Quest of Three: Part Three
Also by Dreagoddess
The three of them met again in Illusen's Glade a little
before dawn, where Illusen served a breakfast that featured flowers rather more
heavily than one might have expected. When they had finished eating, she led
them to where a tiny sapling was pushing its way out of the ground.
By the time it was four inches tall, it was clear
that it was not one sapling but three grown together in a strange braid.
"A unique plant," Darigan observed neutrally,
wondering what the faerie was up to. Illusen had said she could provide the
power and method for a (relatively) safe journey to the home of the Three and
back, and she had said (when he asked, at last, with as much tact as he could
muster, the price of her help) that she did it freely and of her own desire.
Still, even with an earth faerie involved, he couldn't quite see a tree as reliable
"When it's grown," Illusen said without taking
her eyes from it, "we shall each take hold of a part. It will assist our departure
and secure our route home."
"I hope," Darigan replied slowly, "that when
we return it will be with four of us."
She pointed to a more slender green stem that
had started to wind its way around the other three, now that they were nearly
two feet tall. "So do I."
The plants still looked decidedly feeble to Darigan,
but he reassured himself that he had wings. Not that he was entirely sure this
would do much good in the realm of the Three, but it was still something. "How
long will it take it to be grown, then?"
"Not long." Illusen stepped away from what was
now definitely beginning to resemble a tree, if a rather odd one, and went to
pick up her staff. "Shoulder-high should be enough." She smiled at the plant
as she came back over; it had sprouted more leaves, and they looked faintly
luminous. "Yes, this will do. Stop. Now, each take a branch."
There were only three branches, as if the three
stems -- just barely thick and brown enough to call trunks now -- had simply
made a right-angle turn at some point. The vine nestled around and among them.
Jeran stepped up, sword drawn in one paw, and
wrapped the other around one of the branches. Darigan somewhat uneasily did
the same. Illusen set a hand on each one's shoulder, and the ground buzzed under
their feet, before she went around and took her place at the third branch. "Ready?"
Darigan wasn't sure what to be ready FOR, so
he simply nodded. Jeran grinned at him and replied, "Ready."
And then the earth swallowed them.
Or, at least, there was the definite sensation
of sinking, and of the earth rising up around them, even though their feet seemed
to remain planted firmly on flat ground and the small tree was still in their
hands. But when the rising darkness closed over their heads and blocked out
the light, they were standing somewhere else entirely -- on flat ground, yes,
but without the carpet of grass, without sunlight -- and the tree was gone.
Darigan shifted his wings uncomfortably and glanced
at the empty space between them. "Was that supposed to happen?"
"Yes. I can reach it from here, but I didn't
think it terribly practical to require that we all make our way back to it."
Illusen scowled at the dark air. "I loathe this place already."
Darigan agreed with her, though silently. He
had thought his own land grown dismal with the curse, but this went far beyond.
The very air seemed to crawl in his throat.
"Really? I was thinking of building a summer
home here," Jeran observed, stepping forward with his sword held at ready. "Any
idea where we're to GO from here?"
Darigan tried to shake off the feeling of foreboding
-- they hadn't even met with any threat so far; it was surely unreasonable to
be disheartened already, and foolish when coming had been his own idea -- and
forced himself to speak. The air wasn't so thick as to prevent it after all.
"I think I could call them," he said, turning to look at the featureless landscape,
"but I am... reluctant to play the supplicant again."
"I should think so," Illusen said rather sharply.
"I can find another faerie, if need be."
Jeran half-bowed. "Then lead on, my lady. I'm
just the brute force on this mission anyway."
Illusen took two steps, the other two turning
to join her, and then halted abruptly as blackish-green mist thickened just
ahead and coalesced into three forms Darigan found all too familiar. For a second
he wondered if the other two would be able to see them or not -- they had not
usually been widely visible -- but as Jeran dropped into a fighting stance and
Illusen's upper lip curled, he was sure they did see.
The Three smiled.
"Welcome, Darigan," the dark faerie cooed. "We
knew you'd come."
The hooded Gelert planted the tip of his massive
broadsword in the ground and rested his hands on it comfortably. "Of course,
you won't be leaving us again," he rumbled.
"We must thank you," the Skeith added, the smile
spreading more broadly across his face as ice ran down Darigan's spine, "for
bringing these two here for us. We always... appreciate... new prey."
He'd brought them into a trap. Jeran was his
friend, willing to risk this battle on HIS word, and bring the faerie into it
too! And how had Darigan repaid them? Condemning them to this, to the
Three. He moaned softly.
Then Jeran laughed, the sound bright and clear
and rough, and somehow genuinely amused despite the oppressive atmosphere.
"Really, is that the best you can do?"
The Three all focused on the knight, looking
various degrees of miffed, and Darigan caught his breath again. "Do you think
we're jesting, pup?" the dark faerie asked with dangerous sweetness.
"You are a jest," Illusen said softly, "and not
a very good one. Ambition has a place, but not your sort. You tried to touch
my earth," a smile of her own, "and now we'll see what I can do with yours."
With no further preamble, she swung her tree-branch
staff in an arc that clouted the dark faerie across the temple. A deeper purple
blotch bloomed, her lovely face distorted, and the dark faerie leapt from earth
that suddenly roiled under her feet, blackness threading menacingly from her
When the faeries moved, it jolted the others
into action as well. The Gelert leapt for Jeran, who raised his sword in time
and pushed his attacker back. That left Darigan to face the Skeith, with a mind
far less clouded now than a moment ago.
"I've chewed your soul before," the Skeith
whispered, lumbering forward with the translucent flesh quivering disgustingly
over his bones.
"But never again," Darigan hissed. He forgot
the staff and let it drop not long after they closed on each other; he fell
on the Skeith with claws and teeth instead, tearing. Perhaps it was well that
he was not fighting Revenge.
Like all the "gifts" the Three had offered, Greed
left a foul taste in his mouth when he bit home.
The flat, fouled ground shook and rumbled under
them, but Darigan found his footing surer than he would have expected. Sword
clashed on sword hard enough to echo in teeth and breastbone, but when he could
see through the gray haze, he thought Jeran was holding his own. The Skeith
bit at Darigan while he was distracted and got a mouthful of mud instead of
flesh, though Darigan was fairly sure that hadn't been his own doing.
And then he thought for a while of nothing but
how best to strike at his opponent, vision narrowing to that and that only,
until he found himself kneeling over greenish-gray jelly and its faintly glowing
bones. The Skeith was still.
Jeran was just stepping back from a cloaked heap
and warily wiping off his sword, and Illusen... stood on a dark, wet patch in
the midst of torn-up ground.
"Is -- everyone well?" Darigan asked, panting
slightly as he rose cautiously from his vanquished opponent. He picked up his
unused staff without comment.
"No challenge at all," Jeran assured him, though
Darigan noticed the Lupe favoring his left side. "I notice they didn't bother
trying to persuade us to do anything this time."
"I only hope there was no further trick we didn't
see." Darigan shifted, watching their felled enemies. It couldn't be that simple.
The Three should be strongest here. Could it really be that in their true home,
where they belonged and ruled, they were vulnerable to purely physical battle?
"I think we did very well." Illusen brushed past
Jeran with a satisfied smile that looked about as reassuring to Darigan as the
dark faerie's had, though Jeran straightened a little more after she passed.
Earth faeries healed less than water faeries, but they were capable of it. "And
it seems we had an audience."
Darigan turned to follow her gaze and felt a
jolt of triumph that even tearing apart the Skeith hadn't provided. A dark-feathered
Eyrie lay huddled on the ground not too far off.
To be continued...