"Wisher, wisher!" said the dragonfly as it zipped through a stone archway that stood oxidizing in the middle of an unchanging forest. After miles of what seemed to be the same tree multiplied over the same patch of dirt, the archway was the first thing that looked different. Kits halted in front of it. A few seconds later, Kaia caught up and they both leaned over to catch their breath, resounding the forest with gasps.
"It went in there," said Kits.
"I saw." Kaia tilted her head and squinted at the archway. She inhaled purposefully. Through their soul link, Kits smelled the ancient mossy scent that entered Kaia's nose. "Hmm."
"Hmm? What hmm?" Kits spread her thermal awareness as far as it would go. Beyond the archway, she felt cold winding paths interposed with stretches of warmth and guessed those warm stretches were where sunlight shone down. The warm stretches were too uninterrupted for the archway to lead further into the forest. The cold sections were obviously laid out in a pattern, albeit a confusing one. "A maze?"
The dragonfly's flickering, cool thermal signature zigzagged at the edge of Kits' awareness.
"It's getting away," said Kits impatiently.
"Maybe we shouldn't chase after it," said Kaia.
"But it's finally cornered," said Kits. "And we don't know if whatever person it's after is on their final desire or even knows all the rules. Besides, wasn't it you who said mazes were easy to solve? Hand on the wall, right? Always turn the same direction?"
"Depends on complexity," said Kaia. Then her voice darkened. "I have the distinct feeling we're about to get lost."
"Oh, whatever!" Kits dashed through the archway, calling over her shoulder. "Wherever we are, we're already lost. That's how it always is."
Kaia groaned and followed Kits, grumbling about stupidity and impulsive kindreds the whole way.
"I mean," Kits continued as she ran. "This is us we're talking about. When have we ever known where we're going or where we'll end up? This is just our lives in miniature. Who knows? Might be easier."
"Might be our doom."
The deeper into the maze they ran, the more Kits realized its size was becoming a problem. When the outer border slipped from her thermal awareness, she slowed her pace and started paying attention to the inner layout. The walls were constructed of hedges and overgrown stone. Since a hedge felt similar thermally to the grass floor, the maze became difficult to navigate by temperature alone. Almost every time Kits thought she'd found a direct route toward the dragonfly, a hedge would be in the way.
"If you're in such a hurry," said Kaia, "You could always burn us a path."
"But how long did it take to grow this place? Wouldn't that be kinda rude?"
"You're ridiculous." Kaia took the lead. Initially, she fared better than Kits, making quick, adept decisions and even getting them to an inner sanctum with a statue that pointed toward a deeper, hidden sector of the maze. The hidden sector was constructed entirely of stone, and unlike the maze up until this point, had a ceiling. From the outside, it looked like the ruins of a castle. Inside, barely any light seeped through its tiny rectangular windows. Without much visibility, Kits and Kaia had to rely even more on their other senses. Luckily, they were used to that. As they traversed the stone sector's corridors in a brisk walk side by side, the dragonfly eluded them yet kept a consistent distance in Kits' thermal awareness, which got more and more infuriating the further into the maze they went.
"Kits," said Kaia as they jogged down a straight, entirely lightless corridor after the dragonfly. "You're gonna burn a hole in the floor."
"I'm gonna start melting walls if we don't catch this stupid thing soon."
"Wisher, wisher!" said the dragonfly as it zoomed around the corridor's only bend. Thermally, Kits felt the dragonfly double back and head toward them again, but something was weird about the distance. Kits stopped altogether to pay more attention, the air around her gone cold with concentration.
A couple steps later, Kaia halted too. Her voice echoed oddly. "What?"
"Feels like it's underneath us. Y'know, like another level. Is the floor that thin?"
Kaia put her ear to the ground and listened, and through the soul link Kits' hearing sharpened. They heard the dragonfly's voice chanting wisher, wisher but not the flitter of its wings. From the sound of it, Kits was right. The dragonfly seemed too far down to be flying through the same corridor. Which meant the maze must deepen even further, must go underground.
Sometimes, because of the soul link, Kits and Kaia shared instinct. They both got the urge to turn back. Kits looked behind her, and the corridor stretched so far that the end was impossible to discern with any of their combined senses. Sudden dread made her magic frost nearby stone. When had they gotten this far inside the inner sector? It didn't look that big from outside. Maybe the dark was playing tricks. She reached out with her thermal sense and found the cold borders of corridors became more convoluted than when she and Kaia first passed them. And she could only reach so far. Kaia could probably retrace their steps.
But the wisher.
They couldn't leave the dragonfly to do what it wanted.
"Think you can solve the maze?" asked Kits.
"Pretty sure it qualifies as a labyrinth by now."
Kits waved her hand around dismissively, trusting her kindred to feel the motion through the soul link despite the dark.
Kaia cracked her knuckles.
"Right." Kits laughed. "Dez would call me silly for asking that."
"And I would call you a moron. Of course I can solve it."
"Wisher, wisher!" called the dragonfly.
"Hmm," said Kaia.
"You're the one who can feel it. Is it moving?"
Kits focused on the dragonfly. Its thermal signature bobbed back and forth, but it wasn't exiting Kits' sphere of awareness. "Seems confused. Dead end?"
"Or it's a lure."
"The whole time we've been here," said Kaia. "Have you felt anyone else?"
Kits thought about it. Nope. She shook her head.
"I haven't smelled anyone either. Or heard anything. It's suspicious."
"But on the off chance," said Kits.
They both took a breath. Kits stomped once on the floor. "Want me to melt us through?"
"Nah." Kaia sprinted down the corridor, and this time it was her calling over her shoulder at Kits. "I wanna solve it the real way. But first we have a pest to deal with."
Kits followed Kaia around the bend, past a few untaken turns, through a barely-noticeable trapdoor in the wall of a dead end, and down claustrophobia-inducing stairs to the level where the dragonfly hovered. As soon as Kits reached a place she'd be able to burn it, the dragonfly vanished and reappeared out of her range of influence. In a jolt of irritation, Kits started after the dragonfly, but Kaia yanked her back by the arm.
Kits' foot dangled over an abyss. She broke into nervous laughter.
Kaia sighed and released her.
"Hey, wait." Kits squinted as she stepped away from the edge, wondering when she'd regained her vision. "Is there a light source in here?"
"Sconces. But I don't think they're in this room exactly."
Kaia grabbed Kits' shoulders and maneuvered her to the side. "Look again. Mirrors."
At this angle, it became obvious. Kits groaned.
"I know," said Kaia. "Look at the floor instead of ahead of you."
"Okay but which floor?"
The chamber they'd entered was dimly lit, but the way the torchlight bounced off the mirrors made its spatial trickery obvious. Upside down stairs, steep drops, door-shaped cutouts that seemed to lead directly into walls, thin pathways that might be either buttresses or alternative routes or both. Multitudinous ledges, the occasional might-be-a-floor located in impossible to reach places. The ledge Kits and Kaia currently stood upon was the final stretch before the chamber. It was like standing on something's teeth and peering into its throat.
"My bad," said Kits. It was her fault they were in here. She was the one who decided to chase the dragonfly.
"It's fine. I love a challenge."
"So, uh. Which floor do I stare at again?"
"How about I guide so we don't fall to our deaths?" Kaia took Kits' hand and started off sideways, inching bit by bit with her back pressed to the wall. Kits mimicked everything Kaia did, and they managed to avoid falling through any false walls or off any platforms. Even so, neither of them could deny they got increasingly confused the further they went. They found themselves back at the beginning at least fourteen times.
"Did I ever tell you I kinda hate mirrors?" asked Kits.
Kits nodded gravely.
"I'm starting to too." Kaia released Kits' hand and adopted a thoughtful pose. They were back at the beginning ledge. Bending and crouching and twisting, Kaia studied the layout again. She even shifted into fox form for a while, fluffing her tail as she perked her ears and scented the chamber. Shifting out of fox form, she crossed her arms. "So, I got a random question. Felt that brat's minions anywhere since we've been in this chamber?"
Kits searched her thermal awareness. No dragonfly. A frustrated noise crawled out her throat. While she and Kaia were stuck trying to solve this stupid, cavernous puzzle, the dragonfly could've already gotten to the wisher. It might already be too late to change anything.
"Kits. Remember that thing about not burning holes in the floor."
"What if I freeze it? What if I freeze it and shatter it instead?"
"We'll get outta here," said Kaia. "Don't worry."
"What if we can't? I'm so stupid. Why'd I chase Milli's dragonfly in here? Now we're stuck."
The dragonfly reappeared in front of Kaia's nose. Kaia yelped and hopped backward, which put her precariously over a drop, and instead of going for the dragonfly, Kits automatically lunged to catch Kaia. No regrets. A moment's hesitation would've meant Kaia plummeting into the abyss.
The dragonfly giggled.
Kits and Kaia glared.
"Wisher, wisher!" said the dragonfly, pure taunt. "Don't you wish I'd get you out?"
"No," said Kits and Kaia together.
The dragonfly suspended in its eerie way. It wasn't simply hovering. It was stagnant, as if stopped in time. And it was just outside Kits' range. Her rising anger formed heat waves. Maybe this time she should lunge for the dragonfly and trust Kaia to catch her. A quick feel for the distance rendered that plan moot. Kits would have to launch herself completely off the ledge to get the dragonfly into burnable range. As in feet and all. There was no way Kaia could catch her on the drop if she did that. No jumping, then. Probably shouldn't let the temperature keep rising either. Falling through a hole she'd melted into the floor would be as bad as jumping outright. But because Kits didn't want to be calm, forcing her magic back under control wasn't easy. Somehow, she managed. She made herself the absolute ambient temperature of this obnoxious chamber and tried not to become increasingly annoyed.
Kaia clenched her hands into fists. The aggravation sank into Kits through the soul link, and Kits had to double her efforts to keep under control.
"We could always jump together," said Kits.
"But it'd disappear as soon as it guessed what we were up to."
"It would." Kaia spoke through grinding teeth. "But this is proof, don't you think? It lured us in here."
"Wisher," said the dragonfly in the threatening tone of a child about to tantrum. "Wisher. Don't you wish I'd get you out? Don't you wish it?"
"You fucking brat." Kaia took one step forward and growled at the dragonfly. Even without being in fox form, the growl sounded like it should. "You think we're that easy to trick? You think we'd just give in? We're not kids anymore."
The dragonfly's wings twitched.
Kits took a breath and focused on control. Just to be safe, she hiked up her and Kaia's body temperatures to make sure the dragonfly couldn't land on either of them. But if Kaia was pissed enough to talk back to Milli, Kits wasn't about to intervene. It was sort of refreshing.
"Y'know what," said Kaia. "I'm done. You think we can't solve this on our own? Goes to show you can't imagine doing it yourself. You don't have the intellect."
The dragonfly got very quiet, then erupted into a shrill scream that grew louder with every word. "You're not a wisher, you're a meanie! A mean, mean meanie! I won't let you out of here even if you wish it! Not even then!" It vanished, thermal signature and all, but its voice lingered after its body was gone. "I hope you die in here! I HOPE YOU DIE!"
"Well," said Kaia primly. "We have a labyrinth to solve."