Being led into captivity gave me the weirdest feeling of deja vu. I was manacled and the rockmen had dragged me into the material world, which was a first for me, but from what Penny and Shadow had told me of their days, it seemed like my sister-selves and I were going to have some interesting notes to compare in that department.
I kept an eye out on my surroundings as my jailers brought me to my cell. The mirror world version of the castle had been distorted into a nightmarish mess of twisting passages. The material castle, by contrast, seemed to be setup to make its mirror counterpart look wholesome and appealing.
Whoever had carved the passages for the castle had invested the minimum possible effort in making them look smooth, or polished. Jagged bits of rough stone spiked out from the walls at odd angles. Mold and even less healthy growths built up in places where too few people were scraped against the jagged rocks. Best of all though was the slime that oozed from the cracks in the rock. I couldn’t tell if it was bubbling up from below the castle like some kind of sulphur-smelling snot lava or if it was another growing thing that was magically induced to be far more active than any real plant could be.
Walking down into the poorly lit and ever more pungent dungeons left me in an unexpected state.
I knew our plan. I liked our plan. I’d even insisted on my role in our plan. With the reality of what I was doing growing tighter and closer around me though, I felt my resolve cracking. I didn’t want to go through with the plan. It was too late to change my mind of course, but more than anything I wanted to run.
The one thing that helped me keep my mind together was the feel of soft black fur nestled against my left ear.
September was just one cat, and he was a little guy at that, but having him nearby was a real comfort. We were both small and helpless, but we both had claws too. Tiny, easily overlooked claws, but sometimes those were the worst to get hit by.
“I don’t like this place,” September whispered in my ear.
“Don’t worry,” I whispered back, “we won’t be staying long.”
One of the rockmen cuffed me in the back and I tumbled forward. I had to throw my hands up to catch September before I fell so that he wouldn’t be hurt, which meant for one terrifying instant I knew I was going to plow face first into rough, and gooey, stone floor. Somehow though, I was able to step forward just fast enough to catch my balance gracefully and keep on walking as though nothing had happened.
I didn’t bother yelling at the rockman. His meaning was clear, I was supposed to shut up, and since I had nothing to say to him anyways, I did and used the time to memorize the route they were taking us down.
When we got to the cell they dropped me off in, I had to bite back a cheer. The trickiest part of the plan had been that I might be enough of a pain to them that the guardians of the castle would dump me in my own private little cell. We had a contingency setup for that, but as it turned out we didn’t need to worry about it. When the guards opened the cell and shoved me in, I saw the worried and angry faces of my abducted classmates waiting for me.
“Penny?” Deidre’s Seeming asked. “What are you doing here? How did they catch you?”
“With a lot of effort on my part,” I said.
“You wanted to be capture?” she asked. “I don’t get it.”
“I’m not captured,” I said. “I’m here to rescue you!”
“What? Why?” Deidre’s Seeming asked.
“The Miser King is going to sacrifice your magic to bring some outer bogeyman into our world,” I said. “Since some of us are pretty much entirely made of magic, I don’t think that’s on the ‘approved activities’ list for us.”
“No, I mean why did you come? They didn’t catch you in the first pass.”
“Yeah, but I saw them catch you,” I said.
“We talked for like five minutes this morning. Are you telling me you jumped into a abyssal portal for that?” Deidre’s Seeming asked.
“No, I’m telling you I jumped into that portal for you,” I said. “Geez, is there something in the water at our school? You and Akemi ought to start a club together.”
“You talked with Akemi?” Deidre’s Seeming asked. “Tell me she’s not here too.” Her breath was a bit faster than it should have been (a particularly bad sign with a Seeming who should have been able to hide things like that) and her hands were flexing into and out of being fists all on their own.
“Ok,” I said and looked around the cell. “She’s not here. Seems like a pretty obvious thing to tell you though.”
“Well if she’s not here then we’re doomed,” Deidre’s Seeming said. “Unless you brought a platoon of witches with you?”
“Sorry, I don’t have a platoon of witches,” I said.
“Did you at least tell anyone where you were going?” Deidre’s Seeming asked. “Or that you saw us being taken?”
“Nope,” I said. “There wasn’t time. The portal was closing behind you and I didn’t know where anyone else was.”
“So this is basically the worst rescue ever then,” Deidre’s Seeming said. “You came here all alone and now you’re trapped with us.”
“I’ll grant you one thing there,” I said. “This probably is the worst rescue ever, but it is still a rescue. And you’re wrong that I’m all alone.”
“Your familiar doesn’t count,” Deidre’s Seeming said. “Unless he can fight us out of here.”
“No,” September said. “I’m just here to keep Penny safe.”
“Then who did you bring?” Deidre’s Seeming asked.
“That would be me,” my Shadow said stepping out into the light.
“But they took our shadows away!” Deidre’s Seeming said.
“Yes, which means that this room isn’t warded against shadows leaving it,” I said. “It’s funny how just because they didn’t see something, they didn’t think it was there. You’d think they’d always know to look up a magician’s sleeves for tricks wouldn’t you?”