Three Wishes: Part Eight
Ellie was tossed unceremoniously out of bed at first light.
She blinked hurriedly and opened her eyes to see the tiny ghost Eyrie that owned the neolodge looming over her. Well, not exactly looming, but he was standing and she was on the floor, which made all the difference.
“Well, did you have a nice sleep, Spy?” the innkeeper spat.
“What...?” Ellie began, but then she was hauled to her feet by a Halloween Kyrii.
A huge cloaked figure filled up the doorway, the black velvet floating around him. In his wake was a cowering mutant Blumaroo, who glanced at her with sad eyes then looked away.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” The cloaked figure drawled in a low, husky voice. She couldn’t make out his face in the darkness of the hood, so it was impossible to tell what species of pet he was, or even if he was a pet. But she could see long black claws or nails protruding from the sweeping sleeves, attached to a mottled purple hand.
“What’s going on?” she growled.
“Where’s the other one?” Cloaked One asked the Eyrie.
“In the other room, your worshipfulness,” the Eyrie said in a high-pitched voice.
There was a knock against the door and Ko was dragged in, his headdress askew. He looked like he was still waking up and adjusting to moving. The Halloween Nimmo holding his leg let go and he crumpled to the floor.
“So, two spies from the Lost Desert come to see what our strategies are for the War?” Cloaked One rumbled.
“Wait, What?” Ellie said. “And who’re you?”
“I ask the questions here,” the rumble turned into a deep snarl, and Ellie flinched backwards. “But in answer to your question, I am the Master. I live in the Maze at the centre of the Haunted Woods, and this is my loyal slave,” he gestured to the hunched Blumaroo. “But you probably know that already. As you know that I am one of the key strategists of the War.”
“Actually, I didn’t know that,” Ko offered helpfully. The Master turned on him.
“Of course you would, spy! You are Desert coloured, and therefore one of the enemies.” He turned to the Halloween Kyrii that still had a firm pawful of Ellie’s fur. “Have you sent the message to Eliv? And Edna? They’ll want to know about this.”
“Yes, Master,” the Kyrii said with a low bow, pulling Ellie down with him. “They will come to the Maze later in the day. Right now they’re too busy organising the people.”
“Hm.” Ellie couldn’t tell if the Master was pleased or not. Then he tugged at his hood and turned around. “Take the spies to the Centre of the Maze. This one,” he kicked the sulking Blumaroo, “will show you the way. I’ll talk to them this afternoon, when the other Warleaders are with me.”
With that he swept out of the room. The Kyrii proceeded to drag Ellie out into the corridor, while the Nimmo simply pushed Ko and sent him stumbling forward. He still wasn’t quite awake.
Ellie paused when she saw Sylkon standing in the doorway of a room only four rooms down. The royal Uni was standing with jaws agape as he recognised her, but hopefully her captors would see it as open awe for the Master. He shook himself out of his reverie and dived into the room next to his with a yelp.
The next instant Ophir had emerged, her eyes wide, but thankfully there was no recognition in them. Ellie refrained from calling out and glanced at Ko. His eyes were barely open, and it didn’t look like anything was registering. She breathed a sigh of relief; at least he wasn’t going to give their siblings away.
Once they were out of the neolodge, the Eyrie scurried back inside, and it was up to the Blumaroo to lead the way. Ellie noted that he looked very unhappy, and he kept sending fearful glances over his shoulder, shying away if he saw anyone wearing a cloak. He also had a nervous habit of muttering to himself, but Ellie couldn’t make out what he was saying. He guards pretended not to hear, clearly not impressed.
They were led deeper into the woods, and the trail they were following meandered off until they were squeezing their way through clutching branches. The tree seemed to whisper as they passed. Once the Kyrii let go of her to fit through a tiny hole in a wall of trees, and she tensed, ready to flee. But then she saw Ko on the other side, his eyes now wide open and alert now that he knew where he was.
He looked worse for wear, with his desert clothes now coated in dirt and torn by branches to be left dangling in tatters down his side. Ellie was no better with twigs and dirt adding volume to her fur.
They seemed to be heading into nothingness, but then suddenly there was a pathway behind the next clump of trees, and they were entering through an archway with trees towering over four metres on either side their outstretched branches intertwining both sideway and overhead, making it impossible to see through them, let alone find space to fit a body part through.
She shivered involuntarily and looked at Ko. The desert Lupe had his eyes closed, but he let his guard guide him after the mutant Blumaroo. Ellie stepped hesitantly behind him.
They were led down a series of passageways, and the Blumaroo moved with more confidence than he had shown around his Master. They came to a stop at a dead end, and the Blumaroo surveyed the walls of the Maze with a practised eye, as if memorising where they were. Though how anyone could possibly tell the difference between this stretch of trees or the next was impossible for Ellie to understand.
She pulled away from the Kyrii, and he let her go with a grin as she leaned back against the trees. She quickly pulled forwards again as she felt the trees move behind her.
“Well, enjoy your stay, Spies,” the Nimmo spat contemptuously as he deposited Ko on the ground.
“And stay here or you won’t ever get out of here. Ever,” the Kyrii added.
Their laughter faded into the distance, and the Blumaroo sent them what seemed to be an apologetic look over his shoulder as he hopped away.
“So what now?” Ellie said as she curled up in the very centre of the pathway.
“We can try and find our way out...” Ko suggested as he poked a nearby branch and retreated as it withdrew. “These trees are alive,” he whispered.
Ellie just shivered. “I’m sorry for getting us into this mess,” she said at last, drawing lazy circles in the dirt.
“Apology accepted,” Ko said. “But I’m glad you know this is your fault, and not mine.”
He gave a small grin as he snooped around the entrance to the dead end. He put his nose to the ground and then jerked backwards.
“That smells horrible,” he rasped. “Like off food. I can’t even scent which way we came from.”
“So that’s one option gone,” Ellie sighed.
“There’s two more,” Ko said.
“Really? Like what?”
“Well one, the Master will believe us and say that he made a mistake and let us go,” Ko began.
“Not likely,” Ellie grunted. “And the other one?”
“Wel-ell... Ophir and Sylkon probably heard the conversation, so they might possibly know where we are. They could come to rescue us.”
“How could they possible do that?” Ellie spluttered. “They’d just get lost. Unless they can somehow burn a hole through the Maze wall, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
“You can always hope,” Ko said wisely, tapping his nose.
“What do we do? What do we do?” Sylkon raved as he paced back and forth across Ophir’s room.
“We can’t do anything, or we’ll just be tagged as spies as well. I’m sure Edna has a dungeon in that tower of hers. Do you want to be sent there?” The striped Kau tried to look calm, but he voice betrayed her.
“Why can’t we just charge into the Maze and set them free?” Sylkon asked. “I could fly in.”
“Hardly likely,” Ophir said. “I know for a fact that those trees create an impenetrable tunnel with their branches. Nothing short of a tornado could rip through them.”
“I can do a tornado,” Sylkon murmured to himself, a spark lighting in his eyes. He whipped around to face his sister. “Can those trees be burnt?” he asked loudly.
The Kau pursed her lips. “Maybe. Why?”
“Because...” Sylkon took a beep breath. “I made a wish to have power over the elements.” He waved a paw at a chair, and it flew across the room and crashed into the wall, making him wince. He needed to practise that. “I could probably start a tornado, but they tend to be very destructive, so I’m looking for a simpler alternative.”
“And fire’s not destructive?” Ophir gave him a quizzical look.
“I can extinguish fire with water,” Sylkon said. “But I don’t think I’ll be able to un-create a tornado... but control it? I don’t think that’s possible.”
“So you want to barge into the Maze and set it alight?” Ophir asked.
“No. I want to burn holes in the Maze, then barge into it. Then find our siblings.”
“But will you find them? Even the Master’s Blumaroo servant gets lost in there. And you think you won’t?”
Sylkon stretched his wings. “I can fly above and see.”
“So what should I do, then?” Ophir asked.
“Well, you can either stay here, or follow me.” And with that, Sylkon was out the door, barrelling into the Eyrie and knocking him into a wall. But he didn’t seem to are all that much, and Ophir couldn’t help but feel the same and she scrambled after him.
Sylkon swooped down and landed at a fast run, slowing down and catching his balance with his wings spread wide. Ophir emerged from her hiding place behind a bush (she didn’t trust the trees) and trotted up to him.
“Did you find them?” she asked quietly, aware of her voice reverberating against the silence.
He nodded. “Yes,” he whispered back, looking quite smug. “They’re halfway between here and the centre. There’s less than a dozen walls between us and them.”
“Are you sure you can do this?” Ophir asked him softly as he raised a hoof to a tangle of branches.
He gave her a grin, half embarrassed, half pleased, and closed his eyes. He felt the trees stir around him as his hoof began to heat up, but it was only a tingling warmth, and when he opened his eyes again he was startle to see the full flame blossoming there. It reached the trees, and they seemed to resist the heat for a moment, but then they ignited, and he stood back to watch.
“I hope I can do this,” he said in answer to Ophir’s question, fascinated with his handiwork. He had tried lighting a few candles in the Palace, but this was larger and definitely hotter.
“You can stop it now,” Ophir squeaked as a spark fizzled in her fur.
Sylkon started forward, and felt the flames singeing his fur and royal clothing. His eyes watered, and he wondered if he would be able to control the fire after all. He hadn’t expected it to burn so quickly, and the gap was already large enough for someone twice his size.
He glared at the flames, daring them to spread further, and it almost seemed as if they stopped. Then he realised that they had, and he realised that had been his doing. He shrugged off the uneasiness he was feeling about using magic, and instead concentrated on the air around them. It began to cool, and he felt water condense on his nose, trickling down his cheek.
Slowly he forced the water towards the fire, until it fizzled out with a sharp hiss, spitting and fighting all the way. Ophir was staring at him wide-eyed, but she didn’t say anything, and he suddenly felt so alone. More than when he had wished his siblings away. He shrugged off the feelings and stepped through the hole.
The next wall of branches was easier to burn through, because now Sylkon knew exactly what he was doing. But there was still the question of whether they were going in the right direction. Everything looked the same in here; dark, foreboding and gloomy.
He paused to listen, trying to make out any voices in the near-silence, but all he could hear was the trees rustling. Then suddenly Ophir shouted, and he jumped.
“Ellie! Ko!” Ellie, Ko... The words echoed eerily.
“Ophir?” The voice came from just in front of them, with one wall left to go. Sylkon slashed at it with his hoof, and it ignited instantly. Almost a quickly the flames sizzled down to nothing and he was forcing his way through the clawing branches until he knocked into Ellie. It was the first time he had ever seen her looking relieved, even happy to see him. It caught him completely off guard.
“Sylkon,” she gasped, throwing her arms around his neck. “Thank Fyora you came. It seems you were right, Ko.”
Sylkon had no idea what they were talking about. Ophir looked just as confused. “I think we should get out of here now,” she said with quiet authority.
Then everything went black.
To be continued...