“I’m cornered in fire so break out the secrets
I hope you know that you were worth it all along
I’m tired, you’re angry, and everyone looks blurry
I love you, I’m leaving; so long
Hey, little one
I’m so scared of what this could have been
I know that today I lost my only friend
My little one
The places I took you, they seem so fucking empty
I have trouble going anywhere at all
Especially my own bedroom
And it stays awake to haunt me
So passed out, blackout, drunk in another bathroom stall
Hey, little one
I’m so scared of what this could have been
I know that today I lost my only friend”1
If I thought I’d be able to leave for Belcliff that day without something stopping me, I was wrong. Standing at the gates with a royal blue bottle was Elmiryn. She leaned against the bars with blank eyes, her unkempt hair loose about her shoulders. I was surprised to see her. Halfway to the gate I slowed, a knot growing in my stomach. In the past few days, we had barely spoken to each other. It was my fault. I avoided her, too afraid of where a conversation between us would lead if I let it go on long enough. Her frustration was almost palpable.
The last we had spoken was yesterday morning. I was coming out of the kitchen just as she was entering the tower from outside. We stopped in the foyer and just stared at each other, the moment stretching far beyond anything comfortable. She had reeked of alcohol. I wanted to believe that it had more to do with her powerful fae addiction, but somehow that felt like a feeble thing to hope for. Resentment smoldered in her eyes, embers of it dancing with her dark madness. Before Elmiryn had held on to some semblance of functionality. In our time apart, that had disintegrated into a rolling mess of stinging paranoia and outlandish humor. Even without our relationship problems, it was hard to speak to her like this.
“Have I disappeared for you too?” she asked in a murmur.
I stared at her, trying to assemble a response. The best I could come up with was, “I don’t know what you mean.”
Elmiryn chuckled dryly. As she turned to enter the stairs down to the cellar, no doubt to get more drink, I could hear her say, “Believe it or not, that’s still an answer.”
Now as I approached her at the gate, her eyes sharpened and rested on me. I slowed to a stop before her, that familiar stink of inebriation tickling my sensitive nose.
“Hello Elmiryn,” I greeted warily. “How are you feeling today?”
She took a moment to take a swig from her bottle before saying with a shrug, “Like nothing.”
I heaved a heavy sigh as my hands found my hips and my gaze fell to the ground. “I take it you needed to speak with me?” I said to my boots.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” I heard her mumble sarcastically.
I glanced at her with a pained expression. “I know I’ve been treating you poorly–”
She laughed. “Ah. Here we go.”
“–And I’m sorry. I know it isn’t fair to you.”
Elmiryn offered a pursed smile. “Fairness? Nyx, I feel like I’ve been tossed into a game in which no one’s explained to me the rules. That’s not just unfair, it’s fucking crazy.”
My eyes squeezed shut. “I know.”
“Do you? Because far as I can see, the only one who seems to hold your attention these days is Lethia.” She spat the name out, making me shoot her a sharp look.
“Please!” I returned with an exasperated laugh. “As if you two acting like sisters when you treated her like just a nuisance not long ago isn’t bizarre–!” I bit back the rest of my words, my mouth wrestling itself closed even as the words fought to erupt from my throat. “Don’t make this about her. This is about us. It’s… It’s not even your fault, it’s me–”
“That is horseshit!” Elmiryn spat, and I flinched.
My eyes met hers. Her pupils were drawn to pinpricks, the cerulean color faded to an almost icy shade. In her lean face, I could see the quivering tension that barely held her anger in check.
“Don’t lie to me,” she hissed. “Not when I’ve been fending off the paint the gods dumped on this ugly world. Not when I’m fighting to keep from unspooling at everyone’s feet. Don’t you fucking lie to me with such weak lines! ‘It’s me, not you?’ You’ve got to be joking!”
I swallowed at the lump in my throat. “Elmiryn, I… I’m trying. I’m trying to get to a point where I can really say what I need to, but–”
“Trying to get where? What secret place do I have to wait for you to make it to before you open your fucking mouth? What did I do to deserve being shut out?” She was half-screaming now. Her hair seemed to writhe and wriggle, taking on more volume as she gesticulated wildly at me. I’d never seen her so out of control, and it killed me.
“Nothing,” I choked out. I could feel the tears pricking my eyes. The alarm at how swiftly my friend, the woman I had cared so deeply for, crumbled apart before me was making me practically nauseous. “You didn’t do anything!”
“So talk to me then!” She shouted, finally pushing off of the gate to advance on me. I backpedaled as she pressed in. “Help me see! Help me understand! I wander around at night staring at the place where I can see your soul’s thread, and all I can hear are the ghosts in the wind telling me to join them! Your voice is gone from my life, and I have no idea why! So what’s stopping me from joining the voices, Nyx? Why fucking shouldn’t I!?”
“I’ll tell you the reason!” I sobbed, circling around her. If I could just get to the gate… “But not now! Please, Elmiryn, not now! Not like this! I know I have no right to, but I must ask you to wait!”
“Wait!?” she screamed, her voice fraying. Either she was unaware of what I was doing, or didn’t care. “Do you think I can just keep treading paint until the will of the gods drowns me in their colors? Look at my hands!” She held one up and I could see it tremble badly. “I’m drinking myself to death just trying to stay afloat in this world, and in a few hours I’m going to be on all fours, puking up the art of heaven again! I am unwelcome here, and no one else even comprehends what I’m going through! Do you give a shit at all!?”
“Of course I do!” I protested with anguish. My feet stilled, and for a moment I forgot what I’d been trying to do. “Elmiryn, please try to understand that I still care for you!”
Then it happened. A loud metallic wrenching sound behind me. I whirled around to see the gate doors had been mangled and wrenched aside, like a pair of giant invisible hands had crushed them in a strong grip. I looked at Elmiryn, stunned.
Her eyes had become dilated and her face drawn. Her hair was suspended in the air, in a floaty dreamy manner, almost as if she were underwater. There was a static energy in the air, and my nausea doubled, forcing a powerful gag reflex from me.
This was unnatural power. Tainted magic.
Then her eyes returned to normal, her hair fell limp to her shoulders, and the energy choking the air vanished. For some reason, my ears rang. Elmiryn stumbled away from me, half-raising her bottle as if to drink from it, only to let it fall sloshing at her side again. Just before she turned to walk away, tears fell from her eyes.
Stonily, she said, “I can’t tell what you really mean anymore.”
Nyx, what are you doing? Talk to her! Kali urged in my head.
I didn’t respond. I could only watch, stunned by what had just happened, as Elmiryn shrank to a small figure in the distance.
Nyx! My Twin prodded again.
“Kali, you have to understand…” I murmured aloud.
Understand what? You’re letting your cowardice get the better of you! Can’t you see that she needs you? She is falling prey to her curse!
I turned and started down the road, my eyes clouding with fresh tears. “Sister…didn’t you hear her?” I sobbed.
What do you mean? Irritation saturated Kali’s words.
“She says she can’t hear my Meaning anymore. What use would talking to her do if the words I’d give her, she wouldn’t comprehend?”
So how do you intend to fix that?
I shook my head, feeling my heart wrench. “I still have no idea. I just know it’s my fault I let it get this bad.”
But I didn’t have time to wallow. I really did need to get those supplies. Night was the safest time to venture into Belcliff, when less of its citizens were roaming the streets, and I could find a less scrupulous trader willing to unload his shady stock. Daedalus couldn’t return to town for a long time. His wagon full of sundries and clothes would draw unwanted attention to our newfound hideout. Aside from Paulo, I was the only person free and able-bodied to achieve this errand of resupply. The boy had gone last time. Now it was my turn. I needed to do this. I needed to leave.
Even so, my attempts at pragmatism sounded fake, even to me.
Elmiryn felt as though a great stone was in her chest. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. She drank the wine down to the last drop, then threw the bottle down onto the ground and stomped on it. It smashed musically, giving her fleeting satisfaction. She needed more. She also needed to hydrate.
There was nothing easy about being perpetually drunk. The effects on her body was finally catching up to her. The drink robbed her of so much. Maybe that was why she had felt worn down enough to lash out. She hadn’t meant her meeting with Nyx to go that way. Elmiryn missed her. Wanted the girl to feel she could speak to her. Instead, she had blown up on her friend. Used her power to crush the gate, even. Which of course begged the question…
Could she cross the line? Could she really hurt Nyx?
Elmiryn wanted to say that she never could, but now she wasn’t so sure. After all, how could she tell where that moral line was when she didn’t believe in the world around her?
She went to the open wound in the field, where she knew the world bled water with the help of a torture device, and pumped out a bucketful to drink. After she had her fill, Elmiryn splashed her face and neck, then turned her eyes to the abandoned demon’s nest–what everyone else still understood to be Syria’s tower. Thanks to her effort to commit sound to memory and her ability to see the weave of the world, the Fiamman was still aware of what the others understood things as. But behind the intention of the gods, she saw another interpretation. With more time passing, this separate view felt more real. More truthful.
And in this new truth, she could feel Nyx’s love for her drowning in something hideous.
I certainly didn’t make things better by scaring her like that, she thought with a surge of thirsty anguish.
The heartfelt pain made her cravings worse. She was fairly certain the only thing left to drink was some cooking wine that Quincy was trying to hide from her–but along with Elmiryn’s ability to see the weave of the world, she could also sniff out the alcohol like a hound.
Leaving the water bleeder behind, Elmiryn staggered to her feet and made for the demon’s nest. Her shadow sliced through the foyer and onto the first stone steps of the staircase as she stood in the tower entrance. Then a sudden pressure appeared in the center of her chest. It intensified quickly, and as it did so, the warrior found it difficult to breathe. Dizziness swept over her, leaving her cold as she fell to a knee, gasping with increasing desperation. Her jaw began to ache, as did her shoulders and back. It was like her body was seizing up, even as Elmiryn tried to will her muscles to relax.
Instead, the woman vomited up much of the water she had drunk just a moment before.
“What in the heavens?” she heard Daedalus say somewhere nearby. She was too disoriented to pinpoint his voice. Groaning, she rolled onto her back, away from the water she had purged. A few sharp footsteps later, and Daedalus appeared over Elmiryn, scowling. At least, she was pretty sure it was the elf.
She reached a hand up and gasped out, “Some… Something’s wrong!”
The elf knelt down, his expression hardening. “Well, that’s obvious! Can you tell me what you’re feeling?”
Elmiryn swallowed and gestured at her chest. “Trouble breathing… Weight… Weight on my chest!”
Daedalus leaned down and pressed a pointed ear to the woman’s chest. After a short beat, he hissed through his teeth. “Damn! Don’t you move, I’ll be right back.”
“Of course…” Elmiryn wheezed. She tried to grin. “I’m… s-so comfortable… here.”
The elf hurried toward the staircase, his footfalls echoing away.
The redhead squeezed her eyes shut and tried to sit up, only to feel she had no strengths in her arms.
Voices echoed down the stairwell and soon Daedalus reappeared along with Quincy. The woman was pretty sure it was the brunette anyway. They knelt on either side of Elmiryn, with the wizard helping the warrior to sit up as the elf opened a medium-sized wooden chest he’d brought from Hakeem’s room.
“Fiamman, you’re having a heart attack,” the elf informed her gravely. He plucked out a small vial from a compartment in the chest, and pulled out the stopper. Holding the vial up close to her lips, he instructed tensely, “Do not move, please. Too much of this will kill you.”
Refraining from the urge to make another wisecrack, Elmiryn kept still and opened her mouth as the elf carefully allowed three fat drops to fall onto her tongue. The woman grimaced as she swallowed. It tasted like chalk and bitter plant root. Quincy held a cup of water to her lips that the redhead had failed to see before, and she took a tentative swallow before turning her face away.
The wizard allowed for Elmiryn to lay back down as the pressure in her chest continued. It seemed to go on forever.
Then the pressure started to ease, and breathing became easier. The aches in her jaw and back lingered but were not nearly as painful. The woman sighed and eyed the pair that was still at her sides.
“I don’t suppose I could trouble someone for a drink?” she asked with a weak grin.
Quincy and Daedalus exchanged a dark look before grabbing Elmiryn’s arms and lifting her up.
“Elmiryn, you’re going to kill yourself at this rate,” Quincy grunted as the two guided the warrior into the study and onto a cushioned chair.
“You worry too much,” she replied without conviction.
“I only have so much digitalis tincture,” Daedalus said with crossed arms and sharp eyes. “I can give you another small dose later, but I’d only be treating the symptoms.”
“So treat the symptoms then!” Elmiryn snapped, glaring up at him.
The elf snorted, “I’m not your personal healer, woman! And at any rate, the tincture is just a stopgap! There is no guarantee it will ensure the continued function of your heart!”
“So what do you suggest?” Quincy asked the elf curiously.
“That the Fiamman stop drinking, of course!”
Elmiryn tensed at the suggestion. “If I stop drinking outright, I actually have a higher risk of dying, elf.”
“Then we start you on a healing regiment to scale the consumption back.”
Quincy sighed and rubbed at her brow. “The problem, Daedalus, is that Elmiryn’s addiction isn’t of the natural sort. It’s a fae addiction.”
The elf stared at the brunette. “That’s ridiculous. She’s human!”
Elmiryn sank in her chair, her eyes rolling shut. “That’s news to me.”
Quincy frowned down at Elmiryn as she said to Daedalus, “It’s true. I believe Lethia apprised you of the demons we’re fighting, did she not?”
Daedalus actually chortled. “What utter nonsense!” He looked between the two of them, his smile fading. “But it really cannot be! What you’re saying is that this woman,” he thrust a shaking finger at the redhead, “Is somehow a fae? That she was changed by one of those demons? How could the gods allow such a thing to even exist in our world!?”
“I’m still part fae, thank you,” Elmiryn groused.
Quincy gave her a look. “You don’t even know how much of you is still human anymore, Elmiryn.”
“Then break out the ruler, wizard. Frankly, I could give a shit how human I am,” Elmiryn intoned.
What does it matter if Nyx wants nothing to do with me?
“Oh this is a fine time to revert to being a brat!” Quincy scolded.
Elmiryn rolled her eyes and made a jerking masturbatory motion with her hand, eliciting a sound of disgust from the other woman.
Daedalus turned away and started to pace a short line along the floor. One hand covered his mouth as his brows knitted. “This is… this is very grave indeed. My people remember the fae perhaps better than any other species in this world, but such an unholy transformation brings about its own hurdles!”
Quincy went to him and put an arm around his shoulders, halting his pacing. She steered him slowly toward the foyer as her voice dropped to a murmur, but Elmiryn still caught what she said: “Daedalus, I realize she’s a difficult patient, but Elmiryn didn’t ask to be turned into a fae. She deserves our help.”
The elf grunted in response but said nothing in response.
Quincy continued to speak, and the pair migrated into the kitchen. Elmiryn was no longer able to make out their words. She slumped in her chair, staring at the charred logs in the fireplace. She felt much like the logs did. Brittle. Black. Like a thing to be discarded, all used up and spent. She had been aware for a while now that she had lost her edge. She doubted she could do a set of push-ups with ease (20 of them) let alone a full routine (100 reps total). The shame and disgust this instilled in her left an unpleasant aftertaste in her mouth. Or perhaps that was from her vomiting.
All her life, Elmiryn had been an instrument of war. Her body was trained and disciplined, her entire being honed to the purpose of being a living weapon. Now, while far from being helpless, she was… average. Soon to be less than average, if this degradation kept up. Could she hope to protect anyone if the need arose? Could she even protect herself?
Spurred to her feet by a sudden fit of anxiety, Elmiryn shook off a wave of dizziness, then snuck to the door. Quincy and Daedalus were still murmuring to each other in the kitchen. Neither paid her any mind as she slipped outside.
She walked around the tower to the back, where she found Paulo chopping firewood. He was without his cloak, his shirt off and tucked into the back of his trousers, allowing for a rare display of his body markings. Unlike Elmiryn, the boy had a soldier’s body– lean and strong. Perhaps peak efficiency even. (He must be training when he slips away…) He paused to strike the ax into the ground and pull his shirt out. He wiped his face as she approached him.
“Elmiryn,” he said, his eyes flickering from her face to his boots and back again. With some fumbling, he unfolded his shirt and pulled it hastily over his head. “I, ah, didn’t hear you coming.”
“I get that a lot these days,” she said, briefly amused by his shyness. “Which is bizarre considering I can barely walk straight anymore.”
He grunted as he pulled the ax back out of the ground. “True.” He quirked an eyebrow at her as he placed another log on the cutting block. “Now that you mention it, I’m surprised to see you without a bottle in your hand, lia.” There was a jeer in his words.
Elmiryn didn’t take the bait. She’d never say this to the boy, but he reminded her of a scared new recruit from the Ailuran-Fiamman war. He was not so different from some young boy, probably from the poor districts, determined to mask his fear and weakness by lashing out. After all, hadn’t she just snuck up on him? It really hadn’t been her intention, but Paulo had been taken off guard. He was no doubt back here because at this time of day, no one else was. Chopping wood was a good release of tension, but doing it with a heavy cloak and a thick cotton shirt on? She’d take those off too if she were in his position. But the boy was self-conscious of his body’s scars. They were nasty reminders of how he’d been at the mercy of Syria… mutilated under her power. She understood how his scars would be a touchy subject with him.
Yes, Elmiryn could forgive a bit of snarkiness and ill temper in the boy’s case. At least he hadn’t crushed an iron gate with his will alone.
Then again, there was that time the other night at dinner when he gave everyone a migraine headache because Argos had eaten his bread roll when he hadn’t been looking.
“I was on my way to get another bottle when I was interrupted,” Elmiryn said with a wry grin.
Paulo chopped the wood on the block and reached for another piece. He glanced at her as he stooped down. “We’ll run out soon, you know.” The snark was gone from him. He was scowling at her. With concern, maybe? She couldn’t tell.
Elmiryn crossed her arms, trying to mask how her hands shook. “I know.”
“What does Nyx have to say about it? Is she getting you more to drink? She must have left for town already.”
At the girl’s mention, Elmiryn felt her shoulders clench. “She doesn’t talk to me much these days.”
Now the boy stopped, the ax raised in the air as he fixed Elmiryn with a look of surprise. “No? Why the hell not? I thought you two were practically engaged!”
This made her laugh, bitterly.
Paulo set the ax down against the chopping block and wiped his brow with the back of his hand again. “Elmiryn, Nyx cares about you. Very much so… You know this, yes? I mean, you must. How can you not?”
Now it was her turn to sneer. She feigned shock with a hand over her heart. “My gods! Paulo, I never knew!”
He rolled his eyes at her as he stepped closer, his hands resting on his hips as he tried to catch his breath. “Don’t be thick, lia. I’m just trying to–”
“Just trying to what?” Elmiryn interjected through her teeth. She advanced on him, making him take a step back. “Piss me off? Don’t pretend to know about me and Nyx. Up until a few weeks ago, you couldn’t have cared less about us!”
Paulo lowered his gaze, his hands raising up in a show of relent. “You’re right. I’m… sorry. But you did right by me and my family when you buried my brother. When… when you brought me his gun. The bond you and Nyx shared was obviously strong. It seemed good for you. I guess I just wanted to help you too.”
Elmiryn sighed roughly and covered her face with her hand. She backed away, turning her back to Paulo as she did so. “No. Don’t apologize. I was being an asshole. I know you meant well.”
There was a long beat of silence.
Then Elmiryn heard Paulo pick up the ax. Swish. Thud. She heard two more pieces of wood fall to the ground.
“She doesn’t talk to me anymore,” Elmiryn muttered to the sky.
There was another beat of silence before Paulo resumed his work.
“No offense, lia, but you aren’t making yourself that approachable, eh? What with your drinking, and… ah…”
Elmiryn chuckled and looked over her shoulder, “You mean my glamorous body odor and irresistible hair?”
Paulo snickered and shrugged as if to say, Pretty much!
She turned her gaze back out toward the field, wherein the distance she could just make out the perimeter fence. She couldn’t quite see the gate from here, but she could still envision its mangled shape. She’d have to get Quincy to help her fix it later.
“Elmiryn, it seems to me that if you want Nyx to feel comfortable with speaking to you again, you should make it easier for her too,” Paulo said behind her. When she didn’t say anything to this, he went on. “You’ve got to stop drinking, lia. And if I’m going to be completely honest with you, that stuff makes you crazy. You’ll be better off without it.”
Elmiryn snorted derisively at first. What did Paulo know about her condition? Of all of them, he probably understood it the least. He had no idea what a ‘fae addiction’ really meant or even the kinds of things she was trying to inoculate herself from. The visions. The Whispers. The reality of a world that didn’t want her there anymore.
Regardless, the simplicity of his suggestion still managed to arrest her thoughts.
Just. Stop. Drinking.
Yes it would be hard. Painful. Perhaps even deadly…
But she had been focused only on all the reasons NOT to try. What about all those reasons that said the effort would be worthwhile?
She could become strong again. In control again. Maybe if she could stop her dependence on drink, she could learn to control her fae abilities to the point that she didn’t feel overwhelmed anymore? The others would take her more seriously. It had been so long since Elmiryn had felt free of automatic skepticism and lack of faith, that she’d almost forgotten what it was like for people to stop and heed her words with respect.
She could show Nyx that she had some Meaning too.
More than that, she could show Nyx that she’d do anything to get her to look at her that way again.
I’ve been blaming her for not reaching out to me, but what the fuck have I done to reach out to her? What am I? A child? Elmiryn reprimanded herself. When… when did I let myself forget my promises to her?
“You’re right,” she said at last. She turned to see Paulo stop again.
He rested the ax on his shoulder and asked, “So you’ll do it? You’ll stop?”
Elmiryn nodded jerkily. Even as she did so, she could feel a panic tightening her stomach. Niggling doubts almost immediately started to protest–
“Yes,” she said through a tight throat. She looked at him. “But my body might start to act on its own. I’m part fae, so that side of me could try to go back to drinking itself to death. I’ll be mindless. Desperate.” Elmiryn fixed Paulo with a grave look, her lips thin and pale. “Paulo, other than Quincy, you are the only person who can help control me until Nyx gets back. Will you help me?”
Paulo drew himself up. He went to her, almost eagerly, with a hand extended. “Elmiryn, whatever you need, I will do it. You helped the Moretti family. It is time we helped you.”
Elmiryn could feel the blood draining from her face. The boy’s extended hand felt threatening. Dangerous.
She took it in a tight grip and croaked out, “I’ll need it.”
‘Little One’ by Highly Suspect, from the album ‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’. 300 Entertainment, 2016. [↩]