“Roberta!” Celice called as she swung open the door to the Scrollery.
“Can I help you?” a youthful female voice answered from inside.
In the middle of racks of scrolls sat a single desk, piled high with rolled parchment. A pair of head-tendrils and a cascade of curly black hair ducked behind the stack of documents, and a blue Acara came out the other side with an armful of scrolls. “Please, come in, we’re open,” she said, carefully fitting a scroll onto the pile and then cringing as the whole mound shifted, but seemed to settle without incident.
“Roberta, it’s me, Celice Anfel,” the Lupe said. “You know, from your alchemy class.” She strode confidently up to the desk and adjusted her spectacles.
“Oh?” Roberta looked up from her work and blinked for a moment, then gave her former classmate a friendly grin and said, “Oh! Hi, Celice! I just got a new shipment in from Qasala—would you care to take a look?” She plucked a wax-sealed scroll from her arm and began analysing the pile to see where it would fit best.
“I’m not here for shopping today, Bobbie,” Celice said, ushering her companions forward. “These are my friends, Hyren and Blynn. They’re looking for their brother and owner.”
Roberta glanced over at them before lifting herself up on her toes to reach the top of the pile, sticking out one leg for balance. “Haven’t had any owners come in today,” she said. Slowly, she lowered the scroll onto the very top of the precarious stack.
“They’re being held in the Werelupe Burrows,” Celice said.
Roberta dropped the scroll, which sent the entire pile crashing down in a clatter of wooden spools. The princess yelped as she lost her balance and reams of parchment flew everywhere, burying her in a pile of paper. A moment later, she sat up, one scroll draped across her head, and shouted, “What?!”
The Lupe folded her paws in the draping green sleeves of her robe and said, “Their brother contacted me by vision last night. I tried to do a few tracing spells to confirm his location, but they were all warded off. But I have no reason to believe he was lying. Their family has a… history with Werelupes, so we find it highly likely.”
“But the Burrows were destroyed!” Roberta sputtered, picking herself up and leaning over her desk. “Someone made a report of that area two weeks after Tor and I recovered Illusen’s Charm—the report said the Burrows had been completely demolished, with no trace of any recent Werelupe activity!”
Celice leaned in so their noses were nearly touching. “Oh, Roberta, Roberta,” she said. “What’s the one thing they always drilled into us at the University?”
The Acara wrinkled her muzzle and said, “Never use Electrical Motes in the swimming pool?”
“Always check your sources,” the Lupe said. She reached into her sleeve and pulled out a sheaf of papers that she slapped on the desk. “The informant, according to these ferry logs, was actually in Kiko Lake during the time he reported the Burrows’ purported destruction.” She flipped through the papers and drew one out. “He’s also a registered member of the Thieves’ Guild. Not exactly reliable.”
Roberta’s eyes widened and her ears drooped. “No...” she breathed. “I always thought it was odd that everyone assumed Tor and I brought down the place, but I never really stopped to question it.”
“We need you to tell us how to get there,” Hyren said. “And we can use any help you might be able to offer. Can your uncle provide us any knights?”
“If you can get past all the red tape,” the princess said. “I hate to say it, but things take forever around here. Especially because nobody thinks the Burrows exist anymore—we haven’t had trouble from Werelupes in years. Uncle Hagan might not even believe us.”
“Well—will you come with us?” Blynn asked.
Roberta gave her a helpless look. “I would,” she said, “but I’m afraid I have a previous engagement. Tor and I are headed to Greenfield after my shift’s over. Seems they’ve been having some trouble with sky pirates who joined forces with a local group of witches, and they’re disrupting glider commerce. They specifically contacted Tor, and if magic’s involved he’ll need my help. Sorry.”
“We can take the Werelupes on by ourselves,” Hyren said. “We’ve fought them before. We fought them and won. And we’ll do it again.” He just hoped he could do so in his smaller form. True, he still had his combat skills, but what if that wasn’t enough? The Grundo placed a fist to his chest, trying to cram the doubts into the back of his mind.
“Best of luck to you,” Roberta said. She pulled out a piece of blank parchment. “I’ll draw you a map, as best as I can remember it. That should help. I sure hope you succeed. Somebody needs to put those Werelupes in their place.”
“And it might as well be us,” Celice said with a grin.
Hyren looked up at her. “’Us’?” he asked. “Are you coming, too?”
“Of course I am!” Celice said as Roberta worked. “Pharazon is my friend—writing papers can wait! Besides, from the historical accounts of Werelupes, they’re not magic-users, so having me with you should give you a huge advantage.”
“I thought you said there were wards when Pharazon contacted you,” Blynn said.
“Well—well, there were,” Celice replied, “but maybe the Werelupes got a hold of a warding token, or… or something.” Her ear flicked nervously, as though she was trying to convince herself as well.
Roberta set her quill aside and picked up the map. “Here,” she said, spreading the parchment wide. On a chart of the greater Meridell region, she’d traced a thick red line. “While I’m a little fuzzy on the details, it’s not impossible to find if you know which landmarks to look out for. It’s in the mountains between Meridell and Brightvale, to the northeast. Don’t take the main passes—they don’t run anywhere near it.”
She pointed at the spot on the map where her guideline diverged from the highway connecting the two kingdoms. “A half day past Market Town, there’s a turnout onto a network of paths used by woodspets. That’ll take you into the deep forest and up into the foothills. It’s easy to miss, so keep an eye out for the break in the rocks near the waterfall.”
Her paw moved further along the crimson line. “You’ll know you’re on the right track when you pass some stone ruins—you’ll want to turn due north from those. It won’t be far from there. Go through the marsh and take the path east from the hut on the hill.”
Blynn studied the map. “I thought you said you were fuzzy on the details,” the Zafara said.
“I am,” Roberta said, “but Tor and I scoured that area for two weeks before we found the Burrows. There’s a reason nobody bothered to confirm that report. This is far more accurate than what you’ll get from anyone else, I think.” She rolled up the map and handed it to Celice. “I’m sure that’s not absolutely everything you’d need to know to get straight there, but it’ll shave a lot of time off of your search.” With a sigh, she patted her classmate’s paw. “Good luck out there. Stay safe. Do you need any supplies? I can offer you a discount on scrolls…”
“That’s very kind of you, but no,” Celice said. “I have all of the equipment I’ll need.”
Blynn patted the slingshot at her side and said, “Yep, don’t worry about us! We’re professional adventurers!”
“Well, it’s a pretty classic adventure you’re undertaking,” Roberta said. She leaned a paw on her desk. “I sure hope your story has a happy ending.”
As they turned to leave, Hyren looked over his shoulder at her and said, “I hope so, too.”