The nine times Simon and Baz prank each other
and the one time they don’t
In hindsight, I probably should have expected a trap right away, from the moment I heard the voice. High and light and familiar, and shrill with fear. Agatha.
I’m running towards the Wavering Wood before I can take too much time to think about when I’ve last seen Agatha. If I’d been thinking, I would have remembered seeing her at lunch and in classes, and that she’d only gone back to her room after lunch to grab a book or something, not into the Wood. But here I am, following her voice, summoning the Sword of Mages as I run. Because what if?
“Agatha, where are you?”
“Where are you?”
I always thought that monster attacks only happened deep in the Wood, if you stumbled into a lair or something, not that they would seek people out, and not this close to the edge of the Wood.
But apparently I’m wrong.
Because before I’m even four trees into the shadows, something explodes against the back of my head and I drop like a stone.
When I come to I’m face-down in the dirt and something with deft fingers is securing the knots in the ropes around my wrists. I start to thrash and find my ankles bound as well, and I receive another smack in the head, which almost has me losing consciousness again. I wait for the stars to pass from my vision and go still, even though every part of me wants to kick, fight, escape. Instead I listen.
Whatever has its foot on my back (at least I think it’s a foot) is human-shaped, but that is not to say that it is human. It has long, spindly fingers that seem to shake as they tie. It breathes loudly and quickly, like it’s in a hurry. I hear a twig crack to my left, a little way off. Something else is here.
“There you have it, then.”
The voice is cool and familiar, and my heart sinks like a stone.
“As you said,” comes another voice, this time from the creature on my back. It’s gravelly and high like nails on glass.
“I didn’t lie.”
“You said you required no payment,” the higher voice hisses like it’s smiling.
“I stand by the statement.”
“Then you’re either lying, or you’re a fool.”
“A fool how?”
“A fool to come here.”
There’s a dull thud, and then the crunch of the leaves as the body hits the forest floor. I want to turn my head and look, but I can’t reveal that I’m conscious.
The harsh, loud breathing continues, this time scuttling around to my left, no doubt tying another set of wrists and ankles.
Something crawls across my hands, maybe a spider, and I shake it off without thinking.
I can actually feel it when the creature catches me moving.
“Nighty-night,” it sings in Agatha’s voice before its foot connects with my head and everything goes black.
I don’t open my eyes right away when I wake up, my head aches too much. Like there’s a needle from one temple through to the other.
I feel something shift against my back there’s the stink of sweat and long-dead meat. The air is cold and damp and for a minute I think I’m in the catacombs.
Then I remember.
I open my eyes slowly and to my relief there’s no blinding light to aggravate my headache. I’m staring at my navel, and I’m in a sitting position, my back against something warm and solid. Rope stings my wrists and when I lift my head I see it wrapped around my torso and ankles as well. The ground around me is cold stone and scattered with bones and tiny, sharp rocks. Moisture trickles down the stone walls, patchy with moss and spider webs.
A cave. It’s brought me to its cave.
And not just me.
Snow shifts against my back again and I have to roll my eyes, even though it burns. It tied us together. Figures.
“Waking up, are we?” comes the goblin’s rasping voice from behind me. I don’t turn my head to look at it, I already know what it looks like. Short, pale, gaunt and wide-eyed, with graying brown hair in a mess on the top of its head. An old-looking suit that’s covered in mud and bits of dried-on… well, let’s just say that goblins aren’t elegant diners.
“Let us go,” Snow growls at it, and I can picture his defiant glare. It’s been directed at me more than once. It’s actually kind of cute, if I weren’t so often on the receiving end, I’d turn to mush inside. As it is, I can’t help but smile a little. Stupid, brave Snow. No wonder he’s the Mage’s Heir.
“Why in the name of magic would I do that?” the goblin laughs. “Look at me. Look at you. You’re not just any old snack, are you? You’re the Mage’s Heir.”
“Which is exactly why you should let us go before you get hurt.”
“You’re not going to kill me.”
“That so? Why not?”
“Because I’m not going to kill you.”
I can almost feel Snow balk in confusion.
“Not yet, anyway. I’ll say it again: you’re the Mage’s Heir,” the goblin goes on, “and do you know what happens to the lucky goblin who kills the Mage’s Heir?”
Snow doesn’t say it out loud, but he knows. I know.
“So why wait until now to attack?” Snow questions.
“Unfortunately, your little school has some pretty strong magical defenses. I couldn’t get close enough until someone let me through. You can thank your little friend for that.”
I grit my teeth and don’t say anything.
“Why not just kill us now, then?” Snow spits. “You’ve got us where you want us.”
“Ah, but who would that convince?” the goblin chuckles. “Anyone could claim to have killed you, and believe me, many have tried. No, a simple claim won’t do. You’re coming with me to the goblin court, where I will kill you, and your meddling friend, in front of many witnesses, and no one will be able to deny that I have killed the Mage’s Heir.”
“And you’ll become the Goblin King,” Snow finishes.
“As is my right.”
“You won’t get away with it.” I roll my eyes again at the cliché.
“Spare me the theatrics,” the goblin groans and I hear the flick of a switchblade. Snow cries out in pain and jerks back, his head hitting mine and my eyes explode again. A scent fills the air, familiar and terrifying. Blood. His blood.
It’s a good thing he can’t see me because my fangs pop instantly at the smell.
Snow yells again and I don’t know what the goblin is doing to him but it’s making my stomach sick.
“Stop,” I growl.
Snow gives a gasp of pain and the smell of his blood grows stronger.
“I said, stop.” This time I shout.
The goblin stops, leaving me to pant away the sting of its knife in my shin. My head is pounding from the many blows in the past half-hour (maybe more, I don’t know how long I was out after the kick) and blood trickles down my cheek to my neck.
I don’t know if Baz is trembling against my back, or if it’s me doing the trembling.
The goblin pockets the switchblade and turns its attentions on Baz, kneeling beside him and speaking close to his ear.
“What’s wrong?” it sneers. “Don’t like the smell?” It drags a grimy finger across the cut on my cheek and waves my blood in Baz’s face. I feel him go tense and still, like he’s holding his breath.
“I’m surprised at you, boy,” the goblin continues, “weren’t you the one who set all this up? And now you don’t want me to hurt him?”
“Just leave him alone,” Baz seethes.
“Make up your mind,” the goblin tells him. “Or would you rather I paid you more attention?” There’s a crackle and I turn my head to see the tiny fireball the goblin has conjured in its hand.
I’m feeling more and more sure that Baz is a vampire by the minute, because even though he’s obviously trying not to react, he shrinks back from the flame automatically. If so much as a spark hits his skin…
“Get away from him,” I spit at the creature, “it’s me you want.”
“And it always has to be about you,” Baz pipes up, sarcastic to the last.
The goblin stares at me for a long second before extinguishing the fireball in its fist and standing up again.
“You boys will want to get some rest,” it says, “we’ll be leaving at sundown.”
Goblins are nocturnal creatures, and this one has been up pretty late in the day, so it doesn’t take long for the wretched thing to fall asleep. Somehow it doesn’t look as peaceful in its sleep as Snow always does.
“Alright Baz?” Snow whispers to me.
“What the fuck are you asking me that for?”
“Thought I’d try some compassion, since we’re in the same situation, but clearly it’s a waste of my time. Fuck you.”
I feel him whip his head around. “You have got to be joking.”
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“This is your idea of a practical joke?” he asks incredulously. “Selling me out to a goblin? And where does your own capture play into this brilliant plan?”
“It doesn’t,” I admit, “I was going to kill it before it could do you any real harm.”
“I thought so.”
“It’s not even your turn, you twat.”
“Thought I’d go for the element of surprise. Besides, you haven’t made your move yet today.”
“Clearly you haven’t checked your closet yet.”
My head drops forward and I sigh. “Great.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“Seriously though, you’ve been slacking off. Where were you on Monday?”
He doesn’t answer.
“I heard you.”
A defeated sigh.
“You know those terrible nightmares you had that night?”
It takes a second for the penny to drop, but when it does it’s louder than a bomb.
“It wasn’t supposed to go that far.”
“You cursed me into having nightmares?” He sounds angry enough to burst into flames, which I’m not convinced he couldn’t actually do if he lost control.
“It was an accident.”
“So you just accidentally formulated a curse to attack me in my sleep.”
“You were only supposed to have minor nightmares,” I insist, “not start yelling in terror.”
“Sorry,” he snarls, “did I keep you up?”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“I cannot fucking believe you.”
“You took my voice,” I shoot back, unable to keep the childish defensiveness out of my whisper. “That’s practically unforgiveable. And now you’ve almost gotten both of us killed, and you didn’t even know that I was responsible for the nightmares.”
“The moment we’re out of this cave, you are dead.”
“So if you wanted me to have nightmares, why did you wake me up? Why not just let me suffer?”
“Because you were terrified, Baz,” I say like it should be obvious. “You were crying out for your mum and it was awful.”
He’s quiet for a second before replying. “What else was I calling out for?”
“Nothing. You just kept saying ‘no’ a lot.”
Baz lets out a long, shuddering sigh like everything he dreamt about is rushing back. They must have been some of the worst nightmares of his life the way he’s reacting.
I should have held him. I should have comforted him. I wanted to comfort him. But I didn’t. Because I was too proud. I was too scared.
I want to comfort him now, but we’re tied up. That and he’d probably vaporize me if I tried.
I take a deep breath. “It was wrong of me to give you nightmares. I should have known better, or I should have told you that it was me, I…” I’m almost too afraid to say it in a register that he’ll hear. “I’m sorry, Baz.”
He’s quiet for a long time.
“Don’t expect me to forgive you.”
“But thank you.”
I breathe a sigh of relief.
“So,” Simon ventures after a heavy moment, “what now?”
“We wait for the goblin to kill us.”
“Yeah, right.” I can practically hear his eye-roll. “We need to get out of here.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“We’ll need to work together.”
Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes. “How inspiring, Snow, I thought you said you had a plan.”
“Any plan we come up with is going to require teamwork,” he explains in a whisper. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re literally tied to each other.”
“I had noticed, thanks.”
“So, we’ll have to work together to get out.”
“You have a sword,” I reason, “can’t you use it to cut us free?”
“I can’t summon it without spearing you,” he says, “it would appear in my hand, the blade would probably end up in your stomach.”
Two birds with one stone, my mind supplies darkly, but I push the thought away. “Maybe I could burn through the ropes.”
“Yeah, and send us both up in flame. Great idea.”
“Got anything better?”
“Where’s your wand?”
“Can you reach it?”
“If I could, we’d already be out of here.”
“If I can get it to you, could you spell the ropes off?”
“Any chance to get your hands on my arse, eh Snow?”
“Yes, I could spell the ropes off.”
“Alright, what then? Sneak out?”
I cast a glance at the sleeping goblin. “Not until we deal with Goblin King over here.”
“You have a plan?”
A grin spreads across my face. “Oh, I have a plan.”
Baz insists that I make a noisy show of escaping, to wake the goblin. Why he would want to do that, I can’t imagine (he hasn’t told me all of the plan, which should probably make me suspicious), but he seems to be getting more excited about whatever he’s going to do by the second. The smirk I’m so familiar with is glued to his face, but instead of making me feel sick, I’m buzzing like I’ve had too much sugar. Maybe because he’s not directing it at me this time, but sharing it with me.
I have to wonder why we’ve never teamed up before. Granted, we’re usually at each other’s throats, but something about this, the working together, the shaky alliance, is making me giddy. I’m almost giggling as I throw the ropes to the cave floor.
Baz has already disappeared from view as the goblin wakes up, turning to find me frozen on my way to the cave entrance.
“Where do you think you’re going?” it sneers.
“Goblins,” I shake my head, “you really are as stupid as they say.”
The goblin pulls its blade from its pocket again, but doesn’t respond with any more than a growl.
“You see,” I go on, “you were smart to take us both.”
I can’t help but watch Baz as he appears behind the creature, silent as a wraith.
“But you were a fool,” I grin, “to leave us both alive.”
A flame appears in Baz’s hand. In a flash he wraps an arm around the creature’s neck and shoves the fireball into its open mouth.
Its eyes widen and steam pours out of its ears as the fireball takes the path of least resistance: right down the throat. The human illusion starts to disintegrate and I see flashes of the goblin’s true face, gray and leathery with red eyes and sagging, pointed ears. It struggles but Baz holds on tight, until the thrashing stops and the goblin droops in his arms, and he drops it, limp and smoking, to the ground.
He hasn’t looked away from me the entire time.
I haven’t looked away from him.
It’s still light outside when we emerge from the cave, but we’re clearly much deeper into the Wood than before. I don’t recognize anything.
“Hang on, I’ll climb a tree and get our bearings,” I tell Simon.
He gives me a quizzical look and unfurls his wings without a word.
I shrug and take my place at the bottom of a tree. “I bet I could still beat you.”
“Come off it.”
“You haven’t seen me climb a tree.”
“And you haven’t seen me fly.”
We stare each other down for a second, tasting this new dynamic. Still rivalry, but different. Less hateful, more fun.
I leap into the tree without warning.
I can see his eyes widen as he takes in my speed, and he kicks off the ground an instant later, but we reach the halfway point around the same time. He beats me by seconds, perching at the top like a bird while I scramble to the branch below him.
“See anything?” I ask, catching my breath.
He scans for a moment before pointing behind us. “There’s Watford. Not a bad view from here,” he says as I climb up a branch to meet his level, “we should climb trees more often.”
I peer the few inches up at him, a strange expression on my face. “We?”
Simon meets my gaze suddenly, like he’s realized what he’s said. “I, um… well, whatever,” he stammers.
Is his face going red from flying? Or from…
I’m not used to looking up to meet his eyes, and he’s not usually framed by the pure white sky and the smell of pine and mountain air.
I’m not used to him looking at me the way he is now.
I’m not used to being this close to Baz, or holding his gaze for this long, or letting down my guard with him, or seeing him framed by pine branches and treetops, or wanting to touch his hair…
There’s a fresh scar on his cheek from the goblin’s blade.
His hair is black again, and I still want to touch it.
His lips part slightly, and my heart stops entirely.
I don’t know what I’m doing.
But I lean in…
I’m just closing my eyes as the bough breaks beneath me and I fall through the branches.
He only falls about halfway down, but he hits just about every branch on the way. I jump from my perch and dive after him, grabbing onto a limb where he stops his descent, groaning.
“Perfect, thanks Snow.”
We both climb the rest of the way down and head back towards the castle. We don’t speak, and my head is still spinning with everything that’s just happened, not to mention what’s almost happened.
“So,” I venture, “who’s turn is it again?”
Baz shrugs. “Tomorrow’s the first of April.”
We look at each other for a moment.
“Fair game?” I suggest.
He nods. “Fair game.”
We walk another few minutes in silence.
“So, you’re not going to kill me for the nightmares then?”
Baz shoots me a sideways glance, but he’s smiling. A real smile, not a sneer. Genuine.