“I did it!” I grinned at Nixie, and she smiled back at me, but she looked a little resigned too.
“So you did,” she said. “Alright, you can head out with us.”
“Try not to die horribly,” Lilith added. “Your aunt would be rather cross with us.”
I wasn’t about to let her put a damper on my excitement, so I just nodded and slipped the coin into my pocket. “So what’s the plan?”
“We go in quiet and careful,” Nixie said. “No big risks, and we stay hidden for as long as possible. Baron, I want you to keep an eye on Dillon. Don’t let him get glamoured again; make sure he stays hidden.”
Baron nodded, and I tried not to be miffed that I’d been given a babysitter.
“Lilith, were you able to find out where the Caretaker is being held?” Nixie asked, and Lilith frowned.
“Yes, but it won’t be easy to get to her,” she said. “Amos has her in his home, and every door is guarded by trolls. We won’t be able to get in unless someone lets us inside.”
“I’ve got that covered,” Nixie said, grinning and holding up the amulet she’d grabbed earlier. It was plain gold with a few symbols etched into the front, but it was otherwise unremarkable. “Once I put this on, the weak minded will be scrambling to do my bidding. It’ll get me passed any troll, and then I can let you guys in through a window or something.”
“Cool!” Macey said, finally looking up from her potion. “What about the other stuff you grabbed?”
Nixie grinned and pulled out the bottles and the box. “Well, the bottles here are like elemental grenades; they explode with different elements. The explosion varies based on the color. The box is a prison, which we’re gonna try to trap Amos in.”
“Do you think that will work?” Lilith asked, eyebrows raised in surprise. Nixie’s face fell a bit and she shrugged.
“I figured it was worth a shot, and we might be able to threaten him with it,” she answered, though she didn’t seem very sure.
“It’ll work,” I said, hand slipping into my pocket again to finger the coin. “We’ve gotta believe in ourselves.”
Nixie grinned at me and nodded, then started packing up the artifacts she’d gathered. “How’s the potion, Macey? Can you stop long enough to let us out, or do we need to wait a little longer?”
Macey had focused on the cauldron again and was stirring a thick purple liquid that seemed to be smoking slightly. Macey didn’t seem worried by this, not even when the potion started to change colors, so I supposed it was meant to do that.
“I’m actually almost done, I just have to keep stirring until it settles on green, then I just have to sprinkle in the chopped mint leaves and let it cool enough to turn white. Shouldn’t take long, maybe five minutes?” Macey checked her book, then nodded firmly. “No more than five minutes.”
Nixie nodded. “Alright. Dillon, keep practicing with the candle. We’ll wait for the potion to be done before we leave. Alexei, would you mind staying with Macey anyway? I’d feel bad if we left her alone.”
Alexei cawed in response, and Nixie nodded, so I assumed he’d agreed. I sat at the table again and started playing with the fire—putting it out before relighting it, making it bigger or smaller. I could feel Lilith watching me, though I did my best to ignore it.
“Try making it hotter,” she said. “Flames change color with their temperature, red to orange to yellow to white to purple to blue. The hotter you can get the flame, the more likely it will be to scare off enemies.”
I nodded and tried to focus on the heat coming from the flame. It was orange now, and I’d just managed to get it to turn yellow when my focus was broken by Macey. “Done!”
I turned to see that the smoke had stopped, and Macey was now presiding over a cauldron of white liquid. If I hadn’t seen it earlier I would have thought she’d filled it with milk.
“Great job, kiddo!” Nixie said as she grabbed the ladle and filled a small bowl, then brought it over to Alexei. He dipped his beak into the liquid, and then in a flurry of feathers he leaped off his perch and shifted back to human.
“Thank you, Macey,” he said, bowing his head to her briefly. Macey blushed and mumbled something about it being a pleasure, and he smiled at her. Alexei wasn’t as tall as Baron, but he was still tall enough to look gangly. His hair was dark and messy, curing off in all directions, but his eyes were bright and kind despite being a deep gray.
Nixie clapped. “Alright! Let’s go save the Caretaker!”
“Be careful,” Macey said, giving me a pointed look. I nodded and gave her a hug, then let her go so could start undoing the locks. The door swung open, and despite everything, I was still shocked by what I saw on the other side.