A Fifth Letter Sent Via the Lady's Temple (second part)
The Fathomer’s voice in my mind either faded somewhat or, and this thought is more worrisome, became just the same as my own as we made our way into the segment labeled as 3, sneaking toward the ice cavern. Or perhaps it was sneaking that quieted him. He seems to like sneaking into terribly dangerous place to do risky things. Again, I hope we are more different than I fear we are.

The rune here is encased in ice, that is clear as we approach the cavern near to the base of the ridge.

The cavern is vast and deep, all approaches iced completely. And, rather than lower ourselves into uncertain darkness, Jokhula attempted draconic diplomat, as best she knew it. Her mantle perhaps assisted, as her manner showed none of the doubt she expressed when first she proposed the idea.

A voice responded in some surprise, then a moderately sized white dragon flapped up, taking a commanding perch on a wall that overlooked our position, clearly prepared for treachery.

“Cousin,” Jokhula began, “we mean you no harm, nor theft. We are strangers come to this place in pursuit of an enemy of our people and have discovered the damage to reality here and which to do what we can to repair it. Will you let us pass thru in peace, to examine the rune in ice on the cliff above?”

The dragon considers for a moment, studying us. “Prettily said. So you are here about the statue and the puzzle. And you are the children of the Lion. This is an especially treacherous place for you to be.” She switched to common after the first, to bring us all into the conversation. I have, in this telling, translated from the Draconic as best I can... the common tongue lacks much of its formalities, however. “Not everyone has the opportunity to learn the true tongue. The rune is covered for a reason.”

“For safety?”

“It is knowledge that I possess. It has value. More than gold or jewels.” The dragon, Caessalax by name, was clearly protective of this treasure.

“You are wise.”

“And you mean to unlock the pedestal?” She seemed skeptical about the whole thing.

“Do you wish to be in this place?” Jokhula asked.

“I am here by choice. I am not of these other times. I have been studying this place. From what I understand of the way things are supposed to work, there ought not be so many of you here.”

“That is so.”

“I find it far stranger, however, that you and you are here together.” Jokhula and Yvor, in their aspects, seem less a pair than they are normally, a dragon noble and a dragon hunter. The observation is not without merit. And its suggests to me that we are not only echoes of our prior selves, but can be more if we choose to be. I find that comforting, after a fashion.

Jokhula, perhaps, took it differently. “It does seem a sign of some intention," she said, "a sideways portent or prophecy.”

“In my limited experience, prophecies are like eels. Slippery, hard to catch, and seldom taste good.” Caessalax studied us again. “A fight between us is too risky, and I care not to discover your place in the Pax. So I will propose a trade. Bring me either the rune from the forest or the rune from the dark place and I will give you the rune from here.”

She seemed to be unusually clever and subtle for a white dragon, who lore tells me are usually more simple and brutish. But she offered a reasonable trade, we thought, safer than conflict.

We withdrew and started to make plans for the fey wood. Charm and etiquette being essential, we though our skald, Aillie, likely to be our best resource. That conclusion was to be challenged soon, though.

We cross from the ice of 3 thru the wastes of 4 and into 5. The shift into rich forest is rich and sudden, the scent an feel of vibrant life impossible to ignore, invigorating as if the life of this place sought other life to enrich and be enriched by.

As we head to the cliff-face to find the run, there are many woodland creatures, birds, deer, etc, that scatter as we approach. And occasional faint laughs and vanishing figures.

Rounding a tree, we saw a small man in the path toward the cliff. “Good day to you, Travelers.” He bent the knee, doffed his cap. He was barely 2 feet tall, clad all in green. Clothes of a wealthy gentleman, visibly armed only with his walking cane.

When Sir Jarrad apologized for the trespass, but he said he doesn’t claim any of this land, nor command of it. And when told we seek a rune of power, asks if we want any particular one. When we identify it as the one carved in the rock above, he calls it the dark rune.

“Not for any dark purpose,” Jokhula insisted, but he says that’s no concern of his.

Jarred offered bread and honey with a cup of magically created water, all with a good bit of ritual that seemed familiar to him, practiced.

The fellow warned us it’s quite dangerous to be here, as the lot of us are mortal. "And there’s a dragon about and 'Himself' might try to skewer ye should ye approach the rune. As such, He has shrouded the rune, to keep others from abusing it."

He also offered that in the court, the “usual rules” apply, and we might, as little as it will help, tell them Master Briar Green Trews speaks well of us.

He vanished as we make our way further into the wood, approaching the sounds of revelry.

We chose to skirt the celebration if we can, but Yvor’s best path clearly circled us away from the base of the cliff and the rune as well.

The wood respond to him when he tells us they are pushing us away. Once he realizes we can all hear them, he introduces us to the wood. Which seems mocking, but says it is the work of Himself that we can’t approach the rune. As they ask us our identities, Jarred answers in tree-ent tongue, at which they all bow to him. “It has been many turnings since the King walked among us.” (apparently his cyclical mantel is some sort of nature king.)

“We have come for a rune. The dark rune.” Jared is clear and straightforward, as apparently his kingly mantel shares that trait with him. Again, I wonder how like or unlike we can be, at the nature of how people are chosen to bear these powers, or if we somehow choose the power. But this was no time to consider such things.

“That is problematic. The Earl-King guards that rune, as he disapproves of the effect it and its like have on the wood.” The trees were not unfriendly, just clearly respectful of their "Earl-King" and of the threat of the Zolosian rune.

“We need it in a cause to prevent a great evil that threatens the wood, the world, and the very cycle,” Sir Jared answered.

“We would not be here if it were not so. You could challenge the Earl-King. It need not be to the death. If you bested him, he would need to grant your request. But recall that he is a terrible opponent.”

“I do not wish to disrupt this place any further,” snd clearly Sir Jarred believed that challenging the Earl-King would do so. Looking back, I must say he was likely correct.

“There are but two beings the Earl-King respects. His Lady and the Dragon. The second is a latecomer, but many denizens of the wood have spoken in hushed tones and gone out of their way to avoid the Dragon.”

“It seems our lot in life to rush toward such things.”

“Then we can set your feet on the path toward the Dragon.”

Another dragon. Indeed, our lot in life.

After friendly goodbyes, we head onto the path toward the dragon. But as Aillie commented about how all she really only wants a good bath, a claw-footed tub fell from the sky onto Cabhan. Perfectly level and not spilled a drop, despite its bumpy landing.

Kaela pulls him out from under with a magical dimensional shift. And Aillie then took a bath, the nature of this place or her expressed wish or some other effect, perhaps her mantel, somehow making her utterly unabashed about that.

Attempting to be a gentleman, I suggested we keep out focus on going to the dragon, and getting what we need. The wood is clearly paying attention to us, the path a bit wilder and less stewarded, but not blocked. And yes, behind us, the bathtub, carrying Aillie and a tall mound of strongly perfumed soapsuds, gently follows along.

Pushing thru some lightly thorned flowing vines, we come into a clearing in front of a cavern where something sleeps. Piles of fruits, berries, and honeycombs along with crystals rest outside the cave.

Jokhula approaches, there was sound of wings furling, flapping, and then a cat-sized iridescent dragon flaped out of the cavern. He flattered her melodious voice, and
wondered where all the tribute came from, as if it were a surprise.

Jokhulla introduces us, and he wonders why we’re here and why with a woman in a bathtub. And offers us some of its vast feast, if we want any part od it.

He asks me where his cloak is, as what I wear is not my own, which I can't say I quite understand. And that my mother might help him find it, though when I said she’s
been lost some eight years, he just replied “As you say.”

He warned Kaela against calling gods or demons before the Erlking and Aillie to put on some clothes more fit to meet the Court’s expectations. Then he suggested that the Knight and the Wavestrider make the approach, as the Knight is of the Fey Lands and the Wavestrider respect because of his parentage. Again, I had no words to ask the questions that raised.

His name, he offers, is Glimmerflitt. A troubleshooter or fixer or problems. He offers us to eat of his feast, under his protection.

Aillie finished her bath, stepped out, and still quite causally dries then redressed herself, though courtesy demanded we not look. At least Sir Jared and I considered that necessary courtesy.

Glimmerflitt asked us if we’re elderly, because sometimes there’s a bit of passage of time involved in visiting the court and Mortality was a controversial thing there, and
structured time a relatively new concept. We concluded we were likely safe, though that proved only mostly true.

The forest are dense an imposing again as we traveled to the feast, though somehow I began to become more comfortable within it. Perhaps I was succumbing to its magic, though I never felt any specific charm or working.

We came then to a canopied clearing, a throne room, where numerous fey lounged and gamboled about. Seated in the bowl of a cooperative tree was the Erlking. As we entered, the clearing went silent and everyone stopped in place except to turn toward us.

Jarred introduced himself and us as Scions on Ancar, and the Erlking turned to the Lady beside him, who I, at least hadn’t noticed before, lost in the focus the Erlking drew, and gestured the two of us forward. Benches were brought out for the others.

I explained our purpose, to seek to battle eVIL, but the Erlking saID one seldom needs look far to find evil. "On many occasions, misdeeds can come in the name of the light as well. But, out of respect for your grandmother, I will speak plainly." He offered no gap for me to question this, and my mouth went too dry to attempt it anyway. "We have little love for any of this endless repetition. The sequential nature of time makes it see pointless, but we were not consulted. Understand Us, even were We inclined to reveal the Rune to you, there is no guarantee you will be successful in neutralizing the threat. If we maintain things at all, it remains unopened. These are threats from ancient days, when even mortals were more. To show you the Rune is to allow for another great Sorrow to be visited upon the world.” He looked then at Aillie. “You will forgive me if I doubt you can grasp it and put it in your bag.”

I suspect Zolos can open the Trials even without the rune, and said as much. To which the Lady says “To do nothing is still a choice.” She then asked Kaela the state of affairs beyond the wood, of Her Master’s handiwork (which is to say, of the Arch). Kaela suggested, as she saw things it remained fine, except here. But 2-7ths (or more) of this place lay outside the Working, and that may spread. Kaela, Aillie, and the Lady all slowly circle around this idea in conversation I wish I could recall more fully, but the Erlking again demanded my focus, though I cannot say he made a gesture or spoke a word to do that.

I warned of Outsiders working in alliance with Zolos, and tried as best I could to praise the fine court he commanded, but the Erlking said only “Save some of your fine words for the Court of your Grandmother.” And again, I found I could not ask the questions that screamed in my head.

Glitterflitt then said this was all stupid, we have been courtly and the Lady understands our purpose, and "these children have stepped from their world, from the world, because it is in peril. They did not create the rules you, Erlking, chaffe under, so you ought stop being such an ass."

The Erlking was not pleased with this. “So once again, it comes to this. I am expected to place my faith in the hands of mortals.”

“If it goes that badly wrong, you merely have to wait.” Aillie pointed out, the cycle being as it was the focus of his complaint.

“The problem, Moonthief, is that once the door is open, the early bird might get the worm, the the second mouse the cheese.”

He points to me then, without warning, and I was frozen mid-thought. He will reveal it only to me, he said, and trust that my blood will carry the day. Frozen, I could not second guess him and so I follow him away from the court into the wood, which quickly grew deep and dark, imposing and more threatening with each step. It reached toward me, as if to take my concentration into its endless branchings and twisting.

The Erlking apologized then, if only in saying that this would be harder for any of the others. He brought us to a stop at the base of a tree. “It pains us to use one of our mightiest for this, but only such could contain it”

Padhraig’s mantels, now many, all speaking in my head, insist that might need every bits and defend his mind. Against the power that was obvious even looking at this mighty timber colossus before me.

“Sometimes a price must be paid, or be taken from us later.”

He touched the tree and it tore apart, and thus the glyph was shown. It burned itself into my memory even before I started to try to study it, and is still there as I close my eyes to rest them. I will not record it here. Zolosian letters should not be written.

I returned then to the rest, after this most exhausting hour's effort. Save that it was no hour, and I felt on my chin the growth of more than a week's beard.

“You have our gratitude,” Jarred offered. “Just succeed,” the Erlking said bitterly.

“We do hope for your success, perhaps not always in such grim tones,” the Lady added. “We may do some small thing to assist your journeyings. It is not much, but if you are willing, we can extend our blessings.”

“We still have terrible places to go, and any protection is welcome,” Sir Jarred said.

“I would not take it in place of your armor, but this will still do something.” The Erlking glowered, but she reached her hand toward Jared and the blessing flows…

Then, as we walked for the clearing, Jokhula offered her thanks to Glimmerflitt and an offer of future assistance, he said “That is fine and good, but I’m coming with you.”

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