There are times when it feels like everything’s spinning out of control, when the world is turned upside down and you can’t see anywhere that’s safe to go. That doesn’t make for the most enjoyable of weekday afternoons, but having both Betty and Akemi by my side made hanging onto things a whole lot easier.
“I still don’t like the idea of either of you endangering yourselves,” Akemi said, settling to the ground to sit cross legged on the ever shifting floor of the mirror world that we’d traveled to. We’d huddled behind the reflection of an outcropping of black basalt, just out of sight of the reflection of one of the Miser King’s more well guarded estates. With its high walls and foreboding parapets, it looked like the last place on Earth three middle school girls should be chatting near. Fortunately since we were in the mirror world still none of the almost certainly terrifying inhabitants of the castle could see or hear us.
“You haven’t been trained for things like this.” Akemi added, trying to glare us into giving up on helping here.
By “not trained” she meant that between Betty being a young goblin and myself being a fledgling witch’s Seeming, we weren’t as ready as she was to storm one of the Miser King’s fortresses and free a group of our classmates who’d been taken hostage. Of course since her chance of successfully storming said castle was virtually non-existent, I didn’t seem how it made much sense to her that she should try it alone.
“That’s the beautiful part of this idea,” Betty said. “We don’t need training. All we need to do is rely on the basic things the three of us can manage with ease.”
“I’m not sure how easy some parts of your plan are,” I said. “I’m not exactly an ace at contacting Penny. The last time, she was the one who projected to me and it nearly knocked me out.”
“That was just because it caught you by surprise,” Betty said. “I mean you said it was when a giant toad ate her right? That’s not the kind of calm dialog I’m thinking of here.”
“What if the communication requires great emotional distress to occur?” Akemi asked.
“One problem at a time,” Betty said. “The bigger question I think is can you sneak us in there once Shiny figures out where Penny is?”
“Shiny?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Betty said and shrugged. “You’re brighter than she is. And I don’t just mean smarter, I mean you kind of glow, you’re more present I guess.”
“I’m what now?” I asked, thinking of how abjectly terrible I was at being a proper doppleganger for my witch if people could tell us apart that easily.
“You’re easier to notice,” Akemi said. “Penny is more reserved, and quiet. Or at least she was.”
“What do you mean ‘was’?” I asked. “She can’t be…”
“No, she’s got to still be alive,” Akemi said. “You would know if that wasn’t true. I only meant that Penny may have changed as well since she learned what she was. It’s not uncommon.”
She looked away as she finished speaking and I felt a wince of sympathetic pain go through my largely imaginary heart.
“Ok, whatever is up with Penny, we’ll find out later,” I said, trying to drag the conversation back onto less painful subjects. “The question of whether you can get us into the castle is still an important one though.”
“I believe I can,” Akemi said. “But getting us out is something else entirely.”
“Right, you mentioned that there would be spells on the prison to prevent people from escaping,” I said. “Will those spells still work on us here in the mirror world though?”
“If the person who casts them knows what they’re doing, they definitely should,” Betty said. “You’ve got to figure if they’re capturing magical kids then they’d want to make sure magic wielders of all type would have a hard time getting away. Fortunately though, you have me here.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m guessing you mean we’re lucky to have more than your natural brilliance and moral support to draw on, right?” I asked.
“What? Those aren’t enough?” Betty asked. “Ok, maybe not in this case. For this you’re lucky to have a goblin with you, and I’m willing to bet you never expected to hear anyone say that.”
“Given that Penny didn’t know goblins were real until I got into school this morning, that’s a safe bet,” I said.
“What she means is that goblins have a propensity for making magic go awry,” Akemi said. “It’s why seeing the two of you together is so unusual.”
“Because witches cast spells and goblins make spells go boom?” I asked, trying to follow along.
“Pretty much,” Betty said. “I mean, I don’t make a habit of messing up other people’s magic, but I can assure you that the temptation is there, and in this case getting to run amuck on a warding spell sounds incredibly fun.”
Her eyes were alight with an eagerness that was hard to resist even though I knew the plan was much too simple to survive actually putting it in motion.
“Ok, so, I guess it’s on me then to get things rolling right?” I asked.
“Yes, but I will ask one last time,” Akemi said. “Please, don’t endanger yourselves.”
Betty looked at me, both gauging my reaction and allowing me to make the final call.
I turned to Akemi and put my hand on hers.
“Maybe I’m not a good copy of Penny,” I said. “Maybe she would choose to run away from here. It’s probably the safest, smartest move I could make, but I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to let you go in there alone. I know we just met today, so maybe I don’t know you that well yet, but the fact that you’re here, trying to help, when the safest, smartest move for you would be to clear our and let someone else sort this out? That tells me that if I don’t know you that well then it’s a real shame and I should try to change that.”
Akemi pulled back, a worried look in her eyes.
“You don’t want to do that,” she said. “I’m not a good person to know.”
“Excellent,” I said. “Penny knows lots of good people already, I need to broaden her horizons some.”
Confusion and distrust settled on Akemi face like water freezing into place. I was violating the prime direction for Seemings in that I was exactly what she didn’t expect Penny to be, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let her run off and get killed just because she lacked even a basic sense of self-worth.
“So how do I get started?” I asked, turning to Betty.
“You’re the witch, so I think it’s on you,” she said. “Just do whatever makes the most sense I guess?”
I blew out a breath and tried to figure out how what would make sense for talking to Penny. I thought about mystic words and if I needed anything like that, but I didn’t know any beyond “Abracadabra” and I kind of doubted that would work. Special ingredients or funny gestures seemed like two other possibilities, but again, I had no training and the idea of flailing my arms about while holding onto whatever random things we were carrying did not seem like a recipe for success.
In the end, I tried the simplest thing I could think of. I kind of drew in a mental breath and then shouted in my mind.
“Hey Penny! Can you hear me?”
“Oh my god! Is that you?” Penny asked immediately, shouting back into my mind like we were talking on the phone.
“Yeah! We’ve come to rescue you!” I said.
She laughed. She actually laughed at me.
“You’re a little late I’m afraid. We’ve already been rescued!”
“Wait so you’re not with the kids who just got captured?” I asked.
“What kids?” she asked me back. “Oh no, hold on, does the Miser King have other sacrifices already?
“Yep, and I think we’ve got some serious notes to compare,” I said.
Strangely, despite the concern in Penny’s voice, I felt a warm relief flow through me. She was ok, and I had the sense that we all were going to be ok too, it just might take a little effort and lot of cleverness to pull it off.