Chapter Five (The Fortress)

By Darrell Walker

The Silver Path, Far Dreaming: Three years later.

A songbird sang sweetly in the night. Sir Aerinn Moonwater ap Fiona, Defender of the Dream, hugged his knees to his chest, his slender body hugging the chimeric steel of his faerie blade against his hips. His blond hair gleamed in the moonlight, and his normally deep blue eyes seemed dark in the night. He rocked slowly, his eyes half-closed, his thin handsome face drawn with a pain that only he could feel. Aerinn felt the great, gargantuan enormity of time passed pushing his shoulders into the ground with the crushing weight of weariness.

And a songbird sang.

Aerinn's gaze swept over the awe-inspiring landscape of the Far Dreaming almost absently, his conscious wrestling with inner demons. He sat a dozen feet from camp. In front of him, the silver path, thinning but still constant, ribboned up into the depths of a range of mountains beyond anything Aerinn had ever before dreamed. They were huge, the lowest peaks dwarfing the largest mounts on Earth. Even at this distance, miles from the first foothills, Aerinn felt small and insignificant. The mountains were known simply as the Dragonreaches, and Aerinn was not foolish enough to doubt the appropriateness of the name. Dragons lived in those spires. Aerinn knew it for fact for just earlier that day he had encountered one.

Aerinn smiled slightly despite his glum mood. The battle was one that would have been retold by bards had any been with them. Da'din had sensed the dragon's presence even before they could see its daunting silhouette on the horizon. The troll had hefted his gigantic blade and had bellowed out a challenge in a voice that Aerinn wagered would have caused an avalanche in the mountains. The dragon, a monstrous thing of shining, obsidian scales, had risen to Da'din's challenge and almost put an end to their quest right then and there.

It had been Aerinn's quick thinking that had pulled them out of the fire that time. The dragon, after his initial beating by Da'din and Aerinn, had fled to the heights of the sky settling for roasting the questors with his fire of black flame. It had been when the dragon started pulling their own glamour from them that Aerinn had gotten crazy and used a Hopscotch to take a swing at him. Aerinn shook his head, his smile growing more heartfelt for a moment as he remembered. What else could you hope to expect from a couple of trolls? In Da'din and Grohl's defense, though, they did catch on quickly. Aerinn could almost see the thoughts as they labored through Grohl's head. Soon the unseelie troll was flying through the air like a graceful acrobat, dealing tremendous blows to the dragon with his double-bladed axe, while Lanna ran along its back, stabbing with her sword. Then Da'din had done a Peter Pan, leading with his sword tip. The dragon had fled.

Aerinn sighed to himself softly. This quest had drawn an interesting group. There was Da'din, also a knight of House Fiona. Da'din had been by Aerinn's side for longer than he could remember. Aerinn felt comforted by the troll, a man of such statue he stood above even his own kind. Da'din's Norse heritage was evident in his clothing and armor and in the braids in his graying hair and beard. The firelight glimmered in Da'din's icy blue-gray eyes. Aerinn saw the troll as a combination mentor, big brother, and friend. Da'din and Aerinn had sworn oaths long ago. They had stuck together through thick and thin, though, Aerinn had to admit, it was usually he who got them into all the trouble. Aerinn felt his throat catch as his thoughts started down an avenue often-traveled. He grimaced, controlling his mind with effort. He wouldn't go there. Not yet.

And a songbird sang.

Then there was Lanna. Beautiful beyond reason, she was just as deadly. A knight of House Scathach, the woman could fight like no one Aerinn had ever seen. Her gleaming black hair was pulled into a topknot that cascaded down her back almost to her waist. Her pale, dark-eyed face radiated unearthly sidhe beauty. She had the body of a warrioress, muscled and honed, sleek and agile. He remembered Lanna from Before too, and he trusted her with his life. Aerinn looked back to camp and chuckled to himself softly. As usual, Lanna and Da'din were on opposite sides of the fire, each looking at the other when they thought the other wasn't looking. Aerinn didn't know the specifics of what was going on there, but he knew enough. The three of them had known each other for a long, long time. He himself had memories of Da'din that could only be from before the Shattering. One thing Aerinn remembered was that Lanna had always had a thing for Da'din, and Da'din had always been fiercely protective of Lanna. Aerinn knew enough of trolls to know what that meant.

But there was Myranda. Or Lady Myranda, he should say. Da'din and Myranda had sworn oaths to each other that went beyond the grave. They had been together for as long as Aerinn could remember. But now, after Myranda's return with the Resurgence, things seemed different between the two. Six hundred years was a long time, and Aerinn guessed that people changed. When he considered the fact that he and Da'din and Lanna had spent the past six hundred years on Earth, and Myranda had spent them in Arcadia, it seemed almost logical that things would change. Of course, the sidhe were not fond of change, and Aerinn wasn't sure if he wanted to be around when Myranda found out what was developing between Da'din and Lanna. Aerinn frowned slightly as he remembered that he had done quite a bit of helping out with Da'din and Lanna. In fact, it could be said he had started the whole thing....

Aerinn wrenched his mind back on-topic. He certainly didn't want to think about *that* right now! He looked around the camp, his eyes searching, and finally, after some effort, located the sluagh, curled up in a ball, apparently asleep. Aerinn knew better. Sir Achaian never seemed to sleep. At least, not when anyone was watching. Sir Achaian had been knighted into House Eiluned. Aerinn had heard part of the story--something to do with rescuing some sidhe childlings if he remembered correctly. Why Achaian would rescue sidhe childlings, Aerinn hadn't figured out yet. He and Lanna seemed to be the only sidhe the sluagh actually got along with, and he only tolerated Myranda. Achaian had proved invaluable in the quest. It was his ablility to converse with the dead that had given them warning of the Bean Sidhe in the area. Aerinn sighed wearilly. It had been a long quest, indeed, and it was only now beginning.

And a songbird sang.

Grohl was an interesting troll. Huge compared to mortals, but small compared to Da'din, Grohl was as unseelie as they came. Aerinn marveled that Da'din hadn't handed him his heart yet. Still, Grohl had potential. He wasn't very smart, and he wasn't very quick on his feet, but Aerinn had seen the troll in his creative moments. Da'din may call it pulling things out of his ass, but Aerinn admired resourcefulness.

And a songbird sang.

Then there was Anthony, an eshu that Aerinn and Achaian had found chrysalizing only a few weeks before. At least, he thought it was a few weeks ago. Aerinn shrugged. Time mattered little, especially in the Dreaming. Anthony was a puzzle. He was still very quite, and Aerinn couldn't blame him. The poor boy had just had his Dream Dance, and he'd been dragged into the Dreaming on a quest. Of course, Aerinn really couldn't think of a better way to introduce a newly-awakened changeling to the Dreaming, but he doubted it was everyone. Aerinn looked and found Anthony asleep by the fire, wrapped up in his fine Arabian cloak.

And a songbird sang.

The newest two arrivals to the party were, perhaps, the most interesting. The first was Sir Cody Brady, a fox pooka and an old friend. He had been one of the first changeling friends Aerinn had made after his Chrysalis. When Aerinn had started having memories of the pooka, he had chalked it up to Dán. Cody, too, was a mystery in many ways. Unlike Aerinn, the pooka had been Sained, but for some reason he still hung onto his mortal name. But it was Cody's companion that worried Aerinn. Aerinn's eyes flitted over to a slender form sitting in the flickering firelight. For a moment, a surge in the flames illuminated the most beautiful face Aerinn had ever seen. Dark, slightly-tilted eyes shined in a lightly tanned face that was flawless in its perfection. Full, ruby lips, high cheekbones, and a slightly-pointed chin gave Tatiana a delicate beauty that even Myranda would be jealous of.

Aerinn wondered why she was there. He had ideas, each of them more frightening than the last. She and Cody had only joined the party earlier that evening. They had entered the Dreaming a few days behind Aerinn and the rest. Somehow, Cody had appeared to them, letting them know he was coming. Grohl and Aerinn had been forced to Flickerflash and get them. Aerinn knew enough of the Dreaming to know how dangerous what they'd attempted was. He was just glad it was over with. Surely Dán was with them.

And a songbird sang.

Aerinn's thoughts turned back to Tatiana. She was a vampire, that he knew for sure. He shivered, remembering the offer she had given him so long ago in another realm of the Dreaming. She had offered him eternal life locked into banality. He had refused as any sidhe knight would have. Maybe Cody had accepted.... Aerinn pushed the thought away. No, the pooka was crazy, but he wasn't that crazy. Besides, Aerinn could still sense glamour in the pooka's soul. He would have to have a talk with Cody. That woman could be *very* persuasive.

And a songbird sang.

Aerinn sighed heavilly, his breath rattling in his chest. He steeled himself, preparing for the pain he knew was coming.

Slowly, Aerinn turned to the little songbird perched upon his left shoulder. It sang sweetly, a mournful song, Aerinn thought, as it cocked its head, watching him. No one else could see the little bird, Aerinn knew that. Lanna seemed to know what was going on, but she hadn't volunteered anything, at least not to him, and he hadn't asked. Aerinn looked at the bird, and tears filled his eyes. "Where is she?" he asked in a strained whisper so soft he could barely hear his own voice. The bird only sang on, seeming even more mournful. A song seemed to drift over the songbirds. Aerinn often heard music now, especially when he was in the dreaming. It seemed to be a soundtrack of his life. This one he recognized. A tune he'd heard before embarking on the quest.

Maybe in another life
I could meet you there
Pulled away before your time
I can't deal it's so unfair
And it feels
And it feels like
Heaven's so far away
And it feels
Yeah it feels like
The world has grown cold
Now that you've gone away *

Aerinn shuddered, the tears he could no longer fight shaking his body with deep, soulfelt sobs. "Selene...." he moaned.Leaving flowers on your grave

Show that I still care
But black roses and Hail Mary's
Can't bring back what's taken from me *

Raven hair. Dark, fathomless eyes. Creamy skin of the purest white, softer than silk. A laugh of tinkling bells. A smile like the dawning sun. A soul filled with glamour and beauty.

I reach to the sky
And call out your name
And if I could trade
I would *

Aerinn's mind reeled, turning and turning, in upon itself. The despair and anguish slowly eating away his soul. A scream began growing deep in Aerinn's stomach. He shook with terror, seeing the yawning depths of madness opening up before him. He knew he couldn't stop the scream. It was greater than he was, greater than he would ever be.

And it feels
And it feels like
Heaven's so far away
And it stings
Yeah it stings now
The world is so cold
Now that you've gone away *

Aerinn screamed a scream that seemed it would make his throat bleed. Every head in camp jerked up as a cry of rage that didn't sound human cut through the still night air. Lanna turned, her mouth twisting into a frown as she saw Aerinn jump up from where he'd been sitting in the dark, his sword in his hands. Slowly, jerkily, clumsily at first, he began moving through forms. Lanna watched with a critical eye, knowing very well the peace of mind one could find with a blade. Still, there were times no one should be alone.

Aerinn threw his body through the forms, knowing he was muxing them up, but not caring. He needed the rhythm, the escape battle gave him from his heartache. He knew Selene was out there. He hadn't believed at first, he'd been afraid to. But when the songbird had come to him the other night, he had known that she was alive, and that she still loved him. But Aerinn could do nothing about it. He was honor-bound to fulfill this quest. Oaths he'd sworn long before the Shattering bound him like no chains ever could. He must fight. He must fight for the Dreaming, not for Selene. Aerinn whimpered as he swung his blade in a wild arc, letting his left hand leave the hilt. He had to find her. He had to. His enemy, Malaggar, wanted them both dead, and Aerinn knew who the man would go for first.

Suddenly, Lanna sprung up in front of him, coming out of a roll, assuming an offensive stance, and drawing her weapon in one fluid movement. Aerinn grimaced as she attacked. Somehow, Lanna always knew what she needed. They would fight until he was exhausted, and then she would probably hold him in her arms long into the night. Maybe all night. There would be looks from Da'din and the others, taunts from Achaian and Grohl. He was sure if he said something to Da'din, the taunts would stop, but Aerinn couldn't bring himself to do that. He sighed, trying to keep up with Lanna's blade. She was much better than he with the sword. She'd been training him, or trying to, but Aerinn had a hard time concentrating. Still, next to Selene, the sword was the one love in his life. With his sword, he could do anything. At least, that's what Aerinn told himself.

He battled the beautiful sidhe lady deep into the night before finally collapsing with exhaustion. Lanna led him back to the fire, both of them ignoring the eyes of Da'din on watch, and Achaian, who was up as usual. She laid Aerinn down on her bedroll, and lay down beside him. Aerinn sighed softly as she wrapped her body around him, kissed his lips gently. He closed his eyes, resting against her, losing himself in her warmth. Lanna's lips brushed his ear as her sweet voice followed him into sleep, telling him stories of true love and happy endings.

Da'din watched worriedly from across camp, hoping Lanna could get his friend through another night. He looked to the sky as it slowly turned purple with the dawn. The nights seemed to be getting longer and longer of late.

  • Gone Away is by the Offspring
To be continued...