The longer we took, the closer Elmiryn was to possible death. Maddening obstacles kept us from making quick decisions.
Was the warrior lying to us or not?
I inhaled again, slowly. I needed to pick out a distinct shift in Elmiryn’s scent. A true sign of malady. If I didn’t find this, then I knew this was an act.
I could sense so much… but there was too much interference. Elmiryn’s specific scent was lost in the cloud of our fear-reeking bodies.
We need to get closer, Nyx urged.
I knelt by Paulo and went as close to the containment line as I dared. I tried to take a whiff again—
“I can’t… I can’t breathe!” Elmiryn wheezed. Her legs kicked weakly along the ground… Then stilled.
Her eyes rolled up, showing their sickly yellowness, blotched with angry crimson veins that had burst from her distress.
“Get in there!” Paulo shouted waving frantically at Lethia. “Get in there now!”
I pressed my eyes closed and tried to block out the ruckus…
Elmiryn smelled… She smelled…
Nyx’s horror jolted down my limbs like frigid ice.
My eyes flew open and I jumped to my feet, just as Lethia’s foot crossed the containment line.
“Don’t! It’s a lie!” I screamed.
My arms wrapped around the girl, just as Elmiryn shot up, quick like a striking panther. The Fiamman’s hand grabbed Lethia’s ankle, wrenching it so hard the girl lost her balance. She pulled her back, deeper into the containment circle, but I held on, shouting incoherent denials as my boots scraped along the cellar floor.
“Don’t break the line!” Quincy shouted. “The salt, Kali, the salt!”
I spared a quick glance at the floor. Fuck. The containment line was made of salt. If we broke it in our struggle…
My eyes lifted up and met Elmiryn’s over Lethia’s shoulder, and I could see the crazed vehemence in Elmiryn’s gaze as she bared her teeth at me like an animal.
I slid further over the floor and barely raised my right foot in time over the boundary. I felt Paulo grab onto my waist.
“Pull!” he shouted in my ear. “Quincy, pull!”
A frantic look over my shoulder informed me that Quincy had also grabbed the boy’s waist.
Lethia screamed as Elmiryn’s dirty hands traveled up her leg. The girl tried to kick her away with her other foot, but the Fiamman only used this as an opportunity to catch her other leg. Now the enchantress was horizontal over the floor, caught in a sick game of tug-of-war.
How was the warrior able to keep her grip? Surely the three of us could outmatch her!
Kali, look down!
With effort, I craned my head to the side and did so. My eyes widened.
Elmiryn had used her fae powers to morph the stone to encase around her feet.
My head snapped up again, my lips squeezed into a grim line. If Elmiryn’s powers had progressed to such a point, then we were all in very grave danger.
“Elmiryn, let go! Please!” Lethia squealed.
“Why should I?!” Elmiryn spat. She looked up, her face twisting with her torment. “I see those drinks you’re hiding! I can see the weave of everything from here!”
She pushed back against her makeshift footholds, causing Lethia to whimper as we all slid a harrowing inch along the floor. I spread my stance wider, trying to keep my left foot away from the containment line.
I could pull harder. I could use my full therian strength and end this… but doing so would seriously injure Lethia. Maybe even break the containment line.
I couldn’t risk it.
A thick vein appeared in Elmiryn’s forehead as she screeched, “Quincy reeks of spirit, yet you keep me trapped here like some fucking animal and share nothing with me!”
“I was stupid, Elmiryn, I’m sorry! I was upset!” Quincy wheezed.
I pulled, my arms linked tightly just under Lethia’s armpits, and the others pulled with me. We didn’t budge.
“I succumbed to my fear!” Quincy went on. “My fear of losing you! My fear of seeing my father! My fear that what you warned me of is true!”
“Nyx bought the drinks on our outing, not knowing what you were trying to do!” I gasped next. It wasn’t that I was getting tired, but Paulo’s hold on me was so intense it was making it harder to breathe.
“We should have thrown it all away!” I said. “But…”
I clenched my teeth, wrestling with my own pride to say the rest.
“But Nyx and I both felt the same temptation Quincy did! We wanted to numb our feelings! Her for her pain! Me for my nervousness of this new world!” Every word came haltingly through tight lips.
I wanted to seem capable. I wanted to seem confident. I hadn’t even had an entire day out in this sapien form, and already I was admitting my weakness. I could feel my gorge rise.
There was still more to say.
My eyes closed. I wasn’t good at this sort of thing. Fortunately, I could feel my sister guiding me gently. I suppose I needed the play-by-play after all.
“There was a bottle of absinthe that was meant just for us,” I said. “It was… selfish and wrong. We should have known we couldn’t support you fully if we gave a pass for ourselves!”
“Shut up! I’ve had it!” Elmiryn barked. Her voice sounded off. Thick.
I opened my eyes and was shocked to see the warrior’s face had crumpled, tears streaming down her face. She looked at me, a pitiful creature swept up in sickness, rage, and dogged addiction.
“You fucking idiots, it’s all just noise!” She screamed next. “Every single word! I don’t care about what you have to say! It means nothing to me! Understand?! FUCKING NOTHING!”
She pulled on Lethia again, this time sliding her right leg back. I could hear the stone crackle as it morphed to follow her movement. We slid three more inches.
The inside edge of my left foot dangerously nudged the salt.
At this rate it was clear that we couldn’t win through brute strength. We had to try something different. Drastic, even.