“We’re glad to have you with us, Miss Valvye,” Twila said.
“Oh… um… please, if it’s not too much trouble, call me Lilly,” Lilly said.
“Okay, Lilly,” Twila said. “You made it pretty far on your own.”
“Well, actually…” Lilly began “I… kind of have some help.”
“Oh?” Twila asked. “Did you get separated?”
“Well, no,” Lilly said. “He waited outside with his dogs.”
“I see,” Twila said. “Well, I’d like to examine that thing we killed.” She glanced over at it. “I’ve never heard of such a creature before. So, why don’t you go invite your friend to join us?”
“Well, um, that is…”
“I’ll go with you,” Axra said. “There’s no need to worry.” Her eyes met Twila’s. “If that’s okay with you.”
“Sure,” Twila said. “I’ll set up a barrier and have Fang to guard me.”
Axra nodded. She and Lilly began walking towards the surface while Twila began her barrier spell. They moved in silence until Axra was certain that Twila was out of hearing range.
“What are you doing here?” Axra asked. “Didn’t my dads tell you to stay away from me?”
“Well… yes,” Lilly said. “But… they, you know, wanted me to… find and protect you.”
“I see,” Axra said. “Who else did they send?”
“Velvet,” Lilly said.
“Who?” Axra asked.
“He’s… you know… the guy with… His dogs do his work for him,” Lilly said.
“Oh, the half-dwarf,” Axra said. They moved in silence for a while longer. “I don’t suppose I can get you to take him and return to Nervius?” Axra asked.
“Oh… I… I’m sorry, but I couldn’t,” Lilly said.
“I thought as much,” Axra said. She stopped in mid-stride. Lilly took a few steps before stopping as well. She stared meekly at the floor, fiddling with her fingers.
“Lilly,” Axra said. “I will allow you and Velvet to accompany me on two conditions. If you can’t fulfill these conditions, I will knock you unconscious and leave without you. You can tell my fathers that I got the drop on you and they won’t punish you. Understood?” Lilly stared directly at her, but simply nodded. “First, you must leave the scrying gem behind.”
“Scrying gem?” Lilly asked, her gaze shifting to the side. “What gem? I… I don’t know what you mean.”
“Lilly!” Axra cried.
“Oh… It’s just… your dads… they’ll be really mad if I leave it,” Lilly said.
“I’ll take responsibility,” Axra said. Lilly reached a slim hand into her bag, pulling out a glowing green gem. She dropped it on the floor, shattering it. Axra nodded. “Good. Second, you mustn’t tell anyone who I am or who my fathers are. As far as anyone we meet is concerned, we met for the first time in these tunnels. Especially Twila. Understood?”
“Oh, of course,” Lilly said. “I’ll make sure Velvet understands too.”
The two hurried outside where Velvet was dozing in his wagon. His dogs piling together in the shade. They looked up and wagged their tails when they saw Lilly.
Lilly walked over and shook Velvet.
He took his cap from his face and looked around. “You found her, alright,” he stated. “We going home now?”
“No,” Lilly said. “We have to accompany her. She… She’s travelling with a friend.”
“What a drag,” Velvet muttered.
“And… one very important thing,” Lilly said. “We… we can’t let anyone know she’s a princess.”
“Kay,” Velvet said. “So, what now?”
“We…” Lilly began. “We go underground… and protect her… but we can’t let anyone know we’re protecting her for, you know, a specific reason.”
“Got it,” Velvet said. “Let’s go then.”
The three headed back inside the ruin. Much to Velvet’s annoyance, the dogs couldn’t pull the wagon inside due to the debris cluttering the floor and he was forced to leave it behind and walk. His dogs flanked him on each side, wagging their tails and panting while he grumbled about how much of a drag the situation was.
Axra didn’t pay attention to him. She was worried that one of them would mess up and tell Twila the truth about her. She didn’t want Twila to treat her with deference or like some delicate noble.
They returned to find the multi-legged creature’s carcass cut open. Twila was examining its insides with a long pair of gloves. Behind her, an ink-dipped quill jotted notes on a sheet of paper.
“Oh, you guys are back,” she said. “I’m just finishing up.” She removed the gloves and tossed them to the side. Then she poured the water from a canteen over her arms to wash away the bits of gore that had managed to find their way to her flesh.
“You must be Lilly’s friend,” she said. “I’m Twila Magia and this is my dragon, Fang.” She extended her hand towards him. “What’s your name?”
“Velvet Parse,” he stated, taking her hand and briefly shaking it.
“And your friends?” Twila asked, glancing at the dogs.
“He… he never bothered naming them,” Lilly said.
“So, they don’t have names?” Twila asked.
“Thinking up names is a hassle,” Velvet muttered. “You can name em if you want, though.”
“Okay,” Twila said. “I will.” She studied each of them for a moment. “Vicki, Jaime, Leela, Turlough, Ace and Lucy,” she stated, pointing to each of them in turn.
“You’re good at that,” Velvet noted.
“We should be going,” Axra suggested.
“Agreed,” Twila said. “We’ll get away from this mess and find a place to setup camp. Tomorrow, we can find out where the tunnel goes.”