Tunic groaned as he slipped in and out of consciousness. “We’re almost out of the tunnel,” I assured him in my shaky voice. “Don’t worry, I will rescue you the way you saved me all those times. Just hang in there for a while longer.”
That “while longer” would have to be three or four days. Perhaps longer, with my carrying his weight. Assuming his wounds did not kill him by then. It was miserable business.
I felt my leg break free of the tunnel. I tugged Tunic one more time and then released him to slide out of the passage. I stretched my already sore limbs and felt the tender flesh on my hand. It had not healed like Tunic’s hand had recovered at Kiho’s font. I grumbled something about prejudiced faeries and continued.
I put my pack on and sheathed my father’s knife, which Tunic had tossed to the ground. No doubt, he had ascertained that any hope of deception would require me to look like a prisoner – thus my weapon was stripped. It was a pity his plan had failed.
“Look Tunic,” I said as I pulled him into the open air, “we made it out of the tunnel.” I gently placed him on the slope and then untied his pack. I flattened my nearly empty one and slung his pack over it. It was uncomfortable, but we might need them later.
Then I glanced down at the slope we had to descend. I had climbed using my hands for support on the way up. Now I had to balance two packs and my friend sliding down it. I tried as best as I could to keep our descent orderly as we began down the slope. At first, I started us in an upright position, but found it impossible to maintain balance. I seated us, wrapping an arm around Tunic, securing him to my chest, and then began to slide us down the loose gravel. Tunic’s weight almost slipped out of my reach once or twice, but I clung to him with my mightiest grip.
At the bottom of the descent, I retrieved Tunic’s canteen and trickled some water into his mouth. I surveyed our lofty position and tried not to groan at how little progress we had made in so much time. I knew, though I would not admit it, that Tunic would not survive. After I took a swig of water, I stowed the canteen back on his hip. My hand felt his flute as I clipped the canteen to his belt.
Hope blossomed as I remembered his spiteful horse. I grasped the flute and put my lips to it. A menacing screech emitted from it. I tried again to summon the horse, but was unfamiliar with the instrument. My lips shaped in different forms, my fingers covering different orifices until I managed some emulation of a tune. I repeated the sounds over and over until they resembled Tunic’s song. I had only heard it a few times, so I could not be certain I had memorized it correctly, but I came near the original.
I waited, but the horse never came. When fifteen minutes had passed I tried again. Perhaps I had misplayed the melody or the horse knew it was not its master who had so unskillfully blasted the flute moments ago. Five more minutes passed and I decided I could wait no more. The horse would likely not even aid me. Again, I found myself grumbling, this time about unfriendly horses. I grabbed Tunic and began to drag him down the mountain.
“You wouldn’t have these issues,” I told him. “You would have some mysterious method of summoning the wind or something to rescue me,” I sighed. “But I’ll not give up yet,” I promised. “I owe you that.”
With my efforts to tug him along behind me, the tip of his hat had continually been pulled down from the security of his head. It dropped to the ground and I halted to retrieve it. Gently, I replaced the cap. I may not be able to save his life, but I could save his dignity. “You need your hat,” I told him. “You’re not Tunic without it.” The hat proceeded to fall three or four more times, but I refused to continue unless it graced his head.
My back began to strain with all the tugging, until I feared it would seize. “I’m sorry,” I apologized with tears running down my face. I wouldn’t make it four or five days like this. I would barely make it four hours. “If only I were stronger…” I lamented.
I stumbled to my feet, the agonized muscles denying the repetition of a motion they were so ill accustomed to performing. “What do I do?” I asked Tunic, stroking his face endearingly. He didn’t respond to my touch.
My hand trembled as I drew my knife and held it to his nose. The polished surface clouded with his weak exhalation. I replaced the blade and renewed my vow to persevere.
I couldn’t keep tugging him though. It was too straining and slow. With an apology, I removed our packs and placed them over his shoulders. Then I grabbed his arms and folded them around my neck. With his weight draping behind me I continued down Keegan Heights. If he were, in any way conscious, he must have been in agony. For his wounded stomach and arms were pressed against my back.
It took two hours to reach the flat land again, and I was panting as I reached the bottom. I placed Tunic on the ground and collapsed beside him.
Though I had thought myself at an end of energy, I found I had enough strength to leap in terror at an angry whiny. Tunic’s horse grazed nearby, waiting for our descent. “Bless you,” I called to it. The beast snickered at me rudely.
I moved toward the beast to guide it to its master, but it bolted.
“No!” I called after it. “Please, come back. Tunic’s hurt.”
The horse did not return no matter how I called to it. I pleaded and begged on behalf of Tunic, but the stubborn beast refused to listen. I grumbled again about fickle horses and plotted how I might enlist its aid. I’d come this far and it was not yet time to give up.
At last, I conceived to play the song again. The horse returned, perhaps it thought Tunic was summoning it.
“Look at him,” I told the horse, hoping it could understand the desperation in my tone. “He needs help.” The horse stepped forward, but looked to me with angst.
I backed away from Tunic and the horse moved forward. It sniffed his bloodied form and, finally, understanding the distress, lowered itself. It whinnied at me, impatient with my distance.
“Yeah, yeah,” I snapped. “It’s your own fault I had to leave.” I came forward slowly, praying the beast understood our situation. It remained lowered as I approached. I donned our packs again and then grabbed Tunic and pulled him onto the horse; then I mounted the beast myself. The horse rose and I had to cling to both Tunic and his creature as we set into motion. I steered the beast into a southern course, hoping my sense of direction would not fail me again.
“Hang in there,” I counselled my friend. “There is hope yet.” Perhaps there wasn’t, but I would not say so. The fickle horse had obviously understood the gravity of the situation and allowed me to support its master. Perhaps it knew better than I that Tunic was doomed. I shook the thought from my head.
The former scarcity of xyloid furnishings evolved into a roble of oak trees as we rode south. The rapidly increasing vegetation density made me ever more grateful for Tunic’s horse. I would not, no matter how strong my resolve, have been able to bear my friend this distance.
After an hour or so, I tried to stop the horse. The beast would not obey until I asked it. “Please stop,” I yelled.
Perhaps it was my pleasantry or perhaps it just obeyed verbal commands, but the horse slowed. I leapt down and led it to a stream indicated on Imena’s map.
I refilled our canteens and trickled more water into Tunic’s mouth. I tried, vainly, to clean some of Tunic’s wounds. But the lingering magic refused to give Tunic any relief. Yet he did not perish. I wondered, perhaps, if Ezebel’s cruel treatment of my friend had only started when I interrupted. Perhaps her blows had simultaneously weakened and preserved him. It was wicked and twisted, but it was not inconceivable. Nevertheless, my efforts to wash the wounds were wasted.
After the horse was watered, we continued our journey. We crested a hill that offered a vantage of, what seemed like the entire southern continent. In the sky, I saw the speck that was Ezebel. Evidently, she was in no hurry to reach Kennbridge for billows of smoke arose from the different locales she had managed to destroy on the way to her summons.
I swallowed my terror, knowing there was nothing more I could do. I had to focus all my energy on Tunic or I would weep until weakness overcame me.
“We’re halfway there,” I reminded him as much as I reminded myself. “Stay with me Tunic.”
By dusk, we were still hours away from the faerie pool and the horse was exhausted. I pleaded the beast go on a bit longer, but it was near the end of its strength. I would have had it ride with just Tunic, but I feared my friend would fall without me to support him. “Fifteen more minutes,” I entreated the horse and it did it’s best to obey.
After ten, however, I halted it and pulled Tunic from its back. “Thank you,” I patted the horse’s head. “You were a true hero.”
And then I set off, pulling Tunic along with me, not willing to stop until exhaustion claimed me or we reached the faerie’s pool.
I feared that if I rested, it would be Tunic’s death for he had worsened dramatically. Blood still oozed from him, though it was slow, like sap from a tree. I was running out of time. And yet, I wanted nothing more than to rest. I ached. I was still chilled from the remnants of damp clothes. My body chafed.
His boots dragged across roots and rocks, frightening cowardly nocturnal creatures. The horse attempted to keep up, but eventually collapsed in sleep. I wished to pat it in thanks, but feared that if I halted, I might not find the will to continue.
At last, the ground sloped downward, toward a pool that reflected the night sky more vividly than the sky itself. “We’re almost here!” I cried in relief. “Just hang in there for fifteen more minutes Tunic. Then you will be healed and we can sleep for days.”
As we reached the inscription, I let Tunic go. I fell to my knees beside him. I breathed heavily, gathering the remnants of my strength to summon the faerie.
Alas, I had forgotten that Layla could only be summoned in Tunic’s native tongue. “Please Layla, help me,” I called out in Andra. “Tunic is hurt and I need you to heal him,” I pleaded in a dozen ways, “Layla, hear me. Layla, come to my aid. Layla, I need you.” When my stubborn resolve finally succumbed to the inevitable, I attempted to remember Tunic’s language. It was, alas, to no avail. It had all sounded like noises to me. I could not mimic them, even when I tried.
Tunic gasped as though he were gulping for air. I crawled to him, determined to hold him if this was to be his end. It was so miserable. He had survived thus far! That he should die at the foot of salvation’s door because I had not the words to save him seemed unbearably cruel.
“Tell me how to summon Layla,” I whispered to Tunic. I brushed his hair from his forehead, my fingers tracing over his unusual ears. “Tell me how to save you… If only I had asked you to teach me some of your language.”
But I did know one word. He had told me one. My name, “Nari” was used in his language. I sucked in my breath and shouted my name to the pool, “Nari! Nari! Nari!” I put as much fear as I possibly could into the summons, hoping the faerie would think I summoned her in fear of a storm or something. “Nari! Nari! Nari!” I called.
I did not relent my mantra until twin comets appeared and exploded, as they had before. The faerie appeared and her expression told me she was displeased with my summons. She chastised me in her grandiloquent accent.
Whereas before I had been dumbfounded by the faerie’s majesty, now I dared to interrupt her. “Please save him,” I called to her in Andra, hoping the faerie would have mercy – would understand my meaning. “I beg you!” I cried. “Please save him. You know him. He spoke to you. You blessed his arrows. Please.”
Whether it was my tone or she had just noticed Tunic, the faerie ceased her scolding. With a skeptical expression, the faerie leaned closer and inspected Tunic. He gasped with another strangling breath.
“Please,” I wept again.
Not even faeries can resurrect the dead.
Layla spoke a few words in her musical language. I shook my head in frustration at our inability to communicate. But it was not to me that the faerie had spoken. Commanded by her word, sprites arose from the pool and flittered to Tunic.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I cried as they encircled my friend. Their magic lifted him to a standing position as they undid the harm caused by Ezebel’s strikes. His wounds were sutured and the wicked magic used to prolong his agony evaporated in a demonic hissing sound. Tunic’s face, which had born the lifeless image of death, became serene.
With the knowledge that my friend was ably cared for, I allowed myself to succumb to my exhaustion. Alas, as I began to slip into unconsciousness I felt magic on myself. Faerie sprites lifted me in their healing embrace. But I had let myself sink too far before their affection. The sudden jolt of energy overwhelmed me and I collapsed in a faint from the trauma.
When I awoke, only moments later, I was cradled in Tunic’s arms. Merciful Layla had graced him with a total restoration. His arms, which moments ago had been cold and weak, gripped me strongly and warmly. He was speaking to the faerie and his words were like a lullaby to my dimmed senses. “Tunic…” I mumbled as I recollected my thoughts.
He smiled down at me in gratitude. Alas, the faerie interrupted our reunion with a warbling demand. “Layla wishes to understand your summons,” Tunic translated. “I do not understand what she means; how did you summon her?”
I moved to an upright position and shook my head to clear it. The combination of nearly allowing myself to recede into exhaustion and the invigoration of faerie revitalization that occurred almost simultaneously had a horrible dizzying effect. As I was now yielding to the proffered energy, I began to feel adrenaline coursing through me. When I answered Tunic, my voice had recovered its usual humour. “I don’t know any of your language,” I shrugged. “But, you had told me my name meant thunderpeal or something. So I shouted my name repeatedly in hopes that she would come.”
Tunic raised his brow at this and then chuckled. He related the report to the faerie and she seemed unimpressed with my false summons. I begged her apologies and Tunic related them. She snapped that if I wanted to see her again, I must do so in a proper fashion, meaning I must be fluent. I assured her, I would not summon her again until I was.
In a huff, she disappeared.
When she was gone, I tackled Tunic in an embrace. With my fainting and the hazy surge of faerie energy, I could not be certain this was a dream. If it were, I was determined not to let him go. “I am so glad you are alive,” I told him. “I hoped, but I never believed you would survive. It was just… impossible. And yet, you are here and alive. And we tried Tunic, we tried our best.” I bit my lip as I remembered what would have happened to Kennbridge. “We can rest for now…” I remarked wearily. “You are alive. That is one victory in this catastrophe.”
“There’s no time for that,” he peeled me off him and removed his pack from my shoulders. Strapping it on, he instructed me saying, “We have to make for the river.”
“What?” I called as he pulled me into a dash. We had been given faerie magic and it felt as though I could run a hundred days without tiring, but I could not understand his haste.
“There’s a town along the riverbank, we can rent a boat and take it to Kennbridge,” Tunic explained.
“I don’t want to see Kennbridge destroyed,” I countered.
“Then we best reach it before Ezebel,” he insisted as he picked up the pace. “I still have one arrow!”
“We can reach it before her?” I queried, never having thought it possible to outpace a flying beast.
“With faerie magic, maybe,” he replied (and I think I detected a glimmer of glee in his voice).
“Can we make it to Kennbridge on Layla’s magic?”
Tunic shook his head. “There is Imena and Kelda on our way south. If we hurry, we should make it.” My feet were lightening as I considered the unforeseen hope. There was yet a chance to save Kennbridge?
“Layla figured Ezebel will forestall her journey to Kennbridge,” Tunic explained. “At least, as long as the summoning magic will allow. Kennbridge is the farthest destination she has been called to. She will be able to extend her destruction further because of it.”
“That’s horrible,” I spat. “But if it gives us a chance to stop her, then I cannot curse her wholly.”
On our route north, we had followed an erratic path so as to sojourn at the various faerie fountains. Now, in our haste, we hoped that eliminating our tarriance would provide us the opportunity to outpace our vindictive foe.
By nightfall, we reached the river’s edge. We followed it south until the buildings of the village Tunic had named came into sight. “Who are we going to rent a boat from this late at night?” I called as we neared.
Tunic did not reply. He slowed and gestured for me to do the same. “What is it?” I asked. “What do you see?”
He was silent for a long time. “Ezebel was here.”
“No…” I moaned. We jogged forward and we were met with destruction. It was the same as I had seen at the settlement north of Dinsmore.
Nothing was said out of respect for the slain, but Tunic searched for a functioning boat. We found one and carried it into the water. It was an old canoe, large enough for two. He launched us away from the shore and the current began to carry us south.
“Keep paddling,” Tunic insisted as our transport increased in velocity. “The faerie magic may begin to fade if we do not continue to draw from it.”
I kept my arms pumping in rhythm with his strokes. I did not know it at the time, but we were travelling through very hazardous waters, especially at the speed we maintained. Tunic kept this a secret as he guided us around obstacles.
As dawn approached, I understood what Tunic meant about the faerie magic diminishing. Paddling did not use the same energy as running and so the spell had begun to wear. I was running on about twenty hours of exertion and emotional exhaustion and the decline of the magic made me feel it.
“We are landing here,” Tunic declared as he guided us towards the bank.
“Why?” I asked, my voice as groggy as my mind.
“Imena’s cave is east of here,” he replied.
He leapt from the boat, guiding it to shore. When I disembarked, we pulled it onto the bank and left it. Tunic led the jog eastward while I lagged behind. “Just a bit further,” he encouraged continually. I kept my gaze on his feet, trying to keep them the same distance away from me. Aside from his occasional encouragement, I knew nothing but the soles of his boots. As even they began to blur, I knew I was in trouble. I could feel a dragging sensation on my very soul. The spell had faded and I was about to delve into exhaustion.
I wavered and the wobble brought the small mountains where Imena dwelled into perspective. Recognizing their border from when I had circled it, I peered ahead. In the distance, I could see the faerie signpost that directed travellers to Imena’s cave. The faerie blurred with my lethargy. “I need to rest,” I begged Tunic. In my condition, I would not be able to climb to Imena’s cave. I would likely fall and crack my skull.
“Just a bit further,” he sympathetically called.
Blessed Imena, ever-alert Imena, came to my rescue though. She appeared before we even reached the foot of her cave. Her radiant form lit the night as though she were a star descended from the night sky. “You have given chase to my sister,” the great faerie commented in her erudite voice. She had forsaken a greeting, no doubt understanding our haste. “I thank you for your persistence. Allow me to restore you.”
Sprites encircled us, reinvigorating our energy. She was a greater thaumaturgist than Layla and it was evident in the tenacity of her healing spell. With mind refocused and body repaired, I bowed in appreciation. “You are most gracious.”
“Be strong, young Bramwell,” Imena added. “You must succeed.”
Tunic nodded then gestured for us to leave.
“Wait,” I called out. “Can you give us another arrow?”
Imena shook her beautiful head, her hair undulating in the motion. “The spell to destroy a faerie is not easily conjured. That you were given two is remarkable enough. It will be many centuries before another can be made.”
“I see,” I swallowed. That was a lot of pressure for Tunic. “Well, thank you again Imena.”
We were about to depart again when Tunic paused. He turned to me, “Did the contents of the vial make it into the Ezebel’s pool?”
“Yes, I emptied them. Why?”
“I requested my tears, for that was the liquid, be shared between healing your injuries and purifying my sister’s pool.” Imena explained. “Should you fail, Ezebel may not return to her pool for restoration. She will be required to spend decades regenerating the magic before she can return there to replenish her energy.”
“Wow,” I exclaimed.
“We must go,” Tunic insisted this time. Imena gestured for us to depart in agreement with his proclamation.
Imena shouted one final bit of wisdom as we sprinted from her presence. “Seek out Kelda! You will need her aid yet.”
The hour was early as we abandoned Imena. The first rays of light haloed over far mountains in the east. Though we trampled towards the river at such a pace that conversation was impossible, I was alert to the awakening world. It seemed peculiar that we were exerting ourselves with such a sense of purpose when the rest of the world remained lulled in daily preoccupations. The nocturnal beasts burrowed themselves in their dens or made one final attempt to sate their stomachs. Polychromatic leaves disengaged from the security of their lofty positions and descended to the dew dampened undergrowth. Sometime in the weeks since my departure, summer had relented to autumn. Days had come and gone, seasons rolled into each other. It was all so trite that it seemed ridiculous. Birds awakened and sang their lilting tunes, our hasty steps drumming out a beat to their cheerful songs. The peace surrounding us was an illusion. The mundanity was a siren’s call, a deception that everything would continue as it always had if we elected to stay and listen. But, like the creatures who seduced their victims with sweet words, our inaction – our relenting to the seeming tranquility of the world around us – would mean surrendering what remained of humanity’s defences. We would be devoured by our willingness to believe that mundanity.
And yet, I did not resent the world for continuing its business. I suppose I would have, before I had exiled myself from Kennbridge. It had always frustrated me that no one allowed the tragedies of life to override their daily rituals. The awakening of the monster, in particular, had perturbed me. And while I knew someone had to combat it, we would not have been aided if all of Kennbridge determined to mimic our course. I suppose we each have our roles to play. Some were required to stay behind and remind those called to action why they risked so much. Had the trees ceased growing, the birds silenced their songs, and the sun ceased shining, it would have made our flight much worse. What would there have been left to salvage after our efforts if the world had fallen into grief? What hopelessness would linger if during times of crises, everyone ceased their willingness to build, prosper, and survive?
I had once thought it insensitive to continue in life when there was so much to grieve. But now, as I celebrated the rejuvenation of my friend and the hope to rescue my home, I began to comprehend the strength and wisdom of finding joy and thanksgiving in trials.
I was so caught up in my epiphany and delighted in my newfound wisdom that I failed to duck at a low hanging branch. The onslaught of embarrassment and irritation caused a reversion of awareness to my surroundings. I shucked off all philosophical thoughts and concentrated on my pace. No matter how fast we ran, it always seemed we should be going faster.
Thankfully, the boat remained where we had left it. Tunic climbed aboard taking the head position while I shoved us off. I leapt into the boat and took up my paddle as we continued our southern journey. Travel by river is faster than traversing over land. It was almost a miracle how rapidly we moved, I clung to the idea that it would make us fast enough. The scent of ash and smoke, however, marked that our quarry was still ahead of us. Billows of blackness erupted from various outposts around us. The monster had been creative in forestalling its appointment; taking a more dramatic zigzagging course than even our path north. Farmhouses and cabins in the woods were destroyed hither and thither. We paddled faster.
Alas, we were both bound to mortal limitations. Though our energy level had been restored by Imena, our stomachs grumbled in protest to their maltreatment. “As powerful as faerie magic is,” I commented, “it does nothing to assuage hunger.”
At this, Tunic reached into his pack and removed the last of his food: an apple and a slice of salted meat. He tossed both to me, but I would not allow him to refuse his half. I sliced the apple with my father’s knife and tore the meat in twain. We ate in small bites, savouring the only food we would likely have before facing Ezebel again. I willed my mind to think it was sated on this small fair.
When the hours grew long, I could bear the silence no longer. “So Tunic,” I started to converse. “You failed to mention you were planning such abuse in Ezebel’s cave,” he cleared his throat to speak but I needed to insert one other accusation before allowing him to educate me on his rationale. “And,” I interrupted him, “you didn’t tell me I was a sacrifice.”
Tunic, never hasty to answer, permitted himself ample time to structure his reply. “I assumed that Ezebel would be unsuspecting of an assault if I appeared to bear similar intentions to Felan and Felina,” he settled as his reply. “Though, the ruse hardly mattered, she was too quick.”
“Are you saying I could not have feigned fear?”
“Well,” Tunic turned his head to let me see his lopsided grin, “you have this terrible habit of appearing overconfident. I figured the surprise might deflate that arrogance.”
“That is wounding,” I commented. It was true though. I have a swagger that is hard to hide. “I suppose I will forgive you,” I teased. “But, I will admit, I was confused. You were… fearsome. I almost despaired.”
He blushed. “It was not easy. I had to spend all night deluding myself into a fury.”
“Did you know?” I asked. “That is, did you know Ezebel would ask you to slay me?”
My voice lost its amused tone. “We have to stop Ezebel. Otherwise those fiends will continue to summon her.”
Imena’s magic granted us more than a day’s worth of energy paddling down the river. We passed under the Great Bridge, which, to my surprise, was identical to the bridge in my hometown, though almost four times its size. The span bustled with travellers and caravans fleeing Ezebel’s destruction. We heard screams of “monster!” and “dragon!” There were even other boaters on the river. Some were carrying their treasured possessions in an attempt at flight, though a few ignorant ones were fishing idly. We passed them by without a word, paddling harder than was humanly possible. The sun set and the moon rose and still we paddled.
“How is your energy level?” Tunic asked as dawn approached.
“I begin to feel a lag, but I shall persevere for a few more hours, I expect,” I replied. “How about yours?”
“About the same,” he replied. “We shall need to last at least three more hours before we can reach Kelda’s pool.”
I gulped. That was an awfully long time with our energy already diminishing.
The river forked and we took the gentler bend to Glass River. To my surprise, Glass River had a nostalgic effect I would never have guessed possible. We were going home! It gave me fervor to combat the slower current of the Glass River.
“We should land soon,” Tunic instructed after some time. “Kelda’s pool is near here.”
“Have you seen her before?” I asked. Conversation might help keep my wits about and my energy high.
“Twice,” Tunic replied. “Grandfather took me there.”
“Does she speak your language or mine?” I inquired.
“How do we summon her?” I asked, wondering if it was blood or speech.
Tunic gestured that we should steer for the bank before he answered. As we reached the shallows, he leapt from our boat to guide it on the shore. We pulled it to rest on the bank and then abandoned it.
“Kelda does not like being summoned,” Tunic finally answered my question as we adjusted our packs for another bout of running. “Either she is about and will see visitors, or she is not.”
“You mean that we might not get to see her?” I exclaimed. If Kelda refused us, our journey would be in vain.
Oddly (for I had never been this far north on the west bank of Glass River), our trek felt invigorating. It felt like home. There was something familiar about the trees, a range of deciduous and coniferous that had not been found further north. Sure, we had not been, in the scale of the world, that far from Kennbridge, but to me, the scenery was dramatically different. Kennbridge did not have lurking mountains or a rushing river. It was a peaceful post on, what seemed to be, the end of the land.
I frolicked as we began our sprint, leaping and delighting in the homeliness of it all. My heart panged as I realised how desperately I had resolved to leave it all behind. I would not consider that now though, there was a battle to fight soon. That required my utmost attention and mental preparation.
“Do we have a plan this time?” I inquired of Tunic.
“No,” he replied.
I scrunched my face in disappointment.
When the excitement began to dwindle, I felt my eyes starting to blur in exhaustion again. “I’m fading,” I alerted Tunic to my condition. “Tell me something exciting or interesting. Maybe that will help.”
As always, Tunic was not hasty to respond. “What would you like me to speak about?”
I shrugged, though the gesture felt weird as I was racing alongside Tunic. “What is the first thing that came to mind?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“What is it?” I asked, suddenly desperate to know. My exhaustion was forgotten as I pondered what Tunic could be ashamed to speak of.
“It’s nothing,” he insisted.
“I insist that you tell me,” I pleaded. He had me practically leaping circles around him for many minutes while he deliberated whether to speak his thoughts or not. I jabbered nonsensical pleas for him to speak.
“Alright,” he conceded with a blush. “Though it is rather foolish and I fear it shall ruin your opinion of me.”
“No, no, no,” I insisted. The man had saved me more times than I cared to admit and still he thought my opinion was so fickle. It was unfathomable. “Tell me.”
“Well, my second thought was that perhaps I should tell you a dire wolf story. I supposed you would find that interesting.”
“What was your first thought?” I pressed. I would come back to the dire wolf story eventually. He was right; it did interest me.
Tunic blushed again. He pulled his hat from his head and ran his hand through his hair, then donned the cap again. “It is silly,” he insisted.
“Tunic, I demand you tell me, this instant!” I trumpeted in my most commanding tone. I frightened even myself with its insistence.
I was, however, not his only audience anymore. “Yes,” a familiar voice intoned from above I glanced up in time to see a body descend atop me. I flattened on the dirt, winded from the impact.
“Tell us your secret,” another familiar voice added, its speaker bowling Tunic to the ground.
They’d caught even Tunic by surprise. Their efficiency was, no doubt, aided by our own weariness. When I got my breath back, I squirmed and shouted, “Get off me Felan!”
He trapped my wrists under his grip. I moved to kick him, but his knees came agonizingly down on my thighs, trapping them.
“No,” Felan replied. “I rather like this position. It suits you. Trampled in the mud, begging.”
“We feared you might have survived,” Felina added from her position atop Tunic. She had him pinned on his stomach, holding him with her formidable strength.
“Get. Your. Hands. Off. Me.” I repeated, enunciating every word and glaring into Felan’s eyes.
He sneered and his head moved closer to mine. I had always been told I was hardheaded and I was determined to test that fact. I swung my head into his and felt his nose crunch. He reeled back and I slipped from his grasp. Still dizzy from the blow I had used on Felan, I tackled Felina, allowing Tunic his freedom.
Felina clawed at me like an animal and I attempted to grapple her frantic wrists. “We don’t have time for this,” I said as her fingers dug into my arm flesh.
Meanwhile, Tunic had wasted no time. He had his bow trained on Felan, who knelt and raised his hands in surrender.
“Stop fighting,” I commanded Felina. “If you cease we will let you be.”
Felina snarled at me and doubled her assault. Her legs wrapped around my waist and she began to squeeze. I gasped at the pressure of her assault. She grabbed at the blade on my hip and then I knew it was over. The cold steel pricked my throat.
“Drop the bow or she dies,” Felina instructed Tunic. Felan rose and let his hands fall to his side.
“If you kill her, both your brother and you will perish,” Tunic swore.
“But then so will she,” Felan taunted.
“You will kill me anyways,” I guessed. “Tunic, you must save Kennbridge.”
“If she dies, then not even your tricks can kill Ezebel,” Felina answered triumphantly. “If the bloodletting victim is slain, Ezebel cannot perish. She is protected until her summons is complete.” Apparently the fact that the faerie could not kill the victim herself was little reprieve for the hapless human.
In this horrible dilemma, Tunic had little choice but to drop his bow. If I died, he could not slay Ezebel. If he died, there would not likely be another elf willing to destroy the sworn protector of their race. To make matters worse, Imena’s magic evaporated. The stupor of exhaustion dropped heavily on my senses. I blinked to attempt a measure of revitalization. This was no time for a nap!
Felan moved forward to collect Tunic’s weapon. His hand wiped the blood dripping from his nose. A few drops escaped, staining the earth in their ruddy hue. He tossed the bow out of Tunic’s reach and then that spiteful, vengeful, maniacal fiend pulled a concealed dagger from his back and buried it in Tunic’s side.
“NO!” I screamed and tried to push forward, but despite my obstreperous efforts, Felina held the blade to my neck. Tunic collapsed on the ground and all hope evaporated.