I hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but the words were out and I couldn’t take them back. It didn’t really matter, though. It was true.
“What?” the tour guide, Jack, asked. “I thought I heard you say, ‘It could save our kingdom.’ But that’s not what you said…right?”
I turned to face him, and the others followed my lead.
“That is what I said,” I admitted. “It’s true.”
“Explain, please,” he said. “This sounds like a good story.”
The four of us looked at each other and laughed, even Dossik.
“It’s a good story, all right,” Maybelle said.
“But a long one,” Kaolin warned him. “Do you want to hear it?”
“Now I do,” he said. He had lost all traces of boredom with the tour now, and was listening intently.
“Right. Where do I start?” I said.
“Start with the thing in the woods,” Maybelle told her. “The very first thing.”
“Okay,” I said, sighing in anticipation of the story that would take a long time to tell. “You better sit down. So, we’re from Rhellens. I used to live at the castle. So, one day I decided to go for a walk in the woods…”
And so, we told our story for the second time. It was longer, though, with all of the stuff that had happened since we met Dossik.
By unspoken agreement, we left out the part where we were captured by the sorcerers. That wouldn’t bode well for our chances.
As we got to the part where we were about to get to Lospem, I took over.
“And that was when we found the wizards. The castle wizards of Rhellens had come to Melzult, and we told them our plan. They’re waiting for us outside the city walls for us to get that feather. So, can we have it?” I finished.
We all looked expectantly at Jack.
“No,” he said.
“But – ” Maybelle started.
“I can’t,” he said. “It’s against museum policy, and it’s probably not even true. For all I know, you could’ve spent all of yesterday making up that story. Or even if it is true, he” – he pointed at Kaolin – “could still be working for the sorcerers. Or they could kill you, and then how would we get it back?”
“So instead of giving us the feather to save the kingdom, you’re going to just let it sit here, collecting dust?” Kaolin asked disbelievingly. “We need that thing to save our kingdom. Even if I was working for the sorcerers, which I’m NOT, how could I use that thing to hurt anybody?”
“You’d be surprised,” he said flatly.
“Come on. Just give it to us,” I said.
“No. And if you ask again, I’m kicking you out.”
“Please, consider the benefits of giving it to us,” Dossik said. “We would credit your museum and increase your tourism.”
“That’s it,” he said. “Get out of here. The door is over there.”
We got up and walked over to the door. I glanced back at the case containing the beautiful griffon feather, silently saying, “See you tonight.”
“And if you come back and try to steal it…” Jack said. The four of us glanced at him. “I know who you are, and you won’t get away with it. Good luck trying to escape without magyk, wizards.” He gestured vaguely around him at the caerthin walls.
“Good luck trying to catch us,” Maybelle snapped in reply, and with that we left.
“Wow,” Kaolin said after we got out. “That was interesting.”
It was nearly midday. Telling our story had taken a long time. I sighed.
“Looks like we’re coming back here tonight anyway,” I said. “Maybe we should have skipped the part where we ask and gone straight to the breaking in part. But there’s no use wishing for things in the past.”
“No use wishing for things in the past,” agreed Kaolin. “So how are we going to do this?”
“Let’s go back to our inn room,” Maybelle said. “We have to get a lock pick and a glass cutter.”
We arrived back at our inn room.
“I’ll try to make the lock pick,” Maybelle said. “If it works, you can do the glass cutter. Okay?”
“I don’t know,” Kaolin said. He looked worried. “What if it doesn’t work?”
“I’m lighter than you are,” she said. “I have to do it, because it’ll be easier for you guys to carry me out of here if I pass out.”
“Okay,” Kaolin agreed. It seemed logical. It was only later that I realized she was using a little bit of her gift of persuasion. It didn’t take much, though, because it did make more sense to have her do it over Kaolin.
She focused for a moment, then spoke the creation spell. We watched her, waiting.
“Apparently lock picks are banned,” she said, slurring her words together, and passed out.
“What do we do?” I asked urgently of Kaolin.
“Dossik, you take Maybelle,” he ordered. Dossik was so surprised that he did what Kaolin said, which normally wouldn’t have happened.
“Akeelay, you and I will have to jump out the window. But Dossik, you’ll have to go out the main doors.”
“No,” he said. Kaolin and I looked at him, exasperated. We didn’t have time for this.
“There is a set of doors at the end of this hallway,” he said in a rushed voice. “They are closer, I will leave through them.”
“I don’t care, just go,” Kaolin said.
I forced the window open and jumped out without thinking about how high it was off the ground. I hadn’t noticed it before, but the hallway slanted up. Our room was nearly three times my height off the ground.
Cursing, I grabbed a tree branch as I fell past it. I couldn’t get a good grip on it, and kept falling, but it was enough to slow me down. When I landed hard on my ankle, it didn’t feel broken, but it hurt. My hands were scraped up too, but I didn’t feel anything at that point.
“Are you okay?” Kaolin asked, falling next to me without any evidence of being hurt. Stupid magykans and their cushioning spells.
“No,” I said.
“Fejqan,” he said, and my injuries healed instantly.
“Thanks,” I said gratefully, kissing him quickly. “Now let’s go!”
We ran around the side of the building to where Dossik was, Maybelle laying across his back.
“Where do we go?” I asked urgently.
“I don’t know,” Kaolin said. “I was only trying to get us out of the building. I’ve never been here before.”
“I do not know where to go either,” said Dossik, still in his calm way.
“I do,” Maybelle said, half waking up. She still seemed too weak to move, though. “Go down this road and take the first left.”
I had no idea where she was taking us. I didn’t know anywhere in this city except the museum and the inn, and we weren’t going to go back to either place.
Maybelle, soon standing and walking herself, led us down a few streets and through a couple of back alleys into a less nice part of the city. Looking around, it was dark even at noon, shadowed by trees, and dirty. I was glad I wasn’t there alone at night.
Confidently, Maybelle walked up to one of the ramshackle houses, looking like it was about to collapse, along the rough gravel road. She knocked sharply on the door.
It was opened quickly. “Who’s there?” a voice called out, feminine but harsh.
“It’s me, Camarin,” Maybelle responded. “Maybelle Collins, remember?”
“Maybelle?” the woman asked. She came out. She had frown lines on her face, but was smiling now. She was tall, with spiky blond hair. “I haven’t seen you in years. Who are your friends? And what brings you here?”
“Business. Sort of,” Maybelle said. “Can we come in?”
“Sure,” she answered. “What’s up with him?” She gestured to Kaolin, and I realized that the woman, Camarin, was a wizard. Technically she could also be a sorcerer, but it didn’t seem likely.
“I’m a traitor,” Kaolin responded, even though she hadn’t asked him, then continued, “but not to you.”
“Okay,” she said readily. “I’d like to hear that story.”
“You will,” he responded.
We entered the house. I walked tentatively, half expecting the place to come down around us.
“Don’t worry,” Camarin said, noticing my hesitation. She didn’t miss a thing. “The place is old, but it’s sturdy. Built like a rock.”
There was a ridiculously fancy living room front and center in the house. Cats lounged on the many armchairs.
“So, why are you here, bringing friends and a centaur?”
She had a very blunt way of speaking, bordering on rude, but she got straight to the point.
“We need your help,” Maybelle said, sighing and sitting down on one of the armchairs. A cat immediately jumped onto her lap, and she stroked it absentmindedly.
Camarin raised her eyebrows. “With what?”
“It’s a long story,” the four of us said.
“Make it short,” she said. “I don’t have all day.”
“Well, the short version is that the castle of Rhellens was taken over by sorcerers, we got out and were chased by sorcerers, we came here to get the griffon feather in the Magykal Artifacts Museum, and we need a lock pick to get the feather,” Maybelle rattled off as fast as she could.
“Wow,” Camarin said nonchalantly. “That sounds like it’s been an interesting month or so for you guys. Why do you need help with a lock pick? With your magyk, you seem like you’ve got it covered.”
“They’re banned,” I said, continuing, “and the museum is made of caerthin.”
“I trust the authorities aren’t going to show up anytime soon?” She really didn’t seem surprised about anything, did she?
“So you have to find someone who has a lock pick.”
“Can you help us? I assumed with your connections…” Maybelle said.
“That I can. But you may have to pay him. Go knock on the door across the street. Tell him I sent ya.” She started to laugh. “This should be interesting.”
That didn’t sound good, but what choice did we have?
“Right then, thanks,” Kaolin said, edging slowly toward the exit.
“Have fun!” she called cheerfully after us as we left.
“I know, I know, she’s strange,” Maybelle said, purposely avoiding our looks. “But she’s helpful, at least when she’s in a good mood.”
We walked across the street.
“Any idea what to expect?” I asked, standing near the door.
Maybelle shook her head warily.
I knocked, wondering what we were getting ourselves into.