Landon’s eyes were glued to his pack. The goblins were leading them back downwards. He had no idea where their journey was going to end, but he wasn’t really in much of a hurry to find out. He wasn’t too sure he was going to like what happened when they reached it. He looked back over his shoulder at the other two goblins that were walking on either side of them. Their spears were still pointed at the four prisoners.
“We’re going to have to fight,” he whispered back to Kite.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Would you be able to transform? If you and Milo could handle the two on the sides I might be able to do something about the one ahead of us.”
“I don’t really think we have much choice, do we?”
“No. I don’t think we do. I don’t think your daddy is going to be able to come and save you in time.”
“But Landon, if we transform we can definitely get out of these shackles, but you won’t be able to transform.”
“I don’t think that I need to, Kite. Look, these things were made for adults. I can slip out.”
He heard Kite giggle. “Oh, I guess you’re right. I didn’t give it much thought. Grown-ups are kinda dumb.”
Landon smiled in spite of himself. “Look, we’re about to come to a door. We’ll do it, then. I’ll jump the one when he’s unlocking the door.”
“Got it,” Kite agreed.
There were so many things that could go wrong, Landon thought, but this might be their only chance. They were dead either way. As soon as the goblin in front of them started to fumble with the keys, Landon braced himself and then pounced. Using his claws he ripped into the goblin. Behind him he heard a loud bird-like squawk. He was too busy to see what was going on behind him, though, but judging from the sounds Kite and her friends were putting up a good fight.
He managed to get a good hold of the goblin and brought him to the floor. Before he could make another move on the creature something flew past his shoulder. Suddenly Kite was bent over on the floor. She grabbed up the goblin’s spear and stuck the creature. He gaped at it and stumbled back. “Y-you killed it.”
She stared up at him and frowned. “He was going to kill you. What did you think you were going to do? That you would just thrash him and he would let you go?”
“Uh…” he fumbled with that, feeling heat rise to his cheeks. “N-no, I guess not.” He looked back over his shoulder and blanched at the bodies lying behind him. “I wish I was home,” he said softly. Choices like this did not have to be made.
Jasper bounced over sheathing a knife in his cloak. “Ok, so that’s done. Now, anyone got any idea how to get out of here?”
Landon walked over and grabbed up his backpack. Kite walked over to it and looked up at him. “Landon,” she said softly. “I’m sorry. I dragged you into this for nothing. It… it was just a rock all along. But I was so sure that I felt magic from it.”
He pulled the rock out from his pack, the leather thong still wrapped around it. “That’s because what I handed to Dubhlainn really was a rock,” he said with a smirk.
Her eyes widened and she placed her hands on her hips. “You lied to a warlock? You tricked him? Heh, I’m impressed. I didn’t think you had it in you.”
Not for the first time he wondered how much trouble he would get into if he actually tackled this girl. He turned back to Jasper. “I don’t suppose you guys have a map of this place?”
“I know exactly where I am,” Kite said proudly. “We don’t need some silly map. Come on and I’ll get us out of here. We have to get back up to the ground floor.”
He reached out and grabbed Kite’s arm before she ran away. “If we go back the same way Dubhlainn might see us from the throne room.”
“I’m not going near the throne room,” she said, yanking her arm away. “Now come on, scaredy cat.”
“Hey!” Milo protested. Landon resisted the urge to roll his eyes and followed after the group of them. Kite took the lead and Landon brought up the rear being very careful to listen for any guards. He wasn’t too sure how cautious Kite was being with her mad dash through the castle. This girl had absolutely no sense of fear, he thought sourly.
They ran up a flight of stairs and he almost ran into Milo when Kite stopped suddenly at the edge. She leaned forward and peered slowly around the corners. That was encouraging. So she was paying attention.
“I don’t hear anything. How about you Milo? You’ve got the best hearing.”
“It sounds good,” he confirmed.
She nodded and they started forward again. For a moment Landon was about to shout up to Kite, warning her about the throne room, but she turned a corner and ducked into what he assumed to be nothing more than a room at first. She padded over to the corner. The room was strewn with debris and rubble, and the remains of an old table that had been cracked down the middle. She motioned them over, bending down to the floor and digging her hands into a crack. He started in surprise when the stone lifted revealing a passage downward and a ladder.
“How do you know about this?” he asked her.
“It’s how my daddy got me out last time,” she said slipping through.
He followed after her along with the other two. He expected to fall into the dungeon again but instead they landed into a small tunnel that was just big enough for a grown up to stand in , but wasn’t very wide. The walls were all dirt and the direction that the tunnel ran in suggested to Landon that it went outwards from the castle, but it was hard to see in the darkness. Kite lowered the block above back down into place and all light was cut off.
“I can’t see!” Landon panicked for a moment.
“Oh don’t be a cry baby. I can’t see anything either. But it’s just a tunnel. There’s only one way to go. Besides, Jasper and Milo both have night vision eyes because of their animals. We’ll be fine. Jasper, you take point.”
“Why does he take point?” Milo cried.
“Because I said so! Get over it or I will yank your tail.”
“Or, we could just use these,” Landon said proudly, pulling out his two flashlights. He kept one for himself but handed the other to Kite. He showed her how to operate the switch and then shined the beam down the hall. Her eyes widened in fascination.
“This is incredible! What else have you got in that bag?” She turned and the four of them fell into step as they started down the tunnel, their flashlight beams lighting up the way.
“Rope,” he said proudly. “Grandma said that if you’re going to go hiking you have to bring plenty of rope. I’ve also got these flashlights and then plenty of batteries. I’ve got a lighter, some carabiners for the rope, and a compass. Oh! I’ve got a pocket knife, too.” He immediately pulled this out and stashed it away in his pocket. “I’ve got some maps, too. Also a canteen. Even a First Aid kit.”
“You’re very well prepared,” she said, looking over his shoulder into the pack as he was sifting through it.
“Going hiking with my grandma was my favorite thing,” he said sadly. “She even taught me how to pitch a tent.”
“You really loved her.”
He winced as he stepped into a puddle. He shook his foot dry as he answered. “I’d spend every summer with her. I looked forward to it every year. I… I don’t get along with people too well,” he confessed. “I… I always feel awkward. I don’t feel like I fit in. I like to study rocks and geography and finding things in the dirt. With my grandma, it was the one time that I actually felt like I could be myself and no one was judging. She liked the same exact things as me.”
Kite giggled behind her hand. “I get it. You’re a shy lone wolf.”
He gave her a dirty look. “Don’t tease,” he said.
“But I’m not. At least I don’t mean to be. I get exactly what you’re saying. I like to go off exploring. I don’t like rocks, but I like old things. That’s why I escaped into the Fairy City. I just wanted to look around. Trying to understand it. Dubhlainn has destroyed so much. I like to try to imagine what it used to be like. My great grandparents used to tell me how beautiful everything used to be. I… I want to return it to be like that again. At least stop Dubhlainn from destroying even more. There’s only a few places left.”
He shouldered his pack and pulled his hoodie over his head. He was tempted to point out that she had probably not went the best way about it, but in hind sight if he was in her position he wasn’t too sure how different he would have done things. “Alright, Kite. So, I believe you now. Like I have much of a choice,” he thought sourly. “And apparently you’re telling the truth, and Dubhlainn knows it.”
“But no one in my tribe will ever believe me.” Grownups rarely ever listened to children, he thought pragmatically. She stopped and her eyes widened as if she just had a revelation. “Landon! This is perfect! You have the rock. We could go to the fairy city! We could unfreeze the fairy. This tunnel leads not even maybe a few miles away from it.”
He gaped at her – this girl was really insane. “W-what about your father? Won’t he be trying to rescue you. People you care about could be hurt while you are running off somewhere else.”
“Oh, good point,” she agreed. Relief flooded through him until she spoke again. “When we get out of here, I’ll send a message to my father. That way we can go ahead to the Fairy City and then our folks will come after us so if something happens we know that our parents know where we are.”
Landon slapped his face with his hand and cringed. “Do you have some sort of a death wish,” he growled.
The expression on her face was entirely confused and intensely curious. “What do you mean?”
“Aren’t you afraid? If we mess up we could get caught again or maybe we could even be killed. Maybe if I just talk to your father and explain everything that Dubhlainn did…”
Her withering glare made his words trail off until he finally gave up. “Are you seriously that much of a coward? Trust me, I know my father very well. He’s not going to believe us. He’s not going to chance a group of warriors on the hunch that a small block of stone is going to be a fairy.”
“So you would risk yourself?”
“We’re a small group. We can move quickly and with a lot more stealth. Plus, we know that the rock is a fairy.”
“I don’t know how the fact that we know about the fairy has anything to do with this situation.”
She rolled her eyes and walked off again, quick stepping it through the hallway. “Stop being such a frady cat. If you don’t want to come, then give me the rock, and you can go to my dad and maybe he’ll take you back to your home,” she said with a wave over her shoulder.
This girl was going to get herself hurt, he thought angrily. He turned to Milo and Jasper. “Is she always like this?”
Jasper giggled and ran a hand through his hair. “Maybe, just a little…”
Milo’s smile was wide as he rolled his shoulder. “A lot of fun in my opinion. She’s always in some sort of action.”
“If she doesn’t care about getting herself hurt, she should at least care about you guys.”
Jasper twiddled his index fingers. “She does. More than you think. She’s very thoughtful. I like that about her. That’s why she’s doing all of this. She wants to put a stop to it and keep everyone safe. If she stops Dubhlainn then the killing and hurting stops. If he wins then we’re all in trouble. Better to take risks first.”
Landon decided to give up on trying to reason with them and instead turned to follow after Kite.
Several minutes later they came to the end of the tunnel where another ladder lead upwards. Kite crawled up first and pushed the door up and crawled out. When Landon climbed out he looked around and found himself in the middle of a clearing. As he walked around he got a good look at the trap door. There was grass and sod growing over it.
“It’s a one way door only,” Kite explained.
“Then why don’t they just keep it open then? Seems sort of convenient to get into Dubhlainn’s stronghold.”
Milo pulled himself up and rolled his eyes at Landon. “Oooh, big smarty pants huuuuman. Like we neeeever thought of that. Gee, Kite, why didn’t we think of something so obvious. Just leave it open. Brilliant.”
Landon’s hand clutched at his side. “Are you done,” he growled – the growl in his throat sounding a little bit too more real than he felt comfortable with.
Milo’s grin was wide and he flexed his hands. “Wanna have a go at me, doggy?”
Kite shoved herself in between them holding her hands up. “Knock it off, both of you.” She then turned back to Landon. “It’s magicked. It’s one way only. You can try to go through it but it’s impossible.”
Landon stared at the hole that was still open after Jasper had already left. He eyed it and then walked towards it and tried it out for himself. He started by sticking his hand through. It went through with little issue, but when he tried to turn and go down the ladder something went all wrong. He thought he was going down but suddenly he blinked and realized he was standing back among Milo and Jasper, the both of them grinning at him.
“Amusing, ain’t it?” Milo said.
He looked back over his shoulder and smirked. “Very,” he said honestly. He looked back over towards Kite who was standing a little bit away from them now. Her back was towards them but it looked as if she had her hands cupped around something close to her mouth. “What is Kite doing over there?”
“Sending a message,” Jasper explained. “She caught a small blue jay. She’s speaking to it and telling it what to say and where to go.”
Landon’s eyes widened. “We can talk to animals?”
“Only your species of animal,” Milo said. “So, for example, you can go up to anything that’s in the dog-family and talk to it. Wolf, coyote, fox, or just a mangy old dog.”
“But I couldn’t speak with the Canis.”
Milo burst out laughing before he said, “Oh? And was he in a conversational mood?”
Landon allowed a small laugh himself as he realized the silliness of his statement. “No. I guess not.”
Kite rushed over to them, her cloak billowing in the wind. “All done. That bird will inform my father that we are ok. We escaped from the clutches of the evil Dubhlainn and we are on our way to the Fairy Kingdom to unfreeze this fairy.”
“Your father is going to madder than a snake when he catches up with you,” Jasper warned.
“So let’s make sure that we have plenty of distance in between us and him before he does.” She then turned to Landon. “Alright, dog-breath. Choice time. Either hand over the rock or come with us.”
Landon had given the whole thing a lot of thought while they had traversed the tunnel. He couldn’t say that his mind was fully made up, either. It was constantly jumping back and forth as he thought over the different paths and what lay at the end of each of them. One path lead him back to the comfort of his own home. He would lose his crystal but he would be back with his mom. Yes, not handing over the crystal was not an option. He had decided that. Whatever choice he made the crystal would stay.
But was he prepared to do that? Just hand it over and walk away? Kite was very smart, but she was also fearless, and while that seemed to be a good thing, he had a funny feeling it was going to eventually land her into a whole heck of a lot of trouble that she would be unable to escape from. Could he just walk away and leave it all up to fate and chance? It wasn’t like any of this had anything to do with him. This wasn’t his world and it wasn’t his fight.
“I don’t know why,” he said softly. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. None of this has anything to do with me. But for some reason I can’t convince my heart to just let me walk away. I think you’re going to get yourself into some serious trouble Kite. Or maybe not. But I can’t walk away without wondering what’s going to happen to you. I think that if I make that sort of decision it will haunt me for the rest of my life. So… for better or worse… you’re stuck with me.”
Kite’s arms were suddenly around his neck, her body up against his. He felt heat immediately rise to his face. He had never been hugged before by anyone except his mom and grandma. “Thank you, Landon,” she said in his ear. “Thank you so much. You’re a Wolf and I know deep in my heart that somehow this isn’t going to work without you. I’m so glad that you’ve made the decision to stay.”
He was so flustered that he didn’t even think of remarking on the fact that she had stolen the crystal from him in the first place and tried to do this without him. She pulled away and for a long moment he stood there, unsure how to act. Even his ears felt like they were burning. He cleared his throat and grabbed up his hood and pulled it over his head. “S-s-sure,” he stuttered. “C-come on. Let’s go.”
Jasper giggled and pointed. “Geez, Kite. You embarrassed him so bad that you knocked him back into his human form.”
He looked down at himself and realized Jasper was right. Somewhere in the midst of the hug he had slid out of his half-wolf form. His shoes were back on his feet and even his teeth felt right. He patted at his butt and didn’t even feel a hole in his pants where his tail had been. “At least the magic doesn’t damage clothes,” he remarked.
Kite giggled as she spun around on her heels and practically skipped away. “Yeah, magic is great.”