Penelope kept her word and delivered them safety to Aura by cloaking them with fae magic.
After walking for a couple hours, she led them to a beautiful secluded area. Though it was now dark, lanterns in the form of birds perched themselves on the branches of the surrounding trees. The area was illuminated in a soft blue glow. A small streamed cracked the earth in a zigzag pattern.
"It's that tree over there." Penelope pointed to a wide sycamore across the stream. It was an exact replica of the tree the their childhood fort was built in.
"Unbelievable," Cole whispered, with an edge to his voice.
"My thoughts exactly," Ruby muttered.
Penelope grinnedmischievously. What was that about?
She thrust the box containing the humming bird corpse into Ruby's arms. Ruby balanced it on top of the tome.
"I have to go now. Remember you have until midnight before the enchantment of invisibility turns bad. I'll seek you out again soon." And with that she left.
"Midnight, of course. Isn't it always midnight. And doesn't something bad always happen in this case." Cole suggested, ominously.
At least he was talking to her again.
"Worst case scenario, I'll lose a shoe," Ruby replied. She set the tome and box down, and took the frail bird corpse out of its confinments. She crossed a small wooden bridge to the tree. Cole followed. Once there, she set the bird down on the ground before the sycamore.
They waited a minute. Nothing happened. When it began to seem like they had been the victims of a demented joke, Ruby opened her mouth in protest. Just as she was about to speak, a deep voice rattled her bones. "Mortals on Fae land... Ah, wait. I see it is the Starborn king and his Lover."
Ruby stepped forward. "Okay, I'm not his-"
"Quiet you!" The tree interrupted. The bark on the base of the tree took the shape of a man's face. The tree's gaze averted downwards to observe the offering placed on the ground. It's eyes closed in concentration, causing them to briefly camouflage back into the rest of the tree. When its earthy eyes opened again, the most miraculous thing happened.
The humming bird's neck snapped back into place, and it's tendons fused together. A moment later it's wings fluttered. By habit, it set sail into the air.
Ruby looked to the tree for an explanation.
"Though it will never be the same, the bird had been revived and tasked with a new fate. I seek to create not to destroy."
"I know what this is about." Cole spoke up. "It's a metaphor. That bird is us. It was a sacrifice, an offering. As I am to the Kingdom." He stared off into the direction of the bird's flight.
Ruby turned her attention back to the sycamore. "Let me tell you something tree, we have lives back home. If you think, for one second, that we're going to lay down and submit to this-"
Cole placed his hand upon her mouth, effectively silencing her. He stepped between her and the now glaring tree."What I think she means, uh, sir?"
Ruby nudged Cole aside. "It's a tree. I'm pretty sure its gender is a mute point." She turned to face the Sycamore. "What I'm saying, is that we never asked for this." She glanced back at Cole. "He would make a horrible King!"
Behind her Cole cleared his throat.
Ruby turned towards Cole and shrugged apologetically. "There's a lot of commitment involved and frankly I don't think-" Ruby stumbled upon her words at the flash of hurt that briefed Cole's face. "I don't think its his thing." She finished, doing her best to soften the blow.
The tree stared daggers at them and said nothing for a long moment. Ruby gripped Cole's hand for support.
"You wish to dessert the Kingdom and defy the prophecy?"
Cole's grip upon her hand tightened.
Ruby bit back her fear. "Well when you put it in those terms..."
"I care not for deserters!" The tree's voice roared in what could now be considered a predominantly male voice.
"No, no, no !" Cole rushed. "We're not deserters!"
Ruby nodded eagerly, hoping they could extinguish the trees contempt. "No, definitely not deserters. Think of us more as tourists; people passing through."
Cole covered his mouth with his hand to stifle a groan. So far this meeting was not going well.
The tree growled. "I will bestow you with the sight of the ancient fae, girl. It is in your best interest to aid the king in his quest. Once you bring me the blood of the dragon king, I will ensure you a safe passage home."
Ruby held her breath a moment before releasing it. She wanted to go home now, but it seemed this was as good as it would get for her. "Fine," she agreed reluctantly.
Not a second later a heavy gust of air forced itself into her lungs. She was knocked to her knees. Cole began to hastily move closer to her, but she held up her hand to let him know she was alright. After a moment the pressure on her lungs ceased and she could breathe easy again. She ran quickly, crossing the bridge to the tome. She gathered it in her arms and opened it. She flipped to a random page. Though the english was outdated, it was english at that. She shut the book.
Cole approached, and helped her to stand. "Lets go. It's getting late and we have a long journey."
Cole offered to take the tome from Ruby, but she refused to let go if it. They walked in uncomfortable silence for a long hour. Ruby grew apprehensive. It was getting really late. Without a watch or cell phone she couldn't be sure of the time.
"Maybe, its not so bad." Cole said breaking the silence.
"Maybe not for you!" Ruby spat.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
-"Think about it. You left a life where you were jobless most of the time, practically homeless, and here you get everything handed to you on a silver platter and a Princess to fawn over you. "
He stopped walking and turned to glare at her."Are you serious? You act like I wanted this to happen."
Cole shook his head."You're crazy! I've been risking my life trying to prove myself to these people. You think this is fun for me?"
Ruby eyed the gold feather pinned to Cole's shirt. "You don't seem to mind the perks."
A piercing shriek brought the conversation to a halt.
"Do you think it's passed midnight?" Ruby asked.