I am almost ashamed to say that I did not return to Ty’vaal the very next day. Nor did I return the day after that. In fact, despite my anxiousness to hear the tales continue, it had been nearly a full week before I had found it in myself to brave a trip to the harbor and, from there, a similarly lengthy paddle across the bay with no one but the reticent ferryman to keep my company. I might have blamed the delay of my return on the time it took to replenish my supplies... Or, possibly, on the fact that, once I had relayed the details of my first meeting to her, that Serra practically begged me not to chance another night in the presence of Nyx Shyndyn and his wife… The truth of it, though, is that, like Serra, I was afraid that I might not survive a second encounter with the darkest shadows of Drasnia as easily as I had survived the first.
When I stepped out into the light of day following that first interview, I could not help but think that, with the amount of information the Mith’ganni had imparted as to the couples’ “crimes,” I was allowed to leave with my fingers, tongue and testicles, let alone my life. For days, as I awaited my reserves of ink and parchment to be replenished, and in the face of my wife’s incessant pleas, I weighed my options - take satisfaction in what I had and, almost assuredly, live to see myself to an old age or, quite possibly, venture to the island, again, and, once again, risk not returning and ending up a pile of salted bones at the bottom of some obscure pool beneath Ty’vaal. Conventional wisdom, of course, argued for the first option - Nyx had long been known to kill on a whim (round-ears in particular) and Cayrimisa, while known better for letting them live, was also remembered for sending them back into the world gibbering and half-mad from the pains she had wrought on them. In the end, though, my curiosity and my need to hear the story told unto its end won out and, so, through the channels I had carefully cultivated, I arranged a second visit.
I made sure to time the visit so that I arrived on Ty’vaal’s rocky shores hours earlier (and, of course, with twice the paper and ink) than I had before. The half-hour it took to climb the path from the pier to the tower’s entryway, too, proved fruitful as, when my feet finally came to a flat place in the morning shadows cast by the tower, I found the mith’ganni moving amongst the tiny gardens that spotted the lawns sprawling from the tower’s foot rather than having to seek him out in the higher floors.
“Quel amrun, Tyoma,” he called from behind a bush of nightshade as my feet took the cobbles of the path, “Finally decided that the story was more important than your life, yes?”
I froze in my tracks as those yellow eyes peered at me, with no small amount of amusement, through the spear-blade shaped leaves. The lump in my throat that I had nearly forgotten reintroduced itself and, as before, I tried in vain to swallow it. “Quel amrun, heru en amin,” I croaked, doing my best to sketch a bow that showed a due amount of respect without leaning into condescension, “I hope I am not too early.”
A snort of a chuckle chased more from his nose than his mouth, then, and he wandered from the nightshade toward a patch of white-flowered hemlock. “I hadn’t expected you, at all, scribe,” he chuffed, wrapping the blue-violet flowers he had harvested from the nightshade in a rag and stuffing them into a pocket, “Until I was made aware that Sanev had taken you aboard at the docks, I had expected never to see you again.”
Despite the fact that nothing in Nyx’s tone or demeanor told me that I should, I offered a throaty laugh in answer. “I found myself wondering much the same these past days,” I couldn’t help but admit as the Twilight Elf’s captured me sidelong. Beneath that gaze, I felt my feet freeze to the ground and my throat tighten around the already too-large lump that had formed within. “Y-you’re not going to... kill me… are you?”
“Hard to say,” the assassin shrugged casually, moving from the hemlock toward a small spread of jimson weed, “What sort of price is on your head?”
Price? I wondered for a perplexed instant. On my head? What might I have done to warrant someone taking out a contract on my life?
I am ashamed to say that, despite my self-purported mental acuity, it took me far too long to realize that the off-handed question was his idea of a joke. My cheeks flamed with embarrassment when the realization struck me, though, and I began to laugh, nervously at first, but more heartily when Nyx’s own guffawing rose to match mine. That laughter withered and died when the mith’ganni’s came to a sharp end and, moving purposefully toward another huddle of leafy plants, he said; “Each of our threads comes within a breath of being cut more times in a day than most of us care to admit, Tyoma. Neither laughter nor tears changes that, yes?”
My brow furrowed, and my footsteps fell still again. “I’m not sure that I understand your meaning, Lord Shyndyn.”
“No?” he asked, not bothering to take his eyes from their scrutiny of the plants at his finger-tips.
As I slowly shook my head in dumb response, I felt my hand slip a small notepad and freshly inked pen from an outer pocket of my satchel. Even if it wasn’t obvious to me in the moment, some part of my brain had the wherewithal to know that whatever Nyx said next would likely play into the parts of the Shyndyns’ story I was to be blessed (or cursed) with, today. “No,” I returned simply, my pen poised to scrawl out the next words he uttered.
“Hmm,” he said, still not deigning to look my way and, instead remaining focused on sorting through the slightly fuzzy, green-grey leaves before him. “So, of all the times you could have been killed since you left your home, this morning,” the assassin probed, “not one of those moments gained notice as potentially being your last?
Not when the loose tread on your stoop gave way as you left home? Not the cabbage cart that nearly ran you down as you emerged from the alley into the River’s Mouth? Not your passage across the bay where, at any moment, a wave could overturn the boat, sending you to the bottom of the Daranjaya? None of these moments - and these are only a few in the hours you’ve been awake, mind you - none have made you consider that, were it not for a faltered step or a spared glance, a whim of the weather, it could have been your end?”
Again, I offered a slightly baffled shake of my head, unsure of precisely where this might be going but, now, painfully aware that, in the past few hours, I had come closer to death more often than I had let myself realize.
“That is another difference between you and I,” Nyx smirked, inclining his head toward the dark doors of the tower’s entryway, “aside from the shape of our ears and our native tongues, yes? I have not had the luxury of being oblivious to the fact that death awaits us in each passing moment in more than forty years…”
I fell into step at his heel, my pen scratching madly across the tiny pages of my notebook, as he led the way to the tower.
“...I had that, once, when I was young.” A puff of breath, I couldn’t tell if it was a snort or a sigh, escaped the mith’ganni, then, and he shot a narrow-eyed glance over his shoulder at me.
“I was born before your kind set foot on Tuu’Palurin,” Nyx continued, “It was an age shortly after the last of the dragons had gone and left the world to glean their knowledge from the stars. I grew up learning the tales of how Yarra’maskan and Atara-loki spread the stars through the skies and how my people were created to continue that legacy after they had taken their places… It sounds a weighty inheritance, yes? But it made for a simple life.
We kept to ourselves, we tended our horses, we cared for our women, and we followed our stars and the seasons across the steppes.” The tone of his voice drifted from sentimental to indignant; “But then you breeders came to our shores and, as you do, crept and conquered inland, destroying as you went in the name of your so-called progress. By the time you reached the borders of my home, we had long known of your hatred and brutality. We were taught to fear you before we ever saw your faces.”
He shook his head, then, and the thick plaits of ebon hair that hung down his back swished between his shoulder blades. “When my clan first laid eyes on your kind,” Nyx said, pausing at the foot of the time-worn stone steps that led to the tower’s doors,, “they succumbed to the fear they had not faced and were stolen and sold or slaughtered for it. I was robbed of that, too, because your people chose to raid our village while I was out hunting. When I returned, all that was left were bodies and burning lane’eska, hm? So, when I first laid eyes upon one of you, I was angry, not afraid. You had left me evidence of the worst of which you were capable and I swore I would revisit it on all of you…”
Nyx’s gaze ticked sharply away, then, as if something else called for his attention. Curious as to what it might have been, my own eyes followed his along a footpath that wound deeper into the gardens that spread from the foot of the tower. After a moment, my ears picked up on an indistinct but obviously irate voice ranting somewhere amidst the plants. The voice drew closer and, as it did, the words it spoke became clearer…
“How the f**k are there rabbits?! I live on an island!”
...My breath caught and my heart stopped, at least for a beat or two, when Cayrimsa emerged from behind a wide swath of sparrow grass. Rather than the elegant dress I had last seen her in, though, she appeared in simpler, almost rustic, garb. A pair of dark, close fitting pants, tucked into a pair of well-worn boots encased her legs. A deep violet tunic, which was obviously too large to be her own, cascaded from her shoulders and was cinched at her waist by a thin belt and a half-apron. In one gloved hand, she carried a basket, brimming with her harvest and, in the other, she held a dead rabbit. When, from beneath the brim of her hat, her eyes fell upon Nyx and me, she stopped in her tracks and glowered.
“These f***ing things,” she snapped at her husband as she held the rabbit aloft, “are eating my plants! What kind of assassin are you that you can’t kill a bunch of rodents that don’t even belong out here?!” Her fingers released their grip on the rabbits legs, then, and the thing launched through the air with such speed that I couldn’t track it until it thumped solidly into Nyx’s chest and then fell at his feet.
My eyes went wide at the assault but Nyx’s narrowed as they fell, first upon the rabbit draped limply across the toe of his boot, and then lifted to scowl at his wife. “For pach’s sake, woman,” he sniped back, kicking the rabbit from his foot as he did, “I didn’t know we even had paching rabbits! They do not bother my plants!”
Cay’s eyes went wide in annoyance at his rebuke, particularly at his utterance of the word ‘woman,’ but the fires behind them flared as they narrowed again and stomped angrily toward him. “Well that makes them smarter than you, Nyx Shyndyn,” she seethed, “If they ate your plants they’d be dead and we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with, would we?”
The threatening glare he fixed her with might have frozen anyone else in their tracks but it didn’t serve to falter a single one of the Witch’s steps. She stormed right up to him, met his glare with her own, and poked a gloved finger into his chest. “Paching hwandi!” she hissed, “Dolle naa lost! If there is so much as a single rabbit left on this island by nightfall, I swear by all your stars, I’ll skin your lilly ass!”
“You may try, ruthaer,” he growled through clenched teeth. His lips moved as if he were about to say more but the gloved finger at his chest lifted to jab at the tip of his nose, then, and cut him short.
“Dinalle,” Cay snapped before her finger swept away from his face and indicated the general expanse of the gardens, “Ndengina sen ilya! Sii’!”
“Tereva,” he grumbled.
Her molten amber eyes flicked in my direction, then, taking me in and dismissing me all at once, before they snapped back to Nyx again. “Ar’sana lle mellon’ai vassen lle,” she demanded, “I’m in no mood for company, today!”
“Ascenie!” Nyx scowled, giving a faint shake of his head as she pushed passed the both of us and disappeared into the tower, the heavy door slamming shut behind her.
When she was gone, the assassin sighed softly, rolled his eyes, and turned his gaze back to me. “Do you know how to make a snare,” he asked, eyeing me somewhat skeptically, “or use a bow?”
Dumbstruck by the quarrel to which I had just born witness, I could do little more than blink and shake my head in reply.
“Of course not,” he murmured in derision. He stooped down, snatched up the dead rabbit, and turned for the door. “Wait here,” he commanded as he whispered up the steps, “I’ll be back in a moment, yes?”
Before I had finished nodding my acknowledgement, Nyx had disappeared through the doorway and, for a moment, I was left alone to try and gather my thoughts. It took a bit to shake the feeling of discomfort to which the couple’s spat had given rise but, by the time the mith’ganni returned, with a bow and quiver slung across his back and a loose coil of thin wired held in one hand, I had quieted my apprehension well enough to find my words again, at least. “She seemed terribly upset over a few rabbits,” I said (unnecessarily, given the sidelong glare he gave me as he skulked past me).
“It’s more than just the rabbits,” Nyx rumbled in reply, gesturing for me to follow, “I have no doubt.
Do you recall where we were,” he asked, leading me down the very path from which Cay, in all her fury, had approached only minutes ago.
“I do. You were speaking of your life on the steppes and how my kind had changed it,” I answered, “but, you’ll forgive me if I confess that I’m not sure I yet understand where this is all going. I thought we were to speak about what happened after you and Cayrimsa left Skalkbluff?”
“Mm,” he nodded in vague remembrance, “yes. Right.” He sank to a knee, his fingers reaching out to touch a narrow strip of grass which seemed to have been laid flat by the repeated passage of small creatures. “I was leading you to Shanurdir with that,” he offered as his yellow gaze sought out the extent of the apparent rabbit run, “because that is where I led Cay when we finally left Skalkbluff…” There was an almost mischievous set to his features as he rose from his crouch, “...If you think that what you just saw was anywhere close to the amount of anger that my wife can muster, Tyoma, you are in for a surprise in the tales to come…”