“She’s supposed to be here!” the Shopkeeper sounded distressed, something Maxine hadn’t seen before. His agitation bothered her but more in an annoyed kind of way rather than making her worried. We came all the way up this gigantic mountain for nothing?! she thought.
By the time morning came, Maxine found herself yet again traveling across strange lands but at least she felt more comfortable with her company. Kevin, the young man from Michigan, had brought her a savory herbed vegetable hand pie and a revitalizing drink made from the nectar from a flower of which she couldn’t remember the name. Captain Gray Wing also seemed to be a little more friendly than she had first expected as he started to tell her more about the sword she carried.
Maxine had been to many meetings in her life–staff meetings, Zoom meetings, impromptu meetings, annual review meetings–but this was her first time attending a meeting in the Hall of Kablooey. Well, at least Maxine thought it was the Hall of Kablooey but it was actually the Hall of Kabluii. How was she supposed to know how it was spelled?
Maxine was dreaming but she was only tangentially aware of it. The rain was still pounding and the wind was blowing but she wasn’t sure if she was in the middle of a storm or observing it from somewhere else. She drifted back and forth between one location and the next, simultaneously aware of being wet and cold and warm and dry. Her confused brain tried to make sense of up and down, light and dark. If she was able to form cohesive thoughts, she would say she was in one hell of a quagmire.
A plate flew past Sira’s head, catching a stray wisp of hair before landing with a satisfying crash against the wall of the great hall. To her right, a teenage boy heaved a wooden chair up and then slammed it into the stone floor, breaking three of its legs. Anger swelled—no, boiled—within Sira, overpowering any shred of sanity left in her mind and emerging as pure irrational hate.
Gaden hadn’t seen the light of day in a week. He hadn’t seen his family in even longer. Months had gone by since he had joined the exhibition to find a passage through the complex cave system of the Tirdanthe Mountains. He never wanted to go underground again.
The cold air was wet with the expected smell of damp earth. It was the whiffs of putrid decay that unsettled him.
“Let’s move it to the right just a bit more. If we push it all the way to the wall, the trap door will be fully covered. No one will ever know it’s there.”
I felt calloused hands lift me up, straining against the weight, and then all four of my legs landed firmly once more on the stone floor. Only the leg that rested on the loose stone felt a little wobbly.
And there I sat, in the kitchens of the Redstone Inn, bearing a secret I wasn’t able to share.