When the whiteness faded and Twist’s vision returned, the first thing that he noticed was that it had stopped raining. He looked around to find that while he, Myra, Jonas, Vane, Kali, and the enormous black dragon hadn’t appeared to move, they were now all in a completely different place. Even some of the puddle had traveled with them, but it now drained away across the new ground.
The cavern around them was massive and open, with a vaulted ceiling that was filled with shadows. The ground sloped away from the walls into a wide pool of still, sapphire-blue water that seemed to glow from deep below. Figures moved at the shore of the pool, while submersible metal-and-glass ships floated just at the surface along wooden jetties. It took Twist a moment to realize that some of the figures in the cavern looked human except for their tails, horns, or wings, while others appeared to be wholly animal in appearance.
“I thought you said you weren’t going to zap us!” Jonas growled up at the dragon.
“What are you talking about?” the dragon asked as its long tail coiled back toward its head, as if retracting into it.
“Did you just make everyone forget us?” Jonas asked sharply.
The dragon shook its head, releasing a shower of mirrored black flecks that fell in a rain around the last of its lengthy tail. When the shower ceased, the dragon form had been replaced completely with the tall, thin, human form once again. The now man-shaped dragon adjusted his top hat and looked to Jonas as if confused.
“No, I just brought you here,” he said in his much less impressive human voice.
“See?” Vane said to Jonas, reaching out to slap at his arm with a hand. “Don’t be so rude to the nice dragon!” Twist gritted his teeth as the odd sensation rippled over him again.
When Jonas turned a glare in Vane’s direction for the slap, Vane gave a hopeful smile to the man in the top hat. The stranger laughed heartily, and Twist stole a moment to listen to Myra’s now calmer emotions. She caught his eye, appearing deeply relieved.
“Thank you, dear,” she murmured softly to him. Twist looked back at her, confused. “For surrendering,” Myra supplied earnestly.
Twist couldn’t keep the surprise from his face. “You didn’t think we should fight?”
Myra shook her head, a fresh wave of fear blooming in her spirit. “No, not against a dragon,” she said in a whisper, sending a chill rippling over Twist’s skin. “No matter how wonderful you might be, you’re human after all,” she added with light smile.
While Twist struggled to reconcile both the compliment and the lack of faith he heard in Myra’s words, Kali gave a whimper, looking around her.
“Good heavens,” Myra gasped in a whisper to Twist, peering at one of the nearby beasts that moved in the cavern. “Is that a gryphon?”
Twist followed her gaze to find a lion that had the head of an eagle and a huge set of golden wings folded neatly on its back.
“And look, dear,” Myra said, pointing to the side. “It’s a minotaur!”
“Where the hell are we?” Jonas asked.
“The Melbourne undersea docks,” their captor answered brightly. He turned and waved to a figure that was already hurrying toward them.
“Vane,” Twist snapped, turning to the fox. “Where the bloody hell are we? What are all of these…creatures?”
“Just where he said,” Vane answered. “Magical beings don’t always use human transport, you know.”
As Twist listened, he noticed that the approaching figure, which their dragon had beckoned closer, appeared exactly the way Twist imagined a goblin might.
“We have our own ways of getting around,” Vane went on as the goblin came to join them.
The goblin paused, catching its breath. While it almost looked like a man, it had pale-green-colored skin, thin and knobby limbs, very long pointed ears, and bright-yellow eyes. It wore a simple shirt and trousers but had no shoes on its overlarge feet. Once it seemed to catch its breath from the run, it pulled its hunched form up to stand straight and gave the man in the top hat a salute.
“Sir,” the goblin said in a sickly and garbled-sounding voice, “the ship is ready to sail as you instructed.”
“Thank you, Bill,” the man said with a nod. “If you would please introduce me to our guests,” he added with a gesture to Twist and the others.
Bill the goblin looked them over with seeming disdain. “This is my captain, known now as Zéphyrin,” Bill said proudly, with a gesture to him. Vane’s eyes widened in clear alarm, but his lips remained sealed.
“Pleased to meet you,” Zéphyrin said, tipping his top hat. “Now, please, come with me,” he added, falling into an exaggerated, inviting gesture.
Twist glanced at Vane and Kali. Kali seemed to be staring into the middle distance as if listening to an unheard voice. Vane glanced at Jonas with obvious concern. Zéphyrin, seeing that no one had moved yet, straightened up again with a light sigh.
“Considering the fact that you seem very concerned with these men’s safety,” Zéphyrin began, speaking to Vane, “I have no issue with you coming along if you wish.”
“Oh, thank you, Master,” Vane said, bowing his head. “I’d like to come.” Jonas grumbled slightly and crossed his arms.
“And the familiar?” Zéphyrin asked, looking to Kali. Twist looked at him, startled that he knew her true nature so easily. “It’s not yours, is it?” he asked Jonas.
“Kali, go back home,” Jonas said to the tiger.
Kali looked up at him and very clearly shook her head.
“Are you refusing to go back?” Jonas asked, looking bewildered.
As if in response, she gave a soft, barking sound and sat down with purpose.
“And we’re losing the tide…” Zéphyrin muttered.
“Yes, sorry,” Vane gasped. He grabbed Jonas by the collar and shot Twist a meaningful look as he began to move forward. “We’re coming.”
“Get off!” Jonas grumbled, struggling.
As Twist and Myra followed along, Kali got back to her paws and matched her pace with Twist’s. When Twist glanced down at her, Kali looked up to meet his gaze.
“You’re here so that Skye can watch over us, aren’t you?” he asked the tiger, speaking very softly.
Kali looked away from him, but Twist caught the slightest of nods as she did.
The group moved toward the water and past some the other travelers, while Twist tried very hard not to stare at any of them. A few glowing pixies flew about in the cavern, whispering to ears before flitting off again. Twist noticed a pair of giraffes with flaming whiskers having a pleasant-looking chat together while a centaur trotted by them. A rather large-bodied and small-headed troll looked down as they passed and gave Twist a disdainful grunt.
Twist sighed and tried to keep his eyes on his feet, while Myra continued to look around and gasp on occasion. The group came to a long, wooden jetty that reached far out across the wide, glassy, dark, and deep pool at the center of the cavern. Glancing up, Twist spotted a small hatch-like opening protruding from the surface of the water at the end of the jetty. Looking down, Twist couldn’t make out much of the huge ship in the shadowy waters below.
“This is a good idea, right?” he asked softly, not looking up.
Jonas gave a sigh, watching Zéphyrin’s back as the dragon led them on. “It’s too late to fight it now,” he muttered back.
Good heavens! You can’t leave it there, can you? Well, you’re in luck, because you don’t have to!
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