Riding on wolf back without a saddle is harder than it sounds. It’s especially challenging when the wolf is mirror-slick and your body is composed of nothing more than shadow.
“Is Brooks still following us?” I asked over the roar of the wind.
“I doubt I could lose him if I tried,” Wolf’s words more a growl than regular speech but I was clinging so tightly to him that I was able to feel them as much as hear them.
“How did they take Penny so far away so fast?” I asked. Around us a cityscape passed by so quickly that all I saw was the blur of neon signs and their reflections off rainslicked concrete and asphalt. The interplay of streaking blue and green and red lights were lovely, enigmatic and completely lost on me. I had to spend half my attention holding onto Wolf so as not to be left behind and the rest feeling out where Penny had been taken too.
We’d been so close together in the Goblin Deeps. If it hadn’t been for the stupid wards on Brooks’ office, I could have reached her well before whoever took her did. Instead I had to sit and feel her being pulled ever farther away from me.
As a shadow, having an “out of body” experience is supposed to be par for the course for me. When I first jumped away from my witch, it was the most liberating feeling of my whole life. That was when it was my choice though. This experience was very different. Being pulled apart unwillingly felt just as bad as it sounded.
What was strange about the sensation of enforced separation was that I wasn’t sure how I felt about my witch, about Penny. There were parts of her that I definitely didn’t like. Her mousey attitude set my non-existent nerves on edge, she didn’t have any sense of how important it was to be herself and not what other people wanted her to be, and she was painfully clueless sometimes. Nobody’s perfect though, and whatever else Penny was, she was my witch.
On some level, I knew I needed her and she needed me. I had her memories after all, and we were still joined together somehow, despite the miles or dimensions or planes of existence that separated us. Maybe we could exist independently, but the farther away she got, the more it felt like something was missing.
That’s why I’d made a deal with Wolf.
“You want to do what?” Wolf had asked back in Brooks’ office.
“Double or nothing,” I said. “On your deal with Penny.”
“What do you mean double or nothing?” Brooks asked. “What are you offering here?”
I strolled around the small office a few paces and hopped up onto a desk so that Brooks, Wolf and I formed three points of a triangle. I had no idea how spells or magic worked but I liked the balance that arrangement suggested.
“You say that you were trapped and weakened and that Penny pledged to help you out of the mirror realm in exchange for your guidance right?” I asked.
Wolf didn’t nod. Nodding isn’t a wolf thing to do. Instead his ears shifted forwards, focusing on me alone.
“And your complaint is that she left you to be attacked by some unpleasant sorts on a bridge. A bridge which she escaped by hurling herself to her doom,” I said.
“You say she still lives,” Wolf said. “So clearly it wasn’t to her doom.”
“Penny can’t fly,” I said. “Like at all. She lived because the magic broom you were with was fast enough to save her. But that’s not the point. The point is you’re still weakened, and, at the moment, still trapped. In here.”
“Yes,” Wolf’s hackles rose as he admitted to being weakened. I could still see parts of him shimmering in and out of visibility. Whatever the Drinker knives that he’d been injured by did, I was extremely certain it was something I never wanted to experience first hand.
“So double or nothing then,” I said. “Help me rescue Penny and I’ll make sure she feeds you and gets you back to full strength. And we’ll leave you free to come and go as you please. No more being trapped in the mirror world.”
“That’s the double, what’s the nothing?” Wolf asked.
“Your insurance,” I said. “If Penny actually betrays you, not just flees for her life, but really breaks her oath, then you can gobble me up.”
“I can’t let you offer that shadow,” Brooks said.
“You just did,” I said. “Is the deal acceptable?”
“No, you can’t make decisions like that for your witch,” Brooks said. “And I’m not letting you out of here to chase her.”
“It’s not a decision for Penny,” I said. “It’s a decision for me. And you are going to let us out of here.”
“Why would I do that?” Brooks asked.
“Because you can track me, and I’m your best chance to find the people who are kidnapping witch kids, which, I presume is kind of your job right?” I said.
“Yes, tracking down kidnapped witch children is a part of our job,” Brooks said. “Sending them into danger however is not.”
“I won’t be in danger!”
“You got caught in an inkwell,” Brooks said. “You have no idea what dangers are out there.”
That would have been that. Penny would have been consigned to her doom and I would have been left plotting to murder Brooks in whatever horrible manner I could device.
But then a goblin walked in.
“Pardon me, but we had some more questions regarding the incident on the bridge…” the goblin began to ask.
I didn’t hear what those questions were because I saw the opening and played a hunch without thinking about it.
Brooks’ office was warded to keep creatures like me in, but zapping visiting goblins with lightning bolts seemed like it would create poor relations with the locals. Since the goblin was standing in the door, I gambled on the wards being temporarily broken by his presence and leapt out of the office as fast as I could.
I wish I could say I planned everything out and weighed my options. Rationally it was a reasonable chance to take since the worst that seemed likely to happen was that I’d wind up shocked on the floor again. The truth though is that I saw an opening and I took it, no thought required.
That kind of move ends in tears nine times out of ten if you listen to worry worts like Penny, but even if that was true, sometimes you come up aces. The wards didn’t fire and I sailed out the door and was off faster than an arrow from a bow.
The humans and the goblin, having rational reaction times, couldn’t do anything to stop me. Wolf on the other hand was more than capable of matching my animalistic reaction times. I was halfway down the hall when he caught me and snapped me up in his jaws.
Being grabbed by a wolf’s teeth? Not a super fun experience. I had one moment of shock and then I was being lifted up right into his maw.
Or, onto his back.
I was as surprised by that as he was I think.
“Tell me where to go,” he said.
“Does this mean we have a deal?” I asked.
“Double or nothing,” he said, taking a flight of stairs in single leap.
And like that we were off, Wolf’s paws racing so fast that we practically flew out of the Goblin Deeps and on to brighter lands that housed a much deeper darkness.