The Well's Tale
Based on characters from Fablehaven© by Brandon Mull. The original characters and plot details are my property. No copyright infringement intended.
Luckily, when Leander opened his eyes he was still alive. He found himself flat on his back in a large bed, staring at the ceiling. From the sounds entering his room he realized he was probably on the second floor in a guestroom somewhere near Kendra's bedroom. He wanted to call out but found himself too weak to speak much less lift his head. He only had to wait a few minutes until his room filled with the smiling faces of his friends and a tray of food.
In his rushed attempt to save his friend Kendra from a demon and its poison, Leander had called on all of his previously unavailable power and sent it in one massive spell which burst against the demon. Fortunately, the magic killed it … well more like shattered it into confetti. The astonishing power he released burst the nine foot tall demon into thousands of tiny green flaming hailstones, scattering its remains over an acre of meadow. Since he also suffered from the demon's poison, his spontaneous reaction had drained not only his magical energy but also tapped into his life energy and weakened him to the point of death. Due to Bracken's quick intervention, he was alive.
Leander was happy to hear that Kendra was recovering quite rapidly from the demon's poison due to of Bracken's skillful use of his healing powers, strengthened by the potent aid of his unicorn horn. Leander's recovery on the other hand was much slower. Though Bracken quickly repaired the poison's damage, Leander's physical strength was much slower to return, due to his inexperienced and panic-driven use of unknown magic. His drained body wasn't rapidly responding to conventional or even their unconventional healing attempts. All that left was patience, he needed time to rest and restore. The quiet voice of his magic was silent and gone was the feeling of magical energy returning.
His appetite, on the other hand, hit him with a voracious intensity. Weak as he was he needed help eating but it seemed even if he ate all day, he couldn't eat enough. His stomach would grumble hungrily within a half an hour of eating a full meal. He was eating five times a day and he remained thin. Surprisingly, the swift return of his physical strength still evaded him.
While Leander was recovering, Seth wanted to find out who had sent the wraith and demon to attack Leander. Leander was only a tracker, as far as anyone else knew, so why would someone send a wraith to attack him and such a vicious demon to insure he was dead. Seth was convinced that the 'flavor' of the wraith, hovering above the little barn before the demon appeared, was the essence of the Blackwell in the Wyrmroost Preserve.
Seth's Shadow Master Skills allowed him to question the wraith, though certain questions the wraith was unable to answer. Seth's formidable skill and the obviously overriding control of its master condemned the wraith to annihilation rather than reveal his master's name. Seth flinched remembering the wraith's shriek during its last moments as it shredded itself into oblivion. Seth decided he needed to speak to the inhabitants of the Blackwell.
Without Celebrant's permission he would not be able to get access to Wyrmroost, the Keep or especially the well. The only way to convince Celebrant that Seth would not be in danger was to reveal that he was a Shadow Master.
Celebrant, of course, did not believe him even when Unleea tried to confirm it. She explained the events during the demon war that led to his promotion to his new title along with details of Seth's control. Celebrant remained unconvinced until Seth's single phone call brought the infamous Shadow Charmer formerly known as the Sphinx to a video conference.
The Shadow Charmer was now going by Bekele, his Ethiopian birth name, meaning 'he has become' or 'he has grown'. He was now an 'Ancient', one of the living protectors of the demon prison. The fact that Seth made one call and Bekele complied immediately without delay was without precedent. Bekele, when known as the Sphinx, was one extremely elusive guy. Previously days, even weeks, could go by without a reply from him.
The notion that Bekele wouldn't respond promptly never enter Seth's mind. Seth now knew that Bekele had realized what he had become as soon as he acquired his power. During negotiations that made it possible for the Sphinx to become one of the Ancients, Bekele had been quiet, even subdued. He attempted nothing that would have given Seth a reason to question him and possibly use his authority against him. He wanted to get far away from Seth before Seth himself became aware of his newly acquired abilities.
Talking first to Celebrant, Bekele tried to deny that he knew of Seth's status when he saw him just after the demon war. Seth moved within view of the webcam and Bekele's attitude changed abruptly, he retracted his previous statement. He became respectful and courteous, acknowledging Seth's status.
Celebrant could see the power that Seth had to compel Bekele to be truthful. Celebrant had lived long enough to remember past Shadow Masters. They had considerable power over all shadow beings but the very strongest or greater demons. The dark non-corporal beings trapped in the well, (by previous Shadow Masters) would, by definition, be no threat to Seth.
Seth didn't want to lord over Bekele as much as it might have appealed to him when he was younger and very angry at the man. Learning through Unleea a Shadow Masters fundamental power and the horrible things past Shadow Masters had done prevented him from being a jerk. Through hard won acts of bravery against evil, he'd gained the ability. He learned early that just because he was a shadow charmer didn't mean he was evil. The fact that Bekele, though reluctantly, acknowledged his legitimate power was enough for him since it had the desired outcome of convincing Celebrant.
Celebrant grudgingly left his mate in Fablehaven to take Seth to Wyrmroost. During the trip, Celebrant remained in human form. They discussed few things but on one subject, Celebrant was persistent. He desperately wanted to know who cast the spell at the little barn. When he had arrived on the scene, the scattered icy hailstones still sparked and burned with green fire across the meadow. He was in awe of the damage done to the demon.
Seth, feigning ignorance but still telling the truth, admitted he hadn't seen who was responsible. He did deny that it was Kendra, since he knew the demon had poisoned her before the spell flew past him.
Celebrant was unhappy that Seth would or could not tell him what he desperately wanted to know. He verbally speculated that it might have been Bracken, perhaps a combination of spells. He watched Seth's face attentively looking for any subtle reaction to his speculations but he was disappointed.
To Seth's relief, he seemed to accept that Leander could not have cast the spell for he didn't even ask about the tracker.
The helicopter landed in a small clearing in the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere. They got out and watched the helicopter take off again. Seth was watching it fade into the distance when a bright light flashed behind him. He knew Celebrant the Just, the huge platinum dragon was behind him. He heard the great beat of massive wings and a violent gust of wind almost flattened him. He closed his eyes against the dust filled air and felt Celebrant rise above him blocking the light from above.
He held his arms up over his head and a very large clawed foot gently grasped him from armpit to knee. A second later Seth was in the air flying toward something he could not look at. Where ever they were heading, he desperately wanted to avoid it.
"Turn around, this isn't where I need to go," he shouted uselessly. He struggled, pulling at the huge scaled digits wrapped around him but he was at the mercy of the huge dragon. He was certain they traveled in the wrong direction.
As soon as they crossed the sanctuary boundary, Seth's mind and sight cleared. He sighed with relief, seeing the huge mountains in the distance unshrouded by illusion and distraction. The forbidding presence of Blackwell Keep the huge dark stone structure was much closer.
At the deepest darkest center of the keep was the reason for the forbidding fortress, the black well. An insidious fear more powerful than dragon terror protected the oval room where a seemingly bottomless pit confined evil spirits for thousands of years. They could not get out on their own someone had to release them.
Whoever had called the wraith and sent it to the little barn was someone with power over it. To allow only one to escape from the well was a great feat. The list of whoever's was short. Seth wondered if there was another but unknown Shadow Master in the world. An ancient wizard might have the power. Agad said he could release the well's prisoners if he needed them in dire circumstances but controlling the hoard to release just one prisoner might be a bit tricky. The only other culprit would be a greater demon, something Seth didn't want to contemplate. Hopefully Zzyzx, the demon prison, had all of them locked away.
Seth had followed the fearful voices there once years ago and had known not to let them free no matter what they promised. Agad the wizard, Wyrmroost's Caretaker at the time found him near the edge of the well. He told Seth about the well and that the entities imprisoned there could not be trusted. Even though Seth was new at being a shadow charmer, he had already figured that out by the time Agad found him.
Seth wondered how Agad knew he could control them and if he had made them do anything in the past. He considered that maybe Agad had gotten more expertise and if he could control them other wizards might also have the ability. He didn't want to believe that the new leader of the sanctuary system could be the one who tried to kill Raxtus.
Seth felt the 'flavor' of their energy during that visit and was certain that the wraith floating above the little barn had come from there. Using all the power at his command, he meant to find out who had called the wraith and controlled the demon. He would find the answer – if those in the well knew it.
Celebrant's wings stirred the ground and dirt flew making Seth close his eyes again as the large dragon prepared to land. Celebrant settled Seth's feet on the ground first. He felt himself released from the firm cool grip as he heard the scrapping of the dragon's clawed feet touch down one at a time. Even with closed eyes, Seth saw the bright flash of light that signaled a change in the dragon's form.
"Home," the man sighed happily as he walked around Seth and led the way to the entrance of the keep. Seth knew he was not referring to the keep but to Wyrmroost and followed him into the forbidding structure.
They made their way to the great hall, Seth could hear whispers from the well but he also heard whispers from inside the keep. Other more benign spirits haunted the halls of this place other than the evil that dwelled in the well. He had noticed them when they were here earlier searching for conspirators but had kept his mind on their mission. Maybe he would find out about the other spirits. Maybe they knew something that the spirits in the well didn't. At least they wouldn't have the same agenda. He also noticed that their energy didn't have the same vibration or 'flavor' that the spirits from the well had. Now in the keep, he was absolutely sure that the wraith had come from the Black well.
Celebrant ignored all the frantic activity around his unexpected arrival and took Seth to a small room, closing the door behind them. It looked like an office from a nineteen forties movie set. Dimly lit by a small desk lamp, a large desk sat in the center of the room. On the desk, wire baskets actually held paper files, and several new ball point pens sat next to the large desktop calendar which had the current month showing. Tall, slightly rusty, beige file cabinets lined the wall. Seth laid his hand on the top of the desk and felt the tingle of passive magic.
Celebrant opened the top drawer and removed an old ornate key. The key was to the solid iron door to the chamber behind which the well was located. The door to the well had been open when he had visited the well those years ago, but now he needed the key. It was presently a spell-locked door and only this key would open it. Seth's considerable lock picking skills wouldn't work on the door lock.
Celebrant held the key in one hand and made a curious incomprehensible sound. Another identical key appeared in his other hand.
"This will open the door once to allow you entrance to the well room. You need no key to leave the room even if the door closes.
"Be very careful Seth. Even with the skills and power of a Shadow Master the spirits can be treacherous," Celebrant told him kindly. "I shouldn't have to remind you to stay well away from the chain."
"No, I am only going there to ask questions. I have much more confidence than I had before. They didn't trick me then they cannot trick me now," he said self-assuredly.
Seth pulled out two flashlights, no use going into the darkness unprepared. He had lost his flashlight down the well last time. Besides, he knew that the pervasive fear created by the well prevented almost everyone from getting too close. He expected to be quite alone once he entered the downward stairway.
Several minutes later Seth left the stairwell and walked toward the well room. The prisoners didn't know he could hear them all along. When he reached the turn in the last hallway, their beseeching moans and gibbering cries ramped up. He heard their most plaintive cry, 'the chain, the chain, send down the chain.'
"Quiet," he whispered and an unsettling silence fell. He could hear his heart pounding in his chest. Unlike the first time when it had pounded with a certain amount of fear of the unknown, his heart pounded with the expectation of discovery.
He walked in silence the rest of the way to the corroded iron door, remembering the cavern-like room with the gaping black hole in the center. Aiming the flashlight, he put the key in the lock. He cleared his mind to look at the lock, to see if he could figure how the spell worked. He saw nothing until the key turned, the mechanism was blocked or shielded from his ability. The lock was simple once the spell was gone. He could have easily opened it but the spell prevented him from seeing the lock's mechanism. Clever, he thought. He pushed the door open and as he removed the key from the lock, it degenerated into dust.
He walked over the threshold into the oval room leaving the door hanging open and the oppressive chill hit him. It didn't affect him mentally but he knew it was there. Still, the physical chill from the bottomless cavern was unsettling. Seth stood for a moment and gathered his thoughts. He needed information. He needed them to tell him what they knew. There were thousands of whispering voices in the well. He couldn't listen to them one at a time it would take forever.
Okay, it's better to listen to the cacophony. You need to listen for names, key words, anything out of the ordinary, he thought, both preparing and cautioning himself. They will say almost anything to get you to release them but you more or less know what to listen for. Probably nothing will come of this. But maybe one of them will be jealous enough of the one who escaped to say something, thinking it will get special treatment and be released also.
"I need the name of whom or whatever called the wraith from the well, also the name of one who controls the demon," Seth said calmly "Begin now…".
The whispers came fast and furious. He staggered back at the noise. He listened but heard mostly their begging for release, hunger, and the ever present cries for the chain. They whispered the names Celebrant, Agad, and Seth over and over again.
They knew him. They had remembered him. It made him hopeful that maybe they remembered another name too. But nothing unusual came from the well.
Seth stood shaking his head aware now that they probably knew nothing when he suddenly felt a piercing pain in his side. He reached for the pain and felt warm dampness and a blade sticking out of his ribs. He swiftly aimed his flashlight toward the door and saw a shadow fleeing down the hallway.
"Stop! Now!" he commanded the fleeing figure, gasping in pain. The whispers stopped coming from the well and the creature in the hallway fell to the ground.
Seth sent his mind to search the fallen creature and found the mind blank but he also recognized the tenuous link of a narcoblix. His command had followed the link and stopped the blix too.
With great effort, Seth clouded the blix's mind and severed the link on the blix's side but instead of letting the link go, he found that he held the link to the body of the creature lying on the floor.
This was something he had never done before but he was desperate. He needed help so for good or bad he had to experiment. He ordered the body to come to him… it did. It got off the floor and slowly walked toward him. Suddenly he could see through the eyes of the female wood nymph.
Through her eyes, he looked at his wound and found it superficial. The knife hadn't penetrated; it was wedged between two ribs and the bleeding gash was very painful. He had the wood nymph remove the knife and tear up its clothing to bandage his wound. He felt a little better with the pressure of the bandage around his ribs.
Abruptly, he wondered who else knew he was there. His mind swept over the many creatures who had fawned over Celebrant when they first arrived but Seth knew he had left in the shadows and no one would have seen him head for the entrance to the well. Still, he couldn't go back to Celebrant now. Though it was hard to believe, he or someone close to him set the ambush. Everyone knew of the dangers of the Black well. Whoever arranged this attack knew no one would suspect Celebrant of having anything to do with Seth's death or disappearance.
Seth needed to get home without Celebrant or his attackers knowledge. Fairies near the shine could get a message to Bracken.
"Take me to the Fairy Queen's shrine," he said to the wood nymph as he released some of her free will back to her. His view through her eyes vanished.
"I cannot go there," she said shakily, the fear emanating from the well almost overpowered her. He took a hold of her arm bolstering her resistance. She relaxed as the relief from fear allowed her to move normally.
"Then take me as close as you can get, as fast as you can," he ordered her.
"I release the order of silence to those in the Black well," he said and the whispers began again, this time there were new names and different whispers coming from the well.
The wood nymph picked him up. Her large limb-like hands cradled him awkwardly. She held his hips in one hand and grasped his shoulders with the other and pressed him against her narrow tree trunk-like body. Once she had him settled against her, she ran the length of the hallway away from the well, upward through different corridors than he knew. He heard the echo of the well door slam shut behind them. Rounding several bends in the hallway, they left the stone walls of the keep behind and were moving through natural caves.
Seth could still hear the cries from the well. As more voices joined the cacophony, Seth heard new names and a few interesting expressions before the gibbering voices began repeating earlier chants finally revolving back to their familiar wail for 'the chain'.
Seth smiled. He had his clues. He no longer suspected Celebrant but he also knew he couldn't head back to upper floors of the keep. It would be dangerous for him, especially in his condition. He doubted he could make it to the ground floor alive much less get back to Celebrant.
The wood nymph was tree-like but she had soft mahogany flesh over her dense muscles and gnarled bones. Her dainty limb-like hands and fingers made throwing a knife extremely difficult which was probably why he was not badly injured. As soon as they passed through a cave-like exit into the open air, he felt a chill evening breeze but her body warmth kept him comfortable.
She ran easily with him, she was stronger than her thin frame would have led him to believe. He looked up at her ageless face, mahogany skin complimented by darker mahogany hair and eyes. She was running unwaveringly, staring straight ahead watching the way.
Even at this pace, he knew the shrine was over an hour's run from the keep. Though it was difficult with the awkward way she was holding him, he tried to relax. Eventually he fell asleep for a few moments. He immediately awoke to the smell of breakfast but feeling the bouncing gate of the running wood nymph, he knew that it was impossible.
He opened his eyes and saw that a tree was now carrying him. He was upset with himself he had fallen asleep and now couldn't see her as she had been. He had no milk nor walrus butter to see the magic world. He still had the mental link with her though. One blessing in this mess, he thought as his side ached terribly.
He wondered where the smell was coming from when something splashed on his face. She had him pressed tightly between tiny knobs in her trunk and they were leaking sap. He smelled the sweet odor of something similar to maple sap. The amber fluid was dripping and as she ran it splattered against her trunk. Some of the fluid splashed on his face running down onto his lips. He tried not to taste it but even as he tried to spit, new splashes hit his open mouth.
"Seth, you are disgusting," he mumbled to himself as he tasted the liquid on his tongue, then he licked his lips savoring more of the sweet sap. It tasted really, really good and the pain in his side subsided. "I hope this doesn't poison me," he sighed.
"It won't hurt you and it might help you," she thought through the link.
A few minutes later, she came to a stop. "This is as far as I can go," she thought to him, her internal voice strong and proud in his mind.
Seth couldn't see the path to the shrine but knew that there should be fairies around even if he couldn't see them at the moment.
"Thank you," he said wearily, still licking the sweet sap from his lips. She was right it did make him feel less pain. "I hope you didn't like the blix because I damaged him," he admitted. He knew he could reassert his power over her mind in a blink if she reacted badly.
"No, I was his slave and did not want to be," she thought easily. The long run didn't seem to have worn her out in any way. Seth was relieved when she spoke truthfully.
He wiped some of the sap off his face and neck, licking it off his fingers. He used his shirttail to clean off his face. He winced at the ache in his side, but his overall pain was much less.
"You can set me down here," he decided. She carefully placed him on the ground. Sitting was too much for him at the moment. "Lay me flat please," he asked knowing he wouldn't be able to do it himself without opening his wound. She'd laid him flat on the ground. Looking up at the motionless nymph, without the benefit of the effects of Viola's milk; she looked exactly like a stunted moss covered tree. Using the blix's link, he had compelled her to use her simple dress to bind his wound so she didn't appear very humanlike. He wondered what his mind would have transformed the fabric into if it had still been on her. More moss?
"I wish I could free you from him but I can't. All I tell you is that it may be a long time before he recovers and can use his skills again. You may want to pay him a visit soon and ensure your own freedom," he said as way of payment for her assistance.
The brutal thought that flashed across her mind made Seth shudder.
"Thank you," she murmured. "If you ever need my help in Wyrmroost again don't hesitate to ask although I doubt," a wicked laugh sounded in her mind, "I will be at Blackwell Keep. I am S'charuma, just whisper my name to the trees and they will get the message to me."
He removed the link with her mind and she was free.
"Thank you, S'charuma. Safe journey," he said aloud. He wouldn't be able to hear her now if she replied.
The strange looking moss-covered leafless tree quivered then fluttered away as if wind tossed then disappeared into the night. His mind processed the sight with care into something it could cope with rather than what he actually saw. Seth was amazed what the human mind could do. Even though he actually knew what was happening, his mind kept him from seeing it.
Seth listened and heard only normal night sounds. He needed to get fairy help soon. He couldn't protect himself in his condition. If only he had his emergency kit, he had potions that would fix him right up and there was walrus butter in there too. He felt like such an idiot, it was sitting in the office next to the old desk.
"Hello? Hello? I'm a friend of Bracken … um and Kendra … and um Raxtus … Hello? Any fairies out there?" he called out softly, knowing fairies would hear him. He was also hoping that he was near enough to the Fairy Queen's shrine that predators would not be close enough to hear him.
Seth waited as the minutes ticked by listening carefully for any encouraging sounds. Again he called and listened. He didn't know how long he had waited when he felt the rush of air over him and a huge golden brown owl landed silently on the ground in front of him, having seen one before he recognized the large owl as an Astrid. The owl looked at him curiously, while cocking his head one way then the other. Its large golden brown eyes blinked and it softly hooted at him.
"Sorry, I fell asleep so I can't see who you are but I need to get a message to Bracken. He is waiting for my information. I was wounded and got here the only way I could," he said trying to sit up but the pain in his side was worse.
The Astrid nodded its head, put out one wing and made a long smooth stroke up the hillside toward the shrine then pointed at the sky with the tip of his wing.
Seth assumed that it meant he was going to carry him closer to the shrine. He returned the nod. "Yes, please," he replied.
The big golden owl lifted off the ground, hovered above him and picked him up. Seth couldn't see how he did it. He couldn't feel what held him but he knew that it was okay. He felt safe. The Astrid would not hurt him. He wondered if he knew this particular Astrid but he wouldn't know until he got some magic milk or walrus butter into his system.
Seth and the Astrid were about ten feet off the ground when the air suddenly erupted with hundreds of birds and countless large insects. They attacked the owl with a ferocity Seth had never seen before. The owl twirled in the air trying to avoid the attack and forgot its grasp on Seth.
Although a few birds left the attack and grabbed at his shirt and jeans in a futile attempt to keep him from plummeting to the earth Seth fell and hit the stony ground with his arm twisted under him. He heard bones snap and the sharp shock of pain ran up his arm and across his chest.
Watching the Astrid also fall from the sky covered with a blanket of camouflaged fairies, he knew he had been deceived. This was one of the three Astrids that had not returned to the Fairy Queen during the demon war, the Astrid belonged to the enemy.
Seth passed out as the great screaming mass of birds and bugs fell and landed atop his broken body.