Deprivation, Part 12.
There was a startling sensation of chill.
Devin slowly became aware of the fact that he was lying on something very flat, very hard, and very cold. A stone table?
He opened his eyes, but couldn't move otherwise. And he dearly wanted to, because standing around him were a dozen Faerie, draped in ceremonial garb, with their faces painted like masks. He didn't recognize any of them, and his mind feeling quite foggy didn't help.
It was some late hour of the night; this was the night of the new moon, and besides the constant stars, the sky was quite dark. Still, there was enough light to see by, because of that ubiquitous soft blue glow that the fae seemed to be able to turn on at will. Perhaps right at this moment, however, he'd have felt better if he couldn't see, because a man, draped in what appeared to be a wolf-skin kilt and wearing a truly fantastic mask made from a ram's skull, was advancing towards him, carrying a long, delicately wrought sword.
Was he going to be sacrificed, then? After what they'd done to Allistair, he could well believe they were ruthless enough, but... to someone of their own blood? Then again, maybe they considered him no more valuable than any other human, or perhaps he was a relatively innocent bystander caught up in a clan feud or the like. He desperately wished he had asked Yrien more about the current political climate, but the prince had seemed disinclined to discuss those matters.
At least he didn't see anyone who might be Yrien in this group. That would have been too much to take.
The man carrying the sword was standing at Devin's side now. The lower half of his face was uncovered by his mask, and the smile he wore was decidedly feral. Devin felt a chill crawl down his spine not purely out of fear, but also from the disturbing feeling that something very deep was happening. But he still couldn't move!
His lips moving silently, the Faerie man raised the sword, which was now glowing faintly, a line of script down the blade shining like fire. The other watchers had moved in closer, forming a loose ring around Devin's table (or was it an altar?), and seemed to be waiting in expectant silence.
But the man didn't raise the sword high enough to swing down at the helpless mage; instead, he lay the blade on Devin's chest, hilt centered over his breastbone, and stepped back into the circle. Once the weapon made contact with his skin, its glow intensified, and the mage began to hear almost feel soft, incomprehensible whispering. At first, he thought the Faerie were chanting, but they were all still standing with monolithic patience, waiting for this ceremony to play itself out. No... the sound was coming from the sword...
As Devin tried to concentrate and decipher that sibilant murmuring, he began to feel a very odd sensation in his chest. The sword was sinking into him, seemingly intangible, but he could feel a line of cold (or was it burning heat? He couldn't make the distinction) down his torso. It didn't hurt, exactly, but the significance of... whatever this was... was so heavy that he let out a quiet moan of dread. None of the Faerie seemed to hear it, or if they did, they ignored it masterfully.
After a few horrifying moments, the sword was no longer visible, and seemed to have disappeared entirely into his body. He felt nothing besides an overwhelming sense of his skin crawling. The loose circle around him tightened as the assembled fae stepped forward, and in unison, they proclaimed, "The sword is sheathed." Their words tolled like a great bell, and seemed weighted with ominous portents...
He woke in a cold sweat, shuddering uncontrollably. Instinctively, his right hand went to the pendant at his throat, but of course, there was no acknowledgement from Luciel. After a moment to let that sink in, the mage felt the strange dream was it just a dream? coming back to him in full detail. The thought/memory of the sword sinking into his body made him shiver again.
And that made him realize that he was, in fact, naked under his silken blanket. With a muffled string of pungent Abyssal curses, he sat up and checked himself for any strange marks or other visible signs of enchantment. Of course, he didn't find anything that obvious, and he hadn't really expected to.
Closing his eyes, he summoned a sense of stillness that suffused him from the inside out. Years of practice enabled him to sink into meditational trance nearly at the literal drop of a hat, assuming that he was in calm surroundings, and while he was terribly suspicious of everything around him right now, in a certain sense, he was safe there in Yrien's home. Safer than anywhere else in this realm, anyway. He wondered vaguely where his host Yrien was, then banished the distracting thought as he plunged into the "sea of self", as his master had called it.
At this subconscious level, he could carefully examine himself from the inside with his mage-sense, checking for anything new or out of place. Again, this was something he could do virtually without thinking, which was an advantage; like stars, it was hard to focus on traces of magic by looking directly at them.
After several long minutes, he reluctantly ended his self-examination. He could find no trace of tampering, despite his gut feeling that something was wrong. For the Faerie to have done something as intrusive as magically implant a sword in him without leaving a trace would require an incredible amount of magical finesse; he wasn't even sure his master would have been able to accomplish such a thing. Maybe the dream had been simply that, fostered by the stress and uncertainty of being trapped in this place.
But why the hell was he naked right now?
Shuddering at the many possibilities, he hurriedly pulled on a tunic and trousers. His erstwhile host chose that moment to walk in, starting slightly at finding his guest awake.
"Good morning," the Faerie said cheerfully, recovering quickly. "You're awake a bit earlier than usual this morning."
"Evil dreams," Devin muttered, tying his tunic closed. He stretched slightly and rose from the pallet, shoving his feet into the simple sandals sitting nearby. As he passed Yrien on his way outside, he noted that his early rising had not caught the Faerie unprepared in terms of breakfast. How he always had a fresh array of coarse bread, cheeses and fruit ready just in time for Devin to wake up, the mage would probably never know.
Right now, though, he was on his way to wash, as was his habit first thing in the morning, no matter where he was. He privately hoped that just maybe, by being early, he might give the slip to those girls who rather enjoyed trying to catch a glimpse of him bathing. He was very worried that sooner than later, they were going to try something much more forward than simple spying and giggling, and that would be... bad.
The magically heated, spring-fed pool was currently unoccupied. There were several of these pools around the "village", but this one's temperature was the most to Devin's liking, and it was well-hidden behind a screen of wiry old wisteria, to boot. In a matter of moments, the mage was soaking comfortably in the hot water. Now that he was physically relaxed, he decided to try another meditational self-examination; he couldn't shake off the feeling that something was amiss.
A sense of intrusion startled him out of his trance. He opened his eyes quickly to see a man just entering the pool's small clearing, pushing his way through the wisteria curtain. "Ah, I didn't realize anyone was here," the stranger said with a rueful smile. He tossed his long auburn hair over his shoulder, causing a small melodic rattle that must have been beads or tiny bells striking each other.
Devin felt very cold suddenly, and it had nothing to do with the water. "I'm sorry, I was up a bit earlier than usual today," he mumbled. "I'm just about finished here." Before the man could politely assure him that he could wait, the mage rose out of the pool and wrapped himself in his towel.
Those bright blue eyes that were watching him in mild amusement were the same eyes he had seen in his dream, the eyes of the swordbearer who had watched with cool curiosity as the sword had melted into Devin's flesh.
"Are you sure, selthien?" The Faerie had generally taken to referring to him as "foundling", though Yrien had assured Devin that it wasn't meant to be demeaning.
"Quite," he muttered, forcing a smile while his mind buzzed. Was his memory just playing nasty tricks? Had he seen this man around the village and simply pasted his likeness into a strange dream? Or had it been no dream at all?
The man showed no particular sign of recognition, besides calling Devin "foundling", but everyone did, so that was fairly meaningless. He gave the mage one more slightly curious look before shrugging, dropping his robe off, and stepping into the pool.
Devin flushed slightly and turned away to get dressed these people were far too casual about nudity for his comfort. After a few moments, he glanced back to see the stranger watching him and managed not to jump in surprise, mustering a polite node of farewell as he left the little clearing. Grimly, he quashed his sudden impulse to run back to the relative safety (or at least, familiarity) of Yrien's house and forced himself to walk calmly, brushing his fingers through his damp hair to get it into some semblance of neatness.
host was cheerful when he returned, but Devin's mood was even darker
than usual as he pecked at his breakfast. He hid his unease as well as
he could, however; a week here had taught him that the Faerie could be
terribly nosy (perhaps it was simply pure curiosity), and if he seemed
particularly off, Yrien would drive him mad asking about it.
"What are your plans for the day?" the fae princeling was asking him.
He brushed a crumb from the corner of his mouth as he replied. "What else? To go for a walk."
day since coming here, Devin had taken a few hours to walk in the woods
around the village, covertly seeking some way back to his own world. Of
course, one could not just walk out of Faerie; he was looking instead
for potential portals, such as the stone dais that had gotten him here
to begin with. That place had to have been a permanent gate, so there
must have been a corresponding terminus in this realm somewhere. And
that can't have been the only gate... The question was, did one exist relatively
near the village? Devin would have expected that to be the case, but he
was having a devil of a time finding one...
He trudged on, ignoring the almost fantastically vibrant flowers and the melodious calls from unseen birds in the trees. Perhaps it was a paradise but it was one he wanted no part in. It was quite beautiful, but as antisocial as Devin could be, at his core, he still wanted to feel the presence of humanity, which was totally lacking from this place. The Faerie were of fire and air; "lighter" than humans, they floated in the upper levels of his subconscious, distant clouds that gave no comfort to an earth-bound creature like himself. It was this feeling of alienation that told the mage that whatever his own Faerie ancestry was, it must have been somewhat distant; he doubted a half-fae would feel so uncomfortable here.
Today he had chosen to walk due north of the village, taking his bearing from the sun and signs such as lichen on the trees. Even raised in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, Devin had been taught some very basic survival skills by his teacher. "Magic is rich in the wild places of the world," Levalier had said, "and you'd best know how to get along in such places." It was one of those insistences by the elders that youngsters never understood until later in life, and not for the first time, Devin thanked his master's foresight. Magic could accomplish anything you wanted, but it was expensive, dangerous, and in his current situation, impossible.
He deliberately paid little attention to his path, seeming to wander along the trail lost in thought. Accordingly, the few Faerie who he passed paid him no attention. Not that they ever did. Unless they were gathered in a deliberately social setting, the Fair Folk were seldom chatty with each other, let alone with the outsider. But Devin wanted to make sure no one thought their unwilling guest might be trying to escape, so he took his time, one nonchalant step after another.
After about an hour of wandering, by Devin's count, he came to the edge of a small pool. Its depths were quite dark, unlike any of the other pools and springs he had seen here. Even without that odd element, however, his magical senses indicated that something was distinctly off about the water.
As the mage moved closer to the water's edge, he finally noticed the Faerie sitting on the ground nearby, regarding the water. Not wanting to surprise her and draw a possibly dangerous response, he deliberately crunched down on the bark that lined the winding path. The woman glanced up at him with the flat disinterest of a housecat, then turned back to her gazing. Ignored, Devin crouched at the water's edge and stirred his fingers in the water. As soon as he did so, he felt a distinct mental sensation of a veil being lifted, or mist being swept away by a strong wind. When he withdrew his hand in surprise, the "fog" rolled in again.
Doubtless, this pool was a gateway, but how did one use it? The dark depths obscured any underwater passageway, and he somehow doubted that the Faerie woman nearby would simply stand by as he floundered about looking for the way through.
He raked his hair behind his ear, and his fingers brushed against the cords of his necklace. Of course maybe he could contact Luciel through the portal, and the angel could help him through. Touching the water again, Devin reached up to his hematite cross with his other hand. Now, instead of mental white noise, he felt something comparable to a dial tone: a line ready to receive a call. But he still couldn't reach Luciel, probably because he was still within Faerie itself. It seemed like an internal phone system he needed to dial some number to reach an outside line, but he didn't know what that number was.
Casually, he brought a handful of water up to his face, splashing himself with the cool liquid. It didn't taste any different than the water anywhere else around the village; it was not the water, then, that held the magic, but the location. The Faerie woman glanced at him for a moment was she, in fact, a sentry guarding this gateway? but Devin ignored her as if he had done nothing out of the ordinary, and she said nothing.
Devin sat for a moment, letting his brain work freestyle. He did his best thinking when he didn't actively concentrate, letting the data in his mind collide like free electrons. What did he know about these gates? The other one had been activated by blood. Perhaps blood would truly open the gateway, giving him a channel through which to reach Luciel. But it might also bring the Faerie down on him in a heartbeat. He guessed that each gate-terminus on this side had a guard; when he and Allistair had inadvertently triggered the portal at the stone dais, someone here must have summoned the scouting party that attacked them.
The memory of the ensuing fight still burned several days later, and thinking of the pain in Allistair's voice as he was struck down made the mage's stomach twist. He had to reach Luciel, to at least find out if Allistair still lived. Closing his eyes, he steeled himself and dug one of his unhelpfully short fingernails into the flesh of his left wrist. When the blood welled up, he pressed the skin near the cut to force out a bigger drop of red, then wiped up that drop and dipped his finger into the water, clutching his pendant with his other hand.
The water rippled out from his hand, in faster circles than would have been caused simply by the impact of his finger with the surface. The Faerie looked at him sharply, but it was too late; he had made the connection.
Devin? came the incredulous acknowledgement from Luciel. Where are you? I can barely hear you.
I'm still in Faerie, Devin sent tersely. Can you reach me? I'm at a portal, but it's through water, and I can't see it. I think I may be found in a moment, Luce.
Indeed, even though the mental conversation had happened at the literal speed of thought, the Faerie woman had risen, and now had her hand on her belt knife. "Step back from the water, selthien," she said in English, with that lilting fae accent that always sounded rather mocking. "It's dangerous."
Devin tuned her out to listen for Luciel's reply. Let me see... There was a pause as the angel must have examined the portal's configuration. All right. I want you to take a deep breath and dive. The pool is very deep, and the actual gate is a tunnel underwater. I'm going to try to grab you from my end, but I can't actually come out of the tunnel to come for you. If you absolutely need air, go back up, but you may be captured again...
The mage tensed at the explanation; he could swim fairly well, but he certainly didn't have an athlete's lung capacity. Still, what choice did he have? All right. ... Luciel... What about Allistair? Is he...?
There was a pause, and Devin took that moment to dive into the water, smirking slightly at the surprised expression on the Faerie woman's face as he slipped out of reach. When Luciel finally answered him, it was with a tone clearly carrying a smile of surprise and satisfaction. He's healing, Devin. He'll be fine, and better with you here.
Devin let his sense of relief stand as a reply as he plunged further into the cool water. His eyes were open, but it was night-dark under the water, just as it looked from above. He could see nothing of a tunnel, and he had to trust literally blindly in Luciel, but this certainly wouldn't be the first time.
He heard a sharp, plunging sound above him, and broke out of his dive to veer upwards. A pair or arrows, or at least, that was what he guessed they were, left a bubbly wake below his feet. The sentry's backup had arrived, and they did not intend to let him leave. If they kept him from getting to the tunnel, he would have to come up for air eventually and sooner if he had to waste oxygen dodging their shots.
But they hadn't reckoned with Luciel's presence, had they? Are you under attack? Come a little lower. I think you're close.
I'm being shot at, yes, but I'll try. Don't know how they can see me to shoot in this murk... He reoriented himself and swam downwards, his lungs beginning to complain.
There was the sound of another volley; instead of losing his downward momentum completely, Devin rolled to one side. He let out a hiss of pain as an arrow skipped across the back of his thigh, then cursed mentally at the unintentional waste of breath. Luce, I'm starting to need air...
Just a bit more, Dev. I can't feel you very clearly here, it's like playing hot and cold. The angel sounded concerned and a bit frustrated. He hadn't failed Devin often, and doubtless he didn't want to add this occasion to that short list.
I'll try... The mage pushed deeper into the water, reaching out now to try to find the walls of the pool. If he had more air, he could just feel his way to the tunnel, but it was almost too late for that now. In a moment, his fingers brushed against stone, and he hurriedly began to search for the portal. Luce?
I sense you clearly now, Devin! Move down to your left, the angel sent urgently, sensing his protιgι's limited air supply.
As Devin made his way down, his lungs burning, another volley of arrows came from directly above they had moved to this side of the pool. Struck in the shoulder and leg, Devin miraculously managed to keep his pained outcry to a hoarse growl, but it was still breath that he could not afford to spend. He thought he saw spots of light, but that could have been his imagination... or perhaps not.
Something closed around his ankle, and he kicked out of reflex, but the grasp did not loosen. Devin! I've got you! With the physical contact, Luciel's voice became much clearer; Devin could understand in that moment how the ancient Hebrews could describe the voices of angels as bright trumpets. As Luciel hauled him to the portal, he finally let out the stale air in his lungs, knowing that his guardian would see him to safety, even if he were not conscious to appreciate it.
Well, that only took forever! This segment of the story was probably the least clear for me while I was planning the rest of the tale... What was going to happen in Faerie was always vague, and changing constantly. It was only recently when I decided on how Devin would get home, and I finally committed to writing it down. Now... I've got the rest of the plot pretty well in hand; let's hope it goes a bit quicker from here. ^_^;