The Happy Muggers

Leeloo climbed out of the fountain and gazed around at the cavernous room it had led her to. The massive spiral staircase led up into the murky darkness, as did the six huge columns that presumably held aloft some unseen ceiling. Decades of dead leaves covered the floor, blown in through the arched doorways on either side, which led out into gardens thick and overgrown with the neglect of many years. The smell was awful.

Outside the smell was better, but the disconcerting torn sky of the island made it no more comfortable. She wandered the grounds for a while, past muck pits that may once have been streams and tangles whose ancestors were topiaries. She came across a small hut, and when she opened the door she knew that this had been her father’s place; it still held his feel and his aura that she recognized from so long ago. She searched the place, and after an uneventful hour she found a leather-bound book hiding under a baseboard, and inside was the story of how Teagan and his fellows had stumbled upon this place, and how he had come into the service of this island’s master. Leeloo read it eagerly, then read again; Veleris’ library had mentioned the adventure and she had spent a month and many favors finding the Crystal Cave itself, but this was a complete account, even including the black turn at the end when the two old friends had contracted themselves to Soryth.

But there it ended. What had happened to the Island between that point, when everything was within the Dream Witch’s power, and this, when the mighty island lay in ruins, its very essence being eaten away by the tides of the Astral Sea? She sat in a room that echoed her father, so he had to have spent considerable time here, working for Soryth. But he had also worked for Shephatiah; were those two fey one and the same? Was Shephatiah merely the shell of Soryth after her “stories” were stripped from her? Or had Teagan served two dark fey? The timelines didn’t make sense; Shephatiah had claimed his service began four years before her death, but she had hardly been a reliable narrator.

She spun around when she heard the crackle, her rod flaring with eldritch energy as she let a bolt fly. The dark cloud that hovered chest-high behind her merely swallowed it up, the light eclipsed by the darkness. She stepped back, and then heard the Whisper. It was laughing.

“you cannot use the powers i provide against me and expect them to work, my dear.”

Leeloo narrowed her eyes. She had never seen this thing before in her life; now it was claiming her powers?

More laughing. “i see you do not understand, and i should own that, for i have not made it easy to understand, since i have long used many a subordinate in my dealings with you, lest you discover the truth too early, but if you have come this far it will soon be time for you to come a bit farther, and now is the time that you should know in whose debt you find yourself.” The cloud flashed, like lightning in a rainy night sky.

Leeloo peered into the thing, but it just billowed and hung in the air. Years ago she had accepted a deal with the animals of the Witchwood, but she had long since discovered that the animals had less power than she did. Her power had to come from elsewhere, and this thing before may indeed have been her unseen benefactor all along. “If I am in your debt, I would of course appreciate to know my master’s name.”

The cloud undulated. “you already know, of course; you have suspected all along that you knew, even the day you spoke to r’kardn and recited the old words and couldn’t help but wonder”

Leeloo’s eyes were wide. It couldn’t be. “Father?” She said. The cloud hung there; the Whisper did not speak. Her mind felt like it was collapsing in on itself; of course her father would give her aid when she required it, but why had he not spoken to her before this? And then it clicked: this was a trick. She blinked, realizing as she did that her face was streaked with tears, and then saw before her not a cloud but a cloaked figure, frail and thin, eaten by time as the rest of the Island had been. Like the room it echoed her father, but she could not tell if it was him, had a strong connection to him, or perhaps was some arcane shadow of him. But she could certainly see the fiery green tendrils arching out of the figure and around the room, the same fiery green glow that she knew so well, having conjured it so many times. This thing may or may not not be her father, but it was telling the truth that it had leant her its powers.

Her rod clattered as it hit the ground, and her father’s sword made a metallic swish as she drew it from its scabbard. “I have left my home in search of knowledge, and you will either help me attain it without further lies, or our association ends this very day.”

The Whisper laughed again, and now Leeloo could see the figure before her shudder as it did so. “the little one thinks herself more capable than she is, and requires a lesson in gratitude, which she shall receive if she persists in this foolish endeavor”

The tendrils were writhing away from her, and Leeloo could feel herself being emptied out. As each bond slithered off she felt the world close in on her, this room grow more dangerous, and the figure before her looked less and less trial and more and more like what she felt like on the inside. She swallowed hard as another tendril retracted, and she almost dropped the sword from her hand at the pain of the separation. The cloak shifted ever so slightly, and beneath the cowl Leeloo saw a thin grin spread over thin lips. The last of the tendrils exited, and Leeloo stood, all alone, before the Whisper.

She charged.

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