She fought in broad daylight.
Light encompassed Trissiny: her own energy, drawn from Avei, as well as the blessings of Omnu and Themynra laid upon her. Omnu granted peace, which was an ironic sensation under the circumstances, but she certainly appreciated the core of unshakeable inner calm while she fought among two dozen foes each more than three times her size. His blessing was also one of life and healing, which she also had cause to be thankful for, especially the first time she took a kick full in the chest from an equine hind leg. Her breastplate didn’t so much as dent, its silvered steel having been a gift of the goddess, but she felt her ribs break and skin rupture, and then set themselves instantly right, with a pleasant tingling sensation.
Themynra, as Shaeine had said, was a goddess of judgment, and Trissiny was grateful for her assistance as well. She had been skeptical at being told of the drow goddess’s association with Avei, but in the heat of this melee, the matter began to make a great deal more sense. Her mind already held the knowledge she needed of martial arts and military tactics, but she found herself thinking faster and three steps farther than she usually did, deducing where a strike would fall or an enemy would maneuver almost before they did.
She whirled among them, unable to reach higher than their equine backs, but nearly impossible for them to strike—and when they did land a hit, immediately back on her feet, unhurt. It was a battle of attrition, and while the centaurs might have expected to win that had it just been her, they were facing off against the power of the gods.
It helped a lot that they could hardly see. Trissiny moved in a mobile blaze of light that blinded and confused them; they could either look right at her and accept momentarily blindness and longer-term damage to their night vision, or look outward into the darkness, and fall afoul of the rapidly dancing little human with the inhumanly precise sword.
That didn’t mean she was going to win. Themynra’s touch told her the odds, and Omnu gave her peace with it. Gods or no, she was an imperfect vessel for their power, and her enemies had power of their own.
After the first clashes, though, the warlocks had pulled back to let the warriors face her. Her divine light didn’t effortlessly snuff out their spells the way Juniper’s fae magic did, but rather reacted against it—violently. It was quickly proven that whatever sources they were drawing on, Trissiny’s was stronger. Curses hurled at her rebounded or exploded at the outer edge of her aura; the two demons initially summoned to attack her had died excruciatingly within seconds, one bisected by her blade, the other struck insensate to the ground by a burst of radiance, to have her boot slam down on its throat. The third had taken one look at her and fled across the prairie, its shrieking warlock in pursuit.
Trissiny learned quickly that the best place to be was right in front of them. To the side, they could turn swiftly, using their bulk to knock her over; behind, she was in range of those mighty hindquarters, which was very much to be avoided. No blessing or healing would save her if a kick took her head off, which they seemed fully capable of doing. She had gained some insight into why the barbarian lord whose tomb had hosted her party had been given his name, now that she knew firsthand which end of a horse was not to be messed with.
Too far back, and they sent arrows, spells and javelins at her, which she had ways of dealing with, but that forced her to expend her energy with nothing to throw back at them. No, the sweet spot was right in front; they couldn’t reach her with their hands, and she was quick enough to deflect their longer weapons on sword or shield. From that range, she could reach their human bellies with her blade, which seemed to hold some vital organs. They were most likely to rear up and slash at her with their hooves, which afforded her the chance to dodge beneath them and put her sword into their lower bodies. From there, it was somewhat tricky to disengage her blade and get away before being crushed under their falling weight, but the centaurs were only faster over long distances. Up close, she was the more nimble.
Three lay dead, now, with half a dozen more still on their feet but bleeding or limping. A further four were alive but immobile; Trissiny had found that the creatures were just as vulnerable as horses once their legs were broken. Of those, only one had tried to continue the fight with bow and arrow, and had subsequently lost a hand as a lesson in why one should not launch a ranged attack on a mobile foe when one could not run away.
She wasn’t even tired, yet. It would come, though, she knew it. So far, she still didn’t feel the burning sensation of too much Light, despite the fact that she was using more than at any previous point in her life. That was coming, too, however. It wasn’t a pretty way to die.
What would be, would be. Live, die, it hardly mattered. She was protecting her friends. She was the hand of Avei. She fought.
Sword, shield and boots were equally useful for breaking legs. Shield and aura both worked to deflect attacks. Her blade bit into flesh, her power pushed back against curses. Trissiny rolled under their legs, smashed their limbs, maneuvered them to collide with each other, slashed at them till their blood ran under her armor. Those who survived this night would remember Avei’s wrath.
The blast of a hunting horn split the night. One long note, two short ones, a pause and a final bleat. She didn’t know their signals, but Trissiny suddenly found herself alone. The centaurs peeled away in every direction, flowing around her at a respectful distance to regroup.
She held her ready stance. Were they retreating? Had she convinced them they couldn’t win this? She hadn’t yet convinced herself of that… Then again, they were expecting easy prey; the fact that she was not might be enough to dissuade them.
A sudden fear chilled her as she watched them gather together. What if they just backed off and went around her, after her friends? She’d never catch up in time.
The centaurs, however, held their position, about fifty yards distant, excepting the nine lying wounded or dead on the battlefield. Thirteen still in their ranks, as best she could tell; they were milling about enough to confuse the matter.
Then, they parted, and their leader emerged from the throng.
She held her skull-staff in one hand and the hunting horn in the other. Stepping forward, she tossed the horn to one of her number and continued on at an even pace, alone, her gaze fixed on Trissiny.
The towering centaur came to a stop. Then, very deliberately, she raised her staff high over her head, and nodded once to the paladin.
For a moment, Trissiny felt only revulsion. A warlock among a tribe of warlocks, rapists, and the gods only knew what else was not worth treating as any kind of equal. That, she realized, was only her faith talking. And in the end, there were some things which were about faith, and some that were about being a warrior.
Trissiny returned the salute in the Avenist fashion: sword hand over heart, blade vertical beside her face, and a shallow bow.
They lowered their weapons at the same moment.
The centaur broke into a canter, calling upon her power; shadowy forms, an inky purple against the night sky, began to circle above her like vultures over carrion, first one, then more, till they swirled above her head in a twisted vortex. As she accelerated into a full gallop, the skull head of her staff burst into sickly green flame.
Trisiny charged to meet her, shield forward, blade held out and ready to strike. Her aura intensified till the other centaurs couldn’t look, her sword burning almost white with divine energy. A tone like the chime of an immense bronze bell rang across the prairie, and in the final sign of Avei’s favor, golden eagle wings lit the air behind her, as if to lift her from the ground.
From the point where light and shadow met, the tallgrass was blasted flat for a quarter mile around.
The little hillock wasn’t much in the way of shelter, but it was something, and in the endless flatness of the Golden Sea, something was plenty. Small, thorny bushes decorated it, interspersed with craggy little protrusions of rock. It had also held a few grouse, which were now roasting over their campfire. Not much else of interest was to be found, but the travelers had made the best use they could of it. With the hillock on one side and the two wagons drawn in a loose V formation, they formed a sheltered little triangular nook, lit by their campfire.
The oxen were tethered outside the formation, and Jim sat atop the modest high point of the hillock, still plenty close enough to speak to without shouting, keeping watch. The other three sat cross-legged on the ground around their campfire, laughing, chatting, and waiting for dinner to be done.
“Somebody’s coming,” said Jim suddenly, standing up.
A hush fell over the group; Bella slipped a hand into her vest to grasp at one of the talismans hidden there.
“Trouble?” asked Lance tersely.
“Dammit, man, if I knew I’d have said so. Shut up a minute and let me look.”
Moving slowly so as not to create noise or cast dramatic shadows, Elroy leaned to one side, picking up his staff and Lance’s, which he passed over; Lance accepted the weapon with a nod of thanks. Bella was fingering her amulet now, almost silently whispering an invocation of some kind. Lance had little understanding of witchcraft, but it seemed to involve almost as much muttering and superstition as he expected from clerics.
“It’s those kids,” said Jim, his tone more bemused than relieved. “The ones from the other day. Well…half of ’em, looks like.”
“Tellwyrn’s kids?” Bella asked, biting her lip. “Hell.”
“Ain’t likely to rob us, then,” Lance mused. “How far?”
“Bout a hundred yards. Makin’ right for us. No surprise there, what with the fire.”
“You say there are fewer?”
“Yeah, I count… Four. No, five, one’s unconscious and being carried. They got some kinda floating glowball for light.”
“Down part of their number and walkin’ around in the middle of the night,” said Lance, frowning in thought. “Sounds like trouble. Anything comin’ after ’em?”
“Not that I can see. They ain’t hurrying, either. Look plumb wore out, to me. Kinda, y’know…trudging.”
“All right. Hands near weapons, but until we get a sign otherwise, I’d say it’ll pay to be neighborly.”
“You sure?” Bella asked carefully.
“Tellwyrn ain’t a good enemy to have. We’ll be polite until a compelling reason not to pops up. Like I said, they ain’t likely to mean us harm, and it sounds like they’ve had some trouble of their own .”
She nodded slowly, Elroy doing the same. They waited in silence for the few minutes it took the students to reach their camp.
The little brown girl led the way, stepping through the gap between the wagons with naked steel in her hand. Lance’s eyes flicked to the sword, and Elroy’s hands tensed on his weapon. Her posture wasn’t aggressive, though; the blade was practically dragging along the ground. She looked angry and tired, but relaxed slightly as her eyes widened in recognition.
“Oh, hey,” she said. “It’s you guys again.”
“Evening,” Lance said mildly. He glanced at her unsheathed weapon and came to one of the rapid decisions that had marked his career up to this point. “We weren’t expecting to run into y’all again. It’s not often that paths cross twice in the Golden Sea.”
“Perhaps the gods brought us,” said the tall, dark-skinned boy, gently pushing past her. “Sorry to barge in on you like this.”
“Ain’t no trouble,” Lance replied. “Elroy, point that thing someplace else, nobody here’s bein’ hostile. Sit a spell, neighbors. Food’s not quite ready, but you’re welcome to the fire. Unless I’m mistaken, there were more of you previously.”
“We’ve had…a day,” the boy said ruefully, glancing back as the last of his companions entered, the drow and the half-elven man, who was carrying the slumbering green-haired girl. “Thanks for the welcome. You’re the first good news we’ve seen in quite a while.”
“Centaurs?” asked Bella, tense.
“A good way behind us,” said the boy, nodding. “But we’ve not seen them in hours. It looks like we lost them.”
“Are you sure?” Elroy asked nervously.
“They are not stealthy creatures,” said the drow, and Elroy started violently, twitching his staff in her direction. Thankfully, she ignored this. “I would have heard any pursuit. No, we’ve left them behind…though the price was steep.”
“Then it sounds like you’ve more’n earned a little rest,” Lance said solicitously as the four carefully arranged themselves to one side of the fire, Elroy having stood and circled around to stand between him and Bella. The blonde main carefully laid out the green-haired girl to one side before seating himself. “Hell, I’m not gonna make you kids wait on this to finish cookin’. Bella, why don’t you find something for our guests to eat? They look tuckered out. Hey, break out some of that special cornbread of yours.”
The others twisted their heads around to look at him in obvious surprise. “The…special cornbread, Lance?” Bella asked uncertainly.
“Now, don’t be stingy,” he said with gentle reproof. “We’re doin’ okay for supplies, and you can have all the cornbread or whatever else you want once we get back to civilization. These kids needs a little somethin’ to pick ’em up after the day they’ve had.”
“Sorry,” she said, flushing. “I just… Yeah, sure, gimme a second.”
She stood and stepped over toward one of the wagons, but reared back in surprise when a glowing silver ball zipped around from behind them. “Need a hand?” it asked in a bright, somewhat squeaky voice. “I’m getting good at carrying stuff!”
“Holy shit,” Bella whipered in awe. “You’re a pixie.”
“Um…yes?” The pixie bobbed in place a couple of times. “We’ve met before, you know. I was there when we ran into you out on the prairie.”
“You were? How did I not see that?”
“Oh, well, it’s my coloration, I guess. I’m told I can be kinda hard to spot in broad daylight.”
“I bet we’ve got all kinds of stories we can share,” Lance said pointedly, “but we’ve got hungry guests, Bella.”
“Ah. Yes, right.” Grudgingly tearing her eyes away from the pixie, she hopped up onto the wagon and vanished within. “Comin’ right up.”
The special cornbread was wrapped up in oilcloth, bound with some of Bella’s charmed twine to keep it fresh. In short order she had undone this and was passing around tin plates, breaking off chunks of bread for the students.
“Y’all go ahead and dig in,” she said, smiling warmly. “You’re welcome to some bird, too, when it’s ready, but we can wait on that. Looks like you kids have had a hell of a day. Is your friend there all right?”
“She’s just tired out,” said the half-elf, managing a weak grin. “…hopefully. We’re not a hundred percent sure. She doesn’t seem sick or injured, anyway.”
They accepted the offering of food with murmurs of thanks; only the boy tried to demur, insisting on sharing, but Bella was too gently persistent, and Lance managed to distract them by asking about their situation.
For all that the story was fairly straightforward, it seemed hard for them to get through. Toby, as he introduced himself, took the main role in laying it out, with occasional interruptions, mostly from Ruda and the Professor. The drow remained silent, eating quietly, and Fross just sort of drifted about their heads, commenting little.
He was carving the birds by the time they were done, and waved off their refusals with a smile as he refilled plates with fragrant fresh grouse, in addition to passing shares around to his own people.
“So the long and the short of it is,” he said carefully, “y’all have had one hell of a day.”
“Few days,” Ruda muttered, chewing. “…this is really good cornbread.”
“Bella’s special recipe,” he replied easily. “It’s got beans baked right in—you probably noticed that—and a dusting of cinnamon on the top. Your ma’s recipe, wasn’t it?”
“No, Lance,” she said, rolling her eyes. “It was Mother Gowan’s, the woman who taught me the Craft. Honestly, do you even hear words when I talk?”
“Depends on how much I’ve had to drink,” he replied, grinning at her, then sobered, turning back to their guests. “At any rate, I’m glad to hear the rest of your crew aren’t a total loss. Sounds like you managed to send ’em off to safety, at least. Well, except for the paladin girl. Reckon she’s all right?”
An obvious pall fell over them. Ruda’s features twisted into a virulent scowl and she glared into the fire as though it had just insulted all her ancestors. Toby glanced down at Juniper, lying stretched out a safe distance from the fire, as if to reassure himself that they hadn’t lost any more members of their group while he’d been talking.
“We hope and pray it is so,” said Shaeine. “There seems little more we can do at this juncture.”
Lance nodded. “That’s life, sometimes. You expect help from your University?”
“Yeah,” Ruda said quickly, an edge to her tone. “Tellwyrn will know if anything happens to Triss. She’ll take care of it.” Toby glanced sidelong at her, uncertainty plain on his face, but he made no comment.
“Well, regardless, you kids are welcome to spend the night here,” Lance continued. “We’re headin’ back to the edge of the Sea as quick as we can make it, and I gather you’re planning the same?”
“We are,” Toby said, nodding.
“Good, then there’s no reason not to help each other out. We’ll cover the watch tonight, since you’re kind of under the weather.”
“Not necessary, we’ll gladly…” He yawned hugely, mid-sentence.
“So I see,” Lance said dryly. “Tell you what, anybody still awake when it’s time to change shifts can draw straws for it. Fair?”
“’s fair,” Toby agreed, nodding again. He and the others were all visibly sleepy now, lulled by fatigue, the cozy fire and a belly full of hot food. Shaeine had set her plate on the ground after nearly dropping it once, and Rafe was already stretched out on his back next to Juniper.
“We’ll just see about getting’ squared away for the night, then,” Bella said, rising with a smile and leaving her half-eaten plate of grouse. “You still want to help, Fross?”
“Oh! Uh, sure, what can I do?” The pixie fluttered curiously over to her. Bella smiled, clambering up onto the nearest wagon and reaching under the seat.
“Well, we always keep somebody on watch, as you can see. That’s just basic common sense.”
“Ooh! I can stay on watch, I don’t need to sleep!”
“I know you don’t,” she replied, smiling, and pulled forth a lumpy knapsack. “But I was going to say, in addition to keeping a pair of eyes out, I always lay some simple protections on us and set a few wards for the evening.”
“Wards? Oh! You’re a witch!”
“Bingo!” Bella grinned. “So you see why I’m a little embarrassed. Imagine, a witch not noticing a pixie.”
“Aw, shucks, don’t worry about that. Human eyes aren’t made for spotting white lights in broad daylight.”
“Well, regardless, we’re all together now, and that’s what matters.” She had set her sack on the wagon seat and was laying out items, old charms, bundles of herbs, bones, crystals and a pint-sized glass jar with a lead stopper and swirling designs inked on the sides. “So, while I’m sure you’re very talented at lifting things, maybe you can help me out with this instead?”
“Well…sure! I’ve never assisted a witch before, it should be interesting. I mean, where I was born we didn’t really run into humans at all, but I’d heard about humans who used fae magic and I always thought that must be the most fascinating thing, so, yeah, I’d be glad to! Sorry if I ask too many questions, I don’t know very much about the Craft and I always love to learn new things.”
“I don’t mind at all,” Bella said easily. She had tied a thin silver chain around the upper rim of the lead stopper and laid two springs of dried herbs in the bottom of the wide-mouthed jar. “Here, let me show you. Can you come down here, please? Right by the jar.”
The pixie obediently buzzed downward, doing a lap around the jar before settling on the wood next to it. “What am I looking for?”
“What I need you to do is very carefully infuse those dried leaves with just the tiniest bit of pure elemental magic. Careful not to overdo it; if they burn up we’ll have to start over.”
“I dunno,” Fross said nervously, “I’ve never tried that before.”
“Don’t you worry about a thing, darlin’, I’ve got plenty more. A few false starts won’t hurt us any. Here, try to get a straight shot; can you perch on the rim of the jar?”
“Easy peasy!” She buzzed her wings once, bounding up onto the very edge of the jar’s mouth. “Oh, I see your point, this thing’s enchanted to bar magic.”
“Exactly,” Bella said, nodding, “the power only goes in and out through the mouth, that way I can control it. Now…let me walk you through it. Don’t draw on any magic yet, just start by looking at the herbs.”
“Check. I’m looking.”
“Look hard. Really focus on them, get a feel for them. Let the herbs fill your awareness…”
Her wings buzzed briefly, but Fross made no reply, her light dimming slightly in concentration as she peered down at the bits of dried plant at the bottom.
“Very good,” Belly cooed softly. “Nice and still. Hold that in your mind, and now…”
With a single motion, she knocked Fross forward with the lead stopper and then drove it firmly into the mouth of the jar, trapping the pixie inside. Quick as a cat, she snatched up a length of woven cord wrapped in an elaborate pattern of silver thread, winding it three times around the jar, and tied it off. Inside, Fross buzzed about frantically, though she barely had room to extend her wings. Her voice was reduced to meaningless squeaks by the thick glass.
“Ah!” Bella set the jar down on the wagon seat and shook her hands. “Cold!” She held them out toward the fire, but her savagely triumphant grin didn’t so much as waver.
“You about done, then?” Lance asked dryly.
“Oh, I am so done,” she purred. “Got everything I ever wanted right here.”
“Really? You were just supposed to put her out of commission. What do you want her for? What can you possibly do with a captive pixie?”
“What can’t you do with a pixie?” she retorted gleefully. “She’s a little bundle of pure elemental magic, endlessly self-replenishing. Doesn’t need to eat, sleep or breathe, and no matter how much power I pull from her, she’ll produce more. Most witches only dream of binding a pixie! You almost never see them unless you go where they live, and then they’ll mob you if you mess with one. Ohh, this is ten times better than that haul of jewels we found.”
“Yeah, that’s great and all,” Elroy said skittishly, “Bella gets her little glow-toy, and meanwhile we just probably pissed off Arachne goddamn Tellwyrn. For what? I’ll eat my boots if these kids have anything worth taking in their pockets.” Gingerly, he reached out and nudged Toby with a toe. He and Ruda had slumped over backward and were now stretched out side by side, their feet toward the fire. Only Shaeine still sat up, but she was slouched heavily and just as deeply asleep.
Lance permitted himself a smug smile. And they’d told him bringing the special cornbread was a waste of time in the Golden Sea. Preparedness; that’s why he was in charge. He stood up, stepped around the fire, bent down and picked up Ruda’s sword. “Have a look at this,” he said mildly, holding it out toward Elroy.
“Oh, c’mon, that? Yeah, sure, the gems’ll probably sell, but dammit, Lance, they ain’t nothin’ compared to what we’re already hauling! How the hell was that worth the risk?”
“Don’t assume the sparkly part is the most important part, dummy. Hey, Jim, come down here. Have a look at this.”
Jim picked his way down the rocky slope and approached curiously, plate in hand and chewing. He froze, though, staring at the sword in the firelight, going wide-eyed. Lance could almost swear his elongated ears perked up slightly.
“Okay, what are we missing?” Bella asked, tearing her eyes away from the glowing bottle. Fross had iced over the interior, hiding herself from view.
“See how the light shines on it?” Lance said, slowly turning the sword to make the firelight gleam on the blade. “Not like steel, more like it’s soaking up the light and glowing, right? This, lady and gents, is mithril. Honest-to-gods dwarven-cast mithril. Magically non-conductive and damn near indestructible. This blade would stop a wandshot; it’ll be around long after the Empire is dust.” To demonstrate, he took the rapier’s blade very carefully in both hands and attempted to flex it, to no effect. A length of steel that thin would have bent easily. “This here shaft of metal is worth three times our entire haul of jewels. Add to that the fancy handle, and this is a weapon that should belong to a prince or high priest.”
“Damn,” Elroy whispered. “What’s that little girl doin’ with it, then?”
“That, Elroy, is the best part,” Lance grinned. “See that blue jewel on her forehead? She’s Punaji—a pirate. The obvious answer to what a scruffy teenager is doing with a piece like this is that she stole it. That’s what Punaji do. So whoever actually paid for this thing will be lookin’ for her, not for us. That’s assuming they ain’t at the bottom of the Azure Sea with a slit throat.
“So our plan’s the same: we head back to civilization and sell the jewels. Now, though, we re-invest some of the proceeds in, shall we say…gentrification. Proper outfits, introductions. It’ll take some doin’ to get into the right circles to sell this sword; can’t just anybody afford something like this, even if we don’t let it go for its full value, which we ain’t gonna get. Even so, once all the effort’s made, we just doubled the size of our haul, easy.” He caressed the slender blade as lovingly as Bella was now fondling her bottle. “We are made. After this score, we can retire and live like lords until we get so tired of decadence we’re ready to shuffle ourselves off the mortal coil.”
“You are rather glossing over the complication of our…guests,” Jim pointed out.
“Right,” Lance said, drawing his attention away from daydreams of wealth and idleness, back to the present. “That’ll be an extra step or two, but nothing too onerous.”
“Just slit their throats and have done with it,” Jim said curtly.
Lance shook his head. “You heard the girl. They die, Tellwyrn knows. Wouldn’t put it past that lady to have ways of keeping an eye on the life force of her students. I’ve heard stranger things about her.”
“That sounded like a bluff to me.”
“T’me, too, Jim. But given the risk involved, and the fact that we don’t need to call that bluff, we won’t.” He nodded at Bella. “Our resident witch here can use that memory spell we laid on Lord Calwynth last year. We take ’em out of the Sea, find someplace relatively safe where they won’t get immediately killed, lay the whammy on ’em and haul ass out of there. They’ll wake up amnesiac, which’ll slow ’em the hell down without calling Tellwyrn down on us.”
“It’s a good plan,” Bella agreed. “No permanent harm, even, just for a humanitarian bonus. They’ll get most of their memories back eventually, but not the ones most recent before the spell. So they won’t ever know what happened or who to look for.”
“Sounds foolproof,” Jim said, narrowing his eyes. “I distrust foolproof. It never works out in practice.”
“Well, there’s one complication,” Bella admitted. “Lance, I don’t think my memory spell will work on the dryad.”
“So…that’s an actual dryad?” He let out a low whistle. “I sorta figured green hair was trendy in Tiraas these days. Kids’ll do any dumb fucking thing to piss off their parents.”
“Lance Rogers, any woman wandering around the Golden Sea dressed like that is either a dryad or about to be a corpse. Use your head for somethin’ besides a hatstand. Look, I can bind her so she won’t wake up, that’s easy enough. We’ll leave her someplace separate, somewhere in the Golden Sea. Animals won’t mess with her, and the Sea is twisted by fae magic; she’ll be right at home until Naiya sends somebody to wake her up. If she ever does. She ain’t exactly the most attentive mother. But we sure as hell do not want to bring her any harm. A pissed-off Tellwyrn would be nothing compared to a pissed-off Naiya.”
Elroy jumped in startlement at a sudden movement from Shaeine, but she was only tumbling over on her side, finally overbalancing. He grinned weakly at them. “Well. Um…sounds like a plan, then?
“It does,” Lance agreed. “And we’ll get started on it first thing in the morning. We ain’t more’n a day or two from the outer rim, if that. Bella, anyplace special we should look for to leave the dryad?
“Anyplace’ll do, in a pinch,” she said, chewing her lip and staring thoughtfully down at Juniper. “Could just drop her in the middle of the prairie and it’d probably be fine… But someplace meaningful would be better. We should hold out for a grove, something that could be sacred to the fae. If we don’t come across anything, we’ll just ditch her, but showing a little respect will go a long way toward appeasing Naiya.”
“She ain’t gonna be mad about us putting the girl to sleep, then?” Elroy asked nervously.
“We didn’t put her to sleep, I’m just gonna keep her that way. Which, in a roundabout way, is probably for her own good, if her so-called friends let her wear herself out running in the first place. Anyway, fae have very different sensibilities. Long as we don’t do her active harm, we’re not pickin’ a fight.”
“All right, then,” said Lance. “I want two people on watch at all times tonight. One looking outside, and one keeping an eye on these kids. We don’t want any surprises, and let’s face it, Tellwyrn doesn’t let just any jackass attend her school. It’ll mean short sleep, but in three days this’ll all be behind us, and we’ll be on our way to wealth and privilege. Jim, you take a rest; Bella, you an’ me’ll have the first watch, since it looks like you’re too busy getting’ cozy with your new pet pixie to sleep anyway.”
“Aw, you know me so well.”
As they talked, Ruda’s hand twitched toward Toby, and viciously pinched the skin on the back of his wrist. His breathing didn’t vary in the slightest.
She cracked an eye open a slit, to glance up at the four travelers, then immediately shut it as they dispersed, two into the wagons, the leader toward her and her companions. There she lay, limp and breathing deeply.