To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below. *** With grit teeth, Sabine slowly ascended the enormous, tower-sized plant stalk she’d landed upon. Her seemingly simple mission to serve as
To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below.
With grit teeth, Sabine slowly ascended the enormous, tower-sized plant stalk she’d landed upon. Her seemingly simple mission to serve as bait for a serial-kidnapper had apparently descended into some grand faerie conspiracy that left her in a land of distorted plant life and magic-made creatures. Sabine had been to another far off corner of the Under-Where long before, and though it was a painful memory to think on, it seemed relevant.
By Dahkhal’s ninth kidnapping of her, no one in the kingdom wanted anything to do with rescuing the princess anymore. Eight young men in the heights of physical ability had come, one after another, and been Dahkhal’s victims nearly as quick as they’d been his vanquishers. That all changed when a magnificent fae with skin that shined like silver and a skull twice as thick appeared. For though Dahkhal sent wave after wave of reinforcements, the warlock realized with increasing terror and desperation he was up against a fellow immortal.
Fairchild was not a skilled warrior, a cunning tactician, or a plucky adventurer of pure heart. He was just so damned incredulous that he could outfight every one of Dahkhal’s forces, and soon even the necromancer himself, with pure stubbornness. Sabine was so tired of it all by his time that she wasn’t interested in another husband, but even she perked up at his cavalier attitude toward death. Her father’s decree, that anyone who rescued her was to be considered her husband on the spot, didn’t seem so bad with him.
When the pair honeymooned at his parents’ estate, Fairchild dutifully answered every question Sabine had for him. His body remained unkillable while he behaved as a fae should. Which was to say he had to honor traditions and oaths whenever they came up. And he assured her his kind were both wildly well-endowed and passionate lovers. When Sabine admitted she still wasn’t sure she knew him well enough, Fairchild immediately settled, assured her he would honor her as his wife however she felt, and he could wait for her forever. And for once, forever finally seemed like a possibility for the princess.
Dahkhal quashed all that upon his return. With a wicked ritual, he swapped the fae’s soul with that of a swan. There was a cure for that condition that involved about a year of stitching a shirt of needles, but it didn’t matter after Dahkhal sliced off swan-Fairchild’s head and roasted him with cherry gravy. Though it was too much for Sabine to ever look into, she’d heard rumor of a silver-skinned wild man who sometimes strutted near ponds in the south and furiously honked toward any fool who came too close to him. The whole situation was horrifying, but at least it had put the first thoughts of dealing with Dahkhal properly into Sabine’s head.
The stalk Sabine climbed swirled upward like a spiral staircase until she finally crested the top and stepped onto the enormous pink and white flower. A deep, black pentagram ran along the five petals and five girls laid unconscious at each tip. In the center stood the kidnapper with an athame in hand, and her latest victim, barely conscious, in the other. Next to the woman stood the slender form of Deacon Struct. In his hands he clutched an obsidian-black book and his lips moved swift with words Sabine couldn’t hear.
Outmatching a fae like Queen Orchid is almost always a game of patience and arbitration, Dahkhal said. You need to approach this situation carefully and—
The black of the circle began to glow a fiery red.
“They’ve already started a ritual—Hey! Struct!”
The minister flinched, squinted his eyes, and looked toward her.
“Remember me, you old bastard?” Sabine pulled the knife from her false mermaid tail and ran at him.
Without a turn in her direction, Orchid waved a lazy hand. A dozen vines spurted out from between the petals and trapped Sabine’s body under layers of the green. The deacon stepped closer to scrutinize. “Eh? No. Who are you supposed to be?”
You’re the daughter of Will! Dahkhal shouted it internally.
With a pant, Sabine demanded, “What?”
You’ve already screwed this much up; tell him you are the daughter of Will the hairbrush maker!”
“I’m—I’m the daughter of Will?” Sabine had no idea what her companion was trying to suggest.
Struct looked her over left and right as his frown deepened. “Will who?”
“Oh, for the gods’ sake Struct!” Orchid whirled around and clenched her fists. The creeping tendrils that wrapped around Sabine’s body clenched tight. The mercenary cried in pain and gasped for air.
The hairbrush maker, Dahkhal said. Quick now, Will—
Sabine pieced together his strategy before he had to say it. From her fast-dwindling air supply she said, “The hairbrush maker. Will Comb.”
The mercenary turned as best she could toward Orchid. “Your vassal,” she paused to hack and cough. “Your vassal just bid me welcome. I invoke hospitality.”
Instantly the tendrils released their grip. The already annoyed face of Orchid turned to disgust. “He clearly said Will Comb, two words.”
Sabine wheezed and took a moment to regain her breath before she looked up and faced the fae. “Oh yeah. Just like how ‘fairy godmother’ was two words when you told it to those girls, right?”
A bemused smile crossed Orchid’s face. “So, one of you figured that out, did you?”
“Six girls, all of them with disappeared mothers and some fae lady selling them magic beans—metaphorical, not the real kind—you set up the kidnapping of your own children.”
“Well, isn’t she a clever one,” Struct said. “You know what, I remember that voice. I think this might be the girl that caused that ruckus and got the whole kingdom eating sea vermin a few months ago.”
“I don’t care who she is.” Orchid turned her back on the mercenary and stepped back toward the center of the pentagram. “You’re now technically my guest, so I am obligated to spare you. But if you interrupt my ritual, I’ll have the right to retract that hospitality.” She clenched her fists and three of the downed vines rose back up threateningly toward Sabine. “Struct, now.”
“And I’m cashing in my hospitality to challenge you to a duel!”
Orchid froze and slowly turned back to face her. “Insolent welp, a duel? To accomplish what? Even if you bet your own life, you’re not worth one of my own girls, half fae as they are.”
“I was a goddess in a previous life, I think,” Sabine said. “And anyway, you need all six of them, don’t you? One to start the ritual, then the five to sacrifice.”
The fae queen stood silent for a moment before she said, “I owe you nothing. Come, Struct.”
“A fine decision, madam,” the deacon said. “Our lord will grow impatient if we delay much longer.”
As the two stepped away from Sabine, Dahkhal asked, Any other way you can piss her off?
The thought was already on Sabine’s mind. “You’re going to need at least one other kid to cover up your latest blemish, lady!”
Orchid froze and turned icily back toward her. “What did you just say?”
Sabine pressed a finger to the underside of her right eye. “Abandoning your own halflings, then refusing a challenge to a duel? You’re losing your grip on your faehood. That’s why an eternally youthful goddess named after a flower like you has three pimples marring her face, isn’t it?”
The queen’s body went rigid with fury as the tendrils snapped back toward Sabine. But however insulting her words were, they were also true, so she had no power to punish her guest.
“… Declare your challenge, worm.”
Deacon Struct’s eyes went wide. “What—but my lady—the indolent one—” and, indeed, a grumble like a tiny tremor momentarily shook the plant.
“I will not need long to put this one in her place,” Orchid said. “I’ll show you what a fair kind of folk I am. You declare the challenge, then I will end you.”
On this occasion Sabine hadn’t planned on getting to that point. But Fairchild had warned her years before that she should consider what kind of contest duel she could defeat a fae in, if ever she had to. In those days, she may have said a competition for bad luck. But in the years since, she’d drawn a conclusion.
“A drinking contest.”
To Be Continued…