Despite his gruff exterior, and I guess gruff interior too, the interrogation Inspector Brooks put me through wasn’t really that bad. I think it helped that I was past the point about worrying over what I’d done. I knew I’d broken some rules, and that I’d probably screwed up more than a few times but sitting in a nice normal office (assuming I ignored all the weird and arcane paraphernalia that littered the cabinets and shelves) with my Shadow, and September, and Rosie, and Wolf and a bunch of people who offered me tea rather than death threats left me with the impression that everything had worked out ok.
I had a tiny suspicion at the back of my head that I wasn’t entirely right about that, but I pushed it away while Brooks asked his questions, and I answered them as honestly as I could.
“So the Miser King said they were going to the Lava Altar for the next sacrifice?” Brooks asked. “Are you sure of that?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what he said. Why, what’s the Lava Altar?” I asked.
“It’s a place of power,” Ulwin, Brook’s apprentice, said. “But it’s an incredibly difficult and dangerous one to get to.”
“It’s also almost certainly a trap as well,” Brooks said.
“If you know that, doesn’t it mean that you can turn it around on them?” my Shadow asked.
“It would help if we knew what the Miser King had planned there,” Ulwin said. “If we send a team in to investigate it they could be going up against anything.”
“So send a shadow in?” my Shadow suggested.
“Absolutely not,” Brooks said. “I stand by what I said earlier. You are too young, and too untrained to send into a dangerous situation like that.”
“We escaped from the Miser King’s jail once already,” I said, trying to support my Shadow’s position even if I thought it was kind of a scary idea. September looked at me and cocked his head to the side as though searching to see if I’d lost a marble or two.
“That’s what makes me think it’s probably a trap,” Brooks said. “No offense, but if he’d been serious about keeping you as prisoners, he wouldn’t have left you under the guard of someone who has every reason to work against him.
“Technically, I can’t work against him,” Mortimer said. “I just don’t have to work for him.”
“And yet you were still acting as one of his chief jailers,” Brooks said. “Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that. I’ll be getting around to questioning you in just a little bit.”
“Take your time, this magic restraints are actually very comfy,” Mortimer said.
“They’re woven from unicorn hair,” Brooks said. “It’s a good sign that you’re not writhing in agony at the moment, but that’s all I’ll give you for now.”
“If it’s just a trap, can you ignore it altogether?” I asked. “I mean, the Miser King has to be wasting some resources there, so why not let him?”
“The problem is that Ulwin’s correct,” Brooks said. “The Lava Altar is a place of power. If we don’t move against it at all, the Miser King may readjust his plans to make use it for real.”
“And what can he do there?” my Shadow asked. “I mean it seems like kidnapping witches isn’t going to lead to anything good, but it also seems like a lot of hassle, especially if it brings guys like you down on his head.”
“From what you’ve said, it sounds like he’s trying create a contract with one of the major Defilers, the being known as the Lord of the Bleak Harvest,” Brooks said.
“What would a contract do for him?” I asked.
“It depends on what he offers as his side of bargain, but the short form is it would give him access to the Defiler’s power and through him, the Defiler would gain another toehold in the world,” Brooks said.
“That’s why it’s dangerous to let Penny go out against the Miser King right?” Rosie asked. “If he captures her, he could trade her to this Lord of the Bleak Harvest like a gift card.”
“The joke would be on him,” I said. “He’d probably get more power for cutting coupons out of Sunday Special than he’d get in exchange for me.”
“What on Earth makes you think that?” Brooks asked.
“I’ve been a witch all of one day so far and I don’t know how to do anything yet,” I said. “The only magic I have is a magical ability to get into heaps of trouble.”
“Penny, don’t whine, I hate hearing my own voice sound like that,” my Shadow said.
“More importantly, don’t make judgments on yourself when you have no idea what you’re talking about,” Brooks said.
“Everything I said was true though! If it wasn’t for Rosie and Sweepy, we never would have gotten out of the Miser King’s prison. And without Wolf we wouldn’t even have gotten to the Deeps in the first place. And Shadow basically rescued herself and then came to rescue me. I haven’t done anything so far!”
“That’s all correct,” Brooks said. “Except for the part where it’s entirely wrong.”
I frowned and waited, daring him to disprove what I’d said, quietly hating the idea that he wouldn’t be able to.
“From your own report, corroborated by witnesses here I might add, you managed to wander into a world that only witches and other half folk can travel in. You then rescued and bonded with your familiar. Following that, you unleashed your Shadow and gave her freedom as an independent entity, and then did the same with your Seeming the next morning. Without aid you traveled into the mirror world, secured the services of a trustworthy guide, navigated to the Goblin Deeps safely, pursued your Shadow in response to her cry for help, and then managed to charm your jailer into letting you go after you’d been captured, just in time to be rescued by us.”
Brooks paused for a moment to let that sink in.
“Those are exactly the kind of things that a witch can do, and some of them are ones that even witches with years of training couldn’t have managed to pull off,” Brooks said.
“But none of that was magic,” I said. “It was all just easy.”
“Magic doesn’t have to be hard,” Brooks said. “Sometimes all it takes is to just say the right words.”