Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 123,710,650 Issue: 248 | 14th day of Swimming, Y8
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The Price of Faith: Part Five

by mutedsanity


We knew that Meridell, of all places, wouldn't fancy seeing a Darkness Faerie wandering about their town. And nobody would believe that I was just there to browse. So Radom and I agreed that getting this over quickly would be the best course of action, and to lie as low as possible would be wise of us as we searched the area. But easier said than done. I didn't exactly look subtle, now did I?

     We settled for the best we could do. I dug out the coat and scarf I had used in the snow, wrapped the scarf loosely around my head like a shawl so that it shrouded my face as best it could, and I slung the coat over my shoulders. Pressing my wings down as tightly as I could to my back and with the coat covering them, it was at least a little better. But still, this certainly wasn't inconspicuous dress, and I would get too hot quickly. But that was the least of my problems right now.

     We went to the first reflective surface we could find, which was a still stream a short ways into the forest, and I stared blankly down at my reflection. I looked ridiculous. But it was the best we could do. At any rate, I could only hope we wouldn't be out here long.

     Radom leaned over the shallow water beside me and grinned into the glassy surface. "You want cute? Check this out." He wiggled his eyebrows and struck a few poses with his head at his reflection.

     I rolled my eyes and pulled the coat a bit more tightly over me to hide my odd grey-toned skin as best I could. "Thanks for rubbing it in."

     He looked up at me and laughed, that careless grin of his painted brightly on his face. "You look fine."

     "I didn't ask," I muttered, rolling my eyes again as I turned away from the water and adjusted the knapsack over my shoulder. "Let's just get this over with."

     "You got it. I guess if you're going to publicly humiliate yourself, it ought to be brief, eh?"

     I don't think he caught the look I gave him, as he had turned and started off toward where the trees parted a moment later. I followed, and soon we were looking down on the sun-baked Meridell once again. We didn't need any exchange of words to decide what to do next. I just followed Radom as he wound down the hillside, snaking through patches of wild flowers and trotting through tall grass that reached my knees and thus most of his legs. For some reason, I avoided stepping on any of the flowers.

     We wove around the town below as best we could, so that when the ground leveled out we were at the far edge of town, on the opposite end of the castle. We figured the last thing we needed was to make ourselves known there, of all places.

     At one point I paused to inquire nervously, "What are they like?"

     Radom only glanced back at me and smirked. "They're normal. Terrifyingly normal." And that was that.

     And so we started. We combed through one half of the town, working our way down, trying to remain at low profile and avoid as many people as we could through the stalls set up selling fruit, vegetables, berries, and used goods. There were cozy cottages and shops speckling our way, with stone or brick walls and thatched roofs. We steered clear of the heart of the activity as best we could, hurrying through townsfolk haggling and living their lives. Occasionally someone would glance my way or give me a strange look, but I would never stay long enough to see their reactions.

     We had made our way through most of the main marketplaces of Meridell, with no signs of the Crystal. So we slowly made our way further into the sprawling fields of crops and farming areas. There were far fewer people here, just folks planting or tending to their plants, groups of children playing here and there, the occasional people selling their harvest. I liked it better back here. I was far less tense than around all of those crowds from before, and it was so much quieter out in the country area.

     At one point, however, I just about jumped out of my skin as someone called out to us. "Hey! You there!"

     Freezing, I forced myself to look over my shoulder, ready to break out running if need be. Radom stopped as well, though, as always, was terribly nonchalant about it. To my relief, it wasn't a crowd of people with torches and pitchforks like I had wildly imagined, but a lone Blue Wocky. He was a scruffy thing, young, and had a crude table built of wood that provided a place for a pile of potatoes to sit off the dirt path.

     He leaned on his shovel and inclined his head toward his potatoes. "Wanna buy a potato, lady?"

     Radom grinned at him, an extra-broad one to well outdo my lack of even trying. "No thanks."

     "We're in a hurry," I added, a little more curtly than I had intended.

     The Wocky gave me such a look it alone could have been enough to make me buy that whole table. But I couldn't, even if I wanted to, and before I knew what I was doing I had glared right back and turned on my heels to leave.

     I had only taken a few steps before I felt something hit the back of my head. "Cheapskate!" I glanced back to see that I had just been hit with a potato, and the kid was lifting his arm to throw another one, glaring at me.

     I just couldn't get a break, could I? "Why you little---"

     "Pandoooora," Radom interrupted in a sing-song voice, his eyebrows slowly arching.

     I stopped. Sighed. He was right, as usual. The last thing I wanted to do was attract attention. So I bit my tongue and turned away, quickly bustling off, glancing over my shoulder one more time. I looked just in time to see the kid tossing a potato, but Radom effortlessly catching it in his mouth and trotting after me.

     "Well, that was a bit dramatic," I muttered out of the corner of my mouth to the Brown Lupe, who only returned it with a smirk.

     We trailed along the sun-basking fields and dirt paths with overflowing plants flanking our way, me constantly consulting the Crystal to see if it was glowing any brighter. Eventually, we had made our way out onto the outskirts of Meridell, and I found myself staring at the looming frame of the Darigan Citadel in the distance.

     My heart sank. "Don't you dare say it."

     "Looks like we won't have to."

     I glanced at Radom, just about ready to have a heart attack, but his gaze was set on my hand. I followed it and found that the Crystal's glow was still very dull. And I couldn't help but let out a sight of relief. That meant it wasn't up there, thank Fyora.

     Still, that meant we must have missed it somewhere down the line. We decided that it was, indeed, glowing a bit more back in town, so that meant chances are it wasn't way out here. So that meant it was on the busy side of Meridell that we had been avoiding, or somewhere in the sprawling forests surrounding us.

     Neither one sounded terribly appealing to me. But we set back the way we had come, Radom insisting that I eat the raw potato he had taken from the Wocky kid, and although it was disgusting, I did. By the time we had made it back into town and away from all the places we had already looked, I was exhausted and hungry. We had been on our feet all day, and with no luck.

     "Well, wish me luck," I muttered, making sure my wings and face were hidden well enough, even though I was quite hot walking all day in all of that. I was sweating and panting a little, but we pressed on.

     And into the marketplace we went. From the first step every nerve in me was on edge. There were so many people, and every one we passed directed their attention to us. People on all sides stood in their stands and shops, selling this and that, all trying in vain to get me to come their way. There were people everywhere, and by the time we had made our way through, I was surprised I hadn't hyperventilated. I jolted at every touch, shrunk under every gaze, and no doubt was not keeping the low profile that I wanted to. And each "mother" or "father" I overhead from a child twisted the blade of my homesickness.

     After what seemed like ages of wandering aimlessly through the crowds, Radom finally muttered out of the corner of his mouth to me, "Let's get out of here." It didn't take a genius to see that this was a little much.

     More than happily I complied, skittering in the first direction that I saw the shops part. I held my breath and had to keep myself from running, but soon the stands and shops stopped, and gave way to open grass once more. I staggered a little and started breathing like the world was running out of air.

     There were still people around, of course-we were in the heart of Meridell-but that sea of bodies in the stalls just about gave me a heart attack. "I think you're trying to kill me," I whimpered, turning an uptight look on Radom. And still no Crystal. I was beginning to think it wasn't here at all.

     "Nope. But if that didn't, I think this will..." He trailed off, and I didn't like that almost brutally ironic grin on his face, as if to say "Eheh..." His eyes were on my hand. I tensed up, already knowing.

     I slowly lifted my hand and looked down at the Crystal chunk that had been clenched in my fist. It was glowing a lot more than it had been before. I hadn't taken much more than a little glance in the marketplace, but here it was glowing more, I could swear. Now why that look? I dreaded to know. Slowly, I lifted my gaze. And saw one of the last things I wanted to see.

     A short walk ahead, towering above all else, banners unfurled in the warm breeze, sunlight framed behind its towering frame, sat the Meridell castle. I might as well have written myself a death sentence right there.

     I could only stare in a stupefied silence for a moment, and then just about choked my words out. "We have to go in THERE?!"

     "Looks that way, doesn't it?" Radom replied casually, glancing at the Crystal once more, and then at the castle. He nodded a few times absently, as though confirming it.

     "But-but we can't get in THERE! There are bound to be guards everywhere-not to mention that crazy old king-and they must hate my kind even more here, what with that Earth Faerie living here and the feud with Darigan and all! How could we possibly get in and out unnoticed? It's impossible! Guards, all those people, needing to comb through every last room just to find the Crystal without being caught!"

     He had smiled in that strange little way of his. "So what's the impossible part?"

     "Radom!" I heaved an exasperated sigh, the full weight of how exhausted I was really hitting me.


     "This is insane! And don't even start with that 'I have a plan' thing! Because it won't work!" I snapped, but stopped suddenly at how his grin faded.

     Radom just stared up at me, as almost hauntingly calm as usual. "Oh, just shut up and let me finish. You can shout at me afterwards."

     Needless to say, I did. I watched him uncertainly, biting my bottom lip. I know I shouldn't have gotten angry with him. He was just trying to help.

     "I know things seem bad. And I promise you, this won't be the worst of it. The Snowager will be nothing compared to some of the things that are bound to happen. And someday you'll look back on this day and be amazed at how high-strung you were. There will be worse. I promise you that."

     I could have snapped something back. But I didn't. It took me a moment, but that slowly sunk in. And that wise look in his eyes... almost like he knew... It was so strange. He was right. This was only the second Crystal I would have to get, and have many more waiting for me in even more dangerous places and with more dangerous people. If I couldn't even get through this, I was hopeless.

     "And I know it's hard... but you have to keep faith. Keep hope," Radom added, that eerie understanding in his bright eyes forcing my gaze to my boots. "When you lose your hope, Pandora... it is like dropping your necklace down a well. The only way you can get it back is to fall in after it." He paused for a moment. Just watched me in silence. "Okay, I've finished. You can shout at me now."

     But I couldn't shout. I couldn't even whisper right now. How could he always have that weird little smirk on his face, and then say such wise things? How could he know so much? How could he always be right like that? His words always managed to get to me. To really make me think.

     "But..." I managed, forcing my gaze back to meet with his, though they could never match. "But how can we do this?"

     "We'll find a way, Pandora. I always do. So would you... please... try to trust me just a little bit more?"

     I cursed myself for being so unused to the real world. I had never even been around anyone other than scornful Faeries and Fyora before, so any kind of friend was unusual, but especially with Radom, with some of the most meaningful things to say I had ever heard from anybody. I could only stare in silence for a moment, and then slowly lowered my gaze once more, my voice lowering with it. "Radom, I... I do..." And why shouldn't I? He had done nothing but help me, when he had no reason to. I owed him my life twenty times over. "I'm sorry... You're right..." I looked back up at him, and couldn't help but smile faintly as I saw a soft smile on his face. "Now... you can get us inside quickly, then?"

     "Well, I haven't learned how to use a magic wand yet, but I've got the next best thing," he replied, that same old Radom grin returning. He glanced ahead at the castle, and I followed his gaze, sensing a plot already.

     As he pondered for a moment, my eyes grazed across the width of the castle, taking in those towering walls, those barred windows, the foreboding moat surrounding it, that huge drawbridge that was often lowered, but we couldn't just waltz on inside. Letting out a faint sigh, I muttered, "This can't get any worse..."

     "Hey! You there!"

     I froze up as somebody yelled behind us. Oh no. Wheeling myself around, I found myself staring at a burly Draik guard rushing over to us, clad in silver armor that shone in the afternoon sunlight and wielding a glinting spear. Before I could do anything, he was almost upon us. "What are you doing?" he snapped, stopping right in front of us. And suddenly, I knew he knew. My wings had been relaxed. He must have seen. Before I could react, he had yanked the scarf off my head, my hair flowing out around a face that clearly belonged to a Darkness Faerie, violet eyes wide.

     "A DARKNESS FAERIE!" It all happened so fast. He brought his fist around with enough force to break my jaw, and I tried to brace myself, certain the blow would fall with brutal force, but once again my faithful protector was there close at hand. In a blur of brown, Radom had shot in front of me and thrown himself into the Draik, knocking him back with alarming force and just narrowly saving me.

     I staggered back in alarm, staring at the brief scuffle that unfolded, and in a moment Radom and the Draik were standing across from one another, both poised for any motion. Radom's back was faced toward me, as he stood defensively in front of me, and I could see his ears lower and muscles tense.

     "How dare you," the guard growled, his eyes narrowing and claws tensing as he held his spear threateningly in front of him. "Get out of my way, Lupe, or you'll be short a limb."

     "Mm, well, I would so hate to lose a leg. But I like them just fine where they are, thanks," Radom replied nonchalantly, to my despair, and I knew without seeing that he must be smirking at this angry fellow.

     "Radom!" I squealed, my eyes wide. He was going to get himself killed! And for me!

     He glanced briefly over his shoulder at me, and the certainty in his eyes was alarming. "You go," was all he managed to say, before he had to look back at my squeal when the guard came at him. He dodged and sent me stumbling back, horrified.

     ME go? But what was I supposed to do? I wouldn't even know where to start! And I couldn't just leave him here! But I had to tell myself that Radom, of all people, knew what he was doing and could take care of himself. And what other choice did I have?

     Radom dodged a swing and slunk closer to the guard. "I'll end this!" I couldn't help but grit my teeth at how overly heroic that was, as if he wasn't even taking THIS seriously. He lunged forward, snatched a dagger off the guard's waist in his muzzle, and ducked under another swing of an angry spear. He paused, his eyes flicking down to the tiny blade he now held. But then he grinned sheepishly and looked back at the guard. "But not with that."

     The urge to kick him had to be suppressed. Instead, I seized this distraction as the opportune moment to act, and bolted. Leaving Radom and the Draik behind me, I sprinted as fast as I could over to the castle, adrenaline all that was keeping me from collapsing. As I raced around the moat, I looked up at the wildly passing white walls, my eyes scanning them desperately for a way in. Then I saw it. An opened window, way up high on the wall. My one chance.

     Without thinking about what I was doing, I staggered to a halt, just barely keeping from falling over, and pulled my knapsack down from where I had been tightly clutching it over my shoulder. I wrenched it opened and shoved my scarf inside, and after shrugging off my coat, stuffed that inside too. Now without any cover, my wings were free. Securing the bag and clutching it to my chest, I shoved the Crystal into my pocket and took one last look up at where I had to go.

     Then I spread my wings, stretching them both out to their huge full span, and took a deep breath. Well, you had to give me credit for being out of my mind, if nothing else. I beat my wings fiercely, and soon my feet had lifted off the ground. Steadily rising, I clung to my bag for dear life and ventured a glance down. That water looked awfully deep to me, and farther and farther away. I gulped and willed myself to look away, instead looking to the side as I rose, to where Radom was.

     I could just barely see them past a round of the castle wall, but there they were, Radom and the Draik in the grass far below. Radom had abandoned the tiny dagger, and was now unarmed against a furious guard that brandished his large spear at the Lupe. I could almost picture Radom's yellow eyes sparkling with humor as the Draik swung the weapon. He sidestepped gracefully, and then grinned in the face of his rage. Before the Draik could come around again with another stroke, Radom retreated rapidly and stepped spryly over a clump of stones, well out of the spear's reach. He could hold his own plenty well, I knew. But he was bound to slip up eventually, and to my horror, I heard the Draik blowing on a shrill whistle. He was calling for help. I had to do this incredibly quickly, I knew, or we were both doomed.

     My heart pounding in my ears, I scaled the wall as fast as my beating wings would carry me, and soon enough had reached the opened window. It was plenty big enough for me, to my relief, and I grabbed the ledge when I was close enough, pulling myself into a kneel on it as I re-settled my wings on my back. I cautiously peered inside, not daring looking back at the drop below me, and to my relief I was alone. The window led into a long hallway bordered in portraits and lined with many wooden doors on either side. I groaned miserably as I hoisted myself inside, letting my boots quietly touch down on the ground. Well, I was in. But this place was so huge, I had no idea where to start, and not much time at all to do it.

     Slinging my knapsack over my shoulder once more, I drew the Crystal out of my pocket and stared for a moment. It lay a hunk of cold gem in my palm, glowing a mild whitish-yellow and with the tiniest bit of warmth radiating from it. It was in here, that was for sure. But where?

     I started down the hallway, stepping as softly as I could and keeping ever-aware of my surroundings, holding out my hand with the Crystal to guide me. But, before I had gotten too far, it seemed that Radom's little scene outside had already drifted to a few other people that must have gone to help the guard or heard him calling, as a voice made me jolt when I heard it yelling far down the hall, "There's a Darkness Faerie in the castle!"

     In a panic, I threw myself through the first wooden door I saw, and shut it quickly behind me when I had staggered through. I started to sigh, but it caught in my throat as I looked up. Of course. Just my luck. I found myself staring at the bewildered faces of a few guards sitting around a wooden table in the stone room, playing a card game.

     There was a long moment of silence. Then, just as I scrambled wildly for the door, the three of them had leapt up and grabbed me. Two of them grabbed my arms and hoisted me up, and the third had drawn a dagger and held it toward me threateningly, in case I tried to pull anything. Unfortunately for me, I was a pretty pitiful excuse for a Faerie, and chances were my magic wouldn't get me out of there in one piece.

     "What is she doing in here?" one of them exclaimed, bewildered.

     The other two gave me an equally staggered look. They mumbled among themselves for a moment, before one brilliantly concluded, "We should hold her in the dungeons until we talk to the king and figure out what to do with her."

     The other two nodded automatically in agreement, just relieved that they didn't have to take out a Darkness Faerie on their own, I would imagine. Before I knew it, they had dragged me out into the hallway, the knife looming in front of me keeping me from doing what little I might be capable of anyway. We swept through hallway after hallway, corridor after another, my dread ever-growing. How could I have been so careless? And, more importantly, where was Radom now?

     Soon, we reached the dungeons, a dank and dark place that stunk and made the air seem heavy. It was all made of cold stone, rows of barred cells lining the walls, some with chains and whatnot hanging from the walls. I was thrown into a random one, re-locked once I was inside, and before I knew it I was alone again.

     The ground was cold and hard, and the only light in the whole area was coming from a tiny, barred window across from my cell, which shed a fading amount of light from the setting sun into the shadowy and eerie dungeons. I could hear water dripping from the ceiling, and everything was damp and dank.

     I had to keep myself from panicking again. NOW what could I do? Heaving a wavering sigh, I slumped against the wall, dropping my knapsack and standing there in a limp helplessness for a moment. I slowly slid down the wall until I was sitting on the cold ground, leaning my head and back against the wall and staring at the one tiny window. It was so silent in here, just the slow dripping of water and my own heartbeat.

     But then, the more I sat in silence, I could have sworn I heard something. And then I did for sure. Steady breathing mingling with my own. I shrieked and leapt onto my feet, my eyes widening as I looked wildly around for the source.

     Luckily for me, being what I was, I could see in the dark quite well. My eyes settled on a figure in the corner of the cell, and I tensed up as they slowly rose. But, as if to taunt me with how anticlimactic it all was, they rose to not even half my height. And I realized with a sudden urge to laugh that it was that young Blue Wocky from before, the one that had thrown potatoes at me, his fur dirty and eyes narrowed.

     "Oh, it's just you," I breathed out, slumping back against the wall and resting my forehead in my hand. "You scared me."

     "What's that supposed to mean?" he snapped, scoffing and crossing his arms indignantly.

     I just shook my head. "What are you doing in here?" I figured I needn't bother explaining my reasoning. He would see soon enough.

     "Well, if you MUST know, I went to town shortly after YOU came by my potato stand, and while I was in the marketplace, I found this pretty gem on sale for WAY too much money. So I-well, I took it, but the stupid lady made a big deal about it. And next thing I knew I was fighting with a guard and ended up in here until they sorted everything out, I guess." He rolled his eyes and wrinkled his nose in distaste. "And what did YOU do?"

     But I was just staring at him in disbelief. "... What? What did you say you stole?"

     "A gem. Why?"

     "Let me see it," I said sharply, moving toward him abruptly.

     "No! It's mine! You--" But he stopped dead as I came closer and he got a good look at me. At my dull grey skin, my wings. "You-you're a--" he stammered, staging into the wall behind him in horror.

     But his realization was the last thing on my mind. "Let me see it!" I snapped, reaching out for him, but he shrieked and ducked my hand.

     I suddenly couldn't believe how afraid he had become. He cowered against the wall, and was backing himself up against it as if to get as far away from me as possible. "Alright, alright! You can have it! I just wanted to sell it!" He fished something out of his pocket and threw it on the ground, where it clinked on stone and rolled over to my feet.

     I couldn't believe it. At my feet sat a Crystal, in a broad leaf-like shape, glowing a bright green. The Wocky was staring at it, clearly never having seen it do that before. I was in shock for a moment. It couldn't be this easy. It just couldn't. And how against my terrible luck was this span of coincidences?

     The third shard. I stooped over and picked it up, staring at it as though it would be gone if I took my eyes off it. Stupefied, I had my other Crystal out in a moment, the Light and Snow that had fused. My hands were both glowing with the Crystals, and I let out a stunned laugh.

     "What-what is THAT?" the Wocky stammered, but I didn't even acknowledge him. This was too good to be true.

     I held my hands together and cupped them over the Crystals, holding my breath. A blinding light shone from between my fingers, causing me to wince and look away, but when it had faded and I opened my palm again, I now had three fused Crystals. Now in a larger, lumpy shape, it was tinted a pale yellowish-green in color and was now cool once more. Three down. That left four Crystals still out there somewhere.

     I let out a sharp bark of laughter despite myself that caused the Wocky to jolt. "I can't believe it," I managed, slowly shaking my head and smiling in a sort of bewildered disbelief.

     "Believe WHAT? What the heck is going on?!" the Wocky yelped, leaping to his feet and looking at me like I was out of my mind.

     But this wasn't something I would explain to him, of all people. So I tucked the Crystal away safely into my deepest pocket and finally looked back at him. "I can't tell you. But that was a very important thing to me. So thanks."

     He stared for a moment longer, then let out a sharp gasp. "I just handed something over to a Darkness Faerie!" Oh great. Now he probably thought I was going to use it to take over the world or something.

     I rolled my eyes. "Don't worry. World domination isn't high on my list, if that's what you're thinking."

     He burst out into a stream of high-pitched, nervous babble, which I promptly tuned out. I just sighed and shook my head at him, turning away to wander toward the bars making one wall of the cell, as the rest were made of stone. I leaned my head against the cold iron and stared at the tiny window across from me, where I could see it was nearly night. "I hope Radom's alright," I whispered, resting one palm against a bar for a moment.

     So I had the Crystal. But now I needed a way out, and to find Radom. The bars were too close together and too sturdy for me to get through, and the stone walls were even worse. I wished Radom were there. He would know what to do.

     I just stared off into space, deep in thought, the Wocky's accusing ramblings becoming a buzz in the back of my mind. I don't know how long I stood there. But when I finally looked up, I realized that the Wocky had fallen into utter silence, which puzzled me for a moment. And at first I thought I was imagining the light.

     But no. I saw it. There were two guards coming into the dungeons with a lit torch, and-I couldn't believe it-Radom was with them. He was being dragged along by the two of them, and coming right towards us. I realized there were fewer cells in here than one might think, and this was one of the only cells for temporary holding of prisoners. Like all three of us. I quickly retreated to the back of the cell and kneeled in the shadows, hoping these two different guards wouldn't notice me.

     Sure enough, they walked right up to the cell, unlocked it, and threw Radom inside. Then they were gone, and I forced myself to wait until I could no longer see the torch light before failing to surprise a delighted squeal. "Radom!"

     He had been dumped on the floor, and was just sitting up and shaking himself off when I called out to him. His ears perked and he looked my way, blankly at first, but then a broad grin overtook his face. "... What are the odds?"

     "Oh, I'm so glad you're alright! What happened?" I stood and rushed over to him, lowering myself onto my knees so that I would be at his level and embracing him. He chuckled and rested his head against mine, his tail flicking against the stone floor a few times behind him.

     When I let go, he drew back and smirked at me. "Well, I was doing just fine until that stupid guard called for some help. And next thing I knew I was surrounded and couldn't run, and couldn't very well fight them all. So, of course, they caught me, but couldn't figure out what to do with me, so here I am. Lucky for us they're not the brightest lot. And what happened to you? You alright?"

     I was just so glad he was okay. I sat down on the ground and nodded in reply, concealing my smile. "Yeah. I'm fine. I flew up into an opened window while you were distracting that guard, but I... well, I got caught pretty fast," I admitted, smiling sheepishly. "So, like you, they threw me in here until they could figure out what to do with me. And because of what I am, I can't imagine it'll be pleasant."

     "Nope. So we'd better find a way out of here fast."

     "Yes, but hold on a minute. One more thing." I inclined my head toward the corner where the Blue Wocky was huddled up and watching us in horror, and Radom looked over with a raise of his eyebrows. "Look who it is."

     Radom just stared vacantly for several seconds, and then laughed through his nose. "Hey, I know you. Potato boy."

     The Wocky immediately took on his huffy tone once again as he was addressed, sitting up taller. "My name's Wira!"

     "By night known as Wira." Radom smirked at him, and he and I exchanged a raise of our eyebrows.

     "You're not going to believe this," I continued, unable to hide my grin. I took the Crystal out of my pocket, and the moment he saw it, Radom's face lit up. "Yes, that's what you think it is. This kid-WIRA, sorry-stole it from some oblivious person that must have found it and not known what it was and was trying to sell it. So now we have the Earth shard!"

     "You've gotta be kidding me!" I can imagine his face must have looked something like mine, with a shocked sort of grin and a shake of his head.

     So we had the shard, and I had Radom once more. "Now we just need to get out of here."

     "Yeah, I'd say it's about time to escape," he agreed casually, offering a wry smirk.

     Wira, who had been staring at us in confusion, stood up quickly and burst out, "You won't be able to find a way out by yourselves!"

     Radom only quirked a brow and smirked. "Try me." He stood up and turned to observe the bars for a moment. He probably thought the same thing I did. Too close together and too sturdy to be of much use for our escape. I stood as well and took to taking in the whole cell, but all the walls were so solid and thick, there was no way we could get through.

     "What're you DOING?!" Wira sneered, watching us as though we were doing something utterly ridiculous.

     "Escaping. And you?" Radom replied casually, as he bowed his head to sniff around on the floor. "You're not being terribly useful, kid."

     He glared daggers at the Brown Lupe. "Are you talking to me?!"

     "Not at all." Radom smirked to himself and continued searching.

     I kept sizing up the walls, poking at parts that looked less solid, but with little luck. We searched for about ten minutes before Wira started to deflate and promptly went back to the scared little kid I had seen him be a short while earlier.

     "We're never gonna make it," he mumbled miserably, slumping against a wall and staring hopelessly at the floor. "Did you ever think it would end like this?"

     "Well, the Wocky's a surprise." Radom and I exchanged another look, and he wore that sideways smirk once again. I tried not to snicker at that reply.

     It was strange, if I really thought about it. I should have been just as angry and afraid as this Wocky, and yet I wasn't. I was sure we could get out of this mess. Radom was working wonders on me, I would admit.

     "Come on, Wira," I said, glancing back at him as I ran my hand across a wall. "You live around here. Don't you know anything about the castle?"

     He gave me a pouting look. "Well... I did use to play around here when I was young."

     "When you were young?" Radom let out a short laugh. "Was that last week?"

     "It feels like a century ago," the Wocky replied, almost smiling. Almost.

     I just smiled faintly and shook my head. I was already starting to appreciate Radom's tweaked sense of humor. But as I felt along the wall, I paused suddenly. One of the stones had budged under my hand. "Radom... come over here," I said softly, kneeling down to be at level with that spot of wall.

     Radom was at my side in a moment, and I pushed on the stone with both hands. It budged. My heart fluttered and I looked at Radom hopefully. "Maybe we can get through this spot somehow."

     "Brilliant," he praised me for finding the stone, grinning. "Now come on. Let's both push on it as hard as we can."

     I nodded and placed both palms against the loose stone. Radom sat on his hind haunches and propped his front paws against the stone as well, next to my hands. "Ready? Push!" We both shoved forward as hard as we could. I pushed until my arms started shaking, and to my relief, I could feel the stone giving way under the force.

     Just when it seemed I couldn't push anymore, the stone suddenly fell off the wall and thudded against the ground. I let my hands drop and panted slightly with the effort. Well, that was one. And these stones were pretty big. But we'd need a lot more room than that to squeeze through.

     "I'll bet the one falling has weakened the other ones," Radom commented, sitting back for a moment and observing the other stones.

     I pondered for a moment. And then I decided. "I'll handle this," I said softly, scooting back a few feet away from the wall and standing up. I glanced at Radom, and then over at Wira, who was still watching in silence. "Stand back."

     "Ooh, goodie." Radom flashed a quick grin at me, then joined Wira in the back of the cell and sat down to watch me.

     I didn't know if I could do this. But I ought to try. We couldn't very well sit there all night pushing rocks out, after all, and we were running out of time. So I lifted both hands and focused on that spot of wall, my palms facing it. My magic was so much weaker than other Faeries. But if I could hurt the Snowager, I could break a wall, I was sure of that.

     So I concentrated as hard as I could, and I could feel the energy forming in my hands. Then I released it, and to my surprise a mass of crackling black Darkness energy burst forth and right into the wall, knocking off a big chunk of stones with a loud clatter. Dust and scraps of rock spewed everywhere, and I slumped against the nearest wall, feeling even more exhausted from before. Using magic always took a lot out of me, and I really needed to work on it, but it seemed I was always underestimating what I could do.

     "Yes! Brilliant!" Radom bounded over to me, and even Wira approached to stare at me in shock. The Lupe shoved himself against me and laughed delightedly, and once the Wocky had realized that I had just made a way for him to escape, he whooped in glee and even jumped at me.

     He had his arm thrown across my shoulders, and his and Radom's weight dragged me down in my weakened state. I laughed and shoved them both away weakly, sitting up and shaking my head. "Come on, we have to keep moving."

     They didn't need telling twice. Radom leapt out the hole in the wall I had created, and Wira cautiously followed. I stood and brushed myself off, gathered my knapsack, and ducked out the opening after them. Making sure the Crystal was safe and out of sight, the three of us snuck across the otherwise empty dungeon and made it to the wooden door, which, to my great relief, was unlocked.

     "People are so careless," I commented under my breath, pausing to listen at the door. I didn't hear anybody on the other side. But, then again, not that I could talk. I was the one who ran right into a couple of guards playing cards, after all.

     Wira stood beside me, though still kept his distance, and asked almost as though he didn't want to know the answer, "How did she do that?"

     "She's a Faerie, mate. She can do whatever she wants," Radom replied, smirking and pausing at the door as well.

     "Sounds clear. Let's go," I whispered, and opened the door a crack to peek outside. I didn't see anybody, so I opened it all the way and crept out, followed by the completely silent Radom, and the Wocky that was making a little too much noise with his nervous breathing and footsteps.

     And now came the harder part. Escaping the castle in one piece.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» The Price of Faith: Part One
» The Price of Faith: Part Two
» The Price of Faith: Part Three
» The Price of Faith: Part Four
» The Price of Faith: Part Six
» The Price of Faith: Part Seven

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