Awakening: Part Two
“How long has it been?”
“You asked this question twenty seconds ago.”
“How long has it been?”
“We left the Palace twenty-five hours, thirteen minutes and fifty-six seconds ago.”
“How much more d’you think we’ll have to wait?”
“How long has it been?”
“Twenty-five hours, fifteen minutes exactly.”
Dethrin subsided into a sullen silence, fidgeting and pacing, occasionally nibbling at the toast room service had sent up.
“Twenty-five hours, twenty minutes and fifty-nine seconds.”
“Er, Raven, that’s—”
“D’you still want that toast? We can save it for Massie... she likes toast, right? When Fyora finds her, we can give it to her... ”
“It’s not ‘when’.” Raven shoved her plate of toast at Dethrin. “It’s ‘if’. I’m not at all convinced Massie is still alive.”
Dethrin stared at Raven in wide-eyed horror.
The Uni ignored Annette’s dagger glare and continued, “It’s been more than a day. She’s probably starved to death.”
“It takes a while to starve...” Unconsciously, Dethrin picked up his nibbled piece of toast and started crumbling it.
“So much the worse.” Raven laughed shortly. “Dull pains, growing slowly sharper, gnawing, then slashing at your insides...”
“Pets can live for years on bread and water...” Dethrin protested. “Remember when we went to the Darigan Citadel? Those guys get nothing but bread and water, and they have to work besides. And lose at Cellblock.”
“What makes you think dark faeries like Jhudora have as much compassion as dungeon masters?”
“Well—she kidnapped Massie for a reason, didn’t she? So she has to keep her alive, to do... what... she needs to do... ”
“You’re right.” Raven pretended she couldn’t see the flames rise in Annette’s eyes. “She’s probably waiting for the right moment to drain her life force and—”
She ducked as a spike of fire leapt at her face.
“What is wrong with you?” Annette snapped. “Do you want Massie to be dead?!”
“I’m being realistic!” Raven snarled back at her. “If the Queen of the faeries hasn’t found all these missing pets, with all the power and resources at her command, do you honestly believe these pets are just lost?”
“No, I do not!” In the Peophin’s agitation, sparks went shooting from her hooves. “But if Jhudora really has done whatever it is that she means to do, do you think she’d still be so tame? Look at her cloud,” the Peophin gestured. “Silent as the grave.”
“The grave.” Raven mocked.
“Stop it!” Dethrin pushed between them as another bunch of sparks flared into existence.
“Let’s just... go and have a drink. Y’know... calm down.”
He sighed with relief as the sparks extinguished. That meant Annette was relaxing. Slightly.
The happy family had been sitting in a dark corner of the Sign of Three Flouds Inn and Tavern for an hour when the cloaked figure walked in.
Dethrin poked Raven and stared at the figure meaningfully, wildly exaggerating stealth in his attempt to spy.
Let’s wait until she leaves, and follow her, he mouthed, and ordered another can of Neocola.
Nursing her achyfi (or whatever it was) and temper, Raven waited for the figure to get up and leave. She had no desire to ever patronize this establishment ever again—the tables were sticky, the stools were uneven and rocked on the unswept floor. She had gotten her first drink, and no attempt had been made to refill it in the hour since. It amazed her that the owner could stay in business.
On top of that, the stone Flouds resting on top of each table were incredibly disturbing. It seemed as though their vacant eyes were staring right at her the entire time. Although, thinking on it, she could see how the presence pf the statuettes gaping at everyone would drive pets to drink more, so, she admitted grudgingly, that, at least, was a sound business decision.
“I think she’s leaving,” Dethrin stage-whispered. “Let’s get her!”
“And what if she decides to turn you into a deaf and dumb Snorkle?” Raven asked sarcastically.
Dethrin pulled up the hem of his shirt, a Cobrall Dagger gleaming. “Just to be on the safe side,” he said mysteriously, and made a great show of pulling his shirt down again.
“Your little dagger won’t hold against a spell,” Raven scoffed.
“A dagger always comes in handy,” the Zafara insisted. “Garin defeated a bunch of pirates with his trusty dagger.”
“That wasn’t a dagger, that was a Maractite blade.”
“We might as well take a blade along, then,” Dethrin offered. “There’s one hanging behind the bar.”
Annette urged them to move faster. “She’s almost out of sight.”
“Hey, you!” Dethrin shouted, running after the hooded faerie. “Yeah, you! Faerie! Jhudora!!!”
“What.” Her voice was surprisingly soft, like a piccolo blowing soapsuds. The tone was not encouraging, though.
“We want to ask you... something...”
“Lately—” Dethrin faltered, turned to Annette. Maybe his dagger really wasn’t much use. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life as a Snorkle. Snorkle Snouts were tasty.
Annette gave him a reassuring smile.
The faerie turned slightly. “What?”
“We—everyone—know, I mean think—you’ve been kidnapping pets and turning them into Snorkles.”
“Oh.” The voice was flat again. “Do they.” Indifferent. Relieved?
She turned to go.
“Where’s Massie?!” Dethrin demanded angrily. “What did you do with her? Are you really gonna drain her life force?”
Jhudora—for indeed it was she—whirled around, necklace sparkling in sinister greeting.
Maybe now I’ll get to fight a real, live faerie, Dethrin thought, reaching for his dagger.
Jets of green light flew at them, burning the air. Emerald serpents rising from the scorched air, hissing and spitting terror.
Dethrin screamed and raced past the dark faerie, into the inky safety of the night.
Annette uttered a low curse in mage tongue, and bounded after him.
As though pursued by an army of Sloth clones, they sprinted almost all the way back to the hotel. They did not stop until they reached a public fountain, where they greedily drank the cool, clear water flowing from the mouth of a marble Jetsam. Gradually they grew calmer. Finally, Annette, panting, said, “I guess that’s our answer.”
“Powerful faerie or not, she has no right to attack people,” Dethrin grumbled. “What were those things?”
“Puppets of her will, shaped from magic.” Annette shook her head. “I wonder what they were meant to do...”
“They were probably deadly,” the Zafara said knowingly, leaning over the edge of the fountain for another drink. “I’ll bet she wanted to kill us so we couldn’t tell anyone we were onto her.”
But suddenly he straightened up with a cry of anguish, “Oh! Help! One of them bit me! Help!” He writhed and twisted convulsively, a thin trickle of blood staining the fur on his right leg while Annette stared at him helplessly.
—Then something fell to the ground with a ringing sound. It was his dagger. During their wild flight it had slipped down, and as the Zafara stooped over, it had pricked him in the leg.
Annette started laughing, then stopped when she realized a voice was missing.
“Where’s Raven?” she asked, looking around in surprise.
There was no sign of the Uni. It was already dark, and the streets were nearly deserted. A gust of wind whipped up a billow of cloud in front of them. Around them, thunder boomed, heralding the arrival of a storm.
“Maybe she outran us and went straight back to the hotel?”
“What? Oh... maybe...” Annette shook her head skeptically. “Let’s get back.”
Raven had not been separated from her siblings because she had outstripped them. In fact, she had not even participated in the mad dash for safety. As a matter of absolute fact, she hadn’t even taken part in the encounter with Jhudora.
When Dethrin called out to Jhudora and went charging after her, bumbling idiot that he was, she had tried to follow, but found her way blocked by several large barrels labelled FROM MARAQUA WITH LOVE. By the time the workers had rolled the containers into a storeroom, the cloaked figure was almost entirely shrouded in night.
After a few moments of deliberation, Raven followed the faerie into the darkness.
The cobblestone streets that formed a lattice amid the buildings of Faerie City were designed to provide reinforced ground for pets to travel without risking falling through the clouds on which Faerieland had been built. The engineer who had designed the thoroughfares had done so with tourist season in mind; five faeries could easily walk abreast along the road. Still, the streets were often jammed, and would have made following the faerie without detection quite easy.
However, with a storm approaching, the streets were almost deserted, and Raven was forced to skulk in the shadows and hold her breath, tensing her wings so they wouldn’t rustle.
She was the epitome of the term shadowing, except for a brief moment when they passed by Jhudora’s Cloud. The faerie didn’t go in—Raven hesitated for a moment, glancing at Jhudora’s place of residence. A light was burning; did that mean someone else in the house? Did Jhudora purposely leave the light there, so people would assume she was there? Or... was this faerie not Jhudora?
She stumbled, cursed, and leapt onto a roof.
Then she realized she needn’t have bothered; the faerie’s face was raised to the stars and her wings were quivering, telltale signs of complicated spellwork. A hyper Skeith wouldn’t have bothered her.
Still, that was no reason to abandon caution and act like Dethrin, so the Uni kept a good distance behind and rarely looked directly at the faerie, though she kept her in her peripheral vision.
At the mouth of a dark alley, the faerie stopped dead. Raven’s heart skipped a beat—had the faerie been casting a spell of detection? Was she found out?
A faint—aroma, she supposed—slowly permeated the air. Perfume. Familiar perfume.
“My Lady.” The faerie bowed and paused. “Yes, my Lady. Many pets. Perhaps as many as a dozen—” Another pause. “Yes, all near the Cloud...”
Raven couldn’t hear the other half of the conversation. She assumed it was meant for the faerie’s ears only... and that probably meant something much bigger than just reports of missing pets.
“What do you mean, my Lady? Nobody—” Another pause. “Well, how was I to know?” Her voice was higher, frightened, now. “I was casting the Summoning spell, I didn’t—”
She whirled around and stared directly at Raven, her expression alarmed.
Raven snorted in surprise. This wasn’t Jhudora—or even a dark faerie. Her hair was purple, it was true, but her wings were delicate butterfly structures, her palms shimmering... golden.
Before her brain could process this startling information, a fog of deep purple—or was it black?—had surrounded her, so dark it burned the night.
I do not like spies.
Raven didn’t so much hear the voice as feel it in her very bones. She tensed her wings, ready for flight, but she couldn’t see or hear anything, only darkness...
And all she could feel was that familiar perfume...
Why do you spy on my minion?
Raven said nothing. She wasn’t sure she could speak, and even if she could, what did she know, really?
I do not have time to play these games with you, my dear Raven. So... goodbye.
The darkness caved in on her.
The last thing she remembered thinking was... How does she know my name?
To be continued...