Twelfth Chapter, First Part: Questing

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Once Dignity stopped sulking over Iris's popularity with their trappers-turned-rescuers, they managed to clamber out of the pit with the help of a rope woven from multicolored vines.

"Did you get these from the castle walls?" Dignity asked, a frown on his face as he tried to untangle the orange and blue vines that had wrapped around his arm.

"Can't say we did," one boy chimed, followed by another adding thoughtfully, "Can't say we didn't."

"What a conundrum," the last one concluded with mock melancholy.

"So! We've been waylaying travelers-"

"- to help with your quest, of course, Iris-"

"But the pickings are thin-"

"- haven't caught many fish-"

"So imagine our surprise when we found, well," the boys all looked at each other, linked hands, then turned to Iris and said in unison, "you!"

Dignity looked at the tableau the boys presented, with pale skin and glowing eyes. Their robes seemed overly formal, like the vestments of some forgotten order, but their faces were full of mischief and far from anything officious. Despite their eery in-sync similarity, there were slight differences among the boys- their hair and sashes all fell at different angles, the intricate patterns on their robes were all slightly altered, and their eyes glowed in different colors: in red, blue, and green. And those eyes were familiar.

"You," Dignity said in a low voice, "are the ones who chased me through the streets of Ramos."

"Guilty."

"And glad of it."

"You threatened Iris. You deserved no less."

Dignity tilted his head to look at Iris. "What did you do to earn the loyalty of three such liminal souls?"

"Gave them cheese, mostly," Iris said with a smile. "And milk."

Dignity frowned, but assented to address the spirits again. "How did you know about our quest?"

"Iris's quest," the red-eyed one corrected. "And she was given quest by Death herself. That sort of thing tends to get around."

"The trees are terrible gossips," the blue-eyed one added with a grin. And Iris would have thought it a joke until the last one muttered under his breath, "and terrible flirts."

"Though we are impressed, Iris," Red said, his voice sly. "You managed to find Prince Dignity. Not sure how you picked him out from the corn fields, though."

Dignity narrowed his eyes and held back a huff. "Yes, well, I've been a bit indisposed, no thanks to you."

"Sore point," Green noted lazily. "Got it. We'll refrain from calling you jack'o'lantern, then."

"Or scarecrow."

"His royal rag doll?"

All three grinned. "Pumpkin prince?"

Iris smiled at Dignity, who was looking at her in suspicion. "It's a well-fitting name."

Dignity closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. "I suppose it should be no surprise that your companions are as irreverent as you have been from time to time."

"Oh, we like Iris," Green said.

"But we're nothing like Iris," the blue-eyed continued.

"For instance, we don't trust you." Red ran a hand through his hair, somehow managing to look menacing. "Not yet. Not 'til you pass a trial of our own."

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