Inside, the house was only dimly lit. Adren could make out cracks in the plaster on the walls.
“Shoes,” said the man, before he scuttled off. Pider removed his and Adren followed suit, placing hers close to the door, on one end of a line of shoes, at least ten pairs in total. She frowned.
“Must be something going on tonight,” Pider said.
“I suppose,” Adren replied. “But so late?”
“Parties go late.” He shrugged.
“Look, Pider, we’re not doing anything wrong, are we? You acted like you were afraid of the lamplighter seeing us.”
“Oh, her. We had a bit of a falling out not too long ago. I’ve been avoiding her… she’s still really angry at me about it all.” His eyebrows drew together in a peculiar way, so quickly that Adren wouldn’t have seen it if she weren’t paying so close attention to his body language, and especially his eyes, which hadn’t left hers since she’d asked her question. Pider was lying to her, no doubt about it, but most likely only to avoid having to tell an embarrassing story. She wondered what had really gone on between him and the lamplighter.
He seemed to notice her hesitation.
“I promise the cure’s here, though. And it’s real. I checked it out to make sure, after you told me about all the disappointments you’ve had.”
Adren smiled. “You keep telling me. Thank you.”
“So, do we go in?” He indicated the rest of the house.
Pider led her through to a dark-coloured door, though there was too little light at this point to discern more.
“You go in first,” he said with a smile. “He’ll be expecting you.”
Adren took a deep breath. After two years of looking, here it was: A cure for madness. And so much closer to home than she had expected, too. She wanted to remember every detail, right down to the feel of her feet against the rough wooden floor. Exhaling, she nodded, Pider opened the door, and she went in.
The door slammed shut behind her, plunging the room into utter blackness. Hands grabbed at her. She tried to fight, but there seemed to be more than one attacker and, before long, they held her fast.
“We got her,” a male voice called, and Pider entered the room through the door —which was now to Adren’s right— a lamp in one hand. He placed it on the table near the other end of the room as the hatchet faced man also entered, pen and paper in hand. Behind him came two more men, who stayed by the door. Adren didn’t understand what was going on.
“She’s such a little thing,” said one of the men holding Adren. “You sure you need all of us to keep her still?”
“I am,” said Pider. Adren’s heart pounded louder at the coldness in his voice. He adjusted the lamp so that it burned a little brighter. “Make sure you keep your eyes on her. Changelings are tricky creatures. She can turn invisible if you look away.”
“I told you I don’t know what I am,” said Adren, straining against the men’s hold.
“Yes, well, you still can’t deny that ‘the White Changeling’ has a certain ring to it,” commented the hatchet faced man. Pider wrinkled his nose and glared sideways at the man, who sat down at once and busied himself with straightening his papers.
“I really don’t care what you are.” Pider said. “Where is the unicorn, Adren?”
“Pider, tell me this is a misunderstanding.” She wanted this not to be real but, if it wasn’t, then it was far more convincing than any nightmare had a right to be. Not that she would call it a nightmare quite yet. Perhaps Pider had simply heard some untruth about her that caused him to distrust her.
Pider snorted and crossed his arms. He gave a half smile. “You don’t expect me to believe that you’d let a mad unicorn just run around where it pleases, do you? Now, where is it?” Beside him, the hatchet faced man stared at Adren expectantly, pen in hand.
“I don’t know.”
“Liar!” He slapped her, bringing tears to her eyes. “Tell me where it is!”
“Why are you—”
Pider punched her, and everything went black.