My stomach sank. “What?!”
Gregory nodded. “Ribeye had some deal with a faerie, looks like. was punished for his involvement. That’s how he lost his eye. Says here you can probably trust him.” He shrugged.
I looked at Dichall, who shook his head, his mouth twisting in disgust.
“Well.” Jenna started walking out. “If he’s renounced faeries and has been punished, try to see it in your hearts to give him another chance. If we don’t forgive people and give them another chance, what’s the incentive to come back to the good?” And with a bright smile, she disappeared into the hallway.
Dichall harrumphed, and we left to get some sleep.
We never saw Gregory Bookkeeper again.
Gretchen came back with Dichall and me to our room and we settled in. I allowed myself to do some nesting to satisfy the instinct while Dichall lay down to try to relax, but Gretchen was fidgety. I walked over to her and put my paw on her arm. “Gretchen, what do you know about geopatterns?”
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “When you’re around a geopattern, if you don’t know where you are, exactly, you can pass into a similar-looking geopattern in another world. For example, you can go walking in a forest, and get distracted thinking about other things. Because you’re not really aware of where you are, you could walk the wrong way and wake up to find yourself in the forest of another world: Pananima. I’m a shaman. I can concentrate and help make it happen.”
“And Pananima is another world, like the Interstitium?”
“Not exactly. It’s a series of little worlds. We’re going to try to get to the right one.”
“What are they like?”
Gretchen sighed. “Each one is different. But they’re all weird. You’ll see. Let’s get some sleep.” She lay down and closed her eyes, about as firm an ‘I’m done talking’ I’d seen from her yet.
I shrugged and tried not to feel frustrated, then curled up next to Dichall and Gretchen, all of us keeping each other warm. Sleep sneered at me and refused to join us. I was up for an hour or so before it finally gave in and let me drift away, thinking about Pananima. And a certain traitorous dog, former faerie collaborator. And geopatterns.
And my litter of little pups that were coming.
The next day we went outside to find Waffles Ribeye. He looked at us with his one eye, and I remembered with a shudder how he lost his other one. “Hop on!”
Dichall pursed his lips and didn’t move.
I leaned in close and whispered to Dichall. “Let’s give him a chance. A little girl is missing. Maybe Waffles had something to do with it, but maybe he didn’t. Either way, we have to go check it out.”
Dichall nodded, let out a big breath, and climbed up into Waffles’s fur. The rest of us followed.
Climbing in, I learned that Pomeranians have a lot of fur, and we could get deep in there, warm and unseen by humans. Not a bad way to travel. Once we were all settled, he trotted off across the river into Quebec, toward his home. But when any humans started paying too much attention to him, he’d run away and take a different path, resulting in a walk that took three hours. We stopped halfway at a stream to get some water and to let Waffles rest. Finally, we arrived in the woods behind a bungalow, smoke rising from a chimney. We climbed off.
Waffles shook out his fur. “This is it. That’s my house.”
Dichall picked dog fur off his shirt. “You better get back, Mr. Ribeye. Your family is probably missing you. We’re going to take a look around.”
Waffles shook his head. “I want to come too.”
Dichall stepped so that he was between Waffles and me. “That’s all right, Mr. Ribeye.”
Waffles pointed his one eye at Dichall. “No, I want to come.”
“Why don’t you let us take a look around first, and then we’ll come—“
“Have you ever been a pet, Mr. Smileeyes?” A slight hint of desperation colored the dog’s tone of voice.
Dichall cocked his head. “No…”
“There’s a special bond between a dog and his owner. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Vivian means the world to me.”
Waffles lay down on the snow so he was more at our level, his voice quieter. He turned his head, keeping his good eye focused on Dichall. “Now, I have a better sense of smell than you, and I know what she smells like. And you, obviously, don’t. And I know you know that, too. So the only reason I can think of that you might want me to go back to my home and leave you out here, in the freezing cold alone is because you have an idea of what happened, and you’re going to check it out.” He sneezed, then shook snow out of his nose. “Sorry – though I appreciate you not wanting to risk my getting hurt. But she’s my person!”
A look of disapproval crawled over Dichall’s face.
I winced, then looked at Gretchen, threw up my arms and let them fall to my sides.
Gretchen cleared her throat. “You are somewhat correct. We do wish to look around, but we don’t think she’s in your woods any longer. In fact, we think Vivian might be trapped in another world. A world called Pananima.”
Waffles’s ears perked up at this. “What makes you think that?”
I gestured to the woods behind the house. “The woods back there. If you go wandering in them and get lost, you can step into a locus in Pananima. The Micean Council library had information on this very patch of woods. So we want to go see if we can find her.”
Waffles jumped to his feet, his tail wagging. “Great! So we know where she is. You can ride on me. You’re tiny, it’ll take you forever to get anywhere in these woods. Especially with all this snow. I can run and we’ll find her in a flash!”
Dichall was looking from me to Waffles, his mouth open in disbelief. I shrugged at him. He turned back to the dog, rubbed his paw over his face, then nodded. “Do you know these woods well, Mr. Ribeye?”
Waffles Ribeye stood erect, his nose high in the air. “I have spent years in these woods. I know them inside and out.”
Dichall nodded again, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. His eyes glittered with a look that told me he thought he’d won. “And that is precisely why we can not bring you. Entering a geopattern requires you to be lost. However, you, sir, can not get lost in these woods. Because you know the terrain so well, you will always know exactly where you are, and because of that you won’t be able to enter the geopattern.”
Waffles dropped his jaw. He’d been outwitted by our diplomat. You’re not the first, buddy. He looked to Gretchen, who nodded slowly.
The dog turned toward the house and trudged away, his feet crunching through the snow.
Dichall’s body visibly relaxed.
“Let’s get moving.” I gripped my cloak more tightly around me. “I’m freezing.”
We started into the woods, but a little bark from behind us brought us up short. We turned to see Waffles galloping through the snow in our direction. “Wait! What if I closed my eye?”
We mice all looked at each other as it dawned on us what he was thinking.
“If I close my eyes… I mean, my eye,” Waffles squeezed his good eye shut. “Then I can get lost. I won’t know where I am. I mean, I will, but only vaguely, from smells, but it’s not precise enough to know exactly where I am. We could enter the geopattern.”
“Waffles,” I pointed into the woods. “It’s not just that. Where we’re going is dangerous. We’re trained Councilmice, and we don’t want risk your getting killed. It’s too risky.”
Waffles snorted. “You think I can’t hold my own? I can fight better than mice, for crying out loud…”
We mice looked at each other. He has no idea.
Dichall was growing visibly annoyed. “I seriously doubt that. But there’s a third reason. Given your past, it’s just too dangerous to bring you to the land of the fae.”
Waffles’s eyes darkened. “Had to bring that up, did you?”
Dichall just crossed his arms and looked defiantly at the dog towering over us.
Waffles wiped his missing eye with a paw. “I paid the price. What I did was wrong, but I was forgiven, and I’ll thank you not to bring it up again. The Oversight Parliament deemed justice done and that the matter behind us. Do you think you know what’s right better than the owls who investigated my case?”
We stood in silence for a moment, the only sound the wind through the leafless trees.
“And what do you mean `land of the fae?’” Waffles gestured into the woods with his snout. “I thought that was the Interstitium, not Panama.”
We looked at Gretchen. “Ja, he’s right. Pananima—it’s not Panama, Waffles—is not fae country. It’s formed from druidic magic.”
“And maybe I could help you follow her scent to where it stops. Once we’re in the other world, in Pananima, I can track her scent.” He searched our faces.
I looked at my companions. Dichall shook his head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Gretchen looked thoughtful. “I think he makes some good points. Want to break the tie, Eve?”
A cold blast of air blew my cloak away from my body. I hugged it back around me.
“You know,” Waffles knelt down so we could climb on, “You’d be a lot warmer in my fur than wandering around in this woods without me. You want to freeze to death out here?”
All three of us mice were shivering. I jumped onto Waffles’s back and nestled into his fur. “He’s coming. Let’s go.”