Witch, 76

Properly Arbitrating Conflicts Requires Knowing what the Actual Stakes of the Conflict Are

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“You don’t have to be scared.”

“I think I do.”

“I expected you to say you weren’t.”

“But I am.”

“I can tell. You don’t have to be.”

“But I am.”


“Someone tried to kill you last time we were here.”

James smiled, taking Ron’s hand as they watched the centaurs prepare the table. Josephine was already sitting at the head. “He didn’t try to kill me. He only thought about threatening me briefly and then he changed his mind.”

“That’s too long,” Ron growled.

James nodded. “It’s okay, I promise. He’s going to be here at the table with Grandma and Spike and we’re going to go do something else.”

“Shouldn’t we stay and…”

“We have to deal with the centipedes, and I’d rather do it when nobody was looking,” James explained, pulling Ron away. “If Esteban really did kill them, then it should only take five minutes and we’ll be back before the meeting even starts.”

“But you don’t think he did, do you?”

“No. I expect he tried, but I’m not confident the poison will have worked after what the demon said to us in the church. I’ve got another plan.”

“Which is?”

James tapped his staff on the ground as he walked. “I’m just going to kill it the normal way.”

“What’s the normal way?”

“Squishing it.” James gave Ron another smile. “It’ll be okay.”

“Do you really believe that?” Ron asked as they walked. “Or do you just want me to believe it?”


Ron nodded, and tried to stay calm as they went through the hamlet. James would get worried if he knew Ron was worried and it would distract him. So he tried to not worry. Much. There were centaurs around, but they gave James and Ron a wide berth, watching them warily. Not warily enough that Ron felt compelled to draw his sword, but warily.

They didn’t know exactly where the centipede nest was, but the hamlet wasn’t that big, and it got pretty obvious once they were within a few feet of it. The music on this side of the river was different, a slightly deeper set of notes than Ron was used to, but it still wasn’t hard to tell when it changed, slowing down weirdly. “What’s that?”

“Sounds like faery magic,” James said, and then he slipped.

“Woah,” Ron said, reaching out to catch him. “Are you okay?”

James nodded as Ron helped him stand. “Yes. Be careful, there’s a lot of ice under the snow here.”

“I’ll be careful,” Ron promised. It became very slow going for a minute, because the ice made it hard to walk. “Why would it be so icy here?” Ron asked, looking around. There was nothing that looked like it would have run off enough water to make this happen. “A faery did all this, right?”

“I expect so.” James stopped and, using his staff to brace himself, knelt on the ice, clearing it away with a hand. Then he rested with his hand flat against it for a minute, listening. “It’s strange for them to interfere with the hamlet, from what I understand.”

“There were extenuating circumstances.”

Ron looked up, saw two faeries, one blocky and serious looking with reddish wings, and the other kind of waifish and looking like he might cry, his wings a pretty white colour. It was the blockier faery who’d spoken.

James nodded. “May I presume that the extenuating circumstances were long, red and had far too many legs?”

The faeries landed on the ice in front of James. “I didn’t myself see them,” said the one who’d spoken. “But yes, I expect we’re describing the same circumstances.”

“Okay. I’m James. I’m here to help you get rid of that thing.”

The faery nodded. “Your help is appreciated, but not necessary. Hemlock and I have it under control.” He looked down at the ice. “Juniper seems to have mostly dealt with the problem anyway. I’m Daffodil.”

“Did your mother send you, Daffodil?”

Ron wondered why James knew Daffodil’s mother. Maybe it was Lotus? Or maybe it was racist to assume that Daffodil was related to the only female faery from this side of the river who he knew? James probably knew faeries who Ron didn’t.

“She is speaking with the centaur chieftain about the problem,” Daffodil said, inclining his head. “We were instructed to report the situation to her after we assess the level to which the centipedes have been suppressed.”

“I see.” James looked down at the ice. “They’ve been suppressed fairly well here. It seems that all the ones that were in the nest were killed.”

“So there is no problem, then,” Daffodil said. Beside him, Hemlock looked relieved.

“I wouldn’t say that.” James stood up, leaning on Ron to keep his balance. “The ice won’t have killed the centipedes inhabiting the centaurs themselves.”

“Wh-what?” Hemlock asked, lifting into the air. He had a quiet, crackly voice. “The centaurs?”

“Yes,” James said, while Ron tried not to feel queasy. “It’s inside several of them. I felt it when I came in. It will need to be excised, and if we’re going to do it without killing them, it will need to be done carefully.”

“That’s super gross,” Ron told James.

“I know.” James sighed, waited until they were off the ice to speak again. “Probably should have done that first before coming here, but there was no point in pulling them out if hundreds of them were going to swarm out of the nest when we did.”

“But they are all dead in the nest?”

James nodded. “Yes. If there were any under there, they’re frozen solid. Daffodil and Hemlock’s friend did a good job; I’m not sure if that ice will even melt in the summer.”

“It’s that powerful?”

“The soil is frozen down to the bedrock.” James looked up at Daffodil, who was flying alongside them. “Is your Juniper available to leave the forest briefly? There’s another infestation of those creatures I could use a hand with.”

“I’ll ask him next time I see him,” Daffodil said. “I’m sure he’d be happy to help.”

“Good. His power is going to be very important in…”

Indistinct shouting interrupted them, and James went tense and picked up his step. “That’s where the meeting is happening. Something’s wrong.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.” They hurried over there, and found a crowd around the head of the table. The centaurs all had weapons drawn. Josephine was kneeling in front of a fallen centaur.

“What’s going on?” Ron demanded when Spike zipped over.

“One of the queen’s guys came in and fucking went nuts or something,” Spike said, looking terrified. “I don’t know, it just fucking happened. Esteban’s collapsed.”

“Oh, no,” James said, pushing his way over there, through armed centaurs who still gave way for him. Esteban was blue in the face and shivering as he convulsed on the ground. “What’s happening?”

“He’s been poisoned,” Josephine said, and the glamourous, iridescent faery beside her nodded.

“The centaurs think he was attacked,” the faery said. “And ran off after Juniper. They are mistaken. This is normal poison.”

“I can help.” Hemlock landed right on Esteban’s face, eyes closed. “It’s a strong poison, but I can draw it out of him if I just have a minute to…what the fuck?”

A centipede was crawling out from Esteban’s mouth, rearing at Hemlock. Daffodil punched it and it fell apart, rotting in place. All around them, centaurs were pulling back. “What the hell is going on?” Daffodil demanded.

James started to answer him and stopped, cut off by a sound that knocked him, Ron, Josephine and the faeries to their knees.

The forest had started screaming.

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4 thoughts on “Witch, 76

  1. Well that can’t be good.

    I mean, unless it’s the kind of screaming that comes from really good sex. Which is entirely possible!

    But with Scott involved, chances of that are not good.




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