Mierna clutched at her necklace while the rest of the faeries scattered around the room. Some of them already lay lifeless, a mere shell of their former selves. The glow of energy pulsed within these mouths until they closed tightly to contain their catches, retracting back to the head somewhere within the mess of tangled arms. It grew larger, cracking the glass along the sphere. At least, it shattered beneath the weight.

Vlanders dashed in front of Mierna and Wexel to shield them from the explosion of tiny fragments. The chamber was a mess of scrambling bugs and broken glass. Even the chamber’s floor, reinforced with metal over stone, groaned beneath the mound of pressure continuing to expand. Little by little, the three were forced to keep their distance in the remaining, untouched space.

“How in the world..?” Mierna could scarcely believe how large it grew in just a few minutes. It did not even resemble the creature she remember seeing at the circus. That, at least, seemed more like a living thing. This one appeared to be a fungus that took over everything it touched. She turned toward the sound of door sliding shut. The same was done on the other side of the room. Those still trapped took to the air, only to be slapped back down by a whipping tentacle. Terrified, Mierna cringed at their screeching cries when hitting forges or ripping wings across jagged stalagmites in the room’s corners. “Vlanders, how do we do this?”

“We?” Vlanders’s hushpuppy eyebrows lowered in a look that read, You know how this works. As the creature continued expanding along the floor and upper walls, the púca gave a weary sigh and noticed her fingers clamping around the necklace.

“It’s all going to come to me, isn’t it?” Mierna started to tear up, but a hand over hers seemed to draw back the seeping fear.

“Your particular magic is one that no one can take away, not even Nightmare Incubus.” Vlanders comforted her with a gentle smile and tapped a finger over her charm. It glowed a brief moment. “No matter what happens, I shall be with you… always.”

He held both hands out as he backed away with that jester-like grin never diminishing. As she and Wexel watched, he gracefully turned to face their arch nemesis.

“Come to dance for me, my little púca?” the voice of Bashton taunted.

“Indeed, I shall!” He took an excited bow. “But first, to business!”

Mierna could not understand the words that followed, nor could Wexel decipher any of it. Whatever exchanged between the two was meant for their ears only. However, he made sure to flash her a warm smile while continuing to elude capture by stepping in beat with several flicks of the slithering arms. He moved with ease, almost reflecting a style of ballet while the massive body moved in around him. For the next few moments, it seemed the creature enjoyed his little performance. It was only as he slowed did several tentacles block Mierna’s view.

That familiar glow from those Venus-fly-trap mouths caused alarm, though she could not be sure until they pulled aside to confirm her worse fear.

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