The trip into the mountains was uneventful, even boring. For once that doesn't seem such a bad thing. Not at all. As we get off the main road, into a heavily wooded area, Mr. MacKenzie turns to us and says, "Ordinarily, we'd blindfold any strangers we bring up here, not that we bring very many. In your case, though, I doubt it'd make much of a difference. I will need you to swear yourselves to lifetime secrecy about this." He continues, "You must also swear not to draw upon the power of this caern while you are here. If either of you break these oaths, you will both be killed, no questions asked. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I think." I had no idea what a caern was, but they obviously were dead serious. Jane also agreed.
As soon as the car stopped, we all got out. Mack pulled out some kind of ceremonial knife, and handed it to Jane; she silently unwrapped the bandage from her hand and drew the knife across it, and swore upon her blood not to reveal their secret or 'draw upon the caern'. She handed it to me; after a moment's hesitation, I did the same.
Then they led us down a rough path deeper into the woods. After about an hour's walking, I began to get a sense of gathering energy, which grew as we kept walking. I think I've figured out what the caern is, I sent to Jane. Well, whatever you do don't touch it, she sent back. Uh, actually I think we're in the middle of it right now.
We entered a clearing, in which about twenty people were gathered. The energy seemed centered on the clearing, a lot of energy, more than I'd ever imagined. I could guess why they wanted to protect it. All around there was a feeling of warmth, a protective glow which ran all through me. Wow.
After getting a bit more used to it all, I realised that we were standing in front of some kind of throne or something. A woman who looked suspiciously like Brittany was sitting on it. Yeah, we'd hit the jackpot... Brittany was sitting a few feet away, looking half dead.
It was then that I'd noticed the guards. Big guards. Hairy, lupine ones. With swords. Oh, shit.
"Watcher-of-Truth," the queen bee or whatever said to Mack's father, "why have you brought these two mortals here? I trust you have good reason." She was genuinely pissed, I'd say.
"You Emminence, these two sorceresses have been seeking the cause to your daughter's recent disappearance. They confronted my son and I with knowledge of our true nature. I felt it wisest to bring them before you so that your... wisdom might be consulted." What's gotten into him? He sounds about ready to lick her feet.
"Uh, your Highness, or whatever...listen, all we want is to know what's really going on." I can barely get the words out.
"You don't deserve such answers!"
"My liege, as I say, these two are mages, and it may not be wise to..."
"Silence! I will hear their story, and then they shall face Gaia's justice. Proceed."
Well, Jane and I start taking turns telling what we found out and what we knew. I winced when Jane mentioned how she jerked Brittany's head around, but I think we were both too scared to leave it out.
"I cannot say I am surprised by any of this, save perhaps your gall. I had never anticipated my daughter reaching the change on her own, or I would have brought her into our confidence sooner. As for the death of the teacher, it is unfortunate but just. He had attempted to force himself upon her, and his fate was sealed by his own evil."
Makes sense. We'd kind of guessed that earlier. "But how did Brittany get out of there like that? And how did her clothes get in Mack's locker?" That was Jane, being too damn brave again.
"Your Highness, I think I'd better explain this," Mack said, standing up. "Well, I happened to be going to the gym when I heard this awful scream. I ran in, and there I saw Brittany all in Crinos. There was blood all over her, and on the floor and all, and there was this other girl passed out a few feet away. I knew that Brit's mom was Bearhunter, but I was pretty sure she didn't know anything about it, so I guessed she was really scared. I came up as close as I could to her, and started talking to her in as calm a voice as I could. She must have been more frightened than angry, 'cos she started listening to me right away. Anyway, I told here to go to the locker room, and walk into the mirror - she went in right away, and somehow she got home all right, so I guess I was kinda lucky. Anyway, when she was gone I grabbed her clothes, ran to my locker and stuffed it inside. I was just taking it out to get rid of it when Kevin showed up. I had to think fast, so I turned to him and asked him how it got in there."
Well, I guess that covers everything. Real deus ex machina like, but I'm not about to complain. "Uh, I guess that we're free to go then, huh?"
Mrs. Taylor, or Bearhunter or whatever, stands up and says, "There remains a matter of restitution. Because of your carelessness, my daughter and heir has fallen into Harano. You must pay for this insult."
I was about to ask what that meant, when Jane said, "Your kidding. I didn't think anything could make her depressed. I didn't think she was smart enough to get..."
"How dare you insult my line!" She was starting to look a bit hairy all of a sudden, and I realised we'd just blown it. Badly.
"My liege!" said Mr. MacKenzie, standing between us and her. "Surely... you can see your way, uh, to forgiving the folly of youth... I am sure they meant no disrespect." He was obviously as scared as we were.
"Very well. Child," she says, looking at Jane like she wanted to kill her right then and there, "can what you have done be undone?"
"Uh, well, I think so. I've never thought of making someone happy before, but I don't see why not."
Especially since we're dead if you can't, I sent.
Not now, Daria, this is serious, she replied, and walked over to where Brittany was sitting. She spent a few minutes concentrating on the airhead's head, and soon Brit's expression started to look brighter. "Hey," she said, looking up, "Where am I?"
Amazing how little some people change, isn't it?
La la LA la la...
[Introduction] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Story Notes]