Twelfth Chapter, Second Part: Questing

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"No." There wasn't fire in Iris's voice, but rather cold conviction. "There is a way. I simply must remember it."

Hall replied not with irritation but with patience. "Without the vessel, the anchor of the curse, the spell cannot be lifted."

"Without the vessel, the spell cannot be broken. There's a difference."

Mother Hall took a small sip of tea as Iris stood and began to pace. "So?"

Iris could feel the answer beneath the river of her thoughts, but she didn't grasp for it. She was already dancing around the solution- she simply had to continue her drawing-nearer movements.

"The spell is stuck, anchored to a pumpkin whose physical integrity is preserved by magic. It'll take years for the magic to wear off, at least." Iris watched as her words made Dignity's sallow face- already contorted with grief- even waxier. She had to fix this. "The spell cannot be broken." That much was true, but- "But it can be altered! It can be lifted if we lay it on another."

Dignity's eyes flickered, their pale flames beginning to burn brighter. But it was the red-eyed boy who spoke.

"What are you saying?"

Iris spun around to face the whole table. "We can save Dignity if we condemn Misery."

The slightly-malicious but mostly-mischievous grins of the mice-boys paired with Dignity's grim nod and Mother Hall's slightly wry look of pride told Iris that her plan had their support.

***

But the summary of a plan glosses over its substance, and after Iris's proclamation there were still hours of plotting and planning and mapping to do before she set out from Hall's home, three mice-boys and a Pumpkin Prince in tow. They had two more rivers to recruit, simulacra to obtain for the thrones, and all the ingredients necessary to transfer the binding spell from Dignity to Misery left to find.

And so began Iris's mad run around the realm of Harkenhilt.

***

"Right," Iris said, hand on her hips, looking the very picture of prepared and staring at the entrance of the Candlewood. "So I'm never going in there again. Dignity, time for you to pay your brother a little visit."

"Denial is not my brother," Dignity grumbled. "More like a cousin."

"Huh." Iris looked intrigued for a moment and then shook her head. "No matter. You go in there with two of the boys and snag a good lump of candle wax for us."

Dignity sighed and looked at the ornate doors resting before him. They were far more finely wrought than those Iris had used to enter, and she wondered to what great cathedral they belonged, for Dignity had explained to her back in the empty courtyard that church doors were the formal entrances into the Candlewood.

"When our world is in order," he had said, "spirits flit in and out of the Candlewood to taste again the memories of their families and friends. It is a sedative for grief, one that can ease their souls frightened at the unknown. Few linger over-long except the guards, who tend in any case to already be liminal souls."

But now, Iris knew, souls were trapped in the Candlewood, their identities melting away like the candle wax they craved. Nobody deserved such a fate- she had to save Harkenhilt, to restore to the throne its missing rightful prince.

Who was looking particularly put out at the prospect of visiting his cousin. Or perhaps, Iris thought, it was Denial's consort he took displeasure to. Her memories were fuzzy, but she recalled sharp distaste for a waspish woman in a feigned crown.

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