Tatterwings: Part Three
The next day, Ioni quickly decided that the worst thing about the Haunted Woods was the mud. Here in the southern forest, there was lots of it – thick, sticky, nasty-smelling stuff that soaked her sandals and coated her feet and ankles. She had liked mud when she was an Earth Faerie, and even now she normally didn’t mind it, but the Haunted Woods had a way of making everything nastier than she had thought possible.
To take her mind off mud, she asked Lucine, “Do you know where we’re going?”
Lucine said, “Edna’s tower isn’t too far away from here... she’s said to be friendlier than others in this accursed wood, so I think we should start there. I doubt she will have the answers we seek, but she may know of someone who does.”
Rafe said, “To the tower, then. Ioni – maps!”
Ioni took their collection of maps out of her pack, and helped him locate their current position. He checked the compass. “Northwest, and we should be able to make it there before nightfall tonight. Hmm... not too far from Neovia. Maybe we should rent a room there – have a safe base of operations to fall back to. It’s not good to be wandering these woods at night... too many haunts about.”
Tolya snapped, “Shows how much you’ve been paying attention. Whenever we stay in a city or town too long, Jennumara gets wind of it!”
Lucine added apologetically, “She’s right, Rafe. We can’t risk being seen in the main streets of town like that. We might as well leave a letter for Jennumara telling her where we’re going.”
Ioni sighed as they started walking again. She was glad to be with fellow Faeries again – she really was! But being a Grey Faerie was hard enough without having to worry about a powerful Dark Faerie on their tails. We never had to worry about this before...
But Baelia never got the choice. Her only choice was whether to escape or stay a captive. The poor thing... Baelia wasn’t too much older than Ioni, but she was the most nervous, high-strung ball of anxiety that the former Earth Faerie had ever seen. The time she’d spent a captive and hunted had clearly taken a toll on her. She needs help. And I’d never sleep easy if Rafe and I backed out and left the four of them to their fates. I know that.
But with the mud on her feet and the cold air blowing right through her thin desert clothes, chilling her to the bone, it was hard to remember to stay kind.
Just as the sun was disappearing above the trees, they came to a tower amid the woodlands. Lucine strode up to the door and knocked, with Rafe close behind her.
Ioni approached the door as an aged voice called, “If you’re looking for those Fyora-forsaken glowing Slymooks, I haven’t seen the blasted things!”
Lucine called, “We are travelers, seeking shelter and direction.”
“Shelter? Are you out of your heads? I don’t...”
A stooped, elderly green Zafara opened the door, and her expression changed from irritation to astonishment. “Grey Faeries? Three of you? In the Haunted Woods? Oh, I want to hear this! Come in, come in!” she cackled.
Tavi whispered, “Is it safe?”
Ioni had heard of Edna in her wanderings. She replied, “As long as we keep on her good side, she won’t harm us.”
Edna cackled even louder. “Aye, no – I wouldn’t be so foolish as to turn a Grey Faerie into a Furwitch! You have enough troubles without me adding any!”
A short time later, they were seated around the fire in the second floor of the tower, above where Edna received people who wanted to find ingredients for her. Even though the fire glowed purple, it was warm, and Edna had given them warm clothes, blankets, and coffee. “I tell all the silly questing Neopians that I’m looking for potion ingredients... it sounds a good deal more interesting than telling them they’re my own personal delivery service. All the comforts of home, right to my door! Now,” she took a sip out of her own mug, “what brings three Grey Faeries, a warrior, a mage, and a young adventurer to my little tower?”
Tavi’s eyes widened. “How did you know...?”
The Zafara interrupted, “You carry the tools of the climber in your pack, the Ruki holds the staff of a magician, and the Lupe wears his sword like he knows how to use it. It takes no magic – only use of my eyes. Young people! Never looking at what’s in front of their faces!”
Tolya frowned. “Ma’am, you may call me...”
Edna interrupted again. “No! No names! It’s easy enough to guess that you’re hunted... the trembling Faerie has the mark of the Shadow Lady on her, and that one doesn’t let her prey go. That one uses shady magic – the magic of shadows, the magic of reflections – and it’s safe to guess she’s learned the subtle magic of names. Even sharing your names with someone may be enough for her to track you.”
Ioni leaned forward. “You know so much, ma’am...”
Edna folded her arms. “Including when I’m being flattered. Ask the question, dear.”
“Have you ever heard a way for Grey Faeries to reclaim their wings?”
Edna sighed. “I’ve heard rumors. The Dark Faeries have always done all they can to make sure that knowledge stays lost. The only things I’ve heard that I think are true are that it involves taking a new name and reclaiming something – I don’t know what – from the Faerie who took your wings.”
Ioni looked around at the others – Lucine’s and Baelia’s eyes were wide. She knew how they felt... she remembered the Darkest Faerie’s look of triumph as she stood over her, remembered the horrible shriveling feeling as she lost her magic and her color, remembered the wicked laughter and the malice in those red eyes as the Darkest Faerie watched her run away.
She never wanted to see Melanthe again. Never, ever again.
Rafe’s strong arm around her shoulders steadied her... once again, she was thankful for the steady, reliable Lupe she’d befriended. Grey Faeries were altogether too prone to brooding and melancholy – it was Rafe who kept her grounded when the horrid memories threatened to paralyze her.
Edna continued, “It’s not the type of knowledge readily shared... all the Dark Faeries flocking around here don’t want their mischief being undone. But there are a few who might know. Gorunda the Wise has many secrets others have forgotten. And Ilere of the Woods is as knowledgeable as she is elusive. While it is not good to disturb her lightly, Grey Faeries might stir her pity enough for her to help you.”
Lucine drew herself up to her full height. “We need no pity.”
Edna cackled. “You’re on the bottom rung. You need any advantage you can get, my haughty ma’am.”
Tolya urged, “We should leave at first light... start searching for both of them in the hopes of finding one.”
Rafe argued, “We’re finally in a safe place. I think that, if milady Edna will let us stay, we should rest here for a few days.”
Tolya said, “We don’t have a few days! Jennumara could find us again at any time!”
Edna shook her head. “No – her shadows have no woodcraft, for she has none to give them. As long as you are under the trees, she may be able to find you, but she won’t be able to send her minions to catch you. And in my tower, my own spells prevent even that. Remain a day or two, little wanderers – rest won’t be as easy to come by out in the dark hollows!”
They slept in Edna’s sitting room that night. It was already close to noon when they heard a pounding on the door below. They heard Edna walk down the stairs and call, “Who is it?”
A deep voice shouted, “Let me in! Bad news! Very bad!”
Ioni was curious... she slipped out of her seat to see who the visitor was. Tavi followed her, even as Baelia motioned for them to stay back. But by the time they got to the door, Edna came in, leading a gigantic, misshapen blue Gelert.
She sat and folded her arms. The Gelert stood before her, completely dwarfing her, but it was clear to Ioni that Edna was in charge. “Now, Bruno, did Sophie send you?”
He was breathing heavily, but replied, “Yes, ma’am.”
Edna asked with a scowl, “What’s the young busybody want?”
“To... warn you. Archos and the Rabble are... coming straight here. Tracking... Grey Faeries.”
Archos? Ioni had never heard the name, but Rafe and Edna clearly knew it. Rafe’s yellow eyes widened. “Sweet Fyora, we’re doomed!”
Tavi asked, “Who? Who is Archos?”
The Lupe said, “I’ve just heard of him – I’ve had the luck to never meet him. He’s a warlord in these parts – a mercenary with a small army behind him. And every last one of them is crazier than a pack of Werelupes howling at the moon.”
Tolya asked, “Have anything helpful to offer?”
Rafe snarled, “Why don’t you go out and confront Archos and all his fighters yourself, then? I’m just explaining the problem!”
Lucine snapped, “Silence, both of you! This isn’t helping – we have to leave here, now!”
Ioni thought for a few seconds. “Madame Edna, do you have any ideas?”
Edna smiled. “Here’s a clever one. As a matter of fact, I do. Bruno is aware of a few of Ilere’s hideaways... his sister Sophie’s a witch, and has worked with the Faerie. Bruno, would you mind helping them find Ilere?”
Baelia said, “I’d be very grateful. We... we all would.” The big-eyed Faerie looked around. “I... I think it seems likely that Jennumara has a part in sending this Archos after us.”
Edna nodded. “Probably. Time is of the essence... gather your things. I have coats and boots that should fit all of you, and Bruno, you have your own gear.”
The massive Gelert asked, “Would it be too hard for you to distract them? Make them think the faeries are here?”
Edna cackled. “What sort of witch do you think I am? Even Sophie could manage a few illusory Grey Faeries!”
Bruno looked slightly offended, but he didn’t say a word.
A short time later, Edna shooed the three faeries and four mortals out the door. “Go! Go! Quickly!” But then she smiled as Ioni looked back. “And come and see me once you have your wings again... I’d like to know this wasn’t for naught!”
Ioni hoped she would be able to... she liked the eccentric old Zafara.
And coming to visit would mean that they had survived the nasty situation that they had landed in, that currently had no foreseeable escape route.
I really have no idea what we’re going to do... except get caught. We’re goners.
To be continued...