Puck knew the wyldwood like the back of his hand. Even now, though it had evolved, finding his way around was easy. He could press his hand against the bark of a willow tree and know how far its roots stretched. He could feel the ground shake underneath his boots and know what sort of creature was the cause of it. Very few were aware that the forest had a voice, only audible if you listened hard enough. Puck, being considered a part of the Wyldwood for decades now, had learned how to understand this voice. It told him when things were good, and when things were bad.
Right now, things were somewhat… bad.
Yeah, something bad was about to happen.
Puck opened his eyes.
Blades of long, thin grass obscured his vision. He vaguely remembered laughing with Tully before falling asleep the previous night, body warming the cool grass folded underneath him. The fey was curled into what resembled the fetal position, arm resting limply in front of him. He didn't move, feeling his heartbeat speed up as his body awoke. He was listening to the dread working its way up his spine- dread that wasn't his. He focused on keeping his breathing even as green eyes peered through the grass.
It seemed safe enough. The wyldwood was lighter now, hints of sun and blue sky filtering through the dense gray fog. He could see the grass imprints of Tully and Grim out of the corner of his eye. If he focused hard enough, he could see the faint rise and fall of her chest as she slept away, unaware. He focused on the forest again, straining his eyes.
The dread flared again. Puck gingerly pushed himself onto his elbows, making no noise. The wyldwood was silent. An alarm bell went off in the back of his head, for reasons that weren't yet clear to him. He frowned.
The wyldwood was eternally restless, full of shifting trees and creatures that generally never shut up. His head whipped around at the shifting of grass. Grimalkin was stirring. Tully was still out cold, knees to her chest. Puck rose slowly, still surveying his surroundings. The dread was spiking again, his heart thudding in his ears-
Grimalkin jolted awake, yellow eyes vivid in the gloom. Tully didn't move.
"Goodfellow!" He hissed, bouncing to his feet. Puck gaped for a second, for once stuck silent.
No way. How-
Puck leapt over the remains of last night's fire, landing beside Tully. He shook her roughly, grabbing her wrist to pull her up. She awoke with a start; blue eyes wide in confusion.
"Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty!"
"Wha-" She started, grabbing her bag as she stumbled to her feet. Grim was puffing up, ready to take off into the trees.
"This your boyfriend?-"
"This way! No time!" Grimalkin yelled, finally taking off into the trees. Puck grabbed Tully's wrist and took off, flying past trees and the occasional root determined to trip him up. The brunette caught herself and kept up with him, the violent sound of snapping trees overriding the wind in their ears.
"What is that?!" Tully yelled, trying to look behind them. Puck glanced behind him, hair in his face as he watched a great shaggy hand push a tree over with ease. The smell of tobacco filled the air, out of place in the musk of the wyldwood.
"Kapre! Keep going!" He yelled, vaulting over a log. Grimalkin was bouncing in and out of sight ahead of them, staying just close enough to show them the way before launching himself through the trees again. The Kapre roared behind them again, knocking down fewer trees and trying to catch up to them- using its long legs to its advantage. It loomed behind them, all ten feet of it steadily gaining on them. Tully grabbed his hand and yanked him to the side just as another tree fell ahead of them, trying to cut off their path. His arm screamed in protest, but the pain was bearable compared to being flattened.
"What is it doing?" Tully yelled, and he had to wonder at that as well- Kapre lived in solitude, up in the trees. They usually never came down, let alone gave chase to random fey. The cracking of trees sounded out behind them, just giving him enough time to jerk Tully out of the way. It fell with a boom, sending ripples of impact through the ground and startling anything that wasn't already running at the sight of a ten foot sasquatch.
"Beats me!" He shouted, pushing her forward as he caught sight of Grim again. The brunette stumbled before running ahead, not needing any more encouragement. The wyldwood had become a place of muted color and undefined shape as they rounded a sharp bend, hearing the Kapre slam into the mountainside to their right as it didn't quite make it. Puck panted, quickly glancing behind him in time to see the thing slowly recover, rubble sticking to its long, thin fur. Tully swore. Grimalkin had disappeared.
"Where the-" Puck began, the smell of tobacco making him lightheaded. Suddenly Grimalkin was waiting for them in front of a small stone archway, now visible through the trees. It looked as if it had been carved right from the surrounding mountain. A hint of glamour circled the opening like a halo.
"Here!" Grimalkin yelled, then disappeared; leaping into the archway. Realizing what was happening, the Kapre began to bellow. Puck felt a breeze that ruffled his hair as it tried to make a swipe for him, huge sausage fingers just missing the back of his shirt. He heard Tully gasp. Their feet pounded the forest floor, the arch getting closer and closer…
Tully leapt for it. He jumped right after her, glamour rushing over them as the trod spit them into the human world. For a second there was a bang that rattled every bone in his body as he hit the ground, and then silence.
Except that he was moving. And he couldn't stop.
Puck crossed his arms over his face, disoriented by the jump through the trod. He heard a yelp from somewhere in front of him as his body suddenly tumbled downwards, wet branches and weeds scratching his arms. He threw a hand out sideways, desperately trying to stop himself, only to end up with a hand full of mud. The jester summersaulted the last few meters down the hill, landing with a harsh thump that knocked the air out of his lungs. He slid a few inches on the wet grass before finally coming to a stop.
"…Ow." He groaned, waiting for his body to stop throbbing.
He heard a responding groan from farther down the hill.
"I'm just going to... Lay here, for a while…"
"Yeah." Tully agreed, before flopping onto the grass with a groan.
Puck let his eyes slide closed, sighing as his legs stopped burning. Eventually his heart stopped threatening to burst out of his chest, the danger long gone. At some point during their flight the hilt of one of his daggers had been driven into his gut. He winced as he rubbed his stomach, wondering how long it would take to bruise-
Wait. The Kapre.
Puck forced himself to sit up, ignoring the dull pain in his back, and looked over his shoulder.
They had entered the human world from the top of a hill. A rather steep hill. It had acted like a Slip n' Slide, their momentum causing the pair to fly to the bottom. It seemed to be early morning here as well. Puck glanced up the hill, blinking when his eyes reached the top.
"Well, that worked out well."
"Wha?..." Tully groaned, a little ways away from him.
The trod was in ruins. It appeared as if it had been an archway on this side as well, only the Kapre hadn't been small enough to make it through. There was rocky debris everywhere, thrown from the archway and still running in small rocks and pebbles onto the grass. What was once an opening in the rock was now a massive pile of broken rock and jagged stone. It looked like a small avalanche had occurred. Puck watched as a small rivulet of pebbles rolled over his hand.
He heard Tully finally push herself up. He knew she had finally noticed what remained of the trod when he heard a quiet gasp.
"I guess someone was too fat to fit through the trod." He said.
He heard Tully splutter a laugh, then wheeze.
"Ow. Don't make me laugh."
Concern spiked through Puck. He shifted gingerly, a frown on his face. Tully was covered in bits of wet grass, a few red scratches decorating her cheek. He figured he looked the same. The redhead peeled a wet leaf from his knee as he crawled over to her, too tired to stand up.
"I'm fine. Just hit the ground pretty hard." She said with a breathless chuckle. Puck grinned slightly, flopping down next to her. After a moment, she did the same.
Though it was misty and wet on the ground, the sky peeking at them through the treetops was a brilliant blue. Puck sighed, red hair sticking to his face as the duo took a moment to rest. He could feel the water on the grass quickly soaking the back of his shirt. He was too tired to care. After all the things that had happened in the past few days, they needed this.
Tully shifted. He glanced at her as she sat up, pulling a twig out of her curly hair.
"That was fun." She sighed, wiping grass off her arm. Puck sat up, exhaling; surveying their surroundings. Tully peeled a weed off her lower leg, looking around them.
"Finally up, are we?" Grimalkin commented, perched up in a nearby tree. Puck sent a scowl his way. The cat chuckled, leaping down into the grass. "That was quite an impressive entry."
"That was some impressive running earlier." Tully commented, most of her attention on the items inside her bag. "I would have almost thought you were scared."
Grimalkin went silent. Puck chuckled gleefully.
"Snap." He said with another chuckle, finally getting to his feet. Tully was frowning at something inside her bag. After a moment she carefully got to her feet.
"Few of my jars cracked, but other than that I think I'm good." She swung her bag onto her shoulders, stretching her arms over her head. Puck scratched his neck, realizing there was a good clump of mud stuck to the back of his collar. Blue eyes closed for a moment as the other fey rubbed a hand over her ribcage. "Mind explaining why I was awoken to a freaking Kapre, of all things?" Tully asked. Puck glanced over his shoulder at the archway.
"It was being controlled by someone." Grimalkin cut in, sauntering over to them. He held himself haughtily, as if he was still trying to shake off Tully's earlier comment. "Kapre never attack unless the tree they reside in is in danger."
"And like always, it was us in danger." Puck sighed dramatically, rolling his neck. He exhaled with a particularly good crack. "But why control a Kapre? Why not something more… dangerous?"
"I don't think they want us dead." Tully commented quietly. She stepped away from their group, headed into the forest. Puck followed her after a moment, brushing dirt off his sleeve. "That could have been a warning, or-"
"Someone is tailing us." Grimalkin said, trotting to catch up to her. "Most likely, they will follow us until we have the mirror."
"And then try to take it from us." Tully finished with a frown.
"But that means someone thinks we can actually retrieve it." Puck said after a moment. "Hey! At least that means someone believes in us!"
Tully didn't even turn around. "You're an idiot."
They walked for a few hours. Despite Tully's assurances that the next trod was close, it still felt like days while traveling on sore limbs and bruised muscle.
It occurred to Puck that the route they were travelling on was actually man made when they passed a couple of joggers. Puck blinked at their sudden appearance, but the two women passed them without recognition; laughing at an unheard joke as their feet crunched on the leaves underneath them. Grimalkin and Tully continued on without a hint of a flinch.
It was strange to be back here, even though here was so far away from where he had spent 16 or so years of his life. He was always anxious around humans- it had stemmed from having to remember that a select few could see him. He vaguely remembered a class with Meghan where he had been sitting on the teacher's desk for most of the class. It had taken him a moment to realize why the room full of third graders were giggling behind their hands.
He found himself slightly anxious as they walked through a campsite, glad that Grimalkin and Tully were in front of him. The two humans sitting outside their tent didn't even look up as they walked by, stepping carefully over the remains of their fire. Puck could smell the coffee that sat in one man's hand, steam rising into the cool air.
No humans with special talent here. He was invisible, just like the two fey in front of him.
He didn't know if he liked being invisible.
He jolted, unaware that he had zoned out. Tully was looking over her shoulder at him, one eyebrow raised at him curiously.
Puck looked around them.
He hadn't noticed how far away they had strayed from the human campsites. As they began to move forward again, the trees began to bend in on themselves; losing their height as they curled over into a sort of tunnel. The two fey in front of him were looking as well- he thought Tully looked a little anxious, despite having been to the marketplace before. He whistled once, low and long. Tully ran a hand along the branches as they moved along, the limbs swaying softly at her touch. If he listened hard enough, he could hear the faint whistle of the wind as it blew through the tunnel, smelling of grass and spring.
"Here we are." Grimalkin said after a moment as they followed the curve of the tunnel. Ahead of them was a small blue oval that hung a few inches from the ground. It glowed with the silvery-blue glamour that every trod seemed to emulate. The tunnel continued behind it.
Puck caught up to his companions, smirking at the smile slowly growing on Tully's face.
"Ready?" He asked her, feeling a tingle of anticipation run down his spine. This was the first step to the mirror, after all, and also the first step to keeping his home. Tully turned to him with a smile, blue eyes flashing. For a second he saw the sky, bright and vivid through a court window. Then the fey turned away from him, stepping towards the floating blue oval in front of them.
"Let's go." She said, pulling up her cowl, than stepped through. One moment she was there, and the next she wasn't. Grimalkin followed right after her, disappearing in a small flash of blue. Puck took a deep breath and followed.
He was met with a howl of wind so fierce that it almost knocked him off his feet.
Puck spluttered, disoriented; yanking his hood over his head. It did little to help him- sand found its way between the seams, sticking to his skin and getting in his eyes. He winced, stumbling slightly as he got his footing in the shifting hills underneath his feet. The wind pushed at him again as he looked up, feet slipping around slightly.
There was sand as far as the eye could see. They were in a desert.
"Come on!" He heard over the screaming of the wind, and saw Tully waving one arm a little ways in front of him. He suddenly realized why she had pulled up her cowl. Grimalkin was tucked against her chest, not even trying to see where they were going. Then again, the only thing protecting him from the sand was Tully's shirt. The jester threw an arm up in front of his face, stumbling over to meet her through the shifting sand.
"Are you sure that was the right trod?" He yelled over the wind, stumbling slightly as he reached her. Tully moved her hand from her cowl for a moment, revealing the grin her arm had been hiding. She looked ecstatic for someone who had just walked into the middle of a sandstorm.
"Positive!" She exclaimed. Puck scoffed, wondering if she had lost a few brain cells from their earlier slip and fall. He couldn't even see the trod anymore, though he had been sure he only moved a few feet away from it. He watched her stumble for a moment as the sand shifted underneath her feet, her clothes billowing in the squall.
"Then where the hell is the market!" He shouted, both of them hunching against a violent gust of wind. She didn't respond for a moment, waiting for the wind to die slightly, and then pointed ahead of them. In the distance was a tiny red square. The wind roared for a moment, and the sand lessened just enough to reveal a bright red wall before the details were lost to the storm.
"Those are the gates! Head that way!" Tully exclaimed happily before moving off into the storm. Puck groaned, thinking longingly of home as he stumbled after her.
I'm so sorry for the long wait! I fell out of writing for a while, but I'm back now!
More to come!