Yeah, that time again! I've been sick lately which is why I've been quiet, but it's time for my update to Take Flight. I couldn't let that go by without giving you something so I bucked up, sucked down the Dayquil and juice and viola...
Did you notice that the Briefers have a new central site? Andy, bless him for his time, effort, and patience, has been putting it together for us. Soon you'll be able to see a single site with the Briefers each week sorta a 'center' with links to all our stories. The site will also cover extra stuff that we're publishing or working on, some ads and cover art, fun stuff like that. Who knows where it might go? Keep an eye on that!
So this week my prompt is a mix of words. I chose: swan, lake, illusion. Enjoy!!
Take Flight Part 18
Birch squirmed, trying to find a comfortable spot. There seemed to be no way to sit without his horse’s spine digging into his ass. “Abandon all hope,” Birch muttered as they entered the forest.
He glanced up at the branches that grew denser with every minute. The fae realm was always lit either by gentle sunlight or shimmering starlight and silvery rays from the moon. By contrast the shadows seemed darker and more menacing.
“Excuse me, my lord, did you say something?” asked Forisilki. She flipped her silvery blue hair over her shoulder, exposing her swan-like neck.
“Nope, nothing important. Is the forest very big?” Birch asked. The trail they were following disappeared between two trees leaning over the path.
One of the dryads turned around on their horse, balancing cross-legged on its wide back. He leaned to one side, speaking around the Formorian. “You’re not afraid, are you?”
“Afraid?” Birch snorted. “No. Just curious. And my name is Birch. You don’t have to call me my lord.” He ducked under a low hanging branch. “I’ve been here all of two days. I was unconscious when Sayer brought me here. With all the drama, I’ve barely been outside his rooms and certainly not to sightsee.”
“On horse, perhaps two hours. The path has become overgrown, of late.” The dryad waved at the heavy brush forcing them to travel single file. “Positively neglected.”
Birch shook his head. “And no one thought that was suspicious?” The fae were a surprisingly unobservant race. “In all the time the magic has been going crazy, no one thought this was odd?”
Ange spoke up from behind Birch, “How long do you think this has been going on?”
“Sayer disappeared on me four years ago.” Birch glanced over his shoulder. “Isn’t that long enough?”
“Four years in the human realm.”
Birch stiffened. His horse stopped, forcing the group to halt. “What do you mean, ‘four years in the human realm’?” The stories weren’t true, about time running differently. Sayer didn’t look….
When Sayer first showed up at his place, he looked the same. Exactly the same as Birch had seen him when they said good-bye.
“I’ve been here two days. How much time has gone by in the human realm?”
“Roughly?” Forisilki shrugged. “A month.”
“Jesus Christ!” Birch shouted. “What the fuck?”
Silence fell over the forest.
Birch’s mind spun with calculations. If two days equaled a month, each day was two weeks… half fifty-two weeks, twenty-six days times four… “The taint started less than three months ago?”
The Alchemist cleared his throat. “Yes. Can we move? The magic is doing something funny.”
The fae were all staring at Birch. “What?”
“You invoked….” Vernon’s voice trailed off.
Birch blanched. Shit. “Is that when the magic changed?” Sayer had warned him. Why didn’t Birch listen?
“Yes,” the Alchemist said shortly.
“Define funny,” Ange ordered.
“It’s darker and writhing.” The Alchemist shivered.
“Let’s go.” Vernon nudged his horse. The group started moving again. Birch bowed his head and held on. He felt dizzy and slightly nauseated. The implications of time moving differently hadn’t even entered his mind. He’d been gone from his life for a month.
People had to have noticed. Well, not his parents, but his boss, his neighbors. If—when—he fixed this taint thing, what the hell would he tell everyone?
“Are you seeing this?” Forsilki whispered.
Birch looked up. A path wide enough for three horses had opened in the forest. It appeared to stretch straight ahead until the gloom swallowed it in the distance.
“Who used magic to clear the path?” Sayer had been insistent they not use magic.
“No one. It happened after you said”—she grimaced—“what you said.”
“What do you think we should do, my lord?” Vernon crossed his arms over his chest.
And Birch thought Croll was cranky.
“Right now we have no idea what the source of the contamination is. It could be active or passive. Obviously, we use no magic unless there’s no other option. The risk could be greater nearer to the source. I’d say we’re getting close.” Birch peered into the darkness, but he couldn’t see anything beyond the path.
One of the Ledishe shivered. “It feels… wrong, but I can handle the sensation. The closer we get to the lake, though, the worse it gets.”
“You’re affected by ecological damage in the human realm, right?” Birch asked.
The Ledishe nodded.
“How would humans affect the trees in the fae realm?” Vernon asked scornfully.
Birch lost his temper. “I don’t know Vernon, how is fae magic being influenced by an outside source at all? Humans who’ve learned about you could be behind this shit. What else is real? Vampires? Witches? Could they be behind this? I don’t know, do you?”
Vernon hunched beneath the onslaught of Birch’s tirade.
“I had no idea this realm existed two days ago. Sayer’s gone crazy, I have no idea what the fuck is going on, and yet somehow… I’m in charge. If you’re not willing to help me, when all I’m doing is trying to help you, shut the hell up!”
Birch rested his fists on his thighs and took a deep breath.
No one moved.
“I’m sorry, my lord.” Vernon’s face was flushed.
Birch sighed. “Thank you.” He fought to calm his breathing. “I’m flying blind here. I’m asking questions because I don’t have any answers. Has anyone been through this forest before or know what’s beyond it?”
“There’s a lake. Beyond that… the veil.”
If that was what it sounded like… “The veil is the separation between the world and the fae realm, right?”
“Yes. The humans see an illusion. To them, the lake is a swamp. We Formorians take turns strengthening the veil. It discourages trespassing. Most humans can’t enter without help, though there are a few with the natural ability.”
“I need a god damn manual,” Birch grumbled.
The trees shivered.
“We keep going.” What other choice did they have?
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