I knew one thing by the time I got halfway around the Gilded Nail; I didn’t want to be there. It had seemed like a great plan to leave Rosie and September behind. I didn’t have to worry about them getting hurt or caught or anything.
Except that I did. If anyone saw them back there I knew they’d be in bigger trouble than we’d been in with the goblin patrol. I tried to focus on worrying about that so I wouldn’t think of something even worse. Like how much trouble I was going to be in and how I had no idea what I was going to say to the people inside the Gilded Nail.
I was three steps from calling it all off when I heard voices from the front of the building. They were speaking loudly enough that I was sure they hadn’t heard me, but I froze in place anyways.
“What brought the Inspector to call on you?” I couldn’t see the speaker but his voice was so deep it rumbled like an avalanche. There was a strange quality to his breath too. Its rasp made me think of dry paper fluttering and tearing.
“A witch’s shadow,” It was harder to hear the other man who spoke. There was a whispering quality to his voice even though he spoke at a regular volume. “It tried to sneak into the meeting last night. It followed the Boggins.”
“And why was it still here for Brooks to find Mulgrave?” the avalanche-voiced man asked.
“My apologies Miser King, there was not time to move the shadow,” Mulgrave, the whisper voiced man, said.
“Of course there was,” the Miser King said. “But you wished to sell it.”
Rays of green light illuminated the entrance of alley near the front of the Gilded Nail where the Miser King and Mulgrave were talking. The light flickered like it was coming from a candle caught in a heavy breeze and then took on a visible weight. The green rays wrapped together to form tendrils and then writhing tentacles. It was still just light as far as I could tell, but I was really sure I didn’t want any part of it touching me.
“No sire,” Mulgrave said. “I didn’t want to leave my post in case more witches tried to interfere.”
“And so you brought an Inspector onto our trail,” the Miser King said. “And who knows how many other witches.”
“None sire,” Mulgrave said. “There were no other witches here last night. I can swear to that.”
“And what of the witch whose shadow you bound?” the Miser King said. “Do you think they are not hunting for you? For us?”
“The shadow was only a fledgling sire,” Mulgrave said. “It was reckless and clearly surprised that it could be captured.”
“Even better. You captured a witch-child’s shadow and you thought that wouldn’t attract attention?” the Miser King said. “You are very fortunate Mulgrave. If I were to end you now, it would only bring further questions from the Inspector.”
“He is nothing compared to you sire,” Mulgrave said.
“That’s not the point Mulgrave,” the Miser King said. “We are at a delicate moment in our negotiations. If we are to secure the attention of the Lord of the Bleak Harvest and call him to us properly, we cannot be distracted by anyone, most especially not an Inspector.”
“How may I serve you my lord?” Mulgrave asked.
“Can I trust you to deal with Inspector Brooks quietly?” the Miser King asked.
“Of course my lord!” Mulgrave said.
The green ray tentacles swirled and lashed out. I heard the the heavy thump of what had to be a body slamming up against a heavy wooden door. The tentacles flared a little brighter before returning to their previous unfocused writhing.
“Of course I can’t,” the Miser King said. “If you could have dealt with Brooks, you would have when he came to take the shadow from you.”
“How may I serve you my lord?” Mulgrave asked again, though this time the words were choked and partially cut off.
“That is what I am deciding,” the Miser King said. “Perhaps if you run Brooks will follow. Can you outpace a wizard’s hounds for seven days Mulgrave?”
“Whatever you order my lord,” Mulgrave said.
“No, you would only fail me in that too,” the Miser King said. “Best perhaps to keep things simple.”
“Simple my lord?” Mulgrave asked.
“Yes,” the Miser King said. “Brooks is already aware of you. He knows he has taken something of value from you. Let us convince him that you are acting on a petty scheme of your own devising.”
“What scheme shall I enact my lord?” Mulgrave asked.
“You captured one witch-child’s shadow,” the Miser King said. “Go and find another.”
“Of course,” Mulgrave said. “And when I have found a replacement shadow?”
“Then find take another,” the Miser King said. “And another. Take them all if you can. And don’t leave any clues. We need the Inspector to hunt you, but you serve me by not being caught.”
“He will not find me my lord,” Mulgrave said.
“Of course he will find you,” the Miser King said. “And when he does, you will fight him.”
“I will fight and kill him my lord,” Mulgrave said.
“Yes, see that you try,” the Miser King said. “This is your future that you are struggling for. If he captures you, I will know. So fight Mulgrave, when he find you. Fight so that I will not know that you have been captured, or else we will meet again under less cordial terms.”
“Of course my lord,” Mulgrave said.
“Now to deal with our guest,” the Miser King said.
“We have a guest?” Mulgrave asked.
“Yes, it thought it was very clever hiding in the dark,” the Miser King said and I felt my stomach drop. “But nothing stands out in the dark quite as much as someone without a shadow. Bright the witch to me.”
I felt the hairs on my neck stand up and turned to look behind me. There was nothing in the alley but on the wall beside, about ten feet up, me I saw a frog as big as a car looking at me with cold uncaring eyes.
Before I could even draw in a breath to scream, its tongue lashed out and dragged me into its enormous mouth. One second I was in the alley and the next I was literally swallowed into darkness.