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.”
“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.”
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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