Matt dragged Orin down the path between water features.
“Are you sure we should be going in this direction?” Orin said.
“Yeah. But don’t touch the water or you’ll end up back where we started.”
“I liked the previous path we were on better.”
He stepped around a small koi pond that had an orange and white fish circling each other.
“What makes you say that path was better?”
“This one seems like it’s going to end here.”
“No look!” Matt pointed to where the pathway continued through hedges that had almost grown over it. He started to run off towards them, but Orin grabbed the back of his shirt stopping him. He looked back with a scowl.
“Let me go first.”
He crossed his arms and pouted as he watched Orin’s platinum hair vanish behind the hedge. After a couple minutes, he was tired of waiting and jogged over only to almost run into him.
“It looks safe so far but keep your eyes open.”
He traveled through the hedges, passing statutes and flower gardens. Each new item looked mundane but had an air of hidden viciousness that made Matt want to stop and take a closer look. He would have it Orin hadn’t pushed him along.
It took almost an hour, but they reached a clearing where three wooden doors stood straight up without connecting to anywhere. Each of the entries had a cutely painted dryad sculpture holding onto it and preventing it from being opened. Each one had black glassy eyes, but their shapes were different. The leftmost was short with her hair up in a bun. The middle was chubby and tall with a pixie cut. The right one was too thin with carved long curly locks. There was no other way to continue forward.
Matt looked at Orin who jerked his head in the direction where they’d come from. Matt nodded. No sense in staying when they couldn’t keep going.
They took one step away when a voice said. “What? You’re not going to enter?”
A second voice said, “Shh. They’re the human mage children. They’re not supposed to know.”
Matt turned to find that the sculptures that had appeared so still were now alive.
Orin’s eyes narrowed at the three dryads. “No. We’re going to enter your doors.”
Middle rolled her eyes. “Great, now look at what you did.”
Right winced. “Sorry.”
“Which one will you enter then?”
“There are two of us,” Matt pointed out. “We should enter two doors.”
“That’s not acceptable,” she replied.
Left ran a hand through her hair. “Oh, just let them. It’s their funeral.”
“The rules are clear. Only one door.”
Orin stepped closer to the center dryad. “Where do they lead?”
“One leads to death, one leads to a prison cell, and the last will take you where you want to go.”
“And it's different each time you try,” Right whispered.
Orin pulled out a silver knife he must have taken from the steak dinner he’d had last night. “How do you know where we want to go?”
Middle snorted. “Please, you want to find a way back to Earth. It’s so obvious.”
He smiled. “So, there is a way back.”
Left snorted. “You did it now, Middle.”
“Well, I didn’t see you talking.”
“We choose to go through the middle door,” Matt said.
“Oh?” She said. “Then let’s see what’s behind right.”
“No! I’m too embarrassed.”
“Just do it!”
The thin dryad on the right reached over and turned her door’s handle. It swung open to reveal a room full of flames. The heat escaped, drying up the moisture in the area.
“Do you want to change your answer?” Middle asked.
“No,” Matt said.
“Yes,” Orin said.
Matt looked at Orin and pointed to the door with the fire.
“Trust me. Statistically, in this situation, it is better to switch doors.”
Middle nodded. “Very well. But first, answer my riddle.”
Matt groaned. “I hate riddles.”
“What can speak but holds its tongue, is black but is red all over?”
Orin cast Candlelight at the ground. A tall flame rose and went out. The three very wooden dryads jerked away from the blaze and shivered like a cold chihuahua. The teen ran up to the middle and put his blade to her throat.
“The answer is you after I’ve lit you on fire and stabbed you a few times.”
Middle gulped. “That’s the answer.”
Left frowned. “That’s not the answer we were looking for.”
“Shut up. It’s good enough. Let them through.”
Left reached over and pulled her door open. The door had a curtain blocking their view.
Matt twisted his hands in his school robes. “How do we know if this is the right one?”
“You won’t,” Right whispered. “Not until you jump through.”
Orin stared at Matt. “I’ll go. You, head back.”
“No. We go together.” He grabbed Orin’s hand.
“Together or not at all! And if you go alone I’ll just run after you.”
The teen sighed.
“So freakin’ stubborn.”
They both entered the door.