The Quest of Green and Orange
Part III: The Stuff of Dreams
by Dal Merlin Jeanis

The inestimable Dr. Wight accepted a Quest in They Also Serve. According to Them, the fate of the Great War to come depends upon him. And with great responsibility, comes great power.

The world was black around him, but he could see anyway. Well, it wasn't black, exactly, but more of the color of crushed red velvet in a coat closet, the color of shimmering blood. And not even that, exactly.

Doctor Wight considered. Some of those patches were other colors that he could identify - teal, true black, gold. And there were streaks of lighter colors among the darker and fuzzier ones. Was this Faerie?

"No" replied a small voice.

He stood up, or found himself standing, unsure whether the process had a beginning, a middle and an end as it should have, or simply an end. The darkness nearby was occupied by a floating form. A human form.

He brushed back his errant hair with his silver arm, and the sight of it captivated him. The arm was a kaleidoscope of color and energy. The cryptic sigils that he had worked so many decades to decipher, generally failing, had been joined by over a hundred more. One hundred and eighty six, he somehow knew. Each of them, and the originals, he could now read clearly.

"That one is mine." A small green symbol glowed in time with the voice. Heatherfoot, it said. "We must make haste."

"Why?" he thought, and the enormity of an answer overwhelmed him. For a moment he had forgotten about the Bargain. He retched.

"Quiet!" hissed the voice, even as Doctor Wight watched the colors of the sky shudder in response to his internal tremors.

"Come." Said the voice, and a female figure swept out of the darkness, to grab him by the combat vest and hurtle off into the multicolored night.

He enjoyed the sensation of flight, at once familiar and different. He had flown with hundreds - well, scores anyway - of heroes and lesser beings on his various quests. But somehow the feel and smell of this one were unique. Very pleasant.

"Thank you, and shush," said Heatherfoot.

"You can read my thoughts," he said, bemused.

"Everything within a fortnight can read your thoughts. Thus we must move quite swiftly. " she paused a moment, swinging him around to look to the rear. Off in the distance, he could see tiny lights, sliding away towards where they had been a few minutes ago. Then she continued, "It would help if you could concentrate on something quiet."

"A candle?"

"Goddess, no. How about a ruby? Imagine a perfect ruby in your hand."

"Like this?" He pictured a ruby between his palms, clear and sparkling and the color of the bloody sky.

"Good on you. Hold that thought."

For what seemed like hours, Doctor Wight considered the ruby in his hands, its weight, its color, its shape. The light reflecting off its facets. Its chemical and magical properties.

A ruby the size of a hardball, perfect for focusing light into a laser beam.

An excellent focus for an elemental summoning.

A gem to make royalty weep.

A gem that glowed with the light of the sun.

"Stop it! No light. Oh, Blizzens, too late."

The first one swooped in from the darkness, a child's nightmare of a manta ray sculpted from Playdoh and Jello.

"Protection," Dr. Wight thought as he looked toward his arm. A spiky white sigil seemed his best bet.

"Ane'ira" he called.

There was an explosion like the wind from a blast furnace, but of a bitter cold. Even as the bat things died from crystal shards of ice through their flying forms, Wight heard the cold judgment of Ane'ira. Fool. A wasted Boon.

Wight looked down at the Arm of Nuadhu in disgust. One hundred and eighty-five.

He hovered in the void, watching and trying to hold his mind quiet while Heatherfoot swooped and gathered among the floating corpses. She returned with small fleshy marbles, each freezing cold. She ate one, and gestured to him to do the same.

He looked at them and grimaced. Whether it was the lack of gravity or the source of the food, something was vaguely unsettling to his stomach.

She shrugged, and gestured down and to one side, swinging around behind him and again dragging him by the combat vest. He noted a vaguely spicy smell to her, like crushed fresh herbs mixed with something musky. It was the closest he had ever been to a Sidhe.

Within moments, in the surreal way that this place changed, a massive shape appeared from the darkness. Below them loomed a rock the size of an office building, shaped vaguely like an Arab face and covered with the same pockmarks. On the forehead, they set down and Heatherfoot paced a small circle. There was a light gravity.

"We must bide a bit." She said between heavy breaths. "Give me the ruby,"

He handed it to her matter-of-factly, somehow failing to be surprised that there actually was one in his hands, exactly as he had imagined it. Within moments they were contained by an igloo of dark red power, itself covered by a thin layer of formed rock.

"You have done this before." He was sure that it was adequate, as camouflage went in this place.

Heatherfoot sat, collapsing like a broken puppet to the hard rock ground. He gazed at her in the red glow, appraising her forthrightly. She was petite, one hesitated to say elfin, but had a tension underneath her small frame which spoke of spring steel. Her face was lined with weariness, her clothes and hair not ragged but bearing the impression of a few too many nights without washing.

One seldom met an unkempt Sidhe. But these were not normal times.

Abruptly she spoke. "It is well that you watch me like a Creature, if that would be your Boon from me. 'Tis a small enough thing."

Startled, he realized he had been staring. He stammered an apology, which she cut off quickly. "Fret not, it is only that I am tired. I would be well if there were but a score more names of my family upon your arm. And perhaps a hundred friends."

Almost as if commanded, Wight turned to stare at his arm. It was probably quite significant that there were so few Sidhe sigils among them. Autocrat was probably as thorough in destroying or corrupting them as he had been for everyone else.

"The Tàrmachadh fell the first day, when fell Rhabcán and the Bethíoch. Few hid, few surrendered, thus few lived."

"I'm sorry."

"As am I. But the Path is ahead, and one cannot take the fork not taken."

Wight tried another of the cold marbles, which tasted vaguely nutty. He glanced around in the red glow of the giant ruby, trying to decide how to get comfortable. Finally his eyes lit on the ruby itself. If he could fashion that, then what else could he do here?

Heatherfoot watched with tired amusement as the Doctor began reshaping the interior of the igloo. The rock became mahogany paneling, with built-in bookshelves and leather books. The tile floor sunk slowly to accommodate an arched ceiling, with an ancient chandelier giving off pale golden-white light. Irregular blobs of floor became his favorite reading chairs, sofas and side tables. In eight minutes, the hole had become a fair facsimile of his favorite study.

Wight smiled, and then bowed in her direction, waving her toward the guest chair.

"Perhaps some beds would have been nice," she ventured, not disapproving but also not wanting to give him too much credit. She stood slowly against the near-normal gravity.

Wight shrugged. All forms of mystical training required focusing the mind. He had already spent so many hours visualizing this room, it had been the natural choice.

"This room I know best."

"Well, then," Heatherfoot said, pulling a book off a waist-high shelf, and opening it to expose blank pages. "What would this be about?"

"That would be Plutarch's Lives of Great Men ." He grinned, and the book filled up with print. "But ask me about too many more and we'll get to treatises on liberal ethics and conservative compassion."

She raised an eyebrow. "Not being familiar with your local politics, I'll assume that they would be short reading."

"Very short." He nodded. But the thought of 'bathroom reading' brought up another urgent issue. He looked to the bathroom door.

He began shaping the room beyond. From what he had observed of the rock, there would be twenty meters of space in any direction that he could use without breaking the surface. Once he had hollowed out the space and lit it, he entered and closed the door behind himself.

Toilet facilities would require either plumbing, or transportation, or transmutation. Since they would be leaving within a day, he settled for a mechanical compactor which would "swallow" waste, and set the facilities apart behind another door. They worked perfectly.

That accomplished, he allowed himself more freedom to experiment. Fifteen minutes later he returned to the study.

Heatherfoot lay on the couch, sleeping peacefully.

He looked at her, then raised his silver hand as if to touch her cheek. Before the touch arrived, she jumped as if stung. In a flash, she was behind a chair from him, her eyes wide. She jabbered in a language he didn't understand.

"Easy. Take it easy."

She wiped at her face where he had almost touched her, shaking her head. "Dinna... Do not touch me. Not with that."

Once again he stared at his silver hand. This was the kind of reaction he occasionally got from the totally naive - the meta-haters, the religious fanatics, and so on. But she was a Sidhe. Why would she fear the arm? He decided to change the context.

"If you would like to freshen up, you can go through there." He stepped away from the bathroom door and around to his favorite chair, where he sat down and theatrically lit a Meerschaum pipe.

She looked from him to the door, then back again. Even for a Sidhe, some things were visceral. The bathroom was farther away from the arm, so she went.

Wight chuckled and blew smoke rings, which curved around to park in a squadron under the end table. He could get quite used to being a god.

Heatherfoot closed the door behind her with a click, and then slid the bolt to. It was clearly a symbolic gesture, of course. After all, if the Airgedlámh could create the door and the bolt and the falling water that she could hear dancing in the other chamber, what could possibly keep him from coming through the door, other than his own honor?

Nonetheless, the bolt was a promise, and a promise would need be enough.

She walked towards the sound of a small waterfall, inhaling the perfume of a mock hanging garden, seeing jagged crystal walls scattering lights like a thousand jewels, and feeling the sensation of fresh clean mist of spray, cool and friendly on her skin. By the time she reached the pool and stepped deep into it, she was completely naked, her clothes long abandoned.

It was glorious.

The grand pool was roughly the size of three wagons abreast, a deep trough scoured by aeons of falling water, but with smooth-carved places coincidentally the very shape and size for bathing, or showering, or just sitting and watching the play of lights in the falling water. The water, warm and smelling of heather and lilacs, flowed then away down a waist-deep gouge in the rock and was pulled away through a network of cracks too wee for any part of her body to enter. She sensed, without knowing for certain, that the water was then delivered back to fall from the waterfall, but otherwise the illusion of a vast system of magical caves was fair perfect.

From the ceiling over the shallow part of the pool hung braided strands of jasmine and wisteria, formed into a rough bower, giving somehow the impression of having been abandoned years before and left to seed. The drooping vines partitioned the space, hiding the several ample towels the texture of fresh moss which lay draped across the outcropping below them.

The jasmine flowers put off a dim glow in palest yellow, the wisteria in palest purple. Other light was provided by clusters of false mushrooms and plants scattered about the crystal walls and ceiling, glows of various colors and intensities. Shelf-like wood-ears glowed cheerful shades of red and orange, while spindly baby's breath twinkled yellow-white and skullcaps pulsed blue. Huge tropical elephant ears and hardy scotch moss provided the green accents, although there were other green and purple medicinal plants that added to the general fragrance.

Over an hour she luxuriated in the sensations of the water and the towels and the scents and the sights, before she found the little touches that showed the Airgedlámh's gentle sense of humour. From one vantage, she could look through a small fracture, away down an apparently endless series of caverns, each more massive than the next, and more filled with multi-coloured life. Then, at the very edge of sight, there was the reflection of her own eye, given an enormous appearance by the forced perspective. Moving around the rock formation, she found the mirror itself. The true depth of the diorama was barely equal to her own height.

Such details were all about her, from the winking sylph barely below the water line of the grand pool, to the tiny stone mouse in lederhosen hiding under a mushroom. Bit by bit, surprise after surprise brought laughter to her heart, and slowly loosened the bonds of fear and dread that had bound her these many months.

Heatherfoot found herself running from place to place, looking underneath and behind and above things to see what she might have missed. She was like a child at Easter, in a hidden garden all her own. Finding secrets that were meant only for her. Meant, without a doubt, to balm her aching heart.

At length, she found laying on the green velvet ledge behind the waterfall a single pink rose.

When she returned to the drawing room, she felt like a Sidhe again.

They slept on feather beds he had fashioned in another room beyond the study, a room more sedate and more ... human ... except for the fact that you could see the stars. It was an autumn sky, clear and cool, visible through a ceiling made of clear glass. The wide glass windows of the room looked out on forest, and through the ceiling one could see the tops of those selfsame oak trees, swaying in a slight breeze and occasionally disturbed as if some small animal had run across a branch out of sight.

It was her first blessed good sleep in months.

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