The sword was awful. Every step with it took more effort than the last. The blade sucked away her magic faster than the Whirlwood filled her and left her sluggish and weak. It was hungry, and its aura made her mind feel scratchy. She forced herself to hurry, pushing toward the Circle, wanting to get rid of it.
As she neared a fold curving into the Circle, she heard the shrill calls of ravens overhead. They flashed through the trees, looping overhead, growing in noise and number until she stood before the entrance of the Circle. Dozens of ravens watched her from above, perched among the boughs of the trees.
Oboe’s breathing was ragged. She recognized the raven, but there was so many of them. “Grandmother?”
“Yes child,” one spoke. “You have brought the sword. Sloppy work, but you have done as I commanded. Very good.”
Oboe braced herself against a tree. Her eyes darted between the dozens of ravens in the trees. There was so many of them. How many places could grandmother be in at once?
“Plant the sword in the ground,” grandmother said, and then another continued in the same breath: “You are free to go until I have need of you again.”
The shrieking of birds died down as a troop of spriggan came marching through the gate. Most of them fauns and nymphs armored in bronze. They brought with them a frightened looking leshy. She had hair like willow branches and bare skin like woven twigs. Her family garment was missing.
“What’s going on?” Oboe asked. Something was wrong. The leshy woman’s face was wet with tears.
“None of your concern, my pet.” Bassoon said. “Leave the sword and go. Your work is done.”
Something was wrong. “I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s going on!”
The lead spriggan looked toward the nearest Whisper. “Shall we get rid of her, my Lady?”
“A moment, if you would.” She said, and turned her attention back to Oboe. “This is a ritual. A terrible but necessary ritual. You will sleep easier if you do not witness it.”
Oboe stuck the sword in the ground, eyes narrowed. “I want to see it.”
In unison, the ravens began to laugh. Chuckling on all sides, drowning out all other sound. The Whispers took to the air and gathered, piling onto one another in the center of the clearing, morphing together until Bassoon the faun formed out of the shifting mass.
“You do know how to charm me, child.” The Fair Lady smiled, her fingers curling along Oboe’s chin. “Very well. What is life without a bit of blood?” She ripped the sword out from the ground and strolled toward the leshy, who averted her gaze. Grandmother tugged the leshy’s face to meet hers.
“This wretch was, until recently, Camellia of the Bellflower family. She has disgraced her name for crimes against the Circle, and left her children with no way to survive. But I, in my mercy, have offered her a chance at redemption.”
Magic poured out of Basson’s hand, raw as if it were out of the Fount itself, coating the blade of the sword. It was too much for the sword to dispel at once. A noise of color without shape.
“The needs of her children will be met, and she will serve a purpose. The curse on this sword will be satisfied.”
Camellia said nothing. Her eyes were trembling.
“If you are truly my daughter,” The Fair Lady said to Oboe. “You will not look away.”
Rearing back her arm, she plunged the sword deep inside Carmellia’s chest. Her head arched back, her silence broken by an agonized howl of pain. The leshy woman fell to her knees, the wound freezing to stone. Oboe stared, transfixed in horror. A hint of a smile curled on Bassoon’s lips.