Admittedly, most of the wailing emanated from concealed speakers shielded from the electrostatic burst, but Succus contributed her own shrieks at it and the sudden dowsing of the boys' lamps.
Umbo and I caught up swiftly, dragging Secondus along with us as he clenched my shoulder tightly.
"I don't know, Umbo. The lights just went out and they won't come back on. And that ghastly noise." Succus shivered.
Umbo frowned. "No magic."
At these words, the satyrs pulled out small skins and took sips of the liquid within. Succus tried to share it with them, but they held them close and tight.
"Any other time, love, but not in the middle of this. Speed and Dexterity."
"We'll need the boost, though I'll be half-impaired, love. Strength and Magic."
Secondus whispered, "Libita, your boost is enough to overload the zone slightly. You have one point of magic while boosted."
"So light up!"
"Sorry, Suc. I need three for illumination."
"What can you do with one?"
"The wailing is an illusion, but what is creating it is concealed from you. The sound alone can do no harm, but what it bodes can and will."
Libita glanced at me. "Callidus?"
I reached out my fingers like stroking hidden strings on the wind.
"Callidus has no magic within the zone."
I winced. Pulling back my hands, I mime wiping my eyes clear and peer around us.
"I thought you said he had no magic," Succus reminded.
Secondus smiled. "He gets a sight bonus in darkness. The darker it is, the higher the bonus." He cleared his throat, and resumed his narrative voice. "You see nothing amiss. The forest is still, and appears empty."
I grunted, somewhat annoyed. Secondus was good--he told me only what I needed to know, even during the setup. Aside from my vision, I was as much in the dark as the rest of them.
A regal figure stepped out of the wood.
Secondus whispered to Umbo, "You recognize her and kneel."
Umbo's face pales and he quickly lays himself supine. "My Queen."
"Thank you, sir." She stares down the satyrs, and they scramble to their knees. "Callidus?"
I bow my head but nothing more. "My Lady."
The boys gape at my insouciance, but she only smiles at me. "It is good to see you again."
"I hope to say the same. How may we aid you?"
"First, you can turn off that obnoxious sound. I think they get the point."
"Of course. Secondus?"
"Spiritus Nocte, close your eyes. To you, no time will have passed between closing them and reopening them." He nodded to me. "Go."
I brushed back my hood and flicked on a shielded flashlight, then oriented myself and stepped behind a particular tree, locating the cables for the speakers. I disabled them, and in another moment, returned to my previous location and position, the flashlight disappearing into a hidden pocket once more. Before I dropped my hood back down, Umbo caught my eye and smirked. I nodded to Secondus.
"Spiritus Nocte, open your eyes and if you have only blinked, and indeed, that's all you have done."
Succus puts her hand on her head--declaring herself out of character. "What was that about."
Umbo duplicated her gesture. "The man who never steps out of character stepped out of character." He dropped his hand.
Succus glared at me before doing the same, disappointed.
I repeat in the same tone as if nothing had happened, "How may we aid you?"
"First, you may introduce me," the woman smiles.
"Spiritus Nocte, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to The Queen Who Is To Come, Lady Winter. Lady Winter, my companions are Umbo, Succus, Libita, and Laetatio."
"Thank you, Callidus."
I bow quickly and succinctly, before straightening once more.
"Umbo. Fetch." She smiles. "Oh, but I so do love a nice strong fetch." She extends her hand and allows him to kiss it. "I don't need you tonight, but it will do you no harm to tag along, I suppose. And your apparent care from young Succus is quite precious.
"The young ones now... Supple. Flexible. Unaligned." The Lady spoke slowly and deliberately, finding each word more delicious than the last and not eager to spit them quickly out. "Yes, you are what I need." She walked up to Succus, still frozen awkwardly between her brother's supine pose and the satyrs' kneeling position, and caressed her face.
Secondus narrates, "The Lady's touch is colder than the coldest thing you have known, as befitting a Queen of Winter, and as sensuous as a young and ancient Queen Who Is To Come. She is Daughter to Mab."
Succus gasps at the touch, but leaned into it hungrily.
The Lady ran her thumb across Succus's lips, and she parted them, breathing heavily. Umbo growled.
"Yes, she is perfect. Do not worry, little fetch. If she performs well, she will come to no harm. Nor the satyrs. I have a quest that needs doing before the dawning of the sun, and time already grows short."
"Why should we take your quest?" Libita asked.
"Why indeed. Callidus?"
"Profit if you do, insult if you do not."
She smiles broadly. "Harsh but true, expect no less from you."
"What do you need us to do?"
"It's very simple. Find the source of the null field and deactivate it."
"And what do we get out of it?" Libita continues.
"Favor in my court." The Lady smiles down at Succus, still at the mercy of her touch.
Secondus clarifies, "That's worth more than iron at the heart of Arctis Tor, and will keep you alive longer too."
"Quite." The Lady turns suddenly and strides back into the darkened woods. At her withdrawn touch, Succus collapses.
"Where's she going? We didn't accept," Laetitio interjects.
"Choice is an illusion."
"Quite," Secondus repeats to me, his tone grim.
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