The door to the warren closed behind Kikimora with an unapologetic creak, but no one looked up to greet her. She looked down at the letter in her hands, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the candle-lit dark. Coven was preparing a potion of something or other at the cauldron, and Ophelia lay slumbering on a makeshift bed of hay in the corner of the room. Coven didn’t like when the girls let Ophelia just lay around inside, claiming she hated how much room the feathered dove took up. But the other girls were nowhere to be found, no doubt still out on their own expeditions like the one Kiki had just returned from. Coven would probably never openly admit she didn’t really mind Ophelia’s presence in the warren, and with the matter of the letter at hand, Kiki was happy to let it go.
“Hey, Cov? I found this under a Totem. I think someone put it there on purpose.”
Without looking up from her cauldron, the albino female pressed, “What is it?”
“It’s a letter. From a blacksmith. Something about… looking for pieces of his sword? So that he can re-forge it?”
“Okay, well we don’t have time for that. Put it back where you found it.”
The sphynx dove looked up from the letter at their matriarch indignantly. “I’m not going all the way back there by myself, I nearly fell down a ditch on my way back!”
Briefly making eye contact, Coven gestured to the slumbering Prairie. “Then take Ophelia.” Ophelia grumbled in her feigned slumber.
“There’s a symbol on here, I feel like I’ve seen it before.”
Coven put down her ladle, absolutely out of patience and all at once intrigued. She fought with herself whether or not to let it go, but ultimately held out a paint pink paw to retrieve the letter. “Give it to me.” Kikimora obliged.
Ophelia’s mulberry-colored eyes opened and she watched the smaller females with mild interest. If they weren’t going to be quiet and let her sleep, she might as well listen in, in case this mission of was of any interest to her.
Coven barely glanced at the letter before she went to her shelves of books, withdrawing no less than three of them. The small blue-eyed kukuri watched her, taking in the deliberate movements and impressive recall as Coven rifled through pages and quickly uncovered the same symbol in multiple books. Cross-checking the pages’ contents with that of the letter, her nose twitched in agitation. “Kiki. Pack a bag. Ophelia, you’re coming with us.”
Kiki’s blue eyes lit up. “Are we actually going to help him?”
“We’ll see what we can do.”
Coven brought two bundles of herbs with her, and one of the books that contained the same symbol as the blacksmith’s letter. Kiki tried to ask what they were for, but as usual Coven withheld the information pertaining to the magic she planned on using. She saw it as a need-to-know basis, especially with the younger pups like Kiki and Huldra. They’d left the warren immediately, and with little discussion beyond ensuring their pack contained the essentials for travel: food, a lambskin sack for water, and two sets of spurs for rock-climbing. (As a Prairie, Ophelia’s claws grew long enough that she didn’t need climbing assistance.)
They were already deep within the same cave in which Kiki first stumbled across the letter when Coven stopped the party. “What is it?” Kiki tried to ask, but the albino dove shushed her. Ophelia, with an oil-lamp strapped to her head, ignored the order to be still and lumbered toward a crevice--the same one that had caught Coven’s attention. Their long, drooping ears caught surprisingly more than Kiki’s significantly smaller dishes. At the edge of the crevice, she paused.
All three doves strained their ears.
Ophelia turned around to look at the more standard-sized Kukuri and signed, ‘Here. Metal.’
When Kiki and Coven drew closer, Kiki realized she could hear it too. The fant twang of metal, as if something was moving or brushing it gently. They each took turns looking down into the crevice with the guidance of Ophelia’s lamplight. “I think I can reach it.” Kiki thrust her arm into the crack but Coven was quick to instead bend it behind her.
“Not so fast. I need to make sure it’s not being protected, first.”
Oh, right. The Magics.
Kiki and Ophelia exchanged a look of worry as Coven withdrew the bundle of eucalyptus and sage from their deerskin bag. She lit both bundles in Ophelia’s lamp flame and allowed the smoke to waft around them. She placed the herbs on either side of the crevice and began a quiet incantation. The sphynx and Prairie watched from afar, waiting for something to burst into green flames or explode. But nothing did, to Coven’s satisfaction. “Good, no one else has been here. The remains of the sword are vulnerable; we should be able to gather them easily.”
Ophelia shook her head hesitantly in disagreement. A worried Kiki tugged at the Prairie’s arm and asked softly, “Ophelia?”
Ophelia bared an abundance of sharp teeth at the darkness around them.
Squinting, Coven tried to read the otherwise mute ku. “The sword isn’t charmed…” The flame in Ophelia’s lantered flicked, and a shadow slithered across the cave wall. “But something is protecting it.”
Kiki could hear it now, the sound of someone gently brushing metal. But it wasn’t the metal that was making the noise. Now it came from the darkness all around them.
The three doves gathered together. “This didn’t happen before,” Kiki didn’t understand. When she first picked up the letter, she was only a few feet from where they stood now.
“Because they knew you weren’t going to try to collect the sword,” Coven informed her. Ophelia grunted as another shadow dashed across the light of her lamp. “Now that we’re here for it, they’ve come to gather in numbers.”
“They? Who’s they?”
“Spirits.” Ophelia’s voice was raspy from disuse. More shadows danced around them in the dark, teasing their lamp light, threatening to blow it out.
“Spirits of the creatures killed by the sword. They were freed when it shattered.” Coven helped fill in the blanks for the others. She held out a single white paw and chanted. Kiki and Ophelia recognized it as a protection spell, often used when they hunted large prey together. But none of them could be sure it would be enough. “Don’t worry,” as if she could read their minds, “they can’t hurt us. They’re only tricksters--they can’t touch us. Be careful of your orientation. The pieces of the sword are still vulnerable. Kiki, pick them up and put them in the satchel.”
Kikimora was frozen to the spot.
“Kikimora, do as I ask.”
She hated the urgency in Coven’s voice. Ophelia made a sound that was neither encouraging nor frightful. Coven knew something else that they didn’t.
Kiki hastily backed toward the crevice and slowly reached her brown, fur-less paws into the dark. She felt around gently, withdrawing her fingers when she felt pieces of the swords edge. The sound of rasping and hissing grew louder as the spirits around them became more and more agitated. Retrieving the broken pieces one by one, she put them in the deerskin bag, until she couldn’t feel any more metal within the alcove. But it wasn’t all there.
“The hilt. The hilt of the sword isn’t here.”
“The Blacksmith will know where it is,” Coven sad as she lashed the fluff of her tail toward an encroaching shadow. It broke and scattered before Kiki’s very eyes. A growl rumbled low in Ophelia’s throat, but the spirits only clamored together louder and more aggressively, drowning out the Prairie’s threats.
“Time to go.”