Fae thought the air of the Crimson Docks was different this time. Everything was still brightly colored and densely packed, and the sky was just as cloudless and beautiful as before.
But something felt strange.
“Think there’s something wrong?” Mercury asked.
Good. So I’m not the only one who feels something’s off.
“Looks like there’s something weird happening down at the water,” Jupiter said, pointing. The girls stood at the top of the Crimson Docks, having only just arrived, so there was a bit of a trek to the ocean. Even so, Fae could see from this distance that something odd was going on. The water farther out to sea was deep and blue and shimmering in the sunlight, but the water at the docks themselves was swirling, its colors shifting and changing.
Green. Blue. Red.
The colors of the Fates.
There was quite a crowd gathered at the docks, but from this height the girls could only see and understand a little. They began their journey down to the docks, not getting as distracted and exploratory as their first visit. The crowds around them murmured with a sort of subdued uncertainty, and an eerie disquiet hung in the air.
When Fae and the Star sisters reached the water, they realized immediately what was happening.
The swirling, colorful waters centered beneath the ship that had borne them to the Fates’ Dwelling. The boat itself looked just fine, and the same dapper gentleman stood at the boarding ramp, happily awaiting passengers, as if nothing in the world was going on. When the girls approached him, his eyes lit up and he waved to them.
“Ladies, it’s a delight to see you again!” he said. “The Fates have been waiting for you. This is a rare occasion – they’ve actually requested your presence. Hasn’t happened in centuries, so you can understand why the whole city’s abuzz at this event.”
They didn’t seem “abuzz” to me. More like the opposite of that.
“We’re prepared to depart,” Fae said, one hand holding her bag securely to her side. She’d need the candlestick bell, the Intangible essence that Roland Soundingstone had imparted to her, in order to save the Fates. Assuming it would work…
It would have been nice if Maxwell had been clear about things. From his journal, it seems this should work, but… I can’t know until I try.
“We’re right behind you,” Neptune said, following Fae onto the boat.
Unlike last time, the girls were prepared for what would come as soon as they’d boarded, and quickly took their seats on the deck. Fae braced herself as the ship to the Fates’ Dwelling surged forward faster than human senses could adequately perceive. The entire ocean between her and the horizon stretched and warped, swirling around her, exploding with a brilliant kaleidoscope of dazzling color. Sounds washed out into strange, indescribable sounds. A tremendous sense of vertigo took hold of Fae and she gripped the edge of her seat tightly, feeling as if she was spinning, pitching to one side, then the other, then flipping forwards, then backwards.
Suddenly, mercifully, the journey was over. The colors dampened and settled into the blacks and reds of the Fates’ Dwelling. Normal sounds returned – the sloshing of water against the boat, the faint crackling of the red torches. Despite Fae holding her seat to brace herself, she still ended up falling forward onto the deck as the ship came to a stop, but she rose to her feet much more steadily than the first time.
“I can really understand why most people don’t come here,” Mercury said, pulling herself to her feet using the rails at the edge of the deck. “And if the rumors are true, we’re the first ones to make the trip twice.”
“Let’s hope we don’t have to come here a third time,” Jupiter said, shaking her head.
“Do you remember the way?” Neptune asked.
Fae hopped onto the stone of the Dwelling, staring up at the steps that spiraled out of sight above her. “I think they’ll make sure we get there, whether we know the way or not,” she said. “Everyone ready?”
“Give me a minute,” Jupiter said, kneeling over the water at the edge of the stone.
“Oh come on, you baby,” Mercury said, pulling her sister to her feet and holding her up. “Just use me as a crutch if you need to, but we’re going.”
Up the stairs they went, and Fae felt the same sense of dread and unease as the first time. But she didn’t feel the uncertainty or fear of before. Strangely enough, though she could feel that things were dangerous, she wasn’t afraid.
This will work.
Where she got the sudden confidence from, she couldn’t say. But it was a comforting feeling, and she held tight to it as she climbed the steps, leading the way ahead of the Star sisters. When she felt as if she was reaching the chamber where the Fates resided, she slipped a hand into her bag and grasped the strange yet familiar handle of the candlestick-bell. She didn’t know how the Fates would react to the sight of it, if they knew what it was, so she wanted to make sure she was able to pull it out and ring it before they had a chance to react.
And in her mind, she repeated one word over and over: hope.
That was the cure for Collapse, and Fae felt as if she couldn’t just ring the bell. She had to have hope, too – hope that it would succeed, hope that the Fates could be saved, hope that she was the right one for this monumental task.
Before the girls reached the chamber, the voices of the Fates spoke. Without seeing them, Fae could tell who was who, their voices having become distinct in her mind.
“Welcome, Fae Greyson,” Ethna said.
“Collapse,” from Cedna.
“Collapse,” from Frenna.
“We’ve been waiting for your safe return.”
Fae rounded a corner and saw the massive, beautiful form of Ethna, partially submerged in the pool in the center of the chamber. On either side were her sisters, floating in the air, their motions erratic, their eyes darker than their sister’s, so dark that they blocked out all light, reflected nothing around them, a clear sign of the infection that had seeped into their very souls.
“And we’ve come back to help your sisters,” Fae said, looking to Cedna, then Frenna. “You don’t need to feed on human souls anymore. We’ve found a cure.”
“A cure?” Ethna asked.
Fae nodded, pulling the candlestick-bell out from her bag and holding it up. At the sight of it, Cedna and Frenna began to shake, shivering with anticipation or fear, Fae couldn’t tell. They repeated, over and over, the one word they were stuck saying. But while they repeated their word, in Fae’s mind she repeated her own word.
With a single shake of her wrist, she rang the bell. A musical tone sounded throughout the entire chamber. Clear and beautiful, it was bigger than the chamber could contain, resounding in a way that, it seemed to Fae, reached out through all of reality to touch every single part of every person and place. The sound was more than Fae could ever have described, and it took hold of her heart and seemed to fill it to bursting. She couldn’t see, as tears flooded her eyes, and she didn’t know why she was crying, because she felt so…
All fear, all worry, all sadness, all brokenness was chased away by the single peal of the bell she held. As she blinked away tears, she saw that colors were changing – the entire Fates’ Dwelling was transforming, the blackness of the rock vanishing and glowing with sudden brightness, the red of the torches swirling and transforming into the blue of a cloudless day. The peal of the bell was still sustained, its single note somehow filled with a beautiful variety of emotion, all good, wonderful, and pure.
This was the Intangible, Child’s Innocence. Not the Intangible itself, but if it was just the essence of that, Fae was amazed to think that a single individual could contain such a wealth of wonder and purity. She was overflowing with hope and joy, and as she finally was able to look around herself, she saw that Mercury, Neptune, and Jupiter all looked different. Mercury was beaming, letting tears run down her face with abandon, laughing as if she couldn’t hold back the joy bubbling up inside her. Jupiter was stunned, as if she simply didn’t know what to do, her face constantly changing expressions from delight, to amazement, to wonder, to surprise, to uncertainty, to giddiness, but never staying one way for long. And Neptune looked serene, her quiet, peaceful joy somehow striking Fae more than any of the overwhelming outbursts of emotion around her or within her.
And then Fae looked to the Fates. Surrounded now by blue torches and pearly white, glittering stone, the three strange, otherworldly beings had the same graceful, curving bodies and wings as before, and each glowed with their own color – green, blue, red – but Ethna’s smaller, infected sisters had undergone drastic transformations. On the right, the blue Cedna was longer and glowed brighter than before, and flew about in graceful looping patterns. Her black eyes glittered with life, and though she had no visible mouth or facial features, she seemed to Fae as if she was smiling.
On the left, the red Frenna seemed sort of teardrop-shaped, with the widest part of her body being her face. Her eyes sparked as if with an inner fire, and she spun end-over-end in a manner that suggested to Fae a youthful playfulness.
The Fates were restored. And in the center, the large Ethna, partially submerged in a pool that glowed silvery-white, didn’t look much different physically, but her eyes were different.
She looked happy.
“Fae Greyson, you have…” Ethna started, her melodious voice halting, an uncertainty clear in her tone.
“Restored us!” Cedna said, doing a figure-eight in the air. Her voice rang out as if on the verge of laughter, and her eyes seemed fixed on Fae.
“Healed us!” Frenna said, spinning around. Her voice still had a whispering undertone, and yet somehow now it didn’t sound sinister, but instead like a quiet echo of Frenna’s joy. “We are forever grateful.”
“Truly, forever grateful,” Ethna said, inclining the upper half of her body forward in a sort of bow. “Thank you, Fae Greyson. You have done what we believed to be impossible.”
“We are better than we ever were before!” Cedna said.
“The best we’ve ever been!” Frenna chimed in.
“You have many questions,” Cedna said, flying a little bit closer, making Fae aware of her size. The chamber was deceptively large, and so she hadn’t realized how far away the Fates had been, making Cedna and Frenna, especially alongside their larger sister, look rather small. But closer to Fae, it became clear that Cedna was at least three times larger than she was, though unlike their first meeting, Fae didn’t feel intimidated.
There was no hint of malice or deceit in Cedna’s eyes, voice, or movements.
She was restored.
“We can help answer them,” Frenna said. She seemed quietly thoughtful, and Fae remembered her speaking the least of the three Fates when they’d been her before.
“And we can help ask them,” Cedna said, following her statement with a short, musical series of chirps that sounded rather like a giggle. She’d always been the most mischievous one, the one that had the most fun, even when she was Collapsed.
“Or we could be polite,” Frenna countered, eyeing her blue sister.
“We have been anticipating your arrival for a very long time,” Ethna said. “And we will answer all questions you have to the very best of our ability. Know well that we are not all-knowing or all-powerful. We see and know much, but not everything. There are mysteries we have not deciphered, as you must plainly know for yourself now.”
Right. They had no idea how to cure Collapse. They didn’t know anything about what Maxwell found.
“We are also bound by rules,” Cedna said.
“These rules must be obeyed,” Frenna said.
“But worry not,” Cedna said. “We should be able to tell you all that you need.”
“If not all that you want,” Frenna added.
“We can also, once you are done here, provide you safe travel wherever you wish to go,” Ethna said. “As you no doubt discovered when traveling aboard the ship that bore you here – it can take you many places, almost everywhere in the Enchanted Dominion, though it can only disembark from our Dwelling or from the Crimson Docks.”
“Many rules,” Cedna said with a giggle.
“Not only for us,” Frenna said. “Much of the Dominion is built on and exists in accordance with rules.”
“We must give the girls a chance to speak,” Ethna said. Cedna looped a path back to her sister’s side, now appearing small again.
Fae opened her mouth, but…
She didn’t know where to start. She had many questions, but one thing was oddly unclear in her mind.
“Why did my drawings send me to you?” she finally asked.
“Because we have knowledge,” Cedna said.
“Though it can’t be said that we have wisdom,” Frenna said.
“It could,” Cedna countered. “Many do, in fact, say so.”
“Forgive my fallacy,” Frenna said, shrinking back.
“We have knowledge about the quest before you,” Ethna said. “There is only a small amount we are allowed to say, but all will be helpful to you in your journey. Most of why you are here is because we can aid you in your other two journeys: the Intangibles and the Spiral Dragons. But there is one thing that goes beyond those, that we will impart to you, but first…”
“We must tell you what you must know!” Cedna said, doing a little flip. “We have four pieces of information for you. They are not perfect, and will require your intuition and experience to fully understand.”
“The first is very straightforward,” Frenna said.
“Ah, yes,” Cedna said, bobbing her head as if nodding. “The first relates to the Spiral Dragons. Perhaps you have heard of Dragon Riddles?”
Fae nodded. “Selphine warned me about them,” she said. “The Dragons often speak in riddles, and answering them – right or wrong – leads to terrible outcomes.”
“Indeed,” Frenna said. “But you must know this. The Dragons are crafty. They will speak riddles without them clearly being riddles. They will not always be phrased as questions, or even as riddles as you might know them.”
“Take great care in whether you speak, and how you speak,” Ethna said. “You will meet a Spiral Dragon soon, sooner than you would have expected. Be prepared for it, and never let down your guard. The Spiral Dragons are not like us, or like the Dominion. They abide by only one rule, and beyond that one rule, they are free to do as they please.”
“And what they please is frequently dangerous,” Cedna said.
“Dangerous indeed,” Frenna said. “Yet you must meet them, so be ready and be careful.”
Fae had pulled out a sketchbook and pencil, and started adding to her collection of notes from talking with Selphine. She nodded as she finished her notes on the Spiral Dragons and their Riddles. “We’ll be careful,” she said.
“Next, one of your destinations,” Ethna said. “The Fault Line Dungeon. It will not be as easy to enter as Miss Miora had hoped.”
“She calls Selphine ‘Miss’,” Cedna said, followed by a chirping giggle.
“Some beings have respect for others,” Frenna said indignantly.
“You will not be able to simply walk in,” Ethna said. “Guardianship has changed, and Miss Miora’s connections hold no weight. It will require the ingenuity and independent craftiness of you four. No one will be able to help you, but still you must go.”
“Can I do the next one?” Cedna asked, watching as Fae jotted down notes.
“Can we stop you?” Frenna asked.
“You know the rule,” Cedna said with a chirping giggle. “I’m doing the next one. Since you are currently pursuing Collapse, this may prove useful to you: Collapse’s Guardian is not what she seems. And the solution to her dilemma will require surprising resources and new allies.”
“Do not be alarmed if you cannot overcome her alone,” Frenna said. “Facing her once, if you are resourceful and observant, will give you the clues you need to return properly prepared to pass her.”
They really are being quite cryptic after the Dragon Riddle warning. Well, that’s why I need to take detailed notes.
“Finally,” Ethna said, “the Sealed Vessel is following you.”
Letting that hang in the air, Fae found herself looking up from her notes, taking in the sudden stillness.
“Well that’s ominous,” Jupiter said in her trademark too-loud-to-be-a-whisper whisper.
“And despite your amulet,” Cedna said, “you will not detect the Vessel’s presence until meeting them once. They will catch you unawares. Do not allow them to overcome you.”
Fae added a note next to her transcription of what the Fates were saying: “her” for Collapse, but “them” for Vessel. Why secrecy?
“That is all we can say,” Frenna said.
“And thus concludes our warnings for your journey,” Ethna said, bowing low. “Let this information prepare you for a more successful journey against the danger and darkness that lies before you. And, before we send you on your way –”
“We have a gift!” Cedna said, excitedly doing figure-eights in the air.
“A token,” Frenna said.
“It is something that will carry its significance beyond your present journeys,” Ethna said. “Follow the door behind us. There you will find your gift, and from there will be a path back to the ship. Once you go through the door…”
“You will not see us again,” Cedna said.
“Never again,” said Frenna.
“Once is rare, usually only once ever.”
“Twice is unheard of, a rare gift.”
“Gifts fitting for the ones who saved us.”
“As they said,” Ethna said. “You will not see us again. Take the knowledge we have imparted to you, and make of it the best that you can. And while we never play favorites, this is a rare moment, and you are a rare Human, Fae Greyson. You saved my sisters, and our home, a feat even we, with our vast knowledge, thought impossible.”
“Thank you,” Cedna said.
“Thank you is too small a phrase to convey our unending gratitude,” Frenna added.
“So if we may say so, Fae Greyson,” Ethna said, leaning slightly forward, eyeing Fae with glittering eyes. “You are a very special Human, and we hope you succeed.”
Silence hung in the air, and Fae realized that was the end. The Fates had nothing more to say to her. She took a deep breath and then, copying Ethna’s gesture from earlier, bowed low before the Fates. “Thank you,” she said. “We will succeed, at least in part thanks to your gracious assistance.”
When Fae looked up, the Fates were gone.
Across the pool, on the other side of the chamber, was a silver door with the F-G symbol of the Fates on it in gold. A small path ran around the pool, so Fae and the Star sisters followed it, and then proceeded through the door into a small chamber. To their left was a set of stairs leading down. And in front of them, in the center of the chamber, was a golden pedestal.
Upon it sat a book.
The girls gathered around it, and Fae stared at the book in awe. It had no lettering upon it, but the cover had a silver trim, with golden patterns all along its face, spine, and back. The pages had silver edges, but Fae could see no more of the book.
It had a latch holding it closed, and a strange, ornate lock was the only way to open the latch.
Fae reached out and picked up the book, eyeing the lock curiously. There was nothing else on the pedestal, not even a key. As she picked up the book, though, a sound like an exhalation of breath filled the room, a rushing wind that was heard but not felt.
“Find the key,” came the faint, echoing voice of Ethna. “When the time is right, you will know. Only then should you read what is contained in those pages.”
Her voice faded, and was followed by such a powerful stillness that Fae knew that was the last she’d ever hear from the Fates.
Down the stairs the girls went, and it was a much shorter descent than the climb up to the chamber where the Fates were found. Yet here they were, where they’d arrived, with the ship sitting in the water before them. The stone, cave-like dock looked so different now that the Dwelling had been healed – white stone glittered, its light giving the water a silvery sheen, and blue torches flickered with a cheerful life.
“Where do we go from here?” Mercury asked, watching as Fae placed the book from the Fates into her bag and pulled out a sketchbook. She opened it up, looking at the maps she had copied from Selphine of the Enchanted Dominion, along with her notes.
“We’re still on the trail of Collapse, so I think we should continue pursuing that,” Fae said. “And… yeah, I thought so. Check this out.” She pointed to the map of Sector One of the Enchanted Dominion. “All three Locations Maxwell listed that could be where Collapse now rests are here. And not just that, but the Fault Line Dungeon is in the first Sector, and of course we need to visit the center of each Sector.”
“So most of our destinations are in the same place,” Neptune said. “Where should we start?”
“It looks like the Deepgrave has a permanent connection to the Plains of the Fallen,” Fae said. “I think we should start there. And while we’re on the Plains, we could meet with Gerick again. I want to tell him what we’ve learned about Oscar and Collapse, and he might have some information to combine with ours going forward.”
“Let’s do it,” Mercury said with a nod.
The girls boarded the ship, and as a disembodied voice asked them for their destination, Fae called out the Plains of the Fallen confidently.
She knew she was heading into danger. But even as the boat began to warp reality around it to speed its way to their destination, Fae felt more hopeful and alive than ever. She wasn’t afraid.
In her heart, she could still hear the beautiful, magical tone of the bell she had rung to heal the Fates.