The Science Of Magic

Chapter 12

Plan B

"I say we quick fry them, one little fire-ball, judiciously placed ..." We groaned, communally, when Rosie brought that up again. Herbert favored her with a quick, but thoroughly reproving glance, and continued his rebuttal.

"We can't, very well, just walk up and knock on the mouth of the cave, can we? I mean, we can't just ask them to give up this scepter they've had for hundreds of years." Herbert was clearly puzzled, that I could see it any other way.

"Why not?" I asked, "After hundreds of years, they may not even remember how they got it." I was operating on instinct, a gut level feeling that told me to keep it simple. So far, secrecy and subterfuge had bollixed everything. Subtlety is for wizards; I am a humble business man.

"Right, then, we'll toast them slowly, on individual spits." Rosie offered, cheerfully. She was ignored, this time. Dragons are not overly fond of Dwarves.

"We have reliable information that the Dwarves will trade the scepter for the Mages' Stone, and we have the Mages' Stone. What could be simpler?"

"You're forgetting that Dwarves are enchanted creatures, they're not Færy and they're not human. They know little of either world." Dot held up a finger to stop me, before I could interrupt her. "And we know less about them."

"They think differently, they have a different frame of reference. The youngest Dwarf I ever met was over two-hundred years old, and he was still an apprentice."

"We could block them in a cave, close it with a big rock and I could bake them 'til they're squishy and tender on the inside and nice and crispy on the outside."

"Rosie! What in the world do you have against Dwarves?"

"Well, I-"

"Has a Dwarf ever wronged you?"

"I never actually met one, but I hear they're yummy!"

"I think subtlety is the best approach." Dot surprised me by showing none of her typically vehement cynicism. Her thick brows were knotted with genuine concern. Her tone of voice was persuasive, rather than caustic.

I looked around the circle of supernatural creatures all nodding in agreement with Dot (a worthy accomplishment on it's own.) Herbert too, was in agreement.

Time for plan B.

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wondering aloud (apologies to I. Anderson)

Dot was petulant about the costume, Tiela was not immediately enthused, either. They were to be dressed as children, with their wings tucked into their polka-dot dresses. They both complained about this, in a manner that was loud and persistent. It was, they whined, an extremely uncomfortable position for the wings.

I will not attempt to reconstruct the shit-storm of epithets and verbiage that rained down on me when I mentioned to the girls that subterfuge was their idea. Never remind a female that you were right, being correct is one thing that is cannot be forgiven. As a final insult, they were both incredibly cute, but only because they looked so silly.

Dot, being slightly shorter and less, eh- padded than Tiela, got the smallest, tightest dress. Her small breasts strained against the fabric.

Tiela was so well endowed it was impossible to hide her mammalian attributes, even in a dress two sizes too big.

"This will never do. They don't look a bit like your daughters. They don't even look like little girls. They look like Floozies"

"Floozies!!" Chorused the girls.

Tiela, twisted her neck round, to whisper, "Hanna, what's a floozy?"

Herbert shrugged and bent to rummage through several crates on the wagon. For once, mercifully, he was speechless.

Rosie slinked her neck around us, and peered at the girls. "Can't you suck them in or something?"

"They don't work that way." Explained Dot, impatiently.

"How would you know?" Countered Tiela.

I thought, of the two, I preferred Dot's breasts. Though they were small, they were perfectly shaped...  I looked up at their faces for a moment. From the posture and expression on their faces, I guessed I'd been thinking out loud again. I had been doing that too much, lately

I guess I was getting addled; I had not meant to think aloud, but the rubies seemed to have ideas of their own.

"What d'ya mean small!?" Dot growled at me.


"If you prefer this bust-less wonder-hag to," Tiela was cut off by Dot.

"You brainless bimbo."

Open mind, insert foot. In the future I will endeavor to be more careful with my mental observations.

Ah, well.

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Spike: the importance of a proper landing

"The Dwarves won't understand us bringing a dragon along." Dot offered, in a surprising spate of continued helpfulness.

Rosie had made her feelings clear, and while Spike harbored no ill-feelings toward Dwarves, he held no great love of them, either.

"Dwarves, schmarves, effery-ding sqvishes if you land on it properly."

That settled it. After some discussion, Rosie and Spike headed off to locate the Labyrinth. Rosie was determined to recover her egg and Spike was determined. I was thinking it would be nice to have a rearward post for strategic retreat (i.e., running away.)

"Stay in touch, you two, and don't try to tackle that place alone."

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Forest Song

It was an eerie sound. Dim and ghostly, it rang through the rocks and stones around us. We began to hear it, over the creak of the wheels and the plod of the horses. Each of us fell silent, in turn. I sent a mental note to Rosie and Spike.

First a solo voice, holding one note, then traveling up a nerve-racking octave. It was strong and clear, but somehow eerie. The other spirit-voices would answer in harmony. Tiela and Hanna turned to one another, the ponies' hair bristled.

Oddly, Herbert sat bent over in the wagon, holding his face in his hands, alternately muttering things like, "Why me," and, "I don't believe this."

The sound began again, with the eerie, solo voice, stretching the octave. This time I could make out the words:

"Hi-i-i-i-i -  Ho-o-o-o-o!"

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There were seven of the gnarled, little men who came to greet us. Unkempt but well shod, they were bearded and balding. As they marched down the path, they sang.

"Hi-i-i Ho-o-o! Hi-ho! Hi-ho!..."

I slowed the horses, as the Dwarves approached.

"Oh my God," Said Herbert.

I pulled the horses to a stop. "What is it?"

"If any of these guys are named Grumpy or Doc, I'm running for the hills."

"Actually," Claimed the dwarf nearing us, "I'm Obtuse" He stopped and thumped his fist to his chest. The other six queued behind him.

"I'm sorry to hear that, but not everyone can be an Einstein, you know." offered Herbert, conciliatorily.

"No, that's my name; Obtuse." With some indignation he continued, "Allow me to present my brothers, Pensive, Supercilious, Eclectic, Hypotenuse, Gregarious and Murry." Each dwarf gave a nodding bow as he stepped forward to be introduced. They all wore hats, (except Obtuse) which they removed when they bowed.

"Murry?" Queried Dot.

"Father was married three times." Obtuse responded, with a sour expression. "The third wife," he hooked his thumb at Murry, "was a bit short on imagination."

"We thought you might know something about the dragons. We've had no problem with dragons for a while, not sure what kept 'em away, 16 or 17 years now. Nobody been et in all that time. Ain't seen hide nor scale of 'em; 'til today." He peered at us from beneath an accusatory shelf, he formed with his gnarled brow.

The first little man, I think it was Pensive, was shoved out of the way by Obtuse, "It has been some time since we encountered any dragons, we had hoped to have seen the last of them, but alas-"

Yet a third, scruffy-looking dwarf, elbowed his way into position, "What bone-head and bucket-mouth are trying to say is we don't need anyone stirring up the dragons." He slapped a crude-but-effective-looking axe, against his open palm.

"What dragons?" I said, innocently.

"Specifically a rather large pink one was spotted about twenty minutes ago, just before your, eh, arrival." Obtuse rubbed his furry chin, in a very skeptical way.

"It was in the company of a rather large, flying bunny rabbit,"

"Lop!" Claimed Tiela, obviously without thinking.

Without changing my expression, I shot her a thought, " Tiela! What the heck are you thinking?"

"That dragon won't hurt anyone." Tiela was poised on a large rock, facing the Dwarves with her hands on her hips.

The Dwarves responded with a murmur of disapproval.

"This is exactly what we're getting at. We don't want any dragons around here. We have led perfectly satisfying lives with no dragons. We see no reason to alter that strategy, now."

"But she's completely harmless! She wouldn't hurt anybody." Tiela was flushed with determination.

"It has been my experience that Dragons are never completely harmless." Petulant said, with the air of one who is forced to utter the obvious.

I rubbed my thumb over the cool surface of the ruby, projecting a thought to the company, "It looks like this is not working. Perhaps we should return to the straightforward approach?"

A series of noncommittal mental stammers led me to believe it was up to me. I was in my element.

I turned to Obtuse, whom I took to be the head Dwarf, at least he appeared to be the oldest. His round cheeks puffed and un-puffed beneath his craggy brow, he peered, squint-eyed over his long, pointy nose.

"I believe we may have something you want."

"Impossible." He folded his arms under his fuzzy beard. "We lack nothing."

I dropped out of mental contact with the group, so I could focus on the Dwarf.

"Nonetheless, I believe we have something you desire. A mere trinket, but I understand it may be something you have long sought in vain." I configured my expression to reflect wise-but-innocent, aggressive friendliness. I could think of no way to gauge my success.

Behind Obtuse, the other six mumbled together. I swear I heard Supercilious say "Mages' Stone", but I couldn't be sure. His five brothers clamped their hands over his mouth and wrestled him to the ground.

"It is rumored, in our land, that the Dwarves are good traders. Fair and honest. True to their word."

"That's the boy scouts." helped Herbert.

Obtuse cinched his eyebrows and clicked his tongue. He turned and glared at his brothers, who were still wrestling on the ground.

His face had reddened slightly as he returned to me, "Well, what have you for us to consider?"

I hesitated for a moment. I felt this to be the best course of action, still, the doubts of the others became my own. What if this turned against us?

It was true about the Dwarves reputation. They were tough negotiators, and heartless traders, but they were pigheaded about keeping their word.

The average Dwarf would steal his grand pappy's wooden leg for a joke (Dwarves also have a reputation for a very low sense of humor,) but wouldn't trade a bent penny for a gumball, without an iron clad contract. They would check the serial number on the penny, before releasing the gumball.

I decided to press on.

"Have you ever heard of the Mages' Stone?" I peered around Obtuse at the other six, who were still mincing about.

The seven little fellows ceased all sound and movement. A pale, glassy look came over Obtuse' eyes. The other six crowded in behind him, equally pale and glassy. One of them whispered "Gonzo" reverently. Obtuse spun about and pushed the crowd away.

"How came you to this noble heirloom?" Obtuse had a glimmer in his eyes. I couldn't be sure if it was greed or ire.

"I beg your pardon?"

The scruffy one pushed his face forward, "What ratchet jaw means is, how'd you get it?"

"If you are in possession of the Mages' Stone, which we call Gonzo, you must return it at once."

"I didn't say I had it, but I know where to get it."

"We may be interested in information leading to the return of the aforementioned Heirloom." offered Obtuse.

"Yeah, how muchizit," added Scruffy?

Now I was in my element, just like talking Gran Goodwich into giving up her love-potion recipe. I moved to the Dwarves and put my arm around a couple of gnarled dwarf shoulders.

"Let's talk."

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"No, we live right here in the mine, now." Said the one I thought of as Scruffy. Then he tripped over a rock.

His real name was Murry; he was the youngest and brashest of the seven. I think I liked him best.

"Now?" I couldn't help but wonder. I was not paying attention to the marvels of Dwarven delving. I was more interested in why they wanted the Mages' Stone.

There was nothing special about it, except for it's smooth round shape. It looked heavier than it felt. It had the words Mages' Stone chiseled into it.

"Well we used to live with, that is, we used to have, er, ah, we used to know..." Scruffy was blushing.

An intrusive thought in the back of my mind said, "I didn't know Dwarves could do that." The thought used Tiela's voice.

"We have a summer cottage, that we never use anymore." Offered Hypotenuse, ringing his hat in his hands.

"Not since, S-s-she moved in." claimed Supercilious.

Obtuse folded his arms across his chest and glared at his brothers. "I thought we had agreed not to discuss that person, or her prince fellow; Charming indeed!"

"Prince Interloper is nearer the mark," grunted Pensive.

The conversation foundered. We followed a stream down through the innards of the mountain. The Dwarves led us in silence for a good distance.

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Recalcitrant leaned forward with a snaggletooth grin and said, "People see magic in every rock and tree, anything they don't understand. Some people believe an apple, falling from a tree, constitutes an act of magic."  He slapped the massive stone table with a grizzled hand. "Ridiculous!" I felt a Harrumph in the making.

"One must stay abreast of the times, keep up with current thinking. Ignorance and superstition, ridiculous!" Here comes that harrumph, I could see it forming on Recalcitrant's face. Herbert looked up, to follow the converse.

"Everyone knows the goddess of the earth draws all fruit to her domain."

"Hmph," snorted Herbert.

"Well then, ha-hem. This calls for a celebration!" Exclaimed Obtuse. "Call for musicians and wine. Set out the kitchen's finest. Bring on the dancing sheep, let loose the doves!"

Herbert, obviously mapping an escape route, spoke to Obtuse.

"Eh,- About the scepter..."

"Not now, I'm on a roll."

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Rear View

Obtuse presented his posterior to us, as he rummaged through the worn, wooden trunk. His thick legs dangled over the edge.

"Well, I'll be! Here it is!" As slid off the edge of the trunk, he proffered a disreputable hat and grinned. "I've been looking for this for ..." His speech slowed as he glanced at each of us in turn. He sighed and pulled the hat over his shiny head.

After the interminable party, none of us was in the mood for any fooling around. Seven and a half hours of Dwarf music was more than enough. One more rousing chorus of Hi-Ho and I would have puked.

Herbert cleared his throat, "The scepter is what we're after."

Obtuse was clearly disappointed, but continued, "The trunk is a family heirloom." He uttered this, as though it were obvious, and he was hurt we didn't notice.

I wondered why anyone one would keep such a battered, chipped, weather-stained piece of junk around, for longer than it took to break it into kindling. My puzzlement must have shown in my expression.

"It's real wood you know." He said "wood" with such reverence that I pressed him for further explanation.

"Well, we work wonders with stone, but wood is beyond us."

"Can't even make a toothpick." Added Scruffy.

"Besides, it comes from trees."

The Dwarves fell silent.

"Great, nasty, leafy things, a plague on them." Muttered one of the brothers. Several of the Dwarves looked around, nervously.

Could they have been looking for trees underground?

"Perhaps," Herbert raked his fingers through his beard, and gnawed his bottom lip, "we should rejoin the rest of our party for now, and we'll trade later."

"At dinner?" I asked, hopefully.

Obtuse was preoccupied with a tin whistle, he uncovered in the trunk.

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the Scepter

It wasn't as simple as lust. Greed doesn't quite explain it either. The look on his face, I mean. Avarice has a nice ring to it.

Well, anyway, Obtuse stared at the Mage's stone and it transformed him. His round eyes hardened and glazed, like the skin on a pudding. His face darkened, with a shadowy fierceness.

Without removing his gaze from the Mage's Stone, he reached beneath the old stone table. He placed a battered wooden box on the polished marble, and slid it toward me.

"It was given to our safekeeping by Drinn, during the Mage Wars. It was during those years that the Gonzo was stolen from our family. And so it was that the Great and Powerful Drinn gave the scepter into our keeping, until the Gonzo was returned."

His voice grew more intense with every sentence, yet his eyes never left the stone. As if disconnected from mind, his body did not move. He didn't flinch at the rivulet of perspiration that ran to his brow and dripped from his nose.

"He's gonna run his mouth for a while," whispered Herbert.

"Now the world is returning to equilibrium, a measure of balance is restored. Another of Drinn's prophecies is come true." There was a reverent murmur from the Dwarf brothers.

The box was three or four times the length of its girth. The metal hinges were dusty, but not rusted. The stone inlay on the box was polished and tight. The wood of the box, however, looked as though it had been soaked in the ocean for years, dropped in the desert, then trampled by oxen.

As I touched the box, the edge of the wood crumbled. I shot a questioning glance at Obtuse. He had eyes only for the Stone. The glance bounced off him and landed square on Scruffy-Murry.

"Like I said," he shrugged, "Dwarves don't do wood very well. We were talking about forming a committee to study the problem and make recommendations."

"You talk like a politician."

"Why thank you." Murry fairly bowed to Herbert, then crinkled his eyes and asked, "What is a politician?"

"It was not a complement." Herbert bowed in return.

"Well, is that it? Is that the scepter?" Herbert thought at me, whilst I peered under the battered lid.

"AH, I don't know, Herbert. It certainly looks like a scepter to me." We were interrupted by Tiela's little voice, in converse with Obtuse.

"Of course there's nothing magic about it. It's a rock, just a rock." Obtuse took the rock globe and tapped it with his hammer: tonk-tonk, and it split in two.

"Of course this one happens to have diamonds inside."

"Oooh! They're pretty!" Tiela flitted over the table and landed in front of the spilled gems. "May I have one?" She squatted over the pile, elbows on thighs. She scooped up a stone and held it to her ear. "Listen, It's singing." She held the diamond out on her palm.

"My dear, one of these is worth thousands in gold." Obtuse snatched the gem from her palm and sniffed.

"Is that a lot of gold?" Tiela pouted and stared at her now-vacant, still-open palm. She brandished a truly magnificent number fourteen lip-puff, with just a hint of a cocked eyebrow.

"Quite a good bit, I should say." Obtuse didn't understand Tiela's lack of concern with cash value. He took it as another negotiating tactic.

"How come they're inside a rock?" Dot's tone was near derision, though her eyes had clamped down on the diamonds.

"The Seer's stones were enchanted into the rock by Drinn and Lucinda, during the Mage wars, to protect them."

"Like from thieves?" Offered Dot. "Seems like a long way to go."

"Not from ordinary thieves, my kin can take care of ordinary thieves. It was to protect them from magical theft." Obtuse scanned the room and judged his audience. I scanned the room to find an exit, as this looked to be a long one.

"There were a great many contestants in the Mage Wars, most of them had no magical power of their own. It was book lore and charms and potions. Everything was fair game and magical devices were at a premium, on the black market."

"Originally, legend has it that one of the gems was worn by each of eight Guides, one in each Ancient City." He spread them on the table. They were intricately cut but misshapen and un-symmetrical excepting the ninth one, which was pear-shaped. It's presence even puzzled Obtuse.

"When light is focused through any of these eight a letter shines forth. A different letter for each gem." He maneuvered a stone into a ray of sunlight, from an overhead shaft. The light refracted through the gem, forming a radiant R on the table.

"This ninth is unfamiliar to me." Obtuse maneuvered this pear-shaped stone into the splinter of light. Instead of forming a letter on the table, the light whirled and rotated in the gem, splashing the walls and dazzling everyone.

The light whirled faster and faster, until it formed a bright beam of blue-white light. The beam flashed out at me and glared in my face.

As my sight returned, I couldn't help but notice that everyone was staring at me, slack-jawed and dumfounded. I glanced down at my garments but nothing was amiss. As I glanced up at the ceiling, I noticed a blue glow above my head. The light had formed a whirling circlet around my brow.

"We really have to talk." Herbert said.

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with apologies to Dr. Tolkien

It was the first time in months I had slept in a bed. I yawned and smiled at the same time, forcing little tears out of the corners of my eyes. A heartfelt sigh of satisfaction, which is my favorite kind, settled over me.

I stripped down to my skivvies and eased into the profusion of sheets and comforters. That sigh found it's way out of my mouth.

A giggling thrill ran through me as I burrowed into the softness. A sense of satisfaction came with the sleepiness.

We had been through much, but our adventure was coming to an end. We had succeeded in our quest. Soon we would be replacing the Scepter at West Keep and ...

And what?

I wasn't sure, and the sleepiness was taking hold. As I drifted, my last thoughts were of Dot and the flavor of her eyes, when she told me I was sweet.

The voice rang, from the stone of the mountain. It was distressing that it chose my first moments of sleep in a bed, but I knew that the alarm (no u) could only mean trouble for me.

With another heartfelt sigh, of an entirely different kind, I climbed out of the bed.

Ah well.


"Thieves! Awake! To Me! We're being robbed!"

"Thieves! Awake! To Me! We're being..."

The voice seemed to come from the walls. Dot jumped and dropped the diamond she was holding. Something grabbed her foot, when she landed. In the dim light of the cavern, she was hard pressed to see

It was an involuntary reaction. The rush of adrenaline, caused her to change size. Her clothing split and ripped along the seams, only quick action prevented her from ending up completely naked.

One of the flagstones, had curled up at the edges, and engulfed her foot. The stone was edged in iron, effectively placing a ring of the metal on her ankle.

"Oh, do shut up," she said to the invisible voice. To her surprise, the voice fell silent. Reluctance and fear juggled with one another in her head. For a paralyzing moment, she didn't know what to do. She chewed on a finger, trying to think.

Even considering her self-proclaimed limitations, spatial dislocation, would have been adequate to extricate her. The ring of iron bollixed any chance of that. Her brain stuttered for a moment; she was getting flustered.

"Help?" It was faint, less than a whisper, and it filled the great, empty cavern.

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I must admit, the lad was right about the bed. It had been a very long time since I had lain in one, not that I was ever very big on sleep. Still the soft swish of the sheets, as I whirred them around me, was more comforting than I would have imagined possible.

I was entranced by the way the Dwarves had made a cave seem homey, in a utilitarian sort of way. Still I suppose it's all a matter of what your used to. My thinking was creeping into the fuzzy areas, and a wave of calm satisfaction rushed over me.

"Thieves! Awake! To Me! We're being robbed!"

"Thieves! Awake! To Me! We're being..."

I thought at first, to ignore it, though I knew it was not a dream.  But that voice just cut into my mind ...

"Thieves! Awake! To Me! We're being robbed!"

"Thieves! Awake! To Me! We're being..."

Passive ignorance was having little or no effect, so I attempted actively ignoring it. Before I could sort out all the rhetorical ramifications of the concept, the moment was lost.   

"Thieves! Awake! To Me! We're being robbed!"

"Thieves! Awake! To Me! We're being..."

"Go away..." I said hopefully.

I wasn't sure what to think, when the voice stopped in mid-sentence. I couldn't be sure if I should be insulted by the four or five Dwarves, that were congregating outside my door. I wasn't sure if it was suspicion or sleep that shadowed their faces. I was sure of one thing; that miserable Pixie was behind this. I was willing to bet, Nod would not be far behind.

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Nod: the faintest sound in the Universe

I followed the delved, stone halls, around enormous pillars of living rock, listening to the pattering of my bare feet on the rock floor. I couldn't say exactly when I realized, I had strapped on my new sword, over my nightshirt.

I called out to Herbert (perhaps 'thought out' is a better term) "I'm pretty close- it's not you is it ?"

"I'm not far behind- but I have company-" Mental short-hand can be confusing, when translating to words, but Herbert and I meshed when it came to that. I suppose that means we think alike, but I tend to view Herbert as a pessimistic, loudmouth, know-it-all (in the most affectionate way.) I don't envision myself that way, at all.

I was wondering who could be trying to rob the Dwarves treasury. I kept thinking about Tiela, she really enjoyed her cat burglering at the Great House. She really admired those diamonds, too.

I may have heard a voice say, "help". If that is what I heard, it was the faintest sound in the Universe. Now I was sure it would be one of our band at the bottom of this. I decided to wait and see, as I was approaching the entrance to the treasury.

The doors were large and heavy, they appeared to be made of iron. They hung from carved arches that led to, what looked like, a natural cavern.

The eerie blue light gave the immense cavern a luster that burnished the scintillating array of treasure. Tiers of rounded coves had been cut into the rock. Each grotto displayed a cache of gold or silver or gems or- it was endless.

The dim light of the cavern made it hard to discern, but it seemed a pair of gossamer wings fluttered in the half-light. The size threw me. As I approached I saw the kneeling figure, was:

"Dot, what are you doing!"

Her entire body spasmed, all at once. She thunked her head on an outcropping. She was scared, wide eyed, and trembling.

"One of the diamonds is lost, help me find it!"

She avoided my eyes, so I tried to sound casual, but stern. "What were you doing with the diamonds?" It was a ridiculous thing to try.

"Well," she posed like a little girl, about to give up her best-kept secret, "I never saw a real diamond before." She looked up at me through fluttering lashes.

Oh, brother.

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Diamond Dot

"I wasn't going to take it, really."

Faint footsteps echoed from the hall.

"We should leave now." I uttered urgently.

"I can't," she squeaked, "I'm stuck." She indicated the paving stone, to which she was attached. She was indeed, trapped.

"We need to leave here at once." I was adamant. The Dwarves would be upon us in a matter of moments. There was no time for play, and there was no time for decorum, I simply reached out and entered her mind.

Her expression conveyed a tinge of horror.

It was a mess. Dot's mind was a jumble of tattered rags and advertising slogans. A recipe for Soda Bread, figured heavily in her long-term memory. It had none of the lean, clean grooves, and smooth surfaces, I found in Rosie's head. Her resistance was feeble, or so it seemed to me.

"What do You want? What's happened to the diamond"

"We should leave now." I uttered urgently.

"I can't use the spell with the iron band around my ankle, bean-head. Besides, we have to find that diamond."

"Just think of the pop-out spell, and behave. We are in trouble here."

There was no need to look for the diamond. As a matter of fact, I knew precisely where the diamond was. It was under my left foot.

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Spike Explains

"My line was enchanted some four hundred years ago, by Brunderbrast for the Battle of Drinn's Ford. So far as I know, we are not immortal, but only one of my line has ever died of natural causes. That was Uncle Morris, who was impaled on a natural iron pike during an improper landing." He had explained this to her during one leg of their aerial quests for the Labyrinth.

"Mademoiselle?" Spike had a natural gift for mental communication. It was not as sophisticated as Rosie's gift, but it was strong and common sensical. And it complimented her own more eclectic powers nicely, she thought. He was nice to be with, always a gentleman. He was incredibly graceful and strong.

"Yes, Fluffy?"

"Might that be the place you seek?" He pointed a long ear toward a spot on the mountain.

Rosie stared for a moment, focusing her excellent eyes. There were some minor differences from what she remembered, but it looked like ... it was, she decided.

At last. Below her was the entrance to the Labyrinth and her home. It had been a very long time.

"Are you sure you want to go through with this, Spike?"

"I would gladly do anything for you."

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For once, she was helpful; her awareness rushed into my body. All at once, my head was filled with the Spatial Dislocation spell. Dot and I had, almost, merged into a unit. To further the process, I embraced her body, making us as small a package as possible. I didn't want to leave my behind, behind.

The intimacy of the situation got the best of me. Her size, position and lack of clothing, had the unfortunate side effect of arousing me. It was immediately evident to her.

"Pervert! What a time to think of that."

Herbert appeared in the archway. Waving frantically, he shot me a mental warning, "Dwarves right behind me, hide!"

It was pure reflex, we neither thought nor spoke about it. In a moment of intense, orgasmic connection, we popped out.

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Herbert jogged ahead of the quibbling tangle of Dwarves in the hall. His hastily concocted plan was to check out the scene before the Dwarves, and zap himself out of there, if required by cicumstances. He would prefer not to zap around underground but, if he had to, he would.

"Great, I'll get to arrive in my skivvies, again." He arrived in time to see Nod and Dot pop out, with a blinding flash of liquid light. It was the brightest, most magical-looking flash of light he'd ever seen. He had seen that Pixie dislocate before, with much less special effects. He wondered if she wanted to get caught.

If his timing and his luck had held out, the Dwarves had missed the light show. They were, as a matter of fact, just colliding into one another, down the hall behind him.

They approached as a unit, still seemingly entangled.

Herbert ran his fingers through his rangy beard and grinned.

"Well, gentlemen. I ah..."

The slack-jawed Dwarves turned slowly toward him, from the deserted treasury.

"Has your alarum ever done this before?"

"There is no "u" in alarm." Explained Murry.

"Habba, I duh, Huh ?" Exclaimed Obtuse.

"Good point, old man, but hadn't you ought to secure the treasury?"

Murray stared at Herbert as he spoke, "What my brother was attempting to say is: We think it best, if you and your party remain here, with the Scepter, for a time."

"Until you count the treasury." Herbert smiled.

"Precisely." Obtuse snapped his mouth shut, and started toward the Mage's Stone, steered by the unflappable Murray. His brothers followed, without a backward glance.

Herbert, for his part, was bravely easing back out the door, as quietly as possible.

The Dwarves would be busy for hours, taking inventory of their treasure.

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Popping-out was simple. You just sort of go up to reality and turn ninety degrees from everywhere. The hard bit was aiming, and I hadn't a clue.

"That's O.K. I'll take it from here- oooh!"

It was happening, just like with Tiela. The intimacy of our joining, was bringing us both to simultaneous- well it felt really good. Somehow, I just knew I would live to regret this fleeting moment of ecstasy.

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Herbert: delvings

I was hopelessly disoriented. Here, the walls of the tunnel were more roughly hewn from the rock, with bits of rubble strewn about. Sputtering torches had supplanted the bright and steady lamps. It was getting damnably hot.

This was clear evidence that I was headed down and into the mountain rather than out and away. Worse yet, I had wandered into some new (and probably unstable) delving of the Dwarves.

I expected that, sooner or later, the Dwarves would come looking for-


I was nervous enough. When Hanna's mental call came to me, I nearly wet myself.


"Tiela and I are out and safe. We couldn't find the scepter and no sign of Nod or Dot."

Her voice had a calming effect on me, though I knew she was panicked. I thought; if I must make my presence known, I may as well go for the whole enchilada. "I'll get the scepter; let me have a look around you." I memorized as much of the scenery as I could.

"Try to contact Rosie and Spike, get them back here. Stay where you are." I needed something to home in on. After I zapped the scepter to me, I would try to get out on foot. I didn't trust this zapping around inside a massive mountain, but if things got dicey, I could zap myself out of here. I wonder if lightning strikes inside a mountain?

Might as well send up a flare.

I was worn out. I was neither young nor immortal and I had run a long way since bedtime. Though slight, the unexpected weight of the crumbling wooden box almost toppled me, as it appeared in my hands. I recovered from my stumble and looked for a safe place to rest. A few yards down the tunnel, the lamps were back.

I hung back in the frenetic shadows of the torches, taking advantage of the meshing darkness. I rested with my back to the tunnel wall.

My jeans were filthy, coated with assorted rock dust and unidentifiable smudges. My Led Zeppelin Tee shirt was torn and just as dirty. In my haste, I forgot to put socks on under my boots and my feet hurt. For a moment I remembered how nice the dwarves' bed had been...

I jerked myself awake, afraid that I might have slept a long while. It had just been a few seconds.

I got on hands and knees, it being harder to fall asleep that way. Attempting to gather my senses, I stared at the box.

I wondered what the scepter looked like. Nod had taken a peak, but I had not bothered at the time. It was a passing thought really, but something about it got under my skin. I couldn't leave the thought alone, it rapidly became an obsession.

I just had to know what it looked like.

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Nod: The View from the Terrace

She was holding me very tightly. Her eyes were shuttered and she pressed her head against my shoulder. Her wings trembled and scattered the light around us.

"Dot?" I spoke, very gently, aloud.

She fluttered her shutters and our eyes focused together. Any hint of tenderness dissipated after a brief freedom. She did more than release me, she shoved me away.

"Did you enjoy it?" That tone in her voice had long since stopped making me wince, outwardly.

"Actually, yes I did." Being honest with Dot, is asking for it. I began to wonder if I secretly sought her scorn.

"How nice for you."

Doing my best to ignore that empty feeling in my chest, I hefted the gem in one hand and looked around. We had definitely popped out.

We were on a flat terrace made of stone. There were trees bordering it, for as far as I could see. They sloped away from the edge of our platform on all sides. In the distance, to the east, a ribbon of mist delineated the course of the River.

"We need to pop us back to my chamber. We can't leave the others or the scepter."

"I can," sneered Dot. She kneed me in the groin and pushed me over backwards. She bent, snatched the diamond, and disappeared.

 I reached out with who-knows-what, after her, and managed to snatch the diamond back. I didn't know I could do that.

Ah, well.

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Herbert: the path less taken

About two feet long and silvery. It was not made of silver but what looked to be stainless steel; which was patently absurd, if it were a local artifact. The technology here was not advanced enough for true alloys, what steel they had was usually poorly cast and crystallized, unless the smithy had access to something like a dragon's flame.

The top was inset with a large gem which may, or may not, have been a ruby. As I turned it in my hands, I heard footsteps padding toward me; they were coming.

I hastily rotated the scepter, noticing the bottom for the first time. Footsteps or not, this needed a second look.

Recessed in the circle of the bottom, were three slots. Something about the arrangement seemed familiar, but I couldn't place what it was. I puzzled at it for a few moments, while the footsteps drew nearer.

I hurriedly replaced the scepter in the box. It was at this point, I noticed there was a gem were missing on one side; a pear-shaped gem. I was running out of time.

The clasp was difficult, as my hands were trembling, but I finally managed to close the box. With that tucked under my arm, I stood. I didn't want to go back down into the mountain, but my position left me only two other directions from which to choose. It may have been a trick of echoes, but the footsteps seemed to be coming from the right hand passage.

I took the one to the left.

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Nod: spatial dislocation

Technically it is referred to as Spatial Dislocation Now that I knew the spell it was simple. Just go up to reality and turn left from everywhere. What I didn't know was how to select a destination. While I screwed up the courage to try it, I decided to look about. I opened the hand that clutched the gem.

The first thing I noticed about the diamond, was it's pear shape. I watched as the light jostled around the inner facets in a most mesmerizing way. Rather amazed at retrieving it, I had a fleeting notion that it might just come in handy. I slipped it into my tunic.

I took a look around our landing spot, wondering if Dot had steered us here. It was not a terrace, but the roof of a very large building. What I had assumed were walls and gates, were cornices and gutters. The trees came right up on all sides and towered over the roof.

The trees were shutting down for winter, but were still somewhat green. Their scent filled my head, as I lay across the edging and peered down through the vast canopy. About 200 feet down.

It wasn't as dark down there, as I thought. There were some small buildings and fences, in and among the trees. I spied movement in a small ground clearing.

Ah well, it looked like I was going back to tree-climbing, again.

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From my latest position in the tree, the sky was a mass of leaves. It was one vast, leafy, life-form that hung like a cloud and occasionally extended an appendage to the ground, in the form of a tree trunk. As with clouds, the spaces where the edges met were aglow with golden-green light, reflected from the leaves above. I twisted my neck around to get a better look.

The crackle of the limb beneath me was faint. It was sound too slight to remember precisely, but I would remember it immediately, should I ever hear it again.

It goes like this, "crrk-crik, creak." That is all there is to it, then you are falling, head down through a gauntlet of branches and fronds. A simple cause and effect relationship: Hear the sound, become severely injured. A classic for the Uh-oh file.

I was halted suddenly by the intercession of a thick limb against my crotch and decided to look up from my new position. An instant's reflection told me not to do that; look what happened last time and that's how you got here in the first-

"Hoy ther-r-re, laddie!"

I slipped at the sound and crackled through five or six more branches before I came to a halt. Swinging from a thick limb, in my skivvies, I looked down.

There was a man in a kilt. From here, he looked to be a thickly built, bruising little bastard, with an unruly tassel of red hair at the top. He was looking up at me.

"Good day, sir. I seem to be a bit lost."

"You'r-r-re also a wee bit under-r-r dr-r-ressed, if you don't mind me saying so, laddie." His was the type of broad Scot's brogue that couldn't be voiced without a superior grin.

"If you move a wee bit to you-r-r r-r-right, you'll find something of a ladder-r-r." He trilled all his Rs in a manner that suggested that he not only enjoyed doing it; but considered it, at once, a duty and an art form. Still and all, it sounded out of place, to me. I thought it more likely his name was Rusty O'Something, than Mac-Anything. And there was something about his grin, that wouldn't be found in the dour lines of a Scotsman's face. As far as I know, Scots don't grin.

I stretched my hand further around the tree. There was a notch carved into the wood. I clenched my hand around it and pulled. I used my feet to push off a limb, which promptly snapped, and tumbled me to the ground.

I always liked spectacular entrances.

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