Dark shadows crossed the threshold, swiftly followed by two small children, Hansel a couple of steps in front of Gretel. Andrew hesitated. The gremlins were so convincingly children, his instinct was to protect them, not harm them.
Gretel turned and saw him.
She took a half-step toward him, her mouth opened in a snarl that revealed small, sharp teeth. She lifted her hands, fingernails elongated claws with dripping red tips. As she snarled, Hansel also turned.
“Andrew!” cried Thomas. He took a step forward but Hansel spun back to him. A lightning bolt of power shot from his fingertips and froze Thomas in his boots.
Gretel lifted one arm, and Andrew knew he, too, would be frozen. He released his hold on the rope as the lightning bolt arched across the room.
Pain sliced through his chest, sudden and shocking. The breath froze in his lungs, his jaw clamped shut. Blood filled his mouth as pain radiated from his tongue.
The cage dropped.
Andrew fell backward, overbalanced after dropping the rope and being frozen in place. He landed with a painful thud to his head, his arms raised above his body, fingers still curled as if just letting go of the rope. Above him dust motes floated in the afternoon light slanting through the gap in the curtains. After several seconds of stunned silence, through which the clanging of metal against the floor reverberated through Andrew’s head, Gretel began to laugh.
“Did you see him, Hansel? He just toppled over backwards. Look at his hands. It’s like he’s trying to catch a baton or something.”
“Tristan is still standing,” replied Hansel. “Look at his eyes. It doesn’t matter how angry you are, wizard, there’s nothing you can do against our magic.”
“There’s the gingerbread! And there’s a bowl of icing next to it. I’ll bet he lied and it is cool enough to eat.”
Andrew rolled his eyes, straining every muscle to try to turn his head so he could see what was happening, but it was no use. All he could see were the rafters above him and ragged cobwebs dancing in the breeze. Disappointment pricked his eyes. It didn’t work. The gremlins were happy and eyeing off the gingerbread. Andrew must have miscalculated when he had to drop the cage, and they’d escaped.
He and Tristan were done for now. Not only was Andrew’s presence exposed, but so was their plot to capture Hansel and Gretel. He was sure retribution would be swift. At the very least, he’d be stuck here forever, never to become the baker he’d trained so long for.
He wondered if they were stuck here, together, just him and Tristan…
A rattle of metal on metal was accompanied by an outraged roar. “Gretel! It’s stuck. Fix it. I want that gingerbread.” The rattle came again.
“Stand back. I’ll blast the lock.”
A flash of light followed, then an electrical sizzle filled the room, sparking overhead and leaping from rafter to rafter like a wriggling blue-white worm.
“Ow! Ow! Stop it. It hurts!”
The light died but the room still pulsed with residual power.