Chapter Twenty-Six: Tibo
Dragons, Trains and Automobiles
“No.” Akemi cut her off, her tone sharp as dragon teeth. “You must not return to your car. It will have been spotted by now. More than likely security watches it for your return. Can it be traced to you? Please tell me you weren’t stupid enough to rent a car.”
Edwige swallowed hard in the face of Akemi’s disapproval. She didn’t even know Akemi, but her personality had the odd effect of making it hard to displease her. “I—no. The car’s borrowed. Our names can’t be traced to it.”
“Good. At least one thing you did tonight makes sense.” Akemi pointed to the mouth of the tunnel. “Come along now. Hurry.”
Finally, the boys all calmed down and followed, much to Edwige’s relief. While completely trusting Akemi would have been foolish, standing around blustering and arguing was beyond stupid. Their guide practically glided over the often uneven stone of the tunnel, making her hard to keep in sight sometimes. It seemed a long, fraught journey with her heart pounding in her ears, but the sensible part of her knew it wasn’t more than a few minutes before they turned a corner and found the tunnel mouth ahead of them.
“Go. Quickly. Keep to the trees as long as you can. The longer you delay, the harder you make your escape.”
Rolly frowned, looking frazzled and put out. “But what should—”
“Go!” Akemi cut him off. “Before they can rouse the dragons. For all your sakes, run!”
Edwige turned just long enough to say, “Mal, Rolly, help Ashe.” Then she took off for the tunnel mouth as fast as she could, boots and paws pounding behind her.
Ivy covered much of the entrance. As she pushed vines aside, the sky showed her only stars. At least the moon was down. She was about to step out when someone seized her arm and she turned in shock to find Tibo staring at her earnestly.
“Hold up, Ms. Healer. Please. Lemme do a quick scout. I’ve got the eyes and ears for this.”
She gave him a quick nod and was impressed as the goblin melted into the dark of the woods, all business and finally as emotively silent as his passage through the underbrush.
He returned in under a minute. “All right. Clear so far. Bossy uniform lady didn’t set a trap here, anyway.”
“I can’t move like that through the dark,” Edwige admitted.
In the faint light from the tunnel, Tibo’s dark brows drew together. He held out his clawed hand to her and whispered, “Trust me?”
She stared down at his outstretched hand. There was no reason to trust him. But she had felt his anguish over doing wrong, had seen his shame and his inner agony warring inside him. She settled her hand in his, smiling as his fingers closed around hers since his hand was no bigger than hers.
It was the first time she had seen him smile offstage and it was a charming, little boy smile full of mischief and moonlight. Good. He had other sides to him besides crushing angst. He hurried into the night and she ran behind him, trusting him to keep her from falls. Edwige cringed as the rest of their party crashed after them. Not a good nocturnal group, apparently.
Animal rustling hurried up from the back of the column, Kaden’s fur shining white in the starlight. He whined at Tibo and nudged up on his arm.
“What’s your problem, wolf boy?” Tibo hissed in annoyance, but the next moment his head jerked up, eyes searching the sky. “Fuck me with a fencepost. This way! Hurry!”
He dove into the brush, shouldering through brambles to a sheltered clearing where the rest of their party gathered around.
“Tibo, what the hell?” Ashe gasped out, clearly struggling to keep up with his broken wing.
“Quiet. For all the gods’ sakes. Everyone quiet,” Tibo whispered, still staring up.
Edwige heard it then, the beating of huge wings. Instinctively, she huddled into Aegeus as the dragon shadow swooped overhead, blotting out the stars. As it wheeled and circled back around, she had to stifle a whimper, feeling too much like an eagle-hunted rabbit. Tibo drew his hand from hers and slipped over to the right, far enough away from the rest of the group that she couldn’t see him. But she felt him. He was radiating fear...no. That wasn’t right. She shivered, trying to ignore the growing, irrational panic inside her and concentrated. He was creating fear and pushing it skyward.
Please, please be careful. Don’t panic the dragon and make it notice us.
But it wasn’t panic he shoved out into the night sky. It was a strange, diffuse dread, a feeling of you don’t want to be here. The dragon hovered, backwinging, before it let out a distressed roar and flew away. From the direction Tibo had gone came a muffled sob.
“Ti?” Rolly whispered. “You all right there, you lunatic?”
“I’m okay...I’m okay.” The answer was subdued and shaking. “We’d better move.”
“Hold on.” Rustling accompanied someone, probably Rolly, moving toward Tibo’s voice. “We can’t go off all higgledy-piggledy. You even know where we are, Ti?”
Tibo sniffed and his voice came out even more muffled as he said, “Yeah. North end of the lake. The end closer to the train station. S’not like we can fucking run back to Zurich.”
“All right, Glent. You’re all right,” Rolly murmured. “We’ve a couple of problems, Ms. Edwige and gents. The first is that we’re too large a group and we sure as troll shite don’t look like we belong together. The second is we have some wardrobe issues.”
“Don’t think fashion’s our biggest problem right now, mate,” Mal grumbled.
“Hear me out. We’ve got one of us in a lab security uniform, one with no shirt and, little wolf, no conductor is letting you on a train in wolf form.”
“I’ve got Kaden’s clothes,” Mal said from the left.
Edwige slipped out of her pack. “And I have Nootau’s.”
“Well, thank the Mother for that.” Rolly let out a huff before he continued. “Ashe, you take my coat. Better than having nothing. We’ll make our way into the station in two groups. Jaxx, can you find your way back to the house?”
“Not a problem.”
“What house?” Aegeus asked.
“One we’re borrowing.” Rolly’s voice moved from one side of the clearing to the other as he handed off his coat. “It’s big enough for all of us, well supplied and in a good neighborhood. We should be safe there. Let’s get the wounded out first, so Jaxx, if you could take Ashe and Nootau with Aegeus. Say you were hiking and they were tangled up in a bad fall if anyone asks. Edwige, you may want to go with them?”
“I have to stay with Nootau,” Edwige told him with as much conviction as she could muster. Nootau made a little sound of protest but she wasn’t going to hear it.
Rolly let out a little grunt that sounded like approval. “Good then. Mal, you and me, Tibo and Kaden will go on the second train out but none of us know each other. The more we can separate from each other in public, the better.”
There were murmurs of agreement and soon Tibo had hold of Edwige’s hand again and they were moving, presumably in the direction of the train station. Tibo’s hand shook and she could only imagine what hiding them from the dragon had cost him, but he hurried on. In the east, gray bled into the unrelenting black of night and the first fingers of dawn color eased up over the treetops. They would have to hurry to catch that first train.
* * * * *
Rolly tried his best to relax while they waited on benches at the station. He set his ankle up on his knee and pretended to read a paper someone had left. The first group had been boarding when he’d arrived at the station office to buy his ticket. They appeared to have everything under control as they got Nootau and Ashe settled in their seats, so good on them.
Mal was slouched at the far end of the row of benches, pretending to sleep, while Kaden hovered and paced, looking down the tracks for the train. A lot of travelers did that, so Rolly let it go. And Tibo? He’d found an elderly goblin woman with her grandchildren who were coming home from camping at the lake. Their English was bad, Tibo’s German was worse, but he still sat on the platform entertaining the kids with some folded paper game that didn’t require language as if he were part of their group.
Rolly’s arm throbbed and he was so exhausted he wanted to cry or fall over or both, though he’d never admit that to Tibo. He’d pulled on a sweater from his pack to replace his coat, but the morning was misty and chill. Ten minutes. The train was coming in ten minutes. Almost safe. It was going to be--
Aw, fecking hells.
A black car had pulled up on the gravel road in front of the station. Three men in trench coats and dark suits strode onto the platform, moving in that purposeful way that screamed official business. They’d spotted Tibo.
Everything was about to go banjaxed bloody fast.
The goblin family tensed, smiles vanishing, closing ranks as the men stopped in front of Tibo. The tallest one barked at Tibo in German, asking if he’d been anywhere near the castle the night before.
With a nervous smile painted on, Tibo just shook his head with his palms up. “I’m sorry, sir. You talk too fast for me to understand.”
Rolly put his paper down slowly, catching Mal’s eye. There were only three humans. If things got rough, they could probably take the bastards. Rolly started to get up as the human repeated his questions impatiently in English, but stopped when the grandmother goblin put her hand on Tibo’s shoulder.
“Dies ist mein Enkelsohn aus Amerika,” she told the man softly. This is my American grandson.
The man opened his mouth to say something but the grandmother cut him off, speaking in rapid angry German that Rolly struggled to take in. She told the men that Tibo had been with her all night, helping with the little ones. That they should be ashamed of themselves, assuming that all young male goblins were criminals. They had probably picked on Tibo because they thought all goblins looked alike.
She kept talking at them, never raising her voice, but making her displeasure quite clear until the man who had been harassing Tibo gave her a little bow and apologized. He waved the others back to the car and hurried off the platform, red-faced and humiliated.
Oh, thank all the goddesses for that. Rolly slumped back against the bench, shivering hard now.
Tibo looked up at the old goblin and said, in not too terribly accented German, “Vielen Dank, Tante Oma.”
“You are welcome.” She patted his shoulder. “You are a good boy.”
Tibo beamed at her and boarded the train with the kids when it pulled up. Rolly nearly stepped in the gap as he boarded, he was so exhausted, but he made it to a seat without falling on his face. Crisis averted, he curled up on his seat and snatched bits of nap on the ride back to the city.
By the time they reached the stop closest to the townhouse, Tibo’s adopted family was long gone and he’d taken the seat beside Rolly to give him a shoulder to lean on.
“You need a taxi, Rolls? You look awful.”
“Well, thank you for that. No, I’ll make it. Just a few blocks.”
He had visions of the house surrounded by police when they reached it, and their companions being hauled off in handcuffs. No such thing, though. They rounded the corner and the block was blissfully peaceful. Not only that, someone must have been watching for them, since Jaxx opened the door as they came up the front steps.
Jaxx shook his head. “None. I think you better get right to bed, Rolly.”
“Yes, Dr. Jaxx,” Rolly muttered.
“We settled Nootau in the biggest bed so Edwige and Aegeus can stay with him. I put Ashe to bed, too, so don’t feel like I’m picking on you.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Truth be told, Rolly did want to fall on his face and sleep for a week or two. “Mal, Kaden, pick an empty bedroom for yours. They’re all down the hallway there.” He pointed and winced when the stitches pulled.
Tibo kicked off his muddy boots and bent to take off Rolly’s. “Shower, food, bed, in that order.”
“Can I reverse it, y’little tyrant?” Rolly muttered as he stumbled down the hall. “Just feeling all kinds of hell right now.”
Tibo caught up to him and ducked under his arm. “Okay. But there’s gonna be fussing over you when you wake up. Just so you know.”
Rolly remembered giving Tibo a kiss and shucking his clothes before falling into bed. What happened after that was lost in misty dreaming.