Passing through the shadow link was like walking through a split ore of amethyst. Jagged shapes of lavender glimmered around them, lighting Theodore’s way inside a sea of black. Wisps of vapor churned around them, drifting along forking paths.
“We will arrive in the capital shortly,” the Tall Man said. “Do you have a plan?”
Theodore nodded. “If I can get the city Watch to evacuate North Manor, the villagers will be safe. Then I can find Beira and talk her out of this attack.”
“I see.” The Tall Man leered at him in silence as they walked. “While it is good you have become more… diplomatic since you dealt with me, I fear that talking will not be enough. You need to kill her.”
“No,” Theodore said. His breathing quickened. “Are you insane? There must be a better solution than that!”
“The countess is beyond listening to anyone now,” the ghast said. “Others have tried, but she has only grown more resolute in her madness. She is prepared to sacrifice everything for the independence of fairies.”
They came to a stop in front of long oval of tinted black glass. On the other side, Theodore could make out a city street busy with the traffic of silhouettes.
“This is our fault,” Theodore said. “If the human government would just treat creatures with respect, things like this wouldn’t happen.”
“I will not argue with that,” the Tall Man said. “The cruelties of kings, and dukes, and knights are all poison in the hearts of the Whirlwood creatures. …And to be honest, I still have not forgiven you for what you did to me.”
His mouth dry, Theodore squeezed the ring on his finger.
“However,” The Tall Man went on. “Our ancestors made a promise to one another. My people turned against their king and turned toward yours, because they dreamed of a world where all the Mother’s children might live in peace. It is a dream now worn and frayed, ready to tear, but it is still a dream I wish to believe in.”
“We swore to protect and aid you.” The First Treaty ran through Theodore’s mind. “We haven’t. We’ve ignored you, or worse.” He realized he was shaking. “I don’t want to be like those other knights. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just want to make things better.”
The bogeyman wrapped his slender fingers around Theodore’s shoulder. “Good,” he said. “Then protect us from Beira. Be our voice and rally your people to stop her. She cannot be allowed to throw everything away in anger.”
“But why does she have to die?!” Theodore said.
“I fear the time to talk has passed. Her mind is set and she will not rest until there is war. Do not forget why we need knights at all. There are times when we must protect the things we care about, and there are times that calls for violence. If you cannot do this, if you cannot slay the Countess and stay the wrathful hand of your people, then she will be proven right: The dream is dead.” His grip tightened. “Kill her and prove her wrong.”
Theodore watched Oboe stab Bassoon again in the theater of his mind, and how he wasn’t strong enough to be the one to do it. “I don’t think I can.”
“I saw your eyes when you chased me with that knife.” The Tall Man let go of him. “I can sense the fear you have of opening yourself to the monster inside you. I know you are fierce enough to do what needs to be done. Do not be afraid.” He reached out and pulled back the curtain of glass to create a door to the city. “Your mercy is still a part of you, just the same. Right now, Beira needs to be stopped, and that means I need you to be the bigger monster.”