The turquoise scaled woman made no move to indicate that she saw Beth at the forest’s edge but just as Beth tried to step back behind a tree the woman spoke.
“You didn’t disturb the roots or the branches?” she asked. Her voice was calm and still, a mirror of the pond she sat beside.
Walking through the forest had been scary but interacting with someone was far worse. Beth tried to say something but her voice deserted her.
“Do you know where you are?” the woman asked.
Beth had no idea what the right answer was. She was pretty sure she was in Elgamire forest, but since neither Elgamire nor the Blessed Realms were real places where she was seemed open to debate. The simple answer was that she knew where she appeared to be, so she nodded her head in an imperceptibly small gesture. The woman wasn’t looking at her, which meant the gesture wasn’t much of an answer but the woman seemed aware of it and accepted it as the response she was looking for.
“And do you know who I am?” the woman asked.
Beth blinked. She did.
Lagressa of the Drowning Kiss was a character from the novels. She had turquoise scales and was a traveller from one of the half made worlds that bordered the Blessed Realms. She’d appeared in an earlier novel in the series and there were hints that she was behind the headaches that the characters in the latest book were dealing with. Beth had read enough from Lagressa’s point of view though that she had her own suspicions as to what was going on. Twists the writer was foreshadowing but hadn’t put into play yet, that would reveal Lagressa wasn’t the villain the protagonists had mistaken her for.
“How unexpected. You do know who I am,” Lagressa said, though Beth had no idea how the scaled woman had determined that Beth had recognized her.
“That’s a Silence Breaker?” Beth asked, looking at the moonlight blade rather than the woman holding it. She found her voice as her familiarity with who and what Lagressa was flowed into her mind.
“You’re not a sorceress,” Lagressa said. “Where did you hear that name?”
“I’m not a sorceress,” Beth said and stepped forward. “And I’m not an enemy. I’m just a traveller, like you.”
Beth was gambling that the Lagressa before her was the same one she knew from the books she’d read. It was a gamble to stand before her even so, the Lagressa from the novels was not overly trusting, or prone to forgiveness or mercy. She was a demon of dark waters, a living undertow that could pull the unwary to their doom.
Beth took the risk though because the novels had been clear on one point about Lagressa. Her physical nature didn’t determine who she was. Despite the peril she held within her, the Lagressa that Beth had read about was fundamentally a kind person who had been surrounded by an unkind world for far too long.
“What is your name traveller?” Lagressa asked.
There wasn’t a world that had been written about where giving your name to a demon was a wise idea and, despite her belief in Lagressa’s eventually friendly persona, Beth didn’t see any reason to leap into such a classic mistake when she’d been too afraid to speak just moments before.
“You know who I am and you don’t trust me?” Lagressa asked. “Are you really as young as you appear?”
“I am,” Beth said. “And it’s not that I don’t trust you, but there’s more people listening here than just the two of us aren’t there?”
“There are,” Lagressa said. “But none of the eavesdroppers will prove a threat while you’re with me.”
“How did you get the forest to accept the light of that blade?” Beth asked. Elgamire loved its darkness, but it didn’t seem to be moving against the one bit of foreign light that Lagressa held within it.
“The forest and I are on good terms,” Lagressa said. “It does not speak of you though. Tell me how you moved through it and I will answer one question about the blade since you seem so interested in it.”
A dozen lies jumped to Beth’s mind, but she threw them away. Lagressa’s question was as much as a test as it was a request for information.
“I’ve read about Elgamire,” Beth said. “And the Night Pixes and the Root Dwellers. I read about how the forest is alive and how it prizes the darkness under its canopy. It’s happy to be the home to…”
She stopped, only at the last moment aware that what she was about to say could give offense.
“Monsters?” Lagressa asked.
“It’s what I’ve read,” Beth said, “But I don’t think that part is correct.”
“And why would you say that?” Lagressa asked, sliding a long polishing stroke down the length of the moonlight blade.
“Because the Night Pixies and the Root Dwellers aren’t monsters,” Beth said. “They just creatures defending their homes.”
“Even from other creatures which pose no threat to them?” Lagressa asked.
“They’re animals, they can’t reason things out like that,” Beth said.
“But still, they’re dangerous,” Lagressa said.
“Lots of things are dangerous,” Beth said. “It doesn’t mean they’re bad though. Fire’s nothing but danger but it’s the most useful tool we have.”
Lagressa seemed satisfied and turned to look at Beth at last.
“And your question about the blade, Traveller.”
Beth had dozens of questions she wanted to ask and more tumbled in the more she thought about them. There was one in particular that mattered the most though.
“Can that blade slice through the shadows between the worlds?” she asked, hoping that part of the story would prove to be as true as the rest of the elements around her were.
“That is one of its properties,” Lagressa said.
“So it can get you home?” Beth asked.
“There is no home for me,” Lagressa said. “Even if I could return to where I was, I never would.”
Beth kicked herself. She’d been thinking of her own need and had forgotten the fact that Lagressa was in the Blessed Realms because she’d hated her homeland.
“Could it take someone else home?” Beth asked, with more honesty. She’d only been promised one answer but that didn’t mean the dialog had to end there.
“If the blade is forged strong enough, then, yes, it can,” Lagressa said. “If it’s not, then the someone else will wind up somewhere else, probably a somewhere else not to their liking.”
“How can you tell if the blade is forged well?” Beth asked.
“You use it and then have someone step through and see if the cut goes where it’s supposed to,” Lagressa said.
Beth thought of the somewhere elses she could wind up. Places from other books she’d read. There were lots of possibilities that weren’t all that pleasant to think of living in. On the other hand though, the Night Pixies and the Root Dwellers were only some of the perils the Blessed Realms held and most of the rest weren’t as easy to avoid as just being careful where you walked.
“Do you need a volunteer to try the Silence Breaker out on?” she asked, disbelieving she was making the offer even as she knew it was the only real choice she had.