Gytha licked at her shoulder and arm. The wounds were mostly healed, but they still itched and she wanted to scratch them. But when she did, they bled and hurt again. Licking them seemed a reasonable compromise.
Gytha shot up and ran, quick through the trees, Jacob was behind her, but she easily out paced him. Dipak screameda second time just as Gytha reached the edge of the broken tree. Gytha went to her and tried to take her in an embrace, but Dipak scuttled away. Her jacket was torn down the front, revealing swallow claw marks where she had injured herself again.
“Dipak,” Gytha purred.
Laying down on her stomach and pressing the side of her face against the floor, Dipak regarded Gytha with the row of eyes on the side of her face. They took turns blinking so that the stare was never broken.
“You never failed me,” Dipak whispered.
Gytha gave no reply.
“Or Enaid,” she added.
Squatting down, Gytha tapped her claws against the floor, but said nothing.
“Part of being the Life Spark means dying,” Dipak said.
Closing all her eyes, she stretched out her hands towards Gytha. After a pause, Gytha moved forward so that she could touch her finger tips to Dipak’s.
“I cannot always be here. The Fey must do things without me. And I must die in order to become a different aspect,” she continued.
Gytha bowed her head.
“All these centuries that you have been at my side, it wasn’t to keep me alive,” Dipak said.
Lifting her head, she looked up at Gytha.
“It was because I couldn’t do it alone. I needed a friend,” Dipak explained.
Smiled up at her. It was strange that she needed these things explained. In so many ways Gytha was the child and always would be. Gytha stretched her mouth and bared her teeth in an effort to mimic a smile. Revealing all those sharp teeth made her look ready to chew through your throat and the saliva dripping from them made her look hungry. Dipak giggled. Then she wondered what her smile looked like these days. Was hers as horrifying?
“Is she ok?” Jacob wheezed as he burst into the tree.
“Yes,” Gytha hissed, looked up at him.
“What was wrong? Why did you scream?” Jacob asked as he came over to Dipak’s side.
She was glad to have him there.
The three of them looked at her, seeing that her eyes were now opened. Still her skin was grey with the cast of blue at her lips and nails. The once vibrant hair was now a dull, dirty grey. But her eyes were open. A yellow film clung over them and her pupils were clouded.
The three were silent, waiting. But nothing happened. Enaid closed her eyes and returned as she was.
“I don’t like it,” Jacob said.
The other two said nothing.
“Some thing got her attention,” he added.
“Stay here,” she commanded.
“Where are you going?” Jacob asked.
“I’m going to check the perimeter,” Gytha said.
Rain continued through the day. It wasn’t heavy, but it seeped through their clothing and eventually reached their skin. It was cold. The breeze was light, but chill. Together, they were huddling, hoping to maintain what warmth they could. Nick had called up his magic and was sending out waves of heat, but he was afraid to use a lot. He knew that they were being looked for. Too much magic would be the same a starting a forest fire.
“What about starting a small fire? Think we could get one going without too much smoke?” Kevin asked.
“I don’t think so,” Chris answered, looking around at all the wet.
They were silent again.
“Did it matter?” Nick thought.
“Let’s start a fire,” he said.
“The smoke will be obvious,” Chris stated.
“And if we die from the cold, it won’t matter who finds us,” Nick said.
“And they are less likely to hunt down smoke then my magic,” Nick thought.
Kevin fished out the lighter in his pocket and passed it over to Chris. Staring down at the fairly dry pack of cigarettes, he debated about keeping them, but passed them over too.
“Those might help get the fire going,” he said.
Gytha looked out at the strangers that were huddled together at the edge of the Wandering Wood. Enaid had not sent them away nor brought them to the tree. But she was weak and it was difficult to tell whether or not she would want them in the wood.
These people did not look threatening, but she had seen many techie soldiers that looked the same right before they suited up into their mechs and began raining fire on the Fey. But they could be people that could help them. Jacob had been calling for someone to come heal the tree. What if this was them? There was no way to tell. She would bring them to Dipak, she would know what to do with them. If nothing else, she would know if they could help the tree.
Gytha stepped off the tree branch and landed quietly next to the group, she was surprised that one of them twirled around and reached out for her. She stepped to one side, evading his grasp. The boy did not dismiss what he’d heard just because he could now not see anything. Instead he gestured to the others and they went quiet. Sniffing at the air, he turned his head towards her.
“Who are you?” he asked.
With a laugh, Gytha let the shimmer fade.
The thing stepped out of no where. It had been right next to him and he had been unable to see it. Had it wanted to, it could have seriously injured him. Nick disliked the idea of having been so vulnerable. They had been too focused on techies and had not considered the other possibilities in this world. And of all the things to come as a reminder, this wasn’t the one he would have asked for. It was two heads taller then him and looked down at him from black eyes.
“Gytha,” it said.
It’s voice was gravel grinding in a cast iron pot. It crossed it’s muscular arms over its broad chest and bared its teeth at him, flashing all the pointed edges that dripped thick saliva.
“You need to come with me,” it stated.
Nick really didn’t like where this was going. Felt like they were going to end up in another castle with another dead king. There was no way to predict how this strange creature would handle things. Was it best to fight it now or should they just follow and see how it played out?
Lee stepped forward. Reaching out a hand, she trembled.
“The tree is dying,” she whispered.
She could feel call. So much stronger here. Something more. Underneath the call there was something more.
“Rachna,” she murmured.
Stepping past Gytha, her eyes wide and unfocused. There was a darkness. It was calling. She looked back over her shoulder at Gytha.
“Where is Dipak? I need Dipak,” Lee said.
Kevin stuffed his hands in his pockets. There was never anything for him to do. He might as well hug Chris back here. He was feeling that useful.
Gytha led the strangers through the wandering wood. It had been a long time since outsiders had been allowed in. Jacob had been the last. Before that, Dipak had visitors coming and going all the time. He’d believed that he could create peace. But they had killed him. Now there were visitors again. The Fey looked at them with suspicion.
Following the path, Gytha came to a large blob of a Fey that didn’t move. She growled at him, but he didn’t move.
“Get out of the way!” she yelled.
“It’s humans that are destroying the forests!” he said.
He didn’t move.
“And it has always been humans that have healed them,” Gytha reminded.
She looked out at the crowd that was gathered there. They hid behind trunks, hung from branches, hovered over flowers and squatted within the brush.
“The Narrator was a human and she called us back. Enaid was human. It’s always been humans,” Gytha said.
“And which ones are these?”the blob asked. “Are these the creators or the destroyers?”
He didn’t move.
“That’s not up to us,” Gytha hissed, swiping her claw.
Lee took a few careful steps around Gytha so that she was standing in front of the blob.
“No, it is up to you,” she whispered, laying her hand onto one of the light green nodules on the blob’s round surface.
Blinking at her with his flat green eyes, he said nothing.
“With hate and anger, Gaia can only destroy,” Lee whispered.
“Gaia is the force of life! She only creates!” the blog roared.
“Bull shit!” Lee roared back.
She stepped closer to the blob, dropping her hand to her side.
“Life cannot continue without death. Gaia crushes the wings of a dragon fly to feed the frog. Gaia tears apart the flesh of a zebra to allow the lion to live. No creation can exist without something first being destroyed,” she said.
Lee stepped away from the blob and then scanned the Fey around her.
“Destruction hurts. The zebra and dragon fly want to live! They fight up until their last breath, but still Gaia chooses to sacrifice them. One day too, each of use will be chosen by Gaia to make that sacrifice. We will be asked to die so that another may live so that something else may be created.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. Gaia had asked her sisters to die. They had been too young and naive to fight. Letting the tears fall, she looked at each face that she could focus on. There was so much fear here.
“But we can choose to help her create,” she whispered.
Lee turned and faced the blog again. He giggled out of the way. She didn’t know where she was going, but she moved forward following the path. As she went, more Fey gathered and watched her pass. Looking forward, she tried not to convey anything to them. She had said what she was going to.
Gytha walked closed behind her. It was comforting. The creature was close enough that on occasion the clawed hand would swing into view, making Lee feel small.
The tree came into view.
“No,” she whispered.
As if it had been struck by a force from above, it was split from the top and the sides bent back. Other, smaller trees had crowded into the middle of the larger tree. The roots and branches of all the trees were knotted and twisted together. The tangle looked like hair left unbrushed far too long.
Stumbling, she tried to move forward. Gytha steadied her from behind.
“Lee?” Nick called to her.
“I’m alright,” she whispered.
Not sure that she was, she took a few breaths to steady herself. Moving slowly, she made her way the remainder of the distance with her eyes fixed upon the figure at the opening in the tree. Upon reaching the bottom, she stopped and regarded him a moment before speaking.
“Jacob,” she whispered.
“You came,” he said.
“Of course I came,” she said, holding her arms out to him.
They embraced, both weeping.
Nick came up behind her and laid his hand flat against her back when he saw the girl that came out from the tree. Kevin and Chris hung back, feeling pointless and out of place in this strange world.
“Down, down in the fucking rabbit hole,” Wolf said.
“You’re not fucking kidding,” Kevin thought.
Chris slid his hand into Kevin’s, his fingers trembling and his lips pressed together. Kevin glanced over at the tree and took in a sharp breath. This creature made Gytha look like a fluffy bunny. Fucking fantastic. What else was hiding in these damn trees?
“Maybe something that can turn us inside out by our asshole or eat us slowly over days without killing us,” Wolf suggested.
“Fucking lovely ideas,” Kevin thought.
“Got to love the little rabbit hole,” Wolf said with a large grin.
“Asshole,” Kevin thought.
Looking over Jacob’s shoulder, Lee made eye contact with Dipak.
“Dipak,” Lee whispered.
She pulled away from Jacob and Nick so that she could walk to Dipak. They stood, looking at each other. Silent breeze ruffled through their hair lifting Lee’s red locks up so they mingled with Dipak’s black locks.
“Mother is waiting for you,” Dipak said.
Lee nodded and went to go into the tree.
“No, not in the tree,” Dipak said, shaking her head.
“But Enaid is dying,” Lee said.
“It’s not time,” Dipak said.
“Then what?” Lee asked.
“Rachna,” Dipak said.
“Rachna,” Lee repeated.
The word was heavy between them.
“She can’t go to Rachna without Enaid’s help,” Gytha said.
“The Ancients will allow her,” Dipak stated.
With her heart pounding and her breath coming hard, Lee took Dipak’s hand. She didn’t want to go.
“I need to see Enaid,” Lee whispered.
In part, it was a delay tacit. But she also knew that she might not get another chance. Once things were sent into motion, there was no stopping their momentum. This was her chance to meet the tree. She had to see Enaid. Stepping around Dipak, she made her way around the tangles of wood until she was able to kneel down next to the girl impaled onto the floor.
“Will this be my fate?” she asked no one in particular.
Enaid opened her eyes and turned her head so that she was looking at Lee. Enaid said nothing.
“What happened to you?” Lee asked.
Dipak sat down next to Lee and took her hand.
“Rebinding should never happen,” Dipak stated.
“Why did you do it?” Lee asked.
She was silent for a long time.
“I couldn’t let her die,” she whispered.