There was a fork in the road.
Adrian turned to Sypha expectantly.
She blinked back at him. "I've never been to this part of Wallachia," she said without missing a beat, turning to Trevor.
He hesitated for a moment, then turned left. "This way."
"Are you sure?" asked Adrian, narrowing his eyes.
"Positive," said Trevor, exuding unearned confidence. In an effort to hide this, he immediately turned his best smirk on Adrian. "So, that guy in the tavern--"
"I didn't start that fight," he replied in annoyance, rolling his eyes.
Sypha snickered, hasting her step to walk in front of them. "You sure ended it," she commented, sounding just a bit proud.
Adrian shook his head at her. "Et tu, Brute?"
"Aw, come on! The great Alucard Tepes, son of Dracula himself, drunkenly broke a chair over some dipshit's back in a bar brawl," said Sypha like she was listing a toddler's accomplishments. "Next town we find, we should celebrate."
"You're down in the gutters with us now," agreed Trevor, slinging his arm over Adrian's shoulder. "Wallowing in the shit."
"Fuck me, what a horrible fate," Adrian replied, trying to hide his growing amusement. He nodded in Trevor's direction, saying "I thought you hated when this idiot got into stupid, pointless fights."
Sypha shrugged and turned to face them, walking backwards and lacing her hands behind her back. "I do, but it was fun seeing you kick that dude's ass. Very classy of you."
"I'm glad to provide entertainment for the lady, then," said Adrian just to make Trevor squirm and pull a funny face.
"When I do it it's not entertaining," bitched Trevor like a child and they just laughed openly at him. "Yeah, yeah, fuck you too, assholes."
There was a fork in the road.
It looked suspiciously similar to the one they'd passed several hours ago.
"So…" Sypha started. "I think I recognize that tree over there, which means…"
"We're lost," said Adrian drily, turning an icy glare at Trevor.
"That can't be--"
"But it is."
"I recognize that tree as well," said Sypha helpfully.
Trevor opened his arms wide, exasperated. "It's a tree! How can you possibly be sure?!" he asked, and when she lifted a finger to start listing whatever grand old herbalist knowledge that had been passed down through generations of Speakers that allowed Sypha to make such a distinction, Trevor just shook his head. "No, no, okay, if you say it's the same tree, then it's the same fucking tree."
"But I had my spiel ready to go," Sypha pouted, barely containing her laughter.
Adrian picked the opposite direction from the one Trevor had taken them earlier, when they first reached the fork, and started walking. "I'm glad you're amused, but I'd like to get out of these woods soon."
"Fine, let's see you find the way then," grumbled Trevor, crossing his arms. Sypha joined him with a devious look on her face. "What?" he asked her.
"Nothing, nothing," she said, sounding like she had a ton of things to say. "It's just…"
"I was thinking--"
"Shut up. It's just, since we've been ending up in the same bed every night anyway, we might as well only pay for one room," said Sypha, with the simplicity of someone who had been raised without the concept of sin hanging over her head.
Adrian, who had been quietly leading the group, looked at her over his shoulder. "You don't think the innkeep or the locals might frown upon this arrangement?"
"Last I checked, the Church was kinda opposed to sodomy and threesomes," Trevor added, idly scratching his stubble.
"What's the Church got to do with who fucks me? I'm a heathen, my ass is currently your business, not theirs," argued Sypha, dragging her feet now with a big pout on her face. She crossed her arms like she might just go try her reasoning with the Pope next.
"Sypha," started Adrian, clearly lost for words. He opened his mouth to try and explain it to her, visibly gave up and turned to Trevor instead. "Help? Please?"
"Babe, first of all, can we not talk about your ass here? I can only take so much," said Trevor, because somehow he'd reached a point in his life where he had to say this. They were lost and now was sadly not the time. "Second, it's the Church? That's their entire fucking thing and you know it?"
Sypha stuck her tongue out at him. "Doesn't mean that it makes any sense, or that I have to accept it."
"Okay, cool, if you want to overthrow the entire Catholic Church we can do that later, but first can we get to the next village?" said Trevor, hurrying her along. They started walking again and he huffed. "Fuck. Now I can't stop thinking about--"
"I can fix that in no time," Sypha interjected with a grin and then launched into song. Something incredibly lewd about a fishmonger's daughter, which was so annoying that it managed to steer Trevor's mind out of the gutter.
Adrian tried very hard not to hum along. He failed.
There was a fork in the road.
And some very familiar trees nearby.
"Oh, would you look at that," said Trevor, much too excited about this petty win.
"Should I say it, or should you?" Sypha asked Adrian, considerably less cheery now as she turned to him.
"This… isn't possible," Adrian mumbled, looking around with brows furrowed.
"And yet," retorted Trevor archly.
Sypha sighed heavily, found a tall enough rock and sat on it to rest her feet.
"No, I mean it isn't possible, it doesn't make sense," said Adrian, frowning back at them.
"And fucking yet," replied Trevor.
"Just accept we're going in circles, Adrian," said Sypha, taking her sandals off to rub her feet.
"What I'm trying to say is that there is something wrong here," Adrian hissed.
Both of them stared at him, then at each other, then back at him.
"We've been following both the road and the sun for what feels like several hours now," said Adrian, and upon Trevor's guilty look, he corrected himself. "Some of us have been following the road and the sun. Despite this, it's still clearly the middle of the day and not night, and we've arrived at the exact same place twice by going in opposite directions."
Sypha's expression turned serious, sharper, and she focused her eyes on the scenery around them. She got up and scanned the trees and the rocks with her eyes. "Any idea what we may be looking for?"
Trevor's hand immediately went to his sword. "I'd bet this is the work of a demon, but could be a number of things."
"Stay close. We don't know how this… illusion works," said Adrian before floating a few feet above the ground to get a better view of the area. While he was up there, Trevor poked the bushes in search of… anything, really. "The road seems to just end after a bit," he informed them, turning slowly in the air to look in all directions.
"Are these… candy?" asked Sypha, getting their attention.
They gathered around the evidence, a trail of small pieces of candied fruit going into thick bushes. Adrian picked one up and sniffed it.
"Apples. Whoever was eating this was here recently."
Sypha cocked her head and crossed her arms. "Demon that eats candy, that's a first."
Trevor stuck his sword into the bushes, poking around like he was trying to unearth a weasel and not some hellish creature. "Maybe the demon was stealing the candy from someone."
"You realize that sounds stupider, right?" asked Adrian, venturing past the bushes since nobody else seemed inclined to do it. "There's more here, going further into the forest."
Clapping her hands decidedly, Sypha followed him. "Sounds like the start of a tale I know from northeast of here."
The two of them had made up their minds. All that was left for Trevor to do was catch up. "Save it for after we figure out what this is," he pleaded, readying himself for a fight.
"Wasn't that the one about a child-eating witch?" asked Adrian, far less concerned than Trevor was.
"That's the one," agreed Sypha. "But that story has nothing to do with illusions and--" she stopped, frowning. "I hear giggles."
"Giggles," repeated Trevor. It was faint and he couldn't quite figure out what the sound was until she'd said but yeah. Okay. Giggling, in the middle of a forest. Ominous.
Adrian narrowed his eyes, looking around for the culprit. "I can't tell where it's coming from, but it doesn't sound like a demon."
That made Trevor stop in his tracks. "I'm sorry, what part of 'weird giggling coming out of nowhere in the woods' doesn't strike you as demonic?" he asked, gaping at Adrian because this seemed pretty clear cut to him.
"Could be another type of creature," wondered Sypha out loud, lighting up the area with a flame in her hand. "You know, smart. It can do some pretty nifty magic."
Before Adrian could offer his input on that, Trevor spotted a burrow on a small hillside by a quiet river. "Well, I think I've found where this totally-not-a-demon lives."
Adrian and Sypha stood beside him and looked at the burrow. It didn't look very cozy, but who were they to judge?
"Listen, I take offense to that gratuitous name-calling, actually," said someone from a branch above them, watching from behind the trio. "Not that I don't like name-calling in general, but you could try harder. Demon this, demon that, pffft."
They turned and the creature that looked like a human child with bluish skin and large yellow eyes waved. It didn't look hostile, sitting on a branch and chatting them up. After a moment of consideration, Sypha waved back.
Trevor gave her a questioning look and she just shrugged. "I'm trying to be polite."
"See, I appreciate that in a lady, good manners that can offset the grunts tagging along," the creature said, nodding.
"Grunts?" asked Adrian, incredulous and offended like the nobleman he was at heart.
"Okay, first off, get down here you little shit," growled Trevor, pointing at him with his sword.
Sypha looked at him like he had kicked a puppy or something. "Put that thing away. That's how you end up getting called a grunt, dumbass. You got a name, wood sprite?"
The creature scratched their head, amused. "Now that's just mean, I'm no wood sprite. Don't look like no wood sprite, for starters, handsome fella like me. Here I was taking a liking to you, but then you go and do that, it hurts my feelings."
Trevor groaned loudly and sheathed his sword. "He's a godling, and he's a prick. See?" he told Sypha, nodding up at the child-like being. "Just tell us your name already."
"I'd be Johnny, and you are indeed correct! Can use your brain sometimes, eh?" said the godling, smirking. "And you'd be Trevor the grumbly, Adrian the prissy, and Sypha the bossy. That about does it for introductions, doesn't it?"
"Excuse me?" Sypha fired back, putting a hand to her chest, taken aback by his words. "I'm not bossy."
The two men shared a look. She glared at them and they didn't even try to hide their own amused smirks.
"I'm going to pretend you didn't call me that," said Adrian, turning his focus back to Johnny. "So you admit that you've been watching us."
"'Course I have, you lot are the best, freest entertainment to pass by these woods in months!" explained the godling, jumping down from his perch and walking over to his burrow. "Not a bard or jester to be seen in ages! Funnymen? Gone! Drunks? Dead, or worse, married! Travelers? All sick and tired and terribly boring."
"Which means you trapped us in this illusion," started Sypha slowly, not because she didn't get it but to give Johnny a chance to correct her, "to amuse you with our suffering?"
"Well, no. With your bullshit, more like."
Trevor cracked and started laughing, too tired and hungry to hold it any longer. "Told you he was an ass!"
"An improvement! See, I'm particular to buttfaced miscreant," said Johnny wisely. "Or wingworm face. Call someone ugly, they'll forget it in a jiffy, but liken their mug to a bug and it sticks forever."
Adrian blinked several times and turned to Trevor. "What the fuck is this? Are we hallucinating?"
"Not unless all three of us are," said Sypha, caught between laughing and being mad at the godling. "You're creative, I'll give you that."
Johnny put his hands on his hips and stuck out his chest, proud as could be. "Aw, thanks miss! Takes effort, this kind of wordplay shenanigans."
"Fascinating," Adrian cut in before he could go on another tirade. "Stop the illusion and let us leave now."
The godling narrowed his very big, very round eyes at him. "No threats? No uncalled-for show of strength to impress the lady and the lad?"
"Thanks for including me, I guess," said Trevor, rolling his eyes heavenward. Sypha smacked his arm lightly.
"You want me to threaten you?" asked Adrian, raising both eyebrows.
"No, fangy fella, 'course not. But 'please' would go a long way!"
The others looked at him expectantly. Adrian sighed tiredly. "Please stop this illusion, Johnny. We have to get moving," he said, with Sypha and Trevor snickering beside him.
"And what of my unwavering boredom? You leave and I get to watch the rabbits breed all day, is it?" asked Johnny, making a funny face.
Sypha took a step forward and crouched down to his level. "Aside from the fact that pranking people like this is wrong, which I'm sure you're aware of," she said, giving him a pointed look and getting a suitably guilty pout in response, "if you let us go, we might be able to solve your problem long term."
Johnny was immediately interested in what she was getting at. "Do tell, then!"
"We're off to kill Dracula and stop this carnage," explained Trevor, because his version would always be shorter than Sypha's and less emotionally charged than Adrian's. "That should get things back to normal… eventually. Kinda."
"Whoa! Got yourselves a death wish, do ya?" asked a very surprised and impressed Johnny. He even whistled to make his point. "Sounds just about worse than sticking your hand in a wasp nest, and I've seen how that ends! Not pretty, lemme tell ya!"
"We're aware, yes," said Adrian uncomfortably, avoiding any unnecessary details about his motivations.
Johnny considered them for a moment, then sighed and crossed his arms. "Why then, don't let me keep you! Come visit if you survive," he said, sitting in front of his burrow to pick his nose. "Especially if you do go off to kill the Pope. Wanna hear all about that one!"
"Uh, sure," agreed Trevor in a hurry before the bastard changed his mind, herding the other two back towards the road.
"That was… easy. And not bloody," commented Sypha, looking back at the burrow over her shoulder.
Adrian huffed. "Just be glad it was nothing but a stupid prank."
"Fucking godlings," agreed Trevor.
There was a fork in the road.
Adrian did his sorta-but-not-quite flying thing and checked that, indeed, the illusion had been dispelled.
"I'll pick where we go this time," Sypha announced over the ensuing bickering.
The boys stopped, because she really was a bit bossy, and waited for her to choose a direction.
Sypha grabbed a coin from the purse in her pocket, threw it up in the air and smacked it against the back of her hand. "Head, we go to the right like Adrian said. Tails, we take the path Trevor suggested," she said, and lifted the hand covering the coin.
They looked at the result.
"Tails!" announced Sypha, pocketing the coin and setting off to the left.
Trevor hooted like a kid and Adrian dragged his hands over his face.