Chapter 40: You're Gonna Love it Here
After two weeks in a solitary cell in the dark, the few days of travel to the super-secret underground mage guild were like bliss.
Clandestine decided to shelf the whole "being a dragon" thing for the moment and just enjoy James being alive, having Billy back, and the fact that she was actually around other mages who were probably the most kind and welcoming people she'd ever met. It was so strange, but she kept finding herself thinking back to her old guild, and Sylva. The way they acted, and how eagerly they accepted her with hardly a question was almost more than she knew how to deal with.
They wanted her there - like - a lot.
Bo and Mel were hilarious when they got going back and forth, and it only got better when Clandestine would hop in. Raj was the resident eye-roller when Bo made too many bad puns, and James was constantly the voice of reason, but would sometimes crack a joke here and there, usually when none of them expected it. Clandestine liked that.
Robin turned out to be a werewolf, which made Clandestine scream in excitement, fear, and awe for a total of fifteen minutes before she finally calmed down, bombarded him with questions, and then everything was fine.
It wasn't her fault she'd never met a werewolf before! Or that even the guilds in her day were wrong about them.
They'd also apparently been wrong about goblins too, because Dinny was actually really friendly and kind. And surprisingly shy, which Clandestine wouldn't have expected after Dinny - thought it was months ago, now - shanked her in the leg.
The whole leg-stab thing had become a running joke, actually. Any time someone did something annoying they would mime a stabbing gesture at their leg.
Come to think of it, it was pretty morbid, but Clandestine had heard a lot worse jokes, and sometimes you just had to make jokes out of things that hurt. Like stabbing.
Aside from joking up a storm, Clandestine was also furiously begging everyone to teach her how to speak goblin. Dinny taught her a few words: like "toad," and "hello," and "fart," and Mel taught her some more practical ones, like "I mean no harm." She liked Bo's version better though, of "I come in peace." It sounded more dramatic and yet more silly all at the same time.
She really couldn't overexaggerate how happy she was just to be back with James again, and Billy, and Elliot. Every time she looked over at James she was relieved. He wasn't hurt anymore, and he wasn't captured, or dying. None of them were. They were okay, and they were going to find a guild.
That apparently Mickey was at, of all things. She still didn't know who that guy was aside from him being a dragon, but Svida said he'd help.
She was... kind of excited. And nervous. To meet him.
It was their fifth day of travel - they'd been moving pretty quickly, still wary of the possibility of Carter tailing them, or returning with backup. The scenery was a lot of trees and a lot of snow, and Clandestine couldn't really tell much of it apart after a while, but Bo and James, who were usually somewhere ahead of everyone else, leading, seemed to know. At the moment, it was Bo in the lead, and Clandestine was riding beside James.
"So, uh..." she started. He glanced over at her.
"You've been here, before, right?" she asked. "The guild?"
"What's it like?"
James looked up into the sky for a moment and shrugged. "I really wasn't there for long, actually." He paused. "Well, not consciously."
"Oh." Clandestine pursed her lips. "Right."
"I really only saw the stables and the infirmary."
Clandestine couldn't help but grin.
"Sounds about right."
James looked over at her with narrowed eyes. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He held his suspicious stare for a moment before looking away and coming to a sudden stop. Clandestine did the same.
Bo had come to a stop in front of everyone and turned around on his horse, smiling wide.
"We're here!" he announced.
Clandestine looked out at the snowy forest landscape, about to make a comment about how there was nothing around until she remembered the place was underground. It was a good thing she held her tongue, otherwise, she would've--
"It's beautiful," James whispered dryly. Clandestine was the only one who heard it, and she snorted.
Raj hopped off his horse and Mel did too, so he could hand her the reins while he walked ahead of Bo.
Clandestine danced a little in her saddle, but stopped bouncing when Billy flicked his ears and gave her the horse version of a side-eye.
She watched in wide-eyed awe as the earth gave way in front of Raj with such ease, in the shape of a perfect rectangle. The earth was almost pulled away like a door, and the snow fell down into the hole, and onto a big, flat ramp that looked just big enough for horses to walk down.
She could even spot a flickering lamp somewhere deep down like this was a commonly used passageway, just hidden underground.
Raj waved his arms and stretched them out towards the opening in a grandiose gesture, posing with his knees bent and a big smile.
Bo hopped off his horse and patted her speckled bum before looking at Clandestine with a bearded smile just as wide.
"Welcome home, Clandestine."
A single tear fell down her cheek.
Clandestine hadn't expected it to hit her so hard, but that's what all this was.
Finally, a place that made sense. People who wanted her. She wouldn't have to hide, or lie, or worry about them misunderstanding her past. They understood.
She hopped off Billy, and took his reins, leading him forward, going first down the tunnel.
She was home.