Disclaimer: None of it's mine. Seriously. Don't sue.

Part Two - The Second Quest

Sam and Finn were both on their second bowl of hot soup when Kurt finally made his appearance in the doorway of the cottage and Sam snorted quietly into his soup at Kurt's ruffled appearance, drawing a scathing glare.

The phrase 'If looks could kill' came to mind instantly.

"Welcome to our humble home, mage." said a quiet looking Asian girl that had introduced herself as Good Cheer, or Tina, the moment Sam had crossed the threshold of the cottage, stripping him of his cloak and armor faster than he could protest and pushing a bowl of piping hot soup into his hands before herding him towards the table where Finn already sat, inhaling his own soup. A golden brown loaf of hearty bread sat, sliced and steaming, beside a large pitcher and a few fired clay mugs that looked homemade but were deep and tall.

Tina fluttered at him until he settled himself beside Finn, pouring him a drink that was gold, almost iridescent in color and smelled like roses.

"Eat." she ordered "Drink. Few make it as far as you have and those that do we welcome openly, for only those with sound mind and pure heart can make it past the hill safely."

Sam took a piece of bread and doused it in the broth of the soup, eating until he could only suck on his fingers to remove the delicious broth before taking a deep drag out of the mug of the golden rose-liquid. To his surprise, it tasted nothing like what he thought it would but was full of all his favorite flavors and something that warmed his insides and built his strength to the point where he thought he might be able to fly if he so wished.

Sooner rather than later, Kurt was also slurping down his own meal and as soon as the trio was watered and fed to the point of drowsiness they were led to simple beds and laid upon them and had covers thrown upon them.

Sam drifted off thinking that this was, perhaps, the most comfortable bed he'd ever known.


The Next Morning...

Sam awoke to the smell of fresh bread and something fruity and sugary tickling his nose and he rose from the bed, stretching contentedly.

"Did you sleep well, highness?" a different voice asked and Sam jumped, eyes falling on a rather plump young lady with flawless skin the color of ebony and eyes that shone with a jovial light that gave her the appearance of a nymph.

"I, uh...yes. Yes, I did, milady. And, please, call me Sam." he responded, running a hand through his hair as she wrapped him in a light blanket whose appearance was deceiving, as it felt much warmer.

"Breakfast is outside on the lawn if you're hungry." she said, tucking the blanket tighter around his shoulders. "And I'm Mirth, if you're wondering. I prefer Mercedes, if you don't mind, and I'll call you Sam."

"All right...Mercedes." Sam replied and Mercedes shooed him out of the cottage with a smile, nattering on about preparations as she closed the door behind him. He clutched the edges of the blanket and turned to find the bright morning light shining down through the overhead branches, casting welcoming shadows and spots of sunlight on the forest floor.

"Sam! Over here!" Rachel's voice called and he turned to see her sitting in a large patch of sunlight waving him over. Kurt sat cross legged, eating something out of a wooden bowl that was staining his lips and chin purple and he sat down next to the both of them. "Please! Eat something!" Rachel said, waving a hand at the myriad of dishes placed on the ground.

There were a variety of fresh berries and fruits that looked enticing as well as various vegetables and something that looked like fluffy clouds set beside a number of bowls of thick, syrupy juices. A plate stacked high with flat, fluffy brown cakes sent a delicious aroma his way and another loaf of the golden bread from the night before sat beside a pile of the wooden bowls Kurt was currently eating out of. There was also a few pitchers of different colored liquids set beside a few more tumblers, a few of which had fallen on their sides.

"I must thank you for taking us in on such short notice." Sam said, filling one of the bowls with some of everything except the cloud-like fluff and choosing a deeper, red-colored drink rather than the gold of last night. The juice was sweet without being sickly and Sam made a noise of contentment. "You and your sisters are very hospitable to strangers."

"Thank you, Samuel." Rachel said, waving a hand over the almost gone loaf of bread. Sam choked as the bread replenished itself and Rachel turned back to face him. "I know you mean us no harm-you would not have made it past the hill otherwise."

"So, it is enchanted then?" Sam asked around the food in his mouth and Rachel nodded. "Is Finnegan up and abou-"

There was a bout of racous laughter from the trees and Tina darted out from between them, laughing happily as Finn chased her, trying to grab her playfully, laughing as well. The duo darted in and out a few more times before Tina made her way toward the sitting group and flopped down beside Rachel gracefully, Finn following in rapture. He flopped down beside her, his legs disappearing between the folds of her skirts and that was when Sam noticed each girl's dress.

Rachel still wore the pure white of her cloak the night before and it was made of layers of a gauzy, sheer material that left little to one's imagination but was still modest when draped over the smaller girl. The sleeves were long and clasped at each of Rachel's wrists and when she moved, he could see tanned skin through the slits.

Tina wore a shocking shade of blue, almost royal in color and she wore it well, the color contrasting tantalizingly against her olive colored skin and maker her pretty brown eyes startlingly so. It seemed to be made of a thicker material than Rachel's gown and was drawn tightly across ther stomach, almost like a bodice, coming to a point at her waistline. It was trimmed with a faded sort of gold, almost red in the correct light, kind of like a star looked from the distance.

"Is everything to your liking?" Tina asked, noticing that Sam had stopped eating to take in the girls' appearances. "Would you like something else instead? Perhaps some sort of tart, or pastry?"

"What? Oh, no! Everything is delicious-I was distracted by the gowns you wear and was wondering what they're made of? They look like you pulled the from nature herself."

Tina and Rachel both laughed and Sam couldn't help but notice how different their laughs were. Rachel's was a happy, round sort of sound and Tina's tinkled like a bell.

"You are closer than you think, Samuel." Tina replied, her black hair shining in the sunlight. "But you wish to be on your way soon, I can tell. As soon as you've had your fill, we can retire inside and see what the stars hold for the three of you."


Sam was coerced into trying the cloud-fluff by both Kurt, saying that it was delicious, and Rachel, claiming that it was Tina's specialty and she rarely brought it out. He was pleasantly surprised at how light it was on his tongue, melting away like chocolate he'd once tasted and leaving him with a warm feeling inside, like he'd just drunk the sweetest wine in the land.

"Is everyone finished?" Tina asked and Sam furrowed his brows.

"Do you not eat?" he queried and Tina clapped her hands twice, a smile gracing her pretty face.

"We do not sleep, milord." she replied and stood with Rachel, crooking a finger at the boys and turning to head into the cottage.

Sam looked back and noticed that the display of breakfast had vanished.


Inside the Cottage...

The air inside the cottage had grown thick and stifling and Sam tugged at the neck of his tunic as Rachel closed the door, gliding off into a different room and leaving them alone with Tina.

"This way." she said, leading them into a dark back room where the floor was made of packed dirt rather than the wood of the other room and the walls were lined with heavy stones, pebbles wedged in the empty spaces. "Please, seat yourselves and wait here for Mercedes. She'll be along momentarily."

And with that, Tina left the boys and shut the door tightly behind her.

"Why do I suddenly feel like this is the slaughter and we're the pigs?" Kurt whispered, leaning toward Sam, who just shrugged in response.

"I've never been this warmly loved by anyone in my entire life. I'll take what I can get." he said, leaving Kurt and going to sit by Finn, who'd already located a chair and was fiddling with something that had been laying upon it. "And it seems as though your brother is content as well."

"Do not fiddle with that Finnegan of Dalton!" a voice called strongly and Finn dropped the item onto the floor, cowering away as Mercedes swept in majestically, snapping the item up off the floor. "Foolish young man. I spent hours making this for this exact purpose and you nearly undo it with one wrong move of your clumsy fingers."

"Sorry." Finn murmured, sinking lower into his chair even as Kurt sat delicately in his own.

"Don't do it again unless you're trained by either me or one of my sisters."

"Yes, ma'am." Finn said instantly and Sam chuckled as the boy grew darker in the faint light, surely blushing.

Mercedes bustled about over near the fire, lighting the object she'd taken from Finn and blowing on it, the embers dancing on the end and lighting up her face as a rancid smell filled Sam's nostrils.

"What do you smell?" Mercedes' rough voice asked the trio, turning first to Kurt.

"Brimstone and fire." he replied and Mercedes closed her eyes momentarily before answering.

"Your quest will be filled with pain and suffering, physically, mentally, emotionally. Do not give up hope even when it seems that there is none. Hope is eternal just as love is eternal and only with love will hope prevail. Do not give up hope, no matter what." she finished, turning to Sam and asking him again.

"Rancid flesh. Burning fat tinged with something sweet." he replied and Mercedes closed her eyes once more, taking a breath before answering.

"Your quest is filled with lies and deception but not your own. Love will find you, but not in the way that you think it should and happiness will find you as well but you must finished this quest before it will happen. You may not survive this quest if you do not put everything you have into the end result." she opened her eyes once more and turned to Finn, who was shaking by this time having heard tales of woe bestowed upon both his companions.

"What do you smell?" she nearly growled out and Finn opened his mouth in fear.

"Damp earth. Night breeze and innocence lost." he replied and Mercedes closed her eyes before she spoke.

"Your quest is closer than you think, your eyes betray you and your mind lies to them, telling them you want something different than what is in your heart. Follow your heart and your heart will steer you down the correct pathway. Do not be fooled by your mind's protests and stand strong."

Mercedes opened her eyes once more and looked upon the quiet young men before her.

She turned away and procured a bowl, filling it with a bubbling liquid from the hearth and swirling it a few times before placing it in front of Kurt.

"Tell me what you see."

Kurt watched the swirling waters until they grew flat and gasped softly.

"Children. I see children." he said breathlessly.

"Anything else?" Mercedes asked and Kurt shook his head, looking up at her.

"Congratulations. Children mean future which means that you will survive the coming days and many following." Mercedes said, swirling the bowl again as she took it from Kurt and placed it in front of Sam. "Tell me what you see."

Sam watched the swirling bowl grow flat and deep in the bowl he saw flashing, as if light were being bounced of a blade, and then the liquid trickled red before the color exploded in the bowl, turning the entire thing almost black.

"Flashing, like a blade in the light, and something red almost black. Like blood."

"The coming days and your path will be filled with bloodshed. Be careful where you place your allegiances and you will survive. You must now find a special blade to fight your worst fear but beware-that fear may change along the way." she grabbed the bowl a final time and swirled it again before placing it before Finn. "Tell me what you see."

Finn was quiet a moment before he answered.

"Woods. Trees bathed both in darkness and light and a cottage like this one, but different." he said in confusion and Mercedes sighed sadly before she answered.

"Following this quest's end, you are to return to these woods in search of true love. You should bid farewell to your loved ones, as once you set foot upon this path you will never be seen again. You are bound to these woods, Finnegan of Dalton, and you will never set foot from them again if you return."

"And what if I just don't return?" Finn asked, causing Mercedes to spill the liquid on the floor, where it hissed and bubbled, eating the dirt away like acid.

"Then, you and your true love with both die painful deaths at the hands of your enemies. Seperated forever until the end of time, which will not be soon."


Back outside the cottage...

Mercedes did not come out to wish their guests farewell and good luck, drained from her fortune telling and bid them follow her advice instead as they all fled the room.

Rachel stood giving Kurt and Sam instructions on how to leave the forest as Tina stood with Finn, both murmuring quietly with one another.

"So, you just head north until you reach a fountain-it's very hard to miss. It's a large stone thing in the side of an invisible mountain-"

"So we won't be able to see it?"

"No, no, no! I said that the mountain was invisible not the fountain. The fountain is perfectly visible. Anyways, you approach the fountain and scoop some of the water out with the wooden cup on the lip. Place a few drops of blood in the water, say that you wish to be at the edge of the forest where you entered-tell Finn to say where you both entered that way you won't be seperated-and drink the water. You'll be where you started when you wake up."

"Wake up?" Kurt asked hesitantly.

"Of course! The resulting breakdown of your body and its transfer through the underground root system would be excruciating at best. This way you only wake up where you want to go with a mild muscle ache instead." she said with an innocent smile and Kurt groaned.

"Of course. Why didn't I think of that?" Kurt said to sam sarcastically before stalking off toward Finn and Tina.

"Now, Samuel, the blade you're looking for is known as the Blade of Lima-before you ask, no it doesn't flash green-but it's made from the horns of the minotaur so it's practically unbreakable and is deadly to anything evil it touches. It's been hidden somewhere in the mountain pass between Dalton and McKinley, deep in the underground caves and there are trials you must face to earn the sword, so be wary."

At that moment, Finn and Kurt approached and Sam was lead away in the direction of the fountain.