Running towards something at the same time as you’re running away from something presents you with an obvious problem. You have to run fast enough to outpace the thing you’re running away from, or, if you can’t manage that, at least fast enough that you reach the thing you’re running towards first.
For Wolf and I, outpacing Brooks and Ulwin wasn’t necessarily an issue. Even blind, Wolf was able to run faster than the wind. Heck he was able to run faster than me and since I’m a shadow and weigh nothing at all, I can move pretty fast when I want to.
Our problem wasn’t outrunning Brooks, it was avoiding him as he kept appearing ahead of us.
Penny was new to being a witch, and I was new to being her shadow. If Brooks was using a spell to keep popping out from around every blind corner we came near, I had no idea what it was. All I knew was that he was freakishly fast for a guy his size and that dodging him was getting harder and harder the farther we ran.
What made it particularly challenging though was that despite not wanting to be grabbed by him and stuffed back into an inkpot, I didn’t actually want to lose him either.
Wolf and I were making staggeringly good time homing in on where Penny was. Together we were pretty formidable (in my admittedly limited personal experience), but I had no idea what kind of guards or defenses there would be around my witch and having a wizard like Brooks to sic on any bad guys we found seemed like a wonderful idea to me.
There was the open question of whether Brooks would actually fight any bad guys we found or whether he’d stuff Wolf and I into a bag and come back later with reinforcements. Part of me worried that he’d take the latter approach since it was the smarter call and Brooks seemed to be all about making smart calls. In this case I didn’t think playing it safe like that would work out well for Penny, and by extension, me.
Memories of some of the less pleasant things magical monsters could do to children surfaced from Penny’s childhood nightmares. Eating seemed to be a big theme there, sometimes with baking or at least chopping as part of the mix too. Penny had spent enough nights panting in the dark when she was a toddler that I had no desire to dwell on any of those thoughts longer than I had to. Wolf and I were going to reach her in time. If any monster tried to stop us, Wolf would eat them first and if he couldn’t? Well I had some ideas that I was holding in reserve for a desperate occasion. I didn’t really want to try them, but no one was eating my witch if I had anything to say about it.
“Are you sure this is where she is?” Wolf asked.
“Not here, but she is in this direction,” I said and asked, “Why?”
Wolf bounded over a small stream. It was bright and clean and beautiful. The water that flowed through it looked so clear I was pretty sure came out of a plastic bottle.
Natural streams don’t look like that, but then there wasn’t much that was natural about the estates we were running past. The yards were vast fields of lush green surrounded by high walls of perfectly weathered stones. Fruit trees dotted the manicured countryside and all of them bore rich, ripe treasures. As far as the eye could see the landscape looked like a postcard come to life except for one small detail. No one was outside. The gardeners who tended the perfect vista were unseen and those who engaged their services apparently had better things to do than take advantage of the beauty they were surrounded by.
It wasn’t hard to see why that was the case. The houses that dotted the sunlight countryside were enormous, more castles than anything else. Each one swelled to vast height. Each one sprawled over an unbelievable amount of its estate. Each one was dressed in the kind of ornamentation that said someone had spent a long time thinking how to make every square inch of the facade make a statement. Sadly that statement was uniformly “look upon my wealth ye’ mighty and despair”.
If there was ever an ounce of joy or whimsy or even originality in the McCastles that we flew past I was pretty sure it had been remodeled to extinction long before I was born. Or even long before Penny was born.
“These are the Fair Fields,” Wolf said. “The light shines brightly on the powers that dwell here.”
“Meaning the people here are too good to have kidnapped Penny?” I asked.
Wolf chuffed, which I took to be his version of a laugh.
“No place exists where people do no harm to others,” Wolf said. “The denizens of the Fair Fields merely hide the harm they do better than some.”
“They hide how bad they are?” I asked. “How?”
“They are well known, their names echoing across many realms,” Wolf said. “They claim to be servants to higher causes, but I have seen them serve their powers with nothing more than idle words and I have heard whispers of the secret names they use. The names they hide away for when they work on schemes others are not allowed to see.”
“Well that sounds creepy, but also kind of like the people I’d expect would have Penny,” I said. “So what’s the problem.”
“They are a formidable foe when roused,” Wolf said. “We must expect every sort of trap, and obstacle to bar our path. Even your wizard friends may be out of their depth in this realm.”
“Brooks is still following us, so I don’t think they’re giving up yet,” I said. “And we’re almost there.”
“She lies in one of these estates?” Wolf asked.
“Yeah, that one,” I said, pointing at a vast castle that sat on a promontory overlooking a vast sea that I was pretty sure was nowhere near Penny’s hometown.
Wolf vaulted over the wall surrounding the perfect grounds, leaving me to wonder why anyone bothered with walls in a world where creatures could leap or fly over them.
In a flash, Wolf’s long strides carried us across the lawn and with a wood shattering crash we burst through the front door.
I expected to find flame throwers and dart guns and rolling boulders. I expected to find a horde of Death Wasps and a pack of Slime Lizards and a twenty foot tall giant waiting for us. What I did not expect to find was the person who was waiting right inside for us.
“Oh my god! You made it!” Penny said and threw her arms around me.