While his breath caught in his throat, that same icy, heavy, and writhing feeling settled in his stomach once more. His mind began to swim dizzyingly with fear and confusion. This whole place was nothing but indissoluble confusion and entropy. Never before had he wanted to simply throw his hands up in defeat and be done with the reality he had been sent to.

                He took an unsteady breath and holstered his pistol. Marching toward the elf-creature, he willed the fear bubbling in his chest not to shake his voice or show on his face, and he set his expression into a stoic mask. The elf opened his eyes and took a tiny step backward. Good, Engle thought, I’m not the only one scared out of my mind. Somehow, the thought was comforting; he could use it to his advantage. He stopped in front of Lance, close enough to the elf, whose head barely came up to Engle's chest, to be uncomfortable. He stared unwaveringly down at Lance, and the elf stared back defiantly for a few beats before blinking, but his eyes did not lower.

                “How do you know?” Engle broke the silence. “And don’t lie to me,” he added, putting a hand up, “I’m not in the mood.”

                Lance’s eyes narrowed. “I can read minds, in a sense,” he said slowly.

                “So you can hear my thoughts?”

                “No. But you’re close. I can actually see the actions that people have experienced recently. Like a flashback, but with another person’s memories. I can’t know what people are thinking or what they felt during those actions.”

                No. No, no, no. He kept his face expressionless, but trembled inside. Lance knew where Lyric was. Not just who she was or how Engle knew her, but this elf actually knew her exact location and how to get to her. It was like he’d given Lance a visual map; the elf could follow it and know where he was without ever being there before. The thought made his stomach twist. He closed his eyes and tried to collect what little thoughts he could. He could not let Lance give out the information or use it in any way.

                He heard Lance shift slightly before him, and there was a slight pressure on the armor covering Engle’s shoulder. Engle harshly shook off the hand that had settled there and changed his mask into a contorted look of fury. He took a step closer to the elf. Lance took a step back in response, his colorless eyes widening. Engle noticed a small amount of shadow gathering around the elf’s hands. He’d have none of that. Engle balled his fist into the front of Lance’s armor and pulled the short elf closer. He held him there a moment, slowly letting the furious look fade back to stoic. Calmness could be a weapon just as well as fury.

                He sighed. “Listen, elf,” he said softly, “I have only a few options that I can think of here. One: I can kill you now. It wouldn’t be hard, and I think it would save me a hell of a lot of trouble. Or two: I can let you leave, but then I’d run the risk of being sold out. You hold information that I cannot afford to let wander, and you look like you might have loose lips. I don’t want you here," he glanced back at Heather, "and by the looks of it, neither does she." He paused, turning back. “I’m really leaning toward the former. You’ve put me in a bad situation.” He put a hand on the back of his pistol.

                More darkness began to coalesce around Lance’s hands. The black tendrils snaked down Engle’s arms, tearing his fingers from Lance’s armor and forcing him back a few steps. Engle struggled with the darkness that surrounded him; it felt like he was being crushed under the weight of something immense. The shadowy fingers tightened their hold and forced him down to his knees. He heard Lance chuckle.

                Where there was once fear, rage overwhelmed Engle’s senses. He would not die to a child learning to play with a power like a toy, and he would certainly not leave Lyric. He gritted his teeth and focused. The pressure of the shadows faltered for a second, and their power lessened faintly. The elf’s chuckle stopped, and Engle looked up to see surprise on Lance’s sharp features. Engle rose from his knees, trembling with the effort. The elf looked very angry now, and Engle gave a chuckle of his own; he would not be played so easily.

                Lance snarled at him and muttered something under his breath. A sheet of blackness rose from the ground at Engle’s feet. It encircled him and streaked skyward with a great whooshing sound. The air around him began to get thick, making it hard to breath. It became clouded inside the curtain of darkness, obscuring his view. He felt light-headed, and his whole body shook.

                “Stop!” A muffled scream sounded from behind him, and Engle barely recognized it from behind his oxygen-deprived mind. The pressure around him suddenly vanished, and fresh cool air washed around him. He gasped for breath, and fell to his hands and knees, panting and coughing.

                “I warned you before, wood nymph!” Engle glanced up to see Lance surrounded again in a massive snarl of writhing vines and roots. Heather stood at Engle’s side, her hands raised before her and a defiant look on her fair face. Engle whispered a silent thank you to the nymph.

                Lance struggled against the roots and growled. “Enough!” he shouted. Great scythes of darkness took shape at his sides and cleaved through the coiled vines fluidly. He threw his hands out to the sides and the vines were blasted away from him. Even Engle could hear the screams of the forest in response.

                Heather yelped and frantically began growing more vines and roots around the elf; however, where they touched him, the roots recoiled and quickly withered and died. Lance’s prior threat hung heavily in the air:

 "Faster than the wind, he moved in front of Heather and held her up by the neck with tendrils of darkness. ‘Do anything like that to me again, and I'll tear you apart. Are we clear, little wood nymph?’"

                Both of Lance’s hands shot out and more tendrils of darkness burst forth from his fingertips, all ten heading for Heather at once in a spiraling mass.

                “No!” Engle shouted. He pushed himself up from his hands and knees, reaching out to shove Heather as fast as possible. He bolted from his position as the shadows slammed into the ground where Heather had stood. He dodged around the twisting darkness, sprinting headlong at Lance. Engle curled his hands into fists, twisted his torso, and threw his full weight into the punch, catching the elf in the cheek. The shadows dropped from the air, and inert silence settled around them.

The End

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