Furies patrolled overhead, circling in wide arcs over the Inner circle. Oboe scurried along the ground in the shape of the smallest mouse she could manage and hoped no one could tell she was there. She tried her best not to squeak as she climbed the steps into the palace. It was hard. When she reached the top, the spriggans stared past her as she squeezed under the door.
It was dangerous to come here without her mantle, but there is no way they’d let her snoop where she wanted to snoop if she came like normal. Oboe wanted to tell Theo everything, but not yet. She tricked him when she took the sword away. Making this right meant getting it back and helping that leshy. That was the only way to make up for what she’d done.
The entrance hall seemed empty. She scaled a marble column, wondering where to go. The palace was like a big tangled knot. So much space folded back on itself that anywhere could lead anywhere. She ran up and down hallways that looped back on themselves until she got frustrated. She wondered what Theo would do. He was good at puzzles.
The library was simple enough to find. It was impressive enough to put right next to the main hall. Arching book cases, overflowing with tomes, loomed high overhead. She climbed onto a reading table and frowned. This was a bad idea. It would take her thousands of years to read all the books to find a map.
“Who’s that?!” Someone said.
Oboe darted across a reading table to get away. It was too late. Something clamped down around her and everything went dark.
“Got you!” Her captor said. “Guards! Come here! Now!”
Oboe found herself rattling around the inside of a copper goblet as her captor scooped her up, hand clasped over the top.
“No!!” Oboe said, trying to push past their fingers. “Let me out!”
The fingers spread, and Oboe saw her brother Fife staring down at her in the cup.
“Oboe?” His voice dropped to a hush. “What are you doing here?”
He bristled as a nymph in armor stomped into the library. “What do you want, envoy?” She said. “This had better be important.”
“I, er…” Fife’s eyes darted between the cup and the spriggan. He straightened his back. “My work has grown tiresome! Fetch me more apple wine to make it bearable!”
The nymph sneered at him. “Do I look like a drudge? Get it yourself, you worm!”
Fife puffed himself up. “You’ll regret those words when they make me a Duke!”
“Yeah!” She broke into mocking laughter. “Keep dreaming. Call me again and I’ll have you thrown in the labyrinth!” With that, she marched out.
Heaving a sigh of relief, Fife dumped Oboe out onto the table. She popped back to her normal form.
“That was close!” She said. “Thank you!”
“Quiet!” Fife said, glaring. “What are you thinking, sneaking around like this? Where is your mantle? What are you doing here?!”
Oboe crossed her arms. “It bothers me what grandmother is doing. The humans should know she’s wicked.”
Her brother’s eyes went wide. He glanced back around to be sure they were alone. “Have you gone insane? No! You can’t do that! The Fair Lady will have you killed! Or worse!” He thought about it. “Probably worse!”
“So she should get away with it??” Oboe said. “She tried to kidnap the crowned prince! She stabbed a fairy with a sword made of suffering! Are you really okay with that??”
“Yes!” He froze, mouth hanging open. “No.” A twist of pain flickered in his face. “Look. This is how things are in the Circle. You’d know that if you’d grew up here like I did. Even if the higher ups are doing things you don’t like, you keep your mouth shut. Bad things happen if you don’t.”
Theo wouldn’t have been happy with that answer. “That doesn’t make it right. If you don’t like it, you should do something about it.”
“I can’t just do that, Oboe!” He gripped the front of his mantle. “I have children to think about. I have a life here!”
Oboe took a deep breath. “Well, I don’t! I don’t have anything to lose. I can show people what Grandmother is really like.” She turned away, but Fife grabbed her hand.
“No.” He tightened his hold. “We just got you back.” His eyes softened and tears began to form. “I just got you back. Every day that’s gone by, I’ve thought about what happened to you. It was all my fault! I can’t let you throw your life away now!”
Oboe glared. “Are you going to stop me?”
Fife said nothing. She pulled her hand free.
“Somebody has to do it,” she said and made to leave.
She looked back. Her brother was even more shaken than before.
“Take the third hallway on the left,” he said, walking closer. “Follow the candles to the Arena. There’s something there that you should see, but you didn’t hear it from me.”
Oboe hugged him. He returned the embrace, trembling.
“Promise me you’ll be safe,” he said.
Oboe did not like breaking promises. “I’ll try.”