We had gotten out of there. We were in a forest, of course. It wasn’t the border forest, but one that was much more sparse. It seemed too cheerful to be real, actually, especially with what we had just left. I almost expected there to be butterflies flying around, it was so bright and happy. The trapdoor had been covered with fallen leaves which fell back into place once it was shut.
“Should we block it off or something, in case Lymlock realizes what’s happened?” Akeelay asked.
“We should be fine for a while,” I said. “He probably won’t figure it out for a while, if he does at all.”
“How should we find Dossik?” Maybelle asked. “Should we do it the lazy way and just use a tracking spell?”
“Probably,” I said. “But you’ll have to do it. I don’t have enough magyk.”
“All right,” she agreed. “Isibu!” She closed her eyes, presumably looking at the map that had just appeared in her head.
Tracking spells work by showing you a kind of map of where the person or whatever you’re tracking is in relation to you, and how to get there. When you close your eyes doing one, you can still see the area in front of you, with a line showing the path that you need to follow.
She walked off. “Let’s go.”
And so we walked. No matter how tired we got of walking, I think we all would agree that if was better than being in a caerthin cell.
“Dossik isn’t very far away,” Maybelle said after some time. “We should get there soon.”
At about midday, we saw a shape moving through the trees.
“Dossik!” Maybelle called out happily.
The shape stopped moving. “Maybelle?” he asked. He came out of the trees. “Where have all of you been?”
“We were captured by sorcerers,” I responded.
“I thought it was something like that,” he said, nodding. He hadn’t changed at all. “I was looking for you all, but I did not know where you could have been.”
“What were you doing when we were captured?” Akeelay asked.
“Once you all fell unconscious, I tried to follow the sorcerers who were taking you. However, they were very wary of the surrounding area, and it was impossible to follow quietly. I was unable to continue without having a great possibility of getting caught and captured as well. In the two days since, I have been searching for the sorcerers in the surrounding area. What happened, and how did you manage to escape?”
“It’s a long story,” Akeelay and Maybelle said simultaneously, bursting out laughing.
Dossik smiled. “I have time.”
“Is there something I should know?” I asked, not getting the joke.
“Not really,” Akeelay said. “So, what happened? Well, we all woke up separately, and...”
We all explained what had happened. It did take a while. Akeelay skipped over the part about her and me being in love, and we all followed her lead, not mentioning it.
After we finished our story, he said, “That must have been awful.”
“You’re telling me,” I muttered.
“So Akeelay and Kaolin, are you two together now?”
“How did you know?” she asked, amazed. “We are, but we didn’t say anything.”
“Just the way you two look at each other, like you could not imagine living without the other.”
“Do you feel that way about anybody?” Maybelle burst out.
He looked at her, considering. “No, not really. Not right now. Why do you ask?”
She shrugged, looking nonchalant. “I don’t know, just wondering.”
“Well, should we go then?” I asked. We had all sat down, even Dossik, although he was laying more than sitting.
“Let’s go,” Akeelay said, getting to her feet. “It’s that way, right?” She pointed toward the east.
“Yes,” Dossik replied. “Lospem is located in that direction.”
And so we walked. It seemed just like it had before the whole thing with getting captured, except now we were in Melzult, and we knew where we were going.
Nothing happened, probably because we were out of the Fruntieri Forest. That was a relief. At sunset, we stopped and pulled out sleeping bags.
The ease in the air was unmistakable. Things were back to normal - well, as normal as they could be with the four of us, as normal as they ever were - and we didn’t have to worry about anything right then. In the morning, we could discuss strategies and problems, but we had nothing to worry about then.
We all slept well that night, tired from the exploits of the day.
When we were all awake, Akeelay asked, “How far away are we?”
“We should be there by the end of the day, or, in the worst-case scenario - not counting getting captured again, of course - by early tomorrow,” Maybelle answered.
“If we get captured again,” I began, “then we officially have the worst luck in the world.”
“That’s pretty much it,” Akeelay agreed. “But hasn’t it already been proven that we have the worst luck ever?”
“Well, yeah, pretty much,” Maybelle said.
We walked. Nothing really important happened.
Soon, the tops of buildings were visible from above the sparse treetops. It was, as Maybelle had predicted, evening, almost sunset.
“Is that Lospem?” I asked, hardly daring to believe that we were almost there.
“Judging by the sign that says ‘Lospem,’ I’d say it is,” Akeelay said, nudging me playfully.
“Well, I’m so sorry that I didn’t see that when I asked,” I replied, smiling.
“Let’s go,” Maybelle said. “Although we might want to get cleaned up or something first. We wouldn’t exactly be welcome in most respectable places.”
I glanced around at everybody. We all did look really messy. The girls’ hair was tangled horribly, even though Maybelle’s is short, and we all really needed a bath or two. Or five.
“Nadif,” I said, hoping the “clean” spell would make us all at least a little acceptable in society.
The dirt and dust disappeared from our clothes and faces, everybody’s hair untangled, and we suddenly smelled a lot nicer.
“That’s so much better,” Akeelay said, relieved. “Now let’s go.”
We approached the city and found a large wall blocking us from entering.
“Left or right?” I asked. “I don’t think it matters which way we go, although one way might be shorter than the other.”
“Left,” Maybelle said decisively. “It’s better to have the wall at your right.”
We followed the wall around until we came to a huge gate that was open. A drawbridge led the way into it, with a couple of guards talking to everyone who entered.
“We should let Maybelle talk,” Dossik whispered as we walked toward them.
“Probably,” Akeelay agreed. “Are they wizards?”
I flipped my vision quickly and said, “One is, but the other one, the one with the weapon isn’t.”
The guards saw our approach from the side. One, the wizard, said, “Halt!”
“State your reason for entering the city of Lospem and who is in your party.”
The wizard obviously knew who we were, so I’m not sure why he had to ask.
Maybelle spoke. “We are just tourists, wanting to experience the beauty and culture of your fine city. Among us are two wizards, myself and Kaolin,” - I waved - “one human, and a centaur.”
He asked, “Kaolin. That’s your name, correct?”
I nodded, knowing what he was about to ask.
“Why is your magyk so neutral?”
“I used to be a sorcerer,” I responded cautiously, hoping that that would be answer enough. He might be suspicious, but most magykans don’t mind a “traitor” that is benefitting their side. Of course, they hate magykans who have left their side, but it rarely happened anyway.
He stared at us, mainly me, for a few moments, the expression on his face unreadable. Then he smiled and waved us through. “Have fun!”
I held back laughter as we walked through the gate.
We were in.
“We ought to find an inn,” Maybelle said. “We can find the museum in the morning and try to convince them to give the feather to us.”
“If they have it,” Dossik said. We all looked at him questioningly, and he shrugged. “They may have gotten rid of or lost it. There is also the possibility that someone else may have stolen it. It is hard to know.”
“Well, we can hope that it’s still there,” Akeelay said, always the optimist.
“How hard will it be to find the museum?” I asked, changing the subject. There was no point in wondering whether it would be there or not when we had to find the place first.
“Oh, not hard at all,” Akeelay said after a moment of silence.
“Why do you say that?” Maybelle asked, surprised at her confident tone.
“Because it’s right there,” she said, pointing over the tops of a few trees to a building.
On the side of the building were the words, “Magykal Artifacts Museum”.
“Wow. That’s a...creative name,” I said. “Nice job though, Akeelay.”
“Anybody could have seen it,” she said, brushing it off. “I just happened to look up.”
“Good point,” I said, smiling. “Should we go there?”
“We are going to have to enter anyway, if we wish to ask permission to borrow the feather,” Dossik said. “We might as well go there now.”
We headed toward it. The whole dome-shaped building was made out of caerthin.
“They really don’t want anyone taking anything, do they?” Maybelle muttered.
“All it would have taken would be a coat of it on the inside,” I agreed. “This is just overkill.”
The door was closed and locked when we found it under the sign. I noted a large keyhole that looked like it would be easy to pick. “Why would they lock it?” I asked, pulling on the handle for the third time.
Maybelle pointed to a small brass-plated sign next to the door. “They’re closed.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid. “When do they open?”
“Tomorrow morning,” Akeelay said, looking at the sign too. “They’re closed all of today, so it’s not like we were too late or anything.”
“Okay, then let’s go find that inn,” I said. Sleep was sounding really good at that point.
I should have known that it wouldn’t be that easy.
We found a really nice inn. It looked expensive, but that wouldn’t be a problem. Between the four of us, we had plenty of money.
It was expensive. We only needed one room, but it was still -“//100,” said the man at the counter.
“A hundred,” I said, astonished at the high price. “Really?”
“They’re nice rooms,” he said, impassive. “Take it or leave it.”
“Fine,” Maybelle said. She gave him the money, and he called over a young woman.
“Show them to their room,” he ordered her.
“Come with me, please,” she said, smiling kindly at us.
“Apparently all inn managers are meaner than their employees,” Akeelay said quietly to Maybelle. “Remind me never to open an inn.”
Maybelle laughed. “I will. But if you do, don’t hire me.”
Akeelay sighed, pretending to be upset. “Fine.”
“Here’s your room,” the girl said.
“Thank you,” I replied. I tipped her 5 plia, and in we went.
It was a nice room. I’m not sure that it was worth //100, but it was a nice room. Two huge, soft-looking beds, a couch, and a big bathroom.
We all sighed, looking around the comfortable place.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in a place half as nice as this,” Akeelay said. “Maybe at the castle.”
“The castle rooms aren’t as great as this. Maybe for the king and queen they are,” I agreed.
We all looked at each other suddenly, remembering that we really weren’t there to sightsee.
“So let’s say they don’t let us borrow the feather,” Akeelay said. “What are we going to do?”
“We will most likely have to steal it, if we are really serious about wanting to get it.” Dossik was right, even though none of us really wanted to become criminals.
“We will technically be criminals if we steal it,” I pointed out, saying what nobody wanted to admit. “Even with the best intentions, stealing is stealing.”
Akeelay sighed, now in resignation. She sat down on the bed closer to the door. “We’re going to have to ask first anyway. If they give it to us, we don’t have to worry about it, obviously, but if they don’t they’ll know it was us. Then we’ll have to worry about both the police and the sorcerers. We’re going to be hunted down from both sides.”
“But really, how bad does it make us if we steal a feather?” Maybelle pointed out. “It’s not like it could be used for anything bad...could it?”
Everybody looked at me, the resident expert on evil. I was used to it, but sometimes I wished I could erase my past.
“I don’t think so. Well, it could be used to wake up some sorcerer or something, but that’s not really making the feather itself used for evil. But the police won’t care about what we stole. The act of stealing itself is what would incriminate us.”
“Right, right.” Maybelle said. “How are we going to steal it?”
“Obviously, I can use magyk in there. But it’ll be harder, and I still don’t have that much magyk,” I said. “I don’t want to run out in there right after getting the feather out. That would be, like, the worst-case scenario, other than the police knowing we’ll be there and waiting for us.”
“So, before we go, we could make a lock pick or something,” Akeelay said. “Then we could use it in there, and save everyone some trouble.”
“Assuming lock picks aren’t banned,” I pointed out. Banned objects are illegal to create using magyk, like money and living things. They’re technically possible, but if you try to make them, you fall unconscious and the police are notified of what you tried to do and your location. Then you’re in trouble.
“Do we want to test that?” Maybelle asked. I looked at her to see if she was joking, but she looked serious. “I’m not kidding. We might have to actually do it.”
“Not right now,” I said. “Remember, we might not even have to do anything like that, if they believe our story.”
“Let’s just sleep,” said Akeelay, “and at least pretend everything will be better in the morning.”
“Should we keep watch?” Dossik asked.
“No,” the rest of us said instantaneously.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said.
“Door and windows are lined with caerthin,” Maybelle agreed.
I hadn’t noticed that, but that was good. I didn’t want to have to leave this place in the middle of the night.
I took the couch, which folded out into a bed. I hadn’t seen one of those in an inn before, but I was grateful for it.
Dossik always stood while he slept. I rarely, if ever, saw him sit down or anything.
That left the girls the two beds, and they took them gratefully.
“Are you sure you don’t want to lay down, Dossik?” Maybelle asked in a sleepy voice.
“No, I will be fine,” he said. That was the last thing I heard before falling asleep.
That bed was so comfortable. The room really was worth 100 plia. At that point I would have been willing to pay a thousand.
I woke up when a ray of golden light from the rising sun came through the window and shone directly onto my closed eyes. Squinting, I sat up and saw that Maybelle and Dossik were already awake and whispering in a corner.
“What are you guys talking about?” I asked, going over to them. Akeelay was still asleep, so I spoke quietly so I didn’t wake her up.
“About what we should say to the guy when we ask for the feather,” Maybelle told me. “Dossik thinks we should tell our whole story, but I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. ”Telling our whole story would certainly get the guy’s attention, and all those details might be pretty believable, but he would probably worry about the sorcerers getting the feather, even if he wanted to support us. I mean, Lymlock’s probably arranged some kind of interesting greeting back at the castle, and I’m not sure that we could beat a hundred sorcerers.”
“You have a good point,” Dossik said thoughtfully. “However, how would he believe us if we didn’t tell him the whole story? What would we tell him?”
“We could say that...” I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t thought about that before. I didn’t think the museum employee would give us the feather no matter what we said, so I was planning more for the robbery than for the story we would tell. Then I had an idea.
“We could tell our story, and add in a part where we found all the castle wizards and are planning a great attack on the castle, but we need the feather in order to convince them that it’s actually possible to save the king and queen.”
“That’s brilliant, Kaolin!” Akeelay said from across the room.
“How long have you been listening?” Maybelle asked, laughing at her sudden awakening.
“Not that long. I just got the gist of what you guys were talking about. But Kaolin’s idea would probably work really well. If he’s going to give it to us at all, we might as well boost his confidence a little by saying that we have some sort of a plan.”
“If we wanted to, in fact, we could attempt to find the wizards after getting the feather. That would work brilliantly,” Dossik said. He was actually getting excited too, which was a first. I had never seen him anything but calm about whatever was going on. “If we did that, we would actually have a better chance of making it to the castle and to the king and queen once we get in.”
“I think we can actually do this, guys,” Maybelle said, sounding surprised.
“I know! I didn’t think that we could do any of this for a long time, but it’s actually working,” I agreed.
“Let’s get dressed, and then we can go to the museum,” Akeelay said, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and getting out.
A short while later, we were going. The museum wasn’t far from the inn, and I hoped that we could be done there quickly.
The door was open and unlocked, and we entered. I don’t know about the others, but my heart was beating quickly in anticipation.
We walked down the short entrance hallway. At a desk in the main lobby, a man looked up from a book he was reading and said, “Yes?”
I noted that although the place seemed abandoned, there was no dust or cobwebs anywhere, even in the tall corners of the room. Why are there corners? I wondered. From the outside, the place was round, but inside it was all 90-degree angles. No curves anywhere.
“Do you have tours?” Maybelle asked, answering the man.
“We do,” he replied in a friendly voice. For once a nice manager. “Entrance fee is \\5 each, tour is 2 extra.”
I pulled out \\28, enough to cover all of us, and handed it to him.
“Jack!” he yelled, loud enough to make us all step back in surprise.
Another man came out of a hallway, presumably leading to the actual museum, and yelled back, “What?”
“Take these fine -” he looked at Dossik -“er, people on a tour.”
“Hello, and welcome to the museum,” Jack said instantly, turning to us. It sounded like he had given this speech over and over again, which probably wasn’t far off from the truth. From my experience, tour guides are rarely actually interested in what they’re showing people.
“Thank you,” Akeelay said anyway.
Jack walked to the hallway. “Follow me. These first artifacts are the most interesting things made by magykans. For example, over here is an enchanted teapot.”
“What does it do?” Maybelle asked, interested.
“It used to be able to talk and move around, but it got a large chip in it, see?” He pointed to a dent in the side. “It had the same effect as a bullet from Earth would on us, so it ‘died.’ And over here is an explosive doorknob. I’m not sure why the magykan didn’t just enchant the door itself, but you never know.”
“Why do you say ‘magykan?’” Dossik asked. “Is it not implied that the doorknob was made by a sorcerer?”
“Not necessarily,” he replied. “It could have just as easily been put on a sorcerer’s door. With enchantments, you never know whether something was enchanted for good or evil.”
“How do you know it explodes?” Akeelay asked. “Did you try it?”
“No, but the person who brought it here demonstrated for us,” he said flatly. “Let’s move on to the next room.”
He led us into a room filled with skeletons. “This is our fossil room. Each of these magykal creatures is extinct, or in other ways hard to find. In this case here is a set of vampyre teeth. Obviously, vampyres live on the bottom of the ocean. And over here is a griffon skeleton.”
We all looked at it. It looked mostly like a horse, but the wings and head were different.
“Cool,” I said. “I heard you even have a griffon feather here.”
The other three shifted their gaze from the griffon skeleton to Jack to hear his response. This was what we had come here for, and we all wanted to hear the response.
“We do indeed,” he said, starting to walk toward another door. “It’s in the next room, if you’re interested in seeing it.”
I followed instantly, and the others did as well.
Front and center in the middle of the room, taking up all the attention, was a large case. As we rushed toward it expectantly, Jack said, “That is an everlasting flame from a phoenix. When they die, they burst into flames that can only be put out by a spell.”
“Oh,” Maybelle said. “I mean, that’s awesome and all, but where’s the feather?”
“That would be over there,” he said, pointing into a corner of the room at one of the cases that lined the walls.
We walked over. And there it was. The object of this whole quest was sitting in a corner, collecting dust. It was bright, bright blue with deep gray stripes running diagonally through it. It was huge, longer than my forearm.
“Why are you so interested in that?” Jack wondered out loud.
“It could save our kingdom,” Akeelay said.