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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
She nodded. “They are more dangerous than you think. Do you know what they are?” By her tone, I took it to mean that she did.
“Nobody does . . . or at least, that’s what I’ve always been told.”
“Wrong, child. I know, because the Merlin, or Meher rather, told me their secret. Only the Druids know, but with the demise of their order, the knowledge was lost. The modern Druids—the FBH order—have no clue. They are a pale shadow of what their kind once was, but when we find the Merlin and wake him, all that might change.”
The Druids knew what the will-o’-the-wisps were? Interesting. And if Morgaine was willing to tell me, that was one more piece of information that might serve us in the future. I waited, attentive.
She seemed to be mulling over something, but after a moment, she let out a sigh. “I have not even told Aeval this, mind you. I’m sure she knows, but you are not to tell her where you received the information. She doesn’t like me usurping her instruction, even though I am supposed to be your trainer. Her bite is worse than her bark.”
I nodded. “I know only too well.” What I was thinking was, that goes for you, too, but I wasn’t about to say it aloud. Morgaine was a snake, capricious and subject to whim. Even though she was taking me into her confidence, I still didn’t trust her.
“The will-o’-the-wisps are spawned from the souls of dead Fae who were killed in the woods, on the moors and fields.”
“No, regardless of how that death occurred—be it natural or murder or war. There is a fungus that only grows in the woodlands and fields. When one of the Fae dies near that fungus, the toadstool drains the energy as the soul leaves the body. Using that, the toadstool releases a number of tiny will-o’-the-wisps. They do not carry the consciousness of the departed—that part of the soul goes on to the Land of the Silver Falls. But the energy that is released upon dying? Feeds the birth of the will-o’-the-wisps. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
I stared at her. It sounded bizarre, but then again—compared to some of the things we’d seen over the years, maybe not so much. But that meant . . .
“So each Fae who dies in the woodland, if they are near one of these toadstools, creates multiple will-o’-the-wisps. Not just one, but a number of them.”
“Correct. In a sense, the corpse—or rather the dying victim—is like a midwife.”
“That means that back in Otherworld . . .” I thought of the Elfin lands. They were wild and wooded, vast swaths of forest and grassland. “Does this fungus exist over in Otherworld too?”
Morgaine nodded. “Of course. And yes, this means your Elfin friends better steel themselves for a vast flood of will-o’-the-wisps, given the number of elves who died there. And unfortunately, will-o’-the-wisps are continually hungry. They not only drain life force from humans, but magic from the Fae. The rumors of them being pests are a myth. If you’re stuck in a swarm of them, they will attack like piranha seething around a body in the water.”
“Then we’ve been lucky, so far . . .” I thought of the amount of misinformation, even among my own people, regarding the dancing orbs of light. “That means they aren’t a form of the eye catchers we have over in Otherworld.”
“Right again. Even your home world has its urban legends. And now, we have to decide what to do about that group. So far we’ve escaped their notice, but unless we turn the other way, we’re not going to remain so lucky. And quite frankly, we don’t have the leeway to do so. It would be very easy to get lost here, and while I know the general direction in which we need to go, if we get off track, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.” Morgaine moved closer to me, her voice dropping. “Regardless of our differences, we must work together on this journey because I don’t fancy being lost in this realm.”
The fact that she was nervous made me even more cautious. Morgaine had a hyperactive ego. When she expressed doubts, it meant that we were facing a task far more dangerous than I was comfortable with. For not the first time, I wished Derisa had chosen somebody else for this journey. I’d rather take my chances in the Shadow Lands with Trillian than be out here.
Delilah cleared her throat. “Whatever we’re going to do, we’d better do it fast, because I think our grace period is over.” She pointed toward the will-o’-the-wisps. Sure enough, they were moving in our direction.
“They eat magical energy. Are there any spells that will disrupt them rather than feed them? Morio and I can wield death magic.” I motioned for him to move toward me. He was already starting to draw in energy, I could feel it grow and swirl—a vast current of violet light sweeping out from deep within him. That was one thing about working with the death magic. It came from deep in our core rather than outside of us. Regardless of the environment, if magic could be worked, we could summon it.
Morgaine set her pack on the ground. “There are several spells that can disrupt them, but death magic is not one of them. So stand your ground, Fox. They can be attacked physically, but only with iron weapons, and none of us are geared for that. They can be attacked more readily on the astral plane. But again, plane shifting here would be dangerous.”
“Then what do we do?”
She pointed at my staff. “Yew, correct?”
I nodded. “Yes. Aeval gave it to me.”
“The wood can disrupt them.” She pulled a wand out of her pack. “I have a yew wand. Yew and elder are the two woods that will affect them. Touch them with the wood and it will disrupt their energy and send them packing.”
“You mean we can actually kill them?”
“No, but we can buy enough time to hightail it out of here.”
Bran fumbled through his pack. “I have an elder mallet.” He brought out a small, hand-sized hammer. It barely looked capable of driving a nail into wood, let alone fighting off will-o’-the-wisps, but then I caught a whiff of the energy.
“Oh yeah, babe.” I couldn’t help it. I wanted to touch his hammer. It sang to my yew staff and I realized that the woods helped exacerbate one another.
Beside me, Morio shivered. “I can feel it, too.”
Bran let out a snort. “Elder, like yew, is a wood of death. It channels the energy. I suggest, when you find the opportunity, you look into making yourself a weapon out of the tree, youkai. It fits your nature, deathly fox.” He paused, then nodded. “Get ready. We’ve got company.”
Morio whirled around, eyes blazing, as the will-o’-the-wisps descended and we were inundated by the creatures. They swarmed like ants boiling off of a hill. There were easily four dozen of them, and they zipped around us, darting like fireflies. Only these fireflies had stingers, and they were nasty.
One landed on my shoulder and jolted me. My shoulder burning, I whipped around, bringing my staff to bear. The glowing globe pulled away, but I managed to hit another one of them with it and—with a sizzle—the will-o’-the-wisp vanished, popping like a soap bubble. I tried to keep in mind that I hadn’t killed it, just sent it packing.
Delilah let out a growl as she began to shift form. The will-o’-the-wisps were swarming her, too, and as she transformed into her panther shape, they pulled back. She lunged at one, catching it in her mouth. To my surprise, the creature let out a little shriek and disappeared. Delilah let out a satisfied grunt and went after another batch of them.
Beside me, Morio was shifting into his youkai form. In his demonic form, he stood eight feet high, a bizarre hybrid of fox and human and demon, with human hands ending in black claws, and he could make a horse envious with the way it was hanging.
He swiped his way through the mass of lights attacking us, and a few of them vanished. Whether they feared him, or whether his touch disrupted them, I didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. It was working, and we were slowly fending our way through them.
Bran and Morgaine were swinging right and left with their wand and hammer, popping the lights as they went. Another one landed on my other shoulder. The sting was fierce—like that of a giant hornet. I could feel it trying to siphon off my energy.
“Fuck you, too!” I jumped aside and swung my staff at it, managing to hit it square on. The creature vanished. A song behind me stopped me cold. I whirled around, as did Morgaine and Bran.
Tanne was standing, arms out, as he held a long note that echoed through the night. The music rolled like a wave, so tangible I could see it oozing forward. Unstoppable, it rolled through the lights and over us. I braced myself but the notes ran through me like mist.
When the wave of sound hit the will-o’-the-wisps, the creatures let out a collective shriek and began to deflate, like gas escaping from a bunch of balloons. A stiff breeze sprang up, catching the colored vapor, and swept it away, and we were suddenly alone, standing there in the dark of the night, with only the stars and the ground around us.
“How did you do that?” I turned to Tanne, as Delilah shifted back into her normal shape. “What was that?”
“I told you, I’m a spell singer and a demon hunter. Will-o’-the-wisps are common in the Black Forest and we’ve had to come up with a way of dealing with them. A witch I know named Liesel discovered what frequency they use to take physical shape. She was able to devise a spell that disrupts their energy enough to actually destroy them before they can vanish.”
“Can you teach me that?” I cocked my head, wondering what it would require to learn how to be a spell singer.
Tanne frowned. “I doubt it—it’s a natural talent, like your Moon Magic. Only members of my Fae clan have the power. We’re widespread across Europe, but it’s a hereditary gift.”
“That figures.” I grinned. I hadn’t really expected him to say yes. “It was worth a shot, though.”
Morgaine cleared her throat. “Well, that was impressive. I haven’t seen quite such a display since my years spent in the forests of Britain.”
Her tone was light, but I could practically see the wheels turning. She was always, always on the lookout for ways to increase her personal advantage, but Tanne could take care of himself.
“Well, that solves our first problem. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll avoid anything worse.” Delilah might be ever optimistic, but even she sounded like she didn’t believe her own words.
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen. You know it. I know it. Let’s not even kid ourselves.” I snorted. “I’m thinking we’re bound to run into something nasty over here. I just hope it’s not Yannie Fin Diver again, or that freakshow spider-Fae that caught Chase.”
Delilah shuddered. “Yannie Fin Diver is terrifying. In fact, he wins my ‘never-want-to-see-again’ award.”
Yannie Fin Diver was as good as a god for the Meré—and the merfolk were a vicious race. He had come after us when we’d inadvertently entered what I realized now was this same realm. We’d just stumbled in from a different entrance point. Yannie had been all too intent on grabbing my unicorn horn and then eating us. At least, I had hoped the latter was his intent—anything else was too terrifying to contemplate.
Morgaine motioned for Morio and me to join her again at the front. “We have a couple days of hiking from here. We’d best get moving. I suggest we continue till midnight, then hole up for a few hours. We’re roughing it, so I hope you all brought soft blankets. There aren’t any hotels on the route we’re taking.”
Hotels were the least of my worries. Silently, we set off into the night, trying to keep to the path. Once again, I was center front, with Morgaine on my left and Morio on my right. I wanted to drop back and talk to Delilah but this was neither the time nor place—too many things could go wrong here, and we needed all eyes alert. Talking would distract us.
The scent of moss filtered past, but in the dark we couldn’t see where it was coming from. The air was chilly, and I pulled my cape tighter around my shoulders. I’d decided against bringing the black unicorn cloak—too many chances to be noticed. As it was, I’d had to think long and hard about the horn, but in the end, I decided that the need for it might outweigh the danger of attracting unwanted attention. I just hoped that I wouldn’t have to use it. Bran’s greed was strong, and I had no idea how the trickster’s son might react when a bright sparkly dangled in front of him.
There was moisture in the air, and wisps of clouds were crossing the moon. The sounds of night here were different than in Earthside or Otherworld. Scuttling from the bushes could be anything. And, below the night songs, I could hear a thrum that registered almost at the bottom of my hearing. A cadence, a beat that sounded like the patter of many feet on muffled ground. Was it the nature of this realm? Or some creature? Or was it just the sound of my thoughts?
Morgaine had fallen into an uneasy silence. She paused every now and then, as if taking stock of where we were, then would nod for us to start up again.
At one point, a loud shriek reverberated through the air, chilling me to the bone. Echoing, it pierced my thoughts, and I broke out into a cold sweat. It took every ounce of nerve I had to keep myself from racing off into the undergrowth. Morio slid his arm around my waist. Behind me, I could hear Delilah gasp and Tanne whisper something under his breath. Another moment, and the cry drifted off.
“What . . .” Delilah started to ask.
Tanne answered before she could get the rest of the question out. “Bean Sidhe. Hunting down the family she’s bound to, no doubt. They usually scream twice. Once when they begin their journey, once when they reach their destination. We have similar creatures in the Black Forest. The Erlkönig. The Alder Kings ride to announce death for the families to which they are bound.”