The Power of Three

by Doctor Mercurious
author's note: any resemblance between the characters and certain IM chat friends are entirely intentional.
Ember held herself very still in the tree she'd chosen as her vantage point, keeping her tail still and her tan fur flat. She had cast a camouflage spell on herself, true, but abrupt movement on her part would cancel it out, and she did not think that would be wise right now. I cannot believe my luck, she thought to herself, staring at the Human encampment. I wish I knew if it was good or bad.
Her task had been a simple one; scout ahead of the tribe a few days' travel and see if there was a reason to uproot such as more abundant game or stay where they were for now. Of her entire tribe, Ember was the best at moving stealthily and easily one of the best trackers -- she was usually chosen for scout duty. Since entering Human territories, Ember's skills were even in more demand, since the Nimeans didn't want to start a war with the weaker but clever and tenacious people. Perhaps, when they'd been in these lands longer than a turn-of-seasons Ember's duties as Prideleader-To-Be would be remembered and she could continue training for the day she would assume leadership of her tribe. Until then, Ember the Scout was needed.
Her keen, emerald cat-eyes studied the encampment thoughtfully. She saw no human buildings, just tents and a plethora of guards. None of her people ever understood the humans' tendency to take root in a particular area and never move their tribe again, but it didn't look like the case here. Good thing too, she told herself. The ground they'd chosen to rest on was a patch of dark, bare rock. She'd seen ground like that entering human lands before. The shamans of the tribe had said they were evil magic and to stay away from them. I wonder if I should warn them, Ember considered. She'd been trying to come up with a way to get the humans' secret of the strange material they made their weapons out of -- although she'd much prefer the secret of their fire-sticks -- and this could be it.
She schooled herself to patience, swiveling her ears forward to catch the slightest sound. I should wait until I have a better idea as to what is going on, Ember thought. She just wished she could get close enough to use magic that would see through the walls of the human tents and spy on what was occurring within.
In the largest tent with the most guards around it, two young women who had only previous met at state functions -- and then only recently -- had discovered they liked one another. Fortunate, especially when one considered what was about to take place.
Princess Anne, heir to the crown of Dathiel, held up a gown of satin and lace, done in white and light blue. It was very much in court style, albeit a trifle more daring in the neckline. Considering Anne's impressive breasts, even more so. "What do you think?"
Princess Dee, heir to the crown of Delthia, gazed at it up and down critically from the tent's double-bed. "It has potential," the auburn-haired princess admitted. "I've got a lovely gown packed up to show as well. It's forest-green so it matches my eyes and it'll go smashingly with your hair."
Anne sighed and ran a hand through her raven tresses. "I'd love to be blonde. Blondes are in fashion at my father's court."
The other princess smiled at her. "I bet that cleavage of yours inspired a bard or two."
Anne blushed, but only slightly. "Well, yours is nothing to be ashamed of," she declared, sitting down next to Dee. She noticed something into he other girl's eyes. "What is it?"
Dee bit her lip. "I'm scared, Anne. What if the Joining ritual goes wrong? This is our only chance to stop the strange Blighting that's taking fertile land and turning it into dead rock -- and even this won't take back what's been stolen!"
"There's no worry," Anne soothed, pulling Dee into an embrace. "The ritual's been performed before, remember?"
"But that was different," Dee insisted. "Before, the Joining was only for a year. This time, it will be in place until we give birth. Anne, my court wizards don't even know if pregnancy is possible with a two-woman Joining!"
"Neither do mine," Anne admitted. "But it's the only way." She stroked Dee's cheek. "Come, why so nervous now? This was your idea to begin with."
Dee was silent for a long time. Then, in a small voice, she said, "I'm from the Bickerwell line."
Anne stared at her. "What?"
Dee nodded miserably. "That's why it was almost my younger sister Susan who was here and not me. My mother was Janusa Bickerwell, descendant of Jan and Jon Bickerwell....the Black Joining."
Anne didn't need to hear anymore. They still told horror stories about the two rulers who underwent a permanent Joining ritual out of desperation to fight a demon, and how their inability to get along doomed their castle and all who resided in it. She refused to pull away from Dee. "That won't be us," Anne insisted. "We'll show them all what a proper Joining should be." Sudden impulse took her and she kissed Dee passionately on the lips. The other woman stiffened at first, then returned the kiss with fervor.
After a time, Dee pulled away almost reluctantly. "So you're 'that way', are you?" There was a warm twinkle in her eyes.
"As are you," she smiled. "Actually I'm either way; I chose my lovers by their hearts, not their sex."
"Then that's another thing we agree on." Dee's voice sounded warmer. "I think we still have some time before the ritual. We could..." She left the sentence open.
"I like the way you think," Anne giggled. She put her eager hands to the front of Dee's dress, ready to unlace it.
There was a discrete cleared throat at the tent flap. The princess' head whipped around to glare in that direction. "Enter," they both declared at once in their most formal court tones.
Sir Mark D'Komandyr, Faracanti by birth and officer in charge of Anne's personal guard, stepped into the tent and saluted. "Begging your pardon, your Majesties, but the wizards say the time is at hand."
"I thought there was still an hour or so left of preparation?" Anne demanded.
He shrugged. "Apparently more like ten minutes. Shall I tell them you'll be ready?"
"Yes, Sir D'Kommandyr," Anne replied formally.
The knight bowed and left. Dee stared at him until he was -- hopefully -- out of earshot, then turned to Anne. "Yum! And even for an Faracanti, he's chocolate. I wonder if he tastes like it." She giggled at the other princess. "Well, does he?"
"It's not like that," Anne protested, ears turning red.
"I'm sure," Dee giggled again. "Come on, we've still got to change into our ceremonial garments." She looked up and down. "Shame; I would have loved to taste you."
"And I you," she purred. "At least the next time we lay with each other we'll be sharing everything from the shoulders down."
Ember's already pricked-forward ears strained to full attention as the humans' tents began to disgorge soldiers. Something clearly was going to happen here, and soon. What could it be, she wondered. There was no enemy for miles and even if they knew she was close by, using this many soldiers to catch her would be foolish -- they'd trip over themselves trying to get her.
Then two humans came out of one of the larger tents; her mage-sight revealed them as magic-casters. One was tall with almost white hair and clothing of dark gray with silvery lightning bolts sewn on it; the other was short with black hair and wore robes of green and brown. It could be a ritual of some sort, she thought. Maybe they do know what those dead patches of earth are about and mean to do something about them.
Ember decided this was worth the risk of getting closer. She slid carefully down the tree she'd been perched in and inched to another, closer tree. She hid behind that one and continued to spy. Then, out of the largest tent came a red-haired and a raven-haired human -- female, and close to her own age of eighteen turns-of-seasons, if not exactly as old. They were dressed in cloaks that covered them from the neck down, but from the careful way they walked it was clear they were barefoot.
Ember began to have a nasty suspicion; if they are naked underneath, and they are not magic-casters....they must be a part of the ritual!
There were exactly two types of ritual that required beings of one's own race as components.
The two young humans disrobed, revealing that they were indeed nude. She strained her hearing to its limit, anxious to catch what was being said. She only wished that her command of the Human language was better, but she'd just have to make do.
The tall, white-haired wizard patted his princess on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Anne," Archmage Volkov assured her. "So far, the omens are most promising."
Meanwhile the shorter magician gave a similar pep-talk to Dee. "You're braver than I thought, milady, there's no mistake," Old Master Felnari insisted. "Never have I been prouder to serve royalty than I am now."
The two princesses wept a little and hugged their wizards one last time as separate individuals. Volkov and Felnari then stood before them; their kindly features replaced by a mask of formality. "Thus it is written," intoned Volkov, "that the heirs to the thrones of Dathiel and Delthia, referred to as the Twin Kingdoms due to proximity and the long history of having the heirs to the throne Joined with one another for a year's time to promote harmony, agreed to engage in that selfsame ritual."
"Let it also be known," continued Felnari, "that these two have agreed to a variant on the ritual by which they may not be separated until they have given birth to a child. Both have proposed this ritual, both have agreed to it and neither has been coerced in any way." He turned to Dee. "Do you, Princess Anne, agree with the previous statements as they have been uttered?"
"I do," her lovely voice rang out without a trace of a tremor.
"Do you, Princess Dee, also agree?"
"Yes," she uttered a trifle breathlessly but also unafraid.
"The assume the positions," Volkov told them. "Dee to the left, Anne to the right."
Both the princesses quickly stood next to each other and held each others' hand on the side closest. Anne smiled at Dee, who returned it with a wink.
There were no more words as Volkov and Felnari gathered manna to themselves in preparation of casting the Joining.
At first, Ember sagged with relief. A spell of Joining, she thought. They weren't about to be sacrificed. As she watched the ritual, however, the feeling of relief faded quickly. They are binding their life-energies to this place! Are they MAD? Don't they know what that will do to them? The corrupted magic in this desolate patch of ground will twist the Joining!
She had to stop this. But how? Breaking the spell was right out; the backlash would kill the poor human girls. She wasn't a good enough magic-caster to counter it either.
That left only one option. Ember had to try to absorb the spell.
She stood up, no longer even trying to hide, and let the camouflage spell drop -- she would need ever ounce of concentration for this. She just hoped she was successful.
"What in the name of Tesla is going on?" Volkov said, sweat pouring off his brow from the concentration.
"Someone's trying to interfere with the spell," Felnari panted. "Damn! I knew we should have taken another wizard along."
"My fault," Volkov admitted. "I wanted John of Dunno and Greansunn watching over our kingdoms for us in case disaster struck.. I just didn't count on it striking here."
"Less talk, more power," Felnari grunted.
The wizards redoubled their efforts, and the princesses disappeared in a nimbus of light. "It's working!" Volkov crowed.
"No," Ember gasped aloud. "I'm losing it!" She couldn't stand against both magic-casters without aid.
Only one thing she could do, and a dangerous thing it was. She drew her bone knife and pricked her finger hard enough to draw blood. "I give freely of myself, to the earth-spirit" she chanted as the drops struck the soil. "Aid me in my time of need."
"Shit whoever it is just did a Primal Call!" Felnari bellowed.
"No," Volkov cried. "We can't lose it! Not now! There won't be enough left of the princesses to put in a thimble!"
"Were losing it over my dead body," Felnari snarled. "Now, pour it on!"
The light climbed to incandescence, blinding all watching, before dissipating in a giant flash.
For several minutes, no one had the energy to move.
Volkov and Felnari, being used to backlashes, were the first to recover. "Damn, that was as bad going out as it was coming in," Felnari muttered.
Volkov didn't say anything, his eyes riveted on the new Joined. "Felnari...I know who the culprit was."
"That was quick. How'd you..." He stopped as he also saw. "Holy shit."
To say the Joining had not gone as planned was an understatement. Instead of the expected two heads riding atop one body, there were three...and only the two on the ends were human. The middle head was covered in tan fur with a definite catlike muzzle and ears atop the head. The torso was three-breasted and broad to accommodate its three passengers. They also sported a tan-furred tai, and their legs didn't look entirely human. The three were very unconscious due to a combination of backlash and shock.
"A Nimean." Felnari looked at Volkov. "What the heck was one of them trying to interfere with our spell?
"I don't know," Volkov admitted. "We need to get these three to the Mercurial College in Worchester. It's close and has the best library concerning past Joinings . We should be able to find a treatment there."
"If they can be treated," Felnari reminded him.
Ember had not been expecting to wake up, so was at first grateful she did. Then, she opened her eyes to behold two thunderous scowls. She was covered by a blanket from the collarbone down, lying on something soft, and her body felt heavier than it should. It was daylight out -- that much she could tell -- and she seemed to be indoors. Beyond that, she could barely move, even her head. In fact, she really could not feel her body at all.
The tall white haired human bent over her. "You have a lot of explaining to do, Nimean," he spat at her in her own language.
Ember blinked in surprise. "You speak our language well."
"Can the flattery, kitty," snarled the shorter one. "What the fuck did you think you were doing?"
"Trying to save the Joined ones' lives," she answered, suddenly anxious. "Are they well? They weren't hurt were they?"
"Never mind about them," the shorter one continued, although her answer seemed to calm him down a bit. "Why did you think they were in danger?"
"You were Joining them by drawing on the poisoned patch of ground," she insisted. "Fine if it was a short-termed one, but this did not have the look of it. Two years, and it would have soured -- three if they were strong-willed."
"How do you know that?" The tall one insisted.
"I saw it," Ember told them. She knew now why she couldn't move; it must be a spell of some sort. If she could only look at herself she could tell what kind.
"You saw it?" The shorter one gaped.
"Yes. All my people can see magic; we call it mage-sight."
"I know what it's called," he snapped at her.
"Wait a moment, Felnari," the tall one soothed. He held his hand in front of her face, fingers spread. "What is this spell?" A white, flickering rose blossomed in the palm of his hand.
"A spell to purify fresh water," she replied after studying it for a bit. "Please, would you tell me how those human females are? I cannot stand to think my actions harmed them, but I had no choice. I did not know what was going on until it was too late."
"They're alive and not in any pain," he told her. She almost mewed in relief. He studied her closely. "You seem very concerned about their welfare."
Ember blinked at him in confusion. "Why would I not be?" That seemed to take both of them aback. "I know am most likely to be punished by your laws," she pressed, "since there is no way to tell if I am lying but...may I please see them to apologize in person?"
Suddenly her right arm moved of its own accord, pulling off what felt like a gag. "I think she's telling the truth," a voice said directly next to her right side.
Then her left arm did the same thing. "Me too," another voice agreed, this time on her left.
Her body suddenly felt lighter and she could feel with it again...except it felt very odd. Her arms and legs didn't feel right, neither did her skin, although she still had her tail. Then she glanced to her right.
"Hi," chirruped the raven-haired human in its own tongue, whose head was to the right of her own.
She glanced left, and saw the red-haired human's head also. She smiled at her. "My name is Dee," she said. "What's yours?"
"By the teats of the Goddess," she murmured aloud.
The raven-haired Human frowned. "My Nimean's a little rusty...did she say her name is Goddess?"
"No Anne," the one called Dee insisted. "I think she took the name of her deity in vain."
"We are a thrice-Joining? Is that even possible?" Ember declared to the both of them.
She could feel them stare at her thoughtfully before turning to the human spell-casters. "Good question," Anne mused.
Both spell-casters looked nervous. "Ahh...we're working on that," the short one said.
"Why don't you three rest up here for a bit while we check into that little matter?" The tall one seemed to have already recovered from being startled. "Get to know each other better, hm?"
"Sounds good to us," Dee assured them. Ember felt Anne nod almost immediately after Dee spoke. Ember glanced at her body-mates and managed a nervous smile.
"Sure," Felnari grunted. "Come one, Volkov." The shorter spell-caster stumped out of the room; Volkov followed a second after.
Ember was now alone -- so to speak. She sat up and took a quick look at her surroundings; some sort of cloth seemed to be hanging from open windows, and the walls were made of a smooth swirled stone she could not identify. She didn't even try to guess what the object was they'd been laying on even after she saw it -- squat and rectangular yet soft in the middle. "What is this thing?" Without thinking, she reached forth a hand to pat it.
"That's a 'bed'," Dee told her. "Humans sleep on it."
"Ah." Then something occurred to her. "Who controls our body?"
"We all do," Anne said. "Volkov and Felnari kept you unconscious for a day; I and Dee have sort of been running things. Um....sorry about that."
"It was a wise precaution," Ember forgave. "I was merely curious as I seemed to be able to move our body with no aid or resistance from you two."
"I was sort of...I guess you'd call it 'stepping back' from control since we've been hogging it."
Anne nodded. "Same here. Um, will there be any of your people worried about you?"
"Not for another few days," Ember assured them. "I should send them a message soon."
"That's going to be some message," giggled Dee.
"That it will," Ember said with a close-mouthed Nimean grin. "May I stand us up? I would like to take a closer look at our body."
"Go right ahead," Anne told her, smiling. "After all, we've been doing plenty of ogling while you were unconscious!"
Ember had to laugh out loud at that as she shed the blankets and stood up. Their body was naked underneath, and very broad of the torso. They sported three very large breasts -- larger than she'd seen on Anne and Dee when she spied them naked for the ritual -- and the torso narrowed very quickly to a firm stomach and well-rounded hips. She could still feel her tail, and gave it a few experimental flicks to make sure it worked.
"That tickles," complained Dee.
Ember nodded absently and studied their arms. For the most part they looked human, but were covered in a thin fur that matched her own. Their legs were more of a hybrid mix; four toes on each foot and also covered in the same fur. She tensed her toes and claws sprang from their proper places between the toes.
"Wow," Anne gasped. "So that's what having claws feels like!"
"Pity our hands lack them," Ember said. Then something else occurred to her. "Anne, I thought you said your command of the Nimean tongue was lacking."
"It is," she agreed.
"You seem to have no problems understanding me."
"Well, that's because you're speaking The King's Tongue," Anne told her. "Since you seemed to speak it very well I just let you."
"I'm not," she insisted. "Think back hard."
Anne frowned. "Hey," she said after a moment, "you're right! You've been speaking your tongue and we've been speaking ours, but we have no problems understanding each other."
"Weird," Anne mused.
"I say we get dressed and do some research of our own," Dee told them. "I don't know about you, but I'm feeling cooped up in this room...and if I know my court wizard, he'll keep things from us he thinks 'we aren't meant to know.'
"Simple enough -- we shall just wear the clothes we came in," Ember said, casting her eyes about the room. When she didn't see any, she glanced at her body-mates. "Where are they?"
"We Gated here," Dee admitted. "Volkov and Felnari didn't want to waste any time."
"Guess there's nothing for it but to see if any of the clothes we had designed for our planned Joining will fit," Anne said. "There's only so much one can do naked, after all."
Ember could think of one or two that she wouldn't mind indulging in, but held her peace. Humans could be so reserved about such things.
By a bookshelf in one of the Alcoves, Felnari and Volkov had acquired an impressive stack of books which they piled on an oaken table. "This is going to take a while," Felnari told Volkov, "and we may not have that while."
"I know, I know," Volkov sighed, plunking down on a wooden bench alongside the table. "But the Mercurial College's library on Joinings is extensive -- and growing constantly -- so we'll have the best chance of finding our answer.
A young female magician entered the alcove with a stack of books. "Here are the legends you requested concerning triple Joinings, Lord Wizard."
"Thank, you, Miss...?" Volkov was sure he'd gotten her name but couldn't for the life of him remember it.
"Synaid," she reminded him, dimpling. She was a pretty young woman with coffee-colored skin, her strawberry-blonde hair done up in a ponytail.
"Stop flirting with the help, you old goat," Felnari laughed. Then his voice dropped to a murmur as a sudden thought struck him. "Maybe the Primal Call had something to do with it."
Synaid blinked. "I did my Journeyman thesis on Primal Call," she told them. "What do you want to know?"
Felnari eyeballed the young magician. "Someone cast a Primal Call in an attempt to stop a Joining ritual," he said.
Synaid sat down on one of the benches. "Any special environmental conditions?"
"She was within fifty yards of Wasted land," Volkov told her.
Synaid shook her head right away. "That's impossible. Primal Calls don't work within a half-day's travel of a Wasting."
Both wizards sat up straight. "You're sure?" Volkov demanded.
"Absolutely," Synaid insisted. "Primal Calls tap into the energy of the earth, and Wastings interfere with making such a connection. You don't have to take my word for it; I can get you at least five different authors who wrote on the subject."
"If that's true," Felnari mused, "then there's only one thing that could have overridden such a restriction." He sat up straight. "The land itself!"
"Oh come on," Volkov scoffed. "The land isn't alive!"
"Are you certain?" Felnari pressed. "The coronation for any royalty in Human lands ends with a ceremony that binds their life-force to the earth, and it's been that way for as long as I can remember. What if it's not just an empty ritual?"
"There would have been some indication," Volkov insisted, sounding less sure of himself.
"No one that I'm aware of has bothered to study it," Felnari shrugged.
"I'm unaware of any such books in our library, but I can check," Synaid offered. "If we don't have them, our records might indicate which magical colleges do."
"Looks like the amount of research we need to do just shrank," Felnari grinned.
"I still think this it the wrong approach, but you piqued my interest so I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for now," Volkov told Synaid, who blushed. "I just hope the girls aren't bored waiting on us. I know Dee has some scholarly habits but Anne doesn't -- and I have no idea what the Nimean considers a good time."
After examining the dress in the mirror for a moment, it was allowed to fall to the floor where it was kicked into the growing reject pile.
"Well, that's another one that won't fit," Anne sighed.
"We're too broad in the torso," Dee complained.
Ember nodded. "We need to be, considering the size of our three breasts." No Nimean had ever possessed such wealth of breastflesh and she ached to feel what it would be like to play with them, but this body was not hers exclusively; Anne and Dee might think it rude.
"Yeah, we are definitely bigger than before," Dee giggled.
"Even not counting the additional breast, same here." Anne affirmed. "How about you, Ember?"
"Only in my dreams," she murmured, then blushed as she realized she'd spoken aloud.
That earned a giggle from both of them. "Sounds like someone else likes large pillows to sleep with," Anne smiled. She noted Ember's puzzled expression. "Um, you like large breasts too," she clarified.
"Yes," she purred, "very much." She felt Anne and Dee jerk slightly. "Is there something wrong?"
"You can really purr," Anne said wonderingly."
"It felt nice," Dee added. "Could you do that again?"
Ember needed no coercing. She thought on her new wealth of breastflesh and a long, lusty purr escaped her throat. Something wonderful occurred just underneath her chin; with a start, she realized their left hand had come up to scratch underneath her chin. She smiled at Dee and tilted her head up to give better access. Giving into temptation, she brought their left hand to their middle nipple and tweaked it.
The sensation was delicious, shooting a wave of pleasure to the bottom of their loins. Dee moaned. "Ohhh...that felt lovely. Sorry, Dee and Ember, but I just couldn't resist anymore."
Ember blinked. "I thought I did that."
"That's funny I could have sworn that was me," Anne told them.
"It sounds like we're having a hard time determining who's doing what." Dee sounded worried. "That isn't how it is with other Joinings."
"I think we can safely rule out us being like others," Anne reminded her. "After all, language isn't a barrier, so why would sensation?"
Ember detected a faint note of worry in Anne's voice as well. As a species, Nimeans tended a little towards fatalism. There was nothing that could be done about this problem -- if it was one -- so why worry? Deciding to break her body-mates of their growing anxiety, she cupped their outer breasts and pushed them into the middle one. "Less talk," she purred in Dee's ear as an even greater wave of pleasure crashed over them. She then turned and licked Anne's cheek. "More play."
Anne and Dee moaned almost in unison. "But..." Dee tried faintly.
Ember mumbled a basic spell that all Nimeans with the faintest trace of magic first learned. Instantly her tail became more animated; in fact, it could be used as a very flexible if hairless limb. She stroked their sex with it. The sensation was so intense that the barely made it back to the bed before their legs gave out.
Ember gave Dee's ear a playful nip. "You were saying?"
"Noting worth mentioning," she breathed.
Anne and Dee turned their head towards Ember's and managed to kiss her. Not on the muzzle, for there was not enough room, but close enough that they could play with each others' tongues. Their hands pressed their three breasts together harder and their tail trust up between their legs inside their sex. It was only with the tail that Ember could tell who was using it. When she had control, its motions were quick and sure. When either Anne or Dee tried, it was hesitant and jerky. Other than that, it truly was impossible to tell who was initiating what actions. Once her body-mates learned how to control their new tail, there would not even be that difference. A small part of Ember told her that she should dread that day, but she recognized it as a silly fear. They were meant to be like this; to flow together as one in life and in sex. She could tell that Anne was vocal in the throes of passion even before the first moans left her mouth and that Dee liked to look her lovers in the eye before the red-haired human's gaze fastened on Ember's own and wouldn't let go. She wasn't trapped in this form, she was freed...and she knew that, as their tail grew slick with their love-juices, they realized it too.
"I'm gonna cum so hard," Anne wailed after much stroking, petting and nibbling.
"Me too," Dee panted. "Let's all be kissing as we cum, please?"
Ember nodded, purring so hard she could not speak. Again their tongues met, but somehow they found some extra leverage they didn't know they had and managed a true three-way kiss as their orgasm broke and oceans of ecstasy washed over the thrice-Joined. They clung to each other, like long-lost siblings who had found each other once after an age of loneliness, and hugged themself as the waves slowly but deliciously died down.
Smiling, Ember wiped their tail on the bedsheets. "I think we are in for very interesting -- and enjoyable -- times, my body-mates."
"Hopefully as many enjoyable ones as we can manage," Anne smiled. "But I must say, it's a good thing I'm not allergic to cats."
They found out a three way giggle was infinitely more fun coming from the same torso.
Felnari had just dug into his second book when he felt an ancient and powerful presence enter the room. He cast a quick glance at Volkov but the taller wizard shook his head.
They both looked at Synaid. The young magician was perspiring heavily, but her posture was ramrod straight, and her gaze unblinking.
"You engage in too much research," she said.
Felanri wasn't fooled for a second into thinking it was Synaid talking. "Sorry, but we didn't know how to contact you," Felnari apologized.
"This one can communicate with spirits, although she does not know it," the entity explained.
"She certainly does now," Volkov murmured. Then, louder, "I take it we are speaking with the earth spirit created by the bonding rituals?"
"I was not created by them, merely lent power." A frown creased Synaid's forehead. "Please attend me, for I can only say this once."
"I'm all ears," Felnari said with feeling, and Volkov nodded approval.
"The Wastings have a cause -- a will behind them" the entity continued which Synaid's mouth. "I cannot fathom what it is, but I was able to craft a counterstroke. It took much of my power to arrange those three to be present, but Anne and Dee's willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, coupled with the selflessnes of Ember, was exactly what I needed. If you inspect where the event occurred, you will find the effects are reversed and the ground is fertile again." She leaned Synaid's body forward to pierce the stunned wizards with her gaze. "All that is required to revive a Wasted area is the thrice-Joining to engage in self-love while on the spot and it will revive -- but that does not stop an occurrence elsewhere."
"The we have to find out who's causing them," Volkov insisted.
"This Power of Three is a threat he cannot ignore," the entity explained. "You will not need to find him; he will find you."
"Let him come," Felnari snarled. "I've got a few choice spells up my sleeve. I hope you've got some more time, because I have a lot more questions to ask you."
"Too late," Volkov told him. Synaid slumped onto her hands, drenched in sweat. It was obvious she had passed out.
"Great," Felnari snapped. "So let me see if I got this straight. We have to take Anne-Dee-Ember on the grand tour of the Wastings keeping one eye peeled for an enemy that we don't even know the appearance of and our only ally is a spirit which departs as soon as it arrives."
"Don't be obtuse," Volkov told his irritated friend. "We already know two other things."

Felnari raised an eyebrow. "I don't see how."
"That's because spirits irritate you." Volkov grinned at him. "First of all, we know whoever is behind this is not from this world."
"How do you figure that?"
"A force that can tell what a patch of ground is like a day's travel away, not to mention bringing those three together, would be able to determine this force. Ergo, it is either a demon or something like it."
"You have a point," Felnari conceded.
"Secondly," Volkov continued. "Counteracting a Wasting would require a tremendous outpouring of life energy. If you recall, that's why we decided to go along with Dee's idea in the first place. So we can assume that whenever they...well, you know," he blushed profusely.
"Damn straight," Felnari grinned.
Volkov cleared his throat. "Yes. Anyway, what happens on fertile ground?"
Felnari blinked. "Now there's a question for you."
"I think that life just became more interesting," Volkov mused. "For us, our friend Synaid here, and most definitely for Anne-Dee-Ember and their so-called Power of Three."
"Sounds like a bad adventure novel," Felnari grunted. "They'd better write me good, that's all I'm saying."