Theo stumbled through the pitch dark and winding tunnels of the old mine, tears in his eyes. He could hear the rattle of his father’s armor as he stormed after him. Lantern light peeked from around a corner and Theo hurried, scraping his hands against the rough-cut walls as he tried to get away.
Gravel gave way underneath Theo and he lost his footing. With a yelp he spilled down a stony shaft, collecting bruises as he slid. He was spat out into a wide chamber and bounced off something big and hairy.
“Huh?” A hairy, burly wolf man with bad posture turned around to look at what hit him. Theo strained to stand up, groaning. Stacks of crates and barrels surrounded him. The room was lit by veins of luminescent ore running through the cavern walls. Theo knew from his textbooks that it was fossilized magic. He was mesmerized long enough to forget about the werewolf staring down at him.
“What’re you supposed to be?” It snarled. Theo tried to back away as it snorted a noseful of him. “Some kind of giant gnome?”
“Hah!” a woman laughed. Theo looked. No, not a woman. Her eyes had no pupils. Her skin was a mottle of greens and blue. It was a nymph, draped in a shawl of black feathers. “Imbecile. That’s a human child. You’d know that if you left the Hollows once in a while.”
“What’s a human doing here?” The wolf man scratched his snout. “Edmund is supposed to be guarding the entrance.”
“He’s probably asleep again.” The nymph cradled her temple and sighed. “You get what you pay for.”
“Um.” Theo backed up against the wall. “A-are you the criminals? Are you going to hurt me?”
The creatures exchanged a glance. “It knows something,” the werewolf said. “The Fair Lady won’t like this.”
“Bring him here.” The nymph’s face twisted into a hungry smile. “I’ll take his voice. Turn him into a tasty toad.”
“Like hell!” The wolf shouted. “I found it first!” He lifted Theo by the collar and leaned into his face.
“Listen pup.” His breath was wet and foul. “We’re gonna play a game. I count to three. You run, and I chase you. If I catch you, I win, and I get to rip you apart.”
Normally, Theo loved games. They had lots of rules and everybody waited their turn. This did not sound like one of those. “H-h-how do I win?”
The creature snapped its jaws. “One.” He threw Theo to the cave floor. Theo hurried to his feet. “Two…” He looked for somewhere to run in the room of boxes. “Three!”
Lunging from nowhere, Lance tackled the werewolf to the ground. The beast roared and fought back with a flurry of clawed slashes. Sir Grayweather wrestled it down with one arm and used his off hand to plunge a shining silver dagger into the creature’s chest. The wolf man let out an agonized shriek as he shriveled, collapsing in on himself.
“Fenrus!” The nymph watched in horror as she watched the body turn to ash. “Damn you humans! I’ll kill you both!” She reared back, her legs twisting into tree roots. Her shawl exploded into a spray of feathers and she towered over them, now half tree. She thrust an arm, now a spearing stake, only for Lance to leap onto the limb. With one swing of his iron longsword, he cleaved the nymph’s head from her shoulders. Her body writhed in agony, before freezing in place as lifeless wood.
Lance ran to his son. “Theo! Are you hurt? Look at me!”
Theo stared at the severed head of the fairy nymph as the amber blood pooled. Lance shook him and Theo turned to look up at his father. His face was bloody with scratches, his armor was battered, and death surrounded him. This was what a knight looked like. The sort of knight Theo was expected to become.
He burst into wailing tears.