Elmiryn wanted to preoccupy herself with something, and given that everyone else seemed otherwise indisposed, she chose to bother Paulo, who also seemed adrift in the final hours of the day. It also helped that she’d had some more wine since arriving, of course.
“Stop laughing, lia! I mean it!” he snarled.
“How’m I s’posed to stop laughin’ when ya keep making that face?” The redhead guffawed, using the table to support herself.
“Pie and women! They are related!”
“As in women make the pies, or come with them?”
Elmiryn descended into another raucous peal of laughter.
“S-So is it safe to–safe t’say ya haven’t had much pie, Paulo?”
His naivety even elicited a chortle from Quincy, who was busy making dinner.
“It was a stupid game,” Paulo huffed, glaring as he slouched against the wall.
They were in the kitchen inside the tower and the evening was waning into night. They had already lit the lamps. Quincy toiled away at chopping up the remaining vegetables to add to the leftover stew from the previous night. Daedalus was in the study with Argos. He’d started up the fireplace to give him light as he read a book. All the warm illumination made the tower feel less…inhospitable. Elmiryn could understand why Lethia wouldn’t have minded growing up here as a child.
That didn’t mean she felt at home.
“Let’s start over,” she said once her humor finally subsided. “Farm.”
“I don’t want to do it anymore,” Paulo muttered sullenly.
“Come on! Farm!”
The teenager let out a long sigh of suffering. Quincy glanced over her shoulder at him, sweat on her brow from the heat of her cooking.
“You may as well indulge her, Paulo. She won’t leave you alone,” she remarked.
When Paulo looked at the warrior as if to confirm this, Elmiryn nodded gravely.
He bared his teeth and slouched further. “Pigs!”
Her answer was quick. “Mud.”
“Dinosaurs–” As soon as the word left her mouth, Elmiryn broke off with hiss, gripping her head. The pain didn’t go away with time, but instead, intensified, causing her to collapse onto the floor.
“Elmiryn?” she heard Paulo say, his voice tight and loud. Too loud. It echoed and ricocheted in her mind, making it into mush.
She yelled, curling up into a ball, squeezing her eyes shut to the flickering shadows on the walls. Those were just windows for the spirits to lean in and laugh at her, the demon’s pet who was astray.
Too fast. Everything was unraveling too fast.
“Elle? What’s happened?” That was Nyx. When had she shown up? Her voice was like a wave, washing away the confusion, cleansing Elmiryn of the madness that started to break through her drunken shield.
The warrior felt a warm hand on her arm. Cautiously, she peered from between her arms to see Nyx knelt beside her, her face tense with worry.
“She had another episode, by the looks of it,” Quincy sighed. She hovered nearby, frowning.
“No,” Elmiryn croaked, sitting up with a wince. Though the intense pain was gone, her head still throbbed. “I said something I shouldn’t have. Something that doesn’t belong. That doesn’t fit.”
“What do you mean?” Nyx asked, frowning.
Lethia, who had been watching from the foyer, stepped forward quickly. “Actually, she can’t say.”
Everyone turned to look at the enchantress. She shrugged. “Elmiryn has been to other dimensions. Trying to speak of things outside of this realm leads to the universe harshly correcting you.”
“And how do you know this?” Paulo scoffed.
Lethia put her hand on her hip as she shot him a sharp look. “Obviously because I’ve suffered the same! I’ve been to the same dimension Elmiryn has, and before that, Syria made certain to educate me. I was to go with her in her multidimensional journey with Izma.”
“You never mentioned this!” Quincy said, sounding annoyed.
The enchantress glared at her. “We haven’t exactly been very talkative with each other, now have we?”
“It doesn’t matter!” Nyx snapped.
Quincy turned her ire on her. “And why not?”
“Because we wouldn’t be able to talk much about things anyway!” Elmiryn spat. “Didn’t Lethia just tell you? Look at me, Quincy. Imagine the damage we’d suffer if we let slip one too many things that our world does not permit!”
The wizard pursed her lips as if to hold back any further arguments, though she clearly had plenty to spare.
“Can you stand?” Nyx asked gently.
Elmiryn looked at her, feeling hopeful. It was an odd sensation, and one she couldn’t recall experiencing with such intensity toward the girl. This realization quickly chased her hope, and strangled it. Why did the warrior need to feel hopeful with Nyx? Did she fear something had been permanently lost between them?
“Yeah,” Elmiryn grunted, trying to mask her conflict. She fought to her feet, pulling away from Nyx as she did so.
Then the warrior had another idea.
Rubbing her head, she asked, “Kitten, can I lay up in yer room for a while?”
For once, the warrior’s ulterior motive wasn’t in the gutter, but the Ailuran seemed to think so. Her companion’s face flashed a deep pink, but more than that, she went rock still, her body tightening as if expecting a punch. She didn’t open her mouth to speak, and her eyes glazed over.
All of this in just a few seconds, but Elmiryn was so taken aback by this that she stammered out (and never in her memory could she recall ever doing that) “I jes–jes’ meant to rest!” And then, with a noticeable sting in her heart, she added under her breath so that the others wouldn’t hear, “I’ll sleep in the barn, if that’s what ya want.”
Nyx recovered–in a sense. It looked like it took effort, but the tension eased from her shoulders, and the stiffness left her posture. Almost apologetically, she mumbled back (though by now the others had hurriedly distracted themselves) “We can talk about your sleeping arrangements later.”
Elmiryn was sure the girl meant for this to make her feel better, but it didn’t. It made her feel worse.
She didn’t bother to correct me. She isn’t just shy to talk, she’s uncomfortable with me entirely. What in the fucking hell is going on?
“All right, Nyx,” was all the woman said in response.
“In the meantime, Elle, feel free to rest in my room. I can bring you a bowl of stew once it’s ready.”
Elmiryn nodded as she shuffled off for the stairs, a light frown on her face and a heavy feeling in her gut.
Was it something I said? Was it something I did? I’d say it was because I was off with Meznik for a while, but somehow I don’t think that’s the issue! Not completely anyway.
The warrior glanced over her shoulder just before she rounded the stairwell. Nyx and Lethia were standing side by side, murmuring to each other. That in of itself didn’t seem so odd. She had been somewhat aware of tension between the two, but apparently that had been cleared up. It wasn’t until the enchantress reached over and patted Nyx’s arm in a sympathetic manner that Elmiryn paused, her eyes narrowing.
Does Lethia know what’s going on? she wondered. Then she felt a flare of irritation when she recalled that the two girls had been sitting in the barn for what was several hours, just talking.
Nyx feels like she confide in Lethia but not me? Haven’t I earned that trust?
Elmiryn ground her teeth a little before willing herself to resume marching up the stairs.
But she didn’t go up to the topmost bedroom, like she said she would. As soon as she reached the first bedroom door in the stairwell, she stepped up to it. Quincy and Hakeem’s room. It was closed, so she placed her ear to the wood. Inside, she heard no sounds, but that didn’t mean anything. The room also faced the setting suns, so she couldn’t trust if the soft glow coming beneath the crack was just dying sunlight or a lit candle.
Taking hold of the door, Elmiryn turned the handle slowly. No sound. She pushed it gently, carefully. The hinges creaked, making her wince, but otherwise the sound did not carry. Daring another half-inch, she peered in through the open crack. There were no candles lit. The golem posing as Hakeem lay flat on the bed.
With a brief glance over her shoulder, Elmiryn slipped into the room and shut the door.
Stepping quietly, she stopped next to the bed and peered down at the lifeless construct. It was dormant, playing at sleep. She let her second sense bleed through her eyes, and though it made her head ache, she could see the lack of spiritual glow in its body. The threads that weaved this thing into existence were not natural threads. But how could she make the others see this?
“You’re a knot,” Elmiryn whispered over the golem. “Just one big knot in the universe’s weave.”
The thing stirred. The warrior tensed and took a step back.
Now was not the time. She couldn’t destroy it now. The others didn’t understand. Quincy would turn murderous. That sort of chaos would split their group apart, and they needed to stay together. Elmiryn could see as much in just a day. Who else would believe what they went through? Who else would protect and shield them from the consequences of that fateful day when Syria escaped? Everyone was tired and nursing wounds, both visible and hidden. Even if their unity was tenuous, it would have to hold for now, because the alternative was far worse.
Yet even as she thought these things, the warrior also knew that this fake Hakeem was a threat to their recovery as a group as well. What devious plan was Izma playing out here? The golem was like a bomb whose fuse was gradually running down. Elmiryn could not destroy it prematurely, but she couldn’t wait either.
“I’m going to unravel this knot, Izma,” the warrior hissed low as she slowly retreated, back toward the door. “I’ll find a way!”
Just as Elmiryn turned the doorknob, she heard a voice murmur behind her, making her hair stand on end–for just a touch of music lay behind each word–“You’re certainly welcome to try, little pet.”
“What did you say?” Elmiryn snarled whirling around with her hand grasping for her sword–but that was gone, left carelessly in the foyer after she had changed earlier. Her heart jumped into her throat.
The golem stirred and sat up. Groggily it said, “What? Who’s there?”
But the woman had already turned and fled, slamming the door behind her.
Three more days passed.
Now that Lethia and I were on good terms again, it felt hard not to gravitate to the barn. I didn’t always feel like talking, and I think she understood my need to be in the company of someone who actually understood how I felt. Sometimes we did talk. I told her more about my childhood–the challenges I faced, the people I loved, the awkward dilemmas I suffered through. In turn, she shared much the same. As Lethia told me about her upbringing with Syria, I realized, sorrowfully, that Daedalus had been right. I had claimed to know Lethia Artaud far too quickly.
The enchantress was very principled, and had an earnest love of order. When she revealed to me her intent to kill Syria, I was surprised at first. But then I could see, in the bright and wistful way the girl spoke of her surrogate mother, that she still loved her. For Lethia, her desire for honor and her sense of love…there was no separation. They were one and the same.
I was humbled that she could make such a hard choice about someone she cared about. It made me doubt my own dedication to Elmiryn again. After all, I was a champion, and she was now a demon’s pet. Was there something more I could be doing to bring her back to Harmony? Was I being too lenient?
Naturally my concerns slipped into more personal issues. Why did I feel so put off by her when she was all I could think about for weeks? Why did I crave her presence, yet feel deeply uncomfortable by it at the same time? All I could think about was her walking away forever, and yet she was so caring and considerate of me…
“You’re doing it again!” Lethia snapped, annoyed.
I looked at her, startled out of my reverie. As was becoming custom, I was sitting with the girl in the barn. I sat on a low stool while she brushed my hair with a wooden comb Daedalus had given her.
The enchantress wagged the comb at me. “I am telling you, Nyx! You have to stop anticipating the worst!”
“Are you telling me this as my therapist?” I grumbled resentfully. “Did you read my mind again?”
“I’ll have you know, your thoughts are plain as day on your face,” Lethia shot back. “And of course I’m not speaking to you as your therapist. That was quite unfair of you to say! You know what I would say if you were some patient I was detached from?”
I looked at her wearily. “What?”
She glared. “I would say, ‘Love is about communication, and you need to open up to Elmiryn in order for her to understand how you feel.’ You want to know what I say to you as a friend? Stop the nonsense and just talk to her! It’s the only way you’ll know for sure!”
A whine escaped my lips as I kicked at the dirt on the ground. “I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even want to try and discuss what our relationship is! Do you know how it all started? One day, Elmiryn was hallucinating so bad that she thought she could take the meaning of my words just by the force of a kiss alone!”
Lethia sighed and shook her head, “It figures….”
“So you see? From the start, there was never any real discussion of an ‘us’ so much as just…companionship. Giving and taking. That seemed welcome enough,” I laughed bitterly. “Oh we got close to putting a name to what was happening. But we both made excuses, and I thought it was fine because….”
“Because I was afraid I’d scare her away,” I muttered miserably.
“All right. Things started out uncertainly between the two of you and it just…kept evolving without much discussion, correct?”
“Then may I ask why it is that you insisted on waiting for Elmiryn to determine the nature of the relationship?”
I looked at her in anguish. “Oh, now you are treating me like a patient!”
“I’m serious, Nyx! Why does Elle have to be the one to say what is and isn’t going on between you two? Clearly you have feelings for her and you are invested! It’s not enough that Elmiryn just fools around with you. What if we travel to a city with a brothel and she decides she wants to roll around with someone for two bits a night?”
I shrugged morosely. “It’s her right. It’s not like I control her.”
Lethia groaned, slapping a hand to her forehead. “What am I going to do with you?”
“You know it’s more complicated than that,” I whispered, my shoulders hunching. “Why are you acting like that isn’t the case?”
Lethia went to kneel before me, her bright green eyes locking onto mine. “I know it’s hard for you. And I know why. But I need you to remember that wasn’t Elmiryn! Every time you give in to your fears with her, you are letting Izma win!”
I looked away. “I have to go back to town. We need more supplies.”
“You can’t keep putting it off.”
“It was one thing telling you the truth, Lethia. It’s another thing entirely to tell Elmiryn!”
Lethia lowered her gaze. “True enough. But it needs to happen. And soon. I don’t see your relationship surviving much longer otherwise.”
I squeezed her shoulder before standing to leave. She hadn’t finished combing my hair, but our discussion suddenly made me eager to leave.
Lethia is right. If I leave things as they are, then we’ll grow apart.
I looked up at the evening sky, taking a deep breath. It was no good, I felt like I was suffocating still.
Maybe that’s what needs to happen. Maybe Elmiryn and I are too broken to be together. Maybe us growing apart would be for the best.