23~ Prepare

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Previously of LW:
The fairy tribe is organizing for the impending attack. The Elder One asked for Aiden's help to wake the Great Tree to install the fairies' defense mechanism.

Chapter 23

I didn't follow Aiden because I wasn't in the mood to listen to more of the Elder One's enigmatic answers. Instead, I headed back to where I'd left Autumn and Chase. She wasn't there, but I spotted him in the distance, ruffling the feathers around Zarasa's neck. He gave her one last pat, and she padded away into the forest. She disappeared like a ghost, a stark contrast to the noisy atmosphere around us, punctuated with shouts, hurried wing beats and foot steps, unceasing chatter and the occasional rumble of faraway thunder. I hoped the noise was just the fairies setting up their defenses -finally- and not an approaching storm. We had enough to deal with.

"How are things going?" I called out as I reached Chase.

"To be honest I have no idea how the fairies weren't crushed by the Winged during the conflict two hundred years ago considering their lack of practical defense. I'm starting to think only reason there was a stalemate was because the Winged got lost in the forest."

"Does that mean we have to lose the Outlanders as well? Aiden said there were quicksands somewhere, but too far away to be useful."

"No need to go that far. We need to confuse them, if possible separate them."

"Won't they notice? I mean, Aric must have given them a pretty precise location of the village. He knew exactly where we were on the map."

"Oh, I believe that idiot did. We had a map when we got lost, though. In a forest like this one, it's easy to take a wrong turn. Plus, being confusing and annoying is one of the things fairy do best."

"So fairies go out there, throw a few sleeping darts, tease them into following them, draw them into traps like the one we fell into, and confuse them into getting separated and lost?" I summarized.

"Exactly. It would buy us enough time to make our own defenses, should any of them manage to find the village. I just hope the Outlander army won't be smart enough to ignore them nor have weapons advanced enough to hit them."

"Fairies are too quick." I reassured both him and myself. "Have you told your idea to the Elder One?"

"Actually... You know how I told him to gather everyone in the village and not leave, and how I... What do you call it? How I played 'bad cop'?"

"You want me to tell him."

"Well, a princess' role does include foreign diplomacy." He grinned.

"Fine. I'll go tell him to send out the 'confusion squad', but you're coming with me to cut him short if he gets all philosophical and mysterious."

"Seems fair." He grabbed my hand. "Let's go."

We flew off towards the Great Tree, where Aiden and the Elder One still were. Aiden wore a forced smile and a glint in his eyes that made him look ready to punch the Elder One in the face.

"Your Elderness," he was saying, "if you don't stop breathing down my neck, this will never happen. Not what the fudge to you mean by 'contact the roots'?"

Chase cleared his throat. "Can we interrupt?"

"Please do," Aiden grumbled. I didn't remember ever seeing him so bad-humored.

"Sir," I addressed the Elder One, "while we try to, um, 'activate' these defensive measures you were talking about, the Outlanders are coming closer. We must exploit our main advantage: knowledge of the forest. Confusing the Outlanders in order to separate and thus weaken them is our best bet to avoid disaster."

He considered my words. "If the defenses are activated –"

"Were you able to activate them?" I cut him off.

"Not yet, but–"

"Was Aiden? Was anyone? We cannot afford to rely solely on the whims of a tree, which, like you said, is so old it cannot feel our urgency."

"Fair enough." For the first time, I noticed a tinge of annoyance in his voice. "I must agree that you Winged have more knowledge in warfare that us peaceful fairies. We shall do as you instruct." He motioned for a fairy to come forward and listen to our conversation.

"Thank you. You need to send out groups of fairies to tease them, draw them towards traps like the net we fell into, and send a few sleeping darts here and there. The fairies should always keep out of sight and scarcely be seen. The goal is to confuse and tire them with out them getting close enough to hurt us."

The fairy nodded. "Unless you have further instructions, we'll depart immediately."

I didn't have anything else to say, so he called out to his friends to join him. Within minutes,  we had ten groups of five or so fairies all heading in different directions. When they wanted to, fairies could get organized disconcertingly well.

"Do you feel the tree stirring?" The Elder One asked Aiden.

"No, and I don't even get why you're asking me." Aiden shook his head. "The Queen wanted to see her daughter. If you want a chance at calling her again, ask Hailey. Now, if you'll excuse me, I still have work to do." He flew up into the trees, where I supposed fairies were lining up and getting ready to welcome enemy troops with arrows and darts.

"Where's Autumn?" I asked Chase.

"Making sure the peryton don't wander off. I-"

Just then, a fairy alighted next to us, stumbling in an unusual display of clumsiness. He began speaking in rapid tongues to the Elder One, and though I understood none of his words, the urgency of his tone was easy to hear.

The Elder One's face darkened. He turned to us. "It seems your prediction of three hundred soldiers was not exaggerated. Our scouts would like to correct it with their own estimation, though. It seems their numbers are closer to four or five hundreds."

My eyes widened.

"They are marching through the forest like mad men," the Elder One continued, "cutting a clear path, felling trees like lighting strikes, and pounding the soil into dust."

"Their path," the scout added, "can almost be seen for the sky."

Chase muttered a string of curse words under his breath.

The Elder One turned to me, his eyes full of desperation. "Please. I implore you. You must wake the Great Tree. You must."

Oh no!

What's going to happen? (Sorry, I forgot the cute animal last chapter)

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What's going to happen?
(Sorry, I forgot the cute animal last chapter)

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