The Science Of Magic

Chapter 13


"Dr-r-ruids, laddie. They built it and abandoned it, hundr-r-reds of yea-r-rrs ago. D'ya not ken ought of the Dr-r-ruids?" With exposure, I came to realize that, his accent was studied. To a trained ear, he was being blatant about the fake; the Scots didn't speak their own language that well. Sort of the joke within the joke- he was poking fun.

Under his arm, was a hideous looking bundle of bones. The bones had been carved and hollowed at curious angles; I tilted my head for a better view.

I couldn't be sure, but I had a feeling they were human bones. They appeared to be human size bones, arm bones, leg bones. The loose ends had been shaped somehow (can you whittle a bone?) into death masks and gargoyles. They were all stuffed in a bag that looked suspiciously like cured intestines (well some kind of guts).

It stank. Atrociously. He must of noticed when my nose wrinkled.

"It's the pipes, laddie. Doesn't do to get'em wet." He lifted one of the bones to his lips and began to play.

The sound that issued forth was unpleasant, even for bagpipes. (After all, with a name like McDonogh one should know something of the pipes.) It was the sound of a great many cats, in a good deal of distress.

I pointed to the pipes and shouted above the din, "Are they magic?"

He stopped blowing at once, but there was enough wind in the pipes for a death rattle.

"Magic?" He said with the stem of the mouthpiece still clenched in his teeth. He grinned at me and dropped the stem.

"No thanks, Laddie. I never-r-r use it m'self." He turned from me for a moment. When he turned back he was holding a bundle of plaid cloth in his hands.

"No doubt you'll be needin' a bit of a kilt. (he pronounced it KELT.)" A glistening Halo formed around him. As he faded from sight, I called to him; "Who are you, really?"

He stopped shimmering for a moment and said, "Why young Master Noderick, Brian O'Connor, at your service."

His laughter made me shiver, as it echoed off the trees.


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Dot's Detour

She had intended to pop in at her front door. She had been looking forward to a hot bath and sleep in her own bed. Alas, this was not to be.

Two forces assailed her in the non-instant of time in which she traveled. She had never experienced any sense of duration, before; popping in and out had always seemed instantaneous. Nonetheless, it had taken long enough, this time, to feel tugs from two different directions.

The first tug, plucked at her tunic and pulled her back toward Nod. (Surely he didn't have the power to drag her back?) The second seemed to be a tug to the right, or at least, different than the first. It was stronger but not as powerful. The first was a gentle pull, the second a mean spirited yank.

She was, therefore, not surprised when she arrived somewhere other than her front door. What did surprise her, was the sight of Phineas glaring at her. Behind him was an armoured figure, crimson from helmet to greave. Everything was red, except the mirrored face shield.

The bluish stones of the walls were discolored with age, but unmolested by water or vermin, which gave her a clue to her situation. Most of Centerville was built on ruins of such stone. Because of the excellent condition of the room, she surmised that she had arrived in one of the surviving cellars. It was dimly lit, but dry and airy. Iron bars blocked off a third of the room, from floor to ceiling.

"What do you want?" She could think of nothing else to say.

Phineas stepped toward her and reached out his gloved hand, palm out. He pushed her backwards with his fingertips, and she stumbled, backward, into the cage. He swung the door of iron bars shut, and twisted a key in the lock. He seemed to be enjoying the sight of her, prostrate on the flagstone.

"There's iron embedded in the walls, too. You won't be going anywhere for a while." Dot was utterly silent, as she watched Phineas and the figure in red armor close the creaky, wooden door.


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Gee, I hope this doesn't hurt too much

I was resigned to it, and found some measure of solace, at the periphery of magic. Much of my life had been spent regarding magic as a goddess that I desired, but could never have. I had resigned myself to peering up her skirts, whenever I could.

But I never thought, (or is that right? Perhaps some part of me believed in my magic all along,) that I might be that one-in-a-thousand human; a magician.

Considering all that, one would think I'd get some sense of moment from my first, on-purpose, solo magic spell.

I didn't.

I wasn't even nervous. Though I was poised for disaster at the other end, somehow, I felt I could do it. I just didn't know how to determine my destination. I might wind up anywhere.

So it was with a new kind of resignation, that I went up to reality and turned left.


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The passage went on for some time. I was beginning to think I'd have to retrace my steps, when the passage divided. The sounds of pursuit dwindled, some time ago. How much time, I couldn't say.

I knew I had been in the tunnels all night, it must be morning by now. I dropped onto my haunches, with my back against the tunnel wall. I needed to rest and collect my thoughts.

My thoughts drifted for a while, sifting through the various elements of my predicament. I had nearly decided to turn about and look for another way out, when I felt a breeze.

A breeze in a tunnel could only mean one thing. I stood and headed in the direction of the fresh air.

The lamps around the next corner were out. It was impossible to see into the gray shadows, anyway, so I forged ahead.

My eyes adjusted to the dark slowly, and I felt my way along the rough wall. Soon, I could see sunlight streaming through the tunnel wall, ahead. The sunlight was watery, winter-pale, but I was blinded by the brilliance, as I came from the shadows. I was so interested in getting out that I abandoned all caution and stepped through the doorway.

Into the waiting arms of five incredulous dwarves.

I had no choice but to zap myself out of there. I was at a loss to explain the manner of my exit from a secret tunnel, carrying the scepter. And heaven knows what Dot and Nod did in the treasury. The Dwarves, I felt sure, would not be interested in anything I had to say.

Perhaps it was the way they were hefting their axes.

I remained dislocated from space and time, floating in the non-reality, thinking; "Raise the flag, send up the rockets, Herbert was here."

"Well, at least," I said aloud, for no particular reason, "no one can find me here."

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cave and tunnel

She was the tiniest of creatures, especially when compared to a 30 foot dragon. She fluttered like a gnat among the great beasts, unnoticed, yet incredibly cute.

Tiela flitted through the great stone mouth of the Labyrinth and was swallowed by darkness. As her eyes adjusted to the shadowy light, her jaw slowly opened. All about her were the vast delvings of the dragons. Immense and daunting, there were columns and tunnels reaching out from, and disappearing into shadow.

"What a pit!" she thought, though she was awed by the sheer size of it.

"It really is quite a magnificent place." Rosie thought at her, with a hurt tone. "You're coming in the service entrance."

"It's a cesspool. Haven't you guys ever heard of privy's?"

"Unlike some other species I could mention, Dragons have the good manners not to scatter their feces all over the planet, we collect it"

"You mean like a Hoard?"

"That's a highly over-rated myth-"

"Apparently. I imagine a good many treasure hunters have been rather surprised." Tiela's tone of cute changed from disgustingly so, to insidiously so.

"It's a recent cut, wait until you see the older, established tunnels."

"It looks like the Dragons moved into somebody's garbage dump, and when the property values dropped, the original inhabitants left."

"Now, Tiela," Hanna interceded, "the idea is to convince Rosie's grandfather that you admire the place."

"That's gonna be some acting job."


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Something stunk. She knew it the first time Phineas approached her. He talked a good line, But, even at the time, something didn't feel right.

She had finally settled in at the tree house, she was learning how to live alone. She was biding her time, planning her revenge.

That's why Phineas' offer had seemed too good to pass up; eventually she would gain authority over those who had humiliated her. Then she'd see who laughed.

Uncharacteristically, she realized that it was her own fault that she was in this situation.

Just now, though, she was thinking of her companions. She remembered how Tiela and Rosie had laughed and giggled with her, like young girls. She thought of that hopeless romantic, Nod, and the fiery laughter in his eyes.

She realized, maybe for the first time, that she thought of them as friends. She missed them. For the first time in many years, she felt a tear drizzle down her cheek.


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Nod: null and void

I had worked up my nerve and was afraid I would lose it, if I stopped. I didn't return the mental call that brushed me, as I launched. It felt (sounded, seemed,) like Herbert, but I couldn't tell where it came from.

It took no time at all. First I was, then I wasn't. There, I mean. Not only was I quite sure I wasn't there, I wasn't exactly anywhere, as far as I could tell.

That is to say, wherever I was, I'd never been anywhere like it before.

It was like being in a cave, but then again, not really. I was standing (or was I?) on nothingness. I was surrounded by nothingness, on every side. It offered no resistance to my movement, but did not yield to me, either.

This felt like nothing, that is, there was nothing to feel and I was surrounded by it. It tolerated my presence by being not-there (non-nothing, if you will,) wherever my body was. After all, it can't be nothing if my body is in the way.

I think, therefore I'm confused.

So, in a way it was like a cave. The only light was from faint bands that repeated at irregular intervals. I couldn't be sure if it was light, or if anything, in contrast to the nothing, would look like that. Anyway, I could see quite well, were there anything to see.

After my mind stopped whirling, I realized there was a sort of restful feel to the place. The lack of distraction made it easy to concentrate, easy to think.

The first thing I think about, when magic goes awry, is Herbert. I said his name aloud (or not, I wasn't sure if I heard myself or just expected to.)

"Hoy Herbert!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, because it really didn't matter either way.

He never once, cast a spell properly. Well, actually, he cast them all properly, I had watched him numerous times. Whether it was a spell, or an incantation, or even one of those old witches brews, he loved to concoct, he always performed them perfectly. Herbert was a perfectionist about spells and such. It was the magic that always came out wrong.

Herbert was not a bungler, his execution was flawless. He had talent, too; something always happened, though it was rarely what he expected. Dredging through the memories, I realized that Herbert's solo conjuring (with no 'local' magic involved,) brought on the lightening and thunder bit, less frequently. I smiled (I think) when I realized, that if his magic had caused this, he would be getting zapped by lightning, right now.

"Herbert, you confounded wizard!" I said it very mildly, very softly. I don't know what I expected to gain from this. It didn't even make me feel better. What I didn't expect, was a reply.

"Is that you, Nod?"


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null and void 2

"Hoy Herbert!!"

It wasn't the voice that made me jump, it was the fact of it. Though I now knew I was not the only one with the ability, I was the only one I knew on a first-name basis.

"This is probably not a good thing," I thought.

"Herbert, you confounded wizard!" The voice muttered. Though the epithet was aimed at me, there was little vehemence in the voice. I turned to the source of the salutation (one can't actually turn in non-space, it's more a refocusing of one's awareness.)

"Is that you, Nod?"

"This is what happens when you don't define your goals, clearly." Exclaimed Nod. I couldn't be sure if he was thinking or talking. It's a little confusing.

"Where are we Herbert?"

"Nowhere, Nod. Nowhere at all.


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"Yes, Grand pappy, we'll see to it right away." The sinewy female, less than a hundred years old, turned her back and, without so much a by-your-leave, left.

Her sarcasm was not lost on the old dragon. He overheard them as they went down the ancient passage, sniggering; "... old worm, thinks he's still in charge. Well, he hasn't many birthdays left, soon we'll be sweeping his bones into the basement with the other fossils."

Enkvil. So he was called now, his full name forgotten by most. It's been so long he wasn't sure of it himself. So many have forgotten the old ways. The great traditions are all lost, in the flick of a tail.

He was old himself; older than he actually remembered. So old, in fact, that he had claimed to be around for the building of the Labyrinth. Though it was a dubious claim, even for one as old as Enkvil, there was no one old enough to refute him. In fact, no one knew precisely when the Labyrinth was built, or if a dragon had anything to do with it.

Once he was "The Administrator of Tunnels," "Keeper of the Guidestone," and an honorary "Knight of Westkeep." When there was a Westkeep; at least, when there was a Mage at Westkeep. No new tunnels were cut, no old caves were explored, without Enkvil's approval. He was admired and respected, they came to him for advice. Now they called him "Grand pappy" and he was shouldered out of the way in the busy corridors; corridors that he built. In fact, Westkeep was abandoned, long before he was knighted, and the Guidestone (which he had never seen,) was lost during the Mage wars. Enkvil considered these minor technicalities.

This upstart (who has the temerity to call himself George, of all things) has made a pact with the Eagles. Rats with wings, carrion fowl. One doesn't entreat eagles, one barbecues them.

He was glad, in a way, that he had so little time left; the grace and dignity of his great race, had withered. With a great sigh, and a scattering of falling scales, he swept his long tail across the floor.


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Herbert: The Truth Of The Situation

Hell, I didn't know what to tell him. I didn't know where we were, either. This was Nod's first experience with nothingness, and it can be a little tricky.

"No, I'm mainly concerned with how we're going to get you out of here. I don't know if I can zap you out, I've never tried it before." Saying this, I realized that I allowed my talent to isolate me. I'd never shared it with anyone, before. I guess I'd grown a little bitter, before I discovered my ability. For a moment, I felt I understood how Dot became that way.

"Herbert! I can get myself back." Nod grinned at me with the omniscience of youth.

"It's not that easy, lad." Sometimes, the omniscience of youth can be really annoying.

"Sure it is. Just go up to reality and turn left."

"And just where would you say reality is from here?" Nod offered me his favorite response.

"Huh ?"


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eye of the beholder

"Why you're beautiful!" Tiela positively radiated cuteness. She flitted around the big dragon's head.

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm old, my scales are falling out." He squinted at her through ancient green eyes. Despite his age, they seemed sharp and bright.

"Who are you?"

"Well, everybody just calls me Tiela, but my real name is Tielanallara. They're too lazy to use the whole name." She made a quiet but dissatisfied 'tsk' with her tongue." What's your name?"

"Enkvillarron, but like you, the lazy have shortened my name to Enkvil. Neither is as melodious as your name."

"Thank you, you're very kind." Tiela blushed and curtsied (Blush #26 or #26-A if you include the curtsey.). "But I think your name is glorious."

"I beg your pardon Tielanallara, but what are you doing here?" Enkvil cleared his throat, quite a job for a dragon. "You do realize you are in a dragon's lair, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, this is where I'm supposed to be." She pursed her lips to gnaw on the bottom one. All at once a spark of inspiration flashed across her face and, just as quickly, disappeared. Tiela raised one finger,

"Unless there's another Labyrinth around?" she asked, hopefully.

"No, this is pretty much it for Dragon's dens."

"Then this is it."

"Yes, but, if you'll pardon me asking, what are you doing here?" The old dragon snerrupped at the top of his throat, forcing two little puffs of smoke from his nostrils.

"Sightseeing, mostly. It's so magnificent, the tunnels and caverns and all." Tiela hugged herself in a display of near ecstasy. "When I saw it from the air, I just had to look closer."

Enkvil puffed up at the compliment, dropping quite a few scales in the process. He failed to notice, however, that he was coming under the spell of this tiny (and very cute) fairy.

"I don't suppose you know of anyone, who knows the place well enough to show me around?" Short of kicking her instep, (which she thought was overdoing it,) Tiela's pose and expression couldn't have been more perfect.

"I'd be honored to show you, myself, Tielanallara."

He was hooked.


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more than a mouthful

"But, Rosie," Hanna was distraught. The tension showed in the taught set of her face, she wrapped her fingers in her hair. "This is terribly dangerous. Is that the dragon you meant her to find? I'm really worried."

"Do not fear. Old Enkvil is as gentle as a lamb and he really likes Tiela." Rosie stretched her tail out to encompass Hanna's shoulders.

"Our little Tiela is brave and smart and resourceful. That bit about the name was inspired. She's off to a great start, really charmed the old worm." The surprising tenderness of Rosie's tail was reassuring to Hanna.

"She's in contact with us, and we're not far away. Besides, " a big grin split Rosie's snout. Even for those who've grown accustomed to it, it was alarming. "She's hardly more than a mouthful."


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Everybody knows this is nowhere

"I'm fairly certain we are safe here. The Delvers can't find us here, at least they never have: but I'm not sure why." Herbert seemed to move his hand laterally for a moment, then added, "I think it has something to do with duration. Interactions must have a length in time, and here time stops. The temporal protocol is different." It seemed that he held his hand up and peered at it. "I think."

"Uh-Huh ." I had no other reply. I didn't know what he was talking about, and I didn't care. This place was starting to give me the creeping willies and I wanted out. Besides, we had to find Dot, and Tiela, and Hanna, and Rosie, and Spike.

Herbert must have picked up on my thinking (was I thinking aloud again?).

He began plaintively, "Now we've been through this, I think you should let me zap you out of here."

"Call it a hunch, if you like, but I think your magic is all backwards." Well, that didn't explain a thing.

"Or like music, You are not in tune with the magic of my world. I'm not sure if I can explain." I knew exactly what I meant, but I couldn't find the proper arrangement of words to convey the idea. "Sometimes the notes actually match, and it works. When things get discordant, Zzzap!" He cringed involuntarily

"Think of lightning." Herbert had many experiences with lightning, most of them bad. "If you look when it flashes and then close your eyes, you see the image in reverse; you know, backwards."

Herbert stared at me with his mouth open slightly. "And you figured this out on your own?"

"Don't look so surprised it's a basic concept in magic, you know, black and white magic, energy goes both ways, Herbert."

"Negative polarity, " Muttered Herbert, absently.

"Huh ?"

"Like Merli-, er the magician with the owl said. Remember?" Herbert prompted.

"Oh, yeah, negative- like that Arabian ciphering line, negative and positive. The minus numbers aren't backward, they're opposite, and they cancel one another out."

Once again Herbert's jaw hung slack.

"That's a good way to look at it, I'm glad you mentioned that. Anyway, with local magic, your polarosity-"


"Right. Polarity is all wrong. When you use your own magic, it makes sparks"

I always thought that I don't direct energy, I adjust probability. The probability that anything is rooted to a particular set of coordinates in the Universe is ridiculously small."

Herbert began to get that pompous look as he warmed to his subject. "The fact that anything is here, proves it's just as likely to be somewhere else. You just manipulate the probability involved, no energy is converted, no balance to be restored, as with the magic of your world. I may have to revise that."

"Furthermore," (I've always wanted to have a reason to use that word,) "if I try to pop you out with me, your negative whatsits will screw up the spell. It's best, I think, to each get out our own way. You zap and I'll pop. "

Herbert was at a loss for a reply. When I touched him, mentally, all I got was an overwhelming sense of chagrin.

"I just hope we wind up in the same place." He thought.


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the Red General

"And this Nob person," One of the General's flunkies mumbled something, "Oh, yes, Nod, has been neutralized?" The suit's vocal synthesizer managed to convey a subtle tone of agitation. The Red General stopped pacing menacingly, and turned dramatically, to stare menacingly.

Jeanne-Pierre had little tolerance for military types, they had no subtlety. Jeanne-Pierre was not only the soul of subtlety, he had a gift for improvisation. That is what got him into the service in the first place, that and (he had admitted it to himself years ago,) he loved the game. Right now, he would have traded it all for a two bedroom flat and a job as a short order cook.

"Not exactly, General, we were attacked, and we lost the prisoner."

"A force of arms overpowered you?" He could see his reflection in the mirrored face-shield, as the General leaned closer. Damn! He looked nervous.

"We were overpowered." He was dying to get a look behind the face-shield of the mysterious Red General. So was half the galaxy, especially the Chief, which is how he got into this cluster-fuck.

"Overpowered by whom?"

"It was more of a what, sir-er- General."

"What, what was it?" The Red General sounded agitated.

"A two-headed dragon."

The General examined him minutely, for any signs of mirth. Satisfied, the General continued, "Do you have any idea how much I dislike this sort of thing?" The General leaned closer and Jeanne-Pierre's breath fogged the face-shield. The General straightened abruptly and swiped at the mirror with a crimson handkerchief.

"So the fate of the - what did you call it, the Scepter?" This was directed at Phineas, but Jeanne-Pierre replied.

"Is not yet decided."

"This is an irreplaceable artifact. We don't possess the technology to recreate it, in the wrong hands...," the General had an annoying habit of leaving sentences dangling.

Phineas stepped in, "I have things under magical control."


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nasty, slithery, slimy

"This is the central cavern, it's a sort of crossroads in the Labyrinth. It is part of the original digs."

Tiela craned her neck, impossibly (she was magical, you remember, hence capable of such things.) The great domed ceiling held dozens of tunnel openings, as did the octagonal walls.

"All those tunnels," she muttered. All that dirt, over her head, made her vaguely uneasy. All those tunnels made her think of nasty, slithery, slimy things and that made her shiver.

Not that Enkvil was slimy, though he did show a hint of a slither. The old dragon was warm and dry, his scales smooth and round. His scent was musky and clean, with just a hint of fireplace (different, but akin to Rosie's.)

Though she had only been exposed to one other dragon before (Rosie), she thought she was really beginning to like them.

"The original Labyrinth had only thirty-two tunnels, we call them Cuts. The rest were added later." Tiela could tell the old fellow was winding up for a speech. She wondered what kind of pose a dragon strikes for recitation.

Enkvil balanced on his back legs, his delicate front claws clasped together at his chest. He wrapped his tail around his back legs and sat on it.

"That," Thought Tiela to herself, "is a neat trick. I almost wish I had a tail."

"Tiela." Hanna's mental voice was in a mild scolding mode, "try to concentrate."

Enkvil snerrupped, once again, releasing little puffs of smoke.

"When we moved here the basic structure of the Labyrinth was already cut into the mountain." For the most part it followed the natural faults and caverns. Some of the cuttings, however, went through incredible amounts of solid rock.

"We never found out who cut the original Labyrinth; our grandfathers found it abandoned." The mystery has acquired a near religious significance, over the years. "As the original population expanded, it became necessary to make more cuttings. This was met by a good deal of resistance from some, who felt it to be hallowed territory."

"It certainly looks hollow to me."

"That is to say, it had something of a religious significance." Tiela's cuteness counter-balanced any impatience the old dragon felt.

"Eventually the pressure of overcrowding forced us into action. Because we are cautious by nature," to her credit, Tiela did not giggle at this, "we designated a committee to approve any new cuttings. It was headed by The Administrator."

Tiela could almost hear the reverence and capital letters in the old dragon's voice. She was getting fond of the old fellow. She wanted to give him a hug, but didn't know if it would offend his dignity. She settled for warm smile number 23.

"I held the position of The Administrator for over 200 years." Enkvil snarfled wistfully and his posture drooped.

"Then they abolished the station, said it was rot and superstition. They put me out to pasture and started cutting all over the place, anywhere." He shook his head, sadly and a scattering of scales came loose.

"They've gone mad. There have been three cave-ins in the last century, never a crack or a rumble before that, not one before the committee was abolished. Ever since this Gorabast took over and changed his name to George- sounds like something you do after an unpleasant meal." His tummy rumbled, not with hunger. It was the muffled roar of a furnace being stoked.

"Then, to add insult to injury, he falls in with that Pixie, Phineas. He's a bad character, that one is."

Though Tiela couldn't avoid displaying her shock when she heard Phineas' name, Enkvil didn't notice. Tiela could have been standing on her head, she could have waggled her fingers in her ears and blown raspberries at him. He was warming to his subject.

"Then the blackguard makes a treaty with that winged rat, Lord of the Eagles. Lord, Phooey!"

Tiela had to flit out of the way to avoid the thin spurt of flame Enkvil released .

"Egg snatchers, flying vermin, the lot of them."

Tiela could see Enkvil was agitated, and that was not where she wanted this to go. She decided to try and change the subject.

"So then, you built alot of these tunnels, I mean, cuttings, yourself?"

The dragon changed gears so smoothly, Tiela hardly believed he was all riled up just a moment ago.

"That is true. Let me tell you about the south diversionary fork ..."


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"You mean to stand there with your face hanging out and tell me that you people do magic?! Potions and cauldrons, incantations and spells?" The Red General's vocal synthesizer did a wonderful imitation of raving impatience.

Phineas, for his part, showed little emotion, outwardly. Inside, he was plotting the demise of the Red General. It would be slow and painful and he would watch. He would have to put up with the raving and the insults for a little while longer, but not much. It would be worth it.

"Why doesn't someone tell me these things?"

"It was a natural oversight, General," Phineas was at his smoothest, and he was a marvel. Someone once commented (out of his earshot, of course,) that he could talk you out of your underclothes and sell them back to you at a profit.

"We don't think of magic as unusual, it comes with the territory, part of everyday living. Telling you about it would be like telling you , 'oh yes, we breathe air.' I took it for granted that your advance teams would nail all that down."

"What about your field agents? Are they under control?"

"They were never out of my control." Phineas looked smug despite his efforts to the contrary. "Unlike your operation, magical controls are infallible."

"And you." The General pointed ominously at Jeanne-Pierre. He resisted the urge to cringe.

"Why didn't you report this at once? That is what an advance team is for."

"There's nothing in our orders about magic spells, General. We had a hard time believing it, ourselves." For a moment, he remembered the shock on Natali's face, the first time she began to change.

"By the time we were convinced, we were picking up suspicious signals. We were concerned with secure communications, so we headed in." He may have been dreading this moment, but he was well prepared for it.

"Is this her?" The General pointed toward a rather awkward-looking albatross, perched on the desk.

"Yes, General!" Jeanne-Pierre replied in a loud voice, but not too loud.

"This is your team member?" The Red General brought the mirrored face shield very close to his face. He could see his own tense expression as he answered.

"Yes, General!" He replied, silently cursing the Chief, his curiosity, and his progeny, for a thousand generations. This was the moment he had dreaded. He had done everything in his power, to orchestrate things away from this very circumstance.

"The idea," explained the Chief, over and over, "is not to be noticed. Gathering intelligence is a waste of time, if everyone knows what you gathered."

Explaining to the Chief, how he got caught with his pants down was bad enough, but his innards were festooned with implants. Transparent to x-rays, (or what have you,) they recorded everything, (yes, EVERYTHING!) He'd be the victim of every practical joker and half-wit in the service. The Chief encouraged that sort of thing.

He had warned Natali about baiting the locals at that fair. He told her not to mess with the witch, something about her made him wary ....

"Witch indeed! Even if  I believed in such a thing, look at her:  She's not a witch!" Natali snorted in scorn, an unattractive display, even in a beast.

"Her hair has been powdered to make it look gray. She used some kind of cosmetics, maybe mud or clay, to age her face."

In a half-snarl, half-sneer, she continued, "And look at those ears! If she's anything, besides a yokel, con woman, then she's the fairy princess." Natali walked off to harass the fairy princess, guffawing like a jackass.

I glanced at the princess in our weird little fairy tale. My first thought was of her disturbing blue eyes. They captured my attention because they were smiling. They were young eyes, but wise. Unlike Natali's, they held no cruel edge.

For a moment I imagined I had made contact, mentally. I felt she was smiling at me, inside my head. It was rather unsettling, actually, as if she were reading my thoughts. Though I felt silly for thinking it, I felt some conviction about it, too.

She did have unusually pointy ears.

"Yes General, that's when the witch, ah, native, cast a spell on Natali, sir."

The Red General stiffened slightly, Jeanne-Pierre realized his nerves had got the best of him. He instantly corrected himself.

"Ah, General."

"And you have observed her change, every full moon," the General turned to a flunky and asked, "What is that, every twenty-eight days?" The flunky assented.

The mirrored face shield turned back to Jeanne-Pierre, "Every twenty-eight days she changes into a wild beast?" it asked.

"She always did. Now, she actually becomes an animal." Jeanne-Pierre pointed to the albatross, "In many ways she's more pleasant like this."

"AWK!" Stated Natali.

"You have observed this, first hand?" The General raised a crimson gauntlet, with a single finger extended. "First let me explain: Though you are on loan to us, the rules for lying to me, still apply. That is; a long, slow death. The nine day standard is amazing, but I may ad-lib with you. I just got a hell of a deal on a bunch of wolverines."

"It's the truth. I even recorded one transformation on the field recorder."

"Then you have video of it?"

"Sound and color!" Jeanne-Pierre replied, vigorously.

"Oh, no 3-D?" The Red General's sarcasm was wasted on him.

"No, General. The field units are not equipped with-"

"Show me," The General cut him off.

Jeanne-Pierre was just starting to relax, thinking, all is not lost. That's when Natali lifted her tail feathers and relieved herself on the general's shiny, crimson armor.


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Phineas smiles

"It's quite simple, really." The expression on Phineas' face could only be called a smile because of it's position. It showed teeth, but there was no humor in it. It was as black and cold as the ice, in the caverns of hell.

"You will tell me where the diamond is, or I will turn you over to the Elves." He indicated two depraved Elves, lurking to his left. The shorter of the two was clutching his crotch, a string of spittle swung from his mouth. The taller of the two, clutched a long rod, in his gloved hands. At a second gesture from Phineas, he moved closer to Dot.

"They are experts at their craft, and they enjoy it." Again, Phineas favored her with the non-smile. He nodded at the big Elf.

The Elf snatched at Dot's arm and caught her wrist. He pulled her up tight to the bars. She winced in pain from the touch of the iron.

Had she known the terms, she would have described it as akin to getting a massive electrical shock from a red-hot branding iron. As it was, her cry was cut short by the spasms of pain that ran through her body.

Phineas waved the Elf away, and he released Dot.

Through the confusion, pain and tears Dot managed to squeak out, "Go ahead and kill me, I can't tell you anything." She fell to her knees, sobbing defiantly.

"Kill you? Oh no, that would deprive my associates of hours of entertainment, days perhaps." He spoke as if he were telling a child do the chores or you won't get a sweet.

"Your mission was to bring me that gem. You had it in your possession, what happened to it? Where is it hidden?"

"I don't have it. I don't know exactly what happened to it." She thought of the tug she felt from Nod. He couldn't be that good. He was an innocent, a babe in the woods. The only thing he had going for him was pure, dumb luck.

Even if she knew where it was, she wouldn't tell Phineas, now.

"It disturbs me that I must resort to such measures, they are vile but effective."

"Road Apples!" Even she didn't believe she said that, "You do this because you like it."

Phineas stayed longer than he had to. He watched without expression, as the Elves shackled her to the blue stone. He watched her struggle as they tore open her clothing. Her eyes never left his, she stared through his skull into his mind.

He listened without expression to her pitiful howls. He closed the door behind him.


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On the squishing of Færies

As was mentioned before, you can't really squish a Fairy. Or a Pixie. In fact, it is difficult to harm any of the Færy people with everyday methods.

It can be done, though. Throughout the centuries of Human-Færy cohabitation, iron implements have been devised. The points, edges and basic design of these devices, have changed little. Some of the implements on the table, dated back to before the Mage wars.

All the instruments had a common purpose. They had been designed for that purpose and nothing else, fabricated from iron, to defeat the Færy magic that protected such beings from harm. They worked on humans, too, but it was uniquely unpleasant for the Færy people.

The Færy psyche is a delicate thing. Being unused to physical anguish, they make up for it with emotional intensity. The induction of pain in such a being, is all the more horrific, because of that.

The anguished screams of the Færy, are heartbreaking and terrible to hear.


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Obviously, it wasn't magic. At least, not Færy magic; she was surrounded by iron. Whatever force lay behind the ruby, it was still working.

Dot was unused to thinking in terms of magical resources. She had the standards; the dislocation spell, the size spell, and so forth. Those were everyday spells, though, and they didn't seem like magic anymore. Surrounded on all sides by iron, she didn't even try them.

As she got used to the power of the ruby, she thought of it as magic, subject to all the rules and restrictions; iron blocks magic, never conjure a looking glass (not that she could conjure a looking glass or anything but cilantro). The most basic of all rules is one which anyone who even pretends to magic knows; never argue with a Balrog.

So it was accidentally, that she first found herself in someone else's mind, without their knowledge or cooperation.

It wasn't a joining, like she had done with Nod. There was no reciprocity, she was a silent invader. The thoughts were a jumble of pieces and pictures. All thoughts led to one another, in eddies and whirls.


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Will Rumpledumpling

Will looked the passageway up and down, before he left the security, of the shadowy corner. In as light a tiptoe as he could manage, he scooted across the empty hall.

The third door on the right, must be where Phineas locked her up. Will did not frequent these parts, he had turned it over to Phineas. He rarely sought out Phineas, particularly here. He clutched the bundle under his waistcoat.

"Just to make sure she's well and fed, that's all. I'm the Mayor around here and Phineas be damned." He thought, as he rummaged through his pocket.

The screech of the massive key in the rusty, old lock, nearly made him soil his breeches. The well-oiled hinges made little noise, though, as he eased open the sturdy, wood-and-metal door. After checking the hall again, he entered and swung the door quietly shut.

Will had never been down here before and didn't know what to expect. It wasn't from lack of ambition, Gea knows, he had explored all the rest of the ruins.

"Ruins, indeed." He thought. It was dryer and sturdier than any cellar in Centerville, and it was three levels down.

He extended his hand and brushed his fingertips along the smooth blue stones. Even after all this time, the work was smooth and seamless. His left hand fidgeted in his coat pocket, making crackling sounds.

Will Rumpledumpling did not wonder how long it had been, since the building of the old castle. He did not wonder if the builders were of the Færy. Such was not his nature. Will was a simple Pixie who knew the pleasure of a good candy cane.


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Dot had gone beyond tears. She crouched in the corner, with her butt on her heels, clutching her knees to her chest. Time was irrelevant, unnoticed. In her entire, miserable, little life, she had never felt so alone.

These were not thoughts that cycled through her head. They were vague washes of anguish, concepts that rushed through her awareness, carving hollow, aching places in her. They reminded her of the hollow spot inside her, she had been afraid of for so long. It was more than fear that kept her out. Phineas had seen to that.

She worried at that spot, now, as one does with a tongue and a bad tooth. It was painful for her and she could feel the fear welling up inside her as she approached it.

She didn't remember how long ago she had first noticed the spot, she felt as if it had always been there. She had always tried to ignore it, thinking it might go away if no one was watching, fearing it may be a sign of insanity. As she prodded and poked at it, a feeling of surety grew inside her. She was sure Phineas had something to do with it; he had been playing around inside her head.

She would exact a payment for her mistreatment, if she lived long enough. Her attention was swayed by the sound of a rattling candy wrapper. Someone (or something,) was at the doorway.

"What!" She croaked, "What do you want?!"


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