Less than one day as a free Shadow, one lousy day, and I wound up as neither free, nor, a shadow really.
The quill that the bouncer at the Gilded Nails used to trap me when I tried to sneak in along with the Boggins had done more than pin me to the floor. Normally my body is light and airy. I mean, technically, it’s made of the absence of light, for as much sense as that makes. Once the quill hit me though I felt heavy. And oily.
I’m not sure if it trapped me in a layer of black ink, or if it turned me into black ink. From the inside of the inkwell, it didn’t seem to matter much. No matter how I struggled or flexed myself trying to get bigger, I couldn’t pop the seal that kept me locked in the little jar.
What was worse though was that none of my struggling, or screaming seemed to reach outside the bottle at all. Or the eyeless, skeletal maitre’d was an absolute pro at ignoring enraged children. He’d put me on a shelf and while I could hear and see what was going on in the entrance area to the Gilded Nails, I couldn’t so much as budge the bottle from the shelf or attract an ounce of the maitre’d’s attention.
There was only one thing that kept me even halfway sane after a night spent sitting in storage was that when I called out for Penny at last, I felt her start to move.
It was hard for me to grasp at first. I’d been so connected to her for so long, with no more no more freedom than a marionette she moved around without even being aware of. When I left her that connection broke but there was a deeper one that remained.
I wasn’t bound to follow her movements or dance the steps that she laid out for me. Those chains were gone. We were two separate beings (or three as it turned out) where once we’d been one, but when I focused on her while she was focused on me, I had the sense that I could see through her eyes, hear what she heard, and feel what she felt.
That might have been a very weird experience under any other circumstances but after a night trapped in a tiny little bottle it didn’t feel strange at all. It felt like was a lifeline, and I clung to it for all I was worth.
From the dark corners of Penny’s eyes, I saw glimpses of strange vistas and an even stranger sort of mirror-wolf. I felt Penny climbing towards me, felt her tempted and lured away by the things she saw and felt a will inside her that I’d never noticed before drive her onwards.
The Gilded Nail came to life just as the small party she was with reached an awe inspiring bridge and stepped into their own moonbright reflections in the river that ran below it. Penny and September were the first into the smooth surface of the deep running waters, followed by the wolf and then Rosey and Sweepy the flying broom.
With each step into the river, Penny found herself walking out of it, exiting the mirrorland reflection into the material world of the Goblin Deeps.
She’d come for me!
And after how I treated her. I wasn’t wrong to leave her, I wasn’t even wrong in anything I said, but I still wished I could take some of it back. Or say things using different words. I didn’t hate her, but maybe she thought I did? Or I was possibly overthinking things. Whatever she thought, it didn’t stop her from coming for me when I called, and as I sat in the inkwell, that was all that mattered.
I was so focused on watching her approach and sensing our connection growing stronger the nearer she came, that I almost missed when the first customer arrived at the Gilded Nail.
“Good morning Mulgrave,” the customer said, in the slow tones of someone who had no reason to believe this morning or any other was a good one. His eyes were bloodshot enough that I wasn’t sure this necessarily was ‘morning’ for him either.
“Good morning Brooks,” Mulgrave, the skeletally thin maitre’d who’d caught me, said.
The two of them made a stark contrast with each other. Mulgrave, thin as a rail and white as bone, was somehow still a match for Brooks’ linebacker like build and rich black skin. Neither stood comfortably, and neither looked interested in setting the other at ease.
“Inspector,” Brooks said with only a tiny a hint of irritation creeping into his voice.
“Yes,” Mulgrave said, allowing no sound of respect to accompany the word. “What may the Gilded Nail do for you today Inspector Brooks.”
“I understand that you captured a wayward shadow last night,” Brooks said.
I swore. Whoever Brooks was, I doubted it was a good thing that he knew about me.
“And you have proof of that?” Mulgrave asked.
“Do you think I need proof?” Brooks asked. An aura flickered around him and even though I was made of shadow, or ink, or whatever I was at the moment, I found I wanted to be very far away from him.
“I think you’re out of your realm, Inspector,” Mulgrave said. “Your authority doesn’t extend into the Goblin Deeps.”
“You’re out of your realm too Mulgrave,” Brooks said. “And I don’t need my authority to deal with you.”
“The owners of the Gilded Nail won’t be happy to find a wizard throwing his weight around here,” Mulgrave said.
“Do you want to involve them in this Mulgrave?” Brooks asked. “Do you think your Goblin employers will be happy to find you bringing trouble to their front door?”
“Shadows are valuable things,” Mulgrave said.
“You need to work on your definition of ‘thing’ Mulgrave,” Brooks said. “And you need to hand me that inkwell there.”
He pointed right to the bottle I was trapped in and I screamed. To no avail of course.
I felt out towards Penny to see where she was and found that she’d run into trouble of her own. There was no chance she was going to reach the Gilded Nail before Brooks got me.
“And that’s all that you want?” Mulgrave asked.
“That’s all that I want for now,” Brooks said.
Mulgrave reached up to the shelf I was on and placed my bottle on the counter between Brooks and himself.
“You should be careful with that,” Mulgrave said. “One never knows what problems come with small packages.”
As threats went, that didn’t seem to affect Brooks at all. He reached down, scooped up the inkwell and held it in front of his eyes. I saw shadows and reflections dance behind the surface of his pupils.
Desperate for anything I could do, I reached out to Penny again only this time instead of looking through her eyes, I tried to get her to look through mine.
I felt a dizzying moment of disorientation and then the sense of her pulling back. Not leaving me but more returning to her own body, I guess.
I didn’t cheer, I had no idea where Brooks was going to take me, but at least Penny knew what he looked like and I had to hope that would be enough.