Tatterwings: Part Five
Ioni’s heart soared as she watched the hooded Earth Faerie who had appeared on the path in front of them. It’s Ilere... a real Earth Faerie! On her lands, there’s no way Archos and his rabble can stand against her... Ioni had had that sort of power once in her little copse by Brightvale. She knew what sort of things an Earth Faerie on her own territory could do – and she knew that if Ilere wished to save them, no one could stop her.
Ilere waved her staff and roots sprung out of the path, tying the Rabble to the ground, arms pinned to their sides. Then she called, “To me! To me!”
The ropes holding Ioni, Bruno, and Rafe unwound themselves and fled to Ilere’s feet. Ioni fell to the ground. “Oh!” She lay there for a second, letting her mind drift as the world spun.
Rafe helped her up. “Are you okay, Ioni?”
“I’m fine... just got the breath knocked out of me.” She hugged him. “Oh, Rafe, I thought you were dead!”
He laughed shakily. “So did I.”
Ilere said sternly, “Gelert, Lupe, Grey-sister, you will want to stand behind me.”
Ioni could feel the magic brewing – she obeyed quickly and stood well out of the way of the transfixed Rabble as Ilere began to chant.
It happened quickly. One moment the mercenaries and their mad leader were struggling at their bonds, the next there was a swirl of green and a rush of brown, and between one breath and another a host of trees stood lit by the moonlight.
Bruno bowed low before Ilere. “Thank you, milady. You saved our lives.” But the hooded Faerie didn’t acknowledge him. Instead, she turned to Ioni.
“Grey-sister, your companions are safe in my grove. The oldest of your crippled kindred told me of what you seek. Follow me and I shall give you answers to all of your questions.”
Rafe grinned. As they followed the Earth Faerie, he said, “We’re almost there, Ioni. Soon we’ll know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Ioni sighed. “Once, I would have been able to turn soldiers into trees by myself.”
He patted her shoulder. “And you’ll be able to again very soon.”
Far away in her fortress, Jennumara felt the magic connection between herself and Archos snap. She dashed to the top of her tower and looked in her mirror, waiting impatiently for the mist to clear.
When she saw what had happened, she shrieked with rage. “NO! NO! NO!” That fool! Trying to cross Ilere’s domain – what could he have expected? Why do I even bother with mortals? Why?
She crossed the room in a floating stride and threw open a cabinet. Inside was a set of black armor. The only decoration or adornment was set into the center of the chestplate – a treasure that she prized above all her others.
I have little physical form these days... except when I don this! I’ll have to go handle Baelia and her tatterwing friends myself.
Oh, and I’m going to make them sorry that I did!
In Ilere’s grove, Lucine, Ioni, Baelia, Rafe, and Tolya sat around the Wood Lady’s chair, watching her eagerly. Tavi and Gilly sat slumped against a broad tree, deep in sleep. Bruno paced outside. He’d been vague about the exact reasons, but Ioni had guessed that he was expecting some sort of help.
Meanwhile, Ilere started to speak. “Faerie power must be kept in a vessel, or it dissipates back into the elements. A Faerie’s wings are normally her vessel. But, in the case of Grey Faeries, those wings have been taken taken –usually by Dark Faeries wanting to steal the power for her own use. To do this, they must shape the power into a new vessel that will hold it for them. And it will always take one form – a set of silver wings, about the size of your palm.
“To reclaim your power, and through it your wings, there are three steps. First, take the wing-charm back from the Dark one who possesses it. Next, go to the Rainbow Fountain in Faerieland. If it still lies there, at least – I have not been there for many a century. Thirdly, hold the charm in your hand, step into the water, and say your new name to bind the spell together. This will give you the power you had before. I cannot help you reclaim the wing-charms – you will have to do this yourselves.”
Everyone was silent. Ioni looked around – Baelia’s face had fallen, and Lucine drooped as she sat. Ioni looked up at Rafe... he smiled at her. “We can do it. I’m certain we can.”
Tolya asked, “Are you mad? You honestly want to tangle with the Nightmare Queen and the Dark Sisters?”
Rafe added, “And the Darkest Faerie. She’s the one who took Ioni’s wings. And I fully intend to take them back. Now, if you’d like to handle the Shadow Lady and the Sisters alone, be my guest, Miss Priss.”
Lucine said quietly, “Silence, Tolya.”
Tolya said angrily, “I’m sorry, Lucine, but this is madness! Life is fine as it is right now – we don’t need to go seeking death! And if we try to fight all of these Dark Faeries, we will die!”
Lucine laid a hand on Tolya’s arm. “Peace – please calm down, Tolya. With a plan...”
The Ruki shouted, “There’s no way that any plan can change the fact that if we try to fight all these Dark Faeries, we will lose! And we will be destroyed! And whatever may be wrong with that... that barbarian Lupe, I don’t want to die young!”
And Tolya stood up, grabbed her pack, and ran off into the night.
Lucine cried, “Tolya! Tolya! Come back – think this through!”
Rafe scowled. “Coward.” Bruno, watching in the direction Tolya had gone, clearly agreed.
But Tavi said from her place by the tree. “She was scared... she was really scared.” The look on Tavi’s face suggested that Tolya wasn’t the only scared one.
Rafe ruffled her hair. “You’re a good kid, Tavi. I’m glad you’re with us.”
Lucine murmured, “Maybe she’ll come back. She will... she will...”
Ioni felt horrible. Still, she couldn’t help but be grateful that she had Rafe by her side – someone whom she knew would do anything for her, and who knew that she would do just as much.
Gilly asked sleepily, “So what’re we going to do now?”
Rafe shrugged. “Start planning. Since the Shadow Lady is already after us, I think it’ll be best to start with her.”
Baelia fretted, “Without any magic on our side? This won’t be easy.”
Bruno said, “But we do. She’ll be here soon.”
Ioni looked up at the Gelert. “Who?”
“My sister Sophie. The Swamp Witch, they call her. She’ll help us.”
Just then, they heard someone walking quickly through the underbrush, and a green Ixi appeared. “Bruno! I was able to get a Meowclops to tell me what happened – are you hurt? And – Grey Faeries? What’s going on here?”
Bruno explained the whole story – the others added things as necessary. Finally, Gilly said, “So we don’t have a witch or mage now – would you come with us and help us out?”
Sophie stared at the little Usul. “Wait... we? Kid, this is serious. You shouldn’t be anywhere near this.”
Gilly crossed her arms. “Rafe and Bruno both said I could.”
Sophie sighed. “You would, Bruno. Well, if you ask me, since Jennumara is already looking for us, we ought to just set up an ambush and wait for her.”
Ilere said, “She comes already. I would go to the Morning Glade and wait for her. Around the edges, there is shelter, and it will give you room to move. It will confuse her.”
Rafe stood. “Well, if we want to have this party on our terms, we need to get going. Move out, everyone!”
Ioni curtseyed to Ilere. “Thank you, milady.”
Ilere nodded curtly. “All faeries ought to help their grey-sisters. I did only what I must.”
As the sun rose, Baelia and Tavi lay in the middle of the Morning Glade. Close by, under the shadow of the trees, Ioni watched them as they pretended to sleep.
Below the tree she sat in, hidden by underbrush, she heard Gilly ask, “And so what’ll I do again?”
Sophie replied sharply, “You’ll keep an eye out for any shadow minions of hers... it’ll be my duty to stop them.” Then a pause. Sophie said, “Give the signal, Ioni. I can feel the darkness gathering – she’ll be here very soon.”
Ioni gave a bird-call and slipped down from her tree, drawing her long knife. Her muscles tensed and she took a deep breath. We can do this. Jennumara is coming herself... we’re ready for her and we outnumber her. We can beat her... we can reclaim Baelia’s magic. And then we’ll take her to Faerieland and change her back into a Fire Faerie, and then she can help us fight Melanthe and the Dark Sisters.
A screech tore the air. “There you are, tatterwings!”
Ioni dashed out into the grass of the glade.
Focusing on Jennumara as she flew in was like focusing on a will-o-the-wisp – her body was somehow indistinct and shadowy. There were features on her face, but whoever looked instantly forgot what they looked like. The only thing solid about her was the black armor that she wore...
With a pair of silver wings set into the chest. There – we need to get those!
A blast of green magic knocked the Shadow Lady backwards. Sophie strode out of the forest, and behind her were Bruno and Rafe, armed and ready for battle.
The Nightmare Queen laughed. “So you wish to put up a fight, do you?”
Baelia said, “Give me my wings back, or I’ll take them.”
Jennumara laughed again, but another blast from Sophie cut her short. In retaliation, the Dark Faerie called lighting to her fingers, and Ioni had to throw herself to the ground to avoid being hit. As she did, she threw herself forward and delivered a long scratch to the shining black leg of the armor.
The Dark Faerie screamed, “HOW DARE YOU!” Shadow began to leak out of the armor, spilling onto the ground and vanishing.
Rafe, Bruno, Tavi, and Lucine all dived at her, grabbing onto the armor – trying to grab onto her misty body resulted in numb, chilled hands. Ioni rolled away to catch her breath, and then noticed the darkness on the horizon. Gilly screamed, “Shadows coming!”
Sophie looked up and thrust her staff into the air. Blinding light shot out of it – light so intense that it was all Ioni could do to keep her eyes open. Through the whiteness, she heard the Shadow Lady screaming and her minions crying out in agony.
Then she noticed a blot on the light. She’s up – she’s faking it somehow – Ioni threw all her force into diving at Jennumara and hitting the vulnerable armor as hard as she could.
Something gave underneath her blow. As the light faded, Ioni found herself sitting on the crumpled and stained remains of black metal, with something silver lying in its center.
Lucine looked at what remained of Jennumara. “She will have had to escape back to her fortress... it will be years before she can re-create the power she had stored in this armor. When you destroyed it, Ioni, you destroyed much of her strength.”
Baelia reached in and picked up the silver pair of wings. “I can feel it – my power is in here. But I can’t get to it.”
Lucine touched the talisman. “Not yet. We’ll go to Faerieland right away, and then you will be able to.”
Sophie said, “I’ll go with you. It seems you may need some help.” Gilly clapped, and Bruno smiled down at his younger sister.
Ioni smiled – the happiness radiating out of Baelia was infectious. “Okay, everyone – let’s put these woods behind us. We’re going to Faerieland!”
And if Jennumara can be defeated, so can Melanthe. If Baelia can regain her powers, so can I!
For the first time in many years, Ioni had real hope. And on that bright morning, with the Nightmare Queen defeated, it seemed that nothing could stop them anymore.
To be continued...