They put one of those magic-absorbing collars around my neck and tied a leash to it. Then they gave the leash over to the quiet boy in the blue jerkin while the mouse-boy and the gnarled old sorcerer tied my hands behind my back.
“So, can we learn sex magic by using this captive?” said the rather loud and obnoxious mouse-boy.
“Shut up, Mickey,” said the sorcerer. “There’s no such thing as sex magic.”
Of course, the sorcerer was wrong about that. I had learned necromantic sex magic from the necromancer. He had taught me the life-force-sucking kiss spell from the goblins he let me suck dry to practice. He also taught me the full-body magic transfer. If the sorcerer knew that, it must’ve been the reason he lied to the mouse-boy.
The quiet boy led me by the leash, but only very carefully, not trying to jerk me forward or make the leash hurt me. He had golden hair and the prettiest blue eyes I had ever seen on a Sylph boy. His blue jerkin had a sign sewn to the front that read, “Never kick the apprentice if the master is near.” He wasn’t wearing pants under the jerkin, only a white loin cover that he apparently had tucked in carefully. I admired his firm, round buttocks. But, of course, I wasn’t about to tell him that.
They took me into the castle in the willow tree. And my mouth surely dropped open at the sight. It was beautiful.
The iron gate was built into the roots of the tree with gatehouse towers carved directly out of the willow wood. But, no… not carved… shaped by magic, as I sensed with my magic tingle.
The inner court was all carved wood, as the willow was practically hollow all the way up to where the limbs branched away into the darkness above. The numerous stairs, landings, walkways, and castle-room facades were all lit by fairy candles which were both small, and exceedingly bright.
“This is our home, Derfentwinkle,” said the quiet boy.
He knew my name? And that was how the sorcerer took my power over Kack, the Demon Head, away from me. I resolved to learn their names next. I knew the mouse-boy was Mickey.
“It’s nothing like the mudhole where I live,” I said. “What is your name, quiet boy?”
“Don’t tell her, Bob. She doesn’t need to know it.”
“Shut up, Mickey. My name is Bob. As the wererat just told you.” He smiled at me, and a thrill went down my spine.
The sorcerer led us all up a winding stair that led to an audience chamber. There was a big, burly Sylph sitting on the throne, but he was no mere warrior-king. The pentagram on his chest glittered with magical energy. I got a powerful tingle from it. He was definitely a wizard… and definitely the boss here. Why was he sitting on the throne of Wotan, the deceased Erlking?
The sorcerer then pulled me in front of him.
“This girl is Derfentwinkle, the necromancer’s apprentice. It turns out that her master is old Bluebottom, my former classmate, better known to you as Kronomarke, waster of time and slayer of the Good Knight Pollinard.”
“She was driving the bone-walker?”
“Yes, with the help of a severed demon head to use as a repository of her master’s magic.”
“And why haven’t you killed her yet, Eli?”
The question chilled me to the bone. The wizard’s guards stepped forward, lowering their halberds.
“Because I chose not to. She’s my captive. I choose to keep her for whatever usefulness she might have. She knows little magic and is not a danger to us.”
“I hope you are right about that, Eli Tragedy. Your very name means you can be disastrously wrong.”
“She’s really quite plain-looking, ugly even…” remarked a fat, bug-like Pixie courtier.
I glared at him until he turned his stupid bug eyes towards his fat ladybug wife.
“Very well, then. But keep her safely in the cage you built to hold the harpy Sir Launcelot captured during the last siege.”
Up to that point, I had believed I could escape any time I really wanted to. But a cage built to hold a harpy? I would never escape that with lockpicking skills. And what if the harpy was still inside?
My mind was made up, however. If they weren’t going to kill me immediately, then I didn’t intend to escape.