Chapter 55 : Blood Trail
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She managed to cast a brief Repelling Curse, but only half the tygren were affected, and she was warrior enough to know they were still in dire straits, outnumbered and wounded. Is this how it ends for us? She wondered fatalistically. Is this what was meant, that Severus and I shall go to our deaths in this frozen hell?
She threw herself towards her beloved, who was bleeding heavily from a deep bite to his bicep, trying as best she could to shield him from the worst of the rampaging animals' attacks with her armored body. She could feel herself start to grow weak from blood loss, the tygrens' scrabbling with their deadly claws at her chainmail shirt, emitting that awful howl.
"Severus," she panted, gazing deep into his eyes.
"Sarai," he gasped, meeting her gaze with the same knowing intensity. "I have one last great spell within me. If I can manage to summon my magic . . ."
Before he could finish his sentence, they heard the loud bell-like tone of a misthound baying.
Cafall, though intent upon following his quarry, could not resist the siren call of the bugle, it compelled him to return to Severus. And once his nose had caught the bitter stench of the tygren, who were natural enemies of the misthounds, and heard the ringing tones of the bugle, he had come at a full out run to rescue his Alpha.
Head up and floppy ears flying, Cafall crested the top of the rise and peered down at the seething mass of tygrens below. The dog shook his head and snarled, showing all of his formidable fangs. The scent of blood was borne upon the wind, and Cafall knew instinctively that his alpha was injured.
Now, normally, a misthound would have hesitated attacking a whole pride of tygrens. But Cafall knew his duty and he threw back his head and howled, as fierce a howl as he could manage. A fullgrown misthound's bay could startle prey into a panic, and though Cafall had not yet reached his majority, his need called forth an adult misthound's bay.
Out of his throat rose a chilling awful wail, one that caused the tygrens to spring up and run as quickly as their paws would take them away, all save those who had tasted blood. Those remained, lost in bloodlust. Though Cafall did not know it, the rock that overlooked the camp created a sort of tunnel that made his howl echo and thus the tygren thought more than one misthound was upon them. When faced with greater numbers, tygren were cowards. Thus the rest of the pride fled, save for ten who had blood upon their jaws.
Seeing the number of tygren reduced considerably, Cafall gave another loud howl and sprang off the rise, landing in front of them, teeth bared. A few of the tygren whirled to face their ancient enemy, leaving Severus and Sarai to finish off four of them.
The six cat-like creatures hissed and swiped at the misthound, Cafall dodged neatly, then lunged, catching one in his jaws and giving it a terrific shake that broke the creature's back. He then turned to deal with the others.
Severus, bleeding extensively from several wounds, managed to slam his staff into one of the tygren's snarling maw, making the creature screech and stagger away, burned by the enchanted wood. He staggered to his feet, leaning upon Sarai, who in turn leaned on him.
A tygren sprang at her, she moved her sword in a lazy thrust and skewered it.
But the move cost her. She could feel the wound in the back of her neck reopen and start to bleed, a warm trickle down her back. "Only . . . two more . . ."
Severus nodded through gritted teeth. The tygren bites and scratches stung and burned, he feared they might have been poisoned, or perhaps as a human he had an allergic reaction to them. Many dark fae had that effect upon mortals. "One for you . . . and one for me." He managed to reply, then cast a quick Burning Hex.
A third tygren was immolated.
Sarai used kin-sa-dor to slam the fourth tygren in the head and kill it.
Meanwhile, Cafall had slain the five other tygren, then came to nose Severus and whine comfortingly at him.
Severus' hand closed over the dog's sleek head and the wizard whispered, "Good boy, Cafall. Such a good dog . . ."
Then he sagged to the ground, taking Sarai with him.
The half-fae warrior was dizzy and burning with fever, but managed to hang onto consciousness long enough to bandage the worst of Severus' wounds before succumbing to her own. The two lay sprawled together upon the ground, and Cafall nudged their still forms, then pointed his nose towards the sky and howled poignantly.
Jarillion did not return to see the boys in the cell until the next morning. By then, Draco had conceived of a plan that he thought might be cunning enough to keep the fae lord from assuming total control over them. But he refused to let Harry know exactly what it was. "You'll see, little brother. Just trust me."
"I do, but why can't you just tell me what you're doing?"
Draco shook his head. "It's better if you don't know everything. You're not exactly discreet sometimes. Just trust me."
Harry opened his mouth to say something nasty, then shut it. He really had no other choice, and of the two of them, Draco knew more about dealing with evil despots.
An evil-looking dwarf wearing a muddy colored tunic and a red cap brought their breakfast tray this morning. Unlike previous times, the food was not gloppy overcooked porridge, but fresh bread, butter, honey and fruit, along with a steaming pot of tea. The boys were hard pressed not to gobble the food like starving pigs.
The dwarf set it down and said in a gravelly voice, "Lord Jarillion will see you after you have broken your fast." He eyed them up and down, scowled, licked his lips, then spun about and slammed the door behind him.
Harry stared after the retreating dwarf and shuddered. "Now, why do I get the feeling that he wanted to have us for breakfast?"
"Because he's a redcap, Harry, and they eat people," answered Draco, spearing a piece of melon with a small fork and eating it.
"That was a redcap?" Harry repeated. "But he didn't look . . .I always thought they were bigger . . ."
"No. But they're plenty scary. They have teeth like a shark's, rip you down to the bone in seconds."
Harry had been about to bite into a strawberry. He halted and cried, "Gross! You just made me lose my appetite."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Toughen up, little brother. You'll see plenty of worse things, and discuss them, once we're dark apprentices."
Harry swallowed and then made himself eat the strawberry, though the image of a redcap covered in blood and munching on a finger made him want to retch. But he soon discovered that his macabre imagination was no match for his growling stomach and in the end he managed to eat several pieces of bread smeared with honey and butter and eat more fruit, plus drink two cups of tea as well.
As soon as they were finished, the tray vanished itself and there came the sound of the door unlocking.
Draco and Harry straightened as the master of the fortress entered the cell.
Jarillion was wearing a different midnight-blue tunic and silvery hose, but otherwise looked as unruffled and calm as he had the other day. "Fair morning to you," he greeted with a saccharine smile. "I trust you slept well? Yes? Good, then you've had time to ponder my offer."
"We have, my lord," Harry said, keeping his tone respectful, though the effort made his stomach cramp.
"Very good," Jarillion's smile grew more pronounced. "Might I know your decision then?"
Draco gathered himself. Then he spoke. "We have decided to join you, my lord. We would like to learn the dark magics. Would you teach us, if it please you, Lord Jarillion?"
Jarillion grinned openly in triumph. "Ahh. Well said, young Malfoy. I knew you'd come round. Nothing satisfies your craving for power like the dark magic. Nothing. Once you've tasted it, it's like an addiction in your blood, you will always long for it."
"Very true, sir," Harry agreed, struggling to keep the bitter bile from spewing out of his mouth.
"I shall teach you how to control that longing," promised their new master. "But first, let us remove you from this hole and get you cleaned up. I don't allow my apprentices to smell or look like dungheaps." He gestured and the cell door swung open.
They followed him out of the cell and up the stairs silently.
But when they had reached the upper story of the fortress, Draco said, "Sir, might we be allowed to see our cousin and share our good news with her?"
Jarillion scowled, his mouth twisting into an ugly line. "She's being difficult, I thought to forbid all contact with you till she learnt better."
"Perhaps when she hears what we've done, she'll be more willing to listen to you, sir," suggested Draco quietly.
"Mmm . . .very well. Ten minutes, no more. I'll send Rage with you to show you the way. He'll guide you around the fortress too." Jarillion snapped his fingers and the redcap who had brought them breakfast reappeared and bowed low.
"You called, Great One?"
Jarillion told him where to bring the boys, then said, "I have some urgent business to attend to, or else I would show you about myself. Do try to remember where everything is and don't get lost."
Then he vanished, leaving Draco and Harry to the tender care of a man-eating dwarf. Rage snorted and then stomped up the corridor, beckoning them to follow.
After a brief moment, they did, conversing in whispers. Harry glared at his brother. "How could you just agree that way? Without setting any terms or . . .or something?"
"But I did set up terms," objected the blond boy.
"Like what? Seems like you just agreed and that was that."
"Think like a Slytherin, Harry. We'e subtle. What were my exact words?"
Harry thought about it. "We have decided to join you, my lord. We would like to learn the dark magics. Would you teach us, if it please you, Lord Jarillion?"
"By making us do the choosing, he can't bind us to him. I also said we would learn dark magic, not use it. There's a difference. Then I asked him to teach us, so he'd have no need to write out a formal contract." Draco explained.
"Contract?" Harry looked alarmed.
"Relax. The dark fae only have contracts with those they consider dangerous enemies. To Jarillion, we're an opportunity waiting to happen. So let's try not to disappoint him, okay?"
Harry nodded, wondering if his nightmares, once a thing of the past, would start up again. Then he hurried after his brother, whispering under his breath, Please Dad, come and get us out of here, before Draco's Slytherin side gets us into more trouble.
Cafall's forlorn howls echoed across the desolate Waste, as he mourned his companions, whose life forces dwindled as he watched, unable to help them. The big dog felt terribly guilty and upset that he had failed in his duty and kept licking first Severus and then Sarai's face, trying to waken them to no avail.
The howls told anyone in range that a misthound mourned a comrade and they brought someone to investigate.
Cafall looked up and growled softly as a strange round thatched hut came into view, walking ponderously upon two stout chicken feet. The feet were broad and strong, with an extra spur on the back like a fighting cock had.
There came three sharp taps and the hut lowered itself to the ground, and out of it stepped an old woman, bent with age, wizened and carrying a gnarled staff. She had long stringy white hair and robes the color of ash. But her eyes were ageless, deep pools of sapphire blue, that fixed upon Cafall with such authority that he stopped growling and backed away.
"There now, puppy," the old woman laughed. "Don't fret, I can fix them." She bent over Severus and Sarai, poking them lightly and muttering things. "Hmm . . .might take a bit longer than I expected. But the best things take time."
She removed some kind of jar from her robes and sprinkled the contents over them. Then she gestured with her cane and both wizard and warrior were floated inside the hut.
Cafall whined and barked uneasily.
"Here, puppy!" the old witch whistled.
Cafall whimpered, but then jumped into the hut and the old woman, whose name was legend still in many parts of the frozen north, shut the door and tapped the roof three times with her stick.
The bird legs were retracted and suddenly they were flying high above the clouds, and heading towards Jarillion's fortress.
"Your debt has come due, pretty boy," cackled the witch, stirring her cauldron as the house traveled. "And someday soon I shall collect on it."
Baba Yaga, the Witch of the North, chuckled softly. Sooner or later all heroes came to her. These were a bit worse for wear, but still useful.
No sooner had the magic hut lifted off, then something large and hungry emerged from the shadows and bent its head to lick up the bloodstained snow.
Hopefully you were all surprised there at the end. In case you are unfamiliar with Russian folklore, Baba Yaga is a very powerful witch who is usually bad but can do occasional good things if she chooses to or if it benefits her.
Hope everyone had a great holiday, we got 30 inches of snow here in NJ and are still trying to dig ourselves out!
Please review and let me know what you think!
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