Elmiryn was stumbling over herself. She could claim she was still out of sorts from falling from a great height earlier, and she may even win the argument. But the truth was, she felt fear. A sort of primal, rabbity fear that sent shockwaves from the base of her neck to the ends of her fingertips and her gut. The air crackled, making her hairs stand on end. Colors and light seemed altogether harsher, like bleach on her eyes.
She had trespassed, and Julie and Molly knew it.
Elmiryn could feel their wrath, even as she tripped and fell down the back steps of May’s home. When she scrabbled at the grass and dirt, ripping out clumps in her haste to resume flight, she could feel their presence getting nearer. She knew, too, that they had turned this powerful influence on like a switch to keep her from fighting back when–
The woman yelled as she felt the hard heel of a shoe stomp onto her back, pinning her on the ground.
A moment later the screen door banged open, and the wooden steps creaked as one–no, two–people descended.
“Guys what the hell!?” Elmiryn heard May cry out. “Why are you attacking her? And I thought I said no strange tricks where the neighbors can see! Unlike you, I have to live here!”
“Sorry, May,” a familiar voice said. Elmiryn guessed it was Molly. Her visual memory may have been poor, but she still had good auditory memory.
Molly said next, “This geek was warned not to come back here. Soon as I sensed her presence we had to come.”
“And I guess you were just in the neigborhood?”
“No. We nightcrawled.”
“We teleported,” Molly clarified patiently.
“Is she a threat?” May asked brusquely. Apparently she didn’t need more clarification than that.
“Consider her a virus. Having her here runs the risk of things getting unraveled. We had another one pop up the other day. We’re still trying to decide what to do with him.”
Elmiryn grunted as she tried to crane her head to look at them. “I’d be happy to leave if someone would just point me the way!”
The shoe in her back dug in deeper. “How do we know this isn’t some ploy by Meznik?” Another voice said over her. That would be Julie.
Elmiryn spat through her teeth, “Oh sure. Real clever trick. Send me in unattended, then have me caught immediately. Just think of the damage that would cause! Are you out of your mind!? Of course I’m not here on account of that asshole! I ran away from him, and now I just want to go home!”
“But how did you get here if it weren’t for him?” Molly asked. She sounded closer. “You aren’t powerful enough to travel like this on your own!”
“Okay, well…” Elmiryn huffed into the dirt as she tried to wiggle out from under Julie’s foot. Her back throbbed in pain. When this attempt failed, she growled out, “Meznik brought me out to see the universe proper for a lecture! We were out in space a while, but I didn’t like what he was telling me, so I left! A ghost, spirit, thing helped me find my way here! It said this was the quickest way back home!”
“Well we are dimensional neighbors,” Julie murmured to Molly.
“That doesn’t mean her story is true. After all, what about the other one?” Molly returned.
“What other one?” Elmiryn asked irately. “It’s just me! I came alone!”
“Can we resume this conversation back inside? Preferably without any violence?” May piped up.
There was a beat as Molly and Julie seemed to consider this.
Soon the boot came off of Elmiryn’s back, and the warrior rose with effort. Once on her feet, she rotated her shoulders with a wince and regarded Julie and Molly with a phosphorous glare. They took her hostility with nary a twitch.
Molly, the shorter brunette with warm brown eyes, was dressed in a grey skirt and blue hooded sweater. She had a much more cherubic face than Elmiryn remembered, and her bobbed hair seemed eerily immaculate and shiny. In fact, everything about her seemed to suggest perfect symmetry. Julie, on the other hand, screamed asymmetry, with her zebra print top askew on her shoulders and her brown canvas pant legs messily stuffed into her biker boots. She was tall and of a brighter palette, with her tanned skin, pumpkin orange hair, and sea green eyes. Her face was more oval shaped and her features more angular, like Elmiryn’s.
Elmiryn sneered at them and spared a mocking bow before shoving past the pair to follow May back into her house. The warrior knew, despite her primal knee jerk attempt, that she could not escape. She recalled what Meznik had told her, not so long ago: this world’s balance was in disarray, and in the power struggle, god-like individuals had taken total control over the reality of certain areas. May’s house was within Molly and Julie’s control apparently, and Elmiryn, now that she could connect the source, could feel their influence humming through the air.
She sat on the couch as the two women entered. They crossed the room to stand before Elmiryn, towering down over her. May, who sat on the recliner near the door, cleared her throat loudly.
“No looming in my house. Take a seat,” she scolded.
Julie pouted at this, but Molly sat on the coffee table without a word. Sighing, her companion followed suit.
“Here’s the problem, Elmiryn,” Molly said, lacing her fingers together and resting them on her crossed legs. “Right now? We’re currently at war. People with abilities similar to ours want to become the new godly rulers of our world. Among the ones causing trouble for us are the astral demons. You are a demon’s pet. I can see it in your essence. Do you see how this makes things complicated for us? You’re a threat, and yet…”
“Pets rarely stray from their owners,” Julie finished. She puckered her lips. “But that isn’t to say that you aren’t still acting under Meznik’s command.”
Molly flipped over a hand. “So forgive us if we don’t take your claims to heart.”
“Don’t you think Meznik would’ve been more subtle in his approach?” Elmiryn snapped. “I obviously didn’t escape your attention!”
“Could be a distraction. Maybe Meznik is trying to hurt us elsewhere while we’re distracted with you?”
“So why sit and talk to me if you think that’s the case?”
Molly slowly shook her head. “Because we’re not sure. We can’t sense Meznik’s presence like we can sense yours. That’s what makes the demons so dangerous. We have no idea when they actually set foot in our World.”
“But you mentioned someone else! Who else is here? Why would Meznik bring them first, then me after?”
Julie and Molly exchanged looks. Elmiryn glared between them. “What? What is it?”
“Well…” Molly started.
“The other one isn’t actually Meznik’s,” Julie said next.
Elmiryn wrinkled her nose. “And what does that mean?”
“It means that the other one actually belongs to Izma. Only he’s not a pet. Not even a toy.”
“He’s a tool,” Molly said with a grim tilt of her mouth.
Elmiryn was about to ask who the person was again when May piped in. “Question! Can someone tell me what astral demons are, and why the hell they’re so scary with their ‘pets’ and ‘toys?’”
Julie grimaced. “May, it would take too long to explain to you. Besides, that knowledge is dangerous. It could draw attention to you!”
“Draw attention to me? Are you kidding? Some alien woman drops in on my greenhouse. Don’t you think I should know what’s at least happening in my backyard, if not my fucking neighborhood?”
“For the last time, I’m not an alien!” Elmiryn griped.
“Demons are intelligent interdimensional monsters whose goal is to pervert reality as we know it to their fucked up needs,” Julie said with a weary sigh.
“They don’t attack directly. Instead, they prefer to use what they call ‘pets, toys, tools, and children’ to carry out their plans,” Molly said next. She picked at her skirt hem, her brow tightening. “Tools are beings that the demon uses for a short period. They are the throw aways. The little pawns the demons abandon once their role is done.”
“Like Nadi!” Elmiryn murmured, sitting up.
Everyone stared at her.
Clearing her throat, she sat back into the couch.
Satisfied that the warrior wouldn’t interrupt again, Molly continued. “A ‘toy’ was what Elmiryn used to be, just a short while ago. Unlike tools, the demons will interact with toys more directly. They’re valued more, but they are still controlled only by manipulation. A curse is mandatory. It binds the toy to their owner.”
“Then there’s pets,” Julie said with a distinct curl of her lip.
Molly gave a curt nod. “Yes. Elmiryn is now a pet. That means that she is no longer manipulated. She knowingly carries out Meznik’s will. He shares more information with her and she is typically to be at his side at all times.”
“But I’m not,” Elmiryn snapped.
“Next,” Julie interjected with a roll of her eyes. “Is the child.”
The word hung in the air, dense with foreboding. Elmiryn leaned forward onto her knees, her eyes gleaming. She’d never heard of ‘tools’ before, but she already had an idea of the demon’s using people in such a way–like Nadi and Lethia. But a ‘child?’ The word carried with it terrible implications and they made the warrior tremble on a minute level.
“A child,” Julie huffed out, as if the word took great effort. “Is basically a demon’s right hand. They aren’t on a ‘need-to-know-basis’ like the pet. They know everything and they have a set of lesser powers to match those of their demon master.”
Molly put a hand on Julie’s shoulder and said to May and Elmiryn. “It’s the final step before a person becomes a demon themselves. We…lost a friend that way to a demon.”
Elmiryn’s mouth fell open. She searched Molly’s face, trying to find something that would suggest the brunette was lying, but she saw nothing. “So…I’m on a track to become a demon? I thought Meznik wanted to turn me into a fae!”
“Not all pet’s advance onto the child state, Elmiryn,” Molly said with a dark expression. “Sometimes they stay pets until they die. Being a demon’s pet can be just as transformative as being a demon’s child. It just means you’re changing into whatever else the demon may desire. In your case? A fae.”
“This sounds way beyond my pay grade,” May said with raised eyebrows.
Elmiryn clenched her fists. “The other person you have. Izma’s tool. Who are they? Where are they? When did they get here?”
“Time works differently between worlds, Elmiryn,” Julie replied with a shrug. “They got here days before you. They’re currently being held back at my place in downtown. We’ve got our people watching them.”
“But who are they!?” Elmiryn shouted. “You keep avoiding that question and I want to know why!”
Molly and Julie exchanged looks again, and the warrior wanted to slap them both.
Finally, Molly said with a nervous tug of her ear. “The person’s from your world, we think. They’re strange because they seem to know they are being used as a tool, and they say they want to work with us. If what they’re saying is true, revealing them to you could ruin that opportunity.”
“If he’s from my world, then he isn’t your problem!” Elmiryn snarled. “You want to be the new gods here? Fine! But you can’t control people from other dimensions and expect the universe is going to be okay with that! My world is my story, and right now you’re keeping things apart that you shouldn’t be! Take me to this person, and after that, you can give me the boot! I’ll be happy to get out of your hair!”
Molly screwed up her mouth.
Julie nudged her with her elbow. “So…?” she jerked her head. “Yay? Nay?”
The brunette scooted to the edge of the coffee table, and her knees touched Elmiryn’s, making the warrior stiffen. Molly’s dark eyes locked gazes with the redhead, and she murmured. “I’m going to read you. Do you know what I mean when I say that?”
Elmiryn swallowed audibly but fought to keep her face stoic. “You’re going to look at my pattern. See my spirit. My history.”
“Yes. This may be uncomfortable. You might feel like you’re coming apart, but I can’t avoid that.”
“If it means you’ll stop suspecting me, then just do it!”
Molly nodded. Then without word or gesture, the pain struck.
It wasn’t a foreign pain. Elmiryn had experienced this before, when her spirit had been torn asunder, when her essence had been scattered in the hungry white of the Other Place. It was a sort of intense tingling, a razoring of her consciousness down to the finest nerves. The redhead went rigid, her mouth opening in a quiet scream as she instinctively fought to strengthen her body and soul’s integrity.
Through the pain, she heard Molly hiss across from her, “Stop fighting me! I’m not done!”
But Elmiryn couldn’t help it. Surely this wannabe goddess from another World was trying to unmake her…?
And then it stopped.
Elmiryn took a loud gasp of air, her body shuddering as she shook off the last vestiges of pins and needles. By her third deep breath the sensation was gone altogether, but the warrior felt weakened and her thirst for a drink burned hotter than ever.
Without saying a word or even thinking on her actions, Elmiryn swayed to her feet and stumbled over to May’s kitchen. Sitting on the counter was the bottle of rum her host had used earlier to pour her a drink. Elmiryn uncorked this and took a long swig.
May let out an indignant sound behind her. “Hey!”
“Leave her. She can’t help it. I’ll buy you a new bottle, May. Promise,” Elmiryn heard Molly say. She sounded winded herself.
“Moll, you okay?” Julie asked.
When Elmiryn felt her fae urges die down inside her, she leaned on the counter and turned with effort to glare across the room at the others.
Molly seemed pale and her eyes were fixed on Elmiryn. “She’s telling the truth. About running from Meznik.”
“Finally saw that, huh?” the warrior harped.
“No,” the brunette said firmly. She stood and narrowed her eyes. “It wasn’t that. You didn’t give me a chance to see your recent memories. What I mean is…the gold thread inside of you.”
“Gold thread?” Elmiryn spat. She swayed on her feet and could feel the rum burning inside of her. Damn, how she hated the ease with which she became drunk. Hated and loved it. It was a strange feeling.
“Artemis,” Molly said flatly.
Elmiryn’s face slackened and she turned away. “Oh,” she mumbled. “That.”
Before the others could ask, Molly turned and explained. “Elmiryn has a thread of Artemis’s essence inside of her. It’s literally a part of her. The demons hate the gods, and vice versa. Elmiryn may be a demon’s pet, but her brush with the gods, however that may have happened, gives her the power to escape Meznik. It acts like a signal blocker. So with her here, he can’t know what she’s been up to. A demon would never willingly relinquish control like that.”
Julie put her hands on her hips. “So she’s telling the truth about defying Meznik?”
Molly gave a small shrug. “All the evidence seems to suggest she is!”
The phone rang, making Elmiryn jump. May went and answered it, her expression bemused. “Hello?” There was a series of fast squeaks from the receiver. “Pauline? Hey slow down, I can’t understand you.”
May nodded her head as she listened to ‘Pauline’, a frown appearing on her face. “Uh-huh…uh-huh… Wow. God! Hey hold on a minute, okay?” The bespectacled woman quickly covered the phone’s mouth piece and looked at them all.
“Hate to cut a party short, but a close friend just called me with something I can actually work on, so if we’re done here…?”
“We’ll go,” Molly said. She gestured at Elmiryn. “Come on. You want to meet our other guest and get out of here?”
Elmiryn took a step toward them but stopped. “Who…is the other, uh, person? Again?” She fought to keep hold of her speech but could feel the drowsiness take over her faculties.
Molly and Julie stepped forward to each take hold of Elmiryn’s arms. They smelled like butterscotch and cigarette smoke respectively. May resumed speaking in low urgent tones with her friend on the phone, her back already to them. Gently, the pair escorted the warrior to the door.
As they exited May’s house, Molly said, “He told us his name was Hakeem.”