There are ants in my Lucky Green Boots Circulation: 96,497,777 Issue: 189 | 6th day of Hunting, Y7
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Quest of Three: Part Four


by schefflera

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Darigan's triumph at finding Kass was overshadowed swiftly by concern. The former general sat up when they started toward him, but he stared blankly past them... and the Three might be gone, but he was chained.

     Still, chains could be broken.

     The steady blank gaze was unnerving enough though, that Darigan glanced back over his shoulder on the way to his former general.

     The remains of their foes had disappeared.

     "We'll have you free of that in no time, my friend," Darigan said reassuringly as he approached the Eyrie. "I've come to bring you home."

     That at least got some response; for a moment Kass stared blankly at him instead of past. Darigan tried to quell a jolt of foreboding and leaned closer to look at the chains.

     They did nothing to make him feel better. They ran from the ground up to Kass's wrists and ankles and throat, but not to manacles or a collar. They blurred into fur and feathers and disappeared into the flesh, over veins, as if they ran straight into his blood.

     Darigan touched the hollow of his own throat uneasily and swallowed; he could almost feel --

     Too much imagination, surely.

     He reached to take one of the chains in hand, grasping it gently so as not to tug at the entrance points. He needn't have been careful; his hand went right through it.

     The only effect he seemed to have was making Kass jerk suddenly, though the blank look never left his eyes. Jeran bent forward to examine the chains as well, leaning around Darigan's shoulder. Darigan absently folded his wing back out of the way. "Does this look familiar at all to you?" Jeran asked. "I've never seen anything like it."

     "I have--" Darigan had been going to say "haven't," but the word caught on a bit of thick mist inside his throat. He coughed. "I... don't think I have." But the image burned in his mind of just such a chain, heavy and dark, hanging down or running into gray skin. His own. He could almost feel the ache at his throat, at his joints. This chain had only gone through his hand, he told himself. It was clearly magic, but quiescent, not likely to jump from Kass and latch onto him. The problem was getting it off Kass at all.

     "But I believe," Darigan went on slowly, "that these are part magic and part...." He trailed off. That was it. That must be why touching it had felt so strange. "Part despair," he said quietly and now more surely, "and defeat. That's why they run into his veins: they feed from his heart."

     "I could counter the magic alone," Illusen said, frowning. "Set up in that way, though... we'll need to reach him. He's the only one who can break them."

     On impulse, Darigan left the chains and caught up both Kass's hands in his, throwing himself down to his knees before the chained Eyrie. "Kass. I tried to tell you before that the power the Three hold over you is what you give them. I have shown you that they can't keep their hold when denied; we've shown you just now that they can be beaten. You owe them nothing, Kass. They only ever gave anything that you might do their bidding. Be free; cast them off and be yourself!"

     Something flickered in Kass's eyes -- recognition, confusion. Fear. He finally blinked, then blinked again more slowly and started to shake his head.

     Then Darigan heard Jeran draw his sword, and a second later a faerie's low laugh. "Be free?" said a too-familiar voice, still laughing. "We cannot hold what we are denied?"

     Footsteps, circling, and he looked up to see that Jeran and Illusen had moved to either side of him and Kass, to stand guard. Beyond them the Three paced, looking none the worse for wear.

     "You think you escaped us?" the Gelert boomed. "You tell him that you cast us off?"

     "We'll tell you a secret now." The Skeith grinned toothily and leaned in; Jeran moved his sword to block the way, and the Skeith leaned deliberately through it. "Don't you want to hear it?"

     Darigan did not. Their voices made his flesh crawl; his ears were furling involuntarily, trying to block them out. He sat frozen.

     "We threw you out," the dark faerie told him sweetly. "Like garbage. Or chewed gum."

     "We had you all to ourselves," the Skeith explained. "As long as we wanted. You knew we would, when you lost control of the Orb."

     The Gelert swung his sword lightly toward Darigan, who tensed but kept still. The point passed through his shoulder intangibly. The Gelert scowled. "Nobody was foolish enough to come looking for you."

     "You paid the price for the power we lent you and for your failure," the dark faerie purred. Darigan could almost feel the fury flowing off Illusen; it was unsettling and could almost distract him from the feeling that the other faerie's honeyed words were to be a condiment for a new feast. The ground rippled under his feet and outward, toward the Three.

     "Paid and paid," the Skeith said rather dreamily. "We fed on you." He passed behind Kass, walking through a hedge of thorns as if it weren't there, and almost absent-mindedly sank his teeth into a wing in passing.

     The dark faerie took his place and set her hands on Kass's shoulders, digging long nails in as she leaned over him into Darigan's face. "We fed on you as we feed on this Eyrie now. We fed on you until there was nothing left, no flavor. And when you had forgotten all you were, forgotten everything but dread and despair and then forgotten what they meant...." She straightened, raking her claws back until Kass screeched. "When you were nothing, we cast you away. Trash."

     Darigan tried to speak through a mouth gone dry, but he couldn't shape the words. Were they right? He remembered now, remembered being here, their prey. He'd not escaped, a prisoner breaking his shackles. He'd been exhausted, drained, spent and thrown away. He'd been mindless, roaming and eating and not remembering anything he'd previously cared about. He'd been... a thing. Nothing. A husk. A doll, formed in the proper shape but devoid of life, like a child's plaything....

     ...A child.

     ...Sally.

     Sally had shown him. She had shown him the truth again, the mind hidden in the darkness. She had shown him kindness when even as the Bat-Thing he had deserved only harm. She had gone hungry, which he hadn't had the wit to realize at the time, to share her meals with him. She had hidden him from her parents, from her village, and given him a chance.

     Darigan snarled at the faerie and struck her hands away from Kass with his staff. "You fed on me, until I believed what you claimed, that I was nothing. But I was wrong. YOU were wrong. You only THOUGHT you destroyed everything I was, but a mere child could surpass your great and wondrous skills. You didn't defeat me, and you will NOT DEFEAT HIM!"

     "That child made you her toy in turn, and you were so grateful to her for it that you turned on your own for her sake!" the Gelert spat. His sword lashed out, went through Jeran's weapon and arm, and struck the edge of Darigan's braced wing. It stopped, a thin line of blood welling against the blade -- and then suddenly plunged through with no resistance, sending the Gelert stumbling.

     "She showed me kindness and mercy with no more reason than my need and her own will and nature." Darigan's voice was hard and even; he spoke to the Three, but his eyes were on Kass. "I turned on those who already had turned against me, but I was glad to have them back in the end."

     "Face it," Jeran said drily, sword at the ready even though it might not be able to touch the Three again. "There's more to him than you thought."

     "He was trash! Garbage!" the dark faerie screeched. "Both of them, nothing but trash --"

     "Why so eager to get your talons in them again, then?" Illusen snapped.

     The Skeith growled, "They are also ours."

     Kass's eyes were far clearer now, if still confused. "I wasn't, once," he whispered hoarsely. "I was a good general...." He swallowed and continued in a slightly more intelligible croak as the Three began circling faster. "And I -- I prefer the master who does know what mercy is. Begone from me!" His voice broke entirely, into a squawk at the end, but the chains fell away and dissolved into nothing on the ground.

     Darigan reached over and put a hand on Kass's shoulder. "Better a friend than a master at all," he said quietly. Then he glared at the Three. "You'll not have him either, and no one else in my land if I have anything to say about it. You've lost."

     The Three snarled back at him, enraged, but withdrew beyond the encircling hedge.

     "I think we've all had quite enough of you," Illusen announced. "Everyone hold tight."

     They didn't have time to ask what they were supposed to hold on to before the earth rose up rushing around them again.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


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



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