Voidwalker: Chapter One, p9

She sat quietly and gazed at the collection of creatures before her. They were the various leaders of the forestfolk in Wyrm’s Wood, as the humans called this part of the forest, and had gathered around the underground pond serving as their meeting hall. The sun had set and no light entered through the entrance to the spacious cavern, yet the soft bluish glow of moss on the walls kept the place comfortably lit.

She was their chosen leader -their Faerie Queen as the Fair Folk had called her- the one they turned to for advice and the one who guided them all as a unified people. But in truth they were scores of smaller groups, divided by species and culture. She knew of no other place, even in the stories of the Fair Folk, where cooperation such as this would be found, but only through trying new things could nature be expected to find the right path.

At this moment, however, there was little cooperation to be found. The faeries wanted to put the prisoner to sleep and dump her at the edge of the wood, while the trolls wanted to eat her. The oakmen, as they usually did, supported the faeries, while her fetchling kin were indifferent. The sylvans wanted to keep her a prisoner of the wilds for the rest of her life, while the druids were convinced she would be helpful in alleviating tensions with the local human colony of Wyrm’s Edge.

Unity would have to be enforced according to her own best judgment, like the case always seemed to be these days.

Imaerla sighed wearily, looking to Uragh for strength. Her personal bodyguard, he rarely left her side unless ordered to and he was far more loyal than his brethren. But, she mused, he had fetchling blood in his veins, unlike the other trolls. No matter what, he would support her and believe in her. He was her rock amidst the storm of moot politics.

The moot ran on through the evening, with new ideas coming and old ones going but never any real agreement as to the best course of action. Eventually everyone retired for the night with no consensus reached. But at least some progress had been made; progress Imaerla did not care for at all, for only the druids were now opposed to either executing the prisoner or handing her over to the Fair Folk.

***

She woke with a start a scant few hours later, sensing a dark presence in her hollow. She tried to waken the glow of the lichen with a wave of her hand, but found herself held fast by some strong object. Pushing away the panic she took in her surroundings and scanned the shadows for signs of the intruder.

The vines and bushes blocking the entrance seemed undisturbed, yet enough moonlight trickled through to make out the moss-covered floor and her dress where it hung on the wall. At the far side the brook passing through the tree glimmered softly, but offered no clue as to where the intruder was.

Imaerla turned her attention to her own situation and found she was pinned against the wall of the nook where she slept by a thick web of black strands -strands woven from shadows and magic. A shadow mage, then. No wonder the intruder could get so close before Imaerla sensed the presence, and no wonder they could slip past the sentries and patrols of Imaerla’s little community undetected.

A movement caught her eye, revealing the woman as she slid out of the shadows, gliding silently across the floor with a grace that would put the best of Imaerla’s hunters to shame. There was more to this dark-robed woman than she let on, that much was evident, and the perceptive Imaerla could tell much about her already.

Dark green eyes hid strength and cunning behind a veil of sorrow and solitude. Her mournful face, though tired and dirty, possessed an eerie beauty to rival that of the Fair Folk. Wavy black hair was laced with dreamweave, holding it in place and cloaking her features behind a veil of magic, serving to further distort the image of her true self and conceal the power within her.

This woman was used to hiding who she was from everyone, and it seemed second nature to her. It was as though she was not even aware she was doing it. But she had to be, or the magic in her hair would unravel. Would it not?

Imaerla thought of the gossamer gown she was wearing. It, too, was woven of dreamweave. It had been gifted her by the Fair Folk when she was elected Queen many seasons ago, and retained its form with neither magic nor effort to replenish it. Was this woman’s mien the same? A trinket crafted with care and skill, its magic somehow imbued in its form?

The woman leaned in close, her face inches from Imaerla’s, their eyes met, and their gazes locked for a few quiet heartbeats. She was sizing Imaerla up, trying to see whether her magic was strong enough to break free of the web. Just like Imaerla was sizing up her captor.

“Greetings, Daughter of the Sidhe.” Imaerla did not know what surprised her most, that this woman spoke the language of the Fair Folk or that she knew the correct form of address. Slowly the woman leaned forward to place her mouth next to Imaerla’s ear, her breath softly running across Imaerla’s cheek as she whispered her words. “I do apologize for the discomfort but I need to be sure you do not prove as… uncooperative as your subjects. I am here to negotiate the release of Loriana.”

“Do not play games with me, human,” Imaerla snarled back, right into her captor’s ear. “If you had wanted her free you would seen to it yourself already. What is this about?”

The woman let out a lone chuckle, yet it seemed more a sob than laughter to Imaerla. She lifted a hand, stroking it gently over Imaerla’s shoulder and across her throat, under her chin, and then pinched the side of Imaerla’s neck. Imaerla could feel the blood trickling down her skin as the woman straightened, examining the red stains on her fingertips.

“You will be more than merely releasing her, my Lady. She has been wounded in ways that I cannot heal. But you can.” Imaerla was beginning to understand what the woman was up to now. Though the Fair Folk did not allow blood magic among the forestfolk, they were no strangers to using it themselves and from their legends Imaerla had learned a few things as well. Though limited in versatility, it was a powerful form of magic and well-suited for bringing pain to others. It also placed the caster in danger of drawing the attention of darker forces.

“By my Will, I Geas thee.
Thou shalt protect the Daughter of Illun’s body.
Thou shalt heal the Daughter of Illun’s soul.
Thou shalt care for the Daughter of Illun’s heart.”

Imaerla had closed her eyes, steeling herself against some horrible pain. As the woman spoke the incantation her fingertips ran across on Imaerla’s face, smearing it with blood.

“Thus I Geas thee.”

When Imaerla opened her eyes to stare incredulously at her captor, she noticed that the woman had changed. The dirt had faded from her face, the veils in her hair were gone, and the pain in her eyes was gone. She also looked weary, even more so than before; the enchantment must have taken a great toll on her. But she smiled weakly at Imaerla as the world began to fade into darkness again.

Upon waking the next morning Imaerla first thought the events nothing more than a vivid nightmare. Then she noticed the tattered and dirty robe lying on the floor of her hollow, black and lined with faded crimson fur. Once a very comfortable, if somewhat impractical, garment it was little more than rags now. It had been worn by the woman, and seemed the only trace left of Imaerla’s waking nightmare.

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