Author’s Note: First new update to the new website! Here you’ll see the pace of the story shift a little bit as I try out a new format. In an attempt to get back on the horse and make updates easier, I’ve decided to do shorter segments twice a week for a time. Because of this, the story may adopt an almost “slice of life” feel to it. Please let me know what you think!
I slept in the room Nyx had been using since arriving at this blasted tower.
The bed felt strange. Uncomfortable. After wasting what precious little night I had left tossing and turning, I gave up and moved to the floor with just a pillow and my back against the wall.
I only remember shutting my eyes. When I opened them again, the suns had traveled far across the sky and the shadows in the room had grown long. It must have been late afternoon.
I rose and reached my hands high up over my head in a stretch. I paused as I looked up.
I had hands.
I lowered these before my eyes and furrowed my brow.
So seldom had I assumed this form, and yet I moved with a familiarity that came second-hand from Nyx. It took only a little self-awareness to recognize how foreign this actually was.
I also felt tall. Not just that. Exposed, too.
As a beast, I walked on all fours, with my belly turned to the ground. Baring my stomach to anyone was a sign of trust. Or, when fighting a threat, a highly defensible position. You could use all four paws to claw and kick with.
Right now, I didn’t feel particularly trusting of anyone, but I didn’t really want a fight either. My exposed belly fostered uneasy aggression in me, even standing alone in this room.
I wrapped my arms around my stomach to try and quell the feeling as I descended down the spiral stairs to the kitchen.
From my dream-like observation through Nyx’s eyes, I knew that Quincy was usually here, preparing the meals for the day. She wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Annoyed by her absence, I next crossed the foyer to the study, but she still wasn’t there. Hakeem was, however. He was sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace with his back to me, reading a book.
My nose flared from the archway, and after sorting out the ashy aroma of the fireplace and the moldy stench of the old shelving, I picked out the man’s scent.
He smelled like the Hakeem I remembered. But Elmiryn was certain he was a pretender. Some evil creation sent by Izma.
It was clear that Quincy didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t really know what to make of the man before me. He didn’t appear to be an immediate threat, but my instincts still murmured to be on my guard. I listened.
I made a point of dragging my feet on the floor as I approached the man. “Where is your wife?” I asked.
Hakeem turned his head. “Oh! Good morning, Nyx. You slept in quite a bit. Arrived late, did you?”
“Not Nyx,” I growled. “I’m Kali.”
Hakeem’s dark eyes went wide. “I see.”
“Where is Quincy?” I asked again.
The man’s gaze cast down and a worried crease appeared on his strong brow. “She’s… ill from overindulging. Quincy has never been a heavy drinker.”
I rubbed my stomach, trying still to make calm my crackling nerves. Even as I did this, I couldn’t help but snap, “I didn’t ask about her wellbeing, I asked where she was!”
Hakeem looked at me, clearly startled. “I think she is still in the barn.”
“And has Daedalus returned yet?”
He shook his head. “No. I confess I find it odd. With luck the old elf is safe. His medicine will be needed soon.” The crease in Hakeem’s brow deepened as his eyes took on a shadow of worry. “I went down to relieve Paulo of his watch, but the boy refused. I tried to insist, but he said Elmiryn would react badly to my presence…”
Hakeem looked at me and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as his dark gaze became uncomfortably focused. “Do you have any idea why she would dislike my help?”
I pretended to think about it by placing both hands on my hips and turning my eyes up in thought. I had to be careful. The vermagus powers I shared with Nyx could give away the truth.
After a short moment, I gave a small shake of my head. “No.”
The man hummed. His eyes turned down to his book again.
I didn’t want to stay here and continue pretending everything was normal. I turned on my heel and started for the front door.
Outside the air was so fresh and pleasant that I couldn’t resist stopping and taking a deep breath. The tension in me eased, and I finally let my arms fall away from my stomach.
I looked out over the swaying field, then to the gray-blue mountains beyond. The peaks cut up into the azure sky, some reaching so high as to vanish into the scattered clouds.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Nyx mused quietly from her place in my mind. Since arriving here, all we’ve done is fret and bicker, and we haven’t paused to take in what a wonderful place this once was.
My lips curved down as my eyes narrowed. “Wonderful, save for the mind witch who allowed herself to be led astray.”
My sister sighed. Yes… Poor Lethia.
I snorted. Of everyone, the young enchantress probably had the least of my sympathy.
I crossed the short distance from the tower to the barn and entered to find Lethia standing at one of the stalls, gazing down. She turned when she heard me approaching. Her eyebrows lifted.
“Kali?” she asked.
I blinked at her, stopping short. “Yes. How did you know?”
Lethia tapped her temple, a slow grin forming on her peach lips. “I can usually sense the top layers of people’s thoughts. It’s like a mental signature. Yours is distinct from Nyx’s.” She shrugged. “I’m not actually familiar with your patterns, but when I sensed it was so different, it was easy to guess who you were.”
I nodded. Despite my reservations, I had a grudging respect for Lethia. She was smart and to the point. But she was still naive, and her ambitions were dangerous. I couldn’t stay blind to that.
Nyx may have been quick to forgive the girl for the crimes she was party to, but I was not. Even being unaware of Izma’s exact intentions, the girl knew the demon was a threat. My sister had suffered much because of their brief collaboration, and I shared in that pain. Every aching part of it.
Until I saw Lethia do more to repay her debts, I would keep my dealings with her short and my eye wary.
“Oh…” Lethia frowned in the wake of my brooding silence. “You dislike me.”
Every muscle in my body clenched. I hissed at her. “Don’t read my thoughts!”
The girl flinched and held up her hand. “Sorry! Sorry. Even without hearing your thoughts explicitly, you bleed more of your emotion than Nyx does.” She blushed and shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s, um… not unlike my readings from Argos.”
My lip curled. “Did you just equate me to your stupid dog?”
Lethia placed her fist on her hip as her gaze took on a sharp glint. “Do not insult Argos!”
I crossed my arms and shifted my weight to one foot. “Then stop drawing ridiculous parallels! I’m nothing like him!”
“Both of you shut the hell up… I’m trying to sleep!” Quincy groaned from the stall.
We glared at each other for a moment before I approached and stopped at Lethia’s side. Looking into the stall, I saw Quincy lying on her side on a bed of hay, her arms covering her head.
She was in a state of undress. She’d pulled off her boots, but she’d only managed to remove one of her socks, the other only half-pulled off her foot. Her tunic lay discarded on the ground behind me. Quincy’s blouse was sloppily untucked, the front strings loosened to reveal she’d done away with her chest brassiere as well.
The worst of it was the bucket she’d failed to vomit into completely. Its rancid stench, mingled with Quincy’s desperate sweat, burned my nose and made my stomach turn.
“You fucking moron,” I said. “I told you drinking was a bad idea!”
“Oh, fuck off, Kali,” Quincy groaned. “Leave me alone…”
“You’re a stupid bitch, and I’m not leaving you alone,” I snarled back.
Do you have to curse? Nyx whined.
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll curse if I fucking want to, Nyx.”
Actually, I quite enjoyed it. It made it easier to voice my contempt.
It’s a lazy way to voice it…
“Piss off. I said I’ll do what I want!”
When I looked at Lethia and Quincy, the pair were giving me weird looks. My cheeks grew hot and I snapped, “I’m obviously talking to my sister! Don’t judge me!”
“Nyx is looking like a beacon of normalcy compared to you, Kali,” Quincy chuckled weakly. She stopped almost immediately, giving me a blip of satisfaction as the wizard clutched her head. “Ugh…”
“Don’t tease,” Lethia chided softly. “Kali needs time to get used to being in control.”
“I don’t need your pity, Lethia,” I growled.
Lethia turned a cool eye on me. “When you have my pity, I’ll let you know. For now, all you have is my disdain. May we refocus, please?”
My eyes turned to slits.
Then a smirk slowly unfurled across my lips.
Yes. I disliked Lethia Artaud… but she had my respect.