Poppy climbed down the quilt with little difficulty and slept for the rest of the day. In fact, she was in bed for a total of eighteen hours before she finally decided to rouse herself. She was both physically and mentally exhausted, and while the sleep helped with the latter, her limbs still ached from the events of the previous day.
Having rolled her meandering self out of bed, she glimpsed into her mirror to find her hair disheveled and clothes rumpled. She desperately needed a bath, too. Poppy admittedly didn’t smell the best.
Groaning, she stretched her arms above her head and stood on her tippy toes in an attempt to get an irksome crick out of her back. Then she set about making breakfast. Unfortunately, her scavenging fiasco had left her with less provisions than she’d intended, so it looked like she’d be having grains for breakfast again.
She had a small, makeshift pot that had once been a bottle cap, and she cooked the oatmeal-esque slop in this with water from her supply. She had a waterskin she took everywhere with her, but she also had large containers she’d place outside, lined up on the windowsill, for gathering rainwater. These containers were mostly small mugs and shot glasses. Once they filled up, she’d place a foil wrap over the top so the water wouldn’t evaporate or be contaminated before she had the chance to drink it.
Poppy used her magic to cook the food. Pixie dust was very different from fairy dust, and not nearly as potent, but it got the job done. By sprinkling the glittering powder over her pot and whispering an incantation, the contents would begin to boil. She could also adjust how hot the food got and for how long, but that required different specifications in the incantation. Poppy had grown lazy about nailing every single spell she cast, so oftentimes her meals were either undercooked or garnished with a blackened haze.
It didn’t matter; slop was slop anyway.
But those fruits yesterday had been to die for. Poppy would go marching straight back into that kitchen today if she actually meant that. Despite her stupid actions, however, she actually did value her life. She’d have to become much more cunning in her scavenging, now that she’d been seen.
Poppy groaned again before letting her head hit the glass of the window. It made a dull sound. What was she supposed to do now? This was the first time she’d been caught; she had no idea what this would entail. Was that damned prince curious enough to set traps for her? Perhaps he told someone about her, maybe even the kitchen staff! Although, he strangely left the kitchens yesterday without mentioning her existence, so she had no idea what he was planning. Perhaps he wished to keep her a secret so that when he captured her again he could sell her on the black market and keep the earnings to himself!
Poppy realized this was ridiculous. The boy was loaded, after all, what would he need with more money? It’d be more likely that he’d donate her to some science facility and be given a prize for his scientific discovery when in reality he’d done absolutely nothing.
This theory didn’t sound right either, so Poppy forced herself to stop venturing down that particular rabbit hole of thought. She decided to finally make breakfast.
It came out a little extra crispy than it was supposed to, but as it turns out, crispy oatmeal isn’t the absolute worst thing. Too bad it was crispy while also being runny--Poppy had no idea how that particular consistency was accomplished, but she made a mental note of how she pronounced the incantation. Perhaps she lingers on the r’s too much…
Then a thought came to her mind. Perhaps the prince was simply a sadist and he wanted to do something evil like stick a magnifying glass over her in the sunlight. Yeah, he seemed like the kind of kid who’d do that. It was always the rich ones who were slightly unstable.
This was Poppy’s indignation speaking.
She pressed her lips together and tapped her fingers on the upturned teacup that was her table. The sound was pleasantly satisfying, and she focused on it, her mind turning, until an idea popped into her head.
The vents! She could use them to scout out the castle and see what the prince was up to. If she drew a map and used her magic to light the way, it should work. The only problem was locating the royal brat, but it surely couldn’t be so difficult. After all, the prince was an ‘important’ figure; therefore, he should be somewhere predictable, like the throne room or his chambers. Poppy could already cross off over half the castle, since it was very unlikely he’d be in any servants’ quarters or countless unoccupied guestrooms.
Plus, since the vents cut through the entire castle, it shouldn’t take too long to find him. So long as Poppy goes in the right direction, that is, but how difficult could that be?
As it turned out, it was very difficult. Poppy had been walking for what felt like hours and every opening she came across looked out over either a hallway, a closet, or another hallway. How did the mice navigate through this place? She started off heading in what she guesstimated to be the right direction, but there had been so many twists and turns that she’d long since lost which way she was going. Plus, her map looked like garbage.
It was an erratic scribbling of lines and dashes, which could have been the jargon of some distant culture for all she knew. Hieroglyphics were more decipherable.
That said, Poppy had never been the best artist. She bitterly wondered why she thought this would be a good idea.
The glow of golden light radiated atop her hand in a floating ball. There was slight warmth to it, and it allowed Poppy to see the stone infrastructure of the vents. The ground was slightly uneven where the gout kept the stone blocks together, and she’d tripped several times on the irregular surface already.
Poppy stopped to take a swig from her waterskin. Despite the cool air in the vents, all this walking had caused her to work up a sweat. She focused her vision on the dark abyss past the light of her orb, but there was nothing to be seen. Perhaps it’d be best to try and find her way back at this point.
A familiar pattering sound approached from far down the tunnel. It grew louder very quickly, and Poppy could see the glowing reflection of her light in the mouse’s eyes before it even entered her range of vision. The moment its dark brown body entered the circle of her light, she wanted to throw herself to the ground in relief.
She didn’t do this obviously, but she did try to smile. “Hey.” She waved lamely and wanted to cringe at her own lack of charisma. She was as tactful as plywood.
The mouse looked at her, slowly approached, and hesitated before brushing its head against her hand. He was so fuzzy and cute that Poppy had to restrain herself from throwing herself at him. Instead, she scratched the spot behind his ears. He seemed to like that and inclined his head.
“Could you possibly help me out?” Poppy asked bashfully while petting his head. “I was looking to spy on Prince Kai, actually, when I got lost. It’s a long story, but I need to make sure he’s not up to anything suspicious. Would you happen to know where he’s located?”
The mouse sniffed the air for a few seconds and seemed to absorb this for a moment before lightly shoving his head against her legs. She supposed this was his signal for her to climb on now. Poppy whispered to the glowing orb in her hand and extinguished it. Then, in the abrupt darkness, she carefully maneuvered herself onto the mouse and made sure she was situated before saying, “Okay.” The mouse immediately darted down the shaft.
Poppy had been wondering why she hadn’t encountered any mice so far on her failed solo venture into the vents. It was likely they were avoiding her on purpose, as it was their custom to keep to themselves, but she had also worried she perhaps angered them. At least that didn’t seem to be the case now. They were nocturnal, after all, and it was noon. Maybe this mouse in particular just liked her for some reason.
They rode for less than ten minutes before coming to a stop. Thankfully, this time the ride hadn’t been nearly as nauseating. The air vent was located on the bottom of the vent, and Poppy slid off the mouse to peer over and between the slats. She could hear something ticking as her eyes took their time to adjust to the sudden intrusion of light.
Her eyes were drawn to the grandfather clock ticking against the wall of what appeared to be a lavishly-decorated suite. Poppy felt the heat of the mouse settling beside her. He looked down and observed the room as well. Poppy’s heart squeezed. It felt nice to have a partner in crime.
“So, this is his sitting room I’m guessing,” Poppy said musingly while her eyes digested the details of it all. The walls were a deep blue to match the royal crest, and the floors were the same dark wood as throughout the castle. However, even a nobody such as herself could tell that the navy-blue chaise lounge, marble coffee table, forest-green recliner, and countless original paintings cost a fortune. A foreign-stitched rug of multiple cool shades took up a large expanse of the floor and several thick books sat on the coffee table, apparently read multiple times according to their wear-and-tear. Whether it had been the prince himself who’d read them, she had no idea.
There were even strong flames the color of seafoam roaring in the fireplace, as if everything else didn’t proclaim rich! well enough.
“What a pompous little--” Poppy didn’t finish her sentence, feeling the warmth pressing against her side. The mouse was slowly falling asleep and she didn’t want to be caught swearing around him. It made her feel self-conscious somehow.
She sighed and scrubbed at her face with her hands. “Well, I guess the best thing to do now is wait until he shows up,” she murmured, mostly to herself since the mouse was falling into slumber. “Although I wonder how much intel I’ll be able to cover just by peeking into his sitting room.” Perhaps she should have spied on the kitchens for a few days instead, waited until the coast was clear. A part of her, however, couldn’t help but admit that spying on a royal was fun. For all but a second she wondered if it’d be better to look into his bedchamber, but then she shook away that idea. She wasn’t a pervert, and she certainly wasn’t looking to accidentally see anything.
For now, she’d wait. Poppy leant up against the mouse and their weights balanced against each other comfortably. “I need something to call you,” she quietly said to the mouse who might have been fast asleep for all she knew. “Your coat is a richer brown than most of the others’. You need something warm, like Nutmeg. That wouldn’t suit you though. I’m pretty sure you’re a boy, so you need something boyish.” Not that she was against genderless names. Those had their own unique charm as well.
“Oak. You look like an Oak to me,” she decided. Before Poppy knew it, she dozed off beside Oak and began to dream uneventful dreams.