Take Flight Part 19
The trip through the forest was disturbing. A worrying thought kept circling through Birch’s mind. Actions… reactions… Shit! Birch didn’t know anything about magic.
And that was a problem.
How was he going to figure out how to fix the magic when the only thing he’d done magical was an accident? Sayer had mentioned Birch’s instincts guiding his use of fae magic… but as a human he shouldn’t have been able to use magic at all.
How was he supposed to know alone? Sayer should be there with him. Birch clenched his fist over the mane he was holding. The fae horse turned its head and snorted.
“Sorry.” Birch tried to relax his grip.
Agarin, the Ledishe who seemed to be the most sensitive, looked green. He rode beside Birch, swallowing convulsively. “We’re close,” he whispered.
The horses’ steps were muffled and the fae were silent other than necessary speech. Birch figured they’d been walking along the wide path the trees made for at least two hours. He expected light to break through the trees and highlight the path beyond the forest but they stepped out into a gray twilight far from the light he was used to.
The gun metal gray sky brooded over them with low hanging clouds. The water was brackish.
“I thought you said this side of the veil was a lake and the other side was a swamp,” Birch said. He wrinkled his nose at the foul mist rising from the water.
“What is that?” The Alchemist pointed at something on the far shore of the water. “Whatever it is… that’s where the taint is coming from.”
Forisilki shuddered. “Even if I could use my magic, I wouldn’t touch this water.”
“It’s not an illusion?”
The Formorians shook their heads in tandem.
“We go around.” Birch leaned forward and his horse began to walk parallel to the shore. His hooves squelched in the mud. Rot and decay rose in sickening waves. “Be aware. I don’t see anyone, but someone has to be behind this. They could be around.”
A nasty mist swirled around the edges of the water, blurring the outline of whatever was tainting the fae realm. They drew close. Several of the fae drew weapons. Birch shook his head at the antiquated swords and knives. One of the dryads held a wood bow and several arrows in her hands.
Then again, it was better than nothing. Birch felt horribly exposed and unprotected. He scanned the lake and the surrounding shore. The air shimmered, blurring the trees beyond the water’s edge. As they drew closer he could start to make out the shape.
“Is that,”—he squinted—“a cross?”
Agarin leaned over the side of his horse and vomited.
“Alchemist?” Birch looked over his shoulder.
“That’s it,” he said quietly. “The taint is hovering like a red cloud all around it.”
“A cross.” Why a cross…? The trees.
Jesus Christ. Birch did not say it out loud.
“What?” Vernon asked.
“Sayer warned me. He said not to invoke um… religious stuff.” Birch pointed at the cross. “I’d say that’s pretty damn religious. Think about everything that’s happened.”
Birch slid off his horse and approached the cross on foot. “It looks like iron. You guys stay back.” The legend about the fae and iron was true, and someone knew it. Birch struggled across the soggy ground, his feet sinking in. Cold mud oozed over his shoes. He shuddered.
White grains were strewn liberally in a wide circle around the cross. Birch crouched and ran two fingers through the substance.
“My lord!” Ange objected. “You shouldn’t touch that!”
“I’m not a fae.”
“You have wings.”
Birch shrugged. “Still not a fae.” He rubbed his fingers together and then smelled them. “Salt.”
“They salted the ground?” Forisilki looked sick. “And the water.”
“If I break this circle of salt and remove the cross, can you fix this?”
“Maybe. But to get rid of the taint, you’ll have to take it beyond the veil.”
Birch stood up. He wiped his hand on his pants. As reluctant as he’d been to believe in the fae realm, and his shock at the fact a month had passed since Sayer brought him there, he didn’t want to leave. “Can I come back?”
“Of course you can. You’re bonded with King Sayer.” Vernon rolled his eyes. “You can cross the veil anytime you want. The world is a circle full of overlapping realms with edges that touch. Anywhere those edges touch you can see the veil and pass it now that you wear the king’s amulet.”
Birch absently brushed the amulet under his clothes. He could come back. Good.
“Someone brought this here. Someone with ties to a religious community that’s learned about the fae. There’s too much I don’t know about you guys. I need someone to come with me.” The Ledishe were out. This close to the veil, and the human contamination, had them both ill and shaking.
Ange dismounted from his horse. “I’ll come. Away from the fae realm my magic is the strongest. I can help protect you.”
“I need you to help the Ledishe clean this area, Forisilki. Vernon, you and the Alchemist go back to the castle. Tell Croll what we found.” Birch licked his lips. “The rest of you spread out. Check the other areas where the veil can be pierced. Find out if there have been any human incursions recently.”
He contemplated the cross. “I have no idea who did this, or why, but the answers we need are in the human realm. I’m going to get them.”
First he had to get the cross out of there. The metal arms were twisted around a rusty iron spike. It looked menacing, and he really didn’t want to touch it.
“Lift with the knees.”
Birch eradicated the salt circle, dragging his feet through it. A cold shock bit into his palms as he grasped the arms of the cross.TBC
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