Alton and Revanth have gone in search of Eleion. Velda tells Astrid how she met Alton. Astrid tells Velda that Revanth changed from man to horse in her bed.
The moisture from her tears seeped into Velda’s thirsty skin, and she felt revitalized. Naiads didn’t cry like humans. They shed no tears, but perhaps, if she were clever enough, she could store up a little bit of moisture. It would take only a few drops to cast a spell. Holding her friend, she wiped Astrid’s tears. Feeling the prickling of magic in her fingertips, Velda smiled.
The men knew when they had found Eleion. Though they saw nothing particularly different about their surroundings, mud is mud, after all, the feel of the air was different. The soggy peat tugged at their feet, trying to throw them off balance. Revanth slipped three times before Alton called a halt. They stood on a tuft of grass, as it was the only firm ground that could hold Revanth. Alton didn’t sink as rapidly as the horse, but the hungry slime sucked at his boots, striving to draw him in.
“Eleion!” Alton called. “It is I, Alton of Lyndon Meade. I wish to speak to you.”
A resounding silence replied.
“Eleion, the Naiad Witch, I wish to speak to you. Please.”
Revanth nudged him with his nose, snorting softly.
“Please,” Alton’s tone changed to more pleading than commanding. “My friend and I need your help, Eleion. Our women are taken by a puka—a being too powerful for us. But perhaps, not too powerful for you. Will you help us, Eleion?”
“I might,” a voice purred behind them.
How she could sound sultry, and menacing, at the same time, Alton didn’t know. It sent a shiver up and down his spine, lodging in the parts of him that only Velda touched. However, her voice, which reminded him of the soft rumble of a giant cat, lodged there, caressing him. Odd stirrings filled him. Revanth snorted loudly, knocking Alton off his feet. Ass first in the mud, the lure of the voice ceased to be a problem. He wanted to be angry with Revanth, but he thanked him instead.
“I know you,” Eleion said, walking toward them. Swaying ample hips, she took hold of Revanth’s mane.
She was the sullen, murky green of old swamp water. Her hair hung in lank tangles, much like dry, snarled tree moss. Her lips were black, though sharp teeth flashed white in her dark face. Her clothing couldn’t be called a dress, so much as it was dabs of moss and slime slathered together to conceal her form. Her ample breasts were nearly bare.
Shivering, Revanth recoiled from her touch. The last time he’d seen her, she’d woven a spell to make him a horse. The urge to fight her was strong.
Alton touched his friend’s neck, grasping a handful of Revanth’s mane. “It’s all right, brother.”
“How quaint,” Eleion said, scratching Revanth’s neck. “A wood sprite and a—whatever you are, together. Lovers? Perhaps? Though the last time you were here, you had some hot little human with you.”
Revanth snapped at her, but Eleion merely laughed.
“So, not lovers, then. What do you want, wood sprite?” She spit the words at him, her tone holding malice.
“We came with the intent to kill you, Eleion. But we find ourselves asking for your aid. We need a witch of your power, to help us defeat the creature holding our women.”
Eleion lifted her chin. Eyes the shade of vipers, riveted them with a stare. “You wish my help, and yet you want me dead? What’s to keep you from killing me once I give my aid?”
“Not a damn thing,” Alton replied defiantly. “Except our word. If you help us, I give my word, I will not harm you.”
“What are the terms of your deal? And what do I get in return?”
“You get the satisfaction of living another day,” Alton said.
“You seem quite certain you can defeat me, wood sprite. Here in the heart of my swamp, I am queen. You might harm me, but my swamp will swallow you alive before you can enjoy it.”
“Will you help us?”
She eyed them critically. “I don’t know.”
“I give you one last chance to say yes,” Alton said. “Will you, Eleion the Witch, help us?”
Suddenly, she was off her feet, hanging in mid air. Screeching, she flailed around, trying to work her magic. An unseen force kept her airborne. Alton smiled up at her.
“You’re sure, are you? That’s your final answer? I can keep you up there indefinitely, Witch. A wood sprite has a few skills, you know.”
“Not this, not an air spell! How can you? You’re of the Earth and Wood.”
“That would be telling. I can leave you, high and dry, until you dry up and fall to dust,” Alton said. “Or, you can give us the aid we require. Which is it?”
“I’ll help you!”
“You will give your unimpeded word,” Alton said. “You are bound by it, just as I am. You will not harm us in any way, nor will you cause, directly or indirectly, for harm to come to us. You will not impede us, nor cause us to be impeded. You will not slow us—”
“Enough! Obviously, you have dealt with my kind before.”
“I have dealt with you enough to know, that I will say the rest of the oath, or I’ll kill you now, and leave you to rot in your filthy swamp.”
© 2019 Dellani Oakes
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