“So, you have come,” whispers a voice, cold and beautiful.
The fairy lights fade to nothingness. The Dwarf and Wolf stop cold.
“It’s her,” says the Dwarf. His innards turn to ice, his limbs suddenly frozen and shaking. “The Queen.”
“Stay calm,” says Merlin, his voice unpleasantly loud and booming in the corridor. “She cannot hurt us, and she knows it. Fairy tricks.”
Through the closed, round doors - made of cold iron, the Dwarf observed, one of the few metals sturdy against magic - floats something, someone, though they cannot quite see her with their eyes. That she drifts through such a barrier without any difficulty makes them feel very nervous, indeed.
She is like a spiderweb lost on a breeze. Insubstantial and bare, seen only momentarily in the sunlight. And here in the dark, she is all but invisible.
And yet the Dwarf is certain she only has nine fingers.
“Don’t be a fool,” says the apparition that was once the Queen. She lazily gestures with her insubstantial arm, and a horrible pressure, the weight of a castle, presses against Merlin’s heart.
“Fairy tricks,” Merlin struggles to say. He holds a gray and withered hand up to his chest, and crumples against the wall.
And yet the Wolf suffers most, for all animals are cursed with the ability to see into the spirit world. Her smell - death and blood and magic - is suffocating, worse than the forests of the dead, worse than the rotting giant. The banshee comes closer, ripped and bloodless, cursed and consumed - he would run if his legs would only listen.
“And,” says the Queen as she drifts toward Merlin, “you’ve brought me a gift.” Her hollow eyes fall to the Lamp hanging from the wizard's belt.
“Wish her away,” says the Wolf. He would huff and puff if he could only breathe. His once powerful lungs have shrunk in her presence, and there is not enough air in the room, in the world, to blow away her ghost.
“No,” grunts Merlin. He presses farther into the wall, away from the hungry hands of the Queen. “That’s what she wants, for me to waste it.”
“Give me the Lamp,” whispers the Queen. The wizard turns his sweating face away, but her chill is everywhere.
“Why?” shouts the Dwarf suddenly. He still foolishly holds onto his useless polearm. “What do ya want it for?”
Her spirit turns slightly away from Merlin and floats serenely in front of the Dwarf. To the Wolf’s eyes, she coils like a snake.
“Ya cain’t use it,” he continues, his breath visible. He forces himself to take a step toward the round doors. “Yer dead. Ya cain’t wish for nothin'.”
She hisses, and a brittle pain melts through the Dwarf’s bones. His heart stops mid-beat. But as the darkness closes in upon him, he remembers Snow White and Cinderella, unjustly poisoned by the Queen, and his heart angrily resumes beating.
“Merlin was right,” he says, and he falls against the iron doors. They scrape open. “Ya cain’t hurt us. Yer just a ghost.”
She drifts closer, eyes blazing, and the Dwarf forces himself to laugh a rusty chuckle. “Yer nothin’. Ya ain’t even a fairy trick. Yer just dead and you don’t know it.”
And the Queen’s essence, which subsisted on the power of the Dark Fairy's Book, sees what little remains of her body. Just scraps of her traveling cloak, really, and her bloodless, fleshless hands, still bound to the magic of the Book.
And the chill is gone. Blood flows once more through their bodies, rapidly warming them, and the Wolf can breathe once more.
“Well done, old boy,” says Merlin. He wipes at his forehead with the dirty sleeve of his robe, and calmly walks toward the blackness of the final room.