Episode 6 Chapter 24

Two of the humans were dead. Ripped up with knives. The rest were lucky enough to be enchanted, though Oboe was scared about what came next.

“Is that all of them?” The nymph captain said. A brown rabbit dangled at her side, gripped by the ears.

“Unhand us you demons!” The former human flailed, trying to get free, and made a valiant but useless effort to scuff the spriggan’s armor. “The King will hear of this!”

“We’re missing one,” the pooka said, sniffing at Theo’s clothes. He looked up at Oboe. “Where is this one?”

Oboe cupped her palm gently behind her back. “I don’t know.”

“I saw you transform him.” He narrowed his eye.

“I turned him into a bug,” Oboe said. She gnawed at the inside of her cheek. “He flew away before I could stop him!”

“Hah!” Said one the paralyzed humans. “He’s gone to tell the capital you’re all traitors! The King will send a whole army! They’ll make you pay for this!”

“It doesn’t matter.” The nymph Captain bent down and picked up the aura tracker out of Theo’s things. She smashed it against the wall. “No one escapes the labyrinth.” She turned to her troop. “Oxnard and Dandelion! You two get the captives into cages. I want the rest of you to comb the maze for this other one! Our Lady will want all the humans accounted for. Sooner we get this done, sooner we can leave.”

Oboe slipped away while the troop was exchanging bows, and hurried down dank stone corridors as fast as she could until she was sure she was alone. Under the faint glow of the labyrinth’s walls, she opened her hand to find a little worker ant.

“Oboe?” He looked up at her, wriggling his antennae. He scuttled around her hand shaking his head. “W-what’s going on? Why am I an insect?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “My magic likes beasts and birds. I wanted something small. It’s weird it picked a bug for you!” She would’ve expected at least a drone, not a worker ant. It was so odd.

“That’s not what I meant!” His tone was angrier now. “Why did you do this to me!?”

Oboe winced. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” She slumped against the wall and pulled her hair with a free hand. “This is all I could think of to keep you safe! I’ve made so many mistakes and now you’re here and I’m not sure what to do! I need to get you out of here so grandmother doesn’t kill you!”

“What? Your grandmother? Why would the Fair Lady do this?!”

“Theo, the Fair Lady is Whisper! I should’ve told you right away, but I didn’t! She’s the one who tried to kidnap Percy! And she’s doing other bad stuff too! She’s got a whole Feymire army here! She’s going to attack the capital!”

Theo froze, staring at her. “Are you serious? Whisper is…” He shook his head. “An entire foreign army? Here in the Circle?”

“I saw them!” Oboe said. “Grandmother told me she wants them to take over so she can get lots of Fates!”

“How long have you known all this?” Theo said. “Why were you helping her?”

Why did he have to ask? “I… Theo. I messed up. I wanted to be with my family so bad. Grandmother is wicked, and awful, and she made me think I should be wicked too! But you were right. I can’t just ignore bad things because she’s family!”

Theo fell quiet. The quiet was worse than if he was yelling. She wished he would yell.

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “I thought you were smarter than this.”

“I’m an idiot, okay?!” Oboe said. “I wanted to fix everything before telling you, but that was an even bigger mistake! I ruined everything like I always do! I’m sorry!”

“Stop it.” Theo’s voice was firm. How could such a little bug seem so big? “Apologizing won’t fix anything. This is serious. You’re telling me the Fairy Circle is harboring an invasion force. We need to get out of here so we can warn the capital.”

He was right, but Oboe was still worried that he hated her. She tried to calm down. “Okay.”

“We seem to be out of harm’s way,” Theo said. “Can you change me back to normal?”

Oboe remembered what happened the last time she used her magic a bunch in the palace. “I can’t! Grandmother will sense it and find us! We should get you out of here first!”

“I have to stay like this?!” Theo said. “Is this a trick? Are you just trying to take my Fates?!”

“No!” Oboe was horrified. “I couldn’t let them kill you! I’m sorry! I hate this too, but it’s just for a little while. Please! You have to trust me!”

A silence lingered. Oboe held her breath. Was he angry? Ants were difficult to read. He had every right to be angry.

“You’re right,” Theo said. “I know you aren’t wicked. I’m sorry. If Whisper is the Fair Lady, it all makes sense. I knew she was a fairy plotting to usurp the throne. I know how much you wanted to be with your family. Of course Whisper would take advantage of that. This is her fault.”

“…Theo…” Relief washed over her. She didn’t deserve him.

“We need to focus on getting out of here,” he said. “Do you know a way out?”

Oboe glanced down the dim, twisting corridors. “I’ve never been here before.”

“I have,” Theo said. He marched circles in Oboe’s palm, thinking. “I know Épée has a whistle that lets her enter and leave, but I don’t like our odds of stealing it off her.”

“But is there anything else we can do?” Oboe said. “She said there’s no way to escape.”

He looked up. “There might be. When I came here before, I ripped a tear in the fold. It might still be there.”

“This place is a maze!” Oboe said. “How are we going to find it again?”

“We’re going to have to try,” Theo said.

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