* * * *
More than halfway into Daisy’s year of service, she turned away a solitary thief without violence, the young woman running in such a blind panic she hit a sapling, breaking it as she fell. Daisy, watching, made a huffing noise that sounded suspiciously like laughter.
On a crisp winter afternoon several weeks later, Magnus felt a wave of power washing out from the base of the cliffs. He set the book he was holding down, and raced outside, locking the door behind him with a flick of his hand. A quick spell sent him speeding down the sheer face of the cliff in a controlled plummet.
Safely on solid ground, he cast a locator spell, which led him to Daisy curled up in a not far past the entrance to a tunnel, a powerful sleep spell in the form of a web of light banding around her body, keeping her unconscious. It would continue to do so for months, if left alone.
Magnus growled. “That’s unnecessary.” He wrapped a sharp blade of power around his finger, and tried to snap one of the lines. It resisted for a moment, then parted.
Stepping back, he considered the spell as a whole, to decide the quickest way to free the Jabberwock. If he had to cut all the lines, whoever had done this to Daisy would get away.
A claw twitched.
The sorcerer frowned. She shouldn’t be able to throw the spell off so quickly, not with only one string broken.
The claw twitched again, and then the whole foot moved, talons scratching against the cave floor.
Quickly, Magnus severed all the lines he could reach, and retreated to safety as Daisy flexed, stretched, and stood. The remaining strands flew away from her as she threw her wings wide and roared.
She swept her head around, sniffling in great gusts of air, and then took off down the tunnels. Within moments, he couldn’t even hear her heavy footfalls.
“Nothing that big should be able to move so fast,” Magnus muttered.
Instead of following her, he flew back up to his tower, bypassing the tunnels again, summoned humanoid constructs to ring the base of his home, and waited. Sounds echoed from the mouth of the tunnels—enraged roars, human screams, and a variety of bangs and thuds.
After a while, the noises grew louder, and a group of riders thundered out of the cave, their horses lathered with sweat and wide-eyed in panic. The reason for that panic came running behind them, roaring.
“Stop!” Magnus yelled.
The riders, a group of knights in armor, pulled their horses to a halt, the animals dancing in their fervent desire to be away from the Jabberwock.
But their riders wanted as badly not to walk into the embrace of the metal constructs standing watchfully behind Magnus, glowing white eyes trained on the group. Their large arms, sturdy armored bodies, and sharp spikes made the outcome of a clash unlikely to end in the favor of flesh and bone combatants.
Racing forward, Daisy snatched one of the knights right off his horse, and hissed at the group, sketching a key in the dirt with large angry strokes.
The knights murmured at this sign of intelligence from what they had clearly assumed was a dumb beast.
Daisy’s jaws gaped open inches from the knight’s head, and she tapped the key image twice, tail thrashing with impatience.
“Call back your beast, sorcerer. We will return her prize!” A knight called.
With a grumble, Daisy set the man on the ground, though she did not release him. She pointed at a set of rocks about halfway between her and the group, off to one side.
One of the knights glanced at Magnus, his gaze passing over each construct in turn before returning to the Jabberwock before them. His shoulders slumped, and he pulled two metal keys out from a pouch tucked into his clothes, and carried them slowly over to the stones, setting them down on the top of the largest boulder.
Daisy slid over to the rock, the man clutched in one front-foot, keeping an eye on the group. She scooped the keys up, lifted them glinting to the light, and snorted, satisfied. The Jabberwock, her keys returned, let out a howl of joy.
The knights had to rein in their horses, which tried again to escape the sound Daisy made.
She shook her head, and rattled her wings before carefully setting the knight on the ground, this time releasing him. He blinked, sitting in the dirt, stunned and shaken as Daisy prowled in a half-circle so she stood between the cave and the knights.
She cocked her head to the side and burbled at Magnus, the lilting sound rising in a question.
“They’ve done no permanent harm,” Magnus said. “If they leave now, you may let them live.” He would set protective measures on Daisy to prevent another group from using such tactics. She was already resistant to magic, and he would never have expected thieves to bring such a powerful and complex spell.
He was sure one of his rivals was behind the attempt, but he had better ways of discovering which one than questioning the group. If he set them free, he could follow them back to their master.
Daisy nodded, and shuffled to stand between the group and the castle. She planted her feet solidly, spreading her wings and holding her head high, and began scooting forward, moving ponderously, unlike her usual rolling gait.
After a few steps, she huffed threateningly at the group of knights standing before her. They backed up, watching her warily, and she prowled after. Magnus watched through the eyes of several rat constructs, the images displayed on a flat piece of crystal, as she herded them out of the caves.
Once the knights reached the open air, she curled up just inside the tunnel, and waited. Her crimson eyes glowed as she watched their every move, and they hurried through bandaging their wounds before setting off through the woods, bedraggled and dejected.
Daisy stayed for some time, listening to the forest, and then picked her way through the tunnels, carefully eradicating every marker and trace they had left behind.
Once again she tucked a key into one of the special folds in her skin, but this time, she hid the second one in a blind corner of the tunnels, high up in a notch she carved carefully into the rock, and stopped with a chunk of stone so no glints would betray it in the torch light.
Satisfied, she set out on a patrol, checking the corners and heights to ensure nothing was wrong. No one would get by her again.
Magnus smiled, pleased with her determination, and returned to his studies, the images from a wolf construct flickering on the crystal, as it followed the riders through the trees.