Chapter Thirty-Three: Cooperation
Vandi was going outside of the castle much more often and this was starting to concern Victor. It reminded him of his master’s “project.” He would’ve liked to express this concern to Old Forestar but it seemed the elf had other matters to attend to.
It was after the second week of Vandi’s frequent absences that Old Forestar grabbed Victor’s hand without warning. He ignored Victor’s confusion and dragged him down into the dungeons of the castle. He moved swiftly and without a hint of being disoriented.
Victor looked around. How was it possible that in a castle made of ice, he found a place that looked even colder than the floors above the surface? Old Forestar’s breath appeared in brief puffs of white.
At last Old Forestar stopped before a door. It was encrusted with diamonds that blended in seamlessly with the ice crystals around them. Victor could see vague shapes on the other side.
Old Forestar rapped on the door five times. After a moment, he was answered by two more knocks and the door opened. The young half-orc on the other side opened the door just enough so that Old Forestar could slip through.
Once the doorman noticed Victor, his face paled. He turned his head to the others in the room.
“Guys!” he said with a slight crack in his voice. “Guys, he brought that statue thing with him!”
Over a dozen heads turned toward Old Forestar and Victor. The youngest girl there let out a shriek of fear. Half of the people there leaped out of their chairs. It seemed that Victor’s mere presence had interrupted some sort of conference between the castle’s servants.
“What the hell is that doing here, Forestar?” said the dwarf at the head of the table. He was covered in large scars. Victor recalled him being called Flint a few times.
Old Forestar glared at him and made a few quick signs. He grabbed Victor’s hand to pull him into the room further.
“Fucking...” Flint snapped his head toward a halfling girl with braids. “Hanna!”
She nearly fell out of her chair from how hard she flinched. “Y-Yes?”
“What’d he say?” he growled.
“R-Right...” she said meekly. “He said ‘He’s with me.’”
“Well, that’s obvious,” Flint scoffed. “But why?”
Old Forestar gave him a few more signs. “‘He’s like us,’” Hanna translated.
“I am not being ratted out by a goddamn statue,” Flint said. “Get it out of here.”
Old Forestar heavily sat down. He gave Flint a solid glare and pulled out the chair beside him. Victor rather timidly sat down beside him.
Flint stormed out of his chair to approach Victor’s seat. Victor instinctively flinched back, throwing a hand protectively over his gem. Flint was quickly stopped, however, by Old Forestar standing up so suddenly that his chair fell over. The elf stood at his full height as he towered over the dwarf.
Everyone turned to the older elven woman at the other end of the table. A stern look peaked out from beneath a shock of white hair. Her tattered ears barely made themselves known. She let out a sigh that let the age on her face become visible.
“Sorry, Madrina,” Flint huffed. He slipped back to his chair.
“Forestar, does it know how to sign?” When he shook his head, she shrugged. “I don’t see the problem in keeping it here then. Now that everyone’s present, we should get back to the topic at hand.”
Hanna raised her hand. “Um... That fairy’s been doing something in one of the dungeon’s rooms. When I walked by it, I heard noises... But when I tried to go inside, he yanked me away.”
“Do you think he’s experimenting on something?” Flint asked.
Several of the servants murmured among themselves. Some of them noted aloud the similarities to things that they’d done. Then a gnome with glasses stood up.
“If he’s experimenting and doing this, why aren’t any fairies bursting in and stopping him?” he asked. “They always know when someone’s doing some magic bullshit.”
"Freya always knew when someone’s doing magic bullshit,” Madrina corrected. “She was clairvoyant; the rest of them aren’t.”
“So technically,” the doorman said, “we have more liberties than before.”
“Yeah, technically,” Flint scoffed. “Technically, we have a better chance of escaping now.”
Madrina’s face fell into a disappointed frown. “Flint...”
“We can’t just stay here!” he shouted. “Freya might’ve been bad,” he gestured to the scars on his body, “but at least we didn’t have to worry about her turning around and experimenting on us! We need to go now.”
Old Forestar tapped him on the shoulder. He signed him several things while giving him the most exasperated look he could muster.
“He says you need a plan first,” Hanna translated.
“The plan is to get out before that fairy comes back.”
“That’s not a plan,” the half-orc said. “That’s the result of the plan.”
"You come up with something then, Reggie!”
Victor looked around at all the people there. Fairies captured people who did illegal magic. So logically, everyone there were knew magic, right? Why didn’t they just use that?
Victor tapped Old Forestar’s shoulder. He pantomimed casting a spell and the elf’s face dawned with realization. He quickly signed several things to Hanna.
“The statue wants to know why we don’t just use magic to get out.”
“Don’t yell at me! I’m just translating!”
Flint narrowed his eyes at Victor. “What are you getting at?”
Victor tried his best to convey the teleportation spell. After several minutes of frustrated guessing on everyone’s part, they finally understood.
“Why don’t we just teleport?”
“Because of the chance that the fairies will notice.”
“They’ll only notice if we all go at once.”
“Freya isn’t here anymore to tell them where we go!”
“Let’s just go!”
Madrina slammed a hand down on the table. Immediately, everyone stopped talking. She crossed her arms and looked Victor in the eye.
“How do you suppose we do this?” she asked. “It’ll take a lot of energy just to teleport two people off the island. How far we go depends on the weight being carried and the magical force of the user.”
“You’re taking advice from it?” Flint asked.
“When you’re desperate,” Madrina said somberly, “you have to be willing to accept help from odd places.”
Flint crossed his arms. “Fine.”
She turned back to Victor. “So, any ideas?”
Victor simply pointed to his chest.
Everyone now noticed the gemstone lodged there. A few gasps filled the room and a few more enlightened “Ohhhh”s followed.
“That explains a lot,” Flint said.
“What is it?” Hanna asked.
“It’s a philosopher’s stone,” he answered.
The gnome adjusted his glasses. ”Actually, it’s called a Stone of Life.”
"Alchemists call it a philosopher’s stone.”
“Guys, does it really matter what it’s called? It’s a way out.”
There were voices raising and people raising up from their chairs. Victor and Old Forestar glanced over at each other nervously. In that moment, the gnome reached over and pulled the gem out of Victor’s chest.
Old Forestar’s eyes widened for a second before he leapt out of his chair. The gnome was knocked over with a shriek. Reggie ran away from the door to pry the elf off of him.
“Vance!” Madrina said in shock.
Reggie lifted Old Forestar up by his armpits. He didn’t struggle though. The Stone of Life was cradled against his chest.
“Princeton,” Flint said to the gnome. “What the fuck?”
Princeton stood up. His eyes were still staring out in surprise even as he readjusted his glasses. He took a not-so-subtle step away from Old Forestar.
“I was just... Um... Getting it over with,” Princeton explained. “As a gnome, I wield more magical force than the lot of you.” His eyes darted over to the elf dangling above the ground. “Well, more than those of us who can still talk. I didn’t expect him to hit a man with glasses.”
“The glasses thing doesn’t really apply here because we already know that you’re not weak,” Hanna stated.
“That rule’s there because my glasses could break on my face and blind me,” Princeton said dryly. “I’m not sure where that stereotype came from.”
“We’re getting off topic again,” Madrina sighed. “Forestar, why did you take the gem from him so... aggressively?”
Old Forestar pointed over at Victor. Everyone finally noticed that the statue hadn’t moved an inch since the gem was removed.
“You broke it,” Hanna said.
“I did not! The animation spell probably just wore off!”
“Reggie, put Forestar down.”
Right as his feet reached the floor, Old Forestar walked over to Victor and put the gem back in his chest. Victor jolted back to life and looked around.
“Ohhhh. So the gem animates it!”
Madrina’s face hardened before it relaxed once again. “So one of us will have to come back with the gem each time a group of us escape.”
Flint pinched the bridge of his nose. “Is this really the plan we’re going with?”
“I’m afraid we’re going with the statue’s plan.”