Standing in a clearing on the Illensdar side of the border, Shianne absentmindedly rubbed the cuff around her wrist. It wasn’t too snug. It didn’t itch or burn. But it was an ever-present reminder that she was only a couple of weeks away from losing her paw forever, unless she could figure a way around its magic.
Though very near the Mormant border, she was not concerned, knowing the Wolves feared nothing as much as they feared the Losley Deadwoods. The breeze ruffled the coppery fur of her face and as she started to make her way towards the forest’s edge. The feeling of the air thickening around her that always came with breaching the Losley Deadwoods borders, and the hazy fog that amassed between the trees, made her feel as if she were walking into a vat of taffy.
After leaving Commander Rollstad with her new piece of cursed jewelry, she had quickly made her way to the Marina just outside the gates of San Vincent’s Port, to find a ship to give her passage across the Lorring Sea so that she could find Clottie and Lady Lisanne. She had been surprised and disheartened to find that the only shipping vessels in the once bustling and diverse port were Mormant supply ships. With her fur still its natural vibrant orange colour, she had known that aside from stowing away, those ships were not an option. And she would rather not be caught and killed mid-voyage, so she had left the city in search of other ports. Rumor around the city had been that many trading vessels were anchored just north of the city, in a much smaller port town of Innuda Inlet, as they were currently out of trades work. The Wolves stranglehold on Katheyra was tightening and no one seemed willing or able to stop it.
So, she had made the day long walk to the town, not comfortable enough in her appearance to book ride on a carriage, and had nearly wept with relief when she saw the mast and flag of the Fillsner’s Muse. The rush of relief had annoyed her so much that by the time she reached the ship, she had snarled at the deckhand so ferociously that he had nearly leapt off the gangway and into the sea to escape her. She had managed to regain control of herself long enough to ask where Captain Linley was, and then find him in the aforementioned alehouse not far from the docks. Though the little Badger was deep in his cups, he recognized her despite her abrupt fur colour change and insisted on buying her supper.
They had eaten and drank much ale, as they talked of all that seemed wrong in world, especially about the Wolves taking over the majority of the trade for Katheyra. She had filled in the good captain on their mutual friend’s quest, and her own predicament. And by the end of it, she had begun to feel better. He had agreed to take her to a small port town in Mormant, under the guise of a delivery that was paid for before the trading routes were reallocated to the Wolves. From there she would have to find her way to the woods on her own. Luckily she knew the area well, and knew the best ways to avoid contact in the Wolves territory. And she had the knowledge with her of the old travel road buried not far from the Illensdar border; the very same road that Beddigan had used when he and his sister Clottie had first entered the Woods and met Lady Lisanne.
Shianne trudged through the taffy feeling until it dissipated. It was hard to see which direction she was going through the hazy fog, but she hoped she was still headed west. Wrapping her cloak around her, Shianne stifled a shiver. The unnatural cold of the forest penetrated deeply, in an effort to repel folks from going deeper into the Woods. She passed jagged rocks, slick with dew and moss, and moved between towering trees whose tops were lost to the fog. Stepping carefully through some shoulder high brush, Shianne found herself on the very old, mostly recovered by the forest, road that had once served as a major thoroughfare through the forest to Reene. Back when Reene had been its own sovereign nation, and the Woods just a forest. Not so much of a road anymore. More a strip of deadened earth where foliage refused to grow.
Sighing with relief, she began to head deeper into the Woods, towards the Lost Lake, where Beddigan said she would find Lady Lisanne, if not confronted by one of the Sorceress’ beasts beforehand. At least I hope I’m headed towards the lake and that this is the right road, she thought. She kept a dagger slipped up the sleeve of her shirt in case she should have need of it, and her crystals pouch at the ready. She noticed then that the fog had thinned as she moved deeper into the forest.
The sudden sensation that she was being observed sent the fur at the back of her neck bristling. She quickened her pace, looking nervously around. Despite her confidence in her ability to fight, she, like everyone else, knew little of what lurked in the woods. A bright flash of light caught her eye at the edge of the forest and brought her stride to an abrupt halt. She turned to look at the light head-on, but nothing was there. A flash to the other side of her sent her spinning around, dagger loosed from her sleeve and clutched in her paw. But again, there was nothing there at all.
Tales her parents had told her when she was small about the ghosts that lived in the Deadwoods, the trapped souls of her Foxes and Mice who had been slaughtered by the Wolves, filled her mind and she began to feel a fear unlike any she had felt before. The fear turned to anger, as it often did for her as she looked about, spinning on her heels and snarling, searching for the source of light.
“Show yourself!” she snarled, “I haven’t the time for these games and tricks!” She waited, and for a few moments nothing at all happened. Just as she was beginning to think that her mind was indeed playing tricks on her, she saw a much more solid white light drifting towards her from deep in the forest. The fear clawed at her belly as it neared and took shape.
A glowing, opaque figure with delicate wings as if carved from ice, with a flickering core of what looked an awful lot like fire. Huge black eyes, that were endless pools of darkness, the creature floated towards her, leaving a trail of frost over the path.
“Fire and ice…” Shianne murmured in wonder, remembering Beddigan describing this creature to her. “Wysp.” She said in a louder tone, forcing herself to sheath her dagger. The creature stopped abruptly and cocked its head to one side.
“You no welcome here. Wolf” the creature said, the voice boomed in her mind. She noticed then that it had no mouth at all. With slow, deliberate movements, she reached up and tugged the hood of her cloak down to settle on her shoulders. No need to worry about her fur colour here. She thought.
“I am no Wolf.” she said calmly. The Wysp’s eyes grew in size and the flicker in its core burst and sparkled abruptly. For a moment Shianne was regretting taking her hood down, worried that she had somehow offended the Wysp. Then, out of the corner of her eyes she saw many more bright, white lights floating towards them. She turned in a slow circled and watched as small flickers of light gathered together and more of the Wysp’s formed and approached. They cocked their heads and observed her but said nothing. Finally, the original Wysp she had met spoke into her mind again.
“You are golden. Kin to Great One.” Shianne nodded slowly. “Special.” The the Wysp murmured into her mind. Shianne breathed out a sigh of relief.
“I seek Lady Lisanne, in a matter of great urgency. She knows of me well.” The Wysp’s circled around her slowly and the lead Wysp moved closer to her and she felt as if it was smiling, though she had no evidence to support that, other than the warm sensation she felt in her mind at the touch of the Wysp.
“Come. We will lead you to her pet.” The Wysp’s floated forward, down the path and she fell into an easy stride with them. Despite the trail of frost they left upon the ground, beneath their floating bodies, the warmth of their cores warmed her from the deep chill of the forest.
They came to a great pair of Sentinel Stones on the side of the road, which they all passed through, that lead to a smaller track winding into the depths of the forest. As they approached a great fork in the pathway the Wysps dispersed, leaving only the original one hovering near the fork’s peak.
The warmth that she had gained from being in their presence abruptly vanished as a shimmering of the air against the trees brought a renewed fear and a dread clawing in her stomach. The Wysp hovered over to the irregularity in the air and soon it began to take shape. As Shianne took in the size and bulk of the beast, she began to wish that it had not shown itself to her at all. Despite having been described in detail to her by Beddigan, this beast, Silkelline, was not something she could have been prepared for. As it materialized, it went from being a shimmering disruption in the air, to a great creature carved of ice and frost, its eyes glowed eerie white, looking like hollow spots in its frozen skull. Its mouth opened revealing razor sharp, needle-like teeth made of ice. It sat back on its haunches, and Shianne felt a ripple of fear shudder through her at the sinewy bulk of muscles that made up the Silkelline’s body. Powerful. Magical. Dangerous. She thought as the Wysp drifted towards her.
“Silkelline will take you to Great One.” Shianne nodded and approached the beast, who ducked down to let her climb atop its back. It took everything in her to not run shrieking in fear into the woods. Once atop the creature, she was surprised at how warm its body felt beneath her, despite its visage of ice. The Wysp drifted up to eye-level with her.
“Thank you for your help.” She said to the delicate creature. It stared at her for a moment.
“You come back please. We have much say to you. Special. Shianne.” Shianne’s mouth hung open a moment, but she forced herself to close it. Another time, she thought and nodded to the Wysp. And then it vanished from before her eyes like a bit of fog being burned off by the sun.
Once the Wysp had disappeared, Silkelline began moving through the woods at a frightening pace. It moved with such grace and speed that before long she realized it was impossible for it to accidentally knock her off with a low hanging branch, or crash into a tree. It moved with magic that allowed it to shape the Woods around it, and create clear paths where no clear paths existed. She looked back over her shoulder to see dead trees snapping back into place with nothing but a skiff of frost on them.
It took little time for them to reach the shores of the Lost Lake, which was as truly gorgeous. Lady Lisanne’s cottage sat on the shores and the door opened even before Silkelline had come to a full stop. Clottie burst out with a wild grin on her face, and then gasped when she saw Shianne’s fur. Shianne slid down from the now still Silkelline and moved to embrace the startled Mouse.
“I thought you went back to dark fur?” Clottie asked, squeezing Shianne tightly. Shianne pulled away from the hug with a grin,
“I did for a time. But that story is long and we have much more important things to discuss.” Shianne held up her paw and Clottie’s brow furrowed.
“What an odd piece of jewelry. I never took you for the type to wear something so… brash.” Shianne laughed a harsh sound and Clottie looked momentarily embarrassed. “I didn’t mean…” the Mouse started but Shianne cut her off.
“Oh, don’t worry, Clottie. I did not choose the jewelry, nor the price of it.” She said sardonically. Clottie gave her a puzzled look. Lady Lisanne appeared in the doorway behind Clottie and spoke,
“No, one does not choose a cuff such as that.” The Sorceress said in a mild tone. Clottie looked from Fox to Fox, puzzled but shrugged and lead Shianne into the cottage. Lady Lisanne smiled graciously to Shianne as she was ushered into the cottage, “Come in then, we indeed have much to discuss. Like how long before you are to lose that paw.”
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