Nidawi the Everblooming raced down Death's Path, a lantern worked in silver filigree filled with the light of Hymlume swaying in her grasp. Angry tears coursed down her young face as she remembered the destruction wrought upon her demesne by Cren Cru.
What else could she do now? She had killed so many of Cren Cru's warriors that she could no longer count them. But still that stinking Parasite didn't die! She had gone everywhere she could possibly go to seek rest for her children. She had sought the help of innumerable faerie kings and queens, each of whom had refused to help her. Dragons eat every last one of them! She even would have sought the help of Life-in-Death, had not Lioness dissuaded her from it.
Instead, she had gone to Rudiobus, the one demesne she had not sought help from. She had pounded and screamed while Lioness had roared on Rudiobus's borders until at last Queen Bebo came to them.
“Help me!” Nidawi had cried to Bebo through the lips of an angered child. “You fought Meadhbh, and you stopped her evil! Finish your work, Bebo Moonsong! Help me kill Cren Cru!”
But Bebo had shaken her head sadly, her childlike face filling with a sorrow that was unnatural to her. “No, Nidawi. Such is not my place.”
“But my people!”
“I know. I have watched many demesnes and faerie kings and queens succumb to Cren Cru since Meadhbh took her lives. Watched while you frolicked in Tadew, paying no heed to the others who fell before him.”
There was no condemnation in the ancient queen's voice, but Nidawi had melted into the form of a small child and crumpled into a ball on the forest floor, weeping.
Oh, her children! Swallowed up, the life leeched from their limbs! Oh, her demesne! Ravaged beyond all recall! Nidawi's small frame shook with a sorrow that no child should have to bear. But though she was a child, she was a mother as well. It was so very true; no mother should outlive her children.
Lioness had begun to groom the back of Nidawi's head while Bebo knelt beside her, stroking the side of the younger queen's small face. Then she had set her upright so that she could wrap her arms about her.
“My children-- they're dead!” Nidawi had sobbed.
“I know,” Bebo had murmured. “I know.” She had made soft shushing noises to help ease her sorrow.
As Nidawi's tears began to subside, Bebo had whispered in her ear, “You must seek the Lumil Eliasul.”
She had looked up, her brow furrowed. “What?”
“You must seek the Lumil Eliasul, Nidawi. Pass through the Netherworld and on to the Realm Unseen. When you reach the shores of the Final Water, call to him, and he will come to you.
“This is all I can do for you. It is now up to you.” She had placed a soft hand on Nidawi's tear-stained cheek. “Only the Lumil Eliasul can help you now.”
Then Bebo had risen and returned into Rudiobus.
So Nidawi had left Lioness waiting for her at the gate to the Netherworld, much to Lioness's chagrin, and plunged into the Netherworld alone, with only Asha for company.
She could feel the phantoms that wandered just outside the sphere of Asha's glow, but she ignored them. They couldn't hinder her; no one could! Not though all the Dragon's brood tried to apprehend her could she be stopped!
The Dark Water, however, might give her pause.
She slid to a halt before she fell into that ink-black water. How could she cross? It extended endlessly to both her right and left, and she could not swim it.
She uttered a feral growl deep in her throat in frustration, and demanded, “Well?” of no one, for there was no one to hear except the surrounding phantoms.
But as the light of Asha fell upon the Water, a boat formed. Not a boat breathed into being by Death-in-Life, but a boat formed out of the light and song of Lady Hymlume. It was elegantly carved in subtle scroll work and of the purest shade of white; it was beautiful in a way that only an object crafted in the realm of Farthestshore could be.
Nidawi stood up into the form of a tall young woman as she stepped into the boat. The moment she sat down, the boat began to glide swiftly across the Water, as though it could sense her urgency. Perhaps it could.
The boat did not rock as it moved, for the Dark Water was as smooth as a sheet of glass. The only ripples upon it were those that the boat created. If Nidawi would have cared to look, she would have seen the eerie glow of sunken boats beneath her and the gold of a large stone passing to her left. But she did not look; rather, she kept her eyes fixed firmly on some distant point directly before her, where the far shore would be as soon as it came into sight.
So Nidawi waited as the boat continued across that Lake, patient as only one who knows very little of Time can be. But while she waited, her face like a hard mask, a boiling anger raged within her. She would see to it that the Cren Cru was killed. Even if the Lumil Eliasul refused to help her, she would see to it that it was killed, even if she had to go into his dragon-blasted Mound herself and do it! She set her teeth in determination. By Lume, Hymlume, and all the Starry Host, her children would have their rest!
It was as she entertained these hate-filled thoughts that she saw the other side of the lake.
From where she sat in the boat, she could only see more of the same. What lay before her was just the same as the ground she had left behind her when she had stepped into the boat.
But when she stepped out of the boat, she found herself in the Realm Unseen.
It was thick with white mists, coiling around Nidawi's long legs as she stepped into it. She didn't run any more. She stopped, swaying. Seeing this Realm that the living seldom saw disconcerted her in a way that the Netherworld could not. When she looked up, she could see the Gardens of Lady Hymlume, could see Hymlume herself and even some of her children.
Gathering herself together, she plunged further into the Realm Unseen.
Only a few steps into it, and she could hear the rush of water. She couldn't see it, but she knew it was close. As she progressed farther into it, sprinting towards that noise, the roar grew increasingly louder.
Nidawi's pace slowed, then stopped as she, for the first time, looked upon the Final Water.
Faerie queen though she was, and had seen many wonders of the Far World (not the least of which had been Tadew), nothing she had seen could prepare her for this. Nothing could compare to this vast, unsearchable river. Not the Goldstone River, certainly not those petty things they called rivers in the Near World, not even the grandeur of Cozamoloti could compare to this.
The Final Water stretched far, far beyond her range of vision in all directions, to her left, her right, and before her.
Now, as she stood on its banks, the sound was more deafening than ever. Had Nidawi been anyone else, with a much narrower vocal range, her voice surely would not have been heard over the roar of the Final Water.
But when she shouted as loud as she was able, her voice seemed to drown out the Water's.
“LUMIL ELIASUL!” she cried as she sent her voice across that vast, unsearchable Water. “COME TO ME!”
For a moment, she thought that he wouldn't come. For a moment, she thought that she would be left to her own devices. For a moment, she thought that she would be left to face the Cren Cru alone, with only Lioness to help her.
But that moment passed, and she saw the Lumil Eliasul for the first time in many ages, when she first became Queen of Tadew.
He came to her as a great golden Hound. He was large enough as to have dwarfed Lioness.
His fur shone in the white light of Lady Hymlume. But no, that wasn't right. Lady Hymlume shone in his light.
It had been so long since she had stood in his presence! She had a long memory, but in this one respect, it had failed her. Nothing, no memory, could have prepared her for this! She sank from the haughty form of a stunning young woman into the form of a very young child. Even the Final Water seemed to be not so big and impressive. In his presence, everything must fade, for nothing can be in his presence and seem quite so grand as it once had.
He looked at her with his solemn gold-flecked eyes. “What would you have of me, Nidawi Everblooming?”
Nidawi wet her lips and swallowed as tears filled her eyes, whether for sorrow for her children's demise or for sheer awe, she could not say. She hung her head as she said, “I would ask for my children's rest.” Her features altered to become a haggard crone with those words, her voice coming out as a mere whisper.
He nodded. “They were devoured by Cren Cru.”
She raised her eyes to meet his. “Will you come with me to kill him?”
When he uttered that one word, Nidawi forgot her reverence and exploded with fury. She stood abruptly, shifting back into the form of a child in the heat of a tantrum.
“Why? Why are you and every other dragon-blasted king and queen set against me? Ragniprava, Chu Mana, the Mherking, the Lord who Walks Before the Night, Queen Bebo, and every other faerie lord and lady-- they all refused to help me! And now I do what Bebo told me to do, and come and talk to you, you send me away! And Lume love me, just see if the moment I hear that Cren Cru has turned up in another demesne that I don't crawl into his Mound and kill him myself!”
With that, Nidawi turned on her heel and began to make her way back up the Path toward the Netherworld and would have done exactly what she said had the Lumil Eliasul not called out to her.
“I did not say that I would not help you, Nidawi. I said only that I would not come with you to kill him.”
Nidawi turned to face him again, narrowing her eyes at him. “What do you mean?”
A smile crossed his face. “Come here and I will tell you.”
So she marched back down the Path and stood before him again, him towering over her. The Hound turned his great head away from her and gazed out across the Final Water. Nidawi considered demanding what he intended, but one look at his face and she immediately rejected the notion. This silence was one that was his alone to break. And she could only be patient and wait for him to do so.
After what felt like an eternity (perhaps it was), the Hound turned to her and said, “Why are you so convinced that all are against you, Nidawi Everblooming?”
“I thought you were going to tell me what you intend to do about Cren Cru,” she snarled.
“In my Time. Answer me, child: why are you so convinced that all are set against you?”
“In my Time. Answer me, child: why are you so convinced that all are set against you?”
She couldn't meet his gaze, so she looked again at the Final Water. It didn't help; she could feel him studying the side of her face, seeing past whatever masks she wore.
“What does it matter?” she snapped. “You already know.”
She pressed her lips together. She desperately didn't want to answer. But in the end, what did it matter? If telling him this would save her children, she would do it. She would do anything for them.
“Because they are. How can they be otherwise when they continue to ignore me? When they continue to deny me aid?”
“They are frightened. They have seen Cren Cru's work and they fear him. They fear that they and their people will meet with the same demise as Cren Cru's other victims. And others who do not fear him, like Bebo, know that it simply is not their place to bring about Cren Cru's demise.
“Look at me, Nidawi.”
She didn't. The pain of loss and rejection hurt too much. Then she felt a strong hand on her shoulder turning her to face him.
Nidawi tried to resist. But as he spoke her name once more, she let him turn her towards him.
She found herself looking onto the same gold-flecked eyes, but his form had changed. He stood now as a tall man who, like the Hound, shone a gold light that outshone the moon herself and seemed to drown everything in its brilliance. His presence seemed even more unbearable in this form.
He rested his other hand on her shoulder, and she felt as though it crushed her. The weight of his hand upon her was more than she could bear.
“Nidawi, you resist and you resist and you try to do things your own way. When will you learn to trust me as you should, Nidawi Everblooming? When will you see that I have nothing but the best in store for you?”
She bowed her head. “I only want rest for my children.”
“I know. But why do you continue to ask me for this when you do not truly believe that I will do this for you?
“So I ask you, do you believe that I can do this for you? This and more?”
She hesitated, then said, “Yes, I believe you can.” She glanced up at him for a moment, then returned her gaze to the ground at her feet and said, “If you choose to.”
“I choose to,” he said. “Return to the Wood, Nidawi. Then wait. Wait for the King of Here and There. When the time is ripe, he will enter the Mound and he will destroy it.” He bent down and kissed Nidawi on the forehead. “This I promise you. You have the word of the Lumil Eliasul.”
Then he was gone, and when Nidawi looked up, she found herself once again in the Between with Lioness by her side.
Lioness made a sound deep in her throat.
“We wait for the King of Here and There,” she replied. “Only he can kill Cren Cru.”