Local Counter-Magic Delivery, via Quad
In Which Arty gets the handle of riding a Quad, gets the hang of speaking Irish counter-spells, tries them out on various friends who had also found odd fairy creatures, and realizes that his best friend Emma has been helping the enemy, the awful, awful Gwyllion! In fact, Emma has been ahead of him all this time. He rides to catch up…
Isabella came to her window and called to me. We had a short, hushed talk: she understood what was happening, had heard my words, and her blisters were already feeling better. We both laughed with relief and the release of a breathless joy. At that exact moment, her Shellycoat began a Water-Elven song outside, nearby—of course!—from the fake fish pond.
I felt a thrill like an electric current run through me and shock this world over which I had spell-casting powers. Isabella was happy to return to playing that viral app fantasy game that Cry also played. Imagine that? Why? The real world is so much more fantastic, And normal kids are missing it, I thought. I am a wizard’s staff, and they are all thumbs.
Anyway: it worked, and I was energized with new powers. I felt I was riding into battle, a noisy quad as my horse, a phone my weapon, my eyes a source of magic voltage. Five more friends-of-friends to go, and thanks to Thryst the Tour Guide’s eye-ride, I knew of every enemy curse, had the counter-spells ready, and knew where to go to fight malicious Gwyllion forces with my own scientifically-researched magic, though I didn’t know what I was talking about.
From Isabella’s I went to Alex, and it was the same scene: watching for snakes, I rode near to the house and demanded, “Fhail ar bun, do ta tu ag ithe an luch, a fuath ra, agus tu chew na cnamha a cat ag lobhadh,” which in English is the “putrid cat” one that is my personal favorite. I made a better attempt at an accent, part Irish-lord-brogue and part wet-science-geek.
It worked! Alex and his Hobgoblin snapped out of it—and continued playing their app game, together, looking for fictional beings on Alex’s phone map, the same game as Isabella, Cry, and a billion others had used up many weekends playing. This generation obviously prefers video game worlds with their explosions and lawless chaos to the real world with its boring
schools and motor vehicle rules and Giant Ghost Spriggans. I shook my helmeted head like a cranky grandpa.
I motored to the other fairy-trusted friends. I was getting better at riding, and better at Irish, and not too bad at wizardry—which is just science-ahead-of-its-time after all.
Ethan was easy, with his upset stomach and achy body parts. I commanded, and the fairy world obeyed.
For Sophia, I mouthed the crocodile counter-spell—a long one—from a distance and repeated it while riding around her house from outside their backyard fence.
Chludu An speir na realtai, chludu draiocht a lonnaiochtai, agus chludu mo bheal an draiocht ata ann.
I admit I was nervous this time, and the words came more as a polite request not to eat Sophia’s family. A monster croc was not something I wanted to see, or hear, or feel, despite my spell-master spirit powers. Crocodiles can get physical, and I did not have an axe-app on my phone.
Just as I started to think I might have to get closer—it worked! Then I saw Sophia’s fairy, a small Elf, in a garden, springing about on light feet and waving to me excitedly. I took this as a happy sign that all was well, but I had no time to stay and listen to its stories.
Well, maybe just one: the Elf got my attention when I heard its flute-like voice pipe something that sounded like “Emma.” I drove closer, shut off the quad’s stuttering engine, removed my space helmet, and listened. Emma had been there earlier, the little guy told me, and she had said some weird things to Sophia that made no sense to this Elf of another world. And,
before returning to the rain and woods, Emma left behind a small beast—Sophia’s Elf described something that sounded like a Troll but small, only a foot high—that acted as master to the crocodile demons. That is, until my counter-spell dashed them all.
“Emma did that?” I think I said, though no one heard or answered. Emma did that.
The Elf danced away, tooting a new song. I put my helmet on to be trapped with my thoughts: my childhood friend was now on the same team as evil mini-Trolls and nasty monsters that were haunting schoolchildren and—was she helping to distribute them? Fairy delivery? The memory of Emma on the mountain came to me, hit me in the gut: she had been laughing.
Emma was helping the Gwyllion.
Sophia’s mom must have sensed something: According to the fairy, she sent Emma away, saying she should go home, it was late, no one should be out in the storm, and where was Emma’s mother, etc.? And that Emma should know better.
I agree, I thought, though I also knew the whole story better than anyone else. The Gwyllion was powerful, and I was not, and Emma was pulled to the wrong side. Fairy eyes were everywhere. I should go rescue Emma.
Rescue her? Or battle her? Oh, wow. Emma was helping the Gwyllion, I remembered. And there were still Jacob and Olivia and maybe others, in trouble, and it seemed that I was the only one who knew and could help them. And this job seemed to fit my small courage. But the mountain, the Old Woman, her army, her powers, her weather? I needed more wizard practice before I tried that. I will never try that, I realized. I have to try that, I also realized.
And as a scientist, I knew to stop that endless illogical brain loop and get moving⎯and that meant having to decide where to move to.
My mind and heart were torn into four pieces. I wanted, needed, to follow Emma. Although she had little Trolls with her, and a low-flying thing that looked either like a fat bat or a small, ugly, baby dragon, I was not afraid and had to save her.
Yet I knew of the damage Emma was doing to our friends-of-friends right now, and I was combating it, pretty well, so far.
So, I decided and hurried: to fight this battle first, to save Jacob and his Light Elf. Sprugly the Spriggan would be proud of me, I thought. Of course, I had spent three days wandering aimlessly with our folkie characters and doing nothing, and now when we needed a team effort— to combat thick crocodiles, to help distressed Elves—I was on my own.
I spurred my trusty quad back to the roads, even jumping off a small brick wall on Sophia’s terraced property—on purpose—though the jolt moved my helmet over my face so that I then jumped another brick wall—on accident. But I stayed in the saddle. I also learned how to skid around turns without wanting to throw up.
My fat tires spun when reaching Jacob’s rain-soaked driveway and up its long climb to his four-car garage. From there, the main yard was blocked by a locked fence, interrupted only by an eight-foot high stone retaining wall that I had to fall off twice before finding a diagonal that allowed me to rock-climb it—under dark night and with rain-soaked, grimy hands—before I could find a way closer to his large house.
Once there, I saw Emma! Leaving! Going down a path through a now-visible gate in the fence and then back down the steep driveway, thirty yards from me. I was on her trail!
A Mapmodelgram and Its Many Uses
In which Arty and Emma – and Thryst the Dwarf – finally meet the mysterious “Man in Brown” whose unlikely name is Abcedarius Zyxvuts. In the woods, as an ominous storm approaches — presaging the gathering fairy battle — Zyxvuts shows them a map, the pieces of which he has found over his many years. But it is much more than a map, of course, as it shows the movements of the fairy creatures, past and present, within the surrounding area, the very area chosen for war. Thryst looks on with great interest: he has been searching and searching — though no one knows why or for what — and the bearded one could put a powerfully magical map like this to good use.
“Ah, here. Come!” Zyxvuts had finished searching and invited us off the path to a large fallen tree log, where he then sat at the larger end. “This will answer more questions. I will show you my piece of the puzzle.”
Next to the log was its former trunk, now a large rounded stump jagged with broken sinews of bark and raw, veiny wood. It was blackened but shiny and still seemed fresh and alive.
“It looks like this tree was a victim of the storm battle. Two nights ago,” Zyx said as he noisily and with obvious pain raised himself again, just enough to pull something from his bookshelf-colored satchel. He unfolded the thing—an odd display, like a magician making something preposterously big come out of an impossibly small space—then he sat again, moaning. His large, bony legs with knees pointing to the sky, his chest bent toward his thighs, his whole skeletal package pinned to the curves and bumps of the fallen tree trunk—all made him look miserable. He pulled the contents from the satchel. One by one and carefully, he removed and untied flattened sheaves of magical map, each like the one I’d sort of stolen. He placed them on the stump in the bright light of what was, thanks to the recent weather, a brand- new clearing.
Arty forgot his haste, and we forgot the brewing, spinning, nearby storm and leaned in closer as the direct sunlight showed that many of the pages were actually collections of even thinner material, each of these as thin and fragile as tissues, a white ghostly paper upon which lines and shapes were drawn in very fine, golden lines. Zyx was careful to arrange these square pages directly on top of each other, with their edges precisely aligned. His long, bony fingers were perfectly suited for this.
When almost done, he stretched and held them out, so that Arty and I could clearly see the last two small tissue pages. The sun blazed on their golden marks. Zyx looked stiffly and seriously at us, then at the sky, at the sun, at the leaves, and at Thryst and then Sprugly, who had approached. Thryst especially seemed interested, even excited, as he always was when Arty used a map page on our adventures—no doubt such a thing would help Thryst on his own adventures, whatever they were. I understood.
The man straightened his long back, and held out his arms fully—first sideways, then to front, then in circles over the paper pile on the stump below him. The last two pages were placed on top. Finally, he said in an oddly shrill and echoing voice, “Hendyadis and Hendyadis!”
His hands tilted downwards, following his gaze. We did likewise, watching the sun on the cubic pile of skins, and waiting through a few quiet moments for a definite and specific whatever to happen.
Our Dwarf grunted, and our Spriggan laughed. Then Zyxvuts slumped comically, saying, “Just kidding, there is no incantation needed.” He suddenly shot a bumpy, mustached smile at Arty. “Only its own magic! You had only a small piece. Look at the whole!”
He passed his hands over the page pile, shading them from the sun, and I could see that their individual drawings aligned, like pieces of a 3D puzzle, and formed a picture. Cool. Then, for just a second… Maybe, I thought. Maybe. Yes! The image started to move, the lines of the drawings shifted, and, briefly, there was motion, or the illusion of motion, like a black and gold hologram.
Thryst exclaimed many words that seemed to come from underground and rattle like zombie corpses; his excitement shot out like dragon fire, both his beard and hood stiffening into points.
But, just as quickly, the illusion was gone: a burst of hot wind came, or a few of them, blowing fiercely in different directions, first this way, then that, then another. Our eyes shut against the small sandstorm it raised, even as the thinner pages scattered high, low, and up and away, and down and around. Sadly.
We had stupidly underestimated the storm, forgotten our enemies, ignored the situation, and stopped our hurry, hypnotized by this new magic and our puzzle pieces. I wondered if there was a voice, even laughter, on that gust.
Helpless, Mr. Abcedarius yelled the punishable-word we were all thinking as he tried to react. The trails of the papers blew off in so many directions that differing parts of his body tried to follow them at once, and the result was not pretty, nor comfortable, nor describable. Only his mouth seemed capable of consistent coordinated motion, and its stream of bad words created its own hot breeze.
Though the wind blew only a few seconds, the scene of lighter-than-leaves pages filling the clearing, like giant, upside-down snowflakes, took a few seconds longer. And just as Arty and I acted to help gather them, I felt another swirl of air, close and personal, a whirlwind that began at my shoulder and went like a small tornado outward and around, and even more quickly than the pages could scatter they were now collected—Sprugly at his lightning-quick, jump- flying best. I sat back down as Sprugly returned to my hair and whispered, “Ok.” There on the stump-desk were the ghostly pages, once again in a perfect stack. I smiled, and Arty smiled.
But our tall, thin friend was still frowning from eyebrows to beard. Soon I could see why: the page pile on the stump looked different, there was no definite image, and no 3D movie picture forming within.
Had I imagined it before?
Mr. Zyxvuts Abcedarius spoke. “That’s nice,” he said, his voice still smooth, “but it will take me a month to get them in the right order again. These are maps, or, more accurately, all are parts of the same map, a three-dimensional topographical representation of these woods. This was my research, my piece of the puzzle, and it took years to find them. Many long years to gather them. And more years to connect them properly. Piece by piece, hint by hint, a puzzle within the larger puzzle…” He ended in a soft chant.
I think I knew what he meant. I thought of our own hints, the ones that led Arty to the books that gave us the fairy history of New Island. Arty winked at me to show his common understanding. Thryst was pacing in heavy footfalls; his excitement over the magic map was now kindled to a boot-stamping frustration.
“Of course!” Arty and I said to each other. We were thinking the same thing: a map like this would help the Dwarf tremendously. Magically! Legendarily! What a shame. “Can it be fixed?” I asked Zyx.
He didn’t answer me, not straight-out anyway. Instead he muttered to himself, accompanied by the harsh creaks of his long bones as he fidgeted on the log; otherwise all was silent under the strong sun. He glanced at the sky, saying, “There are marks on the map that you can only see in the moonlight.”
Thryst grunted at this, his boots stamping loudly in the windless silence of the woods. Arty said, “Cool—Cry would like that, magical moon runes.” “Yes,” Zyx said, “legends come from somewhere, and these were real.” Thryst grunted again, mashing the butt of his axe into the earth.
I spoke up. “Why didn’t you number the pages, or something?”
“I suppose I am quite stupid,” Zyx answered, too easily, because, as he went on to say, “I tried to write on them, but it was impossible; this is not spiral notebook paper, you know.”
I began again, “Then why didn’t—”
“I make copies?” Zyx finished for me. “For one thing,” he said, “I only recently obtained all the pages. For another, they do not exactly fit into your everyday color copier. For a third, they are quite detailed and, to copy by hand—for me at least—would have been almost impossible. For a fifth, I don’t have any moon-rune ink lying around.”
Thryst grunted again and shifted his weight and his axe. He looked about to burst like a volcano filled with dragons.
Zyx went on, staring forlornly at the pages, “And lastly, sixthly, and bestly: Nor do I have any magic. When put in the right order, these pages create—”
It was my turn to interrupt. “A 3D movie,” I said. “Precisely,” Zyx answered. “As, I suppose, you started to see.” “A movie of what? I only saw the opening credits,” I said. “It shows the movement of fairy creatures, in this area, over the years, and into the distant past. A history, and a map. Very helpful, it might be.” Thryst swung his axe in frustration. It whistled as it traveled straight through the sleek trunk of a young, Zyxvuts-sized oak tree. We all made to scatter, but the tree remained standing, its new top plopped back perfectly onto its new bottom.
In thoughtful awe—and with sympathy for our Dwarf—we looked again at the thin, gold- scrawled pages, brightly lit in the sun, their edges showed glints of silver and green.
Zyx went on softly. “Very helpful. It shows itself—its pieces, in red, so they can be gathered. They show land, and paths, and also towers. And caves.
“And tunnels…” Zyx ended.
This was too much for one very dangerous and capable warrior Dwarf. He looked to the sky—not only the peaceful, blue brightness above, but also at the surrounding army of camped clouds—and screamed and moaned his own spell and malediction in a potent, growling, mountainous voice. His neck was thick with muscle, the veins gnarled and bulging black with their fairy blood.
“Bull na Amenta! Níl mé doite, Níl me chaitear. Is mise an Oidhre, an chumhacht priomhuil gluaisne agus de chuid eile!”
We heard. I think the storm heard. Then Thryst the Living Legend started in motion. I can’t tell you and could never draw precisely what I saw or how he worked, but, as when using his axe to climb trees or when confronted with enemies, his body moved like a perfectly-made machine operating through gracefully interconnected, smooth motions. For this task he must also have used much Dwarf experience: being underground, building and imagining in three dimensions, divining new creations with the help of magic and spells. For what I saw within a few minutes was that Thryst was able to stack the pages in their correct order once again. I wondered at the new map pile as if it were a thousand-squared Rubik’s Cube, and at Thryst as its solver.
The Dwarf said, “Hmmmph. Arka Fessa-fisi.” Arty and I applauded.
The Man in Brown Seeks Arty and Emma At School, Seriously Breaking Security Protocol
In which the mysterious Man in Brown asks around the middle school — where he is woefully conspicuous and out of touch — for information as to the location of Ted, Arty and Emma’s nosey, troublesome, almost-friend. Thryst the Dwarf – keeping himself hid – and a concerned Arty watch as the odd scene plays out.
“Do any of you unnecessary little loinfruits know that other little boy, in grey shorts and red t-shirt with a green monster emblazoned? He was walking with a young lady before?” The man’s voice was deep and flowing like a river of chocolate milk.
“No. Who do you mean?” came answers from below him. “I am trying to find him. It is imperative. ” Silence. “ He is a sneak, and he spies.” The man hissed these words. Turning his voice back to honey, he went on. “Not a nice boy, not like you proper children.” “Probably Ted,” a girl’s voice said.
“Don’t tell him anything,” another girl whispered loudly. “Who are you?” a third girl asked upward. “Yes, of course,” the honey voice flowed, “you should be careful, correct, and conscious.”
Very good. But, of course, it is right here on my name tag. So please tell me—” The man was interrupted as a boy spoke. “A-B-C-D—what is that? You made that up.
It’s supposed to say your name on your nametag.” “Ah, my good, little, observant, pedantic boy. Do you know Ted?” “Don’t tell him,” said a girl’s voice, joined now by others who were curious of the scene, of the man. “I have candy. You should tell me,” the man said. What a weirdo, I thought. Is he from another century or something? I realized I shouldn’t rule this out. “Does he live in the town?” The deep voice rose a little, annoyed, calling after the children, who were dispersing and bored with the stranger. “I saw him late last night, where he should not have been! In Belle Terre village. Hmmmm? If you help me, I will show you something fantastical!”
Pathetic, I thought.
“This is why no one likes children,” he finished as part threat, part opinion, as Barry, our front door security guard, arrived.
“Sir, you have to come with me. Let’s go,” Barry said, then scoffed. “Clever nametag. Can I ask your real name, Mr. Alphabet?”
The bell rang, and I headed to English class.
Arty Finds a Dwarf, Plays It Cool
In which Arty, early one morning, approaches the noises in his backyard to see if his eyes are deceiving him, and whether his dogs can handle it. They can’t.
I took another step forward. The two little dogs were circling a tree thick enough to hide what they were sniffing after. I saw colors, too, red and green, low to the ground. Clothes maybe? Was someone lying there, their back to the tree?
I took another step, and six things happened quickly: 1. The little dogs barked. 2. The voice rumbled, this time saying, “Altak!” 3. My stomach flopped upside down and back.
4. I saw a bright flash from behind the tree. Something whipped and whooshed through the air, reflecting the red and green of the… what? Boots?
5. The tree creaked and cracked, and bark and wood flew out like chunky sparks. The tree began to tilt, from roots to topmost twigs, and then, after only a heartbeat thump or two, bent and split and fell back toward the woods. It crashed through other trees, thin ones with light spring leaves, and hit the ground with a loud boom.
6. My stomach flopped around again.
A few seconds passed as trees and hearts settled to quiet. All three dogs—the oldest had risen when the tree smashed—backed up toward me, scowling and scared, and I realized that I had moved almost all the way toward them as I viewed things through the camera screen. I could see something small and stout, a body shape, run up the log of the fallen tree. And it was swinging an axe.
I had found a Dwarf.
And he was not happy. I think the death of the tree was a warning, meant to scare the dogs away. The Dwarf could have chopped my pets into two or three pieces each. Maybe he was as confused as we were.
Or maybe not. The dogs ran back and hid behind me, as the Dwarf tucked his axe into his belt with one hand in a single, smooth motion. He straightened his beard with the other hand, folded both his thick arms to his thick chest, stood with his feet apart and steady on the tree, and let out a snort. Sort of bragging, I thought.
As the morning mist burned away under rising sunlight, I could see him clearly. He was not pretty to look at. Picture a Dwarf in your head. Short and cute, right? NO—those are silly, plastic things for the garden. They make cookies and help Santa, yes? NO, those are TV elves.
In cartoons, Dwarves wear vests with large buttons, have adjectives for names, and help people lost in the woods. In real life, in the twenty-first century, in a backyard and around family dogs and houses, they look like rocks, have bad tempers, and don’t care if they appear to you as axe-wielding maniacs. And they don’t sing or whistle while they work; they grunt. And spit.
As I was observing the fellow, he looked at me and did spit in my direction, adjusting for the wind. The leftover dribble stuck in his beard. This and the thick, dark hair on his arms glistened like dewy grass, and the skin of his face and hands also shone, but with a dark, nasty sweat.
My fear shrunk, which let curiosity grow in its place. I was a very interested scientist only concerned with how much of him might fit under my new microscope. I continued to record him.
Another minute, or three, passed. The dogs stared and yawned; I stared and studied. The Dwarf did not move. He seemed as though he was perfectly happy standing on a log in my yard, that this was exactly where he meant to be, as if every Wednesday morning should be like this. As if it were perfectly natural to wear red and green boots and a funny hood, have a two-foot- long beard covering a three-foot-long body, and to keep it all perfectly still.
Eventually, my wonder grew tired, and my confusion woke up. I began to edge around him. The dogs followed me and sniffed the air. Things stayed still—the fresh clear air, the trees, the grass, the Dwarf’s boots, his axe—as I paced a large semicircle around where his log lay, my phone focused. I stopped after a half-circle lap. My phone started buzzing with reminders and calendar events popping up, each with their own theme music. I had to get on with my day.
Some people may think that finding a Dwarf was at least an excuse to take a sick day, if not an all-out emergency. They might call the police and the fire department, maybe the army, maybe Disney or the comic bookstore president. Or put up signs to see if anyone had lost a bedtime story creature. I admit that maybe all this was beyond my morning brainpower, because I could think of nothing else to do but walk away and see what happened. The only useful experience I had was helping a few lost animals find their way home or getting a spider out of the tub. Dogs and cats have collars and ID tags. An armed Dwarf is different.
And anyway, somehow, I didn’t think calling the fire department would accomplish anything. I pictured my Dwarf standing on top of a pile of firemen in yellow and black jackets, snorting a deep laugh from his chest and throat, their fire hose chopped into two-foot sections.
I made sure that the Dwarf saw my goodbye wave. “Ga!” he yelled to me. I walked a few steps, then ran a few more, to the house. I tripped on something bulging from the grass that was not a root and was not there yesterday, a funny thing, but I don’t want to talk about that yet. Then, once re-balanced, I made it to my back door.
He did not move.
The Battle, and Arty’s Quest To Find Emma
In which Arty tells of his attempt to find, perhaps to rescue, his best friend and fellow fairy-creature-finder Emma. With the help of some Dwarf-magic, he makes his way to a place that is part normal-neighborhood and part fantasy dreamscape, where the world of humans and the world of fairy creatures is colliding. There are dungeons, yes, and with dragons, eventually; this is where the evil Gwyllion has decided to fight her war.
The way went upward, as before, but at intersecting tunnels I checked the mapmodelgram, and each time my path was laid out before me: The Dwarf-stone shone its light outward to the glowing cube, touching it with a slender beacon, marking where I—and it—were; its white light split into red, green, and gold where it struck the map.
“Coming, Emma!” I said to the tunnel walls.
At the last turn, the stone and map showed that the purple rainbow of the casket was near to my own emblem of colors: green and gold and red and purest white.
I smelled fresher air and saw a vague glow escaping from what must be the end of the tunnel. The air sought me, and sounds came, as if calling me.
I ran the rest of the way with no concern or weariness. What a mistake.
I was trapped.
I ran up the final paces of the tunnel; it was not steep but painfully bright with glare, and my last steps leveled me into an open, white world. The ground was hard, it was of flat stone, the air was cool and fresh, the smell of a May meadow. But I could not see yet, my eyes glazed, blinded in a negative white that I tried to blink away.
Then iron bars slid, metal clasped, doors slammed, gates shut, and as my eyes blinked, I found myself in a cage, like those I’d seen here before—near to the fairy dream mountain in the sky, which is where I was, at its foot.
The sky was white—plain, empty, clear, it hovered as a staggering, unreal, inexplicable well of white. Looking there was a frightening version of being blind. I did not look there.
Raised near to me, in a flawless pyramid, was the last height of the last of the rows of higher and higher, jagged, curved hilltops. This triangle—straight, perfect angles as if drawn by schoolchildren—sat atop a few others that descended below me on the opposite side, all of straight, smooth grey stone. The connected hills below were covered in rich green, and here and there were speckled with bright flowers, despite their ugly shapes.
Although this was a mountain, and the distances were great, I could see everything clearly, as if my eyes had special lenses, or this world itself was shaped and rounded to fit all its features, magically, into a smaller space. Clouds floated all around, above and below, but when they parted. the horizon itself seemed close, and small, as if it were a ring that I could put on my finger.
But I had certainly landed right in it: into a jail in fairy world. I was trapped by black iron bars as thick as Cry’s arms, and the tunnel entrance was closed. It had a door of stone made of the very rock of the mountainside and clasped with a silver steel lock.
I looked at the map. My red-green-gold was near to the purple rainbow—the box that I thought Emma had. It never occurred to me that someone else had it—like the Old Woman of the—this—Mountain, and I was leading myself directly to our great enemy.
Suddenly, I was struck and fell to the hard ground. The sounds and colors on the air that had called me from the tunnel were now all around—they were the words and spells of the Gwyllion, and they grew louder as I cowered, my face to the stone.
I heard words, and thoughts came to my mind that confused me because, unlike anything else in my world, they made sense. I looked up but was snowblinded by the pure light and fairy airs.
Just as suddenly as I had been knocked to the ground, the spell stopped, and I saw clearly my surroundings. Dirty, ugly creatures fenced my cage, but the larger force was gone, and the words with it. All around—the mountainsides, the hills, the sky, the distant waters—were in motion: thousands of living things were flying, or marching, or crawling, all toward a large flat plain beneath me, jutting from the mountain. It looked familiar: I had seen it in Thryst’s eyes, all those years ago, on Wednesday, my first eyeventure.
The battle would be there. But I didn’t see any Dwarves. I was as alone as is possible. There was a crack like lightning, and I was stung with a sharp pain in my right leg. I cried out, and my thigh bled through a rip in my jeans. Tears came to my eyes, and anger rose up into my throat, choking me. There was another crack—above my head. It was a whip. Its many black tails fell to the ground and retreated to the ugly, Orc-like monster who held it.
The other creatures outside my cell were taunting me. I backed away, thinking that I had a lot of data but no weapons. Through all my adventures it never occurred to me to be armed.
I thought of Cry and Ted and their fantasy and video games as I moved into a far corner to avoid my attackers.
I tried to be brave; I thought of Emma and why I was here. The largest of the creatures—I did not want to look at them but saw that this fairy was about three feet tall, had a large, reddish head, ugly grey thick hair, and otherwise was gangly and rotten like an unwanted vegetable lying in a field—was spitting words at me. I tried to understand them, to picture them in English letters, to search for them in my memory of counter-spells to perhaps fight back. I cowered in the corner as bravely as I could—not crying and calling for my mom was as far as I got. My hands trembled, and a thrown stone knocked the phone out of my hand, another hit my lower lip, and I screamed back at them.
My scream was not heard—a larger, more potent voice had shrieked at the same time and it still echoed beneath and throughout the world. More armies of folkie bad guys moved then, coming out of holes in the mountains, and rising from the depths below. And my taunting captors also left me.
Then I saw Emma.
And I heard Mary. Not heard, felt. No, not felt, sensed. I knew she was near, or coming, or had her own spells that were doing battle in this valley—her will, and other spirits that were clean and clear like melting snow in rays of the sun—were opposing the will of the specters of the mountain. I sensed Sprugly the Spriggan; it felt familiar and good. The air was thick with the strength of Dwarf armies, the mystical motions of Elves, the magic of wizards and witches, and others who were part of legends and lands and had friends to rescue, and a future to save.
Just as I was here to save Emma. Would she let me? Was there a spell for best friends turned bad?
She was with other children our age, coming up one of the green hills, almost directly below, a hundred yards away. I vaguely recognized some of the kids from school. Ahead and behind them walked and flew more of the type of nasty things that had stood outside my cage.
Was Emma now a leader, promoted by the Old Woman? Were these other kids her troops, or captives? This was worse than the two Teds, since those weren’t all that different.
I yelled to her. The wind picked up my voice and carried it to her. She looked up but did not respond.
I yelled to her to stop. To go back home. To be careful. To beware. To escape. She marched on. To help me? She marched on.
To capture me?
I read spells from my phone and started reciting—screaming—every word of everything I had, until my voice rasped with weariness and was weakened with tears.
Sore, my lower lip blubbered; my leg throbbed from the whip’s slash, it bled cold into my jeans. I grabbed the iron bars and, on tiptoes, watched as Emma’s troupe traveled along a ridge directly below me; their path headed directly to the battle plain.