Arnold was lead above in chains escorted by the four, Nchledame, and four of the dwarven warriors. They went into the cave system cautiously until they reached the first cavern which Arnold suspected was where he had awoken days before. She was nowhere to be found, but Nchledame lead them, following the lead of his goggles as they worked their way through the caves.
When they were much closer to the surface they heard her call out from ahead, “Those that dwell in the depths must stay behind!”
Nchledame raised his goggles, his eyes wide with indignance and rage fighting across his features, “First she demands we turn him over and now she…!” He cursed in his own language as he gripped his weapon until his knuckles turned white.
“You can’t blame her,” Willow whispered. “She has to know what those things are capable of by now.”
Jaeger shook her head and stepped forward to take charge, “They will stay!”
The Grand Master didn’t appear to appreciate that, but they needed to stick with the plan and he nodded angrily. His warriors looked even more upset than him, but they stayed behind and the four escorted Arnold in his chains forward. They came to a cavern in the distance and there, several feet below them in a growing pool of water was the Lady with the yellow dress and azalea’s for hair resting on a raised part of the floor which would have lead even lower if that had not become submerged as water fell into the pool from a fall. The cavern itself was glowing blue with ripples in the flicking of the light thanks to the water…but the Lady herself was not in the pristine condition that Arnold remembered.
Her azalea hair was half dead, blackened and smelt as if they had been cooked; her skin had become red with burns and her dress was blackened as well. Arnold bluntly stated, ignoring the confused looks from the others, “Even you couldn’t enter this realm unscathed.”
She had been smiling benevolently at them, but it faltered as her face shifted to an ugly twisted form covered in bark, before it was a smile once again. The song coming off of her now promised death for them all, and the cat knew at that moment she had no intention to rectify anything she had done once she had gotten what she wanted, and wondered if she would even remember what she had done to the dwarves once she was done.
“As you commanded, we have brought the Servitor to you,” Jaeger said, as Finn took out a pick and moved quickly to release the lock. “You two can settle your differences and then leave us in peace.”
Willow looked at Finn exasperated, while Nicholas had started to draw alchemical symbols on the doorway they had just entered, “Just use the key.” She ignored him, and the locking mechanism was released moments later, and Finn stuck her tongue out at Willow as she removed the binds and wished Arnold good luck.
The freed cat and the four started to make their way down, but the Fae commanded he come alone. Frowning, he looked at them, knowing that their plans were falling through one by one, but reluctantly they accepted. Arnold made his way down the passage of his own volition, and the Fae seemed content to wait until he reached her at the bottom. “If you have come to beg my forgiveness, then we shall listen, of course.”
He could vaguely feel the eyes of the court around them, watching with eagerness and bemusement. Far away and safe from the ravages of this place, but watching, “I’m not here to beg anything. I’m here to tell you that I am not, and have never been your Servitor.” She stared at him furiously as the court laughed, but he continued, “There are rules to follow. I don’t know what they are, but I’m sure you cannot claim me if I belong to another.”
Fury twisted her face even more than before, “Who has dared lay claim to that which is owned by the Lady of Forlorn Want!” Turning up she stared at the four, “Was it you!?”
“I was claimed long before I met you!” Arnold shouted, desperate to keep her attention away from what they were doing. “But if you do want to claim me then how about a game?!”
She turned towards him, surprised and intrigued. “A game? With your service and life as the stakes?”
Arnold nodded, “For a start. There’s other things we should work out.” Arnold said and slowly explained. “If I win then neither you nor your court of Forlorn Want, will ever again come after me, nor will you trouble any of my friends ever again. You will take no action meant to harm any of us. We will live our lives free of your influence.”
She considered this and then nodded, “If the game is acceptable I will agree to those terms on the condition that if you lose, then you give me your consent to take your friends and bring them to Forlorn Want.”
Arnold paused, he had half expected that to be the condition she made in return since it would only be fair. At least he could rest easy in the fact that even if he lost the game it would alert at least some of his friends to his predicament, and they could rescue him and the others she took. Tepic or Scald at least had a chance in that regard he hoped.
“Agreed.” He added after a moment, “If we can agree on the game those are the stakes.”