Chapter 20: Palace

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-Jack

"So how do we get in?" We were crouched behind a dark purple stone, the closest one to the castle entrance.

Skai bit her lip. "Marrianna said there would be traps, but she never told us what any of them are."

"Maybe she was wrong. We're as close as we can be with cover, and we still haven't run into anything."

"What do you propose we do, then? Rush madly to the doors and hope we can somehow get them open before the cat things attack us?"

The black, orange, and steel cats that had followed us onto the castle grounds were prowling around, obviously looking for us. What was wrong with them, though? Why weren't they flying? You'd think that would give them a good view of us. And shouldn't they be able to smell us? I shook off the questions. Focus.

My eyes widened and I tilted my head back to look up at the reddish sky above me.

"Jack?" Skai asked.

"Maybe the traps are in the air!" I exclaimed, a bit too loudly.

Skai glared at me. "What?" she whispered.

"What if the traps are in the air?" I repeated, quietly. "Think about it. This is the Land of a Thousand Skies. I bet every creature here can fly. Why would he bother setting traps on the ground?"

Skai shook her head. "Just because they can fly, doesn't mean they always do. And anyway, what sort of traps could he set in the air?"

"Magic traps."

She shook her head. "Right."

"This whole place is magic. You've got to get used to things being unlogical."

"Unlogical?"

"Exactly." I looked around again, this time with new eyes. I still didn't know what I was looking for, but I was sure there must be some clue.

"What are you doing?" Skai asked.

"Looking."

"For what? We've already seen all there is to see."

"I'm looking for something different." Skai started to say something but I pushed ahead. "I'm looking for something that obviously doesn't fit. That sticks out in some way."

I didn't catch Skai's answer. I was way too excited. "Skai. Skai, look." I pointed at the doors.

"What?"

"The border around the doors. Don't you see? It's gold inlaid with stones. The same color stones as these giant ones!"

"Maybe he just likes the colors. What does any of this have to-"

"Don't you remember? The first one was blue, then green, then red, then gray, black, and then purple! That's the same order as around the doors! There's got to be a connection!"

Skai shook her head. "Okay. Let's say there is a connection. How would those colors help us avoid or neutralize this 'magic'?"

A moment after she said it, it hit me. Our eyes met.

"Green for natural," I said, heart pounding.

"And gray for machine," Skai whispered.

We stared at each other. "But what do the others mean?" Skai asked, brow furrowed, boot heel twisting into the glass ground. "The only other things Marrianna's song talked about were magical creatures."

I stared at her. "I don't remember her mentioning magical creatures."

"She didn't directly, but she mentioned herself, and you said she was one."

I grinned. "You're brilliant!"

She smiled, eyes sparkling, then sobered. "So green for things natural, gray for machine, and one of them for magical creatures. That leaves us with three others."

"I bet Hoshaldrian magicians have their own type of magic."

"Maybe. Which would they be?"

"Definitely black."

Skai snorted. "So what does it mean? That we have to have a person or creature or object from each of them to disable the traps?"

I looked down at her hand before taking it in mine. "Maybe we only need two."

"But Jack, we haven't got-"

I lifted up her hand to display her watch (cause you watch it, ha).

She looked up at me. "It. . . kind of makes sense."

I grinned. "I'll take that as a 'let's try it'"

"But Jack! We still need to figure out how we'll get in. You haven't forgotten those cat creatures, have you?"

I opened my mouth and closed it again.

She raised her eyebrows.

"No, of course not."

"Mmhm."

I shook my head, face reddening, and looked around the edge of the purple stone we still crouched behind. Uh oh.

"Um, Skai," I said, trying to keep my voice under control. "Get ready to run."

"What?"

"Run!"

I grabbed her hand and yanked her forward. At our sudden movement, the cats stalking us came to life, all five moving in almost perfect synchronization. Somehow, it was only then, when I looked back for the briefest instant, that I realized that the metal covered different sections of each one, just like with the snakes. What was going on?

It didn't take long for one to catch up to us, for me to feel a horrible shredding pain in my heel.

I went down.


A/N: Thanks for reading! Comment below: what did you like? Dislike? I'd love to hear from you!

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