For a moment too, it seemed proper to Iris that she should die here at the end of her quest. To come so far and fail was, in a sense, comforting. No more would be required of her, she could stop frantically planning and running about, and finally, finally! she could fall asleep—
"Iris!" Dignity shouted, startling the girl out of her revery. "Stay awake and stay alive! Don't let Misery get to you. You are wonderful and worthwhile and worthy—"
But the rest of his message was curtailed by a white root wrapping tight around his face and yanking him towards the ground.
"You're next, girl," said Misery, with more indifference than malice. "I can't have anyone, including my silly brother and his little pet, standing in my way."
Misery took a few careful steps forward, taking care to walk around her fallen soldiers pinned in their traps. Jutted and twisted and quiescent, their bodies had become part of the landscape, all their energy seemingly siphoned into the roots that writhed around their mistress.
"I could strangle you," Misery mused, and suddenly a white root burst out of the ground to wrap around Iris's neck. She had to half-gasp to suck in enough air to breathe, and her head suddenly felt as light and empty as dandelion fluff.
"Or I could quarter you," Misery continued, and now Iris could breathe enough to cry out in pain as her arms were yanked in opposite directions.
"But!" Misery giggled. "That would be so crass. Where's my hospitality? I'll just offer you some food."
Touching a tree again, Misery exerted her power, and this time Iris could see the way the coins around her neck glinted and shined at the magic. On a lonely, withered branch grew a lonely, withered fruit. An apple, perhaps, with skin too wrinkled and rotten to be certain.
"You must be hungry, dear, walking across all of my realm. Please, have something to eat." Misery plucked the fruit from the tree and handed it to a white snaking root which wriggled across the ground to Iris. "Surely you aren't so impolite as to refuse?"
Dignity made a muffled sound through his root, and Iris knew she must not eat of the withered fruit.
But still, a root wrapped around Iris's left arm and moved it against her will until her hand bumped against the fruit and there was nothing to do but hold its thin and slimy skin in her hand.
"That's right, dear," Misery crooned. "Just a bit further now."
There was another moment of crooning, this one sweet and pure rather than rotten and sour, and suddenly Kismet was silhouetted against the orange moon, the curve of her wings and her long, brilliant tail feathers shining a deep purple-blue.
Then Kismet was diving, charging towards Misery, and for a jumbled moment it seemed the pale specter had sprouted purple wings. Seconds later Kismet was flying onwards, tearing the torque from Misery's shoulders and dropping it at Iris's knees. But falling with the jingling coins were long indigo feathers, and Kismet's crooning turned mournful and pained. Iris could barely turn her torso to see it, but Kismet crashed into the ground far behind Iris, a trail of feathers leading to her landing spot.
Misery shrieked, and Iris whipped her head back around to see spots of livid red burning across the mad woman's cheeks.
"Mine! Mine!" She screamed, and Iris had the sense to snatch at the torque, her fingers and eyes searching for the change in texture or color— there! A long white hair caught within the coins. Iris wrapped it around her finger and feigned horror when Dignity, his limbs all wrapped in roots for Misery's dark puppetry, snatched the torque from her hands.
YOU ARE READING
Candlemaiden: The Stranger ShoreFantasy
Evil spirits. A cursed prince. Death itself in disarray. Iris just wants to go home, but fate has other plans for this young priestess and her odd companions. /// The land of Erinlin is dying, its ancient traditions choked out by the Kaerent...