Large predators. I’m not a fan of them. Or at least I wasn’t a fan of sharing a room with one that appeared to be pretty angry with me. As a shadow, you wouldn’t think that being menaced by a wolf would be much of a problem, but given that this (angry) wolf was apparently made out of a mirror and that I’d just spent far too many hours trapped into far too small a space because I thought I was invulnerable when I wasn’t, I think it’s quite reasonable that I climbed on top of the cabinet I was lurking beside when the wolf started to growl.
“You have a witch in here,” the wolf said. “One who betrayed me.”
“No one in here has betrayed you,” Brooks said. “I’m not your enemy and neither is Ulwin.”
Brooks looked at the boy who’d brought the wolf into the office for confirmation on that last point.
“Yeah,” Ulwin said. “You’re lucky I got you out of there when I did. The goblins would have locked you in a cell and forgotten about you.”
“You are not the only two here,” the wolf said. “I smell the girl. Don’t try protect her.”
The wolf was still looking at the spot where I’d been standing, but he was probing the air with rapid twitches of his nose. I waved a hand at him to confirm a suspicion and saw that he didn’t twitch at all. Knowing he was blind didn’t make him seem any less dangerous but it was at least a small relief.
“What girl?” Ulwin asked.
“You’re a keen hunter,” Brooks said, ignoring his young protege’s question. “But the witch you’re looking for isn’t here. We only have her shadow as our guest.”
“Unwilling guest,” I said and unflattened from the wall.
“It makes no difference to me,” the wolf said and struggled to stand. “I will still tear you apart.”
“You’re not in any shape to tear anyone apart,” Brooks said. “Now why don’t you explain what happened.”
“Why? So you can lock me away again?” the wolf asked.
Brooks rubbed the bridge of his nose and held his eyes closed for a moment.
“Ulwin, get our friend here a snack,” Brooks said. I saw a few ideas flicker across his face that seemed to involve less agreeable outcomes than snacktime. I suspected most or all of them were still on the table in case the snack didn’t work out.
Ulwin followed Brooks’ command and rummaged up a package of softly glowing stones from one of the other cabinets in the room. He was careful to keep an eye on me while he did, which tickled my interest a bit. Nothing like a boy who looks like you can scare him out of his wits by saying “Boo”.
“Here you go,” Ulwin said, pouring the stones into a bowl and setting it down in front of the wolf.
“I am not your friend,” the wolf said, but he devoured the rocks anyways. As he did, I saw the translucent pieces in him begin to solidify.
“And we’re not our your enemy,” Brooks said. “So tell us who did this to you. You know we’ll probably have an interest in them.”
The wolf was silent while he ate and regained his strength. I’d never seen a real wolf eat before, but he chowed down on the glowing stones like a bowl of raw steaks had been placed before him.
“I don’t know who they are,” he said when he was done. “Ask the girl. She knew to flee the moment they showed up.”
“What were they?” Brooks asked.
“Fast,” the wolf said. “And well hidden. I didn’t smell them until they were upon us and the goblins didn’t see them either.”
“They weren’t fighting with regular weapons were they?” Brooks asked.
“No,” the wolf said. “They weren’t.”
“Drinker knives?” Brooks asked.
“What are those?” Ulwin asked.
“Nasty bits of work,” Brooks said. “Supposed to be made from vampire teeth, ground up and reforged into a weapon. Cast them with the right glyphs and they can draw the magic right out of whoever they hit.”
“You are wise for a human,” the wolf said. “How do you know of such things?”
“I recognize the wounds you’ve got,” Brooks said. “What happened to the goblins?”
“Drained as I was,” the wolf said.
“And the girl?” Brooks asked.
“She fled the instant they attacked,” the wolf said. “We pledged to do each other no harm and she led me into a trap. She knew they were going to be there!”
“Are you claiming the Oathbreaker’s Curse against her then?” Brooks asked.
“The what now?” I asked.
“Oathbreaker’s Curse,” Ulwin said. “Standard punishment for someone who breaks a fair and lawful agreement.”
The wolf grumbled but remained silent.
“How did the girl flee?” Brooks asked.
“She jumped,” the wolf said.
“Where? Back across to the mirror world?” Brooks asked.
“No,” the wolf said. “Over the side.”
“Over the side of what?” Brooks asked.
“I found him on the Great Highway,” Ulwin said. “Wait, she didn’t jump off there did she?”
Brooks buried his face in one hand and sighed again, louder this time. We all knew the answer to that question.
“Is she still alive?” Brooks asked.
“I cannot say,” the wolf answered.
“I wasn’t speaking to you,” Brooks said while looking at me.
“Of course she’s alive,” I said and reached out to feel for her presence. She’d been getting so close that I almost expected her to come bursting through the door right then.
Part of me wanted to tease her if she did. I mean falling off a bridge? How dumb do you have to be to do that? Another part of me though wanted to jump right inside her and hide in some dark corner where no one would ever look for me. Neither side of me was ready for what I felt when I made contact with (the thankfully still living) Penny though.
Darkness. Confinement. She was trapped. Just like I’d been. Except I had someone to yell to, someone I could hope and pray would come save me and she had no one.
No. Not “no one”. She had me.
“She’s in trouble,” I said. “Now open that door and let me out of here.”