The metal gears on the machine ground to a halt with a grating screech. The metal rods crashed down, clanging against the stone flagging. Sparks flew where they bounced and then rolled. I hoped Wildman was okay, but I couldn’t look away from Teddy.
The steam flowed around us, strangely cold against my skin. It obscured his face for a moment, and I panicked.
“Teddy!” I strained against the cage, and the flare cut through the steam, but it also sent another surge of power from me through Teddy, but now there wasn’t anywhere for it to channel into. “Wildman, help us.”
Was he still there? Had one of the rods hit him? I had to pray nothing had happened to the enigmatic helper, because we were in a tight spot.
“Just hold me. Please, Teddy, don’t let go.” His fingers were still locked around mine, but how much of that was a conscious hold and how much was because his body had locked up from the immense strain put on it?
“Wildman?” I raised my voice, fighting back exhaustion in hopes of being heard over the cacophony. “Wildman!”
“No touch metal. Bad.”
“Oh thank heavens.” Wildman was behind me; I could hear him, even if I couldn’t see him.
A metal rod with black streaks on it clanged against the top of the cage I was in. The wires bent, but didn’t break. With a grunt, the pole was swung down again. This time, the wires tore from the top of the cage and the light went out, leaving only the torches along the wall to illuminate the room.
The misty steam made it nearly impossible to see. I didn’t want to let go of Teddy’s hand, but there was no way out of the cages unless I did it. Whatever force had been holding it shut was no longer working, so I could push away the lattice of flat metal and step out of the cage. Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself to do it.
“It’s just for a moment, Teddy.”
I clambered out of the cage and nearly fell over. Wildman appeared beside me, propping me up. He jabbed a viciously aimed elbow into my side. “Too loud.”
“It’s not like I knew it was going to do this.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Just help me get Teddy.” We reeled drunkenly over the few steps to Teddy’s cage and I heaved, pulling it open. Exhaustion dragged at me, making it nearly impossible to do that, much less support Teddy’s weight, but somehow, with Wildman’s help, we got him out.
We got to the tunnel and Wildman turned. He grabbed a lantern off the wall and shoved it toward me. “Go now.”
“You have to come with us?”
He shook his head, baring his teeth in a feral grin. “Not yet.”
“One day, Wildman, I want to know your story.” It wasn’t the time or place to ask now; we were already pressing our luck.
I tried to follow our path through the dust, but without Wildman and Teddy, I got lost quickly. The lantern was starting to dim, and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt raw inside, burnt out. I couldn’t even send a single surge of power into my hand to force the wick to glow brighter. Teddy remained in passive state—whether it was fugue or I’d damaged his mind—I couldn’t tell.
Eventually the path came to a dead end in a thick wooden door with a hefty lock. I sank back against the wall, staring at it. Teddy’s body slumped against me, and a sharp object poked me in the side.
I’d forgotten Teddy had taken them!
A quick search of his pockets, and I had the keys. I studied the lock and the key ring, trying to match them up. If there was something—or someone—on the other side, the noise of me trying different keys could alert others to our presence.
I really shouldn’t have been surprised that the key opened the door which was hidden behind a tapestry… in Sir Varket’s parlor.
He wasn’t there, but the page, Will, was. He was crouched on the hearth, starting the fire. He froze and stared up at us with huge eyes, his mouth dropped open unbecomingly. “What happened? Are you looking for the ghosts?” he asked breathlessly.
“Oh. Ah. Sure.”
“What happened to him?” Will pointed at Teddy. “He doesn’t look right.”
“He doesn’t, does he?” I tried to avoid answering Will’s question. “Can you get me some water from the pitcher on the stand on this cloth?” I yanked a handkerchief out of my coat.
“Sure.” Will scampered across the floor. “What did you find?”
“There’s a lot of great evil in this palace,” I said. It’s hard to know what is happening in the court of public opinion in modern times, but eventually the people would know the king and his inner circle for the swindlers and sneak thieves they were.
Schvesla’s machine was broken. From the schematics I’d studied, I didn’t think they could ever fix it. Parts of it had literally exploded. Now we just had to get away from the palace, out of the city, and find somewhere safe.
Nearly as herculean a task as the one we’d just accomplished.
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