The Science Of Magic

Chapter 6


After two hours, I finally managed to get some meager flames dancing in the damp tinder. One of my drownings had cost me Herbert's precious matches, and I was reduced to flint and steel. My fingers were bruised and numb and I dared not let out a sigh of relief, for fear of extinguishing the flames.

Herbert had declined to make the fire, saying, "My magic doesn't work that way."

"How did you start all those other fires?" I asked.

"With the matches you lost."

I patiently fed dry grass into the scattered flames, and after some tending, it began to burn on its own. I rocked back on my heels and groaned.

Two gusts came up, from the East. Sounding a great sigh, they blew out the tiny flames.

"A-Arrggh!!!!" I said. I threw the two stones at the pile of brush.

"Too bad you lost those matches?" Said Herbert, looking innocent.

The gusts came up again and quickly died.

I stared at the ruined and cooling pile of slightly charred brush. Herbert's face was lined with restrained mirth, he reddened until I thought he must laugh aloud or explode. Fortunately, he chose the former.

Again, the twin gusts blew around us, stronger and noisier.

"Herbert, this is not a good thing." I had to cling to a boulder to keep my footing. The wind stirred whirlwinds of dust. As quickly as it came, it relented. Herbert, who had been leaning into the wind, fell as the gust died.

"I was just thinking that perhaps now would be a good time to run away." Though Herbert rarely accepted my advice, I felt he would be sure to agree, this time. These were no ordinary gusts; something magical was behind it, and we were in the middle.

"Well, actually, I-" He had no chance to finish. This time, as the gusts blew in from the East, a great sighing rumble came from the west. "Aaah-aaah.." They seemed to say.


A massive gust blew over Herbert and myself. The very air around us burst into flame and just as quickly died. Herbert and I jumped as one and looked about the clearing. We looked at each other.

"It sounds almost like a giant-"


The wind came again, followed by: " WAA AA ZOO!" and a ball of flame -

This time, the flaming wind kindled the campsite into a raging conflagration, and my trousers, too. While I danced around the burning campsite, slapping at my buttocks and wailing like a banshee, Herbert tripped into the newly blazing campfire.

Then, all the water in the world fell from the sky, all at once.

I looked up from where I lay in the mud and wet ashes. An immense pair of watery green eyes stared back at me. The eyes were attached to a long scaly snout. It was pink. It sniffled. It ended in a seventeen-foot long dragon, which was also pink.

It was holding a ... bathtub.

Although the light and the arrangement of scales made it hard to be sure, it seemed to be one basic color. It was certainly pink. It was a no-kidding shade of pink that darkened toward the center of the back, and paled to white at its tummy. I imagined it looking a bit like a cloud, when flying overhead.

There was something familiar and annoying about that shade, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Later, Herbert told me that she was the same color as a Mary Kay Cat du Lac. However, I had never seen that breed of feline.

"Gesundheit?" I said, not really knowing what else I could say. I backed away slowly, without taking my eyes from the dragon.

"Thang you berry buch." said the dragon, sniffing piteously.

Herbert moved near us, dripping and swearing, "Why don't you point that thing somewhere else." He complained, pointing a dripping hand at the dragon's snout. The brim of his waterlogged hat fell across his face.

"By hubble apologies, I hab a code in by doze." explained the dragon.

"You, er nap in code?" I asked, completely unnerved. "Perhaps a cryptographer-" I stopped. It was evident, that the great beast was not pleased with that remark; something about the way the smoke roiled from its nostrils.

"Doe, doe. I hab a head code." The dragon said emphatically. It pointed a crooked claw at its snout.

It was the first time I had been face to snout with a dragon. Actually, it was the first time I had ever seen a dragon. From the perturbed expression, I was thinking it might be the last time, as well. I was at a loss for conversation.

Herbert dug into my ribs with his elbow, "Try no to piss off any large dragons if we can help it, eh?"

"Our humble thanks for putting out the flames," I said politely but sadly, looking at the drenched remains of the fire.

" WAA AA ZOO!" said the dragon.

Herbert whipped off his flaming hat and cast it to the ground. I couldn't tell if he stomped it repeatedly out of ire, or to put out the fire.

"Now look what you've done, you pink pinhead!" He gave one more emphatic stomp.

"Try not to piss on any dragons- uh-" I said. Herbert dug his elbow in my ribs, again. It took me a moment to recall that Herbert's colloquialism had nothing to do with the bladder.

"Rose." said the dragon.

"Huh ?" Herbert and I chorused.

"Not pink, rose; I'b a Rose Dragon"

Herbert thrust an arrogant, bushy eyebrow at the beast. I deemed it unwise to be aggressively confrontational with a dragon.

"But, I could be a snab dragon, if necessary." Before either of us could ask, the dragon opened its mouth with a whoosh, then closed it with a snap.

It was all the clarification I needed. I watched with a muted smile as Herbert bowed to the great pink lizard. Sparks danced across the ground, around Herbert's feet as he conjured a green bottle.

"Take this, ah, magic elixir, it will rid you of your cold, your eh -Roseness." He held the green elixir out to the dragon.

"I sure hobe dis works."

"Me too," I said, quite sincerely, "and quickly."

"It works fast."

The dragon snatched it and gobbled it, letting go a puff of grayish smoke as it swallowed.

"It will take a few minutes longer, if you don't open the bottle."

We watched the massive reptile, puzzling over the elixir. Turning its head one way and the other, and finally smacking its lips. I was momentarily concerned, when the great beast fixed us with a puzzled stare.

"Very much like ... but then again- Reminiscent of but not quite exactly-"

"Well, feel any better?" Herbert interrupted the staccato debate.

"It was rather small, that is there wasn't much to it. I wonder if I might have another?"

Herbert nervously eyed the gathering clouds, "Well, I may be able to get away with it."

He raised his hands, the clouds raced to him. I didn't want to watch. While it had never happened to me, I had watched it happen to Herbert over and over. It did not look like any fun.

As the crate appeared, a flash of lightning impaled Herbert.

" WAA AA ZOO!" exclaimed Rosie

With his smoldering hat in his hand, Herbert stood slowly.

"Now cut that out!" He motioned to the crate he had conjured. It was an odd-looking tan box. The corners and edges were as smooth as could be and not a sign of a nail or a peg.

It was marked with the ruins,  'NYQUIL®' on all sides.

"Try this, Your Rose-ship."

The dragon scooped up the box and swallowed it.

"Meanwhile, how about a little help with a campfire?" Herbert asked, while wringing water from the hem of his robes between his hands.

"All right, stand back." Almost before we could get clear, the big lizard twitched its tail (and it was mostly tail and jaws) and bowled over a dozen trees. There followed a familiar whooshing sound, a bright stream of flame from pink jaws. The pile of downed lumber, in the clearing, sprang into flames.

"We just want to dry out, not burn down the forest." I said, backing from the newborn inferno.

The dragon scratched its scaly head, with the claws still holding the bathtub. Shrugging its shoulders, it used the bathtub to scoop up the water from a local pond and empty it onto the flames.

Two rather disgruntled ducks scolded, but they kept their distance, an unforeseen advantage to conversing with a dragon.

Holding out the tub the dragon said, "Isssh a real handy thing to have." It winked conspiratorially, while wobbling, backward and forward, which is a surprisingly disconcerting thing for a dragon to do. If I didn't know better, I'd say creature was inebriated. I would have to ask Herbert what was in the elixir.

"Your cold is gone," I said meekly. The beast looked puzzled.

"Your cold," I repeated, "is gone."

"Shay," bellowed the beast, "my cold ish gone!" The dragon hiccupped (at least I hoped it was a hiccup) and puffs of steam drifted from its nostrils. It thumped its tail in joy, wiping out several more trees in the process.

Rosie said, "Watch thish." (I make it a habit, never to argue with a seventeen foot dragon) and pursed those big jowls into a tiny tube (for that matter I usually avoid dragons altogether). With tiny hooting noises, it produced three smoke rings and a thin stream of soft red flame. A clawed, pink talon was insinuated into the flame and delicately spun it into a ring.

"Thish iss wunnerful!" Rosie smiled a rather frightening dragon smile, and turned toward us. I was afraid for my life. Herbert was already sneaking off, through what was left of the trees. But, all the jaws produced were a warm gust of wind, which dried us completely.

After another scary smile, Rosie leapt into the sky with a whoop. Three barrel rolls and two loop-the-loops (complete with flaming effects) later, Rosie crash landed in the remains of the pond, scattering mud and little fishes in every direction. She was, as it turned out, fast asleep.

I was attempting to get the little fishes out of my hair. Herbert sat down with a resigned splat, dripping mud and crushing the remnants of his hat.

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Hanna and Tiela

The rabbit closed his eyes, and dropped out of the sky. It landed with a large thump. Its massive legs absorbed most of the shock, and nullified most of its own inertia. It did nothing, however, to dampen the effects of inertia, on the two in the basket.

Slowly, Tiela and Hanna peered over the edge of the basket. Tiela's hair had fallen forward, covering her face:

"We've landed," she said.

"Well, I'm certainly glad you told me," replied Hanna, a little impatiently.

The castle emerged from the shadows it cast. It was large and old, very old. It was unlike any castle they had ever seen. It was, of course, dark and foreboding. It loomed over them, and gave them an eerie feeling.

The gardens and shrubs had fallen to weeds and scrub. Its high windows flew the remnants of tattered curtains. Weeds and slime filled the moat.

No bright pennants flew. No wisps of smoke curled from the numerous chimneys. No sounds of battle practice rang through the courtyards.

Apparently, no one was home.

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Whoosh; Whoosh. " WAA AA ZOO!"

The barn had rough-hewn wooden walls and a straw roof. As it tumbled in flames about us, Herbert and I sleepily gathered what belongings we could find.

"I subbose my code is back, and my head really hurts," Said Rosie, followed by a great slurping sniffle.

"Ah Ah-  WAA AA ZOO!" Rosie said.

Well, that definitely put an end to Herbert's hat.

We ran for the door. In Rosie's case, this led to running with the door, her long neck and high shoulders dragging flaming pieces behind her.

Herbert tossed three gold pieces to the owner of the barn, who had let us stay there, out of the kindness of his heart (Big pink dragon and all.)

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"That does sound like a pretty nasty cold," I told the big pink dragon.

"You have no idea, I was disinherited from the Labyrinth because of... of... WAA AA -"

I bravely stuck my finger under the dragon's nose.

"Thag you bery buch." said Rosie.

I moved my finger out of harm's way, "Don't mention it."

" -AA ZOO!"

The blast blew all the leaves off a small elm, the denuded branches crackled with flame.

Herbert sauntered toward us, hat in his hand. It was not out of courtesy, he doffed his hat; since we met Rosie, he's running out of hats.

"How long have you had that cold, anyway?" questioned Herbert.

"A hundred and thirdy four years."

"Goodness." Herbert ran his fingers through his beard, "Technically, I think you have an allergy. It won't get better until we know what you're allergic to.

"I'b tried ebrything," Rosie snarfled. I think that's something only a dragon can do. It's roughly akin to a human sniffle, only, given the difference in anatomy, much more impressive.

"Nothing seems to help, and until I get rid of it I can't go back home."

"The Labyrinth?" I asked sympathetically

"Can't go there, either."

"I thought that was home."

"Well, sort of. I meant my cave. The Labyrinth is an association, as well as a place. Enkvil, that's my grandfather, was against them going condo. I had to abandon my egg there." She snarfled again. It was a miserable sound, somewhere between a slurp and a sniffle. A big silver tear slid down her nose.

"After 134 years, wouldn't they have forgotten about your cold?" I asked.

"Well, it was just one sneeze that got me in trouble."

"One sneeze. Surely they've forgotten by now."

"Dragons have very long memories; specially under the circumstances." Rosie looked rather abashed.

"What circumstances?"

"Well," She glanced back and forth between us and wrapped her sinuous tail around her massive haunches, "The Great and Powerful Gordolac, had just changed his name to the Great and Powerful George, (something to do with his brother and a fight with a human) in honor of a treaty with the Lord of the Eagles.

Windhar, that was the Eagle Lord's name, and George were signing the treaty. There was a huge party in progress, to celebrate the signing of the Non-aggression Pact."

"I was at the party, minding my own business when I sneezed. Though I felt it coming, I never sneezed before. As far as I know, no dragon had ever sneezed, before. I didn't know what to expect. It was terrible."

"The whole cavern was filled with the stench of singed eagle feathers; all the food was burned to a crisp. The Great and Powerful George squatted at the head of the table. In his claws he held the singed corner of what was left of the Treaty."

"There was a great screeching and roaring. Everyone started pelting me with burned food and saying rude things. They banished me, directly."

She finished with a woeful snarf (not quite a full snarfle) whipping her tail, agitatedly.

I felt bad for her. I imagined all those years banished from home, without any family.

"What about your egg? Will it be there after all this time?" I almost said 'be alive' but I changed my mind, thinking it would be impolite.

"Oh, yes. Dragons' eggs stay dormant, until the Dragon hatches it..." She blushed, I don't know how a pink dragon could blush, but she did.

Herbert and I remained quiet for a while.

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It was annoying. She couldn't stop thinking about him. Part of her, imagined she could feel and hear that thwack on the bottom. At the same time, another part remembered his scent. She remembered the inexorable fascination that led her to tiptoe to him in the dark, and slip beneath his cloak, soundlessly.

She remembered how nice it was to kiss him.

Burring her wings at herself, she said aloud, "He pushed me in the River!" She rubbed her posterior, thoughtfully.

A large brown squirrel looked at her skeptically, then turned his attention back to the chestnut he held.

"Oh, what do you know!"

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Rosie made a great barbecue. I rigged a spit and Herbert conjured us some ribs. Rosie directed a spiral of flame around the spit and we didn't even have to turn it.

It smelled wonderful.

"This is taking much too long." Herbert sounded slightly flustered, as he said this.

I was making a salad of wild greens; arugala, watercress, raspberries and walnuts. The raspberries, being rather squishy, would have to serve as dressing. I looked up to where Herbert was pacing.

"It's almost done. Here, have some salad while you're waiting." I held out a full broadleaf to the wizard.

"No, I mean travel time." He took the salad anyway. "We're never going to get to Westkeep in time."

"In time for what, Herbert." He had not been very forthcoming with the details of our journey. I had pestered him unmercifully, as I had been against it from the start, but he hadn't said a word.

"All in good time lad, I -"

"You could fly." Rosie put the barbecue on hold for a moment and blinked at us.

"If only I could." mumbled Herbert.

The light dawned slowly but I finally said, "No, Herbert. I think Rosie is offering us a ride."

"You mean flying through the air on a Dragon, bareback?"

"I believe that is what she had in mind. Why, do you have reservations?"

"I didn't know I needed them."

Rosie nodded her assent, "Yeah, and these ribs are done. Although, why you'd want to ruin perfectly good meat is beyond me."

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The rabbit staunchly volunteered to stand guard outside the castle, "No. I vill not go in dat place. You go if you must; I'll stay here."

Spike could not be moved. Tiela tried six of her best pouty-faces to no avail. Hanna tried reason; Tiela tried coercion. They both tried pleading.

"Dat is a bad place, I don't go in dere." Spike could not be persuaded.

"What." pondered Tiela, aloud?

"He won't go in." Hanna translated.

"Well," Tiela squared her shoulders and her wings, heroically. "We'll have to do it without him."

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"You forgot!" I was amazed.

"It's been a hundred and thirty four years."

"I thought dragons had long memories," offered Herbert.

"Very long memories. It is unfortunate that they are not also good memories."

"So how will you find your egg?"

A very serious expression came over her, the kind of determined set of features, which can be daunting on the face of a six-year-old child. I'll leave it for your imagination, to picture it on a seventeen-foot long pink dragon.

"I'll find it." I had no doubt she would.

Herbert had been silent during our exchange, making noise only when he lit his glass pipe with a hissing, sucking sound.

"We'll help you find your egg." I offered cheerfully.

Herbert snarfled, creating a billow of bluish smoke.

"Say, that was pretty good." The dragon was visibly impressed. "I didn't know humans could do that."

"My impetuous friend, here, is committing us to something we may not be able to er, ah. I don't know if we can; Well, I... "

"Don't worry, Herbert. Nod is just being nice. I won't hold you to anything.

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As they got near the castle, Tiela's wings began buzzing and rattling. Hanna held out her free hand to her little friend, to try to calm her. Hanna was scared, too.

They thought the castle was big; they had no idea it was BIG. The intricate stone work was impressive, where it showed through the vines. It was immensely old. Severe stone gargoyles peered from the masonry like carrion fowl.

"I feel like they're watching us, Hanna. Make them stop."

Hanna did not reply. Tiela would have been surprised if she had. Tiela was just being cute; it was in her nature to do so.

Surrounding the castle was a mote, some fourty feet across. It stank. The water was an oozy, variegated green, choked with weeds and debris. Creepers and vines from the walls and some lugubrious tendrils from the mote conspired to conceal the open drawbridge.

"Tiela dear, give us a light."

Tiela hummed a reply and squeezed her eyes shut. In her upturned palms, a quavery blip of blue light appeared. As it solidified, she tossed it into the air.

The little sphere of light illuminated the bleak interior of the entrance. Inside were several piles of wind-blown detritus, including a hat with a feather in it. The feather was attached to a rather nasty-looking arrow.

Twisted vines and disreputable roses framed the opening. It looked like a cave.

The thick oak planking of the bridge creaked and muttered, even under their light footsteps. They stopped before the curtain of foliage, anxiously eyeing the closed door at the back of the entry.

"Do we have to, Hanna?"

"We've come this far, sweetie." Hanna smiled and squeezed her hand.

That was enough for Tiela. She would march into the gates of hell, with her hand in Hanna's.

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"Oh no." Herbert cried. "Not that, anything but that."

In the distance, just big enough to see, was a tiny, flying rummage sale.

"She's not so bad, Herbert. She's just misunderstood. Try to be nice to her, I know she's a bite in the ass, but I like her." Why I rushed to defend her, I'll never know.

As she got closer, I could see the sour look on her face. Her demeanor said she was on a mission. She lit on a tree limb.

"Well, speaking of clichés; the inept wizard and his bumbling apprentice." Hands on hips, sarcastic glimmer in her eyes; it was Her alright.

"Listen, you diminutive dork, how do you feel about Bossy, for a name?"

She glared at us.

"And I'll sell you to a dairy farmer with cold hands!"

I watched her wings go from an adversarial flutter, up the scale, until they were a blurry buzz.

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Muriel Johnson was running late. She wanted to get home before Dan, so he wouldn't have to deal with the kids by himself. "Poor bastard," she thought, " Works his ass off for us, and still manages a 3.2 average at the University."

She had big plans for them on the first school break. Three miraculous days, sans children, in Mike and Verna's cabin.

She paid the counter girl for the subs, and hefted the big bag.

"Oh damn!" she exclaimed, digging for the car keys. She had to set the bag on the roof of the Toyota, to dig with both hands.

Muriel tossed her handbag on the passenger seat and pulled her head back out of the car. The bag of subs looked funny, all shimmery and shiny. Maybe it was just the bright sunlight playing tricks on her eyes; maybe it was the joint she and Lisa had shared after lunch. The bag stopped shimmering and disappeared.

She stared at the spot for the longest time. The bag did not come back.

"Gosh, lady, how did you do that?" said an awed, eight year-old, on-looker.

She turned and looked at the child, mouth open, eyes wide. She blinked four times and said, "I don't know."

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wazoo 2

Herbert conjured up dinner; little loaves of bread stuffed with spiced meats, cheese, and vegetables. They were wrapped in paper and, stranger still it was the thinnest paper I had ever seen. They were quite good.

We sat under a stand of oaks, by the place where a streamlet splashed over a pile of rock. The sun was burnishing the clouds with pastels that reflected in the curtain of water and mist.

I looked up and noticed Rosie, winging her way back through the light show. Somehow, the sight of a large pink dragon flying above us didn't seem odd to me.

Dot was wrestling with her food on a large rock. Her wings buzzed spasmodically, and she was muttering epithets under her breath. The food seemed to be winning.

"Rosie's back." I informed Herbert.

"I wonder if she spotted the Keep?" He looked to the sky.

Dot had finally subdued her food and was ruminating a rather extensive mouthful, "Hmm agh fnut er er oh see herfn."

"I beg your pardon?" I inquired.

She managed a swallow and said, "Who or what is this Rosie person?" She tapped her foot in time to her wings, let out a resounding belch, and sneered.

There was a massive crashing in the trees. Squirrels and birds chattered and flew every which way. A few branches fell through the trees to the clearing. A mighty " WAA AA ZOO!" sounded, followed by a jarring thud.

"That," Herbert said, without looking up from his food, "is Rosie."

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"A sandwich, that's what this is called?" Rosie turned it over in her claws. "So this is a sandwich?"

"Yes, Rosie. That is actually a sub sandwich."

"So it's not quite a sandwich, but it will be someday, or is it part of a greater sandwich?"

"It's named after a Submarine-"

"A subma- who?"

"-Because of it's shape, aw never mind. It's just a name."

"Well," she swallowed it whole, with a snap of her jaws. A long black tongue whopped around the pink jowls.

"Not, eh, not much to them," Rosie sat back on her haunches and looked thoughtful, "Did I detect something like meat in there? Still, not quite the same. I wonder if one of you might run through the field, over there, holding the sandwich over your head. Perhaps if I swoop down on it and -"

"I think not," said Herbert.

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lightly toasted

In the beginning, Dot didn't get along with Rosie very well. (Actually, she didn't get along in the middle or at the end, either) An uneasy truce was struck up shortly before time to bed down. They didn't speak to each other or look at one another. They stayed on opposite sides of the fire.

At least it was quiet.

When Dot had gone to do whatever it is that Pixies do before bed, Rosie cocked her head to one side and said:

"Can I singe her wings? Just a little? They'll grow back."

Herbert sniggered.

I got a little huffy,

"Alright you two. Dot is a handful, I'll not deny that; but she's a person,"

"Pixie." interjected Herbert.

"Bitch," murmured Rosie.

"She's a fellow being, and deserves a little consideration, no matter how difficult she is." I thought the point went over well.

That's when Dot returned and put in her two cents worth; "Oh, get a life," she said, and flitted away.

"How about just a hot foot?" asked Rosie, quietly.

"I'm thinking," I replied. "I'm thinking."

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"But, mon petit, A flying bunny?" Jeanne-Pierre shrugged his shoulders, "It eez ridiculous, ne c'est pas?"

"I saw, what I saw." Natali returned flatly, "And knock off that atrocious French accent. You may fool the Crimson Idiot and those silver flunkies, but I am not impressed. You look a bloody fool spouting French with all that red hair and those freckles, Shamus O'Reilly." Her words carried a lilt that was not usually evident.

He cringed when she said his real name. He loathed the archetypical image associated with the red hair. He certainly did not fit into so neat a category (the fact he could use 'archetype' correctly in a sentence proved it). Still and all, most people he knew tended to reinforce and believe such social myths.

"I don't recall any mention of flying bunnies in the mission specs," He lifted his hands defensively, "but I may have missed something."

"We are not trained to deal with the supernatural."

"We can't be sure it is the supernatural we're dealing with." Replied Shamus.

"That's three really unusual occurrences in one expedition. I think we should report in at once. We should, at least, contact the Chief." She looked toward the sky. "It's a full moon tonight; it will be rising soon."

"Merd!" Jeanne-Pierre let it out as a whisper.

"I suppose you have the collar handy." She spoke with the air of one who must suffer for the good of others, and wants everyone to know it. She had changed tactics rather deftly. Sometimes, Jean-Pierre wondered if she ever uttered a syllable that wasn't carefully planned.

Of course, you and I know she didn't.

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The castle was ominous on the inside, too. They followed the passage behind the door, until it let out on a huge courtyard. Stone steps and walkways whirled and spiraled, separating the gardens. Each garden had a low wall about it, placing each bed at a different level. All of them were choked with weeds. To the right, somewhere, a fountain giggled.

They walked slowly; mouths open, awe-struck and scared. At a branching of the path, they stopped. Tiela looked to Hanna.

"I'll be fine. It doesn't seem to go very far." They parted.

Hanna was surprised at the resilience of the cultivated plants, against the onslaught of the weeds. Among the twisted vines, she could discern the spent blooms of roses. She wasn't sure how old this place was, but she did feel it had been a very long time since anyone lived here.

Hanna was imagining the gardens in their heyday, when she was interrupted.

"Hanna!" shrilled Tiela, "Hurry!"

She always appeared to be rather stately and sedate but, like Tiela's cuteness, it was in her nature to be that way. She could really move when she panicked.

She panicked.

She was out of breath when she reached the other branch of the path; she ran on, anyway. She rounded a hedge and there was Tiela, playing in a fountain. Her crystal laughter mingled with the murmur of the water. The sun beamed through a rent in the clouds.

Hanna couldn't stay angry. Her heart was still thumping, but she had to smile at Tiela's antics.

"You retched fairy! Scaring the daylights out of me like that, you ought to be ashamed." She said with mock severity.

"Oh, Hanna! It's so lovely, I just couldn't resist."

While the sunlight lasted, they played.

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The combination of windows, clerestories, open spaces and skylights, gave the old fortress, an air of light and life that it did not deserve. Dust and collapsed furnishings littered some rooms and hallways. Other areas seemed to have been tidied, just yesterday.

Hanna and Tiela were strolling serenely through Gods-only-knew what part of the castle. They were very quiet, and quite obviously impressed with the place. It was the same feeling one would get at a Sunday picnic, after a funeral, on All Hallows' Eve.

The light shifted as clouds passed by the sun. Hanna felt a shiver through Tiela's hand. The only sound to mar the silence, was their breathing.

They passed through rooms of un-guessable former uses, some which defied description. Others were easy to fathom; library, bedrooms, and music room. The armoury was well stocked and undamaged.

The kitchen was a marvel; large enough for a whole troop of cooks, and several echoes. The echoes sounded thin and lonely, ringing on the rock as they failed. The light, too was failing; as the Sun drooped below the battlements, shadows filled the skylights.

"Can we find our way back with your will-o-the-wisp?"

"Hanna, I'm not even sure where back is." Tiela's wings drooped a little.

"Can't the will-o-the-wisp find it?"

"Find what? I don't know where we are. What should I set it after?"

"How about the fountain?"

Tiela brightened," That's a good idea. You're so smart." she hugged Hanna.

Hanna was not usually in need of such flattery, (it usually made her nauseous) but somehow, it was very reassuring right now.

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Herbert conjured it, during a "clear spell" and called it a "ray-dee-oh". It was the damnedest piece of woodworking I've ever seen. It was mottled green and brown. The runes "U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CORPS field unit #fru 129839466" were emblazoned across it. When Herbert opened a panel in the front, it flashed lights, and chirped at us.

Now, this was Magic.

But he didn't consider it magic at all. Once He told me:

"Just calling stuff up, that ain't really magic, Nod. It's sort of a slight-of-mind trick. It's not a talent or a skill; it's a gift. I'm not even sure how I do it, but it's not magic."

I'd be damned if I could tell the difference.

"This gadget hasn't been invented yet. There is nothing in your world that can generate a coherent radio signal and yet-" He twiddled the lighted contraption, and it began making a hissing sound,

"-That‘s static. It's the only sound this radio should make."

He twiddled some more and it gave forth with a staccato string of high-pitched beeps. Twiddle and; voices, speaking the oddest language I'd ever heard. Twiddle and; a profusion of high-pitched tones. They changed so fast that they seemed to blend into one long, quavering squeal.

"High speed data transfer." We all put on puzzled expressions,

"Uh, never mind. It means that some very bad things are happening and we are in the middle of it."

"Some extremely evil creatures-"

"More evil than Republicans?" I interrupted, in awe.

"Yes, even worse than Rash Limpballs. They are going to invade this lovely place, and begin a type of war you couldn't even imagine. They will wipe out every man, woman and child, without hesitation."

"The infantry of their armies alone, out-numbers your entire civilization a hundred to one."

"I don't understand," said Rosie, "a hundred to one what?"

"If they wanted to, they could take the smallest part of that army, and devote one hundred men for each man woman and child on your entire planet."

"The only superiority we have is magic. They have no concept of magic. We must use this to our advantage. That's why we need the Scepter, it's a powerful magical device. -I think."

"They must be defeated here, before they get a foothold, or we will all be erased from the Universe. Look."

Herbert sketched a circle in the air, with his hands. The ground around his feet crackled and danced with sparks. The air inside the circle, glittered and turned mirror-like for a moment, then was shot with rainbow-like darts of light.

A voice began:

"We're sorry. The site you have requested cannot be connected as accessed. If you think you accessed in error please disconnect and try again or consult your directory. Thank you."

"What is it, Herbert?" I asked.

"Wrong number." He sketched a new circle.

"Welcome to Madame Dominara's House of fun. All the girls are busy now, so STAY ON THE PORTAL, SLAVE..."

Herbert, red faced, cut the connection.

Again, he drew a circle. This time a grim picture came to light:

A countryside pitted and scarred by war. Refugees lined a broad road; wounded and dying were everywhere. Great silver and grey machines swooped out of the air, raining fire and death on the unlucky travelers.

In the streets, women and children, the old and injured were marched to the center of the village. Uniformed soldiers wrestled them into an orderly line. A rank of soldiers pointed some type of device at the miserable group. The people jumped and danced and fell to the ground dead.

"There's more, most of it much worse. They're coming here next."

"What do we do?"

"How can we..."

"Who else knows about this?" Dot's question stood out from the others because of its tone and content. We all stayed silent for a moment; all eyes turned on Dot. To her credit, she only blinked twice with her mouth open, then she said, "Well, it would be nice to know if we're alone in this; can we expect any help?"

"Some, but not much." Herbert scrutinized Dot, for a beat, then continued, "I have friends to guide and help us on the way, but if you mean a force of arms, it's highly unlikely. Still, aid comes from unlikely places in time of need." He examined her, bunching his eyebrows in the process.

"Nod and I are the only ones committed to this thing," He turned to me, "and you, only to save your butt." They know we're connected. They're after me; they'll be after you, too. Perhaps they already are -"

"Yeah, the fiasco at the inn, you re... mem... ber..." Dot blurted out, slowing as she saw my expression.

"And just how did you know about the inn? Unless you were following me."

"I did no such thing. It was just, I er..." Dot was at a loss for words.

"Before I go any farther with the explanations; if you're not up to this, no one will think badly of you. But please, don't even mention this much to anyone, even a trusted loved one could be a problem." Herbert looked from face to face, ending with mine.

"Who's with me?"

"Of course, old fellow; I wouldn't dream of missing this adventure." I wished I felt as brave as I sounded

Herbert smiled, "You may feel differently before we're through." He raised his scurrilous eyebrows at me, as if measuring me for a moment; then he grinned. "Perhaps not."

"Nonsense, it's settled."

"Once you get into this, there's no turning back until it's over for good or ill." He looked at the dragon and the Pixie.

"You can count on me," said Rosie.

"I can't turn back now," said Dot.

The fire was barely glowing embers. Herbert squatted nearby, reading by the light of his magic lantern. He turned it off and gazed at me, when I stirred.

Above, the sky was awash with stars. The moon was glowing on the horizon. Illuminated in the celestial light, was a flying figure. It appeared to be a...

"Herbert," I whispered; He looked up.

"Did you see that?"

"Did I see what?"

"A big flying rabbit, pass by the moon." I continued expectantly, "It's not the first time I've seen it."

"You're hallucinating, probably just some clouds." Nonetheless, he glanced up at the moon, before pulling his bedroll up tight.

"Get some sleep you'll need it tomorrow."

Ah, well.

Chapter 5 Contents Chapter 7


The castle got cold and dark, rapidly. Hanna dragged a broken chair to the center of one hall and battered it to pieces. Tiela set the tinder ablaze. As they warmed their hands at the fire, Tiela saw the dancing flames reflected in the glass of a cabinet.

The cabinet held glittery things and that held her attention; though, she couldn't quite make the objects out.

"Hanna?" she sounded curiously distracted.

"Yes." From Tiela's tone, Hanna expected something slightly ditzy. Hanna didn't mind. It was part of the nature of such sprightly elementals to be a little unfocused. Hanna found it endearing in Tiela, because she knew Tiela was not slow; she had one of the quickest analytical minds Hanna had ever encountered.

"Can you see into that Curio cabinet over there," She pointed and flittered, "is it filled with trinkets?"

"I'm afraid I can't see it, sweetie. Do you think it's important?"

"No, well maybe. I think interesting is a better word."

"Let's go look then, shall we?"

More than trinkets: amulets, charms, weirding stones, rings, and what-have-you. Tiela was especially fond of the what-have-yous, she wasn't sure what they were, but they were pretty. Tiela chose a ring with a pearl and two diamonds. (She did not know these were precious. She would have laughed at the idea, if you told her.) She tried on various other trinkets before her reflection in the glass, dismissing this one and that.

Hanna found a small wooden brooch. It was inlaid with filigree of excruciating detail. She ran her fingers over the wood. She also found a ring. Three strands each of silver and gold were tightly braided to the setting. The setting held an emerald captive, flanked by guardian fire opals.

The girls spent some time giggling, trying on jewels, and posing for each other.

"Welcome to Keep al na' Rog."

Tiela flitted, head first, straight to the ceiling. Hanna couldn't breathe, but did manage to catch Tiela on the rebound.

"Do not be frightened, you have done no harm, and I mean you none."

The voice came from an elegant lady, dressed in mauve, blue and maroon robes. She seemed to radiate a soft light. Her voice was soft and resonant; it tickled the back of their brains in a hypnotic way.

They gaped at her, as she shimmered into view. Hanna leaned against the cabinet holding Tiela in her arms.

"I am called Arianna. You look tired and hungry and cold." She gestured toward the fire, with slow, elegant motions, and couches and tables appeared, "Come and rest and eat." Snapping her fingers, she giggled. Many dishes appeared on the tables. Platters of breads and cheeses, fruits and little pies.

"And we'll need something to drink," she paused and smiled, raising one hand with a flourish.

About a hundred gallons of clear pink wine appeared by magic, over their heads. It was unfortunate that Arianna did not think to conjure it with a container.

The threesome stood dripping wine. Tiela and Hanna looked at each other, then at the apparition.

"Nobody's perfect." she shrugged.

Chapter 5 Contents Chapter 7


"No, I'm not a ghost, I'm a synchronotic projection. For the moment, the interface is not yet complete," She touched the stone with her hand, "but good enough for all practical purposes."

"What did she say?" Tiela whispered to Hanna.

"I exist on entirely different plane than yours. Synchronotic projection allows me to be in two places at the same time." She looked between the two uncomprehending faces.

"By Folleying the space-time matrix one can optimize coordinate pairs and..." She slowed to a stop. The girls were staring, slack-jawed at her.

"I'm a ghost," said the ghost, with a resigned sigh.

Chapter 5 Contents Chapter 7

Chapter 5 Contents Chapter 7


The sun crept through the foliage, and peered over the edge of the purple hills. Morning was beginning, opening a whole new can of worms.

Dot refused to ride on Rosie's back; "I'm not riding no flying, stinking worm." Jaw set in determination; she tapped her little foot and glared.

Little jets of steam vented through Rosie's nostrils, "Who are you calling a worm, you insect."

Herbert held up his hand, "It's over a hundred leagues. You can't keep up with Rosie's flying over that distance. We don't have time for rest stops." reminded Herbert, rather gruffly.

Eventually it was settled. Herbert and I rode, Dot fluttered along behind, pumping like mad to keep up. I sat behind Herbert and after a few leagues, I turned to see how Dot was doing. Some cruel streak in me, (one I didn't realize I had, until I met Dot) was enjoying the spectacle. As a counterpoint to Rosie's slow, methodical wing-beats, Dot was flailing away stubbornly, huffing and puffing and red in the face.

"Try the backstroke," I hollered after her. After I enjoyed my moment of revenge, I had a moment of remorse. For that moment I saw her face as I had once before, without the mask of anger and tragedy that shadowed the sweetness. When I looked back again, the mask was back.

As she flew behind us, she had one finger raised to us; and yes, it was her middle finger.


Chapter 5 Contents Chapter 7


Chapters ...1 ...2 ...3 ...4 ...5 ...6 ...7 ...8 ...9 ...10 ...11 ...12 ...13 ...14 ...15 ...16 ...17 ...18 ...19 ...20 ...Contents

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