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Viv closed her eyes briefly, screwing her courage to the sticking point. She didn’t want to kill someone, but a war would only cause more suffering and death. Even if she actually believed that it would only be between the fae and demons, lots of people would still die, and be tortured, and who knew what.
And she didn’t believe war would just impact those two groups. Wars had a way of growing, and when it was between realms—and between people known to make deals and settle debts with all kinds of other creatures—it would only grow bigger, wider, worse.
She opened her eyes and finished the incantation for her lightning spell.
Electricity rained down from her fingers, sparking through her almost painfully, and hit that darkest shadow square on.
The shadow woman screamed, the sound high and thin and surprised—she had been caught totally off guard in this moment, not expecting a counter-attack from above from someone who had been drowned in her darkness. The shadows that she was casting over them, that sticky, inky blackness that had blinded Viv—all were banished, and the area once more flooded entirely with light.
They had her. Viv knew that. The shadow woman had been flung to the ground, was twisting, nearly dissolving under the rain of electricity on her. Electricity might have been the best thing she could pick, she thought, almost floaty in her own shock; it was made of light, but it was also the form of light that humans like Viv had best learned how to harness, the tool they had worked with for so long to effectively banish the night.
And the shadow woman was screaming and crying and begging and Viv knew she had nowhere to run, no chance to run.
For a moment, Viv’s will trembled, because she didn’t want to kill. She didn’t want to be someone who struck down someone else, even if that person absolutely deserved it—
And she thought about the way the shadow woman had coated her with that darkness, had stuck it to her body to blind her and trap her.
And she thought again about the symbolism of electricity.
And she thought about divination and how important it was to trust her instincts.
And then Viv wove the spell, shaped it, drawing on reserves that shouldn’t have been possible, abilities that shouldn’t have been possible, not when she had just barely learned the spell a few hours earlier—and formed an orb of crackling light around the shadow woman, leaving her injured, trapped, and helpless.
The shadow woman curled into a tighter ball, unable to find a way through that orb that Viv had made, unable to to find freedom, unable to even let herself touch the walls of light.
Viv felt the shadow woman’s last attempts to struggle—felt that lure try to form in her electric prison as the shadow woman tried to change that glowing spell into that light of command that the lanternfish had been so good at using—but she was unable to, not with Viv controlling the electricity so directly.
For a moment, there was silence.
And then there was cheering. Thys burst into a loud half-sob, half-hoot, throwing her arms around Dandelion and squeezing him, Caoimhe sweeping Adrien off his feet in a kiss, Star letting out loud kazoo toots in a victory riff. Even Viv let out a brief relieved sigh, grasping onto the branch she was holding onto and finding Varsha’s hand reaching back to hold onto her. She was still floating—the side effect of the breakfast bar, Viv had to assume, since floating was definitely not part of a light spell normally—but that was fine.
And then Viv remembered what she’d heard approaching. She swore and looked at the passage to the fae realms.
The sound of the approaching group had stopped, but only because they had watched what was happening—had stopped at the wall of shadow at the edge of the gate, had watched that shadow get sucked back into the trapped shadow woman, and were now watching the entire group’s undignified celebrations. There were three people there at the head of a mounted group of what Viv had to assume were fae soldiers, though she couldn’t really see much past them but horses and armour.
One of the people was a tall daoine sidhe man with rich brown skin and long black hair woven into an intricate array of braids. He was wearing a silver and blue outfit of rich material, and was standing with one hand on his hip and another on his sword.
The second person was a somewhat harried-looking fae woman, pale and twisted and bent, covered in bumps and protrusions that Viv couldn’t identify as warts or bone spurs or something else all together. Her hair was tied up in a bun, and she was dressed in tidy but unremarkable clothes—but the staff she used to bear her weight was made of solid gold with rich jewels drawing out uncanny patterns on its surface.
And the third person was Ferthur. He shuffled forward with a clicking of hooves, blood dripping down his face and spraying the ground in front of him as he jerked his antlered head to toss his hair back from his eyes.
“See, my lord, my lady? I told you he was sneaking this way, trying to get back into the fae realms as if exile meant nothing to him, and with a whole group to help him,” Ferthur said, showing too many teeth as he grinned. “They seem to have got caught up with fighting someone, sure. Maybe she recognized them and challenged their right of passage? This fight is surely the only reason they haven’t entered already—or perhaps they already have crossed that boundary, hm, and were drawn back by this person. We may have arrived in the nick of time to be heroes and save this poor woman from this terrible gang that attacked her.”
“Hush for a moment,” the fae lord said, holding up a hand. He was eyeing the group in front of him with a stern but somewhat strained gaze—he hadn’t seen Viv or Varsha above, not yet, but Viv didn’t think they’d stay hidden for long. “Asterace, is that true? Did you intend to return despite your exile?”
“I did not,” Dandelion said, stiffly. He had lowered his head, was not looking any of these people in the eye. “Nor have I crossed the territory’s boundary. Rather, I have accepted the terms of my exile to the point that I was actively seeking ways to prevent future war—much as the tithe itself is designed to do.”
“What do you mean by that, exactly?” the fae lady said. She hobbled forward to challenge Dandelion—then frowned when she saw Thys. “Is that… Thysania? The missing noble?”
Thys looked away. “I too have not crossed into fae territory,” they said stiffly. “I do not intend to return, and came here to help Dandelion prevent war as well. This woman we have captive here is one who would cause it. Would you drag me back kicking and screaming, knowing that?”
“Perhaps so. Your people have been managing, and I have for now taken them under my care but you know they deserve a leader who would love them properly,” the fae lady said grimly.
Ferthur spat blood to the side—nearly hitting Star, who hissed an angry kazoo cord in his direction. “What nonsense are they speaking? All I see is a fae traitor who wanted to cause war between us, and a fae runaway who abandoned her people, some innocent they have captured, and some common, solitary fae they have roped into helping them. Surely you don’t believe this absurd tale, his claims that he, a man who would attempt to cause war between us by interfering with the tithe from your people to mine, would now try to stop it?”
“Ferthur, enough, be quiet,” the fae lord said. He drew a breath. “I do not know what to make of this, no, but I do not like that he is encroaching on our territory. We cannot see the truth through his eyes as we could from a human’s, since he is still a lord even in exile, but perhaps we could find more inventive ways to get it from his companions. We can deal with this situation once we’ve taken them all prisoner.”
Viv had to do something. She could hide here and not be seen—but who knew what would happen to her friends below, to her love below, if she did that? Would Dandelion be accused of breaking exile and punished or killed? Would Thysania be kidnapped and returned to the fate they’d once escaped? Would the Merry Gentry band get tortured in the name of truth?
She couldn’t sit by and let it happen.
Besides which, she knew she couldn’t hold onto this cage forever. She had to decide what to do with the captive shadow woman soon—and if she had to chase after the fae to try to help her friends, she wouldn’t be able to hold the shadow woman as well. Whatever she said or did to convince these fae nobles, she had to do it now, and she had to do it quick, before everything fell apart entirely.
[Please suggest an action in the Comments.
Have your comments in by 4 pm PST Oct 31
This is your last chance to influence the story’s outcome with your comments!
Depending on the time I have available to write tomorrow, I will either post the full
ending Oct 31, or the conclusion of this situation tomorrow & an epilogue on Nov 1st.
Either way, make sure you say what you want Viv to do! …and also, let me know
if there’s something specific you want to see happen in the epilogue ;)]