Otherworld 3

The sun was climbing toward its zenith before Eric and Whisper finally stopped for breakfast.  They had broken camp immediately after discovering the evidence of their nocturnal visitors, and, hungry though they were, had hastily put several miles between themselves and the disturbing grove.  At last, however, they agreed to stop and rest under the sheltering canopy of a particularly large white pine.  The oatmeal Whisper had packed was worthless without lighting a fire, and the friends were unwilling to take the time or the risk that would entail, so they contented themselves with granola bars and bottled water.   
 
                “I can’t believe your actually going to survive a whole day without coffee,” Eric commented, offering his companion a good-natured jab.  Whisper considered coffee to be as great a necessity as air or water— possibly even greater.
 
                “I’ll make it,” she responded, though her beleaguered demeanor argued otherwise.
 
                They fell silent for a moment, drifting into thought.  Eric absentmindedly picked up a fallen branch and rhythmically beat it against the bowl of the tree.  Suddenly he gave the trunk a hard thwack and threw the limb to the ground.
 
                “There’s nothing for it,” he said.  “We’ll have to summon a guide.”
 
            “I thought you were set against that.”
 
            “I was.  I am.  I’m not happy about it, but what choice do we have?  We’re stuck in the middle of the wilderness with possibly malevolent beings and no freaking idea how to get home.  We don’t even know how to get back to the right place in the mountains any more.”  He shook his head.  “We are completely out of options.”
 
            “Alright, but we should wait until tomorrow morning.  I think trying the spell at a Between Time might lend it power, and heaven knows we don’t seem to have a very good running record for functional magic.  But I don’t like the idea of doing it in the evening.  I seriously doubt we’ll be able to control what we summon, and there are fewer mean and nasty things around during the day.”
 
            “What do we do in the meantime?”
 
            Whispered looked at the sky.  “It’s not even one o’clock yet.  Let’s continue following the stream a little further.  Maybe we’ll find a good place to make camp.  I’m not sure I want to spend the night here,” she added, giving her friend a significant look.
 
            Eric got the message.  If they were going to summon something fey, it would be wise to get as far as possible from the previous night’s trouble-makers.  Neither of them mentioned the obvious and disturbing possibility that those same trouble-makers might be following them.
 
            “Maybe we should leave the stream behind.  I mean, I know that’s usually the worst possible idea when you’re in the woods, but we’re lost as hell anyway, so what does it matter?”
 
            “Eric, what if the ritual doesn’t work?  I know how you feel, but I don’t want to loose the only vague point of reference we have.  If we can’t summon anyone, we can follow the stream back to… that clearing, and then we’ll at least have a chance of finding the right place to cross over.”
 
            “We have no clue how big that mountain range is, Whisper.  We’d only have one chance in a million.”
 
            “That’s still better than nothing.”
 
            Eric sighed.  “Yeah.  I guess so.”
 
            The tree shadows grew and lengthened into stretching, grasping hands as the two friends trudged along their course.  Whisper still had momentary sparks of vivacious good humor as she discovered a beautiful sight or a curious specimen, but Eric was beginning to feel decidedly depressed.  He was growing increasingly sick of the green and grey forest shades surrounding them, and had developed notable doubts about whether or not he would ever see his home again.  Familiar sights seemed suddenly sweet, and he wondered why on earth he had been so determined to leave them behind.  He sighed and looked about wearily.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Both Whisper and he had longed for this for so long, and now they were finally here.  They were actually in the Otherworld.  This was supposed to be a dream-come-true, but it was beginning to feel more like a nightmare.  It was so unfair that he wanted to scream, to rail against the hateful trees and the alien mountains, but he felt vaguely that doing so would mean admitting defeat.  With a greater effort than he felt should be necessary, he set his jaw and plodded along in silence.
 
            “This looks like an excellent to make camp,” Whisper said at last.  It was the first thing she had said to her friend in more than two hours, since an earlier attempt to cheer him had failed.  Whisper knew Eric well, and knew when he needed time to himself.
 
            “It’s good,” Eric sounded a little disinterested a he gazed around.  The ground rose up from the stream and then flattened into a flat, grassy clearing.  On three sides it was walled by thick undergrowth and young trees that rose like curious youths before their mammoth elders.  On the forth side, across the stream, the clearing narrowed to form a shadowy deer path.  It was a perfect camping spot, and if the friends had been on one of their previous forays into the mountains around Abygell, Eric would have been quick to say so.  Now all he could think was that he hoped they didn’t have to build a more permanent home here.
 
            Day had become little more than golden-red patches between tree shadows, and, despite concerns about limited battery power, the friends were forced to use flashlights to finish erecting their tent.  Neither of them slept much that night.  Both were too nervously excited as they considered the morning’s ritual, and during their brief, fitful periods of rest, both were plagued by apprehensive imaginings of glaring sunlight following an unmarked dawn.
 
            Everything was dark, cold and damp with dew when they emerged.  Above the clearing, the sky was turning purple with the first breath of day.  In the east, somewhere beyond the screening trees, the horizon was blushing pink.  Whisper rubbed red, bleary eyes and began to prepare for crossing over.
 
            “What about some breakfast first?” asked Eric, pulling a metal tent steak out of the sodden earth.  “You should have some coffee at least.  You look half dead.”
 
            She shook her head.  “I don’t want to risk missing our moment.  I’ll get some coffee at Calypso’s when we get back.”  Calypso’s Café was a small establishment in an old Cape Cod styled house that boasted the best coffee and tea in the Riverview District.
 
            “You’re going a second morning without coffee?”  Eric made a weary attempt at a joke.  “You really have gone nutty, haven’t you?”
 
            Whispered took the bait.  “It’s okay,” she grinned.  “I have Penguins!”
 
                “You have...? Oh, no, the madness is already taking hold.  Just promise you’re not going to bite my face off in the middle of the night, or something like that.”
 
                Whisper laughed.  “EW!  Eric!  Seriously!  Who would want to bite your face?”
 
                “Hey!  I’m insulted!”  Eric tried— and failed— to affect proper outrage.
 
                “Good.  You deserve it.  Besides, when I said ‘Penguins,’ I didn’t mean flightless birds.  I meant Penguins Mints.”
 
            “Ah… Caffeine in a handy, pill-like, minty-flavored form.  They truly are one of life’s little beauties.”
 
             “That they are.  Would you like some?”
 
            Eric extended his hand to receive a palm-full of mints, and popped them into his mouth at once before returning to his work.  Whisper fished the candles, incense, sage and sweet grass from her pack.
 
            “We haven’t got much time left.  How close are we with the tent?”
 
            “This is the last pole, and then all I’ll have to do is roll it up.  Thank God we left everything else packed.”
 
            Whisper nodded with uncharacteristic sobriety, her concentration already focused on casting a circle.  She drew a round shape in the dirt and etched ruins for protection around the outside.  Eric couldn’t hope but notice that she remained outside of the circle this time, as opposed to standing in it like usual.  It was an uncomfortable realization as it meant that she, too, was afraid of what might answer her call.  While practitioners usually cast a circle to denote a sacred place and to protect themselves from the influences of outside magic, such circles could also be used to hold magic– and magical beings– in.
 
            Facing the east first, she held up a small dagger and chanted: “Hail to the East, and to the Sacred Sky.  Hail to the power of air, which fills our lungs and moves storms.  Hail to Badhh-Bebad, Lord of the Wind, and Arianrhad, Lady of Air and Sky.  Grant me the knowledge and wisdom for this summoning.  Do so in perfect love and perfect trust.”  She lit a small candle and moved clockwise.  Facing the south, she held up an oak wand.  “Hail to the South, to the Sacred Fire which lights darkness, and warms hearth and home.  Hail to Brigit, Lady of Fire and Light, and Lugh, Lord of the Sun.  Grant us protection and guidance during this summoning.  Do so in perfect love and perfect trust.”  Moving clockwise again and picking up the small bronze chalice that represented a sacred cauldron, she said: “Hail to the West, and to the Sacred Waters that refresh our bodies and give life to the Green Earth.  Hail to Manannan Mac Lir, Lord of the Sea, whose veins flow throughout all continents, and and Boann, Lady of Water, whose springs bring healing.  Give us emotional control and determination for this summoning.  Help us to perform these rites with the right heart.  Do so in perfect love and perfect trust.”  Lastly, she turned once more and held a small stone disk, that Eric knew was carved with a Celtic Warrior’s Knot,   “Hail to the North, to the Sacred Green Earth, from whose cauldron stems our life.  Hail to Tailtiu, Lady of the Green Earth, and Cernunnos, Lord of the Wild.  Let us have the strength for this summoning.  Do so in perfect love and perfect trust.”
 
            Eric was a little suspicious about the way his friend had called upon the power of water.  She had made an extra effort to indicate exactly who she wanted to invoke—not just Manannan Mac Lir, but he “whose veins flow throughout all continents.”  Almost as if she was afraid some other water spirit sporting the name Manannan might be listening.  He glanced at the nearby stream, wondering what Whisper sensed that he didn’t.
 
“Look with more than your eyes,” she would have told him, had her concentration not been wholly dominated by the spell.  He closed his eyes, tried to shut out everything else, and willed his thoughts to be still.  Then he imagined the lake, remembered what it had looked like just a moment ago.  It was far easier than he had expected– he meditated every day, yet still had trouble envisioning things like this–  but he was far more shocked at what else he saw.
 
A figure with long, white-blonde hair stood only a few feet away, water flowing and gurgling about his robe-clad knees.  Eric started, his eyes shooting open of their own accord.  The figure was still there, imposingly tall and undeniably real, as if once discovered he could no longer hide in the imagination.  Eric realized, thinking quickly over the faerie lore he had read, that that was a reasonable description of what had actually happened.  This being– this fey, Eric forced himself to admit,– had been hiding within some magical bulwark that Eric had inadvertently broken down.  It would explain why the look he was directing at Eric was supremely arrogant and less-than-friendly.  If his stature and musculature was any indication, he could easily have bested David in a fair fight.  That combined with the understanding that he was doubtlessly supernatural, and that fey, when faced with lesser creatures like humans, rarely fought fair, made Eric extremely uneasy.
 
For a moment that seemed like forever, Eric starred at the taller man, trying vainly to decide how he should go about apologizing to a water spirit.  Without prelude, the man gave his human imposter one last scathing look then slipped suddenly and silently under the stream.  Eric couldn’t help but move forward, craning his neck for a better view of the streambed.  The water was far too shallow for a grown man to have disappeared beneath, especially with the swift grace the fey had managed.  It had seemed as if he had just let himself drop into deep water, but as far as Eric could see the stream was a shallow, glassy tide over clearly-visible stones and pebbles.
 
He looked up at Whisper, still concentrating as she called for a guide.  It seemed to Eric that the fact she had at least attracted a nearby fey to them was a good sign.  Whisper, however, seemed oblivious to the favorable omen– or to anything else– and she focused on completing the spell.  She was repeating her ritual words for what Eric was certain was the third time, and was clearly training every bit of mental energy on imbuing meaning to the incantation.
 
She was holding her hands in front of her, palms facing toward the sky.  The braids of sage and sweet grass had been relit and were burning on either side of a tiny mirror at her feet.  In front of it burned the stub of a candle.
 
“With good will and a good heart I call forth a guide to lead us home.  With my mind I call you.  With my spirit I call you.  With my voice I call you.  Thrice summoned, come to me!”
 
It was an odd occurrence.  Eric hadn’t been certain what to expect– whether there would be a Hollywood-like puff of glittering smoke, or whether he would have to focus his mind to see the guide, as he had the river-man– so he was both surprised and slightly disappointed when a figure simply appeared.  She didn’t even fade into view, but was simply there so suddenly that Eric’s mind tried to convince him she had been there all along.
 
She was small and slender, almost tiny, with ghost-pale skin, large, almond-shaped, indigo eyes, and blue-black hair.  For a moment everything was stunned silence, and then she was moving, running at Whisper with incredible speed only to jerk to a stop just within the protective circle.
 
“Ach, ye nyaff!  Ye damned, empty-headed numpty!”
 
Eric starred wide-eyed.  This creature’s demeanor was as different from the regal, pale-haired man as nuts were from apples.  “Um… Whisper?  Are you sure that’s a fairy?”
 
Whisper hissed “Eric!” at about the same time the “guide” went completely berserk.
 
“Whadidye call me, ye pickle-faced jobbie-muncher?!”
 
“Sorry, I didn’t mean…”
 
“Bloody boggin lack-wit!”
 
“I said I was sorry!  I didn’t mean any offense…”
 
“Eejit!  Blackguard!”
 
“It’s just that that’s the word my people know your people by.”
 
There was a momentary pause, and then the fey threw herself against the invisible wall, shrieking a long line of profanities that, for decency’s sake, will not be recorded here.  Whisper fell back a couple of steps, as if hit by a gale only she could feel.
 
“Oh, Eric, please stop!  Stop making her angry!  I can’t hold her!”
 
“I’m not trying to make her angry!”  He turned back to the fey woman, who was clawing at the air as if trying to climb out of the unseen prison.  “I’m sorry, okay?  I really am.  I’m just a stupid human who doesn’t know any better.”  The torrent of foul language slowed a little, and the woman looked curiously at Eric.  “Just tell me what I should call you instead of… what I said before… and I’ll do it.  Okay?”
 
“She knows,” the fey indicated Whisper with a nod.  “She knows better, and she should’a taught ye better.”
 
“I’m a very slow learner.  Please don’t be angry.”
 
She huffed and dropped to the ground, pulling her knees up to her chin.  “Can’t hate an innocent fair bein’ as they are.”
 
“Thank you,”  Eric wanted to slap himself as soon as the words left his mouth.
 
“Clench it, boy!”  The fey demanded, sitting up straighter as if preparing for another assault.
 
Whisper tugged at Eric’s arm.  “You’re not supposed to thank them, Eric.  It’s insulting.”
 
Of course Eric remembered reading about that, but, given his recent assertion that he wasn’t very knowledgeable, he decided it was best to play up his ignorance.
 
“Oh,” he offered sheepishly.  “I’m sorry.”
 
“S’alright.” The fey responded dejectedly. 
 
Whisper moved a little closer to the circle.  “Um… You may call me Sapphire and call him Mal,” the look the fey gave her was one of knowing acceptance.  No one shared their rightful names in the Otherworld.  Whisper continued: “We’ve summoned you because we’re lost, and we want to go home.”
 
“Ye got gallus.  Hell slap it intae ye!   Now ye think it a fine thing to disturb me ain life an’ drag me into yer troubles,” she crossed her arms over her chest.  “Ye canna hold me lang, girl.”
 
“Please help us.”
 
“Can’t think why I should.”
 
This seemed to surprise Whisper.  “I’ll release you afterward,” she said.
 
“Ye canna hold me lang.”
 
“Please, please help us.  If you don’t we’ll die out here.  Please help us.”
 
“It’s no my problem,” the fey responded with little conviction.
 
“Please… I’m asking you to save our lives.  Please.”
 
Indigo eyes looked from Whisper to Eric and back again.  “If yer failing yer playin’ I s’pose.  Laird an’ Lady, but I’m tae soft fair my ain good.  A’right, then.  I’ll help get th’ pair o’ye home in safe.  Lemme out o’ this.”  She turned suddenly toward the stream, shouting.  “An’ ye can shut yer gob!  Ye really are a bloody fairy!”
 
 
"Well," Eric muttered to Whisper, "I think I now understand why 'fey' was once used as a synonym for ‘crazy.'  My only question is why it isn’t used to mean ‘utterly bug-nuts!’"
WildMagic WildMagic
26-30, F
Jul 12, 2010