
Slowly she turned and regarded the goddess, who smiled wolfishly at her.
“Ye may be outside the realms of heaven,” Artemis said quietly. “But hast thou considered that heaven is within thine realm?”
Elmiryn batted her eyes once, and in that fleeting moment, she felt Artemis brush her lips over hers. But when her eyes flew open and she swung her fists, the goddess was gone.
“Perhaps,” Artemis’s voice echoed around her. “What ye would see as misfortune, is actually a boon to build upon?”
The warrior fought to control her breathing (forgetting that she didn’t need to breathe to begin with) her eyes large circles as the shadows of falling animals trailed across her face. She was pretty certain after that huge distraction that she had less than two seconds left to act. In the tumult of thoughts that sped through her mind, Elmiryn thought of Meznik, that maybe the demon had said something…only she couldn’t remember specifically what, and it made her angry that she couldn’t remember a potentially important, or non-important (well, maybe VERY important) detail.
And in the fucks and wolf bitch‘s that her colorful vocabulary supplied, Elmiryn realized something.
Wait. WAIT. I know my pattern. So wouldn’t I see a fucking stain in my own fabric!?