Vol 2: Chapter 3, Part 2: The Only Way

“Beddigan? Are you even listening to me?!” Clottie’s annoyed voice drifted through the haze in Beddigan’s mind, bringing him back to the hot, dusty path leading through dead trees. His sister stood facing him, barely a yard away at a fork in the road. The dark green of her tunic was dulled by a thin layer of the pale dust that swirled up from the path with the breeze. Her paws were balled into fists and rested on her hip as she glared at him. He offered a hasty smile,

“Sorry, I just can’t stop thinking about the wysp. Such an interesting creature! We are fortunate they have had kind dealings with our kin.” Clottie’s face softened a bit,

“Yes, very fortunate.” She gestured behind her at the fork in the road, “Now,” she added, “Can you please use that gem and figure out which way we need to go? It’s getting late in the day and we have been walking forever.” she complained. Beddigan nodded and moved ahead on the path, holding the gem out in front of him as he approached the fork. So far they had been down six forks, each time following the gem’s bright ruby glow. Beddigan took a few tentative steps down the left fork and watched as the gem shifted in colour to a murky blue. He stepped back carefully and indicated to the right part of the fork,

“Looks like it’s this o-” he stopped short of finishing his sentence as he stepped down the path a few paces. He stared at the gem which was still a murky blue colour. Clottie appeared beside him looking down at the gem with a puzzled expression.

“It’s not red.” she murmured, a puzzled expression on her face. The wind shifted slightly, a hint of frosty cold in the otherwise sweltering heat. Beddigan’s hackles rose.

“Clottie, get back.” he said, a harsh edge in his voice.

“What? Wh-” she started to ask, but Beddigan cut her off.

“Go! Now!” he snarled, shoving the gem into his pocket and drawing his sword. He looked down the path, noticing that further down in the distance the trees started to have leaves again, creating a thick cover for an ambush. He peered through the dead trees near where he stood and saw nothing. Doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there though, he thought, scanning for a sign of any creature. He took a quick peak over his shoulder to see Clottie several yards back from the fork in the road, clutching the knife he had given her when they left and looking nervously around. And in that moment that his eyes were turned, something slammed into him with enough force to send him flying through the air, landing with a thud on the dusty path. He groaned and struggled to his feet, brandishing his sword and searching for the enemy. Clottie had scrambled a few paces backwards on the path,

“Are you okay?” she called to him. He dared not look away from the path again.

“Mostly. Stay back.” he snarled. Then he caught it, a distortion in the air right at the fork in the road; invisible but visible, like a shimmering ripple of water imposed over the air. He could make out the shape of four legs, head, and long tail, whipping back and forth. It was huge, nearly his height on four legs. He prepared himself for another attack, but the creature only paced back and forth on the path. Guarding it, he thought.

An idea formed in Beddigan’s mind. He fished the gem from his pocket and took a step towards the fork. He hurled the gem over the beast down the path and watched it turn ruby red. The beast didn’t move from it’s spot. Beddigan took a breath, and slipped his sword back into it’s sheath.

“What are you doing?!” Clottie hissed from behind him. Beddigan ignored her and held up his paws in a plaintive gesture. Clearing his throat he began to speak,

“We come in search of a powerful sorceress, who has helped many from our village.” he spoke clearly, hoping his hunch was right. Nothing happened so he continued, “We met a wysp along the way who provided us with that gem. We mean you no harm. We wish only to beg of your assistance in a matter of much important, Great One.” The wind shifted again, this time flowing forth from the path with the icy sureness of a winter storm. The distortion that was the creature slowly solidified, taking on the frozen guise of an ice sculpture. Clottie gasped from behind him. The creatures eyes glowed eerie white, looking like hollow spots in it’s frozen skull, and it’s mouth opened revealing razor sharp, needle-like teeth made of ice. It sat back on it’s haunches, and Beddigan felt his chest tighten at the sinewy bulk of muscles that made up the creatures body. Powerful. Magical. Dangerous.

Suddenly a dark figure appeared on the path next to the ice beast. At first it appeared to be a figure of average height in a dark cloak, but as it drifted forward, Beddigan became aware that it floated above the dusty path and left a trail of frost behind it. It then became clear that the cloak was fluid, seamless, and edgeless, like ebony smoke draped over a body.

“You risk much, mouse.” a sibilant voice hissed as the smoky visage drifted towards him. “To come this far into the woods… most never leave this place.” Beddigan swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat.

“I had no other choice.” he answered in as calm of a voice as he could muster. The figure drifted past him, inching towards Clottie. It took tamping down all of his instincts to turn his back on the icy beast and follow the smoke figure towards his sister. She stood, quaking with fear, still clutching the knife in her trembling paws.

A tendril of smoke drifted out and caressed her paw. She yelped, releasing the knife to the smoke and leapt back on the path to put some distance between her and it. The knife disappeared as the figure followed her, drifting down the path.

“Do you fear me?” the sibilant voice whispered. Clottie’s jaw worked, trying to answer. Finally a broken answer squeaked out of her dry mouth,

“Y-yes.” The smoke figure swirled around her and then started drifting back towards Beddigan.

“Good.” it hissed. Beddigan felt fear clawing at him from inside.

“Please, Great One, we need your help.” he said softly, wincing at the shaking of his voice. The figure had drifted all the way back to the beast.

“All things with a price.” the figure whispered. “What is it you require?” Beddigan gulped,

“I need some way to break into a prison, to rescue a dear friend to whom I owe my life many times over.” Beddigan watched as the icy creature began to slip back to it’s thawed, barely visible form, and the smoke figure solidified until it was clearly an individual in a black cloak, hood pulled up high to hide it’s face.

“You come to me for this? Surely there are less dangerous routes for a prison break.” a soft, womanly voice said from beneath the hood of the cloak.

“This is no ordinary prison. This is Fort Alline, and the wolves are keeping my friend as a means to capture me.” A gust of frigid wind wound down the path, stinging his skin beneath his fur. Delicate paws emerged from the long, flowing sleeves of the cloak and rose to pull back the hood. Beddigan’s mouth dried out as he recognized the red-gold fur.

“Then you are in some luck, dear mouse, for I have no love of wolves.” As the hood settled around the foxes shoulder’s, he heard Clottie gasp again from behind him,

The fox turned and beckoned for them to follow her down the path, stopping only to pick up and pocket the ruby coloured gem. The formerly icy creature disappeared into the woods as they followed her to where the forest began to waken from the dead trees again. Clottie grasped his arm tightly as they moved into the shadows, both staring at the shiny red-gold fur of the back of the foxes head. The path curved not far from the fork and suddenly they emerged from the trees into a clearing bordering a large lake.

“The Lost Lake.” Beddigan breathed in wonder. Unlike a typical lake, the water was not blue or green, or even a murky brown, but instead a shifting, shimmering rainbow of colour. Near the shores it shone pink and orange like a sunset and further out there was spots of indigo, yellow, bright reds, and deep purples. He had heard stories, even seen paintings meant to be the lake all through the lands, but they did nothing to compare with the reality of it’s beauty.

“It’s beautiful.” Clottie murmured at his side. The fox turned to them and nodded,

“Please, come in.” she said, gesturing to a cottage that appeared just in front of her as if from no where. Beddigan and Clottie followed the fox inside of the cottage, marvelling silently at the enormous power it must take for the sorceress to hide it with a simple gesture.

Once they were seated on big, red cushions on the floor around a low table, the fox folded her paws and met Beddigan’s eyes.

“Tell me your story.” she said. Beddigan took a breath, and recounted the relevant bits of information that had lead them to her. He watched the sorceress carefully as he told his story, but she simply watched him, stone-faced, listening carefully to his words. When he was finished he waited as the fox assessed him calmly from the other side of the table.

“I can help you.” she said firmly, “What do you offer in exchange for my help?” Beddigan loosened two heavy bags of coins from his belt and set them on the table. The fox looked at him, arching a brown skeptically. “I have no need of your coin, mouse.” Beddigan felt spikes of panic in his stomach,

“I will give you whatever. Anything, I just need your help.” he said urgently, slipping the coins back on his belt. The fox’s eyes drifted to Clottie and then back to him,

“Even your sister?” she said softly. Clottie’s paw gripped his in fear, and he felt his anger rising,

“What would you want with my sister?” he said with vigilantly controlled anger. The sorceress reached across the table towards Clottie. His sister’s paw rose from her lap and reached, unbidden, to meet the fox’s.

“I am in need of an apprentice. And though she doesn’t know it, she is in need of training.” the sorceress said. Beddigan pushed himself up from the table,

“She has never shown any ability in magic.” He said with a frown. “No. Absolutely not.” he growled. The fox’s gaze drifted from his sister’s eyes up to his own, and he saw a firmness there that created a pit in his stomach.

“You have my offer.” she said tightly. Beddigan turned and threw the door of the cottage open.

“Come, Clottie. We best get headed back.” he said, stalking out into the stifling warm air.

“Beddigan, wait!” Clottie called to him. He turned back to see her standing in the doorway,

“I want to stay.” she said softly. Beddigan stared at his sister in shock,

“What?” he asked, stepping back towards her, grasping her paws in his own. “You don’t have to do this,” he said softly, “We will find some other way to free William.” Clottie shook free of his grasp,

“No, Beddigan. You know as well as I do that this is the only way.” Beddigan cast his eyes over his sister’s shoulder, meeting the gaze of the sorceress.

“Please,” he begged, his eyes brimming with tears, “There has to be something else you need. I can’t leave her here.” The fox rose and crossed the room to a large crate. She opened it and pulled out a silken red bag, before approaching the doorway where he and Clottie stood.

“She will come to no harm. This, I can promise you.” the fox said. She then held out the bag to him. He hesitated, his paw trembling as he searched his sister’s eyes. She smiled at him, a small quirk of her mouth that didn’t meet her eyes.

“Take it Beddigan. Let me do this for you.” He looked at her a moment longer before nodding stiffly, taking the bag from the sorceress.

He loosened the drawstring tie and peered inside at a two small wooden boxes, one with a blue stamp and the other with a red stamp. He lifted the one with the blue stamp from the bag and opened it. Inside was a fine powder, coloured a light blue. The same was true for the other box, except it’s powder matched that of it’s stamp and was a pale red. He met the sorceress’ eyes, as she spoke

“Together these powders will allow you to borrow another’s face.” the sorceress said, and Beddigan’s brows shot up. “Blow the blue into the face your wish to steal. Inhale the red for the change to take place.” she continued. Beddigan’s mind reeled at the possibilities. For a moment he felt searing joy as the plan started to form and he could finally see a glimmer of hope for saving his friend. Then, he remembered the price, and his eyes fell on Clottie as sorrow rushed over him. The fox gripped his arm to get his attention and he turned his gaze back to her. “But be warned, the effects will wear off in an hour and you will wear your own face again.” Beddigan nodded stiffly, storing the boxes back in their bag and tucking it into a pocket in his cloak.

Feeling a rush of frosty air behind him Beddigan whirled around and saw the ice beast a few yards away. He turned back to the Sorceress, his heart thudding heavily in his chest in fear of the beast. The sorceress stepped past him and caressed the beast’s cheek, like one would a beloved pet.

“Silkelline will take you back to where you entered the deadwoods.” Beddigan swallowed hard,

“Uh, that is very kind of you, but I think I’d rather walk.” The sorceress narrowed her eyes at him for a moment, and then said icily,

“You will accept his ride or risk the beast of this forest at night. You will not make it home.” Beddigan stared at the sorceress a moment and the nodded. He turned to Clottie and gathered her into a tight hug.

“I’ll be back.” he murmured against the top of her head. She nodded, wiping a stray tear from her cheek as they separated. He approached the icy beast with caution, unsure of how to climb onto it’s back. The sorceress nodded to him and suddenly he was lifting through the air until he settled on the back of the creature. His stomach flipped as the beast strode towards the mouth of the path leading back into the forest. He was about to turn and call one last goodbye when the beast leapt forward, racing through the trees. Leaning down, he wrapped his arms around it’s neck and held on for dear life.

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