Astielle: Chapter Eighteen

There was a crater in the center of the valley where a piece of the moon had fallen. The Moon Goddess had cut her hair, or dropped her earring, or trimmed her nails too short at the Sun Goddess’ request. Many explanations were given, but they all amounted to the same thing: a piece of the moon had fallen there, and carved a hole into the world. The rain and the snowmelt from the mountains had filled it, and now that hole was a lake, a mirror where the Moon Goddess could see herself.

Mirror Lake at night was Vaelon’s favorite place to pray. He could imagine no place better than this one to sing a hymn to Mother Void, to heap upon Her praises for all that She would one day claim. Even before he’d been a Voidpriest, when he’d only been a witch full of wanting, he’d come here with his 5 string banjo to serenade the moon.

His skin was all olive and gold, his eyes so dark as to almost be black. His witchmarks were shaped like stars, scattered underneath his eyes and the color of a void. He wore his black hair long and loose, with gold hair cuffs near the front to match his earrings.

He was, in a word, insufferable.

Lynette could see her breath forming clouds in the air as she trudged through the trees to find him. She followed the sound of his clear tenor, the rapid strum of his fingers. It felt dangerous that he still played it as a musical instrument when she knew it was also a magical one. Vaelon insisted that he knew what he was doing, but Vaelon insisted a lot of things. Most of them were dumb as hell.

She waited for a lull in his singing to interrupt.

“You know,” she said, “the Void Goddess is going to get jealous, if you keep singing to the Moon Goddess this way.”

Vaelon laughed, still strumming. He was sitting along the edge of the crater, dressed in his vestments, the night-colored trousers and gold-trimmed black robe. “How would the moonlight shine,” he asked, “if not for the dark of the void?”

“Careful,” she said, nodding to the full moon’s reflection on the water. “She might hear you.”

“It is not the place of Goddesses to eavesdrop on the cares of men.”

“And yet still you pray.”

“I’ve told you before, Nettles,” he said, changing his chord. “A prayer is for its maker.”

“This shit’s why no one likes Voidpriests,” she said, and he laughed again. “At least the Sun clerics have the sense to make promises.”

“There is no promise but oblivion,” he reminded her.

“You’re so fucking weird,” she said. She knelt by the edge of the crater, and looked into the water. “This place gives me the creeps,” she said.

“I love it,” he said.

“Of course you do,” she said.

“The moonlight on this lake,” he said, “is the most beautiful in the world.”

“How would you know?” she said. “You haven’t seen the moonlight everywhere in the world.”

He hummed. “The same way that I know you’re the most beautiful woman in the world,” he said.

“So you don’t,” she said. “You’re just full of shit.” He laughed. She looked at her reflection, her close-cropped yellow hair and the breaks in her nose. The moonlight glittered. “It doesn’t seem right,” she said, “that it moves like that when the water is still.”

“It’s putting on a show for you,” Vaelon suggested.

Lynette stood, because the sight of it was making her uneasy. “You’re sure it isn’t magic?” she asked. “You aren’t giving it ideas or anything?”

“I’d know if it was,” he said. “I have checked, you know. I’m not completely hopeless at my job.” He shrugged. “It’s only moonlight. You can’t make anything out of it. Creation is the Sun’s domain.” He finally set his banjo down, and started untying his robe.

“You’re going to freeze to death,” she warned him.

“If only,” he sighed, letting his robe fall to the ground. The dark curls on his chest trailed down over the thick layer of flesh padding his middle. “One last swim before tomorrow,” he said. He jumped in with less of a splash than she would have expected, resurfacing with a toss of his hair.

“You’re sure you’re ready to go?” she asked.

“I will be,” he said. She could see his breath, but if he was cold he didn’t show it. “It isn’t like we’re never coming back.”

“We may not,” she said. “There’s no guarantee we’ll live long enough.”

“That’s why I start my meals with dessert,” he said. “Besides, I never said alive. I only said we’d come back. Leave my bones at the bottom of the lake, if you love me.”

“I don’t know how I would,” she said, “when I’d be as dead as you.”

More moonlight seemed to reflect off the water around him than further out, created the illusion of a spotlight, like it was gathering close to him.

“Ah, well,” he said. “The fairies won’t be that bad, anyway. They’re basically kids.”

“Exactly,” she said. “They’ll eat us alive if we let them.”

“Kids are great,” Vaelon said. “They’re just little guys.”

“They’re vicious.”

“You only think that because they can sense fear.” He grinned up at her, his face bright with reflected moonlight. “The Fairy King likes gifts, right?” he asked.


“You didn’t even—”

“You’re not bringing a kitten on our perilous journey to the Faewild,” she said firmly. One of Goldie’s cats had given birth to a litter of kittens, and Vaelon had spent the entire time since trying to come up with an excuse to keep one. He stuck his tongue out at her.

“You wait and see,” he said. “A mouse is going to get into our provisions and it will be all your fault.”

“If you’re going to fixate on things too helpless to take care of themselves,” she said, “work on yourself.”

“Nettles,” Vaelon said, putting his chin in his hands, “if you think I’m as cute as a kitten, you only have to say.”

She stuck the toe of her boot in the water to splash him.

Lynette pulled her horse to a stop, and Vaelon followed suit. “What’s wrong?” he asked, checking the road ahead for signs of bandits.

“Someone’s been following us,” she said, her voice low.


“I noticed it the other day,” she said. “Keep moving ahead, I’m going to go back and see if I can catch them.”

“If you’re sure,” Vaelon said. He wasn’t sure if she was trying to get him to a safe distance, or to act as bait. He didn’t ask. He had faith in many things, and Lynette’s ability to take down anything she perceived as a threat was one of them.

He sang as his horse kept walking slow down the road, a hymn for floods and drought.

He stopped when there was a clamor behind him. When he turned, he could see Lynette’s horse waiting in the road. She emerged from the woods holding a small cloaked figure at arm’s length. “Got it,” she announced.

“It?” Vaelon repeated.

“I am a normal human child!” it announced in a voice like nails on a chalkboard, legs flailing in the air. The sound was enough to make Lynette wince. She shook it until the hood fell down off its head.

“Holy shit,” Vaelon said, dismounting.

“I have a cold!” it insisted, trying to pull its hood back on.

Its skin was bone-white, and its ears gave it away immediately as something not human. Big, translucent, animal-like things that ended in tufted points. It had another wispy tuft of hair in the middle of its wrinkled forehead. Its eyes were the bulging kind of too big, a nose and mouth both halfway to a cat’s.

It stilled when Vaelon came closer to get a better look at it, Lynette holding it higher for his inspection.

“It looks like a cat fucked a pervert,” Vaelon marveled. Its face sank, ears drooping.

“Could you use your way with words to say something good, for once?” she asked, disgusted. “Is this a fairy, or what?”

“Hey, you’re okay little guy,” Vaelon said, realizing he may have hurt its feelings. “I’m loving this whole look you’ve got going on.” It perked back up hopefully.

“Of course you do,” Lynette muttered. Vaelon touched its forehead, his eyes turning briefly void-colored.

“Nope,” he said. “No magic at all. Not a trace.”

“What?” Lynette looked between the two of them with no small amount of horror. The thought that this might actually be a human child was distressing.

“Set it down,” Vaelon said. Lynette did as he asked only because it seemed to have calmed down in his presence. Lynette had faith in few things, but Vaelon’s ability to charm a brick wall was one of them. Vaelon got down on one knee to get on its level. “What’s your deal?” he asked. It fidgeted with the hem of its rough shirt.

“You said you were leaving,” it said with a touch of defensiveness. “You might come back as bones.” It wrung its hands, short stubby fingers with claws at the tips. “I thought, if you couldn’t come back to me, then I should go with you.”

Vaelon squinted at the white skin, the silver eyes. It was possible, wasn’t it? Hadn’t fairies been flowers and shadows, once? “Moonlight?”

“I told you this would happen,” Lynette said. “You gave it ideas and made a monster.”

“No he didn’t,” it said. “He wouldn’t do that.”

“Did the Moon Goddess make you?” Vaelon asked.

“No one made me,” it said, a defiant jut to its chin. “I made myself.”

Vaelon mulled that over. “Do you know,” he said, “I don’t think that’s ever happened before? I believe that would make you a miracle.”

It beamed, which split its face into too-many too-sharp teeth. Lynette made a face.

“Why does it look like that?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest. Its ears drooped again.

“It’s not bad,” Vaelon assured it. “We’re wondering where you go it, is all. Moonlight doesn’t usually look like this.”

It fidgeted, shifting its weight from one paw-like foot to the other. “You like little guys,” it said with a bit of a pout. “And. And cats.”

“Aaaaah.” Vaelon’s eyes lit up. “So you thought you could split the difference.”

It glanced nervously at Lynette’s wary disgust before looking back to Vaelon. “This may have been a mistake,” it acknowledged. “I should have picked one. Is it the face? Human faces are complicated. I should have… just the cat.” It tapped its fingertips together. “If I’d been all cat, you would have liked that better.”

“But then I may not have noticed what a wonderful little marvel you are,” Vaelon said, and it brightened. Somewhat literally. “Are you a boy, or a girl?” he asked. Its eyes narrowed in thought. “Boy,” Vaelon clarified, pointing to himself. “Girl,” he said, pointing to Lynette. “You don’t have to be either, if you don’t want.”

“Boy,” he said firmly.

“You sure?” Vaelon asked.

He nodded. “Boys are the best ones,” he said.

“Sun above,” Lynette muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

“Common misconception,” Vaelon said. “We’ll work on that. Do you have a name?”

He thought about it. “Beautiful,” he said finally. Lynette let her head loll back and squinted at a blank spot in the sky.

Vaelon smiled. “That is what I called you, isn’t it?” he said. The little monster nodded. “But that isn’t really a name,” Vaelon said apologetically. “For one thing, no one outside the Empire would be able to pronounce it. They don’t have ⟡, or ⬚. I knew a fellow once whose parents tried to name him Clever Son, but anyone who wasn’t Aekhite called him Weird Smell. We obviously don’t want that.”

“Right,” the monster said warily. He wasn’t ready to give up on the name.

“Here, look,” Vaelon said, spelling out the word ‘beautiful’ in the dirt of the road. “Let’s try taking out the higher vowels, and switching them out for lesser vowels.” He brushed away some letters to add new ones. “There, see? Can you read?”

The monster sidled beside Vaelon to look at the symbols in the dirt. “No.”

Vaelon pointed along as he read. “Kar-za-rul,” he read. “See?”

“That’s doesn’t mean anything,” the monster said.

“Yet,” Vaelon said. “But it could mean you. And you and I would both know, secretly, that it means a kind of beautiful that no one can mess up. A name should be more than a word.”

“Karzarul,” he repeated slowly.

“We need to talk,” Lynette said, grabbing Vaelon by the arm and hauling him up to drag him away. Karzarul crouched in the road and traced his fingers over the letters in the dirt. “What the fuck are you doing?” she hissed in Vaelon’s ear when they felt a safe distance.

“We’re going to need to call him something,” Vaelon shrugged.

“No the fuck we aren’t,” she said. “Don’t encourage this. Are we looking at the same thing right now? Because what I’m seeing is that the moon’s reflection got so obsessed with you that it grew itself some legs and a gender.”

“Obsessed seems harsh.”

“I’m going to wake up in the morning and find that thing wearing your skin as a suit.”

“You said the same thing about Delia,” Vaelon said dismissively.

“And now she’s on her fourth husband,” Lynette reminded him.

“They do keep dying, don’t they?” Vaelon sighed.

“I don’t know which part of you is broken to make being a Voidpriest seem like a good idea,” Lynette said, “but I assume it’s the same thing that’s made you incapable of seeing red flags.”

“I can see them,” Vaelon said. “It’s only that the red flags are the prettiest.” He waggled his eyebrows at her, and she huffed and smacked him gently on the back of the head. “Nettles, we’re trying to do something no one’s ever done before. Now something’s happened that’s never happened before. Void, Sun, Moon. We’ve got all three now, baby! That’s gotta mean something.”

“Don’t call me that,” she said, scratching her nose and turning pink. “Fine. You can keep it, for now. But if it tries to wear your face, I’m killing it.”

Karzarul was tame enough, as these things went. He stayed out of the way, didn’t eat too much, and listened attentively as long as it was Vaelon that was talking. He picked up reading, though it was hard to say how quickly. He spent some time pretending he couldn’t so that Vaelon would continue reading to him. Vaelon fashioned him his own bedroll, which Karzarul always set down right next to him. Vaelon also made him a new outfit, which he found far more delightful than Lynette did. She did not share his fascination with small versions of ordinary clothes.

Karzarul always wanted songs, and Vaelon always obliged. At night, in the morning, on the road.

“Wait,” Lynette said, pulling her horse to a stop. Vaelon did the same, Karzarul seated on the same horse.

“What is it?” Vaelon asked.

“Trap,” she said, dismounting. She pointed with her chin. There was a rope stretched across the road, the right height to catch an inattentive rider taking advantage of the long stretch of empty.

“Wouldn’t staying on the horse give you an advantage?” he asked as she stalked down the road, her shield on her arm and her sword in her hand.

“I’m not risking Maggie,” she said. “A good horse is hard to find.”

“True enough,” Vaelon said. He adjusted his position on the horse so that he could hold his banjo at ready.

“Are you going to sing me a song?” Karzarul asked.

“Nettles might want a spell,” Vaelon explained. “But we’re waiting, because the wrong spell at the wrong time makes her real cranky.”

“Everything makes her cranky,” Karzarul muttered with a pout. Vaelon gave him a quick pat on the head.

Lynette swung her sword in a high arc to cut the rope, and in moments that bandit gang that had claimed this road descended on her. Vaelon tensed as he saw the number of them, enough to take out a small caravan. The quality of Lynette’s armor may have marked her as a worthwhile target, or it may have been a matter of attitude. Her complete and blatant disinterest in feigning either fear or respect. Sometimes that was all it took to make her seem like a person worth overkill.

She nearly beheaded one bandit with her first strike, everything but spine cut straight through. The second she got through the stomach, and the third through the ribs when he tried to get a good angle from behind her. Her shield caught intermittent bolts from someone standing further back, who did not seem concerned about striking his comrades. After the fourth man she impaled, it really seemed as if more of them should have been discouraged.

“Need a hand?” Vaelon called, projecting his voice an impressive distance, hands hovering over his strings.

Not yet,” Lynette called back, cutting out the backs of someone’s knees.

Karzarul looked up at Vaelon, who was watching Lynette. He looked at Lynette, losing ground behind her shield even as she took another bandit’s head off. “I can help,” he decided.

“Absolutely not,” Vaelon said with a frown. “It’s important not to get in her way.”

Karzarul looked between the two of them again. Vaelon had not looked at him even to speak, eyes locked on Lynette the entire time.

“I’ll help,” Karzarul said, jumping down from the horse before Vaelon could stop him. He ran toward Lynette, determined; halfway through, the light of him lost its solidity, became only light in a vaguely humanoid shape. The shape changed, and then he was running on four paws, growling as he ran.

Lynette was blocking a strike to her left with her shield, following through to push the shield upward and make room for her sword to sink into her attacker’s stomach. Another bandit was taking his opportunity on her right, until Karzarul leapt directly onto him, teeth sinking into his face. He screamed, and Karzarul bit down a second time on his throat, crunching as he crushed and tore it out. He jumped toward another one, locked his jaw onto the man’s forearm and felt the bone break, sword dropping. Lynette cut off the man’s other arm in the confusion.

Karzarul’s teeth found more meat and bone, Lynette’s sword spilled more viscera, until nothing was left but corpses in the road and blood on Karzarul’s muzzle.

“I didn’t ask for your help,” Lynette said, sheathing her sword. Karzarul’s ears pinned back.

“I didn’t know you could do that!” Vaelon said. He’d dismounted, retrieving the clothes that Karzarul had dropped and stepping around blood and severed limbs.

“Yeah!” Karzarul said, the same voice as always coming from somewhere within him despite his mouth not moving.

“Sun above, it still talks,” Lynette swore, startled. “Could you not change the voice?” Karzarul tried barking. “Why is that weirder?” she asked.

“I thought I would try being a dog this time!” Karzarul said.

“A dog?” Vaelon repeated. Lynette laughed. Karzarul’s tail stopped wagging, and he tried running in a circle to get a better look at himself. “That’s not a dog,” Vaelon said. “That’s a wolf. That’s a really big wolf.”

“A wolf is a kind of dog,” Karzarul said defensively. “I need to be big, so I can protect you.”

“That’s not your job,” Lynette said.

“I can help,” Karzarul said. “He should be extra safe.”

“He’s got you there, Nettles,” Vaelon said, crouching down to rifle through a bandit’s pockets.

“Seriously?” she asked.

“Yes,” Vaelon said, pulling out a small bag of coins. “I’m precious.”

“I was referring to the looting,” she said.

“Sacred rites,” Vaelon said. “They have returned to the magnificent apathy of Mother Void, and have no need of earthly things.” He tucked the bag into his belt. “Unlike me, who has much need.”

“It’s a very convenient belief system you have there,” she observed.

“Isn’t it?” he said. “Say the word if you ever want to convert, there’s a special drink I make with three different kinds of liquor that’ll really have you embracing the Void.” Karzarul sniffed at Vaelon’s elbow, and Vaelon started to pet him.

“Is that part of the conversion process?” Lynette asked. She watched as Karzarul’s tail wagged furiously, pushing his head into Vaelon’s hand.

“It is the way I do it,” Vaelon said. Karzarul licked stray smears of blood from Vaelon’s wrist.

“Karzarul,” Lynette said. “You gonna get yourself some hands and help him out, or keep distracting him?”

“He’s a good boy,” Vaelon said, which sent Karzarul’s tail to wagging until he saw the look on Lynette’s face. He changed to light again, and wavered there a moment before turning back into his usual form. Karzarul touched his face, but it was the same as it had always been. Vaelon looked up from where he’d been digging through the pockets on someone’s dismembered lower half. “Did you make yourself clothes?” he asked.

Karzarul looked down at himself, where he’d created a facsimile of the clothes Vaelon had made him in silver and white. “Should I get rid of them?” he asked.

“Absolutely not,” Lynette said.

“Nah,” Vaelon said, trying on a ring to see if it fit. “It looks good! It’ll last you longer than what I made.”

Karzarul pulled at the hems of his new moonlight clothes. “I like the ones you made.”

That night when they made camp, Karzarul took the form of a wolf again, joining Vaelon on his bedroll. Vaelon laughed, rubbing Karzarul’s head while his tail wagged.

“Hmm,” was all Lynette said, with one eyebrow raised.

“He’s a dog, Nettles,” Vaelon said. “Dogs are nature’s foot warmers. It’s not weird. Don’t make it weird.”

“Uh-huh,” she said.

Karzarul rested his head on the softest part of Vaelon’s stomach, looking pleased with himself. “Sing for me?” he asked. Vaelon immediately started in on a hymn for insomnia.

She rolled her eyes, turning over to go to sleep.

“You’re not going to be able to pass as a child or a dog,” Vaelon apologized. “It won’t take that long. You can wait out here and… chase squirrels?”

“What if you stay out here, with me?” Karzarul asked, not letting go of Vaelon’s sleeve. “She can go in without you.”

“I’m not the one who wants a drink,” Lynette said. “I’m just the one who needs one.”

“I have all this money now, is the thing,” Vaelon said, “so now I need to get rid of it.”

“I could eat it,” Karzarul offered.

“I would rather drink it,” Vaelon said.

“I’ll hide,” Karzarul suggested, “so that I can go in with you.” He lost his form again, all the light going to where his hands were on Vaelon’s sleeve, wrapping up and around his arm.

Vaelon squinted at the result. “Were you trying to be a snake,” he asked, “or jewelry?” Karzarul darted his tongue and said nothing.

“That’s not going to pass for a bracelet,” Lynette warned.

“I think I can pull it off,” Vaelon said. “Besides, my sleeve will cover most of him. It’s fine, it’ll be fine.” He dismounted from his horse, and headed for the inn.

“We still need to see to the horses,” Lynette called after him.

“Thanks, Nettles!” Vaelon called back.

She sighed.

“The mountain pass looks clear,” Karzarul said, coming in for a landing on a nearby branch.

“This new animal you’ve made,” Vaelon began. Karzarul shifted his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably, talons curling and uncurling around the branch.

“I can fly very fast,” Karzarul said, with a small flap of his wings. “For scouting. It’s a good bird. Strong.”

“The eyes,” Lynette said, aghast.

“It is a lot of eyes,” Vaelon apologized.

Karzarul blinked the six eyes on his head, and the one large eye sitting in the middle of his belly. “For seeing,” he said. “Seeing is important for scouting.”

“Could you try being a regular animal, next time?” Lynette asked.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Karzarul said. The whining made his voice more painful than usual.

“You’re okay,” Vaelon said, stroking his head with one finger. “You’re not an animal, and you’re better than regular.”

Karzarul shone.

Karzarul’s attempt to pass as a normal human child in Faewild Forest was not successful, despite telling the changelings that he had a cold. Since there were no normal human children in Faewild Forest, they were perfectly willing to pull him into their games.

“Looks like you brought them a gift, after all,” Lynette said. Vaelon laughed.

“I’m not letting them keep him,” he said.

Lynette turned to stand closer, her voice low in his ear. “Are you sure about that?” she asked.


“You said he’s the only one of him,” she reminded him. “You don’t think it might benefit him to stay with the other horrible nightmare children?”

“The changelings are cute,” Vaelon said.

“You say that about him, too,” she said.

“It wouldn’t work on him,” Vaelon said. “The magic that keeps them young.”

“He doesn’t need it,” Lynette said. “He isn’t a child. He looks like that because he thought you’d like it. He would have looked like an adult, if he thought you liked that. If he stays here, he’ll stay like this, with things that are at least a little like him. If he stays with us, he’s going to keep trying to be something you’ll like better. How do you think that will end, when he figures out there isn’t anything you’ll like any different than you liked the first?”

Vaelon lowered his eyes. “He doesn’t—even if he isn’t a child. He isn’t human. He’s moonlight.”

“I don’t care what he’s made of,” she said. “I know what he looks like when he looks at you. I know what it feels like.”


“I know. You’re married to the Void. Don’t tell me again like it matters. Like it’s the job that stops you from wanting anyone as much as they want you.”

He picked up her hand, skin against her armored glove, and kissed the steel. “I do love you,” he said. “We’re partners. I’ll stay with you as long as you’ll have me. I could—if you wanted me to—”

“No,” she said. “You’ll never love me the way I love you. I’ll never love anything the way you love everything. That’s the way it is, and we’re not changing. I can want things in the abstract while knowing I don’t want the reality.”

“You say you know what it feels like,” Vaelon said, “but that doesn’t make him any more a threat than you are.”

“I know the world’s not fair,” Lynette said. “Does he?”

A changeling tagged Lynette. “The Fairy King will see you now,” she said.

The Fairy King sat on his throne, a crown of lilies in his green curls. “Hello,” he said.

“Hi!” Karzarul said before anyone could stop him.

The Fairy King smiled. “I like your ears,” he said. Karzarul beamed.

“Speaking of ears,” Vaelon said, “you’ve got something behind yours.” The Fairy King frowned and patted behind the points.

“Oh, Sun above, Vaelon,” Lynette muttered.

“Here,” Vaelon said, ignoring her. “Let me.” He stepped up to the throne, reached behind the Fairy King’s ear, and produced a gold coin. The Fairy King snatched it out of his hands.

“Is this real?” the Fairy King asked suspiciously.

“Bite it and see,” Vaelon suggested, stepping away from the throne.

“I can’t believe this,” Lynette sighed.

The Fairy King bit into it. He took it back out of his mouth, unwrapped the foil, and started eating the chocolate. “You didn’t use any magic,” he marveled. “How did you do that?”

“Ancient Voidpriest secret,” Vaelon said, wiggling his fingers outward in an arc. “Trade me some good mushrooms and I’ll show you later.”

The Fairy King nodded. “Is that why you guys are here?” he asked, taking small bites of his chocolate so it would last. “You want the good mushrooms?”

No,” Lynette said, stepping forward. “It is said the Fairy King knows a way to commune with the divine.”

“Yeah,” the Fairy King nodded.

“I seek a blessing from the Sun Goddess,” Lynette said. “A blessing greater than the prayers of Sun Clerics can bring me.”

“Because it’s too big, or because they suck?” the Fairy King asked.

“It can be both,” Vaelon said.

“I need the Sun Goddess’ blessing,” Lynette said, “to fell my brother, to claim his throne, and to lead my people.”

“Oof,” the Fairy King said. “That’s a biggie.” He licked the last of the chocolate from his fingertips. “For something like that from the Sun Goddess… hm.” He leaned over the side of his throne, and picked up an abacus that had been tucked beside it on the floor. He clicked beads back and forth with no clear rhyme or reason. “Crystal sunbeams,” he decided. “Three of them. For that much She might consider it.”

Lynette’s expression was determined. “Where do I find them?” she asked.

The Fairy King shrugged, tossing his abacus aside. “How should I know?” he asked. “Sometimes they form under water in the desert.”

“The desert,” she repeated.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s a tricky one.” He pointed at Vaelon. “If he wanted a blessing from the Void Goddess, that wouldn’t be so bad. There’s fallen stars all over. He could find three of those just digging around for a while.”

“What if I want a blessing?” Karzarul asked. Lynette glared daggers at him.

“Three perfect moonstones,” the Fairy King said. “They form in underwater caves where the water is clear enough for the moonlight to reach inside. That’s harder for people with lungs.” Karzarul nodded.

“We thank you for your counsel,” Lynette said, holding her shoulder to bow.

“That was facts,” the Fairy King said. “Counsel would be tell you this quest is a bad idea, and you should buy yourselves a nice caravan and form a traveling troupe. You’d all be way happier.”

Vaelon shrugged with his eyebrows, nodding behind Lynette.

“Nonetheless,” Lynette said, a hint of tightness in her voice.

Karzarul tugged at Vaelon’s sleeve. “Are we going on a quest?” he asked. Vaelon nodded.

“Not yet,” the Fairy King said. “First you have to show me how to get chocolate out of my ears.”