So here’s the rub: I haven’t written in days.

There’s no good reason why. I just psyched myself out (thanks a lot, anxiety).

I do that sometimes.

I am going to break the no-writing streak. RIGHT NOW. I am also going to post what I wrote, unedited, untouched, unprettied, because this is about accountability.

Summary setup: Notte has just escaped a cult where he was magically brain-washed, and – as those of us who’ve been manipulated know – he’s rocketing between what he was “taught” and his fresh, valid anger.

The Fey female – crouching over a pile of feces even I found intimidating – looked at me without the slightest trace of fear or worry. “Oh. It’s the horse’s pet. Hi, pet,” she said, and resumed her squalid study.

I stared at her, and every single moment of my education in seeing and summing up another being came into play.

She was healthy. Her cheeks were full, her skin clear, and her ears as thin and perfectly smooth as if they’d been carved. She wore fine leathers and fur in an unfamiliar configuration, but all of it was well-maintained and adorned with buckles of gold and faceted jewels. At her side hung two long, slender knives, nearly as long as her ears, and these along showed much use: the grips were worn down, reshaped according to the hold of their owner; and now that I looked more closely, though her nails were clean and evenly trimmed, her palms showed sign of much use, rough use, perhaps with those very same blades.

Everything I’d been told was a lie. She was fine. She was well-off. She was well-fed. And by all signs, she had been here far longer than we had.

And in that moment – that very moment of betrayal and its final proof – my Beast awoke.

The growl that crawled out of my throat was nearly a living thing all on its own, and all my anger, rage, fury, wrath rose in a tidal flood of blood-thirst that had nothing to do with hunger and all to do with my wounded heart.

It seemed I had been injured so long that I did not know myself wounded; but these nerves, long dead, had woken, and I found myself the recipient of many knives deep in my back.

The woman laughed.

For one second, I nearly turned on her – but why would I do that? Fey blood was sweet, but unsatisfying; and she had done nothing to me.  Nothing. Killing her flew against everything I knew, everything I believed and had been taught by those who also believed. She was a bystander, an innocent, the type to be protected against the evils of the world, not swallowed by them.

Her smirk had sharpened, as she watched me, and she shook her head with an expression of deep amazement. “You are something else. If I were one who offered wagers…” She tapped her chin thoughtfully with the handle of her knife – I had not seen her draw them. “I would say somebody just broke through the spells of control that old kelpie likes to use. I’ve seen it before. You’re ready to rip the world to bits, aren’t you?”

What a wager she took!

She could not know this, could not be so sure that her words would land directly in the center of my screaming heart like a well-shot arrow, but she took the chance. And as always for her, it paid.

“I am no one’s pet!” I roared, taking a step toward her as if creating emphasis with my very skin. “He lied! They all lied!”

“They do that.” Casually, a shoulder-shrug, a glance away, as though this were so common, it hardly made a ripple in the deep water of life. “So what are you going to do about it?”

And here, here, I knew she was egging me on.

I am slow to grow and mature, always, but I recognized the flavor of teasing, pushing, manipulation. I ought to, after the amount I’d swallowed. “Given that I am no one’s pet – especially not that of some stranger I’ve just met – maybe the answer is none of your business,” I replied, Inka’s pert dismissals tumbling from my mouth.

She laughed again. “Fair enough! Well, never mind. I’m looking for stolen things, swallowed and stolen. Care to search with me? I’ll split the profit with you.”

“This is business talk.” Do not share every thought in your head, Six’s lessons said, but I was not in the mood to obey anything right now. “You speak as though there is business to be had here. Merchants. Markets.”

“Naturally.” She was watching me, curiously, amused.

“Have you met a merchant named Sarin?”

“No. But I have hardly gone through this whole world, and this stupid sand refuses my spells,” she said, kicking the dirt lightly. “The Salted Road was easy back then, but here… well, there’s nothing for it. Maybe a world has to be dying before it can be tattooed so. What do you think?”

It was my turn to stare.

“Well, never mind. I’ve got work to do, and you’re welcome to tag along if you wish. Though I’ll tell you… the longer you’re gone, the more suspicious they’ll be when you go back.”

“I’m not going back,” I declared.

“No? You have no friends there, no goods, no little stolen treasures?” She shrugged and bent back down over the pile of feculence.

Did I mean what I said? I couldn’t say, then or now. I did and I did not; I wanted to return and kill someone, and I wanted to return and tell my friends the truth of the world. I wanted to stay out here and make them worry, I wanted to hide from them and make them search, and I wanted to make my own life so they could come and find something worth staying for when they did come.

Of course they would come. I was loved. I did not doubt it.

She made a sound – a sort of grunt, not quite surprised, not quite annoyed. “Damn thing must be bound up. Still hasn’t come through. Welp, time for poison.” She sheathed her knives – a smooth, blinking-fast movement so practiced that she did not need to use her eyes – and marched away.

I followed. I did not know why, but somehow, we were on this journey together – I, with my discovery of lies, and her, with her strange amused knowledge of… me.

Scrub grass pulled at our boots and trousers; trees shaded the distance, and overhead, two suns competed for brilliance.

Two suns.

Two suns.

For all the magic and wonder I had known, that… that unbalanced me. The world tilted, reality melting, all my life’s understanding smeared like wet paint.

No. I would not address this yet. Maybe it would go away. Two suns… “I am no one’s pet.”

“Ah,” she said, unconvinced.

“How do you know about Horse, anyway?”

“Oh, I knew him from a while back,” she said, thumbs in her belt, hands brushing her knife-handles. “We worked together for a bit – why else do you think the Salted Road went right to the front gate, eh? – but he got a bit possessive, you might say, and I’d had enough of that, thanks, so I scarpered. Wouldn’t you?”

I stared at her.

“Ah. Well. Wouldn’t you now that you can think in your own head-voice again?” she grinned and stuck out her tongue. A blue jewel gleamed in it, pierced through, an adornment I could neither comprehend nor take casually.

“Augh!” I said.

“That’s what your head-voice says?” she said, clicking her tongue once against her teeth. “You need some practice, mate.”

Two suns. Tongue piercings. What was going on? “How long has this world been here?” I found myself asking, somehow dredging Inka’s process and reasoning back to the fore. There were questions to be answered and mysteries to be solved. That mattered. Didn’t it?

She shrugged. “It was full of life even when we found it. I’d say at least twenty years, judging by the way rock erodes and things like that. There was an amazing dearth of dead things – you know what I mean; bodies are part of any landscape, feeding the flowers, sullying streams. But this world… well, it didn’t have any. The odd thing is, we haven’t brought over much, but it’s managed to fill itself to stuffed seams in the past few decades.”

Kannon had not created this world. And we could have all come here before, before the world we lived in died, and we could have taken the doomed residents of our world with us. Bitterness tasted like bile.

“Easy there,” she said, and handed me a purple flower. “Chew on that. It’ll calm your stomach.”

“How did you know -”

“I know the look of miserable digestion, brought on by someone being an idiot. Cheer up, mate! You’re here now. I’m here. Fun times are bound to come next, don’t you know.” She grinned.

Two suns. This… person. This whole world, filling itself with animals from unknown sources. “Among the Mythos, I am Night, known as the People of the Blood. And you are?”

“So formal.” She adopted a ridiculous accent, vaguely posh, and performed a demented and lopsided curtsy. “Mab. Just Mab. The rest doesn’t matter.”

Maja rose to the surface. “Classification and family structure do matter.”

“Nope.” She produced a stick of dried meat, bit off a chunk, and swallowed almost without chewing. “What matters is you. Who you are, what you do. The rest of it is just rotting clothes, but they never fully hide you from sight.”

And you are a Beast, whispered my hunger, my rage, my stifled and subjugated anger.

I’d feared that so many years ago.

I’d taken Horse’s word that I was not, that I was more, that I could be more if I chose.

This world had two suns. This impossible life flourished. And this Mab spoke something I felt was true so deeply it was as if I’d found those words written on me, under layers of soil and refuse, carved into my soul’s foundation, and if I filled them with blood, they would not be new, but only made clear.