Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Siaya Dragalorn
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Drust’s eyes narrowed at Ghent’s mutterings about the Rabbit Holes, his neck twitching.
Never underestimate a Guardian, boy,” he answered Ghent’s misgivings about Smaya, doing his best to ignore Ghent’s other comments. Ever gruff, a hint of weariness coated his voice. Weariness that had nothing to do with physical fatigue. “It may be worth speaking to her again. If you have the strength.”
Despite her growing sleepiness, Elayra shot Ghent a smug ‘told you so’ look.
Drust turned his head toward Ghent at his charge’s last questions. “Ready for anything,” he answered, his voice tight and clipped.
“Caervolus is the Guardian of Mushroom Gorge.” Elayra glanced warily to Drust as he nodded in agreement to her statement.
“Guardians are not like our dead whose spirits move on to the bowls of the Spiritayum,” he elaborated. “They’re Spiritayian. Beings born to the spirit realm.” He returned his gaze to the fire. He glanced toward the short stack of wood with a quick, calculating look. “Guardians are exceptional Spiritayians. They claim or are gifted a portion of our realm to watch over. Most can interact with us in ways many other Spiritayians can’t. They’re practically immortal and hold immense powers.
“Wonderland knows Caervolous as a Guardian. But you,” he glanced to Ghent, “may recognize him as Carol’s inspiration for the Blue Caterpillar.” A sneer pulled at Drust’s lips, detest glittering in his eyes. “He knows all, sees all. Not only from Wonderland. He can tell us what is, and what has been. Ask the right questions, and he’ll tell us how to bring our enemy down. But, as with most Spiritayians, his services come at a price. We must each face him in his test. Succeed, and he’s bound by soul and magic to answer our questions with the truth.”
“Fail, and you get to be fertilizer for his mushrooms,” Elayra grumbled.
Her jaw tightened as she tried to suppress a yawn. She shook her head, contemplating walking around the clearing. The last thing she wanted was to fall asleep and leave Drust and Ghent alone. With how the last day had gone, she wouldn’t be surprised to wake up to the sounds of Curse-driven Drust murdering Ghent.
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Ghent held Drust's gaze, his mouth set in a stubborn line. It was the same look of defiance he got when he found himself in trouble for something he didn't do. In this case, he didn't feel he was underestimating Smaya. At least, not intentionally. He had reason to believe she had her limits -- she said herself she couldn't hold off the ghosts for long -- and he wanted Drust to know it.
Before he could inform Drust of his firsthand experience, Ghent's eyes dropped to the katana at Drust's side. He couldn't think of a way to tell the Knight without sounding like an opinionated know-it-all, which would likely anger him and lead to disaster.
What bothered Ghent more than walking on eggshells was seeing Elayra taking pleasure in him being wrong. He wanted to wipe the smug look off her face by asking her when she'd last spoken to the Guardian of the forest, except he didn't want to trigger the Curse. Instead of picking another fight, Ghent settled for saving his revenge for later.
"I guess there's no harm in asking her." Ghent offered, the words stiff and forced. He had his doubts and fears, but he saw the logic in contacting Smaya. They didn't have a lot of options, and she was the only one capable of helping them in such a forsaken place. If she was as strong as Drust thought her to be, it would be foolish not to seek her aid.
While Drust offered more information about Caervolous, Ghent leaned back to stretch his spine. His staff remained balanced across his lap, barely shifting despite the movement.
"Seriously? He's real too?" Ghent wasn't sure why the news came as a surprise to him, but it did. The temperamental, hookah-smoking caterpillar was impossible to forget. The thought of the insect being the inspiration for anyone was both frightening and hilarious.
"Does he..." Ghent stopped mid-sentence, unable to keep a straight face. He came dangerously close to asking if Caervolous smoked, but he decided against it when he saw the disdain from Drust. Ghent didn't want to be banned from asking questions relating to their present situation on top of everything else.
"Never mind." Ghent resumed a serious expression, waiting for the catch. Sure enough, there was one. A test. He hated tests.
"What kind of test?" Ghent demanded, suddenly sitting straight as a board. His hands moved to his staff at the fertilizer comment, and it was right then and there he decided he hated the man called Caervolous.
"The last time I took a test without preparing, I flunked it." Ghent rambled, his memories of high school far from forgotten. He frowned at them suddenly, wondering if they would have told him about the test had he not asked. "You guys really love telling me this type of stuff last minute, don't you?"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Siaya Dragalorn
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Despite Ghent trying to take back his questions about the Blue Caterpillar, Drust’s scowl at the concept turned into another snarl.
“Not. As you. Perceive him, boy,” he growled, his neck twitching.
Elayra tensed and looked to him, her mind forcing her tiredness to abate a fraction. Her gaze darted over him, watching his eyes as they glistened in the firelight. She waited tensely, ready to go for her own weapon if he so much as twitched to grab his katana.
“I’ll say it only once more.” He turned so his body better faced Ghent, the black veins in his eerie gaze pulsating. “Forget. What. You. Know.” He turned back to the fire as he took a breath.
“Drust,” Elayra said, her voice firm, but soft. She only just managed to resist the urge to reach for the comfort of her saber's hilt.
Drust closed his eyes and gave a jerky nod intended for Elayra. ”Thanks to your ignorant, idiotic author,” he continued, his voice strained with the effort of keeping so much as a slightly even tone, “your world has a warped view of Wonderland. A dangerous view.” He snorted. “He even used the Cat’s name. Many Earth dwellers have come here only to become the Cat’s Pet from his spread stupidity. Just saying the Cat’s name can summon the beast.”
“Drust.” Elayra shifted, jumping as the fire let off an extra loud pop.
“I’m fine, girl,” he offered dryly. All the same, his neck twitched unreassuringly at Ghent’s complaints and reservations. “Teaching you to fight is the best I can do to prepare you,” he growled as Elayra rolled her eyes at Ghent’s last question. “Everything else is up to you.”
“Anyone who’s survived his test is Tongue Tied.” She cast a knowing glance toward Drust. “Magically prevented from talking about his test, his weak points, the moment they leave his domain.” Irritation saturated her voice and twisted her face.
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The look on Drust's face was enough for Ghent to stop speaking altogether. In the glow of the firelight, the ebony lines were more apparent than before, a stark reminder of the the Curse plaguing the man. Ghent's mouth dropped in protest, but no words came out. He couldn't believe how angry Drust got over a question that hadn't been fully asked.
While Ghent was fearing for his life, Elayra spoke up, which was more than he was able to do. He stammered the beginnings of a response, but he wasn't sure if Drust was able to hear, much less understand him. Thankfully, there was no need for further discussion. Drust broke eye contact.
With the unspoken threat of getting stabbed out of the way, Ghent remembered to breathe, his mind whirling with flashbacks of Drust charging him with the katana. He glared at the back of Drust's head, resenting him for his unpredictable, terrifying ways.
"I don't see what the big deal is," Ghent muttered underneath his breath while Drust complained about Earth's interpretation of Wonderland. "I used a movie as a reference, so what?" He rotated the staff to better observe it, grumbling to the weapon as if it would offer him a reply. "It's not like I came here thinking Johnny Depp was gonna be my freaking dad."
Ghent abandoned his mutterings at the mention of 'the Cat', which he assumed was none other than the Cheshire Cat. He was suddenly thankful he kept most questions regarding Wonderland's inhabitants to himself. The name might have escaped him by complete accident, and he really didn't want to be added to the list of those enslaved.
"So he's kind of like Bloody Mary, minus the mirror." Ghent mused, uncaring if the words made sense only to him. He didn't go out of his way to offer them any explanation, he felt satisfaction in knowing something they didn't.
Elayra wasn't the only one startled by the fire's spontaneous pop. Distracted by thoughts of evil cats and vengeful spirits, Ghent screamed a little despite himself.
Glaring at the fire for scaring him half to death, Ghent returned his attention to Drust. He had a feeling no amount of training would prepare him for whatever Caervolous had in store, but the chance to prepare helped soothe his badly rattled nerves.
"Guess I'd take a physical test over a math test." Ghent pulled up his hood to help warm his ears, discouraged by their lack of information. He almost asked if writing down the answers would work, but he knew that was too obvious. Surely something terrible happened if one attempted that.
"Thanks for the pep talk, but I'm getting back to work." Ghent moved so he was no longer facing them, his knee brushing against the journal from his father. He picked up the book, looking at it for a long moment before setting it aside. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't read it yet.
"In case you guys were wondering, I'm going to try contacting Smaya." Ghent closed his eyes to better focus, his heart giving a nervous stutter at the thought of returning to the Betwixt so soon after leaving it. "I know I'm asking a lot here, but try not to miss me too much while I'm gone."
Taking a breath, Ghent did what he could to tune out the world around him. He concentrated on focusing first and foremost, his mind working to envision the Betwixt and the details he remembered from his first visit. He pictured the unusual display of translucent trees and varying plants, and the gray, deadened coloration of the clearing.
Confident his mental imagery was accurate, Ghent focused on Smaya next. The green of her dress, the overwhelming sadness in her eyes. He remembered the peculiar way her fiery hair seemed to glow, a striking contrast against her pale skin.
Finally, Ghent's grip on his staff loosened. He felt a familiar shift in the air, daring to hope his efforts were not in vain.
Hidden 14 days ago 14 days ago Post by Siaya Dragalorn
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At Ghent’s irritated mutterings, Drust shot the boy a glare that would have frozen the heart of even the bravest of warriors. A scowl pulled warningly at his lips, another twitch accentuating the action.
Elayra, ever tense, gave Ghent her own dark look, silently demanding him to keep his mouth shut. The threat to shut it for him lowered her chin as she tapped the hilt of her sword. Healing concussion or not, she was certain she could still run circles around Ghent. The idea of tying him up and shoving a gag in his mouth tempted her.
She raised an eyebrow at who Ghent compared the Cat to. “Who?” she asked, curiosity shining through despite herself.
“An Earth myth,” Drust snapped, an unnerving icy edge in his voice. What composure he had managed to maintained so far was threatening to slip away.
Drust’s scowl darkened and Elayra rolled her eyes when Ghent shouted at the fire’s noise.
The man’s lips tightened when Ghent voiced his preferences, but said nothing. Instead, he closed his eyes, taking slow, deliberate breaths. His fingers curled then uncurled when the boy spoke again.
You’re the one who asked the questions, Featherhead,” Elayra gave the back of Ghent’s hood a snarky glower.
Drust’s neck twitched and he grit his teeth when Ghent finished talking.
A glance to Drust made Elayra bite back the taunt tickling the tip of her tongue. His struggle to keep control over the Curse strained his face. The last thing she needed was him snapping again while Ghent was in the Betwixt.
Drust snorted, making Elayra flinch.
“Send the Guardian our deepest gratitude for summoning a tichari,” he growled without opening his eyes. “Her kindness is not something to be taken lightly.”
When Ghent finally went quiet to focus on the undertaken task he had so humbly announced, Elayra breathed a sigh of relief. A bit of silence, a reprieve from Ghent’s voice was well overdo. And would hopefully help her guardian win his own personal battle.
For the time being, at least.


As Ghent focused, as it had before, the world shifted around him. The crackle of the fire faded into an eerie silence. The chill of being away from the warmth of the fire diminished, leaving him in a comfortable state somewhere between warm and cold. Gray tendrils ghosted around him, filtering in and swirling like fog as it consumed the physical world.
But unlike before, the tortured emotions of Hollow Forest remained at bay. The cries and moans of the tormented souls hissed in little more than distant whispers. Paralysis did not take hold, leaving him to move as he pleased.
Instead of remaining within that gray, churning world as with his first visit, the fog dissipated as quickly as it had come. As it lifted, the gentle rush of a waterfall filled his ears. Grass softer than the leaves of lamb’s ears sprouted up beneath and around him. The bright moonlight turned the layer of dew drenching the lush blades into glittering jewels.
A clearing thrice the size of the one Ghent left behind in the physical world stretched around him. Thick trees surrounded the area, their trunks brushing their brothers, leaving no gaps. Their branches entangled with one another, creating an impenetrable barrier that left the center of the clearing open to the sky.
Above him, the stars twinkled and danced. They swirled impossibly about their inky domain, forming different constellations on a whim. Unlike the jubilant specks, the silvery light of the unnaturally large and bright full moon felt sad. As if it, too, wished it could move as freely as its sisters, but could only sit and watch, stationary. Eternally incapable of scratching the itch to dance and play.
Nevertheless, the light glistened off an equally impossible waterfall. A stack of rocks sprouted straight up from the ground a handful of yards opposite Ghent. Water came from nowhere and went nowhere. It cascaded down the gray, moon-bleached stones. Specks of mica sparkled brilliantly within the rock, making them look as if they housed diamonds. The rushing stream fell into a large pool, creating ripples and spraying a fine layer of cool mist about the banks. Though it lacked a visible outlet, the water level never rose.
A moment passed. And then another. Save for the gurgle of the waterfall, the clearing remained silent. Deserted. Its soul inhabitant looked out of place. A living boy dressed in the drab apparel of a world far different from Wonderland. Even so, the unexpected peace of the area would not deny Ghent it’s sanctuary.
“Lovely, is it not?” a melancholy voice asked from behind him, breaking the relative quiet with her strong, yet soft voice.
Smaya stood mere inches from him. The aura of sorrow and regret that lurked around her seemed to sooth the moon’s glow. Unlike the rest of the Betwixt, the moonlight did not drench her of her color, as if even it took pity on the anguish she felt.
Completely solid, she stood in all her sorrowful, ethereal beauty. She clasped her hands daintily behind her back. Her emerald gaze with all their dark, harrowing secrets focused on the waterfall.
She closed her eyes and inhaled the fresh, damp scent of flowing water and wet earth. “Welcome back, young Madrail.”
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