Fox-form, Tyrel crouched under a flowering bush, all senses alert.
The scents of honey and fruit syrup and a sort of bread made from germinated grains, which Dayo had assured them would be sweet even without the dried fruit in it, were so strong to him as to be faintly nauseating. Dayo had raided the order’s food stores without compunction, loading his new partners down.
The trickster had, more than once, displayed behaviour that suggested to Tyrel that it needed or at least craved sweet foods. Given Dayo’s description of it as acting like a poorly-disciplined child given entirely too much candy, not something Tyrel had much direct experience with but could imagine easily enough, that made a certain amount of sense.
Would it notice the bounty laid out in the partly-walled pavilion at the centre of the wildflower garden? Would it come after it before morning? Would it walk into the trap, or would it question the presence of the bait? How smart was it, really? The information available pointed towards a mischievous cunning, but none indicated that it was genuinely intelligent. That information was, however, extremely limited.
What if I’m wrong? What if this fails?
Then it fails. And we either give up and leave them to it, or we try something else. Just like any other plan. Stop thinking and just keep watch.
They didn’t have all that much longer before the moons began to set, which would force them to abandon the trap for the moment. Tyrel and Kaveri could both spend another day and night without sleep, but he was sure fatigue and hunger were already creeping up on Madoc; while he knew his brother would ignore it and stay at his side, he had no intention of pushing him into this kind of hunt while edging up on Sanur’s dark. By the time Sanur was bright enough for comfort again, rapidly-cycling Talir would be very near dark, though Lirit with her long cycle would be only halfway there.
Was that motion? No, just a bat. Besides, the trickster got around using those insanely long leaps, so they probably wouldn’t see it coming.
The moonlight flickered, shadowed for no more than the blink of an eye, and the trickster landed in a crouch in the clear area in front of the pavilion. It sniffed at the air, head thrown back, and took a lurching step towards it, then another. Tyrel saw it lick its lips.
In the shadows, but clearly visible to his eyes by the faint auras of greengold and violet against the background pale yellow that was his world by moonlight, Madoc and Kaveri waited as well. They only needed the creature to step through the single open side and into the interior…
And it did.
Tyrel barked once, sharply. On the roof of the pavilion, Kaveri instantly tugged on a rope made of counter-twisted moon-woven fabric, and Madoc launched himself from his hiding place towards the doorway. Tyrel waited only long enough to see Kaveri move before following him.
Inside the pavilion, the creature screeched, clawing madly at the strands of the net that had dropped neatly over it. The rocks Kaveri had tied into the ends helped keep it in place, but it wouldn’t work for long.
Madoc tackled it with all his momentum behind it, and it was as successful as it had been the first time: the trickster went down. Tyrel grabbed the drawstring rope in his teeth, intending to jerk it tight and turn Kaveri’s clever net into a large closed bag, but one flailing back leg caught him in the side and flung him back with enough force that he was sure he heard bones snap. Since it also kicked him out of the pavilion and into Talir’s bright blessed light, the pain was intense but faded rapidly, melting away along with the damage. Panting, he scrambled to his feet and changed to human before darting back inside.
Kaveri, who had scrambled down and changed, now in just the tunic since the trousers had been the wrong moonlight, had the drawstring rope, but the creature’s struggles made just holding it a challenge, let alone pulling it tight. Tyrel seized the end and wrapped it around one of the pillars supporting the roof, and Kaveri gratefully transferred her grip to just beside his so they could make use of the additional leverage.
Madoc, meanwhile, had the creature’s full attention, as he lunged in with lightning-quick swats of sharp-clawed paws and snaps of strong teeth, tufted ears back against his skull and his growl punctuated only by an occasional hiss. The creature, shrieking and chittering, writhed and fought the net hampering it, but the necessity of protecting itself from Madoc kept it too distracted for much success.
Dayo joined them, a little out of breath, and added his own strength to theirs on the rope.
With the net finally drawn closed, Tyrel left Kaveri and Dayo to hold it while he edged in closer. It could still force it open again until he got the second drawstring tied to secure it. Behind him, he heard Kaveri protest, but ignored her. If anyone was doing risky jobs around here, it was going to be him.
The creature inside lashed out at him, though the tangling folds of the moon-woven net interfered and Madoc gave it a powerful blow to the head that knocked it back. Tyrel fumbled for the drawstring among the other strands, caught hold of it, and pulled it rapidly hand-over-hand.
One vaguely human-like hand snaked out the opening and swiped at Tyrel. The ridged heavy claws it bore in place of nails narrowly missed his throat, and that only because Kaveri’s cry of alarm was enough for Tyrel to reflexively jerk back. It still tore his tunic from the shoulder downward and scored skin and muscle, but that he could survive. He ran out of rope and tied it off with multiple knots, yanking them ruthlessly in the hopes that they’d never come loose.
“Tied off over here,” Kaveri said. “‘Rel, are you okay?”
“It’s superficial.” Actually, it wasn’t, though it was starting to slowly heal, just from the moonlight trickling in here. He retreated outside the pavilion to let the yellow light make the pain and injury go away again.
It might be imagination, but with the sense of love and support there might have been a faint hint of reproach. Kieran had assured him that Talir’s love for her children was bottomless and her willingness to heal and empower them endless, with no judgement made, so what could that be about?
He went back inside, where the other three were all watching the spirit creature warily. Dayo had reported that it could get through closed doors without a trace, but the moon-woven net clearly was proving to be more of an obstacle than mundane materials.
“I think we have it trapped,” Tyrel concluded, watching it battle the net in vain. “Now we get to decide what to do with it.”
“If we kill it, we could hurt whatever god created it,” Kaveri said. “There are some scary tales about what happens to people who genuinely anger trickster gods. But we can’t just release it, and I’m not sure that it would be more merciful or less likely to anger its creator if we could find a way to confine it long-term.”
“This is your home, not ours,” Tyrel said to Dayo. “It’s captured. Do you want us to leave it to you and the others from here? Since you’re the ones it’s been annoying, I have no problem with just handing it over to you.”
“I would rather you didn’t,” Dayo said, eyeing the trapped spirit creature. “Although it might not be a bad idea to get the Father involved. He’s…”
“You don’t need to do that.” That was a new voice; all turned hastily to look at the doorway of the pavilion.
Tyrel recognized the deep reddish-brown skin and the diamond eyes from their brief conversation with the Forest’s Grandmother, but this earthborn was no regal ageless-old woman. This one was male, and looked like he hadn’t quite reached puberty yet.
“Lord Umako,” Dayo said, startled, and bowed. “You grace us…”
“Yes, whatever.” The earth-lord made a dismissive gesture. “You can show all the respect I deserve later. This isn’t the time.”
“Do you know what we should do, my lord?”
“Just give it to me. I’ll take care of it.”
Tyrel frowned, studying the earth-lord. He knew very little about gods, but he remembered his own peers growing up, and this one reminded him eerily of his mother’s second son, the one who was now the presumptive heir to the Chieftainship of Dunnval. Odd how he hadn’t really thought about that aspect of his own departure until now. He wasn’t sure, though, what was triggering the memory. It wasn’t a physical resemblance to Cerdic. So what was it?
The spirit creature in the net was no longer struggling. It was watching Umako fixedly, and making a peculiar humming sound they hadn’t heard from it before.
“You know more than you’re telling,” Tyrel said slowly. “You know where this thing came from, but you left your people to deal with it alone. Why?”
“Tyrel!” Kaveri’s eyes widened in alarm, and Madoc darted over to place himself in front of his brother protectively. “What…?”
“What’s the real story here?” Tyrel demanded.
Umako dropped back a couple of steps, farther out of the pavilion. Tyrel closed the gap in a few strides, back into the moonlight. Interestingly, the yellow light washing over his skin glowed in a soft aura—protective? A reminder to the earth-lord?
(chapter continued next post!)