Iridescent and serpentine, the dragon coiled upwards into the sky, fanning out its streaming veil of tails as it rose. Penelope felt strangely weightless. Whether from fear, or the aura of power which surrounded the dragon, Penelope couldn’t say. As the dragon rose higher into the sky, Penelope’s senses returned.
She heard the churning of the waves as the waters of the Tears thrashed about the boat. She heard Marmot’s squeals of fear as he clung to Marmalade’s leg. She heard Marmalade shouting for Marmot to let go as the small witch struggled to wrest open the cabin door. The oppressive stillness lifted, and harsh winds whipped Penelope’s curls about her face.
Her wits returning, Penelope dashed over to pry Marmot from Marmalade. Penelope folded herself over the trembling critter as they both huddled against the door jamb. Marmalade bolted down into the cabin. Penelope heard drawers and cabinets slam open, as well as a few pieces of glassware shatter while Marmalade cursed.
Penelope gazed in awe at the beastly spirit unfurling in the sky, its enormous translucent form burning pink in the light of the setting sun.
What in the realms had she unleashed?
Would there be more?
Feeling ill, Penelope left Marmot clinging to the door frame as she crawled back to the railing and peered into the choppy water.
“Marmalade!” Penelope cried, as she spied new lights winking into being, one by one, deep within the lake. They swirled upwards, like a rising constellation of smaller stars that had lost the centre of their galaxy. “No, no, nonono…”
The ethereal swell of a familiar song began to call at something deep within Penelope’s bones.
“MARMALADE!” Penelope shrieked. “We have to get out of here! NOW!”
The boat had lost most of its speed and was struggling to maintain course against the churning waves. The boat rocked violently, sending Penelope and Marmot tumbling across the deck as the wood groaned with new strain.
Marmalade stumbled back up the stairs, spilling from the cabin door. She clutched three uncorked jars filled with shimmering flower petals, and a smaller vial of golden liquid tinged with a rather threatening shade of blue.
“Here—” Marmalade thrust a jar of petals each towards Penelope and Marmot.
“The ferrifae will be rising. These mourning flower petals will confuse them if we can’t outrun them.”
“They’re already here,” Penelope whimpered as she took the jar of petals, pointing a shaking finger towards the pearls of light now rising from the lake. Dozens of them. Hundreds.
“For Fate’s sake,” Marmalade cursed, ripping the cork out of the small vial of liquid. “Drink this. Essence of mourning flower will muffle their song. It’s exceptionally poisonous, so just one small sip each.” Marmalade took a small swill of the liquid and passed the vial to Penelope.
Steeling her courage to willingly drink poison, Penelope choked down a swallow. It tasted of fire and grief.
Marmalade held the bottle as she tipped some into Marmot’s mouth, who promptly spat it out.
“Marmot, I know it’s unpleasant, but it might just save your life. Please,” Marmalade pleaded with the small creature. Marmot huffed and took another sip as lights continued rising from the turbulent waters, illuminating the froth-crested waves in eerie silver light.
The siren song intensified as more ferrifae emerged, surrounding the boat in gleaming clusters, each pearly light shrouded in dancing mist.
Marmalade sprinted to the wheel, holding her jar of petals aloft like a lantern. It seemed to work, as none of the ferrifae approached closer. Penelope and Marmot held up their own jars. Penelope prayed the flowers’ shielding would hold against so many ferrifae.
“Now listen very carefully,” Marmalade called, grunting as she struggled to spin the wheel. “If a ferrifae comes close, throw some petals at it. The mourning flower confuses them.”
The boat jolted as it struggled to correct course against the chaotic waters.
“DO NOT go below deck, if the ferrifae get in there’s nowhere to move. Avoid the ferrifae at all costs. Do not let them touch you. Do not listen to their song. If you start to lose your senses, sniff the flowers.”
Penelope ducked as a ferrifae spun overhead, moving towards the dragon. The dragon snapped at the ferrifae as they rose up like a cloud of lanterns, swarming the writhing ghost.
Some clung to its body like glowing beads. Others began spiralling the dragon, emanating new harmonies as they swirled, synchronising their dance until they moved in unison, glowing all the brighter.
Despite the poison she had swallowed, the melody tugged at something deep within Penelope’s chest until she longed to tip herself into the waters and follow the call home…
Penelope had one leg over the railing when Marmalade’s scream cut through the fog in her mind.
“PENELOPE, NO! The flowers! Smell the flowers!”
Shaking her head and stumbling back, Penelope pressed her nose into the neck of her flower jar. The petals shimmered gold and were trimmed in toxic blue. Penelope almost wretched at the pungent scent, but her head began to clear. The song of the ferrifae became less distinct, as if heard from under water.
A seemingly endless stream of ferrifae rose to swarm the dragon. The sirens took no interest in Penelope, Marmalade, and Marmot as they huddled away from the railings, clutching fistfuls of petals ready to throw.
The dragon thrashed in the air, fanning its many tails back and forth, shaking the ferrifae loose. Yet still more sirens rose, and the dragon’s charge towards the sky slowed.
Marmot had his nose pressed into the neck of the jar, his frantic breaths causing the glass to fog.
A number of ferrifae flew towards the boat as the dragon swatted them away, and Penelope threw fistfuls of petals at them as they spun too close. The glimmering petals rained over the ferrifae like confetti. The sirens halted, circling in midair as if concussed, before returning flight towards the dragon.
Penelope emptied her jar as more ferrifae swirled by. Grabbing Marmot’s jar, she crouched in front of him and hurled sodden clumps of flower buds at the few final ferrifae as the dragon succumbed to the weight and song of the sirens.
Little by little, the dragon, glittering with the light of a thousand ferrifae, was forced back down towards the waters until it was submerged once again. The call of the sirens’ chorus faded as the glowing mass sank down into the black of the lake.
The whistling winds died away and the waves began to settle. The sun sank below the far horizon and stars littered the indigo sky above. Soon, there was no sound left but the lapping of gentle waves and the panting breath of three traumatised figures sprawled across the cracked deck of Marmalade’s boat.