The air was brisk, smelling of new grass and old trees. Ivan preceded them down the short hill toward the backside of the village. Around the corner of a stone house came Flandel. He planted his feet in the dirt and his fists on his hips and gave them a scowl.
“Your jackboots have arrived,” he said as they approached.
“They’re not my jackboots,” Ivan said. “I prefer something with more color and a bit of a heel.”
Flandel snorted then turned and walked the other way.
Ivan trotted to catch up and Anna and Michaela hurried after. As they passed the bright red front door to Flandel’s house, Ivan flicked a glance at it. Anna suspected he was considering burglary.
“I can make them go away if you like,” Ivan said.
“And you think I can’t?” Flandel replied, voice gruff.
“My methods don’t involve firing the first shot and giving Sabina Agayabab an excuse to declare all out war.”
Flandel snorted again.
A crowd had gathered at the edge of town, staring across the grassy slope at white-uniformed men marching toward them, spidery palanquin glinting in the sun.
“What do you suppose they want?” Anna said, thoughts swirling. It seemed far too much a coincidence that the Witch of Money’s soldiers should arrive at the same time as Ivan Agayabab.
“What they always want,” Flandel said. “Unconditional surrender and support for their cause.” He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his worn leather jacket. Anna wondered what might be in those pockets. Something to deal with the soldiers perhaps.
“Right,” she said, “but they want that from everybody in the mountains, don’t they?”
“Of course,” said Flandel.
“What are you getting at?” said Ivan.
“Oh,” said Michaela. “I think I see. You just said that Minister of War has only now begun to put together his army.”
“Right,” said Anna. “That’s awfully quick to send a group up here, isn’t it? That suggests to me they’ve come here first. What does the Witch of Money want from this town before any other?”
“Of course,” said Ivan. “Very clever. I should have seen that.”
Flandel grumbled curses under his breath. “Yes, yes, very clever. You think they’re here for the spyglass too.”
“And whatever other enchanted knickknacks you’ve squirreled away over the decades,” Ivan said. “I’m sure my dear mother can find a forgotten clause in the tax laws to collect whatever she likes from any magician of the wastes.”
Flandel pursed his lips, expression half thoughtful, half furious. “Very well. Take it.” He withdrew his left hand and handed a key to Ivan. “In the cellar you’ll find a set of drawers. They’re organized alphabetically. Name the thing you’re looking for, then open the correct drawer.”
Ivan took the key and handed it to Anna.
Anna took it gingerly. The key was dark burnished copper with large craggy teeth and an intricate pommel in the shape of a rose. It was longer than Anna’s middle finger and heavier than expected.
Ivan reached up his right sleeve with his left hand and withdrew a slip of paper covered in rainbow-hued script and handed it to Michaela. “Give this to Lux. It will take you back to where you found us.”
“What about you?” Anna asked.
“Don’t worry about me. I can always find the cottage when I need to. It was not my intent to drag interdimensional visitors into a family squabble. You may leave the spyglass with Lux if you like. Or, if you meant it, begin the search for my brother.”
Anna nodded. She looked at Michaela who gave her a grin.
“Before you go,” said Ivan, “I was serious about painting your portraits. The offer stands.”
Anna blushed. Though she was sure he meant it as a compliment, it made her uncomfortably squirmy.
“Knock it off,” Flandel grumbled. “You two get going. I don’t want those thugs to see Ivan’s got a new pair of apprentices.”
Michaela took Anna’s hand. They hurried back through the crowd and made their way to the stone house with the bright red door. There was no handle, no knob, no latch, just a copper plate to match the key, and a hole to receive it. With some trepidation, Anna slid the key into the keyhole and twisted, half expecting an otherworldly reaction. Instead, there was only the metal snick of the bolt sliding and the door swung in a bit.
Inside they found a single room, spare of furnishings. A round wooden table front and center seated four. A sink and stove stood in an L-shaped counter in the back left corner. A stone spiral staircase stood in the back right.
“The cellar,” Michaela said.
The girls hurried to the staircase spiraling tightly down. In the cellar they found what had to be Flandel’s work room. A broad, low table stood along either sidewall, filled with a variety of projects, tools, and geegaws, carved wood and metal wire, uncut stone and glass bottles filled with all colors of substance. Anna was struck giddy by the sight of it all, but Michaela hurried to the set of wooden drawers against the back wall, each marked with a copper plate. The drawers were about a foot wide and half a foot tall and the whole case of them stretched floor to ceiling.
“I think this one’s it,” Michaela said.
Anna looked at the drawer Michaela indicated. The copper plate had been stamped: “Tr”.
“So, we name what we’re looking for and open the drawer, right?” Michaela said.
Anna nodded. “That’s what he said.”
Michaela put a hand on the drawer handle, paused a moment, and pulled it open. The drawer was empty.
“I think you have to say it out loud,” Anna said.
“Truename Spyglass.” Michaela tried again, nothing. “I’m not doing this right,” said Michaela, “you try.” She stepped out of the way making room for Anna.
Anna grasped the handle of the drawer. She closed her eyes and said “Truename spyglass.” But when she opened the drawer, a fist-sized puffball was inside. It was mottled brown and orange and white, had long hair, and purred faintly.
“Oh,“ said Michaela. “It’s so cute.” She reached into the drawer and stroked the little creature’s fur gently. “It’s soft too.”
“But it’s not what we are looking for,” Anna said.
“Can we keep it?” Michaela asked.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. We have no idea what it is and no idea what Flandel will do if he finds it missing.”
“He’s keeping it in a box.” Michaela gave Anna a soul crushing-crushing look, dark eyes wide, forehead crinkled just ever so slightly. Her hand continued to stroke the little puff.
“A magical box,” Anna replied. “Michaela please those soldiers had guns. We need to hurry.”
Michaela sighed, but she put her hands behind her back and took a step back. “You’re right.”
Anna closed the drawer, took a breath, and said with as much conviction as she could muster, “Truename spyglass.”
And when she opened the drawer it was filled with clusters of dark brown mushrooms in crumbly black earth interspersed with mounds of chocolate topped with crumbled nuts. The odor was pungent. Michaela stood next to her and peered into the drawer. Then she looked at Anna.
“I don’t get it,” said Michaela. “You named the thing.”
Anna closed the drawer.
Outside, someone shouted. Michaela put a hand on her shoulder.
“Maybe we should go.”
“One more try,” said Anna. She closed her eyes again, but this time, she pictured what she thought something called a Truename Spyglass would look like.
It was a telescoping brass tube with a lens at either end. The brass was brushed to a soft shine. Either end, at the cuff cradling the lens, was engraved scrolling knots and runes. It was constructed of three parts and she knew they would slide against each other with firm smoothness when collapsed and telescoped. The brass would be cool to the touch but warm easily in her hand. It would have a faint metallic smell that lingered.
The drawer slid open in her hand and when Anna looked, the very item she’d imagined lay within.
“Wow. You didn’t even say anything. How’d you do that?”
Anna shrugged. “I imagined it.”
“Huh. Well, he could have been more clear.”
Anna snatched up the item. The brass was cool in her palm. “Let’s go.”
The hurried up the tightly spiraling staircase, hurried across the sparsely furnished ground floor, and were to the bright red door when a deep, booming crack, like mechanized thunder, filled the space outside. Anna stopped suddenly and Michaela ran into her from behind.
“What…” Michaela’s whisper was a cold breath on Anna’s ear.
Anna couldn’t respond. Her heart raced and her jaw clenched and she couldn’t make herself speak. She couldn’t make herself move. She’d never heard a gunshot before, not outside the movies anyway. It had been loud. Louder than she’d thought possible, even through the walls of Flandel’s home.
Shouting bumbled along behind, a disjointed cacophony in the distance.
Anna shook herself. “We’ve got to get to the cottage.”
“Right.” Michaela put a hand on Anna’s shoulder, like a drop of warmth in midwinter, it melted Anna’s paralysis, if not her fear, and spurred her to action. Anna put a hand on the handle and pulled the door open. The street beyond was empty, but the shouting at the edge of town was more pronounced with the door open.
“Just around the corner. It’s a straight sprint.” Anna said.
“Right,” Michaela said again.
It took a deep breath and a deliberate movement for Anna to step outside Flandel’s home to the packed-earth street beyond. She felt Michaela right on her heels. Only a few quick steps later they were at the corner of the house and rounding the corner, Ivan’s cottage was just where it’d been, a small, dusty stone building with an open doorway
Another gunshot ripped through the air.
The girls froze.
Someone screamed, a sharp, clear sound, like a poorly tuned flute.
Anna swallowed hard.
“I… I can’t make myself move,” Michaela said.
“Sure you can,” Anna replied. She reached behind her and Michaela grabbed her hand so hard their knuckles cracked. Anna drew the other girl up next to her. “There, you see? You moved no problem.”
Michaela breathed a short laugh. “Run for it?”
Anna nodded. “On three.”
“One…” Michaela said.
“Two…” Anna said.
Anna didn’t mean to, but she looked over her shoulder.
The solider was resplendent in white and gold, dazzling to behold. A bucket-like helmet sat upon his head, secured with a chinstrap. He held a rifle to his shoulder, pointed at them. Its barrel was shiny, silver, and shone in the sun, despite the faint haze that still clung. Anna’s vision focused on the man and she realized he was young, his face rounder than she’d expected, the hint of a beard upon his cheeks, the hint of a bruise under his left eye. And his uniform was threadbare at the cuffs. The gold trim upon his shoulders crooked.
“Or else what?” Anna demanded. She should have bit her tongue. She should have sprinted for the cottage. Instead, she turned to face the young soldier.
The rifle wavered and drooped. “Or… or else…” his voice was high, uncertain.
“Are you going to shoot us?” Anna demanded.
Michaela let go her hand so she could turn and face the soldier with her.
“We’re leaving now,” Michaela said.
The soldier swallowed hard and lowered his rifle.
Anna’s shoulders itched as she turned again for Ivan’s cottage. Together, she and Michaela climbed the shallow hill, not running, but certainly hurrying.
“Oy! Why didn’t you stop them?”
The girls were halfway up the hill when the older voice sprang at them. They broke into a sprint, mere lengths from the open doorway.
A third gunshot split the air.
Anna tripped, falling to her knees, skidding on the grass and staining her skin. She continued forward on all fours for several paces as she scrambled to her feet. Behind them was more shouting, but Anna focused forward. Michaela was already at the doorway, stopped and turned to her, eyes wide, hand outstretched. Anna moved as quickly as she could, and moments later was though the doorway, Michaela coming in behind her. They hurried through the small, bare antechamber to the lavishly appointed sitting room where the lamp still stood, straight and bright, upon its table.
“The paper,” Anna said, looking at Michaela.
Michaela blinked at her and tears slid down her cheeks. Then she nodded and dug in the pocket of her dress to withdraw the slip of paper Ivan had given her. She held it out to the lamp who bent at the middle as though to get a better look.
A door closed with a thump behind them and the whole room shifted like an elevator hurrying for the top floor.
Anna gave a sigh of relief. She found the couch where she’d left her shoulderbag and sat, her joints like water, her breath like honey, her thoughts a scrambled mess. Michaela sat down next to her.
“I thought they’d shot you.”
“You fell,” Michaela said. “I thought they’d shot you.”
Anna shook her head. “I’m fine.” She rubbed at her grass-stained knees, a little skinned.
“I’m glad,” Michaela said.
For moments that became minutes, there was silence between them. When Anna realized Michaela was crying, she turned her head, her body still too exhausted to move.
“We were shot at,” Michaela said.
“But neither of us was hurt, right?”
Michaela nodded. “But what if it gets worse? You’re my only friend, and if the only time I get to see you is when we’re in danger, maybe… maybe you won’t come through the fog anymore.”
Anna shook her head. “Of course I will. I’m not going to leave you.”
Michaela gave a blustery sigh, shoulders shaking. Then she bent and unlocked her guitar case, withdrawing the instrument and cradling it on her lap. She strummed a slow, gentle repeating pattern.
Anna closed her eyes and her shoulders relaxed.
She could feel the gentle sway of the cottage as it trundled along. Between that and Michaela’s music, Anna’s eyes went heavy-lidded. She let her shoulders sink into the couch cushion, let her mind wander from moment to moment, winding down.
They’d found the spyglass. They’d escaped without injury. They were headed to safety, but safety meant not being together. Anna wished she knew where Michaela was when the fog was out. Perhaps it was dream. Perhaps it was a trick played by a lonely mind. Perhaps it was an escape from the classmates who tormented her. What would they think, she wondered if they saw her with Michaela, if they saw dolls bursting from the fog, if it was all just a dream…
Anna came to when the cottage settled to a stop. She took a quick, deep breath and looked about to assure herself she was still in Ivan Agayabab’s sitting room, the friendly lamp still glowed, Michaela still sat next to her. She shifted and noted the Truename Spyglass sitting in her lap. She took it in one hand and prodded Michaela with the other.
Michaela snorted and blinked, clutching at her guitar.
“Are we here?”
Anna nodded. “Time to go home, I suppose.”
Michaela sighed. “Must I?”
“I’d invite you over. I’m sure Sarah and Kenny wouldn’t mind, but I don’t think it’d work.”
Michaela stood and stretched before putting her guitar away. Anna joined her and together they walked to the open doorway, beyond which stood the grassy hill and driveway leading up.
“No fog,” Michaela said.
She was right. Anna could see no fog beyond the doorway of Ivan’s cottage.
“You promise all this hasn’t scared you off?” Michaela asked. “I mean, a fight between witches, getting shot at, actual magic and all?”
Anna nodded. “It’s scary to be sure, but not enough to keep me from wanting to see you again.” She held up the spyglass. For a moment, she considered leaving it on the table with the lamp, then shook her head. “Besides, we promised to help.”
It was a bit of a squeeze, but they stepped through the doorway together into the bright summer sunlight of midafternoon.