Rylah stumbled as the Faery let go of her. In her attempt to separate from him she fell. “Relax Faeling,” Corteal said. “I mean not to harm you.”
“Why are you calling me Faeling?” she asked, brushing herself off the best she could. She was soaked and covered in dirt.
Corteal looked confused – his blue-green eyes narrowing. “You do not know?” he moved closer to her. “Have you always been this way?” He knelt to look her in the eyes. “What a perfect spell. Who cast it?” His smooth, pleasant voice had an edge of excitement.
Rylah wasn’t stupid. She knew what the Faery was implying. It just couldn’t be reality. Her father had been the Preacher Matthew. She knew this. Her mother was – her real mother was – Rylah struggled to remember her name.
“Are you okay?” Corteal asked.
“What?” Rylah asked.
“You are a Faery, or at least you were. That’s how it must have been done. He fed you human milk. You ate human food. That body is real – not an illusion. I must meet the person who worked this magic,” Corteal pleaded.
“He’s dead,” Rylah said. “Just over three years ago. The Wicken killed him, and my brother. I woke up surrounded by the bodies of the Wicken, my father, and what was left of my brother.”
“Step-brother.” She was mentally absent from the conversation, her mind quietly panicking. The Faery must be mad.
“Why were you asleep?”
“I don’t know!” She hadn’t meant to yell. “We were opening a small rift. We were going to talk to sprites. We’d done it before. I don’t want to talk about this.”
“I’m sorry, are you bothered to learn you’re a Faery?” he asked.
“I can’t be a Faery. It’s not possible.” She sat down and hugged her knees.
Corteal gathered a satisfactory amount of fallen branches. He whispered something and they seemed to come to life as they began to weave together till they formed an orb. He blew on it and the center started glowing sea foam blue. It floated from his hands and hung in the air giving off heat and light. As well as something else – it was like a newfound vitality had entered her.
She looked at Corteal and saw that he was smiling at her. “You can feel its warmth. This is Fae light. I’m sure you’ve felt this before in the Fae.”
She had, but this felt purer. He continued to speak as if he had read Rylah’s mind. “This light isn’t being tainted by Hell. That place you and the two men walked in the Fae was full of Hell’s taint.”
“Isn’t the Fae’s corruption a direct result of Hell’s touch? Why should it matter that Hell’s touching it some more?” Rylah aked.
“The Fae was born in the conflict of Heaven and Hell, but it is its own entity now. It has been for over a millennium.”
Rylah’s frustration overwhelmed her. “This is insane. I don’t know if this is some game played by Faeries, or if you’re some demented tormenter, but just skip to the part where you eat me and be done with this!” Rylah was breathing heavy after her outburst.
“Eat you? I’d prefer not,” Corteal said. He flew over to her and grabbed her arm. “Can you feel this?”
Ecstasy – orgasm – something close to perfect pleasure.
She stepped back. Her knees were weak. She collapsed to the soft ground onto her elbows and knees. Rylah’s vision blurred while she was looking at her hands, but also she was looking at Corteal, she was looking behind her, she was looking everywhere.
Her fingers were too long – dangerous. She tried with some success to shut out her other sights and focused on her hands. She watched them shrink back to their original size.
“That is a strong spell,” Corteal said.
“What did you do?”
“I forced all the Fae essence I could into you, to force you into your true form. I couldn’t maintain it.”
“I am a Faery then.”
“That’s been my point.”
She met the Faery’s eyes as she came to her feet. “You said you needed me for something.”
“I’m chasing Tarabel.”
“Tarabel? The Arch Arae Tarabel?” Rylah asked disbelieving.
“Fallen it seems. I watched the gates of Mount Dansu open and out he flew. Only he wasn’t as I remembered him. His eyes burned and he reeked of Hell,” Corteal explained.
“You recognized him? You’ve met him before?” Rylah asked.
“I have memories, not much more than that. I remembered Tarabel’s face when I saw him,” Corteal said. “I hid beneath the trees – the gates closed – nothing else came out.”
Rylah felt a shiver run down her spine. Life had been easier when she only had to worry about Wicken Men. “Damn, so Tarabel is here? Not in the Fae, but here, and you think he’s Fallen?”
“Then why are you hunting him? He’s out of the Fae and he’s most likely untouchable. Be thankful and go back to hunting Fae deer.”
“He will bring others across. He will build an army and Hell will have its second war. Only this time, it is only the Mortal and the Fae that can fight it.”
“So the Trinity left us to die.”
“The Trinity doesn’t know.”
She closed her eyes and sent a mental message across the distance to Hospin who had almost reached the Monastery of the Trinity. She told him to no longer deliver her old message. She had a new one for Malick.
“Take me to Mount Dansu. I want to see where Tarabel crossed. Chasing him won’t do us any good. Plus, I know someone who can do that for us,” Rylah said. She had to trust the Faery now, and this way she could make use of him.
“What will you learn from Mount Dansu?” the Faery asked.
“I don’t know, but I feel like I can learn something there,” she answered. “Also I want to learn about being a Faery.”
“Being a Faery?”
“I mostly care about your magic,” she explained.
“It’s mostly by feel. Warlocks and witches touch our powers with chants – runes, and by drawing power from blood or fire. But a Faery needs none of that. Our power is here.” He tapped his heart. “I can see that you have yours despite your form.”
Rylah held her right hand over her chest.
Corteal continued, “The Fae is chaos and us Faeries’ powers also stem from that. We are in control in the moments where there should be none. I could flip a mortal coin and always call the right face. I’m sure you’ve experienced this.”
“Luck,” Rylah said. She wondered if Brandon had known what she was.
“Yes,” Corteal said. “Luck would be how a human would perceive it.”
“What about your magic?” Rylah asked.
“Instinctual. Faeries have the greatest aptitude and source of power of any creature in creation. We do not tire of magical excursion because we have the entirety of the Fae to draw on. We are not reliant on personal strength – or the blessing of an outside source. However, the way one Faery channels the Fae is not the same as another. You have to develop your abilities on your own.”
“So you can’t teach me anything?”
“I can teach you how to touch the Fae. Anywhere in the Mortal the Fae is merely a breath away,” Corteal said.
“That’s at least something,” Rylah said.
“Let’s take a seat. Breath in slowly, exhale slower.”
Rylah could feel the Fae’s essence touching everything, filling the trees like blue veins, visible to her closed eyes. She felt it enter her with her slow breath, and watched the used energy exit her as she breathed out. It helped now that she was actually in the Fae, though she had made great strides before Corteal and she had entered.
She felt him return. She opened her eyes. He made quick work of the deer he’d returned with, and soon they were roasting venison strips over a fire. By the time the strips were ready Corteal had finished consuming the rest of the carcass. Rylah was rather satisfied after her two strips while Corteal finished the rest.
“I refuse to eat food in the Mortal,” Corteal confided after their meal, as if sensing Rylah’s un-phrased question.
“How do you not get lost in the Fae?” Rylah asked Corteal after several days of traveling. Rylah had learned to draw on the Fae for endurance and strength. So she was able to run swiftly and they were covering a lot of ground. “Every time I’m here for an extended period I start to lose my sense of… well, everything.”
Corteal looked at her with a smile. “I don’t try to make sense. I just know.”
“Thank you,” Rylah said dryly.
They traveled through a thick pine forest similar to the Mortal except the animals here all had four eyes. And spoke as she ran by. Their journey took them through a forest of tree sized crystal mushrooms. She ran on a purple cobblestone pathway that weaved through crossing, on little white bridges, puddles and streams of sapphire water. The sparse grass that grew out of the dark, muddy earth here, was the same brilliant blue as the water.
They reached Mount Dansu several days later. The mountain was enormous. Its snowcapped peak was cast in a weird glow, as if the currently sunless, blue grey sky was focusing on it. Rylah saw the gates as she stepped from a field of man-height white grass.
Before she could ask, Corteal picked her up and flew her up the several thousand feet before the ridge that the Gate was cut into. Rylah had to guess that it was close to five-hundred feet tall. Not that she had ever experienced anything near its size to compare it to.
“We’re here,” Corteal said. “What are you looking for?”
She wasn’t listening to him. She was reading the engraved text on the gate. She could read Aet – the first language.
I welcome the damned
For behind me is pain
I guard the Righteous
For behind me is pain
“That was constructed to keep those in Hell locked up there, right?” Rylah asked Corteal.
“It was, till the Trinity sent the one creature for which it will open and close for falling to Hell’s depths.” Corteal answered. “They tried to strip Disinner’s influence from the Gate, but as it turns out, there are powers that even the Trinity can’t overcome.”
“And what would that be?”
“You remember a lot from when you use to be an Arae.” Rylah commented.
“I remember some. What I just told you any Faery would know. We too tell stories.”
“So the Gate stayed loyal to this, Disinner?” Rylah said as she looked over more of the gate. “What would be behind here now if they opened? During the Hollowing, Hell was supposed to have been thrown out of reach of the Fae and Mortal.”
“I would guess that there would be a path to a pit of nothing. Not that anyone has been behind these gates to see. Faeries generally stay away from here.”
“Can’t you feel it?” Corteal asked.
She closed her eyes and reached out. The Fae was far away, even more so than it had been in the Mortal.
“We are not in the Fae here?”
“The Trinity left one part of Hell behind.”
“The entire mountain?” Rylah asked.
“Yes,” Corteal answered.
“Why isn’t there corruption coming off the Mountain into the Fae?” Rylah asked.
“Corruption never came from the mountain before the Hollowing when it stood much as it still does. No corruption comes from it now,” Corteal answered.
Rylah decided not to question Corteal’s logic. “You saw these open, and Tarabel came out. Does that mean this Disinner is here? Or is Disinner still able to control the gates from wherever Hell is?”
“The latter, otherwise He’d be here. He wouldn’t have sent his puppet.”
“What do you think Disinner sent Tarabel here to do?” Rylah asked.
“I can only make guesses,” Corteal answered.
“What was it I saw you kill the first time we met in the Fae?” Rylah asked, daring to pick the Faerie’s mind.
“That was one of the children of Disinner and Tharah. It wasn’t a particularly strong one.”
“They dream of such power.” Corteal laughed. “But similar in conception – though I figure that there are enough children now that they now mate with each other. That is the only way I can explain the abominations that I’ve been hunting.”
Rylah had started reading an engraving at the edge of the gate near where it met the mountain. She read:
There was dirt covering the rest. She reached out to brush it off.
She was staring at the sky. It was an odd war of light purple and soft blues. She remembered she was in the Fae. She remembered she’d been at the Gate. She shot up to a sitting position. She turned to Corteal who sat to her left.
“What happened?!” she demanded.
“You said, ‘He called for me’ and then you collapsed,” he explained. “I was hoping that you would fill me in.”
She was looking up, into what looked like a night sky – only there were just two stars. One was easily twice as bright as the other. They hung in close proximity in the sky. Her view shifted left then right. She saw hordes of dark figures marching up what looked like endless rings.
It was dark, to Rylah it looked like it should be cold but she felt nothing. “We are ready,” a voice came from behind Rylah’s vision. Her view shifted to look at the speaker. He was massive. The body of a large well-muscled man. His fingers were long but not as much as a Faery. He had great leathery wings, long slick black hair and burning eyes. This was the Fallen. This was Disinner. “Now we wait for Tarabel.”
“And Hell will become more than a ringed pit.”
“We will bring a new Kingdom that unites the twin worlds,” Disinner said. “I will wait for you.” Disinner flew into the air and over a dark city.
Rylah’s vision faded then focused again, only now all she saw was shifting molten emerald fluid. She was moving towards it. She was trying to pull away but she didn’t control this body. She made contact.
It felt like a chill on the front of her head. That slowly became a burning. It became searing. Rylah would have been wreathing or screaming if it was within her power.