here?â said Trish. âIf Sir Knight completed the task, shouldnât he have taken it with him?â
âIlda returns the object here if the person fails to complete the three tasks.â Irwinâs shoulders sagged, and suddenly he looked like a lost little kid instead of a flesh-eating troll. âSo I guess youâll be leaving me, then?â
I nodded. âWe have to go do the second task.â
He let out a long sigh. âI understand. Itâs justâ¦it gets a bit lonely here. Back when there was still magic, I could transport myself to different parts of the land to see my friends. But now the magic is almost gone, and theyâre all such a long way off.â
âIf you hate that the magic is disappearing, then why are you helping Ilda?â said Trish.
Irwin shook his head. âIâm a troll. Guarding is in my nature. When someone gives me an object, I have no choice.â
He looked so genuinely sad that I couldnât help reaching out and giving his giant blue leg a squeeze. âDonât worry,â I said. âIâll get rid of Ilda and bring the magic back. I promise.â It occurred to me how many times Iâd made that same promise since Iâd arrived in the Land of Tales. Apparently, I liked putting even more pressure on myself.
Irwin picked up his club and hugged it to his chest. âI wish I could believe that, but Iâm afraid my land is doomed. Still, I hope you succeed.â
âWhere thereâs a will, thereâs a way,â I said. I barely cringed anymore when cheesy sayings came out of my mouth, but I could practically hear Trish and Melissa rolling their eyes.
âVery true,â Irwin replied like Iâd said something unbelievably wise. At least he looked a little less deflated than he had before.
I tucked the spray bottle in my bagâcareful not to squish Leonard, who was still sleeping soundlyâand we waved good-bye to Irwin before heading back the way weâd come.
âThat was great,â said Melissa. âI could do it all over again!â
It took me a second to realize that she was being serious. âAre you crazy? We almost got turned into troll food!â
âI know,â she said, her eyes sparkling. âIt was so exciting. Way better than sitting in school all day.â She started singing softly to herself, putting the trollâs riddle to music.
âHow do you deal with being back in our boring old world, Jenny?â said Trish. âThis place is amazing. I thought it would be like living in a fairy tale, but itâs even better than that.â
Now Melissa was humming a different tune under her breath and composing a song about our adventure. I swore I heard her trying to rhyme the words âtrollâ and âboulderâ with each other.
I couldnât believe it. Did my friends not realize weâd almost been goners? Maybe there was a reason normal people werenât allowed to go on these kinds of adventures.
As we climbed over a fallen tree, I stopped in my tracks. The feeling was back, that prickle along my spine that made me think we were being watched.
âJenny, are you okay?â said Trish, turning to look at me.
For a second, I considered telling my friends the truth, but then I had a way-too-vivid image of Melissa running through the woods, excited to greet our potential stalker with a tune. Keeping my mouth shut was probably safer, at least for now.
âIâm ï¬ne. Letâs go.â I tried to make my voice light, but inside I felt anything but. There was no question now; we were deï¬nitely being followed.
The farther we were from Irwinâs cave, the less freaked out I got. Whoever was following us clearly didnât want to hurt us, at least not right now. Otherwise, they would have already tried. Most likely, Ilda or one of her spies was keeping tabs on us. The only thing I was sure of was that