Waffles slipped silently behind and then past Gombree until we were out of sight.
Although the building consisted of a continuous spiral floor going all the way up, it had been divided into a series of room-like spaces, some separated by walls with doors but most set apart by the creative use of decorations, which, so far, were always open. After moving forward the equivalent of several floors, Waffles sniffed the air and his ears perked up. “I smell her! I smell Vivian!” He broke into a run.
“Slow down!” I yanked two pawfuls of fur to stay on him.
He charged around a corner and slid to a halt just inside a room-space.
There, dressed in pink ruffles and lace, sitting on a bed with a high, pink canopy and more lace than her dress, sat a young girl. She looked up from the doll she was cuddling and stared across the room at us.
I blinked. I was no expert on human development, but she sure looked older than four to me.
“Vivian!” Waffles barked, hopped, wagged his tail so hard I almost flew off.
I yanked his fur hard again.
He ignored me even harder.
A smile brightened Vivian’s face and she dropped the doll. “Waaaaffles!” She leaped down from the bed and picked him up.
We mice vaulted off in a desperate bid to not get crushed by her embrace. We regrouped out of the way, then stood and watched Waffles lick her face. I felt warm inside. I smiled at Dichall and took his paw in mine. “Thank goodness we found her.” He smiled back at me, then hugged me and didn’t let go.
Vivian sat down on the bed, placed Waffles beside her and started to introduce him to her doll.
Waffles barked down at us. “Let’s get her out of here!”
Argeed. We clambered up the bedspread to join them, and Dichall invoked his veilring. “Hello, Vivian.”
Vivian’s eyes widened and she blinked, but nodded at him. “Hello…”
“We,” he gestured at himself and then at us, “are friends of your dog Waffles here. We’re here to take you home.”
Vivian blinked at Dichall. “Home?”
He flashed her a smile and did his best imitation of an excited human. “Yes! Back home to your mom and dad!”
Vivian frowned and twisted her mouth like there was something sour in it. “No.” She wrinkled her nose and glared at him. “I live here now. I’m staying here with my new mommy.”
We all blinked and stared at each other. Dichall shrugged at me.
I gestured toward her doll while invoking my veilring. “That’s a pretty dolly you have there. Don’t you want to show it to your parents?”
She glanced down at the doll and chewed on her lip for a second, then shook her head and locked eyes with me. “Nope. I’m a big girl here. I don’t wanna be a baby again.”
I stared back at her for several seconds, at a complete loss for words, then something clicked. I looked at Waffles and released my veilring invocation so that Vivian couldn’t understand us. “Waffles, does she look older to you?”
He’d settled down by now and was happily laying on the bed beside her. It took him a moment to respond. “She does.” He lifted his head, sniffed at Vivian’s hand, then gave me his attention. “How—is it some illusion?”
Gretchen closed her eyes and concentrated. “Hold on, I will use my magical sight.” After frowning for a moment she opened her eyes. “It’s not an illusion. She’s still young, but her body has been transformed by… something.”
“Vivian,” I invoked the veilring again and turned back to our complication. “What do you mean that you’re a big girl?”
Vivian’s face burst into a wide smile, showing a missing tooth. “They give me magic lemonade. And when I drink it, and then I go to sleep, and then I wake up, and I’m taller!”
Uh oh. “Who gives you the lemonade?”
“Miss Magnitrude. She’s a princess. And I’m going to be one, too! She told me.”
As if on cue, we heard footsteps approaching.
Think quick, Eve… “Vivian, we’re playing hide and seek with Magnitrude and her friends. We’re going to hide under the bed. Don’t tell anyone we’re here, okay?”
Vivian’s face lit up with another smile. “Okay!”
The four of us scrambled beneath the bed as the footsteps got louder. Between the floor and the bedspread, a pair of boot toes appeared.
“How are you this morning, my dear?” The voice belonged to the same creature that was screaming about a fly not long before. Had to be Magnitrude.
Gretchen crept forward and peeked underneath of the edge of the bedspread. A moment later, she jumped and scuttled backwards, then sat up and shuddered.
I looked at her, gesturing and?
Gretchen just held up a digit. Wait.
Magnitrude’s voice was softer with Vivian than it had been with Gombree. “Hello, dearie. I’m going to have Mr. Gombree prepare you some lunch.”
“Can I have grilled cheese?”
“Oh, of course, Vivian! We have a tree that grows grilled cheese. It comes off the branch hot! I’ll have him pick you one.”
“Thank you, Miss Magnitrude!”
The boots vanished from under the bed and we heard footsteps receding into the distance. Gretchen gathered us in a tight circle under the bed. “She’s… it’s… horrible. There’s some sort of illusion on that… that… thing,” she shuddered again. “It’s got a normal human body, but its head is like that of a huge chicken. A huge, one-eyed, chicken head…”
I nodded. “Let’s tell Vivian.”
Dichall tapped his chin. “I don’t know. I don’t think she trusts us. I think I messed up with her, and now she might not believe us if we told her.”
Gretchen rubbed her eyes. “Even if she did believe us, she might get really scared and do something unpredictable.”
I sighed. “Right. Like running away, screaming.”
Waffles had a wild look in his eyes. “What’s wrong with that? We want her out of here!” Poor dog, so close to getting his human back…
I looked back down the passage, picturing a chaotic exit. “She’d be caught. Probably locked away to keep her from running away again. We’d need to distract Magnitrude and Gombree, and sneak her out while—”
Vivian must have heard her dog whining. “Waffie, come back out. She’s gone.”
He snorted as he crawled out from under the bed. “Well, if Pomeranians are good for anything, it’s creating a distraction. Figure something out. We’re not leaving her here!”
“We need her on board, in any case.” I started walking out from under the bed. “And by the time we get back who knows how old she will look. Let’s see if she believes us, and if she does, we can make a distraction plan to get her out of here.”
We jumped back up on the bed and I invoked my veil ring. “Vivian, I know Miss Magnitrude seems nice, but she’s not what you think she is. It’s not safe here, and we need to get you home.”