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Quest of Three: Part Three

by schefflera


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 transportation.

     "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 fingernails.

     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...

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» Quest of Three: Part One
» Quest of Three: Part Two

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