The Science Of Magic

The Science Of Magic

Chapter 16


Her particular shade of golden wheat, was a dead give-away, so she dyed her hair. There was nothing she could do about the cornflower blue of her eyes, or the pert point of her upturned nose; so she affected eyeglasses, which complemented her disguise. She even resigned her field commission, for pity's sake, all in vain.

Nothing could be done about the bells, though; whenever she popped in or out, fairy bells would tinkle

Throughout her life, she had never, ever, surprised anyone.

Then there were the stories. Most of them were exaggerated, but some came pretty close to the mark. The stories never went away. Phineas told her to go public, clear the air, but she refused to say anything about the affair, especially to Phineas.

An affair with a human, goodness, it had seemed so romantic at the time. Now there was nothing left but memories, and bitter ones at that.

She thought that was all behind her, not forgotten exactly, but too "old news" to bother with. That was an illusion, she created for herself. She had insulated herself from the outside world, and contracted her circle of acquaintances to a very few, who were tired of the story, or couldn't care less.

First the stare, a head turn, a squinted eye, or a pointed finger:

"Say, aren't you ...,"

She made a habit of interrupting, before people could say the name, as if that would soften the blow.

Would she never live this down?


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It was not exactly dark, typically, dark implies the absence of light, which further implies the presence of some light in the first place. There was no light, no dark, nothing; however, I could see just fine.

I will not try to explain  this, (The math behind inter-dimensional anomalies, is staggering, and would make Hawkings weep with frustration.), it's difficult enough to try and describe it.

The nothing surrounded and pervaded me. My senses were useless, I saw and heard nothing, because there was nothing there, except...

My awareness encountered it as a matrix and I reached for it. As it touched my hand, it brought a scrap of its own reality with it, returning the illusion of sensory input. I could make out the tiny, discrete particles that formed it. Yet I knew that this was an illusion, as well. Indeed, the senses are a handy interface when dealing with one's Universe; though they can be rather confusing, when dealing with un-filtered reality.

A scene shimmered around me; my senses' representation of reality, wavered into focus. It was the scepter and I was somehow reassured. The illusion of it's weight in my hand, solidified my own perception; things seemed a bit more real.

I shut my eyes, a dubious and redundant act at best, but it helped me concentrate. Then the diamond started to hum in my tunic.

What else could I do? I didn't stop for thought or reason: reaching in my tunic, I grasped the diamond with my free hand.

The nothing was infused with a clear tone, from the gem. The scepter responded with a different tone, and the two slid up and down the scale, together, in harmony. Light was everywhere all at once, and seemed to be changing with the patterns of the sounds.

I could feel the torrents of energy running, through me, between the gem and the scepter. I fervently hoped, but sincerely doubted, this would be a good experience.


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Tiela's wail was her reaction to being hoodwinked, by Nod. While she was not in trouble, I got the distinct impression that Nod would be in for plenty. An interesting side effect of this telepathy was that thoughts not only had a tone like a voice but they also carried an impliied target. For instance, if you were to say "shit!" aloud it culd mean a number of things. But when you wail the mental equivalent, it carries a much more pecise meaning and it has a discernable target.

When I got there everyone was arguing, at once.

"Tiela's right. While we're fooling around with busy-work, he's off to West Keep to get himself killed." Offered Hanna.

I had to bellow, to be heard above the clamor. "Well it's not doing any could to bitch and moan about it " mostly to myself I added, "What a Putz!"

"Hanna?" Tiela flitted to her ear and whispered, "What's a putz?"

My head-shaking was strictly involuntary. The lad had me worried. It's not that he wasn't capable, he had proved otherwise, but he didn't know what he was messing with. For that matter, neither did I.

"Can anyone get a fix on him?" Perhaps, everyone casting about, could pick up his trail. I was out of ideas. "There might be some way to assist him, if we can find him."

"That's enough talk." Tiela (Tiela?) fluttered to a branch and addressed us, with her hands on her hips.

"Tiela?" Hanna uttered in hushed surprise.

"Oh, Hanna, not now, this is important!"

Hanna snapped her mouth shut.

"We don't need to look for him, we know where he is, at least, we know where he's headed. And if he's got the Scepter, he should be that much easier to find." She stopped to glance at Hanna and me. Then she looked up.

"Rosie!" It was the loudest thought I ever heard. But the reply came immediately.

"What's the matter?"

"It's Nod, he's going to get himself killed!"

"So, vat's new?" replied Spike.

"Don't you think-" I had my own ideas, but Tiela cut me off.

"He's popped off to the Keep on his own." Tiela scolded. "He's gonna need our help."

"I was just thinking-" I attempted, in thought.

"He sure is, there's about five hundred soldiers in armor, headed out there. We just came leagues out of our way, to avoid being seen by them."

"That settles it." Tiela said nothing more, she just popped out, leaving behind a splintered rainbow.

I turned to the others,"-You know, we should probably-"

Hanna, looking flustered for the first time since I met her, popped out with a circlet of golden light.

Tiela popped back in. She hovered for a moment, ogling me with one eye squinted, and her head cocked to the side,

"Are you coming, or what?"

"Well, I er that is-" I wondered if she had that effect on everyone.


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"What was that?" She didn't mean to say that aloud, but as Piewacket was ignoring her, it didn't matter. Dot could feel the disturbance. She could sense it had something to do with that herb-vendor, and came from Tiela. She put it aside for the moment. She must steer the feline to Tiela's location and find out what was going on. If necessary, she would pop him over there by force, but first:

"Enough of this pussy-footing around," She was rather pleased with her bon mot. "Let's find Phineas, and pound him into Guava Jelly."

Piewacket refused to let his frustration show. He had gone along with the concept of a Pixie Queen of Cats, even that this particularly ill-mannered Pixie was the one. After all, Cats and Pixies could hardly be enemies if they shared the same Queen. But, this must be handled carefully.

The first concern is keeping order and taking control.

With this worm-headed child under his guidance, the Queen of Cats, would also be the head Pixie. Revenge could be satisfied later, when everything was under control. His control.

His train of thought was not lost on the Pixie. She had acquired a facility with the Ruby, ever since ... the dungeon. Besides, control is all in your point of view.


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It felt much like being dropped into a tree, from a flying dragon. I was trying to shake my brains back into place, so I could figure out where the hell I was waking up, this time.

I should have been in front of Westkeep, far enough away to avoid detection, close enough to 'check it out'. I landed, some distance from an imposing silhouette of what had to be the Keep. It looked to be an hour's walk.

I checked my cloak, to make sure the Scepter was safe. I let my fingers linger on it's smooth, cool surface; it reassured me.

I focused my thoughts solidly on the Keep. My experience at Centerville be damned, I was going to pop in at the front- bloody- door, this time. Screwing up what was left of my courage, I went up to reality and hung a left.

I went about six inches, this time. Whatever was stopping me, my encounter with it felt very much like being dropped into a tree, from a flying dragon.

And I should know.


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the Wall

It was like a big wall. Tiela hit it first. From her resulting position on the ground, she was thinking how very much it was like slamming into a wall, at high speed. Hanna suddenly appeared in mid-air, while Tiela watched from about six feet away. Hanna was thinking much the same thing, as she hit the ground with a thump.

It was Herbert's intention, from the outset, to land some distance from the Keep, and seek the cover of whatever shrubbery was around. They all rushed off before he could mention it. It was his experience, that the hell-bent, usually arrive.

He too, encountered the wall, but as he landed some distance away, he walked into it. He reached a tentative hand toward the invisible barrier. Crooked, blue sparks sizzled, wherever he touched it. He craned his neck to stare at them as they danced toward the sky.

As he came upon the rest of the party, he proclaimed.

"Anybody else got any bright ideas?"


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"I still don't think that's a good idea, Rosie." I watched as she banked into view.

"We don't know how far it goes ." Rosie thought back.

"Exactly." I told her. I was not about to argue with an adolescent dragon, on the finer points of aerodynamics. If she wanted to barrel at the thing full speed, then I would let her. I had done my best to talk her out of it.

"We have tried everything else." I responded to the accusing stares from Tiela and Hanna.

Rosie came around, on a heading that aimed her at the Keep. With a gentle roll. she dove toward the massive castle, from on high.

Her wings, splayed against the invisible force-wall. There was a tree-shaking whump, we all heard and felt. And there was the sound of her claws screeching, as she slid down the side, toward us.


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It came from a little south of their position. At first, they weren't sure what they were seeing. It began as a shimmering spot on the horizon, growing and gaining intensity, as it moved closer. As soon as they were sure it was headed their way, they formulated a plan of action.



"Everybody pop out, we'll meet back at-"

"WAIT!" Tiela hollered, "It's, it's..."

There was a shimmering halo around him, they all noticed it as he arrived. The reaction ranged from Tiela's; "Ooh! Nod, how pretty,  I want one, too!", to Herbert's; "Holy Shit! We really have to talk."


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No good deed

"I just couldn't expose you to this, I mean, It wouldn't be fair."


"Stuff and piffle"

"Utterly ridiculous."

"Young human," began Enkvil, with a professorial snerv*, "it seems to me, that we are already exposed. As brave and noble as your actions were, they were also foolhardy. Let's have no more of this nonsense, in the future."

Never underestimate the recriminations of a Dragon.

Tiela flitted in front of my face, brandishing her best squinty-nasty face, and stuck out her tongue. Now, I truly felt rebuked.

"So, what now?"

"Well, "said Herbert, "I suppose we should put up here, for the night; then off to Centerville in the morning."

"Centerville? Why Centerville?" I asked.

"Apparently, dear boy, that's where the force field is coming from." Herbert pointed to the Keep.

As darkness whispered around us, it became evident that the wall was not a wall at all, but a column. It circumferenced Westkeep, enclosing the mouldering edifice. It was luminescent, in the light of the rising moon; and it stretched into the sky. It had the appearance of a seamless, glass tube, surrounding Westkeep.

As the Sun made it's last splash on the horizon, it was quite clear that the column supported a dome. Outlined against the sunset, it arced a thousand feet above our heads, pale and translucent. In distant spots, blue sparks danced about, skittering to and fro on the soft glow of the surface. They seemed to collect, or perhaps originate, just South and East our position.

It seems there was a gaping hole in the dome.


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Special Effects

"Is there a way to shut that off?" Herbert was pointing at my head.

Being busy with my own thought-knots, I was unsure of his meaning.

"Huh?" That's me, always a pithy rejoinder.

"The special effects, the Halo. It's distracting."

"Well, how do you think I feel?" I admit I was a bit more demonstrative than necessary, but it had been a frustrating day. Week. Month?

"Oh sorry old man." after a bit of concentration the "halo" disappeared. I needed to concentrate to keep it off, if I let my thoughts wander for a moment, it would re-materialize.

"Thanks, it's rather distract-"


The lights were on again

It was not merely distracting, it was annoying. Although I had it mostly under control, it had a tendency to light up on its own. I could shut it off, of course, but it was tenacious; eventually, it would just pop back on. Right now, it was being incredibley tenacious. Herbert's bemused expression made me stop and take stock of my postion, which was ridiculous.

I had twisted my body and face, while in the throws of concentration; so much so that my tongue was pointing out the side of my mouth. I was bent nearly double, at the waist, one hand was turned about the wrong way and the other had the last three fingers crossed as if in a spasm. It was not the ideal configuration for concentration. I suppose I just needed to relax. After innumerable trials, I gave up.

"Don't worry about it, Nod, perhaps it will go out by sunset."

"It makes me very uncomfortable."

From the outside, they said, the bright circlet radiated a sphere of paler light, but I had never seen it from the outside. From my vantage point, it was an infinite series of crystalline angles, that sort folded in on themselves. It was hard to look at, but easy to look through. It was blue, a vibrating, almost quivering, blue.  It carried a barely discernable hum.

"Try sleeping with this thing-" I leaned toward Herbert's face and pointed at the lights. "-it is rather good for reading, though. And just try to hiding in the bushes- might as well raise a flag. Bloody Hell!"

I popped back to the Null and Void, where I left the scepter. In essence, it had been nothing but a problem, and no help at all. It seemed much safer to leave it there. Zapping around the countryside with it, and the blue halo, was sure to create problems.  For some reason I can't really explain, call it a hunch, I kept the diamond in my tunic. I felt it should be separated from the Scepter.

We set a fire, and started talking.

It was decided that Rosie, Spike, and Enkvil would head to the labyrinth. Once there, they would make an offer of assistance, if anything was amiss. Then, they would round-up what forces they could and head for Centerville, by way of the Great House. The rest of us would zap to the Great House, conscript some of Dyna's men and head directly to Centerville.

It seemed we were going to have to launch an assault on Centerville. It was a ridiculous notion, a concept so depraved that it's full import had not sunk in. All of Færy would view us as traitors, and so we were; unless we won.

Supper was solemn, and mainly cold; Herbert didn't want to zap anything, so we made do with left over provisions. Rosie and Enkvil dashed off to hunt, and Spike foraged through the local greenery. There was nothing wrong with the food, but nobody ate much. After some cursory conversation we all fell silent and stared at the fire.


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High Elves

They might have taken us by surprise, but for the fact they were all clashing their weapons on their shields, and screaming their trademark battle-cry, at the tops of their lungs:


These were High Elves, dressed in baggie short pants and light, brightly colored shirts. About fifteen elves, were heading our way at top speed. I could hear them muttering:



"Whoa Dude!" along with other High Elvish epithets.

My sleepy companions absorbed the import of what I was saying, as the Elves drew nearer.

"AH, Herbert?" I said, as Herbert zapped himself out of sight, still within his sleeping roll. I turned to the others.

"Tiela?" I managed to squawk, just as she popped out with a sprinkling of light droplets. Hanna, who was holding Tiela's hand, popped out with her, adding a contracting sphere of melted-butter-colored light, to the effects.

It was quite good actually.

Spike leapt in the air, followed by Rosie and Enkvil, before I could utter another sound.

I gazed about the clearing, at the scattered remains of our once-lively campsite. It was not a source of inspiration.

"Hey! Guys!" I exclaimed. There was no answer.

Going by head-count, that left only me and  the fifteen Elves racing toward me, with raised clubs and swords.

I was, obviously going to have to unsheathe my sword, and probably use it, too; something I'd been judiciously avoiding, since I got the bloody thing. Something about slicing through parts of another being's anatomy, made me quite uneasy. I preferred those actions, with which I was more familiar, for instance: running away.

But there was no time left for running or speculation, the band of Elves was nearly upon me. As I could see no alternative, I grasped the pommel of my sword, listening to it gasp against the leather, as I unsheathed it.


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For Dot, it was totally unexpected. She had hold of her nose with one hand, and her posterior with the other. Through some trick of SD, she had hit the wall nose-first, and thumped to the ground on her butt. She took a moment to pontificate on the ancestry of wizards and cats. She looked about but there was no sign of Tiela or the others. She breifly considered a mental call.

A sound interrupted. Actually, it was a series of sounds, consisting of a muffled "whump"; followed by a tiny and puzzled "rreow?" It  ended with a sound very much like a cat's claws, on a chalk board. Under any other circumstances, it would have annoyed her.


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Therol to the rescue

There was, all at once, a flashing blade at my side. I didn't have an opportunity to look; I hoped it was in the hands of someone friendly. It was a distraction, to be sure. The light and noise, as he appeared, distracted the Elves long enough for me to kick the nearest one in the knee.

Six of the Elves were down in a bloody tangle, around my feet. A seventh was charging at me, and I ran the blade through his abdomen, twisted left, and removed a good deal of his rib-cage.

This was getting to be a bit much. There was blood trickling from the sword, down my arm. My tunic was soaked, and my face was splattered with the stuff. While I was relieved it did not seem to be mine, it didn't lessen the impact, as it dribbled from my elbow.

No one mentioned that bit, before.

The bladesman beside me, decapitated two Elves and that slowed the attack, for a moment. I looked around to thank my rescuer-It was Therol. He was drenched in blood, too. I said nothing, but my face must have conveyed my shock.

"I couldn't, very well, let them slaughter you." He smiled.

The remaining Elves were regrouping, forming a phalanx.

"Have you considered dislocation?" Therol tore his sleeve, from the elbow, and wiped the excess blood from his hand-grip.

"I'm not in the market for a house, and we have more pressing-"

"I meant, what you refer to as, 'popping out'. Are you able to dislocate?"

"Actually-" I didn't think of it.

"Cowabunga!" Cried the six Elves.

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Herbert on: the Scepter

Like Elves around an inebriated ewe, the legends abound. While the legends tended to be culturally specific, several common threads ran through them all.

There was, of course, the scepter; it did not vary much from legend to legend. The basic theme being, the scepter, or lack thereof, controlled magic for Humans. But the cultural viewpoint differed. Most of the Færy folk, for instance, viewed the lack of human magic as a good thing. They perceived magic as their domain, into which humans had unnaturally, and ungracefully, entered.

One of the more interesting legends concerns Cats, which, given the proclivity of felines toward mischief, is not surprising. The legend is echoed in the mythos of Pixies and the mythos of Elves (which mainly concerns itself with concealable weapons, and ambush techniques). According to the literature, there has long been animosity between Cats and Pixies. The origins of this feud (for lack of a better term) are lost, or were never written down.

The legend deals with the Queen of Cats, who, when the time is right, will rule Cats and Pixies alike. When I first encountered it, I had this hilarious vision of thousands of cartoon pussycats, attacking and overwhelming the Pixies. I did not know that these cats were somewhat different than the domestic variety, with which I was familiar. They were not only a force to be reckoned with, but were considered in the councils of the great and wise. (not to mention the councils of the small and silly.)

Just recently, I had visions of a certain bitchy pixie, leading those cats. I could find nothing humorous about that scene.

Finally, the second most common theme in the legends is the coming of a sort of super-wizard, which the legends invariably refer to as "Mage of the Rog" (loosely translated as "Wizard of the World"). His rule would bring a thousand years of peace.

Throughout the legends, across the racial lines, there is a single, common theme; the reinstatement of the scepter. This had to mean something, and I was counting on it being the solution to my problem. We had come a long way on that basis.

I couldn't help wondering, what if I was wrong?


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"Noderick McDonogh! What are you doing in that tree?" Maggie Pottrattle exclaimed, as she jumped up out of the water. When she realized she was completely naked, she crouched in the pool, and stared up at me.

From my spot in the tree, upside down with my cloak hanging over me, she was beautiful. Her face, neither plain nor sophisticated, was lovely. Her expressions showed no hint of guile or manipulation. She was unaware, I think, that the crystal pool, did nothing to hide her full-growed-ness, and I wasn't about to tell her.

"Well, I..." As I have mentioned before, I am a master of the snappy retort. My blood-stained sword clattered against the tree, then sliced into the water without a splash. It was an amazingly well-balance weapon.

As a matter of fact, I had no idea what I was doing in the tree. I had thanked Therol and popped out, intent on joining the others at the Great House.

I was just as surprised as Maggie.

"You come down from there, right now, before you hurt yourself!"

I opened my mouth to remind her that she was in an awkward position, when I heard an all-too-familiar and extremely annoying sound.

"Kr-ckk Kr-ckk Keerack."

"Uh-oh." I thought.

Maggie squealed, as I hit the water.

She was very gracious about it. She even helped me disentangle myself, from my cloak.

We had been neighbors for as long as I can remember. When we were much younger, we formed a pact, childish but sincere, that we would always remain friends and watch each others back. Though I still took the pact seriously, at the moment, her back was her least watch-able feature.

Her mouth opened in surprise, as she watched the blood spread across the pool. To her credit, she did not squeal or make faces. To my delight, she did shoot up into a standing position, once again. The water did not quite reach the tops of her thighs. She grabbed me under the arm-pits.

"Are you hurt?!"

It took me a moment, but I realized I was hurt; not all the blood was elvish.

"Yes, I believe I am."

Maggie dressed my wounds, all pretty minor, and stoically cleaned my clothing. She didn't notice the sword, until I retrieved it from the pool. She released an involuntary gasp.

"I knew you guys were up to something, but-"

"Up to something?" I asked, gently. I wanted to hear more.

"Well, you and your folks; my sister and I used to try to guess, what kind of intrigue you where mixed up in. Father always told us: Let those people be, they've done you no harm. The less said about the past, the better." Maggie beamed at me.

I could almost hear Elias saying that, and I grinned back at her.

"But swordplay, Noderick McDonogh, if you get yourself dead I'll not forgive you. We've never even- I mean eh..." The sight of Maggie blushing was one of the finest things I have ever seen. I could not resist the urge to hug her.

She did not resist, at all.

Maggie and I headed for the cottage, using a shortcut we found as children. I was dripping and shivering, she continued to dress as we traveled. She chattered about anything, most of it meaningless. I was confused, which is nothing new, but more than usual. I believe I intended to curl up in my bed, and pull up the covers. I was tired of it all.

It was actually the sight of Maggie; the fine scattering of freckles, on her angelic face; the sunlight radiating from her wet, red hair; the laughter and young wisdom in her grey eyes; that tightened my resolve.

She reached for my hand, and pulled me back, as we approached the cottage. Pointing with her free hand, she said, "Look!"

It looked as if someone had molded statues, out of living trees. Most were figures of Elves, but a handful appeared to have helmets and face-shields, familiar helmets and face-shields. The statues lined all sides of the cottage and formed a disorganized phalanx, out into the woods.

I wasn't sure of much, these days, but I knew these things weren't here a few days ago.

"Did you do these? They're so life-like."

She stretched out her free hand to the nearest statue, but quickly removed it. She moved back from it, and squeezed my hand.

"Nod, they're alive." she whispered, pulling me back with her.

I thought it might be time to get Maggie home, I wasn't sure I wanted to be there, myself. After a very short consideration, I turned to Maggie and said,

"I don't want you to be shocked, Margaret, so hold on tight, we're getting out of here."

I hadn't called her Margaret since we were four.


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East Keep

Tiela, did you -"

"No, I thought you -"

"Whatever for?" More importantly, Hanna thought, where in all the hells are we? This was not the agreed upon meeting place. In fact, it was nowhere she recognized at all. This had never happened before and Hanna was a little worried.

They were in a sunny valley, surrounded by earthen berms, all covered in grass. Wildflowers poked through the green, throughout the rest of the valley, but none were evident on the rolling hills around them. The hillock they faced, sported a great door made of familiar blue-stone.

"Oh, Hanna, not this again. Can we skip this part, HUH? Please?" She practically danced before Hanna, bouncing back and forth in mid-air.

 "Do you have to pee?" Hanna knew she didn't and Tiela knew she knew.


 They discussed it for a while, Hanna pointed out that Westkeep turned out all right.

 "As compared to what?" Tiela replied.


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Herb to qorissa

"Oh my God." Herbert whimpered.


"Oh, my God." He sighed, long and hard, then resigned himself to dealing with the situation. He was at her mercy until he could figure out, precisely where/now-is/when he was.

"Did you bring me here?" Here was a misty, pastel version of his own null and void, at least some of the properties were familiar. Did everyone have their own version?


A few paces from him was a darker, mauve-and-maroon, whirling, amorphous blob of gas. It seemed to be contained, perhaps coherent is a better word, in a particular spot. He addressed it as if it were Qorissa.

"Your English is getting better, I almost understood you. I was headed elsewhere."


"Where are we?" He was determined not to explain anything. " After all," he thought, " I am no better at English grammar or syntax than, say- Stephen King.


"I see. Could you be a bit more specific?"


In a last-ditch-desperate effort, to get some sense out of this, he said, "Come/then here/now same is yes but black/then purple/now?"

"Huh?" Replied qorissa. "Huh" is a primal sound, the original version of cognitive flatulence*.

"Last time I was here, it was all black, now it's sort of purple." (Kinda pansy-purple at that)


The color drained from sight, and I was back in the old familiar, Null and Void. Excepting the undulating bag of gas, which was now much brighter.


"You mean I was inside you?" Herbert, for the first time ever, was aghast.

"Yes." There was something sultry about the reply.

"Well, thanks for the chat, but I really have to be going, now."

"HERBERT?" It was a whisper in my mind.

"Yes. Qorissa?"



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Phineas' story

"Actually, I met him in a tavern in Dellbury. He was rather scratched up, said he had been set upon by a roving gang of militant cats." Will stopped for a moment to recall.

"And you didn't think to question that?" Doris said, gently.

"Question what?"

"The gang of cats. There are no militant cat-gangs, he made it up. Phineas has a history of cat problems- you didn't know, did you." It was an observation, not a question.

"Well, that certainly explains alot." Will nodded and continued down the corridor. He ran his hand along the eternal blue masonry. "He uncovered a secret panel, in the old part, here. He had hidden some magical trinket- he called it a switch." He patted at the stone, and brought his face close, as he moved along the wall.

"What would a Pixie want with a magical trinket, that's for humans?" Doris flitted off the ground, deep in thought.

Turning back to Doris, he continued.

"I'm not sure what it does, but it seemed important to him, that nobody find it-"

"So why did he show you?" Doris stopped.

"He didn't show me, exactly-"

"Exactly ...?"

"Well, I was following him," He lowered his eyes. "He debates aloud to himself, when he thinks he's alone."

Doris was impressed.

The stone slid out of the way, with just the tiniest of scraping noises. In a six by six recess, a four-inch by three-inch, rectangular, metal plate had been affixed to the stone, with two tiny screws. In the center, protruding through a rectangular cut-out, was a rectangular lever.

Will reached out to flip the lever, then hesitated; he turned to query Doris' eyes, with his. She shrugged, in reply.

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Well, that's a switch.

"Really, it's not that surprising. A door in a hill is bound to lead underground."

"You know what I mean." Tiela was just short of a "Bad Attitude"; for instance: she had used squinty-nasty face number 5 instead of the more devastating 23 or 36. "Well, I vote to pop out of here, right now."

Hanna did not respond at once, as if she was measuring the fairy's petulance. "That's how we wound up here. Now I know how Herbert feels."

"Well, if we must do this," Tiela peered at Hanna with one eye scrunched shut, "and I'm against it, we may as well get on with it."

There was no decision to make, there was only one way in. The broad, dark passage led down into the depths, and they followed.

The walls were not stone, but seemed to be compressed dirt. When Tiela scratched at the wall; her fingernail tore off, on the rough surface. It didn't hurt her, but Tiela was undaunted. Holding her damaged finger, just so, and wearing a mild pouty -face, was plenty of reason for Hanna to hold her hand. As if they needed another reason.

The passage wound through the dimness, reciprocating a left swerve for every right. They seemed to be going straight through the middle of the hill. The cool temperature surprised both; they had supposed they were approaching someone's idea of Hell. The patter of their footfall, rebounded dully from the walls.

They had not thought to use a light, until the echo suddenly broadened. All at once, their footsteps returned from a much bigger place than the hallway. Tiela needed no prompting, she fired up the Wisp for a look around.

"Mercy." breathed Hanna. Tiela moved closer to her side.

Reminiscent of, but old in a way that Westkeep only imitated, the vast cavern was adorned with ancient statuary. Long trestles were set, as if for a party; one that never happened. One table was set on a platform, to raise it above the others. Behind the table was an ornately carved chair, and behind the chair hung a tapestry.

It was to the tapestry the girls gravitated, at first. Tiela spotted a shiny thing-a-ma-jig, on the table before it, and her eyes lit up with trinket-osis. Inlayed in the center of the table, was a rectangular box of shiny, silvery metal.

Tiela was there before Hanna even spotted the thing. Before Hanna could utter a "wait a minute," or "do be careful;" Tiela had lifted the lid.

Inside was a four-inch by three-inch, rectangular, metal plate which had been affixed to the table, with two tiny screws. In the center, protruding through a rectangular cut-out, was a rectangular lever, that could be moved up or down. She did not look or think at Hanna. Before she could reason why, she moved the lever. It made a loud "click".

As the hill around them began to vibrate and hum, they spoke elegantly in the face of the unknown:

"Tiela!" said Hanna, stamping her foot.

"Haannnaaa!" said Tiela.


Chapter 15 Contents Chapter 17


City Hall was vibrating like a poplar in a hurricane. A thrumming sound emanated from the walls and floors. It undulated across the ancient, blue stone.

Will and Doris were making their way back to the upper levels, listening to the irregular modulations. Something about it didn't seem quite right. It went:

r-r-r-rm-m- r-r-rm-m-pok-pok-r-r-r-rm-m-SPROING!.

Whatever kind of infernal machination it was, this just couldn't be right.

There was no such ruckus at Westkeep. There was hardly any outward sign at all. One may have noticed a vague, momentary shimmering in the air, if concentrating.

Had Tiela been paying attention, she would have said it was singing.


Chapter 15 Contents Chapter 17


The whole world went click! I felt it and I'm sure Maggie did, too. The ruby transmitted the whatever-it-was to me and through my body. Maggie, still attached at the hand, didn't miss a bit of it, either.

The ruby did everything it could to call attention to itself, and the fact that it was capable of more than decoration.

We had arrived at the Pottrattles', before I thought of it. I'd never popped anyone with me, except Dot, and she was doing half the popping. However, I chose a short hop for a different reason.

I wasn't sure what was going on, which was neither a surprising or new experience, for me. I didn't know what to tell Maggie. I watched the expressions changing on her face, to gauge her thoughts. I didn't want to intrude any more directly, but I was beginning to see little difference between the two methods of "mind reading."

I saw six different shades of surprise; a bit of fear; a measure of child-like wonder; and unmistakable affection. The latter, I guessed, because she was still holding my hand.



The Science Of Magic

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