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CALDORA: Chapter 10: Bittersweet Dreams

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Bittersweet Dreams

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            Laurel showed her new Pan the boundaries of her part of the forest, telling him to never cross them. Everything he needed was right here in the eastern quarter, she assured him, and he would never have want of more. She instructed the flora and fauna, the tricksters and faeries, to pay homage to him as the Lord of the Forest, so that no living thing would pose a threat to her consort.

            Lakai’s days were spent frolicking through the woods, without a care in the world. Vibrant faery beings were his usual playmates, always showing him new places to investigate. He climbed up the highest trees to bask in the rosy sunrise, or watch the birds soaring in the clouds. Each rushing stream and flower patch possessed its own unique spirit. He crawled into every nook and cranny, explored its groves and burrows, befriending creatures great and small wherever he went. Occasionally, he liked to watch the sunset cast crimson overtones on the woodland peaks. But he rarely risked doing this because Laurel had warned him to be in her cottage by dark, for the chicken legs would raise high above the ground at night and then he’d be in big trouble.

            Yet every evening when Lakai came home to Laurel, he could tell that she wanted something from him other than playful antics and a carefree demeanor. He did his best to please her by giving her wreaths of flowers, and playing for her the lyre and flute, but still she wanted something else. Her violet eyes followed him around the bedroom like a hungry cat’s.

            Lakai’s dreams were haunted by visions of lives other than this one. Some nights he would dream of gardens under a crystalline dome, other nights of an ethereal city in the treetops. But sometimes he would dream of murky caverns damp with blood, and torn bodies piled upon their own entrails. More often, though, he dreamt of a blue-haired angel singing to him in his sleep, and the soft ringing of wind chimes swaying in the breeze. He saw many more images, so varied and numerous that they couldn’t possibly be from the same lifetime, and yet felt right and true. Although he saw Laurel as a mother, he felt uncomfortable talking about them with her.

And so it was for several weeks.

But Lakai’s curiosity was unyielding, and the confines of the eastern quarter would not hold him back for much longer. His dreams became more and more lucid each night, serving as vivid proof of a larger world beyond the limits of Laurel’s territory. Every day he came closer and closer to the region’s boundaries.

*          *            *

One sunny afternoon Lakai was sitting on a boulder in a verdant forest glade, playing jovial music on his panpipes. Dainty pixies danced in the air around him, leaving glittering traces of light in their wake. The breezy sylphs came to join in the merriment, raising gusts of wind as they passed. Mingling with the buoyant melody, Lakai heard the distant jingle of wind chimes. He put down the panpipes, shifting his attention to the sound, immediately recognizing it from his dreams. The gathered faeries looked to each other in confusion as he bounded into the bushes.

Without even noticing it, Lakai breached the borders of the eastern quarter, running past gnarled oaks and knobby willows until he came upon a sheltered cabin. Wind chimes dangled by the front door. This was a peaceful place, pervaded by a sacred silence.

He crept closer, being careful not to step on any of the plants growing around the dwelling. Tiptoeing up to a window, he wiped off the dust and peeked inside. It was a modest abode that consisted of one cramped little room. Labeled jars lined the walls, and drying herbs hung on the windows and from the ceiling. A large cauldron was suspended over the cooling coals in the fireplace, and a single unkempt bed stood hidden in the corner.

The stillness was broken by the serene sound of singing coming from behind the cabin. Recognizing the voice, Lakai crept around the house for a better glimpse of its source.

The backyard overlooked a small pond, and the figure of a maiden knelt at its shore, her hair the color of the darkening sky. Tidbits of food mixed with flowers were spread out before her. She was chanting praises to the forest spirits, requesting their help in healing the wilted plant she held in her hands. Not wanting to disturb her, he climbed up the trunk of a willow, gazing at her from his perch in the branches that drooped over the pond.

The water swelled and inched onto the beach, washing away the food and flowers into its cloudy depths. The withering plant began to glow with light. It straightened out with renewed strength and regained its healthy green color. The girl opened her eyes and smiled, hugging the plant to her heart. But as soon as she saw Lakai’s reflection in the rippling waters, she gasped and scrambled to her feet, hurrying in the direction of the cabin.

Lakai jumped out of the tree and caught up to her.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she told him, pulling her hair over her face like a veil.

“I am the Lord of the Forest,” Lakai set himself between her and the entrance, “I can go where I want.”

“Go away,” she growled, pushing him away and slipping into the house, closing the door behind her.

He stared at the door momentarily, then collected some pebbles and started throwing them at it periodically. Saillie tried to ignore him but had to admit it was getting rather annoying.

“What do you want?” he heard the girl shout from within.

“I dream about you!” he called back, “I at least want to know your name!”

The door creaked open a tiny bit and she looked out. “Saillie,” she said in a less irritated tone, “Don’t tell Laurel about your dreams, and don’t tell her you saw me. Now go away!” The door slammed shut again.

Lakai smiled, pleased with his apparent progress.

*          *            *

Keramis deftly sidestepped Jason’s clumsy dagger swing. To the King’s credit, it would be hard to not look clumsy when compared to the elf’s amazing agility. He tried to use the momentum of Jason’s lunge to knock him over with a backhand, but the King’s other arm shot up to block it instantaneously. Keramis had to confess that Jason’s reflexes were quite impressive. His student was no novice to begin with, and improving by the day.

“Good!” Keramis hopped back, “You are getting much better. Your balance and coordination are excellent, so is your defense. But your offence could use a little work,” he walked towards Jason and patted him on the back, “You are too reckless.”

Dinictis got up from the ground, clapping her hands ardently. “Oh, honey, you look so valiant!” she hugged him.

“Kera taught me other moves, too!” he said excitedly.

Keramis nodded fervently.

“Want to see?” Jason asked her.

“You know I’d love to, sweetie,” Dinictis kissed him on the cheek, “But Lynn and Raven have just arrived with urgent news.”

“My Lady Queen Dinictis!” a guard’s voice resounded across the main hall, “Acora Lynn and Trellion the Raven are here to see you!”

“Let them in!” she yelled from the gardens, then turned to Keramis, “Go get Lianna.”

The elf ran through the back corridors to Lianna’s chamber and knocked on the door softly.

Lianna did not come out of her room very often. For most of their stay in the Crystal Castle, she preferred to spend her time in solitary mourning. The first few days after Karaci’s death, she wept anguished tears and sent wails into the night that outdid a banshee’s keen. But being a trained fighter, she knew such losses to be inevitable. She recovered her senses quickly, moving into a stage of quiet acceptance. She would pray to the Iktu, the ancient spirits of vengeance, and then she would find Kranti. By North Forest Law of ‘life for life’, she was entitled to retribution, and she intended to carry out just that. Putting on a cheerful smile, Lianna opened the door.

“Raven and Lynn are here,” Keramis told her.

Her eyes brightened and she no longer had to fake the smile.

Lianna followed him into the main hall, where the Queen and King were already seated in their royal thrones. Lynn sat on the steps by them, with Elvina resting on his shoulder. Raven was kneeling before Dinictis, his wounds healed and his clothes patched up like new.

Lianna came up to Raven and hugged him. “Good to have you back with us again,” she whispered.

He nodded in acknowledgement.

Keramis greeted his cousin warmly, then scanned the room, “Where’s the bird?”

Raven winced slightly and looked away.

“Raven wanted to share some of the information he has brought back from the Land of Truth,” Lynn interjected, sensing the tension.

“Although me and Lynn know it already, I do believe he would tell it best to the rest of you,” Dinictis smiled.

Raven began retelling his adventures in the Overworld. He reported of the dying dragon in the Land of Illusions, told about the trial he underwent to gain entry into the Land of Truth, and recounted his encounter with Gaisa. The latter profoundly touched Lianna, for Gaisa’s speech rang true in her heart and gave her a sense of peace.

Lastly, Raven conveyed the words of the Aelis concerning Aloquin’s plans, Aurora’s imprisonment, and Lynn being his father (drawing stupefied stares from Keramis and Lianna).

“Can you go back to the part about Nexus?” Keramis asked after he was finished.

Lianna smacked him upside the head.

“I’m still not quite sure what Aloquin is trying to do,” Keramis looked to Dinictis, rubbing the back of his head, “I mean, you’re both immortal, right? Even gods can’t kill gods. Does he want to trap you in the Land of Illusions like you did him?”

“You are right, gods can’t kill gods,” Dinictis clarified, “But gods still can die. Aloquin and I are the Dragon Twins, our lives are tied to Caldor’s. We are born with the Earth Dragon and we die with it.

“Though the new dragon embryo was destroyed in this world by Jason, its mirror in the otherworld is still alive and growing,” she went on, “That is why Aloquin appeared old when he escaped from the Land of Illusions. He was aging with the dragon, dying.”

“I can see why he’d be ticked off,” Keramis admitted.

“He wants to kill me by thrusting me into the otherworld at the moment of Caldor’s death,” Dinictis explained.

“It seems that this astral castle is a key element in Aloquin’s plan,” Lynn spoke up, “If the Mistress of Illusions built it, then I’d wager it’s no ordinary astral castle.”

“Onedia built it from the Forestside Kingdom, Aloquin can open a portal inside it from Kayintas,” Lianna reasoned, “They must be connected.”

“Yes,” Dinictis nodded, “Connected by that very castle. Aloquin is able to teleport anywhere he pleases, but his troops can’t. The castle is a strategic waypoint to unite his and Onedia’s armies.”

“But it is more than just that,” Lynn resumed his original thought, “Aloquin has put his portal there, which means that he intends for the final showdown to take place inside that castle. Why there, of all places? Because it would give him some kind of advantage.”

“Engaging in battle on his terms would be disastrous,” Dinictis concurred, “That is why we should launch a two-pronged attack. We need to send a small team to the Forestside Kingdom to find the magical blueprint of the castle and dismantle any traps it may contain. Unfortunately, the only way to pull that off is by doing it while our main army distracts Aloquin’s, forcing us to fight by his rules until the Forestside team completes its mission.”

Dinictis and Lynn had their speeches perfectly synchronized, having planned them out ahead of time. They now fixed their gaze on Raven, Keramis, and Lianna.

“Who… Who’s going to be on the Forestside team?” Keramis asked, guessing the reply.

“Why you three are,” Lynn grinned in amusement, “You have the stealth to sneak into the Forestside Castle, Lianna has the faery sight to guide you past magical traps, and Raven can serve as backup if you happen to run into Kranti and friends.”

“Raven is there for more than just that,” Dinictis corrected, turning to Trellion, “It appears that the Warrior Spirit did not appreciate being exorcized. He wants you back and has gone as far as allying with Aloquin and kidnapping your girlfriend to lure you to him.”

Raven blushed; this was the first time anybody defined his relationship with Aurora in that manner.

“The God of War fighting for Aloquin does not bode well for our cause,” she continued, “Yugashii ensures victory for those he favors. You must get him away from the battleground, convince him to switch sides if you can, but above all, distract him.”

“It is important to look as inconspicuous as possible,” Lynn warned. “I’d go,” he smirked, spreading his arms wide, “But I’m afraid I’d look a bit out of place.” Elvina tugged on the dark elf’s stark white hair to emphasize the point.

“Lianna, Raven, you’re married,” he told them.

Raven and Lianna gave each other weird looks.

“Keramis, you’re their son.”

“What?!” Keramis snarled in outrage.

“Lianna,” Lynn looked her up and down, “You’ll need a dress.”

She scowled.

“B-but I’m older than them…” Keramis grumbled, still recovering from the initial shock.

“Don’t take that tone with me, son,” Lianna ruffled his hair teasingly, recoiling her hand just in time to avoid his sharp teeth.

“If anybody asks, you are a simple peasant family traveling to the capital, Iyutel, for a better life,” Lynn informed them, “You will have to go through the Enchanted Forest to get to the Forestside Kingdom. Rumor has it the place is haunted, so rely on Lianna’s vision to steer you clear of danger.

“By the way,” Lynn added, “Lakai left for the Enchanted Forest about five days after we got to the East Forest. Might as well pick him up while you’re there.”

“Oh dear,” Lianna looked concerned, “The poor kid all alone in that–”

“Nah,” Lynn shook his head at the notion, “He has faery sight and the protection of the Sidhe, he’s fine. Follow the faery roads; they will lead you to the Seelie Court. Tell the guards that you are friends of Lakai and ask them where he is.”

“Take these crystals,” Dinictis gave a crystal each to Raven, Keramis, and Lianna, making sure to include an extra one for Lakai, “Wear them and you will understand the speech of Lossi’s natives and they will understand you. They can also be used as transmitters by holding one in your hand, thinking of me, and speaking into it.

“Remember to contact me firstly when you get out of the Enchanted Forest, secondly a day before you plan to infiltrate the Forestside Castle, and thirdly when you are inside the Forestside Castle, at which point we will attack Kayintas with as big an army as we can muster.”

Raven, Keramis, and Lianna nodded in agreement.

“Best of luck to you!” Dinictis exclaimed, “May your journey be safe and your mission successful!”

After bowing to their Queen, the three marched for the door. Raven only looked back to Lynn, who smiled at him proudly. They walked through the Open Field, and then the South Forest, swiftly nearing the Enchanted Forest.

*          *            *

Lakai’s dreams were not only becoming more lucid, but also more detailed. He saw faces, heard names and voices. Sometimes he wondered if they were the reality, and his waking the dream. He tried to block them out but they would not be silenced, making themselves known even in broad daylight through vivid hallucinations. Finally, he could not deny their truth any longer; everything clicked. The visions fell together perfectly, arranging themselves in chronological order, to form a clear picture of who he was and why he was here.

Lakai now saw Laurel in a new light. He realized that she had been keeping him prisoner all this time, and feared her learning of his newfound knowledge most of all. He did his best to hide his unease, but could tell she already suspected something was different. Having nowhere else to turn, he went back across the boundary to Saillie’s cabin.

Lakai heard noises coming from within the house, and a look inside the window confirmed that she was home.

“Saillie!” he knocked on the door. There was a loud racket of crashing jars, and then quiet. “Saillie!” he called again, “Saillie, I know I’m not Pan! Please talk to me.”

The door flung open and the girl grabbed his wrist. “I dream of you, and you are real,” Lakai said, being dragged into the room, “Everything else I dream must be real, too.”

Saillie seated him on the wooden floor and sat opposite him. Her indigo hair parted to reveal the faint outline of a crescent moon on her forehead, and she gazed at him with concerned, silvery-blue eyes that glimmered with faerie fire.

“You have a beautiful singing voice,” Lakai smiled, completely lost in her twinkling orbs.

“Song helps things heal and grow,” she waved her hand at the potted plants that rimmed the walls, “I deal with herbs so it comes in handy. But you did not come here to talk about botany. Tell me about yourself.”

“My name is Lakai,” he said, “I was raised by the Sidhe, and later given to the Acrelan faeries of Caldora. I came back to find my parents only to learn that they were killed. To help me get out of this forest, the Sidhe gave me foxglove to trick Laurel into letting me go–”

“Except it was for the wrong spell,” Saillie cut in, “Faery foxglove is used to combat ‘essence of beast,’ but she didn’t cast that on you.”

“What did she cast?” Lakai dared to ask.

Saillie hesitated, considering how to phrase the answer. “What do you know about Pan?”

“I know Laurel tried to make me think I’m him.”

“No,” Saillie shook her head, “He’s more than that. Him and Laurel are the Lord and Lady of the Forest, the God and Goddess of all of Lossi. Their union birthed all the races and all the other gods into being, and they showered their children with the cornucopia of nature’s bounty.

“But after being parted by Onedia’s curse, they have become mere shadows of their true selves,” she went on, “Laurel searches the forest for her lost Lord, for the undeniable piece of herself which is now gone. They need each other to be complete, and their separation is the reason for their nature being as warped as it is now – for Laurel being reduced to a simple woodland witch, and Pan… well I don’t even know where Pan is.”

Lakai listened quietly.

“It is true that she enjoys turning people into beasts,” Saillie continued, “But once in a while, somebody comes along who…” she looked him over, then cast her eyes down and blushed, “Who she finds particularly attractive.”

Lakai smiled innocently.

“She erases their memory, and keeps them as a stand-in for the real Pan,” Saillie explained, “My father was such a man, serving as her consort for several years. But, though the duration is different for everybody, Laurel’s spell slowly wears off over time. The speed of your recovery was unprecedented, might I add. Once cast it can never be cast on the same person again for the psyche develops an immunity to it.

“One day my father, too, succumbed to the reality of his dreams, and when he tried asking for his freedom, she killed him on the spot. He was not the first and he would not be the last. Laurel had many partners, all of whom remembered their identities in their own time, and all of whom were killed when they did.

“It is good that you came to me with this,” she said with a wry grin, “Laurel and I are not the best of friends – having your mother kill your father does that to a relationship.”

“What do I do?” Lakai asked, trying to hide the fear in his voice.

“Nothing!” Saillie advised, “Don’t do anything! If you try to run away she will hunt you down and kill you before you ever glimpse the outskirts of the forest.

“You should be leaving now,” she told him, glancing out the window, “Evening is approaching and Laurel will get suspicious if you are not back by sundown. But come here again, I’m sure we can figure out a way for you to escape,” she put a hand to his cheek, “I saved you because I knew there was something special about you, I won’t let you die now.”

Lakai smiled, and nodded weakly.

*          *            *

Raven, Lianna, and Keramis walked briskly through the Enchanted Forest along a well-trodden faery path. They had entered the woods in the afternoon, but now the sky was getting darker.

“There are several things you should know about tricksters,” Lianna lectured, walking in the lead, “They, like faeries, get their power from the Land of Illusions. This means that if they appear to you in the physical plane, the most harm they can do is scare you.

“However! If you encounter them in the astral planes of the Land of Illusions, their deceptions can be very real,” she held up a finger, “You have to remember that the Land of Illusions does not follow the same laws as our rigid physical plane. There, thoughts are things. If you are afraid, your fears will manifest as reality. If you think yourself helpless, you will become it. They will pick up on your fears, your slightest weaknesses, and use them against you.”

Raven grudgingly recalled his encounter with the fake Gaisa.

“The only defense you will have against a trickster in their home plane is the sheer power of your own will. That is, how much you believe their illusions – and they can be very convincing!” Lianna stressed, “Think of it this way, when you’re asleep, you don’t question the happenings in your dreams no matter how absurd they are. That’s the kind of ambiance their trickery induces. This is to make up for the fact that their guises are never perfect, they all have minute flaws detectable only by the most attentive observer.

“Oh! I nearly forgot. There are ways they can indirectly harm you on the physical plane,” she added, “Tricksters have a symbiotic relationship with the changelings – physical creatures who can alter their shape. The problem is that changelings are rooted in place. So tricksters lure their victims to a changeling ally – disguised as a log, a rock, or what not – who finishes them off.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Raven said softly, “But if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find some bushes.”

“Why?” Keramis smirked.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Raven mumbled.

“Well we’ll just have to come with you and watch, won’t we now?” Lianna scoffed.

“I’m sure you can lay off this one time, Lianna,” Raven assured her, “I’ll be right back.”

Lianna put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side. “Famous last words!” she called after him as he disappeared into the brush.

“Don’t bother,” Keramis snickered, “He had his mind made up before he said anything.”

*            *            *

Coming back through the bushes, Raven felt an odd tingling sensation wash over him. More importantly, Lianna and Keramis were not where he left them, neither was the faery path. In fact, the whole forest looked vaguely different. The trees were twisted at weird angles, and some of the leaves had more points than they normally should.

He tried calling for his friends, tried walking around and calling for them, but nobody answered. Giving up on that, he resolved to explore his surroundings. The forest was dark, but not too dark for his elven sight, which enabled him to see clearly in the night. Strange, indistinct noises sounded from the shadows; some as plain as the rustling of leaves, while others more akin to dying shrieks. Frankly, it sounded a lot like his North Forest home.


His ears perked up at the sole distinct voice that moaned from the side.

“Help! O, won’t somebody help me!”

Unsheathing his sword, Raven decided to investigate and followed the voice into a small clearing. An old, wrinkled little man stood in the center, trying to wrench his foot out of a hole in a tree stump.

“Help!” the elderly man begged upon seeing him, “O, won’t you help a frail old man, son?”

Raven stalked up to the trapped man.

“Those wicked tricksters!” the man rambled, “They caught my foot in this blasted stump and left me to be torn apart by the monsters that roam these woods!”

Raven paced around the stump, assessing the predicament. The foot was lodged deep inside the crack, but the gap itself looked rather clean and even, with no splinters or jagged edges.

“Can you put that sword away, son,” the old man eyed Raven’s drawn faery metal sword warily. “A thing like that can give someone my age a heart attack,” he said with a nervous chuckle.

Raven stopped pacing. He shot a quick look at the old man, then back to the stump. The man’s eyes widened in disbelief; normally people tried prying the crack open with their hands, or pulling on his ankle, but Raven raised the sword overhead and swung it down, splitting the stump in half along the fissure and leaving his foot unharmed.

“O, bless you! Bless you, son!” the man exclaimed, straddling the stump to hide the fresh blood oozing from the gash, “You have rescued me from a terrible fate!”

Raven sheathed his sword.

“And for your reward,” the man grabbed his hand and turned him away from the stump, tugging him towards the forest, “I will lead you to the grand faerie court of Elfame, where you will be given a magical item of your choice!”

Raven nodded and went after the man, figuring that he can meet up with Keramis and Lianna there.

“O, the marvels you shall see!” the old man went on, “Truly it is a privilege for a mortal such as yourself to behold such wonders! Mountains of gold and silver, gems the size of your head, beings of beauty untold…”

*          *            *

Keramis and Lianna sat on the ground by the faery path, still waiting.

“How long could it possibly be taking him?” Keramis fell back on the ground in boredom.

“I don’t think he’s coming back anytime soon,” Lianna muttered, leaning against a tree trunk.

Keramis stared up into the canopy.

“We should have come with him,” she turned to him.

“Can faery metal harm tricksters?” he asked.

“Yes, any magical weapons can.”

“Then he’ll be alright,” Keramis yawned.

“But now we have to find him and Lakai!” she whined.

A tiny pixie buzzed onto the scene, zipping here and there in short, rapid spurts. It flew up to the resting elf, yanking on his hair, pulling on his shirt, and humming in his ear.

Lianna looked up.

“Damn pixies,” Keramis said irritably, trying to swat it aside.

It sprouted tiny claws and scratched his hand.

“Ow! Did you see that?” Keramis recoiled his cut hand, “It scratched me!”

The pixie laughed at him in its silvery voice and scratched his other hand.

“Is that the way you want to play?” he growled. Keramis’ eyes flashed amber and his teeth grew sharp points as he transformed into his lupine form. Baring his fangs, he leaped after the pixie, who flit away in panic.

“Kera,” Lianna stood up.

Keramis chased the pixie around in circles, pawing and biting at it all the while. It whizzed about hectically, before swerving to the side and away from the path, with the wolf right behind.

“Kera!” Lianna shouted, tramping after him, “Kera, come back here.”

He was too engrossed in the hunt to hear her, pursuing his prey with reckless abandon. Lianna saw faint lights weaving together an etheric web not far ahead, and the pixie was heading straight for it.

“Kera!” she yelled, “There’s a–”

But before she could utter a warning, he had already jumped through the barrier and disappeared along with it.

“There’s a wall,” Lianna completed the sentence, then slumped down to the grass with a frustrated sigh. “Lynn expects me to watch those two? Hah!” she hollered at the nearby trees. The trees stood silent, offering her no sympathy, and the reality of her alone-ness began to slowly sink in.

*          *            *

Keramis found himself in a sun-dappled forest. The pixie had vanished but he did not notice nor care. A warm sense of nostalgia enveloped him as he pranced blissfully between the blossoming trees, taking in the familiar smells that his heightened senses could perceive. He felt like a child again, untouched by the harshness of the world, carefree and uninhibited by society’s expectations and judgments.

His prancing led him to a sunny clearing, where he saw a young Kentabri practicing combat maneuvers with a scimitar. Crawling into some bushes, Keramis carefully watched for his target to get within range. When the timing was right, he pounced onto the tamunid and mauled him to the ground.

“Let’s play!” Keramis licked his friend’s face cheerfully.

“I don’t want to play with you anymore,” Kentabri pushed him off roughly, “I’m friends with Kranti now!”

A bipedal, leonine figure stepped out from behind a tree trunk and Kentabri hurried to his side. “That’s right, elf,” the young Kranti sneered, “Who would want to be friends with you?” Keramis took a step back, but Kranti’s thugs emerged from the forest overgrowth, forming a tight circle from which there was no escape.

“Who would want to be friends with a weakling?” Kranti smirked, “With an insignificant, helpless little runt who can’t even protect his own friends?” As if on cue, the entire gang of goons broke out in rowdy laughter at the last statement.

This stung Keramis profusely, but it also reminded him of the resolution he recently made to not let such taunting get to him. He scowled in reply. Resolution he recently made? Was he reliving his past all over again? No, that couldn’t be it. His real memories rushed back to him in one mighty surge.

“Even the faeries couldn’t make you stronger!” the half-were said between laughs, “Your wolf-form is a joke! You call that a werewolf? More like a puppy!” His brutes cackled inanely, until he waved his hand to quiet them.

“Time to put you in your place once and for all, dogboy,” Kranti flexed his claws.

The half-were’s thugs began to tighten the circle around Keramis at a slow, steady pace. “Dogboy! Dogboy! Dogboy!” they chanted, their eyes gleaming with unbridled brutality.

Any pain or doubts that Keramis had concerning the mock reenactment quickly faded, replaced by an all-consuming rage – a fury straight from the darkest pits of his psyche. Though these may only be tricksters, this was his opportunity to put an end to his fears here and now. Seething with anger, his already-lupine eyes flashed dangerously.

“Dogboy! Dogboy! Dogboy!” the thugs droned, closing in on him.

“I’m a wolf,” Keramis said in a low growl.

“Wolf!” he snarled, his fangs becoming longer, sharper. His muscles bulged and his auburn fur turned dark brown. Standing upright, he grew taller, his snout extended, and his ears came to resemble horns.

“WOLF!!” he roared, glaring at the thugs with amber eyes that blazed like twin flames against the dark fur. They backed away in alarm from the fearsome beast, their guises wavering. Keramis flashed a toothy grin before lunging into their midst.

The tricksters scattered in terror, their illusions flickering out as they ran. He chased them about wildly, viciously snapping at them with his bared fangs, and swiping at their frail forms left and right. They scrambled on their hands and knees, desperately trying to get away from the demon wolf; frantically trying to reach sanctuary in the Unseelie Court. Keramis blindly pursued them through underground caverns, and followed them into an Underworld palace, before finally pinning a handful of them to a wall.

“Please! Please spare us!” they pleaded in their squeaky little voices.

“I will make this simple,” Keramis breathed, pressing on them harder, “Let me keep this as an alternate wolf-form, or I will paint the walls with your blood.”

“We grant it! We grant it!” they replied without a second thought, “Just please let us go!”

An amused leer spread across his canine maw.

*          *           

Raven went after the little old man through bejeweled gates that opened to the sound of a haunting melody played by the sentries on dainty flutes. They walked through crystalline grottos and a grandiose Underworld city bustling with life, until at last they entered the magnificent castle at the center of it all.

The great hall was indeed a wonder to behold; made of iridescent marble that gently radiated music sung by an ethereal choir. Its floor was decked with extraordinary wonders: mounds of sparkling silver mixed with hills of gleaming gold, all strewn with a dazzling array of gemstones of all the colors of the rainbow. Beautifully crafted weapons and armor peeked out from among the riches, studded with precious stones and adorned with interlacing designs.

“Here you shall be granted audience with the Faery Queen, son,” the old man smiled oddly at him, “And from her seek your reward.”

An uproar of lupine howling and petrified screams resounded from the rear of the room. Before long, several hysterical Sidhe nobles scurried in through the back hallway, being chased by a terrifying werewolf. It dove after them, biting at their hair and clawing at their clothes. Upon seeing Raven, the wolf changed back into an elf, vigorously spitting out hair and casting the Sidhe aside. The amber fire in his eyes cooled and their natural violet-blue color returned.

“Why are you attacking the faeries, Kera?” Raven asked vacantly.

“These aren’t faeries,” he answered, looking back to the nobles.

“Of course they’re faeries,” Raven blinked blankly, “We’re in the Seelie Court.”

“This isn’t the Seelie Court,” Keramis walked up to him, “And we should be getting out of here.”

“Don’t go just yet,” the little old man whispered.

The setting switched to that of a dimly lit cave, and they heard a disturbing noise from overhead – a slithering, slimy, hissing noise that put their hair on end. Though common sense advised against it, their survival instincts forced them to look up instantaneously. The ceiling was alive with a swarm of beings, continuously shifting from one nightmarish monstrosity to another. They crawled over each other, merging together and dividing with fluid grace. Raven and Keramis watched them breathlessly. Gazing at the living ceiling long enough would surely drive one mad.

The creatures licked their chops eagerly, their eyes shining with vile mischief. Their talons clenched and unclenched in anticipation. And then, all at once, they swooped down on the two elves, uttering unearthly shrieks and wails. Raven and Keramis shut their eyes and clung onto each other tightly. They, too, screamed, but their cries were drowned out by the shrill screeching of the trickster horde. They felt as if they were falling, falling, falling straight through the floor and into oblivion…



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Revised: 27 Jan 2013 22:58:29 -0700 .



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