“We’ve gone this way already,” Theo said.
Oboe stumbled to a halt, short of breath from running up and down hallways. “What? How can you tell??” Every gloomy room of the labyrinth looked the same. At least they hadn’t run into any more spriggans.
She felt him crawl to a better vantage point in her hair. “We passed those gibbets earlier. The blood stains are the same.” He dangled on her furrowed brow. “This isn’t working. We’re not getting any closer to the tear.”
The sword drooped in her hand. “It’s not my fault! I’m going where you’re telling me, but everything keeps changing! I don’t know what to do!”
“It’s not anyone’s fault,” Theo said. “We need a better plan to get out of here.”
Oboe tried to think. “If we fight more Spriggans, one of them has to have a fold whistle. We can use that to escape.”
“Out of the question!” Theo said. “We’re not going to pick fights! It’s too dangerous.”
“We can take them!” Oboe said, posing with both hands on the sword. “We did awesome!”
There was an icy silence before Theo said anything.
“No. We’re not hurting anyone else.”
“But they’re trying to get us!” Oboe said.
“That’s not who I am!” Theo shouted. “That’s not how we do things! Our duty is to protect creatures and keep order! We aren’t going to hurt anyone!”
He was so mad. “Theo. Are you okay?”
“No!” His voice choked. “I’m not! This is…” He buried himself in her mane. “Oboe, I killed someone! I took a sword and I killed someone! Just like my father! Just the way he taught me!”
“What?” She picked Theodore out of her mane with care and held him up in her palm. “Who? What happened?”
He wouldn’t look at her. “A fairy spy. A doppelganger. She… I found one of Whisper’s feathers. She attacked. And…”
“Oh.” She shook her head. “Then, it’s not your fault. It’s fine.”
He looked up. His antennae were flailing. “Fine?! I cut her open with a sword and watched her die! That is not fine! I killed her!”
All Oboe felt was grateful that Theo survived. She didn’t care if some wicked fairy spy was killed. That’s not how Theo felt, though. She had never heard him sound this upset. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. You did what you had to.”
“You’re wrong.” His tone dropped like a brick wall. “There’s always another way. There has to be!”
Oboe took a deep breath. She wasn’t used to Theo being this emotional. It wouldn’t do any good to get worked up along with him. She needed to listen. “Okay. So, we can’t fight our way out. What else can we do?”
Asking him to think seemed to calm Theo. He paced in her hand. His little legs tickled. “I remember there being a brazen bull and some racks near the tear. Or there were, anyway. If we mind the land marks, there’s a chance we can get back to it. But if this place is changing, we can’t be sure the land marks will stay reliable. If I could just see how things were changing, maybe I can make sense of it.”
It wasn’t quite seeing, but Oboe had something that might be close enough. She pressed her hand to the wall. Concentrating, she could feel the ebb and fold of the magic in the labyrinth. “If I tell you which way things are changing, do you think can navigate better?”
“Yes.” Theo said, confident. He was almost back to normal. “Okay. We can do this. We just have to work together and get out before they find us.”
Oboe hurried. She ran her fingertips along the slick cold walls, and Theo told her which way to go. He’d spot something, a blood smear or a familiar cage, and tell her which path to take. She’d tell him when the hallways contorted, which way they were bending.
“Try turning right up ahead,” Theo said.
“It’s curving like a horse shoe that way,” Oboe said.
“Then keep straight next. Let me know when a path bends the other way.”
Somehow Theo kept it all in his head. He had a big brain, even when he was a tiny bug. After many more loops and turns, they found rooms they hadn’t seen before to explore.
“That wall!” Theo said, almost falling out of her hair. “Try stepping through it!”
Oboe wasn’t sure why he was so excited, but touched it anyway. The wall rippled and vanished when she pressed her fingers against it. She stepped inside and found a scorched chamber, with a blinding light hanging in the air.
“There!” Theo said. “That’s the tear!”
The wall was torn like ripped quilt. Beyond was the shining walls of the upper palace. Oboe jumped through.
“Wait!” Theo said, but it was too late.
It took several blinks before Oboe’s eyes adjusted back to the brightness of the surface.
“You were a fool to throw away my forgiveness, daughter.”
Bassoon stood in front of her, hands folded with a smile. Oboe wheeled around to see an entire regiment of spriggan surrounding her.