The moment Sebastian Whitter returned to the manor, he threw off his cloak and walked up to his study. Opening the door, he found his beloved wife waiting for him, eyes rimmed with lines of red.
She has been crying, he thought, feeling his heart sink. Throughout his life, he had done many things he regretted, but the one thing he had done right was marrying this woman, of that he was certain.
“You took Hamelin away—why?” Her words were cold, and she held her head up high, like the high-born lady she truly was.
“He was summoned,” Sebastian said, succinctly.
Furrowing her brow, lady Sarah Whitter had only look at her husband for him to cave. “The rat catcher that came by today was an Inverse agent. He summoned Hamelin to the Inverse, giving him ten years to prepare.”
“You saw proof of this?” She said, her expression proofing that anything other than a confirmation would be disastrous.
“Of course. I read it through, there is no mistake.”
“Where did you take him?”
Shaking his head, Sebastian took a seat behind his desk, gesturing for his wife to do the same on a nearby chair. She raised her chin and looked down her nose at him in response. Sighing, Sebastian said, “You know I can’t tell you that.”
“Where is my son?” She asked, her voice now insistent.
“He is safe, for the time being. No harm will come to him, I swear it.”
“But you sent him away; is that not harm already?”
“I had no choice, Sarah—”
“Don’t!” Her eyes flared, and she appeared to grow bigger with every breath, “Don’t make excuses. I will not hear them. Hamelin has never been on his own, he has never even had to fend for himself. How do you expect him to survive without us?”
“I think you underestimate your son,” Sebastian said, chuckling self-deprecatingly, “I certainly did. Still do, I’m sure.”
“What are you talking about?” lady Sarah narrowed her eyes, the look in them full of poison.
“He is more than he has been letting on, that’s all I’ll say,” Sebastian said, waving the concern away, “For now, he should have no trouble. It’s the future I worry about.”
Lady Sarah looked in no way convinced, but after studying her husband for a while, she finally took a seat opposite him. “What do you intend to do?”
“He has refused my offer of help, but I don’t think he realizes what I’m offering,” Sebastian said, fishing out a ring, hung on a simple necklace of string, from his breast.
Sarah’s eyes shone with understanding, and she looked at her husband with some measure of hope. “You are going to call in the favor?”
“I think it is the only way,” Sebastian said, taking off the necklace and putting it on the table as he retrieved writing tools, “Though, in truth, I am not sure whether I will be providing Hamelin with an opportunity, or simply putting him through another hell.”
“If it will give him a fighting chance, then you owe it to him,” Sarah said, “No matter what the law says, he is still your son.”
“Indeed. It is a shame that I have only realized his worth now that it is too late,” Sebastian spoke as he hastily cobbled together his letter. The recipient would not care about the aesthetics of it anyway. He closed it up, and was about to apply the wax when he looked up at his wife and said, “If I do this, Sarah, you must promise me you will not attempt to go to him.”
“Why not?” She said, teeth clenched.
“We cannot afford to cross the kingdom right now. This favor was supposed to be our final insurance, and in offering it up I am giving up a chance to save our family in an emergency. Using it on Hamelin means we have no leeway for error. Promise me, Sarah.”
Biting her lip, the lady Whitter held her husband’s gaze for a while, before she lowered her head and said, “I will do as you say.”
“Good.” Sebastian dropped the wax onto the letter and sealed it with his signet ring.
Not far away from the Whitter manor, Piper sat on a tree stump and hummed a happy melody. He had observed the actions of lord Whitter, followed him through the forest and back, and was satisfied with the result.
“The lord is quick and decisive, as a man in his position should be,” he said, as if the wind could hear him.
“You left him no choice,” the wind answered, moments before a shadow congealed into and intangible mass.
“It was only right to do, seeing how fast that monster grows. Leaving him in that place would have only hindered him. I did him a favor,” Piper laughed and ripped off a piece of grass to chew.
“Why did you give him your Euphoric Flute?” The shadow flowed like water as it spoke.
“I figured it would be a lot more useful in his hands. You know I outgrew those kinds of toys a long time ago.”
“Still… It would have sold for a hefty sum if you had put it up for auction.”
“What would be the fun in that? Besides, it is something I used in my younger days, so it holds a lot of sentimental value. Better to let it fall into worthy hands, than into the ones who can pay for it.”
The shadow billowed, but said nothing.
“So, I take it you are here to nag me about returning?” Piper looked at the shadow, eyes shining with madness.
“You have played around for long enough,” the shadow agreed, “The master wants you to return. The Inverse does not build itself, after all.”
“Of course it doesn’t,” Piper cackled as he stood up, “It needs the blood and bones of those poor sobs who travels to the end of the world, hoping for treasure and fame. I wonder, do you think the people of this world realizes that the lives they live are mere dreams?”
“How can dreams offer blood, you fool? You’re contradicting yourself,” the shadow said, flowing into the ground and disappearing.
“I am the fool, am I?” Piper shook his fist at the fading shadow. When it was finally gone, he looked back at the Whitter manor; the place where he, hopefully, had just made a powerful enemy. “I wonder what dream you will show me, little rat.”
With that, he made down the road, whistling his jaunty tune.