Nyla Woethief

People say they'd take a friend's pain if they could. I'm not so sure; I've done it for my foes. I am Woethief. writing.exchange/@NylaWoethief

021 Coronation Day

Despite my aching feet and joints, I trudged along with my mistress. There was nothing we could do to disguise the distinctive shape of her body. Den and I gripped our rifles warily. Each tunnel or doorway we passed might conceal our foes.

The rapid footsteps of a patrol reached our ears. Denrick dragged us toward a side tunnel. I wriggled through the narrow shaft with my rifle in front of me. Silver experienced no difficulty as her lithe form squeezed in behind me. Poor Den, barely made his shoulders fit into the tunnel.

Why are we hiding from them.

“Keep going; I'll explain later,” Den ordered.

I obeyed. Course stone scratched my skin and the metal of my rifle, but my Orderer continuously repaired the damage.

When we came to a wider point of the tunnel, Silver gripped my arm to stop me.

“Ask that monster of yours where we're going? What does that moron think he's doing leading us this direction. We should have joined that patrol.”

“He mute, not deaf.”

“That patrol could have helped us, but instead, we're in this miserable tunnel.”

“The patrol was from Ankor's hometown. They would have killed her.”

I relayed the message to Silver. Worry etched her brow.

“He really brought me here to kill me, didn't he?”

“What you mean?”

“No one will ever find my body in these tunnels. You will take back the throne and have your revenge.”

“No. If want you dead, I let you die in home.”

“Please, don't let him do it. Don't let Faithful's children die.”

“You not die.”

She crawled toward the tunnel we came from. Den clasped his massive hand over her shoulder. She made unbecoming screeching and whimpering noises from her mouth.

“Don't kill me. She's the one you want. She killed your mother.”

Den twirled her around and held her up by her collar.

“What you mean?” I asked for Den.

“Don't be stupid. You know exactly what I mean.”

“I speak for Den. Tell him.”

“You tell him!”

At that instant, her guilt returned to me.

“Af-ter I heal your mo-ther. I paid to kill her. I sor-ry.”

“But, she forced you to do it.”

I do not know.

“Why didn't you tell me?”

I thought you knew.

Grief overtook me. How could I have done such a wicked thing. I killed Den's mother while he slept in her lap. Her pleading for the lives of her children haunted me.

Rage filled Den. He expelled me from his mind into the onslaught of Centin's guilt. When he turned toward me, his pistol also turned. I trembled with my hands placed on my head.

What will he do?

He lowered the pistol and snatched the starlet and unstarlet from me. My vision fled.

I proceeded at gunpoint with Den in front and Silver behind me. Every loose stone or pock in the ground conspired to trip me. Each throse forward tore my hands and knees faster than my Orderer could heal me. I deserved it.

Finally, we emerged from the tunnel into a narrow street. Den shackled my hands behind my back before we proceeded.

Hatred for me filled Den. I hoped he would show the same forgiveness to me that I gave to Silver, even though she was actually innocent.

Bloody tears cascaded down my cheeks as we neared the temporary palace set aside for Silver until her coronation. Den unshackled me and we strode confidently to the main entrance.

The doormen recognized Silver, but eared Den with apprehension.

“Who's he, Princess?”

“An associate; he's with me. The girl is too.”

“Alright, but we need to check them for weapons.”

“Of course, they're armed stupid. They're my guards, now let us through!”

Why did she tell them what we are? Is she trying to get us all killed?

She is taunting us, Nyl. Ignore her.

“O' course, highness.”

The gates swung open and a slave-girl led us to our rooms. Den and I occupied apartments immediately outside her bower, so no enemies could approach her without alerting us. I dropped to the floor in the center of the room and waited, for what I knew not.

Den stormed into my apartment and locked the doors on either side. I knelt before him. Violent sobs shook me. Blood poured from my nose and eyes.

Den's arms never seemed so massive. If he willed to, he could rip my head from my neck with one hand. I lacked the strength to beg for mercy. His fists pumped open and closed, open and closed, open and closed. As he reached for my throat, I tried to connect with my daughter's mind to say farewell.

Instead of strangling me, he lifted me by my legs and back till my face rested on his shoulder. I reentered his mind and my light and dark gifts returned to me.

“I promised to protect you Nyl. No matter what you did, I'll keep my promise.”

But I slew your eba.

“You didn't, you would never do something like that. She forced you to, I know it.”

But I remember choosing to kill her. You couldn't remember, you were just an infant.

“Nyl, you didn't have the memory before today. It must be a lie. She wanted to turn me against you because she thought I would kill her.

How do you know it is a lie?

“I know your mind, the way you think, that memory doesn't match your other ones. I'll find a way to gain your freedom and your throne.”

I care not for the throne. I just want you and Theila. Promise me that you will not kill Silver to free me. I do not want her children hurt.

“Of course, mistress.”

I kissed him. I love you.

“I love you too, Nyl. You're like a sister to me, he returned the kiss tenderly. I knew he did not love me in the way I hoped he might, but I did not scorn his friendship.

“Sleep now, little sister. I will guard her while you rest. What do you wish to dream about?”

Thee' playing a game with Crystal.

He nodded and left the room. I collapsed into a well-made web and slept.

Get up!” Silver's gruff thrumming dragged me away from a lovely conversation with Crystal.

I rubbed my eyes. When I saw Silver, I bolted upright in a salute before she could hit me.

“I'll disguise you as a bat-girl for my ceremony. We can't have anyone knowing who you really are, now can we?”


“I got a dress for you to wear. It's finer than you deserve, but I need to keep up appearances.”

I crawled out of bed. My hair fell perfectly down my shoulders in springy ringlets.

I wish she did not have to cover my hair. Why can I not display my one lovely feature?

“I'll dress you,” Gemma stated.

“I can do a-lone.”

“I know that, stupid! I want to watch so you don't hide any weapons from me. Now, do as you're told.”

I slipped off my gown, then she made me remove my underthings. I concealed no weapons, only scars.

She created a false skin and fur over my gaunt frame, to make me sound slender rather than skeletal. New wings stretched from my little finger to my hips along with stabilizing wings attached to my tail and legs. Fangs concealed my broken teeth and pointed ears took the place of my curls.

With her aid, I donned the loose-fitting gown and sash, which clashed miserably.

I suppose that comes of living in a world full of the blind, Nyl remarked.How can she endure the hideous colors?

She noticed, but she does not care. Only we can see color, Woe thought back.”

“You're half-pretty now. Pity Faithful didn't hear you like this. Well, pity for you, but not for me our I wouldn't have gotten him. The better woman won. Though, perhaps Centin wouldn't have left you if your other disguise hadn't rotted.”

I told him of my disguise when I married him. He knew I was a hideous monster underneath, but he chose to marry me! I wished I could express my thoughts to her.

“You force him wed you, Gemm...”

“What did you just call me?”

I stayed my tongue.

“Answer me brat!” she struck me with her balled fist. I reeled into a stone pillar. Blood oozed from my right temple. A cry escaped my lips.

At the sound of my cry, Den burst into the room with his rifle leveled at her head.

“You can't shoot me. I'm with child,” she cowered behind her offspring.

Den strode to her and stared glared into her eyes. Her pistol pressed into his gut.

“I never want to see you again, you dumb brute.”

Den stood firm. He needed no works to communicate his protection of me.

Gemma shot into his stomach. He broke her arm over his knee.

While she writhed on the floor, I tore at Den's tunic to inspect his wound. A piece of lead rested in a vest beneath his outerwear.

“I wear armor, little sister,” he smiled at me.

*I am older than you and I am not little.”

“I know, little sister.” No one ever teased me before, at least not as a friend. I liked it.

Let's help her up, my dear little giant.

I turned to my downed mistress. Her two wrist bones protruded from her wing at odd angles. Blood drenched her dressing gown.

“Get that thing away from me!”

I transferred her injury to myself.

“Do not harm me or Den pro-tect.”

She nodded.

“He not thing, he my friend.”

Den set my wounded wing and dressed my bleeding forehead, but the bandages and splint would attract too much attention. At my request, Gemma covered them with more false skin.

To frighten her further, I made a show of concealing several knives and pistols on my person. She understood the message.

“Just kill me now, I cannot endure the suspense any longer. Take my throne; I don't care, just let me live,” terror stole her reason. I pitied her.

After our skirmish, she led me into her room where a dozen slave-girls waited on her. First, they wove silver cords into her fur, then fine silk from their wrists around her to form a magnificent gown. While they worked to make her even more beautiful, I ensured that no one harmed the Princess. Den remained in the next room for obvious reasons.

After her transformation into a beauty that rivaled, nae, exceeded Natia, we joined the procession on its way to the palace.

100 full-blood virgins and 500 of the kingdom's best soldiers escorted us through the streets with Den and I adjacent to Gemma to protect her from her “protectors.”

“You much good look,” I complimented Gemma.

“Flattery doesn't become you Nyl.”

“I tell true,” she was gorgeous in her fine raiment.

Why does she heap scorn upon my kindness?

“Shut up, slave. I don't want you spoiling my celebration with your addle-brained muttering. You should be grateful that I allowed you to be with me today, you good-for-nothing oaf.”

She derided me not because I irritated her, but because she would not allow her grief over Faithful to express itself in the honest form of tears, but rather through spiteful words.

Why does she not give me her grief over Faithful's death?

“I miss him too,” I placed my good hand on her shoulder. “Let me take the pain from you.”

“No, I don't want you to take it.” she snapped.

“O-nly for to-day, dear,” I tried to soothe her.

“No, that's final!”

I did not reply, just walked on and scrutinized the crowd. Any one of the thousands thronged at the edges of the streets might draw a pistol or throw a rock or something equally dreadful. If they tried to harm Faithful's children, they would feel my fire!

“Why are you being so kind to me?”

“It my du-ty.”

“But after all I've done to you, still you protect me?

“I for-gave you.”

We marched on. Neither of us spoke. She smiled and threw fragrant moss at the crowd from a large basket carried by two lovely little girls. The sweet odour permeated our clothes and dulled the pain in my arm. Thinking became more difficult with each passing step.

Den, something not right, my mind mumbled.

As I tried to muddle my way through to an explanations, Silver swooned. Just before her head could hit the ground, I caught it with my broken wing. I wanted to scream, but I gritted my fangs instead.

Den, where are you?

He answered not.

I slapped Gemma's cheeks repeatedly until she opened her eyes. Just then, a bottle with a stinging gas shattered next to us. I smothered Gemma's nose and mouth to keep her from breathing in the fumes, but could not protect myself.

“What's happening?” Silver asked as I dragged her away from the mist of death. I released my grip on her face. She gasped in clean air.

“No time, Gemma” I coughed up blood. In my fatigue, I called her by her old name. She did not notice. “Make me look...” I tried to breathe. “like you.”


“They try kill me, GASP. You go free, GASP. Think I you.”

She stared dully at me. I smacked her hard to jolt her into action. I became an exact replica of my mistress.

“I draw them off, WHEEZE, you run.”

Silver nodded.

I threw a cloak discarded in the confusion over her and fled. My hideous attempts at shrieks attracted the mob's attention. More bottles smashed around me.

How long can I run before they catch me?

The exertion cleared my head from the sedation of the moss, but not my throat from the toxic gas.

My wing throbbed.

Was it right to endanger Crystal for Gemma's sake?

Bullets whistled past my ears.

My throat burned.

Gemma holds three tiny lives. I only hold one. Acid scalded my lungs.

Four lives in exchange for two?

I dodged the lunges of several attackers, but one man collided with my arm. I sprawled into a cart full of loaf-plant and whirled to face my enemy. Before he had his rifle half-raised, I placed a pellet between his ears.

In near-exhaustion, I leaned against the cart to reload my pistol. With one hand, I wrestled another pellet into the gun and recharged the air-chamber. Despite my new wings, I could not fly.

Why did Den have to break her arm? Woe asked.

Why did you have to steal the wound? Nyl countered.

A dart from a blowgun embedded between my shoulder blades, injecting yet another poison. I set off again.

When I veered into a narrow tunnel, I met three bat-men. A shot from my pistol felled the first, however I lacked time to reload for the other two.

Where is Den?

I commanded my starlet to attack, but neither it nor my unstarlet responded to my gas-addled mind. I felt life seep from my body.

No, I will not die. Crystal needs me.

A knife plunged toward my throat, but my evasion caused it to embed in my shoulder instead. With both wings injured, I could no longer wield my weapons. My knee drove hard into my opponent's groin. He collapsed and I kicked the gun out of his hand. His vomit soiled the fur on my bare feet. The third man shot my right thigh. When he lunged with a short sword, I sidestepped and threw my body against his to pin him to the wall. Love for my daughter transformed me into a savage. My fangs met his throat and his life ended.

Because of the footsteps thundering behind me, I continued down the tunnel, I limped along for a good while until I collided with a well-set web. The sticky embrace of the threads held me in place like a wrestler's headlock.

Stupid, Woethief taunted. You have ears and a mouth to keep you from making mistakes like this.

It is as much your fault as it is mine! We know that I cannot effectively use this new body, especially not when poisoned.

I struggled to free ourself from the lethal entanglement before its creator returned. The poison from the dart in my back nearly paralysed me.

Stop struggling, you're making it worse, Woe ordered.

I would like to see you free yourself, Nyl retorted.

A spider-person crawled toward us on her eight legs with a pistol clutched in her hands.

Stop struggling, we must marshal our strength to use the starlet.

The enemy creeped closer. Pain nearly overwhelmed me. To my amazement, the starlet exploded in a greater brilliance than ever before. Flames consumed my foe instantly and turned the stone about me into magma which flooded down the tunnel with me floating atop it. Once the flow stopped, I clambered to my feet.

Death neared me. I knew from the hundreds of other times it devoured me. The poisons delivered me toward my greatest fear like swift messengers.

Den, where are you?

I emerged into a mob of ruffians who lusted for Silver's death and by misidentification, my own. They hurled me to the ground, and lacerated my facade.

“The Princes is an unanimal!” one of them shouted angrily. Others repeated the scandalous news.

God, Den, Thee', where are you?

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022 Nyl Saves Thee'

Just when I consigned myself to death, a great racket sounded to my right. My attackers turned to face the threat. Darts from an arc gun dug into their flesh. A figure emerged from the darkness with head down and shoulders plowing through their line. Arrows and darts bounced off her carapace like flies. With a swipe from her claws, four men collapsed under her feet.

God, let her make it.

An artillery shell punctured her chest armor and embedded in the soft flesh beneath. She faltered. She fell. I used the last of my star burst to clear the area of foes and crawled to my comrade. More shells collapsed around us.

When I reached Thee’, I surrounded us with the unstarlet to conceal our position from the sharpshooters in the surrounding buildings.

Thee’, are you still alive?

I checked for a pulse, but couldn't feel one through her thick exoskeleton.

“Yes, I'm not hurt too badly. It just stings so.”

As more projectiles showered down near us, she shielded me and grew armor to form an airtight shell around us. Small arms and artillery battered her shell in many places. Shudders reverberated through her as each hit splintered her armor further. Death neared Thee'. The unstarlet flickered out as did Thee's mind.

Theila, think to me?

No response.

God, this can't be her end. She has served you so well. Please, save us.

Life seeped out of her body along with her blood.

Theila, wake up!!!


You are bleeding out, but I will not let that happen. I still have plenty left in me. Drink mine.

“If I do, you’ll become my drone.”

I don't care about that right now. I want you to live.

“But you will lose your will. I vowed to serve you. How can I enslave you?”

Thee', I order you to drink my blood. Time is scarce.

Her tongues flitted out of her mouth to sever my throat, but sliced my cheek instead. I lent my willpower to her body and together we succeeded in slicing my throat. Her tentacle-like tongues dug deeply into my blood vessels to extract the precious liquid. Agony greater than all the physical pain I had ever experienced in the total of my lives seized me. My fists clenched involuntarily around Thee's shoulders. With the withdrawal of blood, my head grew faint. Then searing venom replaced my blood. My twin hearts pumped furiously to spread the poison. The agony ceased.

I existed as an extension of Thee's will. Her tongues still intruded into my flesh, but now they saturated me with ecstasy and brought healing to her shattered body. I loved her with all of my hearts for what she did to me. As she extracted her tongues, contentment filled me.

Metal slammed into Theila, but with the blood I provided, her armor had healed. She rose and I clung to her back underneath her flightless wings. She charged through the streets on her dozens of small legs. Everyone fled before us. To her foes, she was terror incarnate, but to me, my valiant conqueror and dearer than a sister.

A row of canons checked our progress. Missiles pierced her armor with ease and filled her organs with shrapnel. She collapsed. I slid out from under her wings and threw my starlet vainly at the guns ahead. Sufficient time had passed for it to replenish itself, but as Thee's life dimmed, so did my starlet. I dragged her backward as I crawled. My shattered feet offered no aid in the task.

Please, spare me even if you take Theila. I cannot lose Crystal! I prayed to God and simultaneously called for Denrick's aid.

The life of my starlet and Theila were extinguished at the same instant as a shell crushed her head. My screams rent the darkness.

God, why I have begun to serve you and now, you steal my friend. Is my Crystal next?

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023 Den's Rescue

Denrick approached the cannons from behind and heaved one up one-handed. He brought it down on the gunner commander's head like a club. His mute mouth gave no expression to his rage, but his club and fists shattered the skulls of his enemies as his sister's skull had been shattered. Pain from him and those he brutalized washed over me in waves. Bullets pierced his skin, but he ignored them. Nothing could separate him from the three girls he loved.

Den's Rescue by DiosYubi

His massive hands encircled our waists and he threw each of us over a shoulder. As he fled, he directed his star with his mind to consume anyone who challenged his flight.

After some hours of travel, we arrived in a hidden cavern picked beforehand for just such a catastrophe. Denrick placed us beside one another and his anger vanished. He threw himself on the diminutive corpse and wept as no man would ever weep in the presence of another soul. I placed my broken hand on his shoulder and linked our minds so that my mouth voiced the words he longed to say.

“I loved you Theila. You were more than a sister to me; you were my wife,” shock filled me at the words I uttered. “Today you came of age and I was going to declare my love. I know I didn't deserve you, but I wanted ever so badly for you to say yes.”

He redirected his words to me. “I will never know if she would have loved me. They took her away from me. I want to die and go see her right now. I don't want to wait a lifetime to see her again.”

I threw my arms around him and kissed him. Though I could not steal his woe like I did others, my presence still bore extraordinary power to comfort him. I wept in his embrace.

I love you Den. I could never compete with the way she loved you, but together we have become siblings through our pain. God has been faithful. He will be faithful again.

“Where is God in this pain?” His question rocked me; Denrick never wavered in anything, but now he faltered.

We have survived. While breath remains, there is hope. Both of us have lost our lovers, but we have not lost our God. We have not lost Crystal.

The thought of my infant cheered us. In our distress, Comfort wielded her power and caused both of us to drift into a deep slumber.

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024 Den’s Despair

I awoke with my head on Denrick's lap. Pain radiated through my shattered ankles. Den's star and my starlet glowed more dimly than ever before, but my unstarlet shined its darkness unswervingly, causing shadows of light to fill the crevices of the cavern.

I did not disturb Den's rest, but listened to his slumbering mind. Doubt tormented his subconscious and sucked him away from the God he served. I snuggled against his massive chest. Somehow, his presence made me feel safe even though I knew it was only a matter of time before our hiding place was discovered. Strange feelings filled me.

Woethief, I love Den. I loved Faithful, but Gemma stole him and then death stole him again. Might Den fulfill my craving for stability. Might he mend the tatters of my life and take Crystal as his own?

Conflicting thoughts countered my emotions.

Nyl, you do not know what love is. These feelings you have for Den are borne of desperation. No one has shown kindness to you, so you throw yourself upon the first decent man who comes along. Faithful didn't love you and Den could never love anyone but Thee'.

But he thinks I am lovely.

He called Thee' lovely. We are too broken to be loved! The sooner you realize that, the better off we will be. Time will heal me. I will be beautiful one day. My mind will heal. Desperation filled Nyla.

The existence of this argument proves that we are too broken. Whole people do not exist as two. you will not heal now that Theila is dead! Our only hope is that Crystal will have a better life than we have.

Nyl acquiesced to Woethief's logic. Woe always won. Denrick stirred and I moved away in shame. It wasn't right to lean on him without his consent.

With the dim light of his star, I scrounged for medical supplies and food. The only part of my body which healed in the night was my hands. I dragged myself along by my elbows to collect the ingredients for our breakfast.

Despite the hunger in Den's stomach, he touched no food. I devoured the simple fare. When I tried to coax Den to eat, his mind refused my touch. Grief and fear numbed him. He just stroked Thee's broken face incessantly.

I retreated to a darker corner of the cave to nurse my wounds and change my garments. Each foot was purple and thrice its normal size. I poured the stinging ointment liberally to ward off infection and bound my wounds. My unstarlet kept my tortured shrieks from reaching Den. Unconsciousness overtook me.

When I woke, I crawled to Denrick with a medical kit. He did not object when I cut away his shirt to survey his wounds. Six bullets were lodged in his chest and shoulders. Woethief guided me as Nyla revolted against the gory task. I sterilized a small knife and pincers with my starlet. Next, I extracted the bullets one by one from my friend. He felt nothing. My newly formed hands deftly stitched each wound closed. I cleaned them with the Den’s star.

“Den, darling. Please put this on,” I held a clean shirt out for him.

He did not respond, but continued in his trance-like state. With difficulty, I shoved his arms and head through the shirt's openings then realized that it was on him backwards. I didn't care.

God, please bring him out of this stupor. I need him. I cannot proceed alone.

Nothing important was happening. I would consume our supplies and would force Denrick to eat. He would chew mindlessly, but not emerge from his apathy. The stench of our waste was mingled with that of Theila's rotting flesh. Denrick would grow physically violent when I tried to remove her body to another cavern. Four days had passed. Our supplies would run out in another week or two.


Anxiety, doubt, aloneness, isolation, darkness, anger, loneliness, terror, dread were assaulting my mind over and over and over and over again.

What did I do to deserve this?

Infection was overtaking my ankles.

What did I do to deserve this?

Where is God?

Burning body. Pounding headache.

What does this pain mean?

Dysentery. Vomiting. Soiled garments.


Did I bring this on myself?

Migraine! Migraine!! Migraine!!!

How escape from here?

Head trying to kill me.

Pain won't leave my head. Pressure will burst head.

Stench makes dizzy. Pass out.

Waking with gash on head.

Denrick was refusing to eat. Refusing mind touch.

Theila was dead nine days. No, not nine, ten.

Should I leave Denrick behind to die?

Fever worsening. Den sick too.

God give me strength?


Fever has broken. Pain is lessening.

Still weak. Exhaustion. Sleep.

Den very sick. He has broken out of his numbness.


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025 Hope

I woke and grasped for Den’s arm.

Theila is not dead!

“Nyl, you are delirious.”

I struggled to maintain mind-touch, which proved nearly impossible without Thee'. No, you said whatever I believed about Theila is true.

“You can't just raise her from the dead!”

She isn't dead. Whenever one of her kind comes of age, they remain as if dead for a fortnight and then emerge as adults.

“How do you know? We don't even know for certain whether you created her or not.”

We can pray that I am right. I lost mind-touch and did not know what he thought of my plan.

Before I fell back into slumber, I concentrated on the metamorphosis of Theila's body. Woethief taunted Nyl for such a vain effort, but eventually joined in because she lacked a better plan.

The activity of Denrick's mind woke me. I sat up, bleary-eyed. He leaned over Thee's ruined frame shivering with fever.

“Nyl says you will be reborn in an hour. I don't know if it is true, but either way I love you. You were the greatest friend I could ever ask for and you deserved a better life than the one you received.”

I couldn't drag my weak body over to Den, so instead I placed my hand on the shoulder of his mind.

She will rise. Woethief declared with optimism which she never before possessed.

“I know that she will rise when all worlds end, but I need her now.”

God is able to raise her now just as easily as he can then. Have faith.

“Faith in what? You or God?”

In God, of course. I am only His instrument.

“You must think I am dreadful for doubting God.”

I have doubts too, but he must be greater than our doubts. If we pray, he can overcome them.

“Then let us pray.”

We implored God to save our beloved Thee' with as much desperation as if we ourselves were dead. Indescribable moans escaped from Den's throat in his agony. Sweat soaked his back.

I wept.

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026 Thee' Rises

Thee's body rustled. Den and I stared in disbelief. Hoping that we had not merely imagined her movements. Then, again bulges formed in Thee's abdomen as if some creature wished to escape.

Den carried me to Theila's side. A bulge stretched outward. In a splatter of filth, the carcass burst and a slimy hand groped for a hold on her stomach. Fingers from the other hand tugged on the armor, but slipped back inside. In despair, the creature's mind pleaded for help to escape before it would suffocate. Denrick and Nyla would not touch the thing, so Woe tore at the hole in Thee' to aid the creature's exodus.

After an eternal moment, a blood-smeared head emerged and tried to bring air into the depleted lungs. I tried to pull the thing out more, but a section of exoskeleton snapped at its neck. Wails escaped because of the pain. Breathing no longer presented a problem. The thing forced its left arm out of the hole with my help. The dim light made it impossible to know the nature of the creature. I probed the creature's mind, but could not comprehend the babbling thoughts. Emotions presented themselves clearly enough. Pain seared the creature's right shoulder as another shard of armor stabbed it. Panic seized the creature. It thrashed at Thee's body in an attempt to gain freedom, but only succeeded in lacerating its hands.

To prevent further injury, I concentrated my mind on calming its thoughts. It ceased its striving. Fear shone in its eyes as I approached with a dagger. Den seized my arm before I could harm the corpse.

Release me.

“You can't just cut up Thee's body!”

Nyl jerked Woe away, but Woe resisted. I told you Thee' would emerge and now she is.

“How do I know this is Theila and not some parasite?”

Theila is a parasite.

“What if it is a trap like Silver?”

And what if it is not?

He released my arm. I sliced into Thee's carcass near the creature's right shoulder. Once both shoulders were free, the thing rose higher out of the body, but the intestines wrapped 'round its neck nearly strangled it. A queer thing happened. The creature slid a gleaming blade from the inside of its right wrist and freed its neck. The blade retracted instantly. The thing slid out of the now sizable hole with the lubricant of blood easing its emergence.

Upon escape, the thing fled past me into a corner. Den stood to pursue. I pressed my hand against his shoulder.

Let me go. I'm less likely to frighten the poor thing.

He acquiesced. I dragged myself toward the creature. I kept my hands open so it would know I meant no harm.

“You hear me?” I made thrumming noises. No response.

Can you understand me I thought to it. Nothing.

“Can you understand me?” I asked in the tongue of Den’s mother.

It nodded.

“May I approach you?”

It nodded. I bit a piece of loaf-plant and held it out to the creature.

It wagged its head.

“It is perfectly safe.”

It wagged its head again, so I discarded the food. The creature scrubbed its arm with its hand, in a vain attempt to remove the filth from its body. I soaked a clean rag in water and approached the sordid thing. It did not take the rag, but stared at me. I wiped its arm. Nyl recoiled at the stench, but Woe could not suffer the creature's discomfort. Pleasure emanated from the creature at the touch of cleanliness. My stone aided in the cleansing.

I moved my fingers over the face and encountered eyes; eyes like mine on a round face. As I scrubbed down the neck onto the chest, it became obvious that the creature was female.

Den, stay over there until I clean her up.


The creature is female and very human.

Communication from a mind other than Den's reached out to me. I did not refuse the creature's exploration. Recognition filled the thing's mind. She kissed my lips and buried her tongues in my neck.

“Woe, where am I? Why do I feel so strange?”

We are in one of Den's safeholds.

“Who is Den?”

Who are you?

I stroked her stomach with my cloth and discovered another peculiarity. She bore no navel scar.

“I am Sombermirth Theila. I love you with everything I am. You are my creatress. But who is Den? Should I know him?”

He is your brother.

Sadness filled her as she realized she could not remember what she once loved.

“What has happened to me? Why doesn't my body respond like it should?” she clumsily swung her arms about. They spasmed as she tested the new muscles.

What is your last memory?

“Pain. Terror. Carrying you away from something dangerous. I don't know why we were running. We couldn't survive their weapons. Am I dead? Did Comfort survive?”

Comfort is very well. You died, but I decided that your kind always appeared to have died before they came of age and that after a fortnight, they would emerge an adult.

I now wiped grime off of her legs.

“You decided I was still alive after I was dead?”

All I know is that you are alive. In that I rejoice.

“But what if I am not Thee'? What if I am like Silver? What if I am only a farce to distract you while your enemies ready to strike?”

I detected another mind near hers. This mind spoke doubts and terror into her. I tried to form a barricade around her mind, but the other mind proved stronger.

Even if you are not the real Thee' I will still love you. She found solace in my reassurance.

With my help, she clumsily arrayed herself in a dressing gown and shawl. She proved too small for any of my other clothes. I stood and hailed Den over to us.

“Nyl, you are standing.”

As are you. I thought back, confused by his remark.

“An hour ago, your ankles were shattered beyond my aid.”

I turned to the woman next to me. She smiled and blushed; her cheeks took on a purple tint.

Apparently not beyond our friend's.

He turned toward her with the slightly brighter glow of his star. When he beheld her, his heart stopped. Before him stood the most glorious woman either of us had ever seen.

Gray ringlets, which matched her skin, bounced above her shoulders and framed her nearly circular face. Massive eyes stared at his with an uncanny perceptiveness. A small nose pointed to her full lips. A dimple on the left side of her mouth punctuated her perfect fangs and teeth. She was less than half his height, yet perfectly proportioned.

I love you! Den's mind blurted.

“I suppose I should say the same, but I can't honestly remember you.”

The foreign consciousness shrouded her mind in forgetfulness. I hurled my will against the fog, however it would not yield.

Please, tell me who you are. Thee' prodded Den.

“I am your brother, Denrick. I brought Thee' here after she uh was killed.”

“So you do not believe that I…I am Theila?” she sounded hurt. “How can I prove to you and to myself that I am Thee'?”

Think of something only Theila would know, Nyl suggested.

She has many of Thee's memories; that won't prove anything. Woe derided her.

“I don't know how you could prove you're my Theila. I want to believe you, but you don't even know yourself.”

Thee', or whoever the creature was, rushed forward and wrapped her arms round the crouching giant's neck. He winced, but Thee’ didn’t notice. Her fingers wiped away the tears which streaked his face. She directed his gaze into her eyes. Her head dropped. Her ringlets cradled against his sweat-soaked chest. His defenses collapsed.

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I LOVE YOU! His mind exploded with the feeling.

Den's weeping ceased and Thee' released him.

“Theila, is there anything you remember about me?” he asked.

She did not respond for some time.

The hostile mind wanted her to forget.

Thee' strove to remember.

Thee' won.

“You are my brother and you love me more than you love yourself. You were born three years after me,” the enemy mind added confusion.

Den frowned.

Thee’ massaged her temples.

“No, that isn't right. You were born a year before me.” She spoke aloud in Den's language with a singsong voice. “Your strength is unmatched, yet you are gentle. You adore me. You think I am the most wonderful creature in all of the universes. You must be right because you are so wise.”

She was not bragging or flattering him. She believed everything she said and thought nothing of the strangeness of her candor. “Am I correct?”

“Yes, in a way.”

Den leaned back against the cave wall. Fever still kept him weak. Fresh blood soaked his chest from a wound my treatment had missed.

“Den, why are you bleeding?”

“I took a few shots for you. I'll heal.” He grimaced as he thought it.

“Let me see.”

“No, Thee', I said I'll be fine.” His look told her that he wanted to remain strong, but we knew he was very sick.

Thee' began to speak, but I placed my hand on her shoulder. He wouldn't listen at that moment no matter what she said.

“Thee', I need to tell you something that will seem very strange.”

“I’m listening.”

She reclined on the wall opposite him.

“As you know, I am adopted. It is the custom of my birth-mother's people to... It's their custom to...”

She reached out and took his hands in hers. “You don't have to be afraid. You can tell me anything.”

Her smile gave him the courage to continue. “It is customary for an adopted son to marry the firstborn daughter of his new parents once she comes of age, so...”

“Den, what are you asking?”

“By the customs of my people you became mine when you came into existence, but I recognize we are not with my people. I love you. I know I don't deserve you, but will you marry me?”

“What?!?” she gasped.

“Will you marry me?

“To me, you've always been my brother. I always thought you would marry Nyla?”

“Marry Nyla? Why would you think that?”

“Why else would you spend five ventings in her service? You have almost died for her on many occasions. I thought you loved her.”

“I have served her because you wanted me to?”

Shock filled her. The enemy mind seemed pleased that she did not respond affectionately to Den.

“What is wrong with Nyla? Why not choose her over me?”

“Nothing is wrong with Nyla, but I love you!”

”“But she needs someone to love her,” the enemy mind prompted her to say.

“If she commanded me, then of course I would marry her.”

“Of course I will not command you to marry me,” I exclaimed. The idea repulsed me.

“You should command him,” the enemy whispered into me. “You deserve him after all your suffering.”

I fought to disregard the voice.

“I have nothing to offer you, Den. I am not very pretty and my race makes me repugnant to everyone in this world.”

I concealed my smirk with my hand. The very notion that she was not pretty was ridiculous. She couldn't be paralleled by any other woman.

“You're my everything, Theila. I live to please you. If I am distasteful, then say it. I wish you to be happy.”

Thee' fought the enemy will, but could not tear herself from its influence.

“I cannot love you, Den,” her words relieved me. Perhaps I had a chance at love. “It is not your fault, you are wonderful, It's just that I couldn't bear for you to suffer my feeble attempts at love. I am broken. I know I am capable of betrayal. I couldn't bear to cause you that pain. Nyla is the woman who can love you like you deserve.”

“Very well, sister. I will not force you to love me.”

I could not bear for Theila to separate herself from Den. In a last effort, I flung myself into the hostile mind. Energy drained from me in the combat, but I succeeded. The enemy withdrew.

Den turned away from Thee' with trembling lips and tears in his eyes.

“Wait! Den, I do love you. I want you. Am I truly desirable?”

“You cannot imagine of how perfect you are.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder and rested in his embrace. Their love blossomed as each yielded to the others wishes.

Den gently pushed her away and reached for something in his pocket.

“There is something very precious to me, which I kept for this day, but now I must return it to you.” He held out a sphere, larger and brighter than my own starlet.

“What is this?”

“Your star. For years one thousand generations my foremothers have passed it along. Now it has come to me. You were once the brightest star of all, but you were banished from your people for a kindness you performed to a peasant girl. They forbade you from interfering with the lives of mortals. You saved her life.”

“I don't remember any of this?”

“You will shortly, when I awaken you from your slumber. The girl you saved was my grandmother one thousand generations back. You entered a pact to marry her first male heir. I am the first male born to her line. I am the promised reward for your kindness.”

“How do you know this?”

“Through your power, I retain all of the knowledge of my foremothers. I am the personification of that oath. Will you accept your star?”

She touched it with a trembling finger. Light exploded around us as the orb hovered over Thee'.

“So this is the mortal body I was gifted?” the light asked disgustedly. “There is much wanting in her, but I suppose she will do.” The light focused on me. “And you are the creature she swore her allegiance to?”

“I am. I am sorry I disappoint you. If you desire, I will release you from your oath.”

“It is a tempting offer, but I cannot rescind my word. I must abide by this body's oaths.”

Dread filled her as she surveyed the world she must inhabit. With a muster of strength, she entered Thee's body. The transition caused her to collapse. I feared she was dead. Flames consumed her flesh.

“Thee' wake up. Please, don't leave me again.”

When he touched her, the fire singed his skin and nearly crippled him with pain.

“Please, Thee' answer me.”

He turned to me with horror on his face.

”'Thee'' is that the pet name you have for me?”

The flames stopped consuming him.

“Yes. If it displeased you, I will call you something else.”

“No, I like it. My star name is Sombermirth, but I am still your Thee'.”

He placed his hand on her cheek, but she shrieked and a blade emerged from her wrist.

“Stay away from me! Don't come any closer or I'll cut you.”

“Thee' what's wrong?” he asked, but already she had severed their mental bond.

He approached her with his palms up.

“Keep away. I don't want to hurt you,” she warned.

“Theila, what is wrong?” I placed my hand on her shoulder.

“You're one of them too. You said you loved me!”

I backed away.

“Theila, tell me what is wrong.”

“You're both Dark. You say you love me, but this is a trap. You want to kill me. Please, let me go. I haven't done anything to you.”

“I do not know what you are talking about.”

“The Unlight resides in both of you. The Unlight is poison. It will kill me.”

“I will not harm you. Please, you must speak to Den's mind. He must have an explanation.”

“I can't. He'll taint me. I'll lose my light.”

“He kept your star safe for his entire life. Speaking to him now will not harm you.”

“You don't understand. To lose my light is to lose my self, my essence.”

I hated to use my power over her, but for both her's and Den's sakes I deemed it necessary.

“Theila, I order you to speak to him.”

With great trepidation, she opened her mind to his. Terrified prayers issued from her soul.

“Den, why do you bear the Unlight?”

“You cannot hold me guilty for my race. My people are extinct. Every last one was slaughtered by the Darkish people, except for my mother. She became the Darkish king's concubine. She escaped her slavery with me in her womb. I possess unstar blood.”

“Then I cannot marry you. It is forbidden for both of our races. You know full well that we would each die at the others touch.”

“But we swore oaths.”

“Those oaths contradict the laws of our people. Though I am banished, I cannot disobey their edicts. I cannot love you, yet I cannot not love you.”

“Nyla, what must we do?”

“Why must I decide?”

“You are our mistress, Den and I look to you for guidance.”

“Please, don't make me choose.”

“You can make Den love you.” the enemy will whispered into my head.

No, it is not fair to him. It is not right.

“You decide what is right. You own them.”

I will not treat them as Gemma treated me.

“GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” I screamed as I pounded my palms against my temples.

“I only aim to help you. Do not throw away your chance at love. You deserve Den. After I stole Faithful from you, he is all you have left.”

Silver, please do not interfere.

“I'm trying to help.”

Well, you are not. Stay away from my friends.

“Don't make a decision you will regret for the rest of your lives.”

“Nyl, help!” Thee's cry ripped me out of the argument with Silver.

Den lay sprawled across the floor. Blood pooled below his torso. His pulse grew slower as I held my fingers against his neck.

“Save him, Woe.”

I cut away his shirt to find a rancid wound. Despite my best efforts, his bleeding did not slow.

“I cannot save him in time.”

“I'll bite him.”

“But, you could die.”

Before I could intervene, her tongues embedded into his wound. Her light faded. She became like death itself. Both of my friends flickered. They disappeared.

I threw myself on the ground where the were and groped wildly to find them.

“Den! Thee'! Where are you?”

I could not find them.

God, please, You cannot take them. Thee' has only just been returned to me.

“Make them love one another,” Silver suggested.

How will that help? You know nothing, Woe snapped at her.

“Please, listen to me. You can bring unity to them.”

And how can I do that?

Listen to her, Woe.

“Their natures are at war. The enmity of their peoples needn't be their enmity. You can give love to them as you gave love to Faithful and I. You gave him the help he needed to cherish me even after I told him who I was.”

Nyla forced Woe to acquiesce. When I concentrated on Denrick and Theila, their minds responded weakly to my probes. Despite her torment, Theila would not release Den. Her ferocious love clawed her way back into existence with her lover in her arms.

“Theila, I thought I lost you again!”

“Thank you,” she squeezed my hand. “I know now why Theila swore herself to you.”

She leaned against a column, exhausted. Her chest rose and fell rapidly as she strove to control her breathing. Den lay motionless, but alive, in her lap.

“I'm tainted, Woe. I was always the brightest, but now I barely flicker.”

She had taken on the attributes of her husband in addition to those she received from me. Black shocks of straight hair hung down the center of each ringlet. A faint, grey glow surrounded her. Firm muscles contrasted with her small stature.

“I lost everything I am to save him. My beauty and light are all but gone. I don't know who I am anymore.”

Den awakened. He pulled her against himself with his hands clasped at her stomach.

“Listen to me Theila,” he rested his head on her shoulder. “We have both lost what we were, but what we have become is better. Your light is gone as is my darkness, but we have each other.”

“What remains of me besides a broken mind split in two?”

“You are still truth and loyalty. You are still loved by God. You sacrificed yourself for me. I cannot forget that.”

She pulled herself away from him. Her loss tormented her. I wished I could remove it. Den's hands gripped her shoulders. He caused her to see through his eyes. Then she understood why he loved her.

He planted his lips on hers and cradled her head in his hands.

“I've wanted you for as long as I've lived! Now you are mine and no one will take you from me.”

“I am unworthy of you.”

“No, you are glorious. No one is more beautiful. I wouldn't change any part of you.”

“But I am not the girl you've loved for all these years. Sombermirth loves you, but do you love her? I am deformed, my two minds have not melded.”

“Sombermirth Theila, I love both your minds. You are mine. I bled to win you. Stop doubting yourselves.”

“But what if I fail you?”

“You will fail me and I will fail you. By God's power, we'll forgive. Tell me you promise to fight for our love until forever ends.”

“I promise, husband,” she sank her tongues into his neck, her own form of a kiss.

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The thunder of marching interrupted their endearment. In silent understanding, we each snatched up our weapons and donned rucksacks with a small quantity of supplies. They had found us.

To escape our pursuers, we crawled into a narrow shaft and covered the entrance with a material which sounded and looked like the stone of the cavern.

We traveled no more than two hundred throses before we encountered enemy troops. Terror seized me. We backtracked into our cavern. Every tunnel contained enemy soldiers so we fortified every entrance. Each of us focused a scatter-gun at an entrance. I wished for Theila's armor and it appeared around Den and I. Perhaps, we might survive.

Enemies all around us swung battering rams at the barricades. They would not last.


I glanced at my abdomen and whispered sweet words to Crystal's mind.


Den turned to Thee'.


Their lips met for an instant which they wished was an eternity.


The barrier at the main entrance shattered.

Thwoom. Thwoom. Thwoom.

My gun spat pellets into the bodies of my foes.

Another barrier burst.

Pellets bounced off my carapace.

Our rifles cut them down like sheers cut hair.

They retreated to regroup.

“We might hold them off,” Thee' panted.

“How can we, our ammunition will not last forever,” Den countered.

Reload this, I handed my gun to Den.

While he reloaded, I used my starlet to melt the stone at each entrance. It flickered out before I secured the main entrance.

That will slow them for a time, I said.

Den returned my rifle just as the enemy attack resumed. I waited for my starlet to rekindle. No shots accompanied this attack, but we shot anyway. A woman's agonized shriek gave pause to our assault.

Cease shooting, I mentally yelled to the others.

Our guns ceased their delivery of death.

A priestess of Natia held a stone dagger to Silver's throat.

“Lay down your weapons or she dies.

“It's a trick; that's not really Silver,” Den warned us.

It is her. Do as the priestess says, we set our rifles on the floor and kicked them away from us.

“Put your hands on your head” the priestess ordered.

Members of the temple guard frisked us and removed our concealed weapons. After the guards manacled our hands, Natia entered the cavern. By the force of her will, our armor disappeared.

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029 Tshania

“So, this is the Woethief?” Natia observed. “I expected a stouter resistance. No matter, I'll have my fun with you another way.”

Den's muscles tensed and his fists balled up.

Do not even try; you cannot beat her, Woe warned.

“But I can die trying,” Den retorted as he picked the lock on his manacles.

And that is all you can do. Use your head. Diplomacy is the only way out, Nyl chastised him.

“You there,” Natia gestured at Theila. “What is your name?”

“I Thee'.”

“Thee'? Too pretty a name for a piece of Lacerator filth,” Den wanted to lay her flat her for that insult. “You, what is your name?” She pointed at Den.

“He mute,” Thee' answered for him.

“Silence, I didn't ask you, Natia knocked Theila to the ground with a blow to the face.

“Tshania,” Natia turned to a girl at her side, “find out who he is?”

Tshania seemed hesitant, but fear of Natia drove her to obey. When she placed her hand on Den's face to read his thoughts, she found his mind impermeable. Trembling seized her with the exertion.

Den spun her around and clamped his left hand around her furry throat. His other arm locked her wings behind her.

Abject terror filled her. Natia's priestesses held daggers to mine and Thee's throats.

“Is this supposed to impress me? Natia chuckled with her feet. “So you can pick locks. So you can subdue a girl half your size. She can destroy your mind with a thought.”

His grip around her throat tightened as he lessened the protection of his mind. Tshan took the opening, but found herself trapped by Den.

“Let them go,” Tshan spoke for Den. “And Tshania will be unharmed.

“Go ahead, kill her. Then you can listen to the screams of your lovers as I flog them to death.”

“Please, mother? Do not do this wickedness!” Tshan pleaded.

Natia snatched a whip from one of her servants and lashed me across the face. The shards of stone sewed into the end traced rivers of blood on my face.

Tshan's face grew darker as she fought for air.

“You see, boy, I cannot be reasoned with.”

Release her, I ordered Den.

“But then we lose our bargaining power.”

She isn't our enemy. It is Natia who should die.

Tshan had little time before her breath ran out.

“Show pity, Den. We are not like them,” Thee' pleaded.

Den released her throat, but not her arms. She gulped air like a starving man gulps blood. He drew a double-pistol from her belt. With two shots, he felled the priestesses who held Thee' and I. My starlet melted our bonds and surrounded Natia, but did not consume her. None of her soldiers or priestesses dared raise a claw in her defense.

Tshan wrested her mind from Den's hold and caused Den's arm to relax its grip. She prostrated herself before me. She placed my foot on her head.

“Your maidslave pleads for the life of her mother. Surely, you are not so pitiless as to rob me of her?”

I must defend my family, I spoke to her mind.

“Your slave swears her eternal and infinite service to you if you do this kindness. Let the flames consume my flesh in her stead. I am worthless, but my mother is worth everything to me.”

Can you guarantee safe conduct for me and my family?

“I swear by my mother, the great goddess Natia, that you will pass safely to wherever you desire.”

Your love is strong, Tshania, I will grant this request.

I released Natia.

“Get up,” Natia kicked her daughter in the side.

Tshan obeyed.

“You are a fool, Nyla. What makes you think I will honor your deal made with a child?”

“Have you no hon-or?”

“None, but I know that you will not harm me now. I have your oath.”


“Do not call me mother! You are no child of mine. I am your goddes, worship me.”

“Your worshipfulness, I implore you to spare them. They have done you no wrong.

“Of course I won't spare them, you imbecile.”

Den and Thee' are of no value to you, allow them to escape, I opened my minds long enough to think to Natia.

“Yes, my goddess, allow them to escape. I will enter the Forges for a thousand years if you permit Den and Thee' to escape.”

“The Forges are too good for you, the Golden Death would better remedy your insurrection.”

“Of course, I will return to you made of solid silver and prove my innocence,” Tshan's fortitude astonished me.

“Den and Thee', you will be permitted to escape. Never return or a fate worse than you can imagine awaits you.”

Den wanted to scream that he would never leave me, but his dumbness prevented him. I kissed his voiceless lips and wiped a tear from his face.

Thank you for leading me to your God and listening over me all these ventings. You are the tenderest and strongest man I have ever known. I am proud to call you brother. I love you with all my hearts, Nyl and Woe thought in unison.

“I love you too, kid,” his arms, each nearly the diameter of my waist, wrapped around me with great affection.

I turned to Theila, her tongues sucked blood from my veins for a final time and we kissed.

Thank you for giving me your truth and your venom. You are the most beautiful creature I have ever known. Light still fills your soul and Den can see it. You are the best sister I never knew I needed. I love you with all of my hearts.

She kissed me again, You're beautiful too WoeNyl, thank you for giving up Den for me. I can't imagine how much that cost you.

While I held my sister, Tshan approached our minds. “She will kill you Nyla, are you sure you want it this way?”


“What about Crystal?” Den asked.

“If you are willing, I can transfer her to Theila.”

What? How?

“I just can.”

How can a mother be asked to give up her only child? For all the tens of thousands of woes I stole, I never encountered this one. I loved Comfort and never wanted to part from her. I knew it was the only way to save her life.

I am willing, but only if Den and Thee' wish it.

“Of course we do,” they replied as one.

In an instant, Thee' became the surrogate mother of my child.

Farewell, Comfort Crystal, may you bring the same joy to your new mother as you did to me.

Natia interrupted our farewell.

“Of course, I cannot let you both escape as you are. I can't let you remember this life.”

She seized Thee's head and replaced all of her memories with false ones full of fear and loathing for Den. Along with her new mind, came a new body, lovely and dreadful.

A dark beauty loomed over me. Straight black hair spilled over her broad shoulders and lovely chest. Her cruel eyes pondered me without recognition. Den's desire for her in no way diminished, but she recoiled from his touch.

At Natia's gesture, a soldier clubbed the back of Thee's head. The giant collapsed into unconsciousness. Den's fist shattered the soldier's skull.

“Carry her away and never return.”

Den looked at me, pleading for another way.


He grabbed a crank-gun from the ground and backed out of the cave with his bride slung over one shoulder.

Tshan whimpered with her head on my bosom.

“I'm so sssorrry; I tried to help.”

“You have.”

I stole some of her grief, but if I stole any more, my hearts would overflow with sorrow. I prayed to God that my family would survive. I knew Natia would rescind her word, but it had been the only chance to save my loves.

It was not your only chance! Nyl chided. You let this monster survive while your family was in danger.

I cannot resist the opportunity to show compassion, Woe replied.

Not even at the expense of our brother and sister and daughter?

I am sorry.


I hated that I warred within ourself. How can two incompatible natures coexist in one body?

Natia tore Tshan away from me and leached all of her daughter's power from her.

“You were so promising,” remorse nibbled at the edges of Natia's words. “But no heir of mine will ever let their pity deafen them like yours has.”

Natia summoned one of her priestesses and transformed her into the likeness of her daughter. In addition, she bestowed all the power which once belonged to Tshania to the new creature.

“If you love the Woethief and her friends so dearly, then you will enjoy being like them.”

Tshania lost her batness and spiderness. Eyes sprouted from her skull and her ears diminished. The silken fur which covered her body receded and the webbing that formed her wings disappeared. Before me stood a creature which combined the best aspects of each member of my family. She was repugnant to her people, but to me she was lovely.

Without protest, she allowed herself to be bound and stumbled toward the Golden Death.

Your kindness will not be forgotten, daughter, I thought to her.

“And now, what shall be done with the Woethief?” Natia asked.

I remained silent.

“Bind her. she ordered.

Fear of my starlet overcame even the priestesses' fear of Natia. They dared not approach me.


“No need. I come with no fight.”

“How can I trust you?”

How can she even ask that? Nyla thought.

“I keep word.”

“Very well, take her away.”

I followed the soldiers, who kept a safe distance between us, to the King's dungeon.

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Sal walked home without her sister. Gathering perfume-wood on her own didn't feel as good as doing it with Charlea.

“Charlea, I'm home,” Sal shouted.

“I'm in here,” Charlea murmured from her room.

“What's wrong, sis?” Sal's brow furrowed.

“I don't feel too well.”

“Well, I brought you perfume-wood. It will make you feel better. It smells so-o-o-o nice.”

Sal ran out of the room and tossed some wood on the fire. Sal breathed in the sweet incense, which permeated the home. Sal hoped her sister relished the aroma as much as she did.

“I put the wood on Charlea,” Sal bounced into her sister's room. “You should feel better soon.”

“I hope so,” Charlea said. “Thank you, Sal. Please close my door. I want to be alone.”

“Alright,” Sal's voice wavered, “Are you sure you want me to go?.”

“Yes, I don't want you in here right now.”

“I love you,” Charlea added.

“I love you too,” Sal said as she wiped a tear from her eye.

Sal closed the door and moped by the fire. Wind screamed in through the cracks around the door. Sal shivered. A shaft of moonlight fought through the grimy window to illuminate the home's disrepair.

While Sal pouted, Charlea laboured to spin silk from her wrists. She raced to complete the cocoon before the transition began. Numbness already gnawed at her fingers and toes.

Should she explain it to Sal? Was Sal too little to understand? Did Charlea even understand it herself?

Charlea lacked the energy to explain. Despite her fatigue, she worked all night. At dawn, she finished. The last bit of silk closed over her mouth then she fell asleep permanently.

In the morning, Sal peered into her sister's room. A lifeless cocoon lay in the corner like a wilted fruit. Sal cried. She missed Charlea. She missed her parents. Since the village doctors only knew how to heal humans and cattle, they couldn't help Charlea. Not even the perfume-wood had made her better. Sal's hopes died with her sister.

Sal's parents were gone. They died last winter after caring for their sick neighbors. The Stripe Fever killed them, but spared Charlea and Sal.

Charlea cared for her sister like a mother, at least she did until she got sick. For the past month, she stopped wanting to do anything. She even stopped baking cloudberry pies, her favourite dessert.

As loneliness filled her young heart, Sal didn't know what to do. She kept asking her sister to wake up, but her sister never answered. The fire burned out, as cold as the cocoon.

Sal cried. She wished her parents would come back. No matter how hard she shook the cocoon, her sister wouldn't wake up.

Nobody liked her except her parents and the carpenter's apprentice. Silkwings looked ugly to the villagers. Sal knew she was a monster, that's why outsiders called Silkwings Lacerators. Their fangs and claws frightened people. She was glad her parents had adopted her as a baby anyway.

Sal didn't feel like eating. Tears dragged her into sleep.

Nightmares plagued Sal. Her last conversation with her big sister replayed itself in her head over and over.

A grey glow pushed back the darkness of her dreams and coaxed her awake.

“Little girl, why were you crying?” the glow asked with a feminine voice.

“Where are you?” Sal saw no one in the room.

“I'm at your front door, dear, would you please let me in?”

The voice sounded like it was inside Sal's head, but she opened the door anyway. Light from the doorway chased out the home's gloom.

A beautiful, grey creature stood at the entrance. She had a nice smile and pretty, curly hair. Sal thought she looked trustworthy. Her big, furry ears looked like they would be good at listening.

“Have you eaten tonight, dear?” the woman asked.

“No, I didn't feel like it.”

“Well, you sit down and I'll make something nice for you to eat.”

The woman knew just where every pan and spice and utensil was. She glided around the kitchen with grace.

“I'm Crystal Comfort,” she said as she stirred the soup she made.

“Comfort? Are you here to help me?”

“Yes Sallina. God created me to help people.”

Sallina pondered for a while. The woman was very pretty. She had leathery wings and insect-like legs growing out of her back.

“How do you know my name?” Sal asked.

“I've been watching you for a little while. I travel looking for people to help.”

“Where did you come from?” Sal asked.

“Another place dear, somewhere you've never heard of.”

Sal looked at the wings again.

“Are you an angel?”

Crystal laughed.

“No, dear.”

“But, you have wings and you travel to help people?”

“I am not an angel, but you are right. I do travel to different worlds to help people.”

Crystal placed two bowls of soup on the kitchen table and sat.

“Ouch!” Sal cried after dropping the spoon. “It's too hot.”

“Let me fix that,” The woman cooled down the soup with a grey glow that came out of her hand.

Sal sipped the soup.

“This tastes good.”

“I'm glad you liked it,” Crystal smiled in the same way that Charlea did; or used to.

“Why did you come, Miss Crystal?” Sal asked.

“I came to tell you something very important about your sister.”

“But, how do you know about my sister?”

“I know a lot of things, dear. I came to tell you how to help her.”

“Why is she in that silk bag?” Sal asked.

“Do you know anything about Silkwings when they grow up?”

“No, Miss Crystal. My parents were humans.”

“Well, you see Sal, I am a Silkwing too.” Sal noticed Crystal's antennae. “Before a Silkwing grows up, they become sick for a while. It is part of what it means to get older.”

Sal sipped more soup. The vegetables and mushrooms tasted so good together.

“How come humans don't get sick before they grow up?”

“I don't know dear, I just know they are made differently from Silkwings.”

“How come you look different from me and Charlea?”

“I am a grown up. Grown up Silkwings look very different from when they were children.”

“Why are you pretending Charlea will come back? You don't need to hide it from me, I know she is dead. I'm not stupid!” Sal yelled.

Crystal frowned.

“She will come back, dear, if you follow my instructions.”

“What instructions?” Sal asked.

“Your sister has been dead for one day. Silkwings take fourteen days to come back to life as a grown up. You must help your sister when that happens.”

“How can I help her?” Sal asked.

“Here is a bracelet. When all the stones on the bracelet stop glowing, it will be time to help your sister.”

Sal took the bracelet. She ran her fingers over the smooth, stone beads. She counted fourteen beads. One bead was already dim.

“When they all stop glowing, you must help your sister out of her cocoon. She will look very different than when you saw her last.”

“Will she be pretty like you?” Sal asked.

“Yes, dear, very pretty.”

Sal smiled. She walked around the table and hugged Crystal. Crystal smelled nice and clean. Her warm fur brushed against Sal's cheek.

“Now dear,” Crystal cupped Sal's face in her hand. “You must not try to open the cocoon before all the beads stop glowing or your sister will never come back. Do you think you can wait that long?”

“Yes, Miss Crystal.”

“Alright, I need to go now, but I will be praying for you. Remember that God is the one who will make your sister all grown up. He is remaking her into a wonderful person inside her cocoon.”

“Thank you,” Sal said.

“If something really bad happens, put the bracelet on, don't wear it unless you really, really need my help.”

Crystal walked to the door.

“I love you, Miss Crystal,” Sal said as Crystal turned the knob.

“I love you too, Sallina,” the grey glow caressed Charlea's cheek.

After she said that, Crystal disappeared through the doorway.

Sallina felt alone again, but now she had hope.

For two days, Sallina waited patiently before restlessness seized her.

'She said to put the bracelet on if I needed help.' Sal thought. 'I feel sad, so I think she wouldn't mind if I put it on.`

When Sal slipped the bracelet onto her skinny arm, grey light filled the room. Crystal burst into the room with a thunderclap.

Sal trembled before Crystal. She didn't look nice anymore. She looked scary.

“Why did you put the bracelet on when I told you it was only for emergencies?” Crystal boomed.

“I... I...” Sal stammered. “I wanted to talk to you.”

Crystal placed her left hand on Sal's shoulder. Crystal's tongue rested behind sharp fangs.

“Sallina,” Crystal's voice softened. “I know you feel lonely right now, but you must be patient. I have very important things to do that I cannot tell you about. People might die because the bracelet made me leave them in danger when it called me here.”

“But, I just wanted to talk for a few minutes.”

“I know dear, but it hurts for me to travel to your world that fast. You have plenty of food and firewood. When I feel bad, I read the holy writings and pray to God. He will help you be patient.”

“Are you angry with me?” Sal asked.

“Not anymore. I love you. Please take the bracelet off now.”

Sal removed the bracelet. Crystal disappeared with a whoosh.

Sal tried to wait. She wanted to see her sister grown up and beautiful like Crystal said. She wanted it now.

Even though she didn't feel like being patient, she prayed for God to help her. She waited for days.

Thirteen beads were dim now. Sal didn't see the harm in taking a peek inside the cocoon. It was only a day early.

Sal inserted her little fingers between two silk strands near the top of the cocoon. She pried gently, until the silk gave way.

When Sal peered into the hole, it was too dark inside for her to see anything.

She felt bad that she tried to open the cocoon early. Crystal would probably be mad again.

Sal leaned against the wall and cried. She tried to be patient, but she failed.

When Sal glanced back at the cocoon, she noticed a stream of blood coming from the hole she made. Even when she pressed her hand against the cocoon, the bleeding didn't stop.

'Where is the bracelet?' Sal panicked.

She raced into the kitchen to look for it. Now she knew Crystal would be mad at her.

Once she found the bracelet, she held it over her hand. Should she put it on?

she put the bracelet on the mantle.

She took it down again.

Crystal might not want to help her after she disobeyed by putting it on.

She took a breath and slipped it on anyway.

Crystal thundered into the room the same way as before. Her wings stretched out, making her look very big and mean.

“What is wrong, Sallina?” Crystal asked.

“I tried to look early,” Sal hung her head.

Crystal charged past Sal into Charlea's room. Next to the cocoon, she knelt and placed her fingers on the hole. Tears sprang from Crystal's eyes: strange tears, red, made of blood.

“Will she die?” Sal asked. Her lip quavered.

“She is already dead dear. The question is whether she will come back.”

“Will she come back, Miss Crystal?”

“I don't know. You hurt your sister very badly. I will try to help her. Pray.”

Sal prayed while Crystal worked to save Charlea. Silk flew from Crystal's wrists while red tears mingled with Charlea's blood. Grey flames danced around the cocoon as Crystal patched the hole.

Crystal leaned against the wall, exhausted. Sal cried into Crystal's chest.

“Did you save her?” Sal asked.

“I don't know dear, let's pray.”

Crystal prayed for a long while that God would spare Charlea. Sal was too sad to pray. She just listened until she fell asleep with her head in Crystal's lap.

In the morning, soft noises woke Sal up. The cocoon rustled slightly. Crystal was gone.

Sal looked at the bracelet. None of the beads glowed anymore.

Even though she was scared, she went to the cocoon. She tugged on the silk. It came off more easily than a day earlier. Happiness filled Sal. Her sister was alive again.

A blade came from inside the cocoon and cut the silk. Sal pulled more quickly until all the silk came off.

A slime-covered woman sat in front of Sal. She had the same brown hair as before, but everything else differed. She wasn't a monster anymore.

Sal helped Charlea into the kitchen and found that the water for a bath was already drawn. Crystal must have filled it that morning. After Charlea emerged from the water, she was beautiful. Sal helped her into a new dress that Crystal left as a gift.

As she admired the dress, Sal noticed the scar on Charlea's face in the same place where she tried to open the cocoon.

Sal told her sister everything, including how she disobeyed Crystal.

“I forgive you, Sal; you're my sister,” Charlea hugged her.

“But I hurt you,” Sal said.

“I know. I should have told you what would happen before I died, but I didn't have the energy to.”

“You have a scar because of me,” Sal said.

“I forgive you, you are my best friend. A Silkwing gets to choose two people to be best friends for life. Those people get to have a part of that Silkwing living inside them.”

“Who will you pick?” Sal asked.

“You. Would you like that?”

“Yes,” Sal said.

Charlea's fangs entered into her sister's arm and venom surged in. Next, a symbiote from Charlea entered Sal. It hurt at first, but afterwards filled Sal with joy.

“Who is the other friend?” Sal asked.

“The carpenter's apprentice, Jon. I like him, he's so kind to me.”

“Oh, you like him that way. You want him to marry you,” Sal said with glee.

“Do you think he'll say yes?”


The two sisters walked hand in hand to Jon's house. They had never been happier.

Cocoon is available on Smashwords and other ebook distributors.