Chapter 23: Making Progress
Written by Whitney Emeigh
“I just want to know the general location. If I know where he is, then I can start to plan for later. The sooner I can get this assignment over the better. Is it far from here?”
The whisperling’s eyes swam around the inside of the bottle for the moment. Adette wished she’d had a better option, but it didn’t seem to bother the creature all that much. Beside her, Karl was trudging miserably through the rain.
“No, it’s not far,” the whisperling replied, “His cave is just the other side of the village. I’ll show you where it is, and then you’ll let me go, right?”
“Of course. A promise is a promise. Now let’s find this place. It’s miserable out here.” Adette marched through the mud with her two strange traveling companions. The bottle she had settled into a small pocket on the front of her coat. Karl kept trying to weasel his way under the protection of her umbrella. Eventually, Adette had to nudge him out into the rain to avoid tripping over his stout, little body.
Overhead, trees drooped with the weight of water. Fat drops slid from leaves and plopped on the top of Adette’s umbrella. When they reached the front of the village, Adette darted through and tried to make herself look busy. Head down, one purposeful stride after the other, she made it across the town without running into the three people she knew.
When the gate on the other side of town passed over their heads, she let out a small sigh of relief. Whereas her side of town opened out into rolling fields, this side of town departed into a wood that seemed to grow thicker the farther down the road you got.
“Figures,” Adette muttered, “Why does every dark magician feel the need to live in some remote forest? I’d just like to once hear about one who had an obsession with bright cheerful places. That would be a fearsome foe.”
“There,” the whisperling interjected into the dripping forest air, “Just beyond the next hedge. It’s hard to see, but there’s a little path. If you walk a little farther, there will be a thicket with a cave behind it. That’s Tarn’s hole of a house.” Adette nodded and watched for the small break that was supposed to appear.
Just like the whisperling said, a very tiny divide in the hedges appeared along the side of the road.
“After you, Karl.” Adette held her hand up and closed her umbrella. Karl’s doggy eyebrows rose, but he didn’t do more than huff. His tiny furry body disappeared between the hedges. Adette pushed past them and was glad of her thick rain coat. Branches whipped her arms and legs as she struggled through the small opening. On the other side, a thin path stretched into the woods.
Immediately, Adette knew that the path itself was a magical construct. Trees strained against an imposed barrier that was pushing them apart.
“Sorry fellows. Tarn isn’t making your lives any easier either, I see,” Adette addressed the trees. A shower of raindrops pelted the forest floor. Karl pressed into Adette’s skirt leaving a wet splotch. Adette glowered at him but didn’t blame him. She could feel the trees leaning in over the magical pathway.
Pressure grew with each step until Adette was sure it wasn’t just the trees. This was obviously meant to keep people away.
“Thrass, you are a naughty creature,” came the purring voice of Tarn. In the bottle, the two yellow eyes had swiveled to where they could not be seen. Adette halted. Raindrops pelted her head and shoulders, making her feel bedraggled and awful.
Tarn, long, lean and elegant, stood just where the path entered the curling thicket. His robes were completely dry and free of any wrinkles.