Posted in serial, Seventh, writing

Seventh Part Seven

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

Crystal hesitated at the cave entrance. “Are you sure you want to go alone?” Coal asked and she looked over at him. 

“I can’t leave Jasper waiting,” she said and Mica snorted. 

“We’re a little more concerned with you getting trapped,” he added. 

She smiled. “I’ll be back by sunrise.” 

The lantern didn’t illuminate nearly enough of the shadows. Even with the wick fully raised, darkness filled the cavern. Crystal continued downward, not daring to call out and knowing at least one of the blood fae had to be lurking.

It was at the same point where she’d tripped for the first time that she paused finally, looking about. 

“Others have come here, you know.” 

Lucinda’s voice came out of the shadows and Crystal turned, trying to locate where Lucinda would be. In the empty blackness with the noise bouncing around, it was impossible to pinpoint anything. 

“They usually get lost though,” Lucinda said, and a soft rustle made Crystal spin as Lucinda appeared at last. Her lips were darker today, as if freshly painted. “Caves like this are a labyrinth, and you still dare to walk them without asking for aid.” 

Crystal couldn’t be sure if it was a threat or not. “I don’t have much to offer you for your aid,” Crystal said and Lucinda smiled a little as she came closer.

“And yet you come still. You will soon make this your home, your offerings will diminish.” 

“Until they do, I will not ask for more than I can offer.” 

Lucinda hummed. “Did the fairy who blessed you give you such advice?” 

“I’ve gotten no advice from any fairy.” 

“Clever then,” Lucinda said and smiled. A faint motion and the sand in the cave pushed back, revealing the sleeping form of her brother. Jasper’s head rested on one side and Crystal felt her heart catch at how still he lay. She’d never in her life known him not to snore. “You have the Fallen Sky?” 

“Yes,” Crystal said and withdrew it from her bag. She held it out to Lucinda. “One piece of the Fallen Sky for the release of my brother.” 

“And he has been released,” Lucinda said and plucked it from Crystal’s palm. “This is beautiful,” she said and held it up, smiling a little. “Truly a perfect piece.” 

Crystal said nothing but inhaled deeply. The softest sigh escaped Lucinda’s lips and she motioned to Jasper, lying on the sand. “Your brother is yours. Next I will require a harpy’s branch.” 

“A harpy’s branch,” Crystal repeated. Already her thoughts were turning it over.

“Yes. At least as long as you are tall,” Lucinda said and smiled a little. “In exchange I will release your next brother. Are we agreed?” 

“Agreed.” That single word chased out all other echoes and Lucinda smiled, openly displaying her fangs.

The lantern flickered for just a moment and Lucinda was gone in that faint shadow, leaving Jasper lying on the floor next to Crystal.

Crystal inhaled slowly and then bent, hauling Jasper up. She just had to get him to the entrance. 

The entire time she hauled him through the cave, letting the faint light of her lantern lead illuminate the rocks around them, she tried to think of how she might be able to get the harpy’s branch. There were only a few places to look, each one posing its own perils. 

Jasper’s weight pulled on her. He was half a foot taller than she was, and where she hunted up herbs and dried plants most of the day, he worked the soil and wrestled sheep for shearing. The difference in their physiques made dragging him through the cave an exhausting task. 

A few steps from the entrance her legs shook and threatened to give out. The shift of starlight told her someone had come to the entrance. “I see them,” Mica said. 

Crystal pushed forward, her legs aching and burning. As soon as she was close enough, Mica pulled Jasper from her arms and Coal caught her in a hug. Mica lay Jasper down, tapping at his forehead and shaking his shoulders. Jasper slept on, oblivious to his brother’s attempts to wake him. 

“He won’t wake until the sunlight touches his face,” Crystal said. Weariness seeped into her voice, rendering it raspy. 

“That’s not for hours,” Coal said.

“Crystal, you’re the smallest, you’ll have to sit on the horse with him and keep him on until we can get him down to home again,” Mica said and Crystal nodded as she rubbed at the shoulder she’d had Jasper leaning against. 

Home, she decided. Home and then in the morning she would need to hunt up a harpy’s branch. Home to where Juniper would be. 

Her thoughts wandered over what she knew of blood fae, and then to what she knew of harpies. She was only vaguely aware of how much work it was taking to keep her slumbering brother on the horse. 

“Let me take him,” Mica said and Crystal jerked, nearly losing her grip on Jasper. She realized she’d spent the entire time lost in thought as the cottage door opened, letting her see Juniper in her nightgown. 

“What’s happened?” Juniper asked.

“We’ve got him,” Mica promised as Juniper hurried down. With a grunt, Mica and Coal both managed to slide Jasper off the saddle. His one foot smacked Crystal’s thigh, but she only sort of winced while the horse snorted under her. 

She patted the horse’s neck before she slid down and turned, wanting to explain it to Juniper.

She couldn’t. The words failed her and Juniper’s worried face broke the last of Crystal’s resolve. She knew Juniper had recognized it too because she tossed her arms around Crystal, letting Crystal bury her face against one shoulder, trying to breathe around the tears. 

“Crystal?” Coal’s voice sounded panicked. She felt Juniper motion her brothers off.

“Let’s get him inside and then we’ll get the horse,” Mica advised. 

“Thank you,” Juniper said. Crystal didn’t bother looking up, still trying not to let her tears fall. 

The door closed for a moment, and then opened again. The horse snorted as it was led off and Crystal sniffed. “Sorry,” she managed.

“There’s no need for you to apologize,” Juniper said gently and pulled back a little to lift Crystal’s chin. “You’ve slept so little and badly, not to mention I know dealing with fairies can be stressful anyways, never mind when you’re bargaining with others’ lives.” 

Crystal hiccupped and Juniper smiled. “I—I have to get—”

“Some tea, and at least half a night’s decent sleep before you get anything else,” Juniper said firmly and looped her arm around Crystal’s waist. “I’ll get the kettle on, you can just sit at the table a bit. Maybe a bite or two will help.” 

Crystal wasn’t sure she’d put much support in that theory, but then as Juniper led her up the stairs and then to the kitchen table, being home again made it a little easier to stave off the tears.

Listening while Juniper puttered about their kitchen and made a cup of tea and buttered a biscuit from supper, Crystal’s breathing quavered and she dropped her head, looking at the woodgrain of the table in front of her. 

A plate clinked as it was set in front of her and she jerked her head up to look at Juniper. “What was I thinking?” 

“That you love your brothers,” Juniper said and settled to the seat next to her. “It’s alright to be scared.” 

“I can’t—I can’t do this,” Crystal said. “The apple wasn’t hard, but the glass could have drowned me and the if the groundskeeper had caught Mica or I—”

“He makes a lot of threats, but he’s harmless,” Juniper said. “And I know you well enough to know you’ve probably already got a basket planned for that old grump.” 

“She wants a harpies branch as long as I am tall.” 

Juniper stayed silent a moment before she inhaled. “There’s a few places they roost and it’s summer now.” 

“That doesn’t mean they’ll all be gone.” 

“No, but there will be less of them.” 

The door creaked open and Juniper looked over as Mica poked his head in. “We’re—”

“Going to come in and stop leaving my door hanging open is what the two of you are going to do,” Juniper said. Crystal smiled as she looked down at her tea while she considered her options. 

“I’ll need to leave early tomorrow,” she said.

“For what?” Coal asked and Crystal lifted her head again.

“The nearest harpy roost is at least a day’s ride away,” she said. “Do you mind if I borrow the cart?” 

“Yes, I mind,” Mica said. “At least I do if you think you’re going after something in a harpy’s roost without my help.” 

Our help,” Coal corrected. “Can you wait until Jasper’s awake? Or at least half-awake. He’ll take an hour in the morning to get anywhere near functional.” 

“I don’t want you to risk yourselves.” 

“And we’re not risking you,” Coal said firmly. “What do we do first?” 

“I think the first thing we need to do is get some hot tea in Crystal. You two need to get in the trunk at the end of the hall and find some blankets for yourselves. You want an early start, so you can just spend the night here,” Juniper said firmly and made a little shooing motion. 

Looking a little bit like shamed children, both her brothers sauntered off towards the hall. Crystal looked at her tea. 

“I don’t know how this is going to help.” 

“It’s going to help you sleep. You’re tired and stressed. You need some rest or you’ll make a mistake,” Juniper said. “And fae like that will capitalize on anything they can.” 

“Even if I don’t make a mistake—”

“You’re also exhausted and that’s making it harder for you to think,” Juniper said and tipped Crystal’s chin up. “A cup of tea, a little bit to eat and some rest will help.” 

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” Crystal said.

“It would help if you’d listen to me,” Juniper said and Crystal managed a smile.

“I’m whining, aren’t I?” 

“A touch,” Juniper agreed. “We’re not finished yet, thank you.” 

Crystal smiled a little and pulled the tea closer. “I can’t do more tonight anyways, I suppose.” 

“You can’t,” Juniper said. “Let me make up the bed while you at least sip that.” 

“I promise. The fattest, sweetest blackberries I can find.” 

“I believe that,” Juniper said and smoothed a stray lock of hair back behind Crystal’s ear. “Believe me when I tell you there’s always a solution.” 

“I hope you can come up with one because I don’t have one.” 

“Three for three isn’t bad,” Juniper replied. “Now get some tea in you. You’re terribly grumpy when you’re exhausted like this.” 

That earned a soft chuckle and Crystal finally picked up the cup. She inhaled the steam before she took a sip and smiled. “Lavender and chamomile,” she said.

“You keep telling me those two are the best for calming,” Juniper said loftily as she stood. “I suppose we’ll see how good they are.” 

Posted in serial, Seventh, Stories

Seventh Part Six

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

“Juni,” Crystal pleaded as they walked. “I’m sorry.” 

“Sorry? Sorry! Crystal, you’re going to get yourself killed. That pool is deep and made of snow melt.” Juniper spun around, the loose ribbon in her hair threatening to slip the rest of the way out. 

“I don’t have to swim in it,” Crystal said. “I just have to be able to get the glass out.” 

“Correction,” Juniper said and put a finger to Crystal’s chest. “You have to get a piece of glass the appropriate size out. What were you thinking agreeing to that?” 

“That I need it for my brother,” Crystal replied. 

For a moment Juniper said nothing before she exhaled, her anger melting away. “What am I going to do with you?” 

“Hopefully answer a question for me.” 

“I’ll try, but I promise nothing else,” Juniper said and crossed her arms. “I’m very put out with you.” 

“I know, and I’ll make it up to you,” Crystal said and smiled. “I know where to find those blackberries you like so much.” 

Juniper let off a gruff little snort as she tipped her chin. “What’s your question?” 

“The son of the blood fae queen, he carried Coal to the entrance in exchange for a lock of my hair.” 

“Crystal!” 

“I know,” Crystal said. “You’ve said it a hundred times. Blood and hair are the two most powerful things to offer. But, he called it an even exchange and was determined to carry Coal all the way to the very entrance as part of that even exchange. I don’t understand why.” 

Juniper considered it for a long moment. “Well,” she said. “I don’t know everything about them, but all fairies are bound by certain rules. An even exchange means once both ends have been met, no further offers can be made on that. If he did however, and he is a blood fae as you say, the sunlight would have weakened him.” 

“I absolved him of all debts when I realized that,” Crystal said. 

“Smart,” Juniper said. “But I can’t say for certain. I don’t exactly have anyone I can ask for more details.” 

“It’s alright,” Crystal said and slid her hand into Juniper’s. “It was just something curious for me.” 

Juniper chuckled a little and tugged Crystal closer as they walked a little farther up the path and then around an outcropping to gaze at last at the pool. 

A bowl of white quartz formed the majority of the pool’s basin. A little higher up and she could see where the stones had worn smooth by the spring cascades. Now in the heat of the summer, the cascade had devolved into a melodic trickle. 

“And the glass is in the bottom?” 

“It should be,” Juniper said as she pulled the walking stick she’d brought with her out of the loop on her back. She hadn’t used it once, and yet as Crystal watched, Juniper went to the edge, holding it out as far as she could and dipping it down. As it went deeper, Juniper had to lean forward a little. 

“There’s the bottom,” she said as she withdrew it. All but a half-foot portion had been submerged. “It gets deeper.” 

The glass would be all the way at the bottom. Too deep to dive. 

Crystal approached, looking down into the pool. The water wasn’t murky, but the backing of the quartz made it hard to see passed the glittering reflection of the sun. “Alright,” she said. “Too deep to swim in. We’ll need a raft.” 

“Where are you going to find the things to build a raft with?” Juniper asked and Crystal smirked as she looked at her before she moved, clambering up and over the rocks to find what she needed.

A sigh escaped Juniper as Crystal began finding long sticks and the like. “I should know better to ask by now,” Juniper noted as she spread out the blanket Crystal had insisted on bringing with them out. 

While Crystal found the sticks she needed, Juniper worked carefully, using a roll of twine from her bag and a spare ribbon or two to make the raft. 

It was only big enough for one person and Juniper looked at it, a little concerned while Crystal lashed several longer sticks together and secured a bag to the one end of her new staff. “Are you certain about this?” Juniper asked.

“I’m always certain of your handiwork,” Crystal answered. “It’ll take me a bit to get there and back, but I can do it.” 

Crystal grinned and slid out of her shoes and left her bag behind. As an afterthought, she tugged out of her shirt. “Just in case,” she said.

Juniper harrumphed but offered nothing else as Crystal eased the raft onto the water. Once it was halfway into the water, she slid onto it, letting her weight and movement push it the rest of the way into the water. A glance back let her see that Juniper had taken to nibbling on her lower lip, a sign of her stress. 

All the same as she carefully lowered the sack into the water and used it to push herself along, the raft continued floating. As always Juniper’s work remained steady. The only concern Crystal had was tipping herself over into the chilled water. 

Peering over the edge Crystal could see some of the glass shards. The water grew into a clouded blue as she pushed herself along. The silt she raised with her movements obscured the bottom.

Most of the glass was out in the middle of the pool, but Crystal knew she wouldn’t be able to get that far. Though the raft was holding up, it wasn’t intended for a long trip and the more she moved, the more she felt it tip and shift. 

Some of the water touched her toes and she froze on instinct before she looked behind her. She needed to get back. She had plenty of pieces in her sack now, she hoped. One of them would suffice. 

Turning herself required a larger movement and water sloshed over the side, dampening her pants. She took a slow breath in as she pushed on the makeshift paddle. As the raft turned, the ripples of water spread out and away from her, crashing into the remnants of other ripples and movements. 

Inching her way back towards shore she could see Juniper on the bank, body tense and expression horrified. 

As soon as she was close enough, she reached out. Juniper caught her fingers and pulled, helping bring both raft and Crystal back to the shore. Crystal hauled herself up, one hand clenched around the staff. The bag came out, dripping and heavy. 

“Absolutely insane,” Juniper said and tossed her arms around Crystal. Laughing, Crystal returned the hug, holding Juniper close for a moment and relishing in the smell of faint lavender from her clothes. 

Letting go, Crystal smiled and reached up to tip Juniper’s chin a little. “You split your lip.” 

That got a wry smile. “I was worried. I wasn’t sure it would hold up.” 

“As always, I have your work to thank.” 

“My work would have done nothing without your usual resourcefulness,” Juniper said and moved, carefully up plucking stones out of the bag. Some she turned and threw back into the pool.  Wavelets moved across the water as she tossed the rocks back. Others she set aside, giving Crystal a chance to look at the so-called glass in the light of day. 

It wasn’t quite opaque, and tinged blue. She picked one up, feeling the water polished surface. 

“It’s quartz,” Crystal said. 

Juniper nodded as she finished sorting the rocks. “Supposedly a grand castle stood here once. It fell to ruins.” 

“And it was made of quartz?” 

Juniper shrugged. “I don’t know what happened. I can only tell you there was supposed to be a castle, and that the princess had been blessed.” 

There was a pause while Crystal pulled her shoes back on. Juniper turned, skipping a shard across the water. It sank somewhere in the middle.

“What was she blessed with?” 

Juniper had to think a moment. “If I remember, she was blessed with beauty. It’s said she was supposed to have been accidentally put under an enchanted sleep, only to be woken by a true prince.” 

“Did she ever wake up?” 

“You know how those stories go,” Juniper said. “There’s dozens of versions of them. If she never woke up, no one knows where she sleeps today to try and wake her.” 

  Crystal was silent a moment. “The fairies,” she said. “They say their blessings are always a warning.” 

“They are,” Juniper said and looked up. “I can tell you that firsthand. A blessing of resourcefulness only means you’ll face challenges that need a lot of wit. A blessing of fortune only means you’ll have both good and bad luck. Blessings of beauty attract people of greed.” She paused, reaching up to touch the locket around her neck. Crystal knew there would be a broken ring inside. “Are you alright?” Crystal asked.

“I’m fine,” Juniper replied and smiled. “These should be all the right size.” 

“It has to be at least as long as my palm,” Crystal murmured. 

“Take your pick then,” Juniper invited. 

Carefully, Crystal held her hand over the two longest. She dismissed both. It only had to be at least as long as her palm. The less she gave Lucinda, the better. The items were obscure, and Crystal wasn’t sure putting them together would do anything good. 

Then again, blood fae weren’t known to be ‘good’ fairies. 

“This one,” she decided at last and Juniper nodded as Crystal took it, tucking it carefully in the pocket of her bag.

“Then the only thing left is to put these all back,” Juniper said and Crystal laughed. “Never take more than you need.”

“I know,” Crystal said and picked up another one. “But you know I’m terrible at skipping rocks.”  

Posted in serial, Seventh, Stories

Seventh: Part Five

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four |

No one visited the old graveyard after sundown for a reason. The dead remained silent, but the groundskeeper didn’t like visitors and only tolerated mourners because it meant there were fresh bodies in the ground. 

The groundskeeper’s hut was off to the side of the front gate. Immediately through the gate there stood a bell, only rung when someone was interred. The rest of the fenced-in six-acre plot held only grave markers and flowers for the departed.  

There were four trees, one in each corner of the graveyard. Ropes hung from the branches, though none of them had been used in years. 

Even with that however, Crystal knew hanging trees had a particularly nasty power to them. 

Mica crouched next to her. “If he hears you, he’ll come running.” 

“I’m counting on it,” Crystal said and bent, plucking a stick from the ground. “You’ll want to throw rocks if you can find them. Aim for the ground between the graves, you’re less likely to disturb anything else.” 

“You want me to what?” Mica looked up at her and Crystal turned her head slightly to look at him.

“I want you to make noise and attract his attention for me,” Crystal replied. “I need to collect that dew and I can’t do that and run from him.” 

“You don’t have a better idea?” Mica demanded as he took the stick.

“Dew only lasts for a few hours,” Crystal said. “And dawn isn’t far off.” 

A strangled noise escaped his throat and he exhaled. “This is only because I love you,” he said.

“I’m sure. Go that direction.” 

He grumped a little more, the half-audible words sounding suspiciously like he thought she was bossing him about, but did as he was told. With the stick in one hand, Crystal saw him bend and stoop a few times, picking up other implements. 

She knew when he’d thrown the first stone, if only because it clanged against the bell. Almost immediately, a door slammed open. 

“Who’s out there?” 

The bell clanged again and in the fading light of the stars, Crystal could just make out the broad shoulders of the groundskeeper. A glint of dirty metal told her he’d picked up a shovel.

The stone must have missed because it thunked against something this time, instead of ringing the bell. 

“I’ll hang you!” 

The groundskeeper sprinted in the direction the stone had come from and Crystal scurried down. There was only a short, wrought-iron fence and she pulled herself over the intricate curves easily, dropping down to the other side easily.

Already, the tree’s lowest leaves were covered in dew and she took care, tipping them into her vial and letting the drops fall in. From the other side of the garden she could hear the groundskeeper screaming obscenities. 

She almost felt sorry for the poor man. No one else dared live too close to a place where dead and their spirits rested. It was an undeserved torment.

One to correct at a later date, she decided. She knew what kind of potions he could use. A few would do well for him.

With the vial three-quarters full, Crystal slid a waxed cork in it and climbed back over the gate. She needed to get to Mica and get him out of here.

She went around the front, tucking the vial into the pocket in her bag and hurrying as she went. 

Mica was already running the other direction, hurrying to get around and passed the groundskeeper. Crystal grabbed his hand and he yelped.

“I hear you!” The bellow indicated the groundskeeper’s approach and Crystal yanked on her brother, hurrying him along with silent tugs as they ran back towards where she’d left Juniper’s horse. 

By the time they reached the horse, they were both panting and Mica glowered at her. “You’re going to get us killed.” 

“If we die, so do our brothers,” Crystal replied. “Now, take the horse back to Juniper.” 

“You’re not coming with me?” 

“I need to get this back to Lucinda and get Coal free,” she said.

Mica considered it. “At least let us get you to the road,” he said. “Juniper will have a fit if I don’t at least make sure you’re alright for that far.” 

He was right and Crystal nodded. “Alright,” she said. 

Mica mounted first, and Crystal swung on behind him. She was tired, she realized as she pressed against her brother’s back, one hand holding to his belt to keep from falling off. It would have been too easy to close her eyes and sleep. 

She knew she dozed a little because Mica had to jostle her to get her to stir again. “Here,” he said and she nodded before she swung down. “I should come with you.” 

“Your price has already been paid,” Crystal said. “Don’t tempt them to seek a second one.” 

He scowled at her, but nodded. Fae were not meant to be trifled with.

Crystal lit the lantern and hooked it to her belt before she stepped in the cave. The path forward was no easier, but at least with a little lamp light coming in, she had the chance to look about. It seemed no different than any other cave she’d stepped into. 

That didn’t give her much in the way of reassurance, not knowing there were blood fae somewhere in here. 

Slowly, the light vanished until the only thing illuminating the space around her was the dim light of her lantern.

She needed to raise the wick, she realized, and paused for a moment, turning the wick up before she looked back up.

The sight of Blake’s face made her jump and he smirked. “Hello again,” he said.

“Hello,” she said. 

“This way,” he said simply and turned, leading her.

This time he turned at some point, leading her down a narrower tunnel. Crystal could reach out and touch each side, but it let out to Lucinda’s throne room faster, and Blake brought her between the columns. She still had to pass her five brothers to reach the fae queen.

Lucinda smiled. “One vial of hangman’s dew,” she said. “For the release of one brother.” 

Silently, Crystal withdrew the vial and held it up. Lucinda smiled, and stood from her throne. 

She was face-to-face with Crystal before she clicked her fingers. The soft thump of a body falling told Crystal one of her brothers had fallen and she tensed, wanting to go to him, even as Lucinda held out an expectant hand. 

Carefully, Crystal placed the vial in Lucinda’s hand. Lucinda smiled at that.

“One item, one brother. Are you prepared for your next task, bride?” 

“I am no bride,” Crystal answered. “But I am prepared.” 

Lucinda smiled. “In the mountains, a little west of here, you will find a pool which perfectly reflects both the sun and the moon. And at the bottom of that pool, you will find a piece of glass the color of the noon sky. Bring me a piece of fallen sky at least as long as your hand and I will release the next brother.” 

Crystal wanted to disagree, to argue, but she only nodded once. “One piece of fallen sky for the release of my next brother.” 

“Then we are agreed.” Lucinda inclined her head and stepped back, using one hand to motion at Crystal’s brother.

Coal, rather ironically, was one of her shorter brothers. And yet, as she checked his pulse and found it strong and steady, Blake was still there. 

“I can offer my aid,” he said. 

She hesitated. She could get Coal out, but she didn’t know the way. “I have little to offer,” she said. 

“Are you willing to offer a lock of hair?” 

Dangerous, and she knew it. Not doing so might leave her struggling to get Coal out and find the way to the entry. 

“One lock for your aid to the entry,” Crystal said and Blake smiled, reaching out and touching the single curl that grew right below her ear. 

Crystal’s knife was sharp as she slid it out, reaching up and twisting the lock for a moment before she sliced through it. Blake smiled a little as he took the hair.

“An even exchange,” he said, and the lock vanished from his fingers before he bent and picked Coal up.

She wasn’t sure she liked the way he said that, but she’d have to ask Juniper. A lock of hair was a pricey thing to give. 

As they approached the entrance, she remembered then it was daylight. Blake hadn’t been able to go all the way to it the last time. Ahead she saw a little light, indicating where she needed to go.

“I can get him from here.” 

“We have an even exchange. This is not the entrance,” Blake said and Crystal reached out, putting a hand to Coal’s shoulder.

“I absolve you of any debt you owe me,” Crystal said gently.

He looked at her and she tipped her chin up. “Agreed,” he said, and let her take Coal, much the same way she’d helped Mica out. 

The sunlight was stronger this time and Coal stirred faster. Even a few feet from the entrance, his face lifted. “Crystal?” he murmured.

“Yes, it’s me,” she said as she kept pushing them forward. “I’m going to get you home.” 

“Where’s everyone else?” 

“Mica is home, and now so are you,” she said. 

At least he wasn’t arguing with her, though he managed to stand up. “I thought I was dreaming,” he said. “Something about apples and hangman’s dew.” 

“Not quite a dream,” Crystal said. “Let’s get you home, I need to speak with Juniper.” 

“Home,” he agreed. “And then I want the whole accounting.” 

Posted in serial, Seventh, Stories

Seventh: Part Four

Part One | Part Two| Part Three|

Once more at the start of the cave and Crystal had to inhale as she attached her lantern. This time she kept it on her hip. Even if she tripped again, she wouldn’t lose the lantern unless it broke.

This time she hoped she would be able to avoid falling on anything, though she wasn’t entirely certain of the path after a point. 

Silence permeated the cave as she entered. Crystal turned her head slightly back and forth, uncertain of what to expect. There appeared no one—not even someone to guide her.

At last she reached the area where her light only illuminated the slow forming stone columns around her and she had to inhale, looking around. She was half certain that they would have continued straight from here, but she couldn’t be certain. 

Asking for aid here would have too high a price. That much she was confident in. 

A soft sound made her turn. “I hear you,” she called out. 

It wasn’t Lucinda this time, but Blake. His expression seemed almost half-asleep as he tilted his head at her.

“You return,” he said.

“One item, one brother. That is the agreement,” Crystal said and he spread his hands before he moved ahead slightly.

“That is the agreement you have with my mother. You and I have arrived at no agreements.” 

He continued ahead, though he paused and glanced back at her, almost as if curious what she would do. She hesitated a moment before she followed him. He could easily lead her astray down here, leaving both her and her brothers to suffer. 

And yet, he didn’t, going instead through rooms she half recognized. The phosphorescent rocks showed her a little more of the path, and she remembered Lucinda’s words not to step on the light. Through the cave with metallic walls and then at last into the cavern containing Lucinda’s throne. 

The blood fae herself smiled a little as Crystal approached. “Thank you, Blake.” 

“It was my pleasure, Mother.” 

Lucinda smiled. “Crystal,” she greeted.

“Lucinda.” 

“I trust the task wasn’t too difficult?” 

“It posed little difficulty,” she replied. “I have the apple.” 

“Then I will release your brother,” Lucinda said.

“I will not allow you to hold the apple until my brother is released,” Crystal said.

Lucinda was silent a moment before she sighed and made a faint motion.

Mica simply dropped to the floor. The force of his body falling onto the flooring made a distinct thump that bounced off the stone walls. Crystal gasped and darted to him. She slid to her knees. 

“One brother, one item,” Lucinda said before Crystal could touch him. She looked up into the face of the blood fae. Lucinda’s movements hadn’t made a sound, but she stood there, one brow quirked up and a hand out. 

 Reluctant, Crystal rose again to slide the apple from the protective pouch she’d carried it in. She set it carefully in Lucinda’s palm, watching as a smile replaced the expectant countenance.

The feel of Lucinda’s nails brushing over her skin made her shiver and Lucinda cooed. Crystal pulled back and dropped to her knees again, examining Mica. 

He was breathing and his pulse beat steady under her fingers. He was usually a light sleeper and she shook him. “Mica. Mica. Wake up.” 

“He’ll wake once the sunlight touches his face,” Lucinda said calmly. 

Crystal turned to glower at Lucinda, one hand clenched around Mica’s tunic. She wanted to swear but didn’t dare risk Lucinda’s temper. Lucinda however, only smirked. Whether it was amusement or malevolence, her dark eyes glowed in the amber light of the lantern. 

“You’ve succeeded in the first task. One of your brothers has been released. Are you ready for the second?” 

A slow breath in helped steady her irritation even as it hissed between her teeth. “I am,” she said.

“You are to retrieve a vial of hangman’s dew. Once you bring it to me, I will release your next brother.” 

“Hangman’s dew,” Crystal murmured.

“Yes,” Lucinda said. “One vial, one brother.” 

One apple, one vial. Crystal nodded.

“One vial of hangman’s dew for the release of one brother.” 

Lucinda beamed while Crystal struggled to get Mica’s weight off the floor.

Blake was there in an instant. “It would be easier for me to carry him. If you have some offering to make, I am willing to exchange my aid,” he said and Crystal couldn’t quite keep her expression calm and even as she looked at him.

It was but the price concerned her.  “All I offer are trinkets.” 

He smiled and reached out, touching the ribbon she’d wound through her hair. “Acceptable. This perhaps?” 

“The ribbon isn’t mine to give,” she said. “I have three buttons and a penny if you wish.” 

He smiled again. “Three buttons and a penny,” he said. “And I will carry your brother to the entrance of the cave.” 

She didn’t like it in the slightest, but she nodded and slid all three buttons out of the coin pouch on her belt, along with the penny. As soon as Blake took them, he smiled again and bent, lifting Mica easily. 

She let Blake lead the way, back out to the entrance. As they approached however, Blake flinched a little. “The sun is up,” he said. 

“I can manage him from here,” Crystal said, and looped one arm around Mica’s waist as Blake set his feet down. 

As soon as Crystal had gotten a few steps away from Blake, he stepped back into the shadows and Crystal had to inhale a little as she hauled her brother forward. Mica was almost ten years older than her, and he’d spent his life building frames and plowing fields. His bulk weighed on her as she hauled him forward. 

Slowly, as she pulled him farther into the light and out of the shadows, he stirred. Even while she panted, he shifted, the little movements of his feet forcing her to put him down in the swath of sun illuminating the cave. 

She knelt over him, one hand on his shoulder. “Mica?” 

“Crystal?” he murmured. “Crystal!” 

“Relax,” she said and stood up, holding a hand towards him. “You’re safe now.” 

Mica looked around. “This…was I dreaming?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “Lucinda wanted something in exchange for your freedom.” 

Mica’s face paled. “She came to the farm, asked after your blessing.”

“I already know,” Crystal said. “She needs some items collected. One item, one brother freed. That’s the deal.” 

“That’s it? She couldn’t ask us?” 

“An apple from the restless tree and a vial of hangman’s dew,” Crystal said quietly. “I don’t know if it’s the items themselves she needs, or the latent magic in them. You can’t carry the magic. I can.” 

Mica studied her before he got to his feet. “I feel like I’ve been asleep,” he said.

“You have been. I’ll take you to Juniper and then I need to go.” 

“Who else do you have to rescue?” Mica asked and Crystal bowed her head. “I’m either the first or the last.” 

“The first. You’re the oldest, “she said. 

“Then the next one will be Coal. What does she want in exchange for him?” 

“A vial of hangman’s dew.” 

“Where are you going to get that?” 

“If I get there by morning, I’ll have a selection of four trees,” Crystal said. 

“Then I’m coming with you.” 

“You should be going home, or at least talking to Juniper,” Crystal said. 

“That’s not an option,” Mica replied and put a hand to her shoulder. “They’re my siblings too.” 

Crystal was silent a moment. “Fine,” she said. “But follow my instructions.” 


Seventh is a serial story updated every Friday. You can check out my books or short stories, or you can follow the blog for future updates!

Posted in serial, Seventh, Stories

Seventh: Part Three

Part One | Part Two

“You can’t be serious.” 

Juniper spun from where she’d been digging in her cabinet for whatever it was she needed. As always her workspace had half a dozen odd implements—ribbons, twigs from giving branches, a few leaves soaking in cold water. 

“I am,” Crystal said. “That was the agreement.” 

“You’re a bigger fool than I thought,” Juniper said. “How are you going to get an apple from that tree?” 

“I have an idea,” Crystal said. “But please, Juniper. Do you have a charm for good luck or not?” 

For a moment she thought Juniper might protest again. Most others described her as timid and quiet. Part of that came from the wide, doe-like eyes the fact she didn’t tend to ask many questions. 

Crystal knew her better than that. She’d learned that the pout on Juniper’s lips wasn’t one of fear, but of annoyance. Juniper didn’t ask questions as a general rule. 

Unless she knew something was a bad idea.

A sigh escaped and Juniper’s shoulders dropped. “I do,” she said. “But they’re finicky. You’re lucky it’s not autumn, you know.” 

 “I’d be happier if it was. There would be more apples to pluck.”

“You’re a damned fool,” Juniper said and came around her counter to put her arms around Crystal. “What are you going to do to get out of it?” 

“I’m not sure,” Crystal answered as she put her head against Juniper’s shoulder. “I really truly don’t know.”

A sigh escaped. “Listen,” Juniper said and pulled back just enough to reach up and lift Crystal’s chin. “There’s guaranteed to be at least one spirit there. Be careful and polite.” 

“Always,” Crystal said.

“As soon as you have that apple, go straight back to Lucinda,” Juniper advised. “Carry it in a cloth bag but don’t let it leave your hands until your brother’s been released from the stone.”

“I will,” Crystal said and Juniper sighed.

“And please. Come back home.” 

“For your smile, I will.” 

That got at least a tiny smile on Juniper’s face, and Juniper leaned forward slightly to kiss Crystal’s cheek. “And a kiss for extra luck,” she said and then turned, opening the cabinet door and finding a yarn-wrapped trinket. 

“Your luck charm?” Crystal asked and Juniper smiled a little.  

“A four-leaf clover in rabbit-fur yarn,” she said and slid it over Crystal’s wrist, tying it in securely. “Are you sure you’re ready?”

“Waiting until I am isn’t an option,” Crystal answered and Juniper sighed before she took a step back and smoothed a hand down her apron.

“Have care with every word and every step.” 

They headed outside. Juniper’s horse stood by the porch, saddlebags loaded with the supplies Crystal would need for a six day journey. Crystal’s pack sat at the back and she hesitated a moment before she swung on. This part she was used to. Sometimes the things she needed to collect were days away and weeks of travel. 

“I’ll come home,” Crystal promised.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” Juniper said. 

With that, Crystal smiled and turned the horse, heading off. She knew where she was going, but she saw a few windows close as she passed. 

Everyone had heard she guessed. A blood fae was hiding in their mountain, in the old mining cave they didn’t tread in for fear of collapse and injury. Tapped out of resources, the mine was a perfect place for a fae.

A blood fae who had set her sights on something. 

Crystal had only told them she needed six items, one for each brother. She hadn’t told them why it had to be her, but she knew they were whispering about it the way they always did. The Cleary family had always been talented. Her mother had been an amazing cook, always able to whip up something to suit any taste. Her grandmother’s weaving and needlework had survived two generations of laborers, including three of her sons becoming miners. 

They might not know Crystal had a fairy’s blessing, but they knew when it came to magic, it was the Cleary family that would handle it. 

Travel was easy for her. She knew the map well, and had passed the valley she needed before. The mountains around the area ranged in sizes. Her town was at the base of a medium sized mountain, extending down into the valley. Her brothers’ farm sat at one end, and Juniper’s cottage sat in the middle of the town, amidst laundresses and dressmakers.  

The mountains however, had several valleys, one of which had been formed into a narrow pass. That pass could become blocked over with ice on one end in the spring when the snowmelt began to slide off the mountains. Summers tended to flood it.

A solitary tree grew in the valley between the mountains. Wind howled around it, branches thrown back and forth in erratic patterns by the unseen forces of air.

Looking at it from one end of the valley, Crystal studied the tree. They called it the restless tree because that’s what it was. A single tree, in the middle of a valley that never ceased to move.

A single apple tree. 

How it had managed to survive when even as a sapling it had been buffeted by the winds and its branches and boughs had been yanked on by gales, Crystal didn’t know. Either it had paid a high price to continue growing and thriving there, or it was simply a miracle.

Either way, continuously buffeted by winds, getting close enough to pluck an apple from the branches wouldn’t be easy and Crystal knew it. Though plenty of apples had been thrown off the branches, they were bruised or split open by the force with which they hit the ground.

Crystal didn’t trust Lucinda not to take the tiniest reason to withhold her brother. 

Crystal reached up, holding her hand out and letting the wind pass over it. Fairy-blessed, her mother had told her. The seventh child born a daughter three times over. The fairies had of course been paying attention.

Which was how Crystal knew that no matter what she grabbed, it would help her in some way. Things came to her hands easily. Be that a spare coin she needed for the market, or the right ingredient for a medicine or potion. 

Now however, she only held a hand out, letting the air brush through it. It pulled and yanked on her and she nodded. “Shelter,” she decided at last and moved.

She got as close to the tree as she could. She could see some of the apples still hanging from its branches and she bent, setting a bowl on the ground and filling it with milk. “an offering for you to stop blowing so harshly,” she said. 

The wind took a moment before the bowl spun, and it died down a little. At the least, it no longer threw the stray locks of her hair into her face and bit at her cheeks. 

The tree’s swaying reduced a little, perhaps for the first time in its life. Crystal moved a little ways away, reaching up and finding a particularly curly lock of her hair. Her little knife cut the lock off easily and a twist allowed her to knot the hairs together.

“An offering for you to calm the wind,” she called, and held the hair out on her palm. 

The wind took it, catching the hair up greedily and then vanishing all together. As she’d thought, there was a spirit in the wind. 

There always was. 

With the wind stilled however, it gave her what she needed and Crystal inhaled as she approached the tree, her little knife still out. 

It would be easy enough to pluck an apple from the tree, to say that giving it a moment of rest from the wind was her payment for doing so.

Angering or cheating spirits was never a good idea however and she smiled a little as she pulled a small bottle from her bag, filled with clear water.

“Water from my well, in exchange for one apple,” she said, and uncorked the bottle. 

The water splashed on the roots, and a branch creaked overhead. Crystal looked up, spotting the perfect apple there. It gleamed still, alone on its branch. She smiled and reached up, twisting it so it came off gently in her hand.

“My thanks,” she said and stepped away. 

The branches creaked again, but with the wind picking back up, it was hard to say what was the wind and what had been the tree’s response. It didn’t matter, Crystal decided as she picked up the now-empty bowl of milk. She had the apple in her hands, and that was the only part that mattered.

She’d hitched the horse a little farther down the valley, where the wind wasn’t as bad. A little grass grew around the base of the rocks and she smiled as she patted the horse’s neck. “Home,” she said. “We have a brother to rescue.” 


Seventh is a serial story updated every Friday. If you’re enjoying it, consider following for more updates. You can also check out my books and short stories!