Irrithae went under. There were barely any ripples on the water. Yet its depths were covered by an inky blackness. As the Wellspring wanted to hide what it was doing. In the distance, it sounded as if the very Tree of Life groaned and started moving. And then everything fell silent. The very world was holding its breath.
Ida pushed on the vines, she’d go in. She’d go in to get her!
Ayre grabbed her around the waist, the heat from her sister’s core as uncomfortable as ever. Ida struggled. “Let me go! Let me go!” She screamed, kicking and hitting Ayre. Her twin fell backwards after a time but she didn’t let go. “There’s still time! Let me go! LET ME GO!”
“I just… I just….” Ayre kept mumbling over and over. She still didn’t let go, her sister’s heat now painful and leeching.
“What have you done?” Ida spoke accusingly. She tried to use her feet as leverage to escape but they slid across the floor. Her stupid hooves couldn’t get any purchase. She let out a frustrated sigh as her strength began to wane.
“I just… I just…” Ayre repeated, her arms shaking.
“You’re such a fool, Ayre.” Ida snapped. “It was ME who wanted to go in. Not her. She stopped me. Why wouldn’t you listen, sister?” Ida cried, raising her hand to the Wellspring. “What drove this madness?”
She felt Ayre’s forehead press into her back. She didn’t want to be touched by her, not now, not after this but she had no say in the matter. Her limbs were weak now. The heat exhausting.
“W-What have I-I done?” Ayre’s voice was enough to rattle Ida’s heart. Melt a small part of the ice that had formed around it towards her sister.
“Let me go.” Ida said.
“You’ll jump in.” Ayre’s grip tightened.
“Ayre, you’re hurting me.” She tried to say in a clam voice but she gritted her teeth.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Ayre said, beginning to repeat what she said.
Bubbles started floating to the top of the waters. First just a few, then more and more. Until slowly a shape emerged from the dark waters. The divinium parts of the Syllianth were choked with brambles and thorns, breaking her face and turning it into a grotesque mask of what she used to be. Her bark skin meanwhile looked smoother. The legs were gone, and instead there were a hundred writhing and coiling vines that rose up from beneath the waters.
The creature looked at the twins. It still had Irrithae’s eyes. “Foolish mortals.” It spoke with a hollowed version of Irrithae’s voice, but it was utterly absent of any of its kindness. Its eyes turned to Ida. “So convinced that you could regain that which you so recklessly lost. ‘Tis your fault, Ida. Everything that happened to you is your fault.” Then it looked at Ayre. “Mad-cursed beast.” It spat, before sounding almost grateful as she said: “I thank you for making me. I’d let you live but then well… you’d remain alive.” With those words it lunged at the twins.
One moment Ida had been confined and then the next she was free, pushed to the side. Ayre’s hand shot forth and a wall of flame erupted between them and what had once been Irrithae. Ida began to choke back her horror. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She didn’t want to.
“Ida you have to run!” Ayre shouted at her. Her twin’s aloof shock seemingly gone at the threat. But Ida’s legs would not work. She couldn’t muster the strength to flee. She could only watch as fire and horror collided.
The maecari moved like some unholy combination of a snake and squid. It jumped through the flames screeching and started its grappling fight with Ayre. Vines burned and thorns drew blood as the two fought. One for their survival, the other out of pure malice. For a few moments that felt like hours the two seemed evenly matched until Ayre’s flame burned a piece of the maecari’s smooth-bark skin black. The maecari hurled itself away, breaking the grapple as it hissed at the phoenix girl. Then it turned its eyes towards Ida.
In the meantime noise was brewing from beyond the hall. People, students and teachers of Willow, were waking up to see what all the commotion was about.
The unicorn elfling hadn’t even managed to get back up on her feet yet. She had no words to say. No great battle cry. How could one strike that which had just been before her. Not as a monster but as a person.
“IDA!” Ayre roared, flames bursting forth from her hands towards what had been Irrithae. The maecari was flung to the wall where she held on for a moment. “Meddlesom wench!” It screamed. It looked at the situation for a moment, then saw the candle lights coming from down the nearby corridor. It smirked and then lunged not for either of the elflings but for the corridor and the residents of Willow.
“Nooo!” Ida screamed, finally breaking from her trance. She hadn’t gotten up, she didn’t even feel like she could muster anything but she had to try. Irrithae, the real Irrithae- would never forgive herself if she attacked innocents. Ida spread her palm out on the floor and from it a stream of ice charged forth, running parallel towards the Maecari. Right for those grand doors a sheet of ice began to form.
Ayre, for her part, took notice of this as the monster began to break and claw away at the ice. Something began to glow in the fell light and she held her sword aloft and it burst into flame. She then charged at the thing, swinging madly and with little practice. It was enough though. She cut through the thorned vines and the maecari lost its grip. It fell down upon the ground, the few vines it still had were writhing in clear pain. Even now though, there was only hate and malice in its eyes as it looked up at Ayre.
Then the entire room moved.
The bark walls cracked and twisted open, as the vine ceiling curled towards the edges. The whole room opened up like it was one giant flower. Though some of its thorned and bark petals moved to cover the Maecari.
“Enough!” A voice echoed from above. Allianthé floated into what was once a room. Her gaze severe. She spared a moment to look at the twins, then turned away from them. The maecari was still struggling against everything that was holding it back. “My beautiful prophetess.” Allianthé said. Her voice cracked. “How could they have done this to you?” The maecari hissed back at her.
Ayre let the blade slip from her hands as she fell to her knees, breathing hard. Ida felt lightheaded, weakness spiraling down into her core. She could barely lift her head to look upon the Goddess and she wished she hadn’t. Their Goddess. She had never seen her so close and yet… The warmth she had imagined was gone. She had accused them. She was right. Ayre began to crawl and stumble towards her twin. Ida did not know what to say, if there was anything at all to say.
Allianthé stepped closer to the now biting maecari. “I should’ve seen this coming. The good in your heart would get abused by the wretched and selfish.” She gently stroked the cheek of what was once Irrithae. There was no recognition in its eyes. A tear rolled from Allianthé’s eye. “Worry not, my dear. Fret not about Aenos. I will do what must be done.” With a blackened finger she touched the chest of the maecari. There was no scream, no shout, no last breath. The creature just lifelessly collapsed. Slowly the vines and the bark walls opened their prison up again and laid the dead maecari on the ground.
The goddess then turned towards the twins. There was clear sadness painted on her face, which turned into bitterness the moment she laid eyes on the both of them. “Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?” She asked, her voice sounded like a bottled storm ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice.
“Goddess…” Ida croaked.
“...It was me!” Ayre stood, wild eyed as she faced the God. “It was all me. I-I did this. Please, leave my sister. She is innocent. She-She-”
“No.” Ida said, the word loud and clear. Ayre spun to her, face completely devastated. “I came down here and started…This… Leave Ayre, she is not well. Please, Goddess. Please.”
“Silence!” Allianthé barked. In a split second all of Arbor fell silent. Every cricket, every voice, everything alive in the city was bid to be quiet and had no other choice to obey. The influence passed again though, as the goddess released such an absolute grip quickly.
“Innocence. Guilt. Madness. What does it matter? Irrithae is dead! Taken from me by the reckless actions of the both of you. She was to be my good heart. My compassion and love. Both of you took her from me!” She took a step towards them. “I don’t care anymore for your poisonous words. For your lies that you spit with every breath. Irrithae was my mercy, for now I have none left. She was my ability to forgive, for now when I look upon you I can do only one thing.” She raised the hand with the blackened fingers and reached out towards the elfkin. “You die here.”
“Goddess… Please!” Ida cried. “We didn’t kno-”
A sharp laugh echoed from Ayre. Ida looked at her twin. She was gripping that necklace again and her other hand rested upon her side. She reared back and let out a laugh that painted worry on Ida’s face.
“I hate you.” Ayre giggled like a small girl. Ida felt her heart stop. “Of course now you care. Of course. Not about us! No, never about us.” Tears began to stream down her face, “Where was this care when our mother lay dying in bed? Aoife was her name! Where were you when Ida faced prejudices everyday! Where were you when our father was trapped, imprisoned and MURDERED! BY YOU!” She screamed. “You have long lacked compassion and love! You never had mercy. You know not what forgiveness is! So kill us. Be done with it! I am tired of living up to your false ideals when you do not follow them.” She took a shuddering breath and looked up at the World Trees. “Forgive me, father.” she whispered.
The audacious speech stunned Allianthé for a moment. Not so much because of the words spoken, but by the gall they were spoken with. “You dare.” She said, still hiding the full storm of her wrath. “Ayre of Arbor. Those were your last words.” Allianthé pointed at the phoenix elfling with her blackened index finger and let the power of the loathsome necessity flow through her, sending a killing curse straight forward.
Ida screamed, hoarse as she was. She felt her voice crack and break as she bore witness to the death of her twin. A light erupted all over them as she made to stand on wobbly legs. Pale and without flame it dulled to reveal a silvered figure standing before Ayre. Her sister’s face of shock. Ida stood still as the figure whipped her blazing white sword to the side and down. As if ridding it of blood. Behind them in the walls, death could be seen in two places. Ashen black where life once had been.
The figure spoke then, her voice a quiet reservation. “When last I saw you, my kin, you abhorred the death you were so ready to just give. What has changed within your heart, Allianthé? Surely it was not because of one favored mortal's demise?”
“Stand aside, Sylia.” Allianthé said as she kept her rage in check with every fiber of her being. “I do not expect you to understand a love for anything that isn’t made of metal. These two have voided their right to my gift.” Even as she spoke, a fountain of green dust and gold dust erupted around the goddess and a small figure flickered in a wave of glamour about the goddess’ head. Sylia did not budge.
“Gift, most noble Allianthé, or absolute right?” Fairqueen Arya intonated. “You are the pacific goddess of the world, the guardian of life and protector against death; by what twisting of the world on its head are you brought to kill? It’s not right!” The faerie came to a flickering halt before the goddess of life and looked at her pleadingly. “Don’t break my heart, dear friend!”
“I am not oft to agree with a mortal.” Sylia said, bemused. “But the little winged thing speaks truth. Though… I suppose I won’t count it against you for putting your beloved to rest. For you say I do not understand love, this is true, I shall admit. That doesn’t mean I can’t still recognize it. So tell me, what was she to you? A lover or more of a pet?” Sylia asked with a straight face. Ayre shuffled awkwardly to peek behind the tall Sylia. Ida was frozen in place as she watched the exchange.
“Return home, queen of the fairies. Tonight I will do what must be done.” Said the goddess of life, with a calmer voice. Though she did not deny that any of this was right. What was right anymore? Then she looked up at Sylia again. “You overstep. You insult. Why are you here, Sylia? Why have you come as savior of two mortals?” Allianthé had her suspicion, fueled by the metal on Ida. Though she didn’t want to believe it.
“It is never my intention to insult you, dear Allianthé.” Sylia said, holding a hand to her chest as if wounded. “What you see as an overstep, I see as necessary.” She sighed. “You were so upset with me when I took that goblin's life, that mortal’s life, I remind you. Call it my conscience. Call it a favor. I will not let you take the life from these two. Would you not protect… Hmm, wrong choice of word.” She waved her hand, “Fine, let me be plain about it. They are my investments. I can’t have you kill them and that’s the truth of it.” It was the Fairqueen who spoke up against Sylia this time.
“What, and no justice served? No reprimand for suspected wrongs? What fairness is this, Metalhewn Shatterer of the Darkfae? I did not think it the way of one such as you to leave such serious wrongs uninvestigated, and comeuppance unserved! Surely we must look into this affair with calmer minds that a most impeccable and beautiful justice is served! The Little god would agree with me, I know this!”
Sylia looked at Arya and then snapped her fingers. “Mind your tongue if you can find it.” she told the little Feighd. “And do not presume there will be no judgment and punishment, imp. I know not of your kind but who are you to meddle in our affair? Now begone.” Sylia waved her hand in dismissal and looked back at the Goddess of Life. The Fairqueen recoiled as though struck, and her green and gold magicks glowed a deep red of anger. A wand materialized in her hand and she swung it so that a great tempest arose around her. Her fair green eyes reddened as they bored into Sylia, and then with a mighty poof the Fairqueen was gone.
“You deny me still.” Allianthé said. The grip on her inner storm was weakening. If she had been in a different state the flourishing of Arya would’ve put her on edge. She was familiar with the workings of the fae people. The slight the Peaceful Queen suffered would not easily be forgotten. But she had no mind for that now. “Who are you to think that you can decide who lives and who dies?” The question was beyond a doubt rhetorical. “Find new investments. These two die tonight. Whatever happens here, their lives are forfeit.” In her hand a silvery, double edged knife shimmered into existence. Light flowed over it like it turned into water. “Now stand aside and let me finish this.”
Sylia’s eyes danced to the knife as it was conjured. Her lips pulled down into a frown. The Goddess of silver shifted her feet as her eyes met once more with Allianthé. “The small flying thing spoke the truth, as presumptuous as it was. To meek out this killing would be a grave injustice, if not first we seek the weight of their guilt.” From Sylia’s free hand there came a large ivory horn, engraved with sleeping eyes. “I will deny you from taking the title of slayer, for if by doing so I save you from later regrets, then my mind can be at ease.”
“Deny me the title of slayer?” Allianthé let out a momentary insane cackle. “I am a slayer!” She then bellowed. “I’ve become a slayer when that wretched thing of an Outer Beast was going to kill me! I’ve proven that fact once more when I had to end the suffering of Irrithae! This has moved beyond guilt. Beyond justice!” She readied the knife in front of her. “Stand aside, Sylia. I am owed their lives.” Her voice was as sharp as the edge of her blade. All the storm in her voice before had turned into pure focus to deal the killing blows.
The Goddess of craft shook her head. “You are not, Allianthé. You have always acted with your emotions first and reason last. You are letting them rule you even now. I have said my piece. I won’t let you at them. Try and you will be cut down. I shall say no more.” Sylia moved her long Divinium blade in front of her. Her stance became one of liquidity, her features relaxed and ready. The horn at her hip, firm in her grasp. The twins, too stunned to speak or even breathe, had not moved an inch but now, only now, did they look at each other. It was of grief and unsaid things. Guilt mixed with sadness. The two Goddesses poised to strike. The killing or the saving of all involved upon their blade tips.
“Sá chluin mo ríomhaireacht, déithe na Khothael, agus bí síocháin!” Roisin Magnolia’s voice echoed with deep power and utter calm through the heart of the Worldtree and between the two gods. It was a word of peace that she spoke, a spell of pacific command that she weaved. Her wand parted the Veil and she soared through flanked by a procession of glowing feighd dressed in glamours of beauteous silks and glittering light. Some beat drums and tambourines, others played on flutes and others yet strummed lutes and harps. A magick quietude, concord, and amity pervaded the place so that it became difficult to hold onto anger and desire for violence.
The procession came to a halt between the two goddesses, near enough frozen in their battle readiness. Roisin Magnolia, veiled from head to toe, turned her unseen head now to Sylia and now to Allianthé. “If there is vengeance being called for and blood to be shed, Then bring your hot vengeance and strike the Faerie Queen instead.” She stood there in her glamours and beauties, her wand resting easily in her hand and unraised, a willing faultless lamb offered in place of those accused. “Surely the blood of the High Queen enthroned upon the High Throne of the Highholt of Taramanca, the blood of the Khodexborndottr enthroned upon the Throne of Stone at Arbor, is a great enough ransom. It is a generous ransom. That, or hold off a while and let them,” she gestured with her wand to Ida and Ayre, weaving a glamour of binding upon them, “into my custody and permit me look into their affair. I will be nothing but perfectly just - from punishment I will not be dissuaded if punishment is what justice demands, and if it demands other than that then I will not be dissuaded otherwise. Have it as you wish, my life or my arbitration.” The gathered fae stood flanking their High Queen with faces of stone, but here or there a fae betrayed the slightest glamour of panic and alarm.
As on cue, the heavens fell.
Streaks of fire came raining down from the direction of the Firmaments tree. Like a swarm of meteors was descending. Dozens of objects were coming down, but moments before their impact the roaring fire streaks stopped. As if the natural laws governing compression were just suddenly and entirely ignored. From the streaks appeared a swarm of creatures never seen before. A giant lobster made of stone, with strange runes carved on its mouth, manta rays of shimmering blue flesh, shark-like beings with veins of Allianthite. Each creature was unique, except for a singular trait they shared: all of them swam through the air like it was water. They were unbothered by gravity. “We answered the call.” Emanated from the giant, stone lobster. It was vastly bigger than any of the other creatures, and came to gently land upon one of the petal-walls of the opened flower despite having no wings or other means of aerial maneuverability. The rest of the creatures roiled over the room like an ever growing vortex. Their eyes and other senses hungrily observing only the twins below.
Allianthé did not acknowledge them. Bitterness was spreading over her face. She had valued Roisin as a friend, just as she had valued Sylia as a friend. Yet the both of them were so blind to her own pain. They kept talking about justice. Justice! The very room began to transform as she lost the grip on her hatred. Thorns began to form upon the vines and the bark became jagged and rough. Bugs and critters scattered away as they felt something deeply malevolent rising all around them. The goddess’ mouth opened as if she wished to speak but then she looked around. What had talking done for her in the moment? Neither of her friends would listen.
She had enough. The thorned vines all around began to coil and move over the ground. The snakes and beetles and ants that were fleeing stopped and turned back. They flocked towards the twins while Allianthé took her first step towards Roisin, the fairies and Sylia beyond. If they were so keen on stopping her, they would have to actually do it. Not with words but with actions. Though Roisin did not move, her faerie host scattered and the binding of glamour that winded about the twins became a great glamorous light and maelstrom that erupted very suddenly and very quietly - and in a very small and contained manner, almost like a small magick show. As swiftly as it swelled, it faded again so that the twins were gone and the faeries too. Only the Little god of the Little Things, Sylia, the maddened Allianthé, and the life goddess’ newly-come warriors remained. “I guess this is goodbye, Allianthé of the All-Forgiving Heart.” Roisin intonated morosely, breaking the silence and shattering the hearts of the gathered soldiers of life. Then the fabric of the world rippled about her and she slipped away into the Veil, leaving the gods and warriors to their warring.
Sylia, true to her word, had said nothing when the Little god had arrived. Nor at her speech. Nor when Allianthé became poisoned with madness. Not even when her investments were taken away. With a look of grief mingled with the cold steel of metal, she simply lifted the horn to her lips and blew. A great low bellow ripple forth and from those that heard it, they crumpled into sleep as if they had been struck dead. It mattered not who. Down to the smallest ant and up to the great lobster, all slumbered when the horn commanded. With some even tumbling into the Wellspring, or they would have, save for a slab of earth coming up to cover the prismatic waters. Even Allianthé’s eyes flickered for a moment. Her consciousness receded away from the living world. She did not fall as fast as the mortals. “True colors… shown.” She muttered, before she fell down asleep. In response to her own forced tranquility, the hatred in which all that lived was steeped vanished. The thorns vanished, and the small critters that could not hear scurried away again.
The horn’s bellow ceased and Sylia stooped from her rigid posture. She looked upon Allianthé and rolled her eyes. Next the silvered goddess brought the horn back up to her lips and played a single high note before vanishing away.