The real world was dull by comparison.
Not only because she missed Michaela, but because she’d never felt excitement like she had that night. And she hadn’t coughed once. Her breath hadn’t caught. The very next morning, before breakfast, a faint haze of fog veiled the space between her balcony and Michaela’s bedroom window. When she woke, Anna peered through the haze in the predawn, and saw the glow of a light in that window. But by the time she hurried through the vale, skirting the bog, the haze had lifted and the house was abandoned.
She trudged back across the vale, defeated. The smell of toast and coffee buoyed her however, and she returned just in time for breakfast.
“Did you enjoy the festival?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah.” Between the dancing, dinner, and danger, it’d been an exciting night, though she didn’t elaborate.
“One of your friends came by looking for you,” said Sarah. “Cheryl’s daughter. Oh, what’s her name, Bertha I think?”
“Bertie was looking for me? What did she want?”
“She didn’t say. I take it she didn’t find you then?”
Anna shook her head. She wondered what it took for her to cross to that other place, so much like Glenwood and yet not at all. She wondered if anyone else could cross that threshold.
She spent all that day at the Copeland’s, determined, should the fog roll in, she was ready to hurry across the vale, but there was no fog that day, or the next. After lunch the second day, Anna made her way to town, shoulderbag filled with notebooks and pencils. She listed every shop along Clayfield Street from just after the bridge to the train station. She crossed the street to the post office, sparing a look for Old King where he hung, dusty and quiet upon his post, and gave him a nod. Then walked back the other way, noting each shop meticulously. The Golden Bridge, where she and Michaela had eaten dinner, was not one of them, Vendors Emporium, where they’d taken refuge from the marauding toys, was.
“Interesting,” she murmured.
The store was open, so she went in. She hadn’t gotten a good look at the actual store the night of the festival. It was crowded with all manner of stuff. Shelves and cabinets were arranged into cubbies along either wall, all the way to the back. Each cubby seemed to have a loose theme. One was filled with vintage lunch boxes, toy cap guns, and fast food toys. One was stacked with plates and mugs in bright colors. One was crammed with paper backs of varying genres, age, and condition.
“Hello there. Can I help you find something?”
In the center of the shop, a set of display counters had been set up to create a space in the center for the proprietor. He sat upon a stool. He had thinning black hair and a wry smile. Anna hadn’t gotten a look at the proprietor of Vendors Emporium the night of the festival, though she had heard his voice. This one seemed familiar.
“Just looking around,” said Anna. “Did you enjoy the festival the other night?” She tried to sound casual, not at all like she was fishing for information on alternate realities, magical fogs, or metaphysical whatnots.
“Oh, sure, always enjoy the festivals. Brings in a lot of customers.”
“Yeah. That’s good. Um… I’m actually looking for someone I met that night. I didn’t get a good look at his face, but he was wearing a distinctive, long, black coat and a large, floppy hat.”
“I don’t remember anyone like that, but we get lots of tourists through for the festivals. Are you sure he was wearing a coat? It was a warm evening.”
Anna nodded, though he was right. The coat and hat seemed incongruous.
“Anything else you can tell me about him?”
Anna bit her lip, considering how much to say and just how to say it.
“We were in this store when there was a bit of a… ruckus, out on the street. And we all came to the window to look.”
“A ruckus?” The man frowned. “I don’t remember any ruckus.”
Anna nodded. “Thanks for your time. You have an interesting shop.”
He smiled. “Thank you.”
Anna made her way back outside, squinting at the brightness of the summer sun. If the man behind the counter remembered the festival but not the ruckus, that suggested the shop was there but the man wasn’t. She wondered by what rules the fog magic played. Who and what made it to the alternate version of Glenwood and why? For that matter, were there rules? Was there consistency? Or might, the next time the fog came in, she end up somewhere else entirely?
• • •
Anna woke with a start to the palest of grey light. She hurried to the balcony and found the vale filled with fog, like a grassy bowl filled to its brim with a deep grey soup. She got dressed, pulled on her shoulderbag, and hurried down the stairs.
“Going out before breakfast?” Kenny asked from the kitchen. He’d only just gotten the coffee brewing.
“Yeah,” Anna said breathlessly. “Don’t wait for me.”
“Oh. Sure thing, kiddo. Write well.”
Walking down the hill into the fog sent a shiver along her shoulders and a veil over her vision. But when she reached its basin, the fog thinned, like a thick cap sitting atop the small vale. The trees at the center dripped with condensation and the grass was damp and slick. Anna wended through the trees carefully, wary of shoe-sucking muck.
She found Michaela standing at the edge of the bog, peering through the trees. She wore a dark green dress that fell just below her knees, a t-shirt, and a pair of sturdy hiking boots. Her mass of auburn curls was tied back with a purple scarf. Her guitar case was slung on her back, a backpack hung from one hand.
Michaela looked up and smiled. “Vivianna. The first time I walked across to your house, I went straight through the trees and lost a shoe in the mud. I thought I might find it in the fog.”
Anna laughed. “If you do, see if you can find mine.”
Michaela laughed and hefted the backpack. “Ready for a picnic?”
“Is that what you have in there? I… I didn’t bring anything.”
“It’s fine,” said Michaela. “I’ve got everything we need.”
“Well, at least let me carry it.”
“That’s the plan,” said Michaela, holding it out to her.
Anna put on the backpack, and they climbed through the fog, out of the vale, and found themselves upon the switchbacks down the hill. Anna blinked, confused, and looked up the hill. She could make out the shadow of a house in the fog, but she couldn’t tell which it was.
“How does that work?” Anna said.
“What’s that?” Michaela looked the same way
“Is that your house or mine?” Anna elaborated. “I wonder if the way the… the magic works is consistent.”
Michaela turned to look down the hill. “I’ve wondered myself. I’ve thought about asking, what’s the name of your hometown, what’s the name of place you’re staying, what’s the address.”
Anna was about to speak, but Michaela hurried on.
“But what if that breaks the spell? We don’t know how this works, any of it. We only know that it does. In some stories, the rules are fickle and if we change a variable, that might change everything. I don’t think I could stand to not see you again.”
Anna felt her throat tighten and she took a careful breath to make sure she didn’t start coughing.
“I’m sorry,” said Michaela. “I didn’t mean that to sound so… needy. It’s just, you’re the first friend I’ve had in a long time. Baba doesn’t allow me to see the friends I had when I was younger. I don’t know if they even remember me.”
Anna turned away from the house, down the hill. “All right then.” She held her arm out to Michaela. “To the picnic?”
“To the picnic.” Michaela hooked her arm through Anna’s and they made their way down the switchbacks. Rather than cross the bridge into the fog-shrouded town, they turned off the road well before the bridge and made their way to the riverbank. A hand carved sign proclaimed Okagawa River Trail Head. The trail wandered its way alongside the river, narrowing so they couldn’t walk side by side. Michaela took the lead.
They followed the gentle curve of the slow-moving summer river as it slid around the foothills of the Southern Range. The morning sun suffused the fog, thin though it was, giving everything a gentle golden glow. Anna’s borrowed shoes were snug enough, but not as suited to a hike as Michaela’s boots. They paused here and there to catch their breath and appreciate a field of orange and purple wild flowers, a lone mallard paddling lazily upstream, to catch a glimpse of a deer bounding into a copse far enough away in the fog they couldn’t be sure they’d seen it. And though they waited for several minutes more, the deer did not reappear.
“I’d be surprised if we both saw the same not-deer,” said Michaela.
Anna had to agree.
They continued on their hike, Michaela taking the lead when the trail hugged a hill. Anna couldn’t have said how long they hiked, but she was feeling the absence of breakfast when she noticed the river was faster, churning small rapids here and there. A few minutes later, the trail opened into a long, shallow valley and the river spilled into a lake.
“I had no idea this was here,” Michaela said, voice awed.
A bright golden haze hung low on the lake. Summer lit the tops of the foothills on either side. Ducks called across the water and insects chirped in the grass. A breeze wafted through, ruffling her hair, shifting the fog, but not banishing it.
“This is fantastic. We’ll picnic here,” Michaela said.
The trail disappeared several feet into the valley meadow. Large, flat rocks dotted the meadow on the south side of the lake and they found one near the water, flat and smooth and warm. Anna shrugged off the backpack and helped Michaela unpack it. They spread a blanket upon their rock and set out the food: strawberries and blueberries, carrots and celery, tangy white sauce and mustard, summer sausage and soft yellow cheese, buttery crackers and crusty brown bread. There was even a bottle of what Anna, at first, thought was champagne.
“Just sparkling apple cider,” said Michaela with a small grin. “I’m not as rebellious as all that.”
Michaela withdrew a pair of thick-bottom glasses and poured them each a drink. Anna cut the sausage and the bread and spread cheese on a pair of slices. They sat with their legs crossed and looked out over the lake.
“Not that the excitement of last time wasn’t… interesting,” said Anna, “but this is nice.”
“You’re one of those girls who’d prefer to stay home and read a book, aren’t you?” said Michaela.
Anna nodded. “And you’re one of those girls who’d prefer to go out and dance the night away, aren’t you?”
Michaela grinned. “Uh huh.”
“Well I think we can be friends anyway,” said Anna.
They ate their picnic and sipped their sparkling cider and when they were done, Anna felt full and calm and content. It was when they were packing up that she saw the cottage. At the far end of the meadow where the lake narrowed and became a river again.
“Was that there before?” she asked.
Michaela looked. “Oh. I don’t know.” She turned a small grin on Anna. “Want to explore?”
Anna hesitated. On the one hand, the excitement of last time had been a bit much. On the other hand, it had been memorable. “I’m game if you are.”
It was a quick walk through the meadow to the cottage. The cottage was a small stone structure with a peaked, tile-shingle roof. A single open-air window showed them a dark interior as they approached. They walked around to the right to find a doorway with no door. It was difficult from outside to discern anything in the shadowy interior. They looked at each other, then Michaela stepped up to the doorway and peered in.
“There’s nothing here,” she said. “It’s abandoned.” She stepped inside and Anna followed. There was nothing but a dusty stone floor, a single, open-air window, and wooden rafters draped with cobwebs.
“Hang on,” said Anna. For as her eyes adjusted, the back corner of the cottage, where the shadows were deepest, resolved into another doorway. She approached and put her hand on the wall to steady herself in the darkness. “There’s another room here.”
“There can’t be,” said Michaela. “It’s not that big a building.”
“Perhaps it’s bigger on the inside?” Anna said. Her eyes adjusted to the bit of light filtering into the second room and as they did so, it was clearly much larger than should have been possible.
Michaela joined her and let out a low whistle.
“You want to take a look, don’t you?” Anna said. She had to admit, she was curious.
“The moment I see a doll, we’re out of here.”
“Did you bring a flashlight?”
“Of course.” Michaela unzipped a side pocket in the backpack Anna was wearing and withdrew a flashlight. The yellow-white beam did a lot to illuminate the impossibly large room. The ceiling was half again as tall as the entry chamber, the walls were white plaster and hung with a range of landscape paintings, the floor was covered with overlapping rugs of bright patterns and elaborate furniture with gilt inlay and fanciful cushions. Anna couldn’t tell by what reason the furniture had been placed. It seemed haphazard to her.
Most unlikely, a set of stone stairs led up on the south wall.
“I didn’t see a second story from outside,” Michaela whispered.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Anna whispered back.
A moment passed.
“Hang on. Do you hear that?” Michaela said, her whisper bare above a breath.
A faint squeak preceded a thump, then again, then again—
—and a faint glow grew brighter and brighter on the wall of the stairs.
Anna was frozen by a combination of fear and curiosity. She held her breath and bit her tongue. Several thumps later, a hopping lamp came into view. It had a broad, circular base, a cylindrical, silver post, and a pale yellow lampshade with multi-colored beads hanging from its bottom rim. It squeaked as its post bent, like a torso and legs, then it hopped down from one stone step to the next. Its broad base, padded in black velvet, thumped upon the stone.
“It’s kind of cute,” said Michaela.
The lamp hopped down the stairs and to the center of the room to an end table next to one of the haphazardly placed couches. It hunched, preparing to jump, then hunched a bit more, then wiggled like a kitten about to pounce. With a sharp squeak, the lamp leapt higher than they’d yet seen, and landed upon the end table.
Anna applauded quietly.
The lamp bent at the middle toward them, a small bow, then bounced to center itself. Its light grew, brightening the room and banishing shadow.
The room gave a little shake and pressure pushed upon Anna’s shoulders. She widened her stance and bent her knees. Michaela grabbed her around the waist with one hand and braced herself on the wall with the other. The sudden closeness made Anna blush. A heavy door closed behind them with a thunklick. The girls turned to find the blond man with the multi-colored jacket stepping into the bare, stone entryway. The open doorway was blocked by a wooden door.
The man had an expression of contemplation about the eyes, then shook his head as though just noticing them.
“I wasn’t expecting guests.”
“Sorry to intrude,” said Michaela. “We didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Not at all. I shouldn’t have left the door open if I didn’t want strange girls wandering in.”
“We’ll just be going then,” said Anna.
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” he said, gesturing at the window. “We’re already on our way. But, not to worry, my mother brought me up with a strong respect for the rules of hospitality. Have you eaten? Care for an early luncheon?”
“What do you mean, on our way?” said Michaela even as the room swayed, reminding Anna of the train.
“See for yourself.” He stepped to the open-air window and leaned against the wall.
Michaela hurried to the window. She put her hands on the sill and leaned her head out, the wind catching her hair and throwing it about her face. “We’re moving!”
Anna had guessed as much. “The other day, at the festival, what were you really after?”
The man looked at her, his grey blue eyes steady, thoughtful, then he broke into a roguish grin. “Can’t a man be enchanted by a young woman’s pretty face?”
Anna snorted. “My face isn’t pretty, and you’re not half as charming as you think. There’s talk of war between the witches, and I’m forced to wonder what your part in all this is, now that you’ve kidnapped us.”
His grin faded to neutral. He looked from Anna to Michaela, who’d brought her head back into the house, and was giving him a skeptical look.
“My name is Ivan Agayabab, but I don’t suppose that’ll mean anything to the two of you.”
Anna shook her head. Michaela crossed her arms as she moved to stand next to Anna.
“You’re not from here. But you’re not from too far away either. It’s as though you’re from a different book on the same shelf. So, I suppose it can’t hurt to tell you. Sabine Agayabab is my mother. She is the Witch of Money, and every transaction in or near her city involving money, is instantly known to her. I wanted news of my stepbrother, but I couldn’t pay for it in coin. I didn’t want her knowing I was in town.”
Annan looked at Michaela. “You buying this?”
Michaela shrugged. “We’re in a moving cottage with a magic lamp. His explanation seems as likely.”
“Also I haven’t kidnapped you,” Ivan said, his tone turning defensive. “I’d have let you out had I known you were here. As it is, I could let you out now, but that’d be unkind as the walk back to town would take hours at least. I have an errand to run, and when I’m done, I’ll put you back next to the lake. In the meantime, luncheon?”
“We’ve eaten, thank you,” said Michaela. “What is this errand you’re running?”
Her tone was strong, confident, defiant even. Anna blushed to know her voice carried none of that strength, and she envied her friend.
Ivan pursed his lips, then gestured past them into the room. “Very well. If you’ll come with me, I’ll explain what I’m about. On one condition.” He held up a slim, long finger. “Don’t tell my mother. So long as I keep up the pretense I’m not involved, her pursuit of my assistance is manageable.”
Michaela looked at Anna. Anna gave a small nod. Michaela looked at Ivan again. “Agreed.”
They entered the sitting room beyond. Ivan tapped the lamp on the end table. “You decided to let them stay, did you?”
The little lamp nodded, the beads around the bottom of its shade clinking.
“Well, if you say so,” said Ivan. “We’re going to the observatory. Please guard the front door.”
The lamp stood a little straighter, gave a sharp nod.
Ivan led them upstairs along a gently curving staircase with evenly spaced windows showing a sweeping mountainous countryside. Lakes and meadows, forests and hills, great banks of clouds and ice-capped peaks so clear and sharp Anna felt she could almost touch them. They moved at a steady pace, not as fast as the train, but close.
They climbed past three floors of rooms, and Ivan named them as they did so. “Kitchen and dining room, I hardly ever use it. Living quarters, don’t look I haven’t tidied. Library and study. And here’s the observatory.”
The stairs stopped at a landing and a doorway. Ivan opened the door to reveal a great, domed, glass ceiling. It appeared to be all of one piece, like a thick glass bowl set upsidedown upon a stone floor. At the far end was another doorway, leading to a stone-railed balcony.
A single padded chair stood in the center of the room.
“This is the largest scrying glass I’ve ever made,” Ivan said. “With it I can see anywhere I’ve ever been, as long as it’s not protected with magic.” He walked to the chair, sat, and pulled a lever on its side, reclining the chair so he was lying back, facing the glass ceiling. “For example,” he paused and looked at them. “This can be a bit disorienting. You might want to sit, or even better, lie down.”
“What’s going to happen?” aid Michaela.
“I’m going to show you the town where I have to run my errand. The dome will show us the image. If you’re not used to scrying, it can shake your balance. Even if you are used to it.”
Michaela looked at Anna. Anna shrugged. They decided to sit facing Ivan.
“All right,” said Michaela.
Ivan stared at the glass dome, murmured a few words, then flicked his fingers as though tossing water. A trio of motes drifted to the center of the dome, like snow falling up. When they touched the glass, it shimmered and a spot of color appeared then grew and soon Anna was looking at the steep hills outside but from the perspective of something soaring high above. She knew she was looking up at the ceiling, but the perspective looked down and away and she found herself quickly growing dizzy.
“Oof,” said Michaela. “I think I need to lay down.”
“Me too,” Anna whispered.
They lay on their backs, shoulder to shoulder. Michaela’s hand found hers and held on tight. Once on her back, it was much easier for Anna to orient herself. It was like watching a movie projected on the ceiling.
Their perspective centered upon a group of buildings at the edge of a dark green forest. The buildings were largely stone with wood-shingled roofs. People went about their business in rustic clothing.
Their perspective swooped into town, navigating the packed-earth streets with ease, sliding around folk, until they came to a modest home with a red door. Their perspective bumped off the door as though striking something solid. There was a sound like a bell struck far away. Their perspective moved forward again, striking that same distant bell, then again.
After a few minutes, the door opened and a gnomish looking man with large ears and a large nose and watery blue eyes and no hair opened the door.
“Ivan, is that you?” he demanded. “What do you want?” His voice echoed under the large, glass dome.
“Flandel, how have you been?”
“Don’t try to flatter me, boy,” Flandel said.
“Of course, my apologies,” said Ivan. “I need a favor.”
The man planted fists on hips and glared. “Oh, I’m sure you do. And with your mother preparing to assault innocent clansfolk, what makes you think I’m in any way interested in doing you a favor?”
“Flandel, you know I’m not in league with my mother’s warring efforts.”
“Oh, I know that, do I? Your loyalties are ever shifting. You back whomever you think will protect your skinny behind. You’re only ever looking out for yourself.”
“Even if that were true, Flandel, it would only be half true,” Ivan said, his tone growing somber. “Oscar has gone missing.”
Flandel pursed his lips, but he still looked grouchy. “I hadn’t heard about that,” he said eventually.
“That’s the reason mother’s getting feisty.”
“Dandylion feathers! That ridiculous feud! Yulana has never done anything for the clanfolk of the wastes except invite the wrath of her parsimonious sister. To the fires with both of them.”
“Flandel, if I can find Oscar, that might get mother to settle down. She’s already conscripting every mage who owes her a favor. And Bridgeford is recruiting every urchin, felon, and debtor in town who can hold a rifle. They’re gonna march up here and start setting fires to villages.”
“Ha! Let them try.”
“No, Flandel, I want to stop this before it gets out of hand. I need the Truename Spyglass.”
Flandel crossed his arms. “If you think I’m giving a powerful artifact to the sniveling son of the enemy, you are out of your pretty little head.”
“What an idiot,” Michaela murmured.
“What was that?” said Flandel. “Who’s with you? Is this a trick?”
He thrust his left palm forward and their perspective backed up several steps. Flandel squinted just below center, and Anna realized he was looking at them.
“Taken up with a pair of little girls, have you Ivan? I didn’t suspect you for a pederast.”
“That’s not what that word means,” said Ivan.
“Which one of you little brats mouthed off, huh?”
“I did,” said Michaela proudly.
“And who do you think you are?”
“I think I’m the one who called you an idiot,” Michaela said. “Here he is trying to offer a way to prevent a war that, apparently, will burn down villages and, my guess is, quite a bit worse, and you won’t help?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Flandel.
“Well then, by all means, explain it to me.”
Michaela held Anna’s hand so hard, Anna’s fingers were going numb. For all the bravado, Anna could tell Michaela was nervous, uncertain. She hoped letting her fingers go numb was helping.
Flandel opened his mouth to say something, then stopped, then said, “I don’t have time for this. You’re not getting the Truename Spyglass, and that’s final.”
Anna, surprised at her own sudden surge of confidence, said, “Are you going to look for Oscar then?” She agreed with Michaela. Flandel was being stupidly stubborn.
“What do you mean?”
Anna cleared her throat. “Ivan says his mother, the Witch of Money, is angry because his brother, Oscar, has gone missing. She thinks her sister, the Witch of Puppets, is to blame, right?”
“Technically he’s my half-brother, but yes,” said Ivan.
“All right, fine,” said Flandel. “What of it?”
“If finding Ivan’s half-brother will stop this conflict before it gets started, then shouldn’t we?”
The old man pursed his lips again.
Ivan folded his hands upon his chest.
Several moments of silence passed.
“Well?” said Anna.
“I’m thinking,” said Flandel.
“Are you seriously thinking about whether or not it’s acceptable to allow a war brew between the witches?”
His frown deepened. “Watch your tone, little girl.”
“I don’t think I will.” Anna said, surprising herself more than anyone else. Michaela squeezed her hand encouragingly. “If you’re not going to help Ivan find his brother, are you going to do it yourself, or are you going to let people die?”
Flandel took a step back and crossed his arms firmly. “This town relies on me,” he said, though he didn’t sound as angry. “I can’t go wandering off on some adventure. I have work to do here.”
“That’s convenient,” Michaela said.
“It’s true!” Flandel said defensively.
Anna snorted. “If only you knew someone who could do it for you. Perhaps he could have a walking cottage to make the wandering a bit easier.”
Flandel scoffed, his attention shifted between the girls and Ivan. Finally he gestured widely “Are you going to let these little girls speak for you?”
“Why not? They’re doing an admirable job.” Ivan said mildly.
“Little girls?” Michaela muttered.
Anna squeezed Michaela’s hand. “Don’t let him distract the conversation. Bullies always try to deflect.”
Anna raised her hand. “I have a question.”
“Yes?” said Ivan.
“What does the Truename Spyglass do?”
“It allows you to see the true nature of any being you look at through it. I suspect Oscar has been transfigured. With the spyglass, among other things, I can seek him out.”
Anna looked at Flandel. “Is that true?”
The old man grumbled. “It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but yes.”
Anna nodded. “I thought as much. I have a proposition for you, Mr. Flandel. Michaela and I ended up with Ivan by accident. We’re not from around here. My guess is if you look at us through the Truename Spyglass, you’ll know that’s true, and that we have no stake in this fight. What if Michaela and I promise to help Ivan find Oscar? Then you’ll know you aren’t giving your precious artifact into the hands of an enemy.”
Flandel scoffed. “Just the hands of a pair of mouthy little girls.”
Anna shrugged. “Then stop the war yourself.”
The old man’s frown deepened, the lines of his face like the rings of a stump. For several long moments, he said nothing. Anna squeezed Michaela’s hand gently and Michaela squeezed back. His gaze was piercing and relentless and stony and Anna had to wonder what the heck she was doing. The fog had given her Michaela, but now there were marauding toys and walking cottages and missing step-brothers. It was like something out of a story. If she was smart, she’d stay out of it.
“Your new apprentices are awfully bold,” Flandel said. “You’ll want to reign that in.”
Ivan shrugged and made a noncommittal noise.
Flandel sighed gustily. “Very well then. I will entrust the spyglass to the girls and they can find Oscar Agayabab. Not that your layabout brother has ever been good for the clansfolk of the wastes. But it’s better than all out conflict.”
“Excellent,” said Ivan, clapping his hands. “It’s decided. “We’ll see you in less than an hour.”
Ivan flicked his fingers and Flandel’s grumpy visage rippled, giving way to the shifting fog beyond the glass dome. Ivan pulled the lever on the side of his chair and it folded back up into a chair shape. Anna and Michaela scrambled to their feet.
“Well, that went better than expected.” said Ivan. “Care for tea?”
“Sure,” said Michaela brightly, though to Anna her tone felt a bit too bright.
Ivan didn’t seem dangerous or to bear them ill will, but it was all highly peculiar. Anna didn’t know whether she could trust him, which made being in his house, wondrous though it was, off-putting.
Ivan led them downstairs to the kitchen which, while neat and orderly, looked as though it’d never been used. In contrast to Sarah’s kitchen which had a place for everything, hardly any of which was in its place.
Ivan gestured to a nook at the far end of the kitchen at a small table and set of chairs next to a window overlooking the fog. The girls sat.
“I must thank you for your help with Flandel. He’s always been extraordinarily cranky. Even when I was his star pupil, he never could let himself pay me a compliment.”
Anna and Michaela exchanged looks.
“Now, as soon as I find a kettle, we can enjoy a cup of tea. Before talking to that old sourpuss again.” Then, humming to himself, Ivan clattered through cupboards, giving Anna and Michaela a semblance of privacy.
Anna watched him for a while. He found a kettle in a cupboard near the stove and set it on the counter with a box of matches. He turned a dial on the side of the stove and a faint hiss of gas escaped the burner. He struck a match and held it to the gas which ignited with a whoomph. Then he straightened, looked about, and found the sink. He turned the tap and a steady stream of water poured forth. Anna couldn’t help but wonder where the gas and water came from, considering the house was moving. Surely it wasn’t hooked up to municipal utilities.
“That was courageous.” Michaela whispered.
Anna turned her attention to Michaela. “Me?”
“Yes, you. Wanting to stop the war between the witches all by yourself.”
Anna blushed. She didn’t feel courageous, she just thought it was awful that innocent folk would get hurt because a pair of feuding sisters couldn’t handle their drama like adults.
“It’s just… if there’s an easy way to stop all this, then obviously that’s the thing to be done. I’m not sure I should be the one to do it though.”
“Well, you volunteered us,” said Michaela.
Anna cringed. She hadn’t meant to do that. She figured once they had the Truename Spyglass away from Flandel, she could give it to Ivan and let him find his brother. He was obviously some kind of wizard and was much better prepared to handle the situation than she and Michaela.
“Sorry about that,” said Anna. “I shouldn’t have involved you without asking.”
“Not at all,” said Michaela. “I will back you up on whatever fog-shrouded, other-worldly, impossible adventure you find yourself on.”
Anna smiled despite herself. But before she could explain about her plan to hand the spyglass over, she noticed something through the window. A group of men, in bright white uniforms with gold cuffs and collars and boots, trudged up the hillside through the smattering of fog. A figure in ostentatious red and gold robes sat at leisure upon a silver palanquin with six crab-like legs carrying it along behind.
“What is that?” Anna said.
Michaela looked and frowned. “Do you suppose they work for the Witch of Money?”
“Yes,” said Ivan, from across the kitchen.
Anna started and looked at him. He stared through the window, a trio of mugs gripped by the handle in one hand, the kettle on the stove behind him.
“My mother has a thing for ostentatious uniforms.”
Anna bit her tongue on a comment about his multi-colored jacket.
“Surely they’re also on their way to see Flandel. We’ll have to hurry. Come, ladies.” And he hurried from the kitchen.
Anna and Michaela exchanged another look.
Michaela shrugged. “You did offer to help.”
They hurried after, Anna pausing briefly to turn off the stove. Downstairs, in the sitting room where the lamp still shone brightly, they found Ivan pulling on his multi-colored coat, the trio of mugs forgotten upon a couch cushion. Ivan tapped the top of the lamp with a fingertip.
“Keep an eye on the door for me. None but the three of us in or out until I say so.”
The lamp nodded curtly.