Resuming the precautionary measures agreed upon with the others, I was avoiding the main roads, cutting through untamed terrain. I pushed myself as hard and as fast as I could go, but the bag of supplies I carried had fragile items. I was just clumsy enough to spill down a rocky cliff face at this pace, so I had to go on safer, but longer, routes through the low valley. There was the danger of finding wandering daesce the further north I went, but it was a risk I had to take–both for the supplies and for the harrowing news I needed to deliver.
The champion of Njord was in the region. Jack. Quincy’s father.
Who could say why we had failed to hear this until now? I supposed if I were a powerful and legendary agent of a major deity, I would also strive to keep a low profile so as to do my work undisturbed. But like anyone of such stature, his presence had become known to certain circles. Bounty hunters were one of those circles, apparently, but they were exactly the sort of people we had been avoiding all this time.
Oh, what sorry luck that we couldn’t have known sooner!
I needed to hurry back and tell everyone. We needed to flee this place. We couldn’t stay here. If Tobias’ accounts were anything to go by, Jack’s power was immense. We were in no shape to defend ourselves against such a being. His legendary moniker, “Wind,” was appropriate. He could blow away whole armies with just his breath if any of the stories were to be believed.
This is what I thought of as I raced through a copse of trees. My limbs shook with fatigue from not having slowed down for a little over three hours.
My foot hit a root. I stumbled, and fell to a knee, skinning it.
I tried to catch my breath.
Kali’s voice buzzed with frustration in my head: Don’t be a fool! Get up!
“I just need a moment,” I gasped.
We don’t have a moment! We need to get back and tell the others!
“I’m trying!” I whined.
A growl. Then let me take the lead! I’m long overdue my turn in the world!
My face screwed up. “What makes you think you’ll do any better?”
Perhaps you’re right… Very well. We’ll transform into Eikadi.
My eyes widened. “Now? But–”
We’ll have enough energy to get there, and when we revert, I shall be in control. Is this acceptable or not?
My lips thinned. Could we hold the form long enough to get to the tower? We were weak, running on little sleep. I had already pushed our body hard, trying to make up time for using the longer way.
We can do it, Kali insisted.
I sighed. “Very well.”
The change came in a flash of pain, and it didn’t end until my cries had shifted to a primal scream that echoed long into the mountains.
Quincy sat in the kitchen, her head in her hands. The hour was late, and the space was dark. From the study, a fire could be heard crackling, light trailing in through the entryway. She didn’t bother lighting a candle. The dark was a nice veil to the anxiety etched across her face.
“…I can say that the man you think is your husband is not, and that the real Hakeem is alive and somewhere safe.”
Over and over, the words repeated in her head.
She didn’t want to believe it… and yet, the doubt was enough. Hakeem’s gaze now made her wary, his touch made her tense.
Tears pricked at her eyes, but she fought against them. If she let so much as one drop, she’d break down into a sobbing mess. She had felt proud of the fact that since returning to their realm, she had held it together. Her young heart, now freed from Tonatiuh’s parasitic leeching, reacted strongly and without restraint. But here, the pressing needs of their group had steeled her nerves and kept her from giving in to the rage and depression that so pushed on the inside.
That, and having Hakeem back.
But now this one comfort was lost. In the wake of Elmiryn’s epic intervention, she had to sit very still, in the dark, to keep from cracking.
Especially if she was going to be in the proper state of mind to break the news to Nyx.
Lethia couldn’t do it because, despite her protests, her weak body hadn’t even managed to stay up long past sunset. Paulo was busy keeping watch on Elmiryn. Daedalus had gone to town for much-needed medicines. And Hakeem…
Quincy’s hands curled to fists against her temples.
The door banged open. Quincy jumped, her eyes snapping to large circles as she took in the very massive shadow now cutting a swathe through the light that fell against the opposite wall.
Her breath caught, and she eyed her lightning staff, which had been sitting propped against the table. It hadn’t gone far from her since that afternoon.
Slowly, Quincy picked up her chair and attempted to set it further back as quietly as she could. It made the tiniest thud against the hard floor, making her wince. Her sweaty hand reached for her weapon–
There was a growl, closer now. Quincy froze, sweat trailing down the side of her nose. Her head was facing the cooking pit, opposite the entryway. Slowly, she turned.
A giant black cat person stood in the entryway, one large bag slung over their shoulder. The firelight from the study lit their tawny eyes.
Quincy relaxed, though just a little. “Nyx!”
Another growl, lower this time. Ears pinned as the cat person set the large bag down onto the floor, musical tinkling coming from its contents.
Quincy’s brow tensed. “Nyx?”
She received a spitting hiss, fangs showing. The tawny eyes glowered.
Then the woman finally understood. Her lips thinned. “Kali.”
Kali made no more utterances, her body slouching as it turned and stumbled back the way it came, out of sight. Quincy, startled, followed after the Ailuran to the chill outside.
There she found Kali had collapsed on the ground, writhing as she underwent her transformation back to her sapien form. Quincy grimaced, but her eyes did not leave the girl. Perhaps it was morbid fascination, but seeing her bones morph, twist, and snap to new shapes and dimensions–skin, muscles, and sinew tearing with wet ferocity–was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Not many humans got to live to see an Ailuran shapeshift.
Fewer still got to see a Marked Ailuran suffer their transformation. It would never cease to arrest the woman’s attention.
My gods… The agony! How do the twins endure this every time?
When the transformation completed, Kali lay on her back, her face glistening as she stared up at the stars, panting.
Quincy leaned on the doorway, the cool night air chilling the sweat on her face. “Would you like water, or…?”
“No,” Kali said. She grimaced as she raised herself up into a sit. Her back slouched as she scowled at Quincy. “I need to know something.”
“Please explain to me…” Her gaze narrowed and she pointed at the churned crater not far behind her. “What in the nine hells happened?”
Quincy’s eyes slipped shut as she hung her head. “That’s why I waited up for you.” She gestured for Kali to follow her. “Come inside. Sit. This isn’t easy for me to say.”
After a bit more coaxing, Quincy had a cup of water in front of the Ailuran. They sat across from each other in the kitchen, two small candles washing them in scant light on the table between them. Their shadows danced largely on the walls.
Kali drummed her fingers loudly on the table, a tight fist tucked under her chin as she glowered with obvious impatience. Quincy shifted uncomfortably under that searing tawny gaze as she tried to find the words to say. Moments ago she’d had it all planned out, but it was funny how that crumbled away at the precipice of the telling.
There isn’t any way to ease the sting of this, Quincy finally thought with a sigh. I just… need to out with it.
“Elmiryn’s currently in the basement in a containment ring.” Quincy’s hands clenched in her lap as she tried to keep a steady gaze with Kali. “She’s agreed to let us help her break her addiction to alcohol.”
The news had an immediate effect.
Kali’s face, which had been tensed in a soft scowl that suggested irritability and exhaustion, suddenly went as smooth as a river stone. Her tucked fist slowly unclenched and laid itself flat on the table.
With exaggerated slowness, Kali murmured, “Elmiryn… agreed?”
Quincy blinked for the first time. She hoped the sweat she felt breaking on her brow wasn’t so noticeable in the weak candlelight.
“Let me clarify…” she licked her lips and pushed a finger into one side of the table. “She agreed.” She lifted her hand and pushed her finger into the other side of the table. “Then violently disagreed…” She returned her finger to its original place. “And then agreed again.”
Kali’s cheek twitched just as her hand flexed, then relaxed against the table. “She’s just going to… stay… in that freezing cellar?” Her words were clipped, and her lips quivered like she was holding something back.
Quincy swallowed nervously.
Nyx… Kali is barely keeping her sister’s emotions from spilling out.
“It was the only space big enough for us to do the alchemy spell. Elmiryn isn’t affected by the cold and she doesn’t sleep,” Quincy said, her eyes tensing with sympathy. “But we made sure she has blankets and pillows. Paulo talked about bringing hay down to her. He’s with her now, on the first watch.”
A muscle moved in Kali’s jaw. “First watch?” she half-growled.
I wonder how much of what I’m seeing is Kali’s reaction or Nyx’s…?
“She’ll never be alone,” Quincy went on. “We’re going to take turns, staying down there with her. Not just to keep her company, but also in case… in case of health complications.”
Quincy turned over her hand, her brow knotting tight. “Daedalus believes Elmiryn will manage with what tonics he gave her for tonight, but he made an emergency trip back to Belcliff for medicines she’ll be needing later. With luck, he should be back after sunrise.”
Now Kali was speaking through clenched teeth, her face quivering from… restraint? Rage?
“And just how long… were you people… going to keep her down there for?” Her nostrils flared as her breathing became shorter and shorter.
Quincy took a steadying breath, her eyes growing.
“Kali…” She paused, wondering if what she would say next would improve or worsen the situation. “Nyx—”
Kali actually hissed, her mouth twisting into a harsh sneer that bared fangs– real fangs.
Quincy snapped back into her chair, her heart jumping in her chest.
Right. Never, ever, try to speak directly to Nyx when Kali is in control.
“I’m sorry,” Quincy said quickly, her hands going up. “That was rude of me, you’re right. You’re here, Kali, and I should speak to you. I only meant–”
“You only meant to stick your nose in our head,” Kali spat with narrowed eyes. “As if you could possibly understand us!” She thrust a thumb at herself. “It is my face you see. Speak to me. So long as I’m in control, what goes on in our shared mind is none of your concern until I say otherwise! Do you understand me, human?”
Quincy pursed her lips. “Completely…” She crossed her arms and added coolly, “Ailuran.”
Kali snorted. “I’m going to ask one more time. Just how long is Elmiryn meant to be down there?”
“As long as it takes.” Quincy heaved a sigh and rubbed a sweaty temple. “Which… could be weeks.”
Kali’s brow tightened. “Weeks?”
Quincy nodded once. “Yes. Weeks.”
Kali’s breathing stuttered suddenly, her gaze dropping to the table. Her eyes ticked back and forth, lips moving with indistinct mutterings. Quincy watched, bewildered, as the Ailuran flinched, one hand going to her head.
“I know!” she snapped.
Quincy’s eyebrow arched, and she opened her mouth to respond, but she quickly swallowed her words when Kali went on, still not looking at her, expression flashing from stark fear to tense anger and back.
“Idiot!” Kali snarled at the table. Her eyes were unfocused. “What do you want me to do about it? I said I know that, I– Rrgh, just calm down! I can’t think!”
She isn’t accustomed to being in the lead like Nyx is. Hopefully she’ll get better at it. Seeing her like this… Quincy grimaced. It’s disconcerting to watch!
Quincy cleared her throat loudly. “Kali.”
Kali looked at her sharply, her lips thin as a single curly lock fell into her gaze.
Quincy threaded her hands together and rested them on the table. “Elmiryn needs to get over her fae addiction while there is still human left in her. She still has a chance to overcome this… but it will not be easy, and she will need time.”
“We don’t have time,” Kali huffed, her shoulders rising like hackles.
Now Quincy frowned, her mind tickling with a sense of danger. “Kali, what is going on? What do you and Nyx know?”
Kali exhaled harshly, her mouth turning down at the corners. “We are not safe here. In Belcliff, we ran into Karolek–”
Quincy’s eyebrows shot up. “The metal sorcerer?”
“Yes.” Kali looked at her solemnly.
“And when you got away from him, you ensured you weren’t followed?”
“Of course!” Kali pouted, as if the question itself was insulting. “But before we parted ways, Karolek told Nyx…” She took a breath and said with a shake of her head. “Quincy, he told Nyx that your father is in Albias.”
Quincy sat back, her face going slack.
“My…father?” her voice sounded small.
She felt cold and faint. Her breath came with struggle, cutting in jagged, uneven takes.
She laughed without warning. “You don’t mean–”
It couldn’t possibly–!
“I mean Jack, Quincy. The man known as Wind.” Kali’s forehead wrinkled with worry. “Karolek couldn’t tell us for sure what he’s doing in the region, but apparently Jack’s been retracing the effects of our experiences in the Other Place for the last year or so. That journey has led him here. Now.”
“That is not good news.” Quincy’s voice was just a shaky whisper. The muscles in her neck corded as every part of her screamed to run. Run into the night and not look back. “We are in no shape to face him!”
Another snort from Kali. “An understatement. He could kill us all.” Her gaze turned lidded. “Well. Almost all of us. It’s hard to say what he would do once he realizes he’s finally found his fledgeling.”
Quincy leaned onto the table and dropped her face into her hands. “If he even recognizes me. It’s been years.”
“Can we move Elmiryn? Is that an option?”
Quincy lifted her face from her hands enough to see Kali over her fingers. Into her palms, she intoned, “No. That is not an option.” She buried her eyes back behind the shields of her hands. “Elmiryn’s fae nature is awakening, and it is ravenous. Releasing her before she is free of her addiction would invite our destruction… and possibly hers as well.”
“So we’re stuck here.” Kali’s voice was flat.
Quincy only nodded. She’d delivered the news. She wanted to drop the burden of the day. The weariness had penetrated her bones, casting shadows under her eyes. Sleep was needed.
Jack is coming. Jack will find me.
Quincy’s body started to coil.
Jack will find me and kill everyone—
Quincy lifted her head and jabbed a finger at the bag near the entryway. “What did you bring for us, Kali?”
Focus on something smaller. The supplies.
Kali seemed taken aback by the question. She looked askance at Quincy. “New things to liven the meals. At least, Nyx hoped they would.” Her expression tightened as she looked at the bag with sudden worry. “Actually… We bought some drinks.” She looked at Quincy with what could almost be called apology. “Nyx thought Elmiryn would need it.”
Quincy waved a hand, sitting up. An idea was coming to her… “No one could have predicted what happened today.”
Kali rubbed her chin. “Hmm… Nyx says the wine could be used for cooking. The sake and absinthe we could dump–”
“Wait.” Quincy held a hand up, her eyes sharp. “Just… wait. Let’s not waste a perfectly good drink.”
Now Kali looked at her with one eye squinted. “Quincy, Elmiryn can sniff out a drink like a hound. We cannot keep any of it if she means to quit alcohol!”
“Obviously,” Quincy snapped. She pointed at herself. “But in twenty-four hours I’ve nearly been suffocated to death, informed my long-lost-hated-father is about to complicate my life, and–” she dropped her voice to a hot whisper, “–apparently my husband is not my husband at all!”
Kali’s eyes widened. “Elmiryn told you?”
A caustic laugh. “Oh my, did she ever!” She swiped her hair back with a rough hand. “I suppose it’s no surprise that you and Nyx knew! Of course you two knew!”
“We weren’t sure–”
“Shut up. Just… shut up. I don’t want to hear excuses!” Who else had known? Lethia? Paulo? Daedalus? Hell, Argos?
Was it really true? Had she been clinging to a lie this whole time? Was she that big a fool?
Quincy leaned back, her nose tweaked and her scowl fierce. “If I feel I need a nightcap just to drag myself to sleep in these wee hours, then I’ll help myself to the spirits my gold purchased!”
She threw her hands up and laughed bitterly. “I’ve been mustering on for fucking days–cooking and cleaning like some common servant–all while bearing the weight of teenage hormones, elven crankiness, unwashed lunacy, and whatever the blazes has been going on with your gods’ damned twin! I’m entitled to one bloody drink!”
Quincy slammed her hands into the table and stood, her chair scraping back loudly across the floor. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and lose consciousness for a few hours before I have to start mothering everyone again.”
Kali glared but didn’t move to stop Quincy. She only watched as the wizard went to the large bag, rummaged for one of the drink bottles, then stalked out the entryway and out into the night.
As Quincy ripped the stopper from the bottle, she felt a lump form in her throat, but she swallowed it down with a quick swig. She’d grabbed the sake, by the taste of it.
Hakeem isn’t here.
She succumbed to the fact. She didn’t want to, but she believed it. What reason did Elmiryn have to lie? Knowing her love was “somewhere safe” did little to ease her despair.
Hakeem isn’t here and Jack is coming.
Quincy took another swig, then headed for the barn. She’d find a haystack of her own to sleep in. Tears stung her eyes… and she let them fall because there was one burden she couldn’t get out from under, still.
Hakeem isn’t here, Jack is coming, and I…
She sobbed, pausing at the corner of the barn to lean against the weathered wood.
I may have to kill my friend. I may have to kill Elmiryn.
Quincy took a longer guzzle from the sake–ignoring the harsh burn as the liquid wound its way to her stomach.
Gods have mercy on me. Gods have mercy on us all.
I didn’t get up from my seat.
We should rest, I thought. A frown still marred my features, like a smoldering fire.
Just a word. A quick one— Nyx. The emotional fool.
I closed my eyes with suffering as I felt my sister’s cloying desperation and guilt.
I tried again. We should rest. You’ll be of a better mind–
She already knows we’re here, Nyx cut in. Waiting till morning will only hurt her!
My lip curled back to bare fangs. This isn’t fair. This is MY time–!
Please. Please! Don’t make me hurt her anymore than I already have. Nyx’s voice sounded tinny in my head.
I sighed. Five minutes. No more.
Oh, thank you! Thank you, sister!
My nose tweaked to the side as I stood.
Don’t thank me yet…
I made my way to the cellar, my steps feeling heavy as I descended down the stairs. My nose wrinkled as the dank stench of the underground space reached me. It wasn’t just that, though. There was a rancid sweat that permeated the air.
The lantern light bloomed into view, and passing over the final steps, I rounded through the entryway into the cellar proper.
Paulo turned in his seat to look at me, at first looking bored, before his eyes widened with surprise. He was sitting at a small makeshift table using an old wagon spoke and strapped pieces of old lumber. In front of him was a moldy book on enchanting that he’d no doubt scrounged from the corner of the study.
He hurried to his feet. “Nyx!”
“Kali,” I snapped. This was going to be very annoying to deal with, I could already tell. “I’m here to let Nyx speak with the Fiamman. Briefly.”
Paulo ran a hand through his hair, as we both looked to the rear of the cellar.
Curled up in a ball lay Elmiryn, her back to the entryway. She was resting on a modest stack of hay and a dark blanket, a pillow squeezed tight under her head. Her fiery red locks weaved in tight, chaotic knots behind her. Her exposed neck gleamed with a sheen of sweat.
“Speak with her?” Paulo mumbled with a shake of his head. “More like at her. Ever since Quincy gave her medicine for her fever, she’s been huddled there, not moving.”
I crossed my arms. “Nevertheless, my sister wishes to try. Give us the room.”
Paulo crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow at me. I rolled my eyes.
“Please?” The word fell from my mouth, flat and heavy.
Paulo held up his hands. As he passed us, he paused to say, “Do not cross the containment line. She’s already tried escaping once.” He peered over his shoulder at Elmiryn. “If she starts gasping or convulsing, scream for help. Quincy and I will be down as quick as we can.”
His eyes returned to my face. “But no matter what, do not try to handle her on your own.”
We’ve missed terrible things… Nyx whispered with dread.
I only gave a terse nod of my head. I just wanted to get this over with. This place… it felt thick with sickness and desperation.
I waited until Paulo’s footsteps faded to the floor above. Then I closed my eyes, preparing to slip back into the depths of our shared consciousness to give room for Nyx to regain control. I could feel my sister rushing forward, eager to speak.
“Kali…” Elmiryn croaked. Her voice sounded weak and phlegmy.
I froze. Nyx halted her advance. My eyes eased open.
After a long moment, I murmured, “Yes?”
“I’ve never treated you fairly, have I?”
My chin lowered a little as my shoulders tensed. “That’s a stupid question.”
“I suppose it is…” The woman rose slowly, one arm propping her up from her hay bed. She still didn’t turn around. “Nyx is giving you a chance to be in control… But you’re still letting her speak with me. Why?”
My lip curled. What was this? Some stupid human game? This wasn’t a mystery! “Because she begged me to. Obviously.”
Elmiryn’s head lowered. “It means that much to her, huh?”
My patience was running thin. This was between Elmiryn and my sister. I just wanted to go to sleep. “You have five minutes with her,” I said brusquely. “And then I’ll be on my way.”
“Just five? Will you let Nyx come back again?”
My jaw clenched. “Maybe. If I feel like it.”
Elmiryn gave the slightest nod. “Thank you.”
I could feel my cheeks burn. I didn’t like this sudden sincerity from the woman. “Don’t waste our time with a heart attack,” I snapped. “That would be annoying.”
Elmiryn chuckled dryly as I hastily retreated into the sanctuary of my mind.
“Sure thing,” I heard the woman say.
I slipped to the forefront of our mind, the dream-like vision giving way to clear sight.
My expression softened as I beheld Elmiryn’s pitiful form.
“Hullo, Nyx,” she murmured, no doubt sensing my presence. It seemed the containment circle didn’t stop her strange ability to sense others life energies.
“Hello, Elle,” I said softly.
Elmiryn finally turned her body, her gaze lifting to meet mine.
Neither of us said anything for what felt like ages. I struggled to think of something worthwhile to start with.
Should I congratulate her for this bold step to reclaiming her health? Or apologize for her misfortune? Could I ask for her version of events? Perhaps it would be better to start off with a simple mention of the supplies we’d managed to acquire?
But Elmiryn beat me to it.
“I never wanted you to see me like this,” she said. Her gaze slipped down to my boots. “It was my job to care for you…” She turned her face away. “Now I can’t do anything for anyone.”
I took a little step forward. “You just need time!” I said earnestly. “Healing is necessary. You can’t be ashamed of that.”
“Like you needed healing?” Her eyes slid sideways to me meaningfully. “For your heart?”
I crossed my arms over my stomach as my chin fell to my chest. “I… I suppose.”
“And do you still need healing?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Did I need more time? It was Kali’s turn to experience the world, and I had lagged terribly in giving her this freedom. Her five-minute allowance was strict but understandable. Could I say what I needed to say now? Should I? Elmiryn was a wreck of a being. Her unwashed body clouded the air. Her voice was like a miserable swamp, slimy, and slow.
And her eyes… gods, her eyes!
How they pierced into me, pitifully dark and yet sharp with an unnatural hunger. They wanted so much from me. Some of it I could probably give her. The rest… I wasn’t so sure about.
“I don’t want to give you more excuses, Elle,” I said carefully. “But if I’m being honest, I don’t know that the truth I’ve been holding back is something you should hear right now.”
“This may be the last time I’m capable of hearing it, Nyx,” Elmiryn whispered. To my alarm, her eyes seemed to gain a strange rosy glow.
I bit my lip and hugged my stomach tighter. I was starting to feel ill. What should I do? Surely this wasn’t the time to be talking about this?
It will never feel like the right time, so just out with it, Kali said. Though her words were harsh, her voice was soft. Sympathetic. Furthermore, the woman has a point. If she loses her mind or dies from this effort, you won’t have another chance.
My throat tightened and my chin crumpled. Tears quickly flooded my eyes, and I couldn’t see anymore.
“It’s hard,” I sobbed.
I know, Kali murmured.
“I know,” Elmiryn replied.
Wiping hastily at my eyes, I tried to stiffen my lip, but it wouldn’t still.
I could say it. I could. I just needed to force it out. I just needed–
“Izma raped me,” I gasped.
There. The first step taken. Better yet, without all the hemming and hawing that I’d stumbled through when trying to tell Lethia. I’d just said it, and the damn thing was out. But there was still more.
Before Elmiryn could respond, I barreled on, frantic to reach the end. “Izma did. She raped me, and, and sh-she used your face whilst doing it!”
And the whole thing was finally laid bare. Every terrible inch of it.
“I’m so sorry!” I moaned. “But every time I saw you… I… I could only think of Izma! I could only feel her violating me, again and again!”
I buried my face in my hands and turned away, shivering.
The cellar rang with silence.
“That’s why you couldn’t face me…?” Elmiryn’s voice was faint with shock. “That’s why you… You couldn’t talk to me anymore?”
I nodded but didn’t uncover my face. Maybe if I just hid here behind my hands, I could wait out this horrible moment. I just couldn’t bear to see the look on Elmiryn’s face. My body burned with shame. I felt weak. Filthy.
Another long stretch of silence came. Our time must have been running short, but Kali didn’t insist. I could feel her hovering close, but she said nothing, and I felt no ire from her.
It was selfish and awful, but I had to ask. No, beg—
Kali, please, could we have more time? If this is truly the last time Elmiryn will be lucid enough to speak, then–
“I’ll kill her,” Elmiryn hissed.
Something in her voice startled me. It… rang with something, more than just venom. A humming energy.
I lowered my hands to my mouth and looked over my shoulder at her, my body tight with apprehension.
Elmiryn was on her feet. She was barefoot, her soles black. Her gaze was glassy and unfocused.
“I’ll kill Izma, Nyx,” Elmiryn said, stronger this time. “I’ll cut off her head and give it to you. For all the hurt she’s caused you–no! Us!”
Elmiryn’s fists clenched and she bared her teeth. The glow in her eyes became stronger, burning a strange pink light. “She has to die! I can make her pay!”
Her lips twisted into a crazed smile. “Just… let me out.”
I turned and took a step back toward the staircase, my eyes widening.
Elmiryn held her hand out and approached the containment line. Her dirty matted hair started to rise again in that dreamy, underwater fashion. “All you have to do is let me out! Let me do this for you! Let me kill Izma!”
Fresh tears came to me as I shook my head slowly. “No…”
“Do it, Nyx! Please!” Elmiryn’s outstretched hand began to curl like a claw. “I can find her! I can unmake her! Just let me out! A quick drink and I’ll be on my way!”
A quick drink…
I sobbed. “Elmiryn, this isn’t you! I’m sorry! I’m sorry I was too late!”
Elmiryn’s face morphed into a dark mask of rage. The hay behind her began to stir. The blanket and pillow toppled to the floor as the straws rose and began to whirl around Elmiryn.
“Let me out! Let me out! LET ME OUT!” she screeched.
My stomach clenched with fear… but it wasn’t nearly as powerful as the wrenching agony in my heart. This was my fault. I’d allowed this to happen.
“I can’t!” I wept as I turned and fled up the stairs. “I’m sorry, Elmiryn, but I can’t!”
Behind me, I heard the woman scream. The sound tore through walls, sending dust raining down on me.
I tripped and fell on the final step leading into the foyer, landing hard on my hands and knees. Paulo had been waiting, leaning against the archway. He came to my side quickly, his face tense.
“I was afraid she’d do this,” he murmured. “I’m sorry, lia. I should have warned you better. I guess I’d hoped you’d get through to her.”
I was crying so hard words were difficult to form. When I found the strength to look at him, I managed to gasp out, “She’s gone. I can’t reach her. Sh-she’s gone!”
“Nyx, you must be strong,” Paulo said firmly. “This is only the start of her withdrawals. She’ll get worse before she gets better. But she’s still in there somewhere. You have to believe it!”
With effort, I reigned in my body-wracked sobs. I nodded once jerkily. Paulo gave me a kind smile, then helped me to my feet.
“I’ll be trading with Kali, now,” I said trying, and failing, to keep my voice steady. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask her.” I wasn’t just saying this either. Through a wordless understanding, my sister was conveying her willingness to help… even if she may be prickly about doing it.
“All right, Nyx. Rest. We all want Elmiryn to recover,” Paulo said gently.
I touched his shoulder, my expression sad but grateful. The boy was growing, and he was stepping up to help. I couldn’t put into words the relief I felt knowing I wouldn’t have to face this alone. The others had already done so much for Elmiryn. For me.
As I let myself fall back into the colder reaches of my mind, I felt Kali… caress me in passing.
You may speak with Elmiryn again when you are ready, sister. Your Meaning may reach her, yet.
I closed my eyes as the sweet cradle of darkness enveloped me.
All I could do was hope.