A Word of Caution

Welcome to the realm of the Unseelie Court. Feel free to wander and browse, but know that the content you will find here is not for the faint of heart. The visions portrayed are often darkly erotic, even disturbing, and should be traversed only by those with the appropriate character and mental age.

You have been warned.


Poppins’ Return

Chapter 16 – Duel

:: Mark ::

I felt a little like a Special Ops Commando as I made one last check of “my” attack group. I was having serious second thoughts about my own plan, if you could call it that, but the others seemed quite impressed with my ideas. Maybe Marly’s training had sunken in more than I thought.

The group was divided into two teams. My team, which consisted of myself and two sprites whose names were incomprehensible to me, had the unfortunate job of distracting X’carin for as long as possible. To do this, we had a number of options, but they were just that, options. No hard plan, no timed maneuvers, just straight improvisation. That didn’t mean that we would be completely winging it though. We had thought up some rather interesting tricks to throw at our enemy. Using my own knowledge of computer security and programming and applying it to magic, we were able to put together something akin to Batman’s utility belt, only instead of whipping out Bat-shark repellant, we had a bunch of new magical constructs.

I could have spent about a year hashing out the details of glyph programming with the sprite masters, and more than once Ananha had to gently remind me to stay on track. It was damn interesting stuff! But in less than a half hour, we had our basic arsenal.

The other team was composed of two faeries (Ananha, and the faerie with the scar whose name was Camile), a sprite, and the nymph/human pair I had seen earlier. The nymph’s name was loosely translated as Rachael, and her human partner was named Mac. I didn’t ask about the sunglasses, but she said they were necessary. Just having Mac around made me feel a little less like the odd man out. I knew there was a great story in those two, but I held off my questions for another day… Provided there WAS another day.

The purpose of the second team was to free Marly from the dryad’s tree. This would be accomplished by a combination of sprite/faerie magic, brute force and good luck. I only now understood just what that last meant. They had some surprises too, but for the most part, it would be a frantic rush to get her out in the shortest possible period so that we could all bail into the nearest tree-gate and get our butts out of there.

“Is everyone clear on their tasks,” I asked both teams as we stood together within the faerie ring. There were nods all around, and I surveyed our mostly naked entourage with a weird feeling of deja vu. “Then let’s go get this over with,” I replied, and we one by one stepped through a nearby tree.

I wasn’t as disoriented as before, even though the trip through Neverland was longer this time. I popped back into the now and after a slight pause, crouched down to join the others that had already gone through. Up ahead was a slight clearing and then a very large and gnarled-looking oak tree. I didn’t need to be told that we were looking at X’carin’s lair.

I sent a warm smile and a mental {go} to Ananha, who led the second team up closer. I followed with my own tiny floating armada just off to the side. The dryad did not seem to be present, but that would hardly matter the moment we touched her tree.

The sprites had rigged it so that I could see into the magical realm, and I was awestruck by the sheer numbers of glyphs that hovered about the target tree like a buzzing hornet’s nest. The sprites were confident that our own magical screening would keep us “invisible” until we actually made contact with the tree, but it was still like walking across a mine field.

We were about a dozen meters away when I first heard Marly’s cries of pained pleasure and every hair on my body was instantly standing on end. If Mac hadn’t seen the look in my eye and stopped me cold, I would have run forward and ruined everything.

“Hold on, man!” He whispered loudly as he snagged my struggling form in a bear hug. I was lucky he was a big guy. He was able to hold me just long enough for me to come back to my senses. “Let us do our job. Trust us.”

I huffed and closed my eyes. Ananha squeezed my hand and then proceeded around to the other side of the tree and into position. I stayed where I was, knowing that if I saw my lover, I might falter in leaving her side. It didn’t help that the faerie gasped at what she saw.

“That tree over there would be the most likely gate when X’carin returns,” said the sprite I was calling Number One. The tiny hovering female was pointing to another nearby oak, and I started off in that direction, my fists clenched. When we were all in position, sprite Number Two gave me a thumbs up, indicating that it was my call to start the operation. The moment I gave Ananha the green-light, they would begin to free Marly, which meant they would need to touch the dryad’s tree.

{Do it…} I sent silently.

I thought we would have maybe thirty seconds before the dryad returned. It turned out to be more like ten. Standing where I was, and watching for it, I was able to see the shimmer as the tree gate opened. A fraction of a second later, I was bowled over onto my ass, and a woman with fierce blue eyes was staring down at me, her hands pinning my shoulders to the ground.

For nearly five long seconds, she simply looked at me, her nostrils flaring with rage. Then, she glanced up at the others around her tree and squinted. I could see her making a calculated analysis of the situation, and when she returned her attention back to me, I gulped. Either she didn’t consider them a threat, or she was WAY ahead of us.

“You’re behind this…” she spat, her voice like a thousand tiny bells. Not having anything to say that would help the situation, I tried to regain my composure and started messing with my hands. I knew that the sprites would be nearby.

Suddenly, the dryad’s face changed as she connected who I was, and for a split-second her grip on my shoulders faltered, almost as though she had touched something hot. It was all I needed. Snapping my arm upward, I was able to break out from under her and roll to the left. X’carin rolled just as fluidly to the right, and we both came to our feet.

“Bazerith failed then,” She stated calmly, eyeing me and ignoring the others at her tree. This was just what I wanted, so I went with it.

“Bazerith is dead,” I replied, trying to look less afraid than I felt. I was closely watching the paths of time as they swirled past me. If she was going to strike, I wanted as much notice as possible.

“Pity. You two were such a nice couple…” She was mocking me, I knew, but before I could control my anger, she was in motion again. There had been almost no warning. She was like lightning.

Fortunately, one of the tricks I had at my disposal was something akin to a giant spring. I once saw a show on television that talked about how they do those nifty special effects in movies. In one clip, they had a man belted to a pneumatic piston that pulled him backwards to simulate being in the blast of an explosion. This was basically what I had rigged using glyphs.

In theory, the glyph would yank me backward or push me forward with enough speed to escape an oncoming attack. That was the idea anyway. What actually happened was that I escaped her attack, only to be thrown right into a nearby tree and nearly knocked unconscious. I made a mental note to add a safety to the program that would only apply force to my frail body if I had the clearance to do so.

Groaning, the dryad corrected her course and closed the distance. I decided that it would probably be a good idea to do something other than sit on my ass and wait for her to pop my head off, so I let loose my next glyph. It was an attack program designed to try a brute force method to throw her off. The idea was pretty simple really. When the glyph made contact with a target, it randomly changed their gravitational vector once every two seconds. The plan was that an enemy would have to spend all their time just keeping themselves on the ground. And it would have worked too, if it had ever reached a target…

Instead, it ran into something surrounding X’carin and was seemingly disassembled and absorbed in moments. Shit.

The dryad was chuckling.

What the hell. I was up a creek now, so I decided to change the game plan a bit. Instead of a slow dispersal of my remaining tricks over time, I figured I had better do something fast or they would all be a moot point, so I let all but one go at once. Like little missiles, they jumped away from me to do their work. Some where dazzlers, others relied on physical changes to the target’s immediate environment. The problem was that all of them required contact in order to activate. One by one, they were counter attacked and defeated as I watched.

“Petty human,” she said as she started to move toward me. Slowly, she was gaining speed, and I pretty much guessed that she meant to snap my neck or something. This was about the only thing that I could have hoped for at that point, because while she was still, she seemed invulnerable. I waited, and waited, and waited until she was not more than a half dozen meters away. Then, with sweat forming on my brow, I sent a silent mental command to the sprite I fervently hoped was paying attention.

{Number One! NOW!!}

Suddenly, the dryad came up short and seemed to have bounced against something like a plate of thick glass. There was a very satisfying THUNK, and she actually looked surprised for a moment. Then her features changed again and she wiped the blood from under her nose and wailed in anger. I was hoping to have split her skull or something, or at least knock her unconscious, but my luck that day was a little dim it seemed. She hardly hesitated before she spun and put out her arms. I saw her lips moving as she incanted some form of magic. At once, the tiny sprite hovering above her left shoulder became visible and shrieked. At the same time, her own magical defenses appeared, and I figured out that she had cast some kind of spell to illuminate all magical forms. Being able to see into that realm myself now, I cringed in horror at what quickly transpired.

The dryad’s defence system was not composed of heavy, coordinated and intelligent glyphs like Marly’s, but rather a massive number of smaller, faster glyphs all acting independently of each other. Like a swarm of honey bees, they attacked the helpless sprite who batted and struggled to escape. It was over in seconds.

I heard Number One’s death wail, even as her little doll-shaped form disintegrated into random points of light which faded as they fell to the ground like sparks. In less time than it took me to gasp, the sprite was simply gone.

When X’carin turned back to me, I met her with anger and hatred. Smiling, she continued to walk towards me. Marly had always told me that when someone you know is hurt in battle, it’s the hardest thing in the world to get up and think and act clearly instead of seeking revenge. Had she not drilled this into me again and again, I most certainly would have jumped up and attacked X’carin barehanded. And I almost certainly would have been annihilated.

Instead, I did the most logical thing I could think of. I ran. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no chicken. I wanted nothing more in the world than to stay and pummel that bitch until she got tired of it and ended my life. But the voice of reason reminded me of our objective. I needed to buy time, in any way I could. So I flipped around and made a mad dash for cover.

I saw the glyphs dash past me and strike the pair of bushes I was about to pass between. Had I not been watching my temporal paths, I never would have noticed the mammoth spines that abruptly formed within the foliage and lanced out across the pathway like a hundred razor-sharp blades. I managed to halt and twist my body so as to avoid the worst of the deadly thorns, but was speared through one shoulder, my side, and both my calves. I know that sounds like I really screwed up, but considering what I managed to avoid, it was a small miracle. As it was, I was pinned like a bug, unable to move forward or back, and in my wild gyrations at the last moment to avoid the most lethal of the spines, I managed to turn myself around 180 degrees so that I had a rather nice view of X’carin as she sauntered up to me grinning.

“Did you really think I would let you get away so easily? I knew you must have had help to pull that little stunt with the wall, damned sprites!”

I stood there watching her since there really wasn’t much else for me to do. I still had one glyph left, but it was more of a tool to make other glyphs than a weapon. I had put it together thinking that we might somehow have more time than this. I stared at the swirling, buzzing mass of tiny atoms that orbited X’carin’s form. It was really a very good defense, and as a hacker, I could see why no one had ever managed to defeat her in battle. Almost any magical attack would simply be taken apart bit by bit. Each tiny glyph was in itself very weak, but as a coordinated hive, they were far greater than the sum of their parts. Counter glyphs would hit and destroy only a single atom, so even a magic to magic attack would be fruitless. Unless…

I winced at the pain in my shoulder as the dryad came forward.

“I see why Bazerith liked you though…” she continued. “You’re not like most men. And you did defeat her. Perhaps I should fuck you myself and see what you’re really made of.”

My eyes grew wide at this, but I was quickly working out a programming sequence in my head that I could translate to the last glyph via a spoken phrase.

“I can tell you find me as sexually attractive as your doomed lover. Like the new queen, she too will soon be changed into something more useful. Why don’t you give in and join me. I can promise you levels of pleasure that your human lover could only hint at.”

“Back in school, my eighth-grade algebra teacher was very fond of reminding me to always check my signs…”

X’carin’s features took on a look of confusion. I didn’t care if she understood or not.

“He drilled it into my brain for a whole year,” I went on, buying as much time as I could in case this didn’t work. “He said it was more important to get your signs right than to have the correct answers numerically. I didn’t really understand why this was until I started programming computers.”

“What are you babbling about, human?”

“… There, everything is about signs. On or off. Positive or negative. Changing a single bit of information can completely alter the way a program operates.”

“ENOUGH!” She bellowed, and the ground around me shook. “Your meaningless history is trying my patience!”

I quietly mouthed the words to reprogram my last glyph. I could see that the dryad was watching me dubiously. She was very confident in her defenses. It was the first mistake that I had seen her make that day, and it was the one that I was counting on.

“Oh yeah? Try this…” I replied and let the last tiny glyph spring from my hand. It zipped right up and into the swarming mass where it disappeared, almost as though it had hit a high-speed cheese grader.

“I would have thought you’d be smarter than that, human. Too bad. You would have made a fine…”

I smiled as X’carin suddenly realized that something was wrong. She looked abruptly down at herself as her swarm of glyphs tightened.

“Oops,” I said to her calmly. “Looks like you missed a sign…”

Panicking, the dryad started to bat at her skin which was quickly becoming patchy as the tiny glyphs picked at her. I had sent her the most insidious kind of attack. A virus. Since I couldn’t break her defenses by brute force, I turned her own magic against her by changing a single bit of information in her own code. It was the one that kept her tiny minions from treating her own body as a threat. X’carin was, after all, a magical creation.

Confused by the sudden onslaught, she figured out much too late that it was her own defenses that were quickly tearing her apart. Screaming and flailing, she struggled in vain to escape the magic of her own design. Unable to even turn away, I watched in horror as she was gradually disintegrated from the outside in, and in less than a minute, what was left of her body fell to the ground and continued to shrink within the deadly hive of glyphs.

I was a bit worried that once X’carin had been fully consumed, that her swarm would go looking for other prey, but as the last bit of the dryad vanished, so did her spells. Abruptly, I was left hanging in the thorns in near silence. I could hear voices in the distance, but otherwise, the only sound was a soft breeze through the trees around me. Fatigue and blood loss hit me like a slap in the face and I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness. I tried to call out, but my throat closed up and all that came out was a squeak. The others had no idea that I was even in need of help, and the fear of death came over me for the second time in twenty-four hours. My last waking thought was a silent mental plea to Ananha for help.

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