© gipsika, 2016
Published by P’kaboo Publishers, 2016
All characters and circumstances in this story are purely fictitious. This work is copyrighted, and neither it nor any part of it may be reproduced or copied in any way without the prior permission of the author.
Dedicated to my children, and the many fun evenings of playing games “on-LAN”. There are only not enough of them.
This is an experiment. This booklet, as you’re holding it, is not yet complete. As I’m blogging the story while I’m writing it, chapter by chapter, I add the new chapter onto the book. I’m mainly doing it so that the bloggers following the story can “collect” it as they go. A side-effect is that you can be there while a new story “grows” into being.
Until the book is entirely complete, it will be a free download.
If you downloaded it while it had 4 chapters, you can come back after a while and download the updated version to get the new chapters.
Please feel free to give feedback on this.
~ gipsika ~
Once there was…
… a villain so vile, everything he touched turned bad. Even the grass withered where his unholy feet trod. In the same land there lived a princess so pure and precious, everyone’s heart melted whenever they merely saw her on telly. Most of the land was in love with her. It wasn’t her fault. And in the same land, there lived a hero so Herculean, the sunlight would glint off his well-oiled muscles and golden hair as he rode by, head held high, on his white steed. There also lived a heroine so heroic, she would… well, do all the policing and justice work the princess was too pure to perform. And deep, deep in the woods, in a magic cave lined with Persian mats and hidden behind a spell, there dwelled a magic being … a being so magic, whenever she flexed her prettily manicured hand, something magic would happen. Her name was Nadisda. (That is pronounced “Na-DEESH-da”. Ok?) The author couldn’t decide whether she was a tree spirit, a wood nymph or simply a witch, but truly it matters not, because all that matters was that she was so imbued with magic, it was actually quite a problem. Because this being had an additional problem. She had a bit of ADD. That was on good days. On worse days, it was ADHD, and seeing that despite television in this land they did not have Ritalin, it was quite a thing.
One day Nadisda was peacefully trying to remember whether she was trying to remove the weeds she had inadvertently planted around her cave to replace them with ferns, or do laundry day (for even in magic lands, nothing washes cleaner than OMO), when she heard a soft step on the moss. She listened up instantly, because you’re not supposed to hear anything that steps on moss, except this particular step went “crunch”. By this she knew that her moss had died and she’d have to replant, and in an amazingly lucid moment she jumped to the conclusion that it was the Villain who had come to see her.
Nadisda was a peaceful soul, she didn’t mind if good or evil paid her a visit (good was in fact harder to endure, in this particular land). She smiled sweetly.
“Hello, Valentine! How nice to see you… would you like some tea? – oh wait, you’re the one who doesn’t like tea, or is that Hugo…”
“Close that gap in your face and listen,” replied Valentine the vile Villain. “You have magic. Too much for your own good, to my mind. But today you could do me a favour.”
Nadisda had had conversations with the Villain before, and she knew that it was best to simply nod. Sometimes it was even better that all you did was blink. But today, she sensed Valentine was in a good mood, as good as it got, and she felt that nodding was safe. So she did. Overhead, a branch sprouted a wealth of white blossoms.
“Excellent,” replied Valentine. “I’m so pleased you’re the type who does favours. I need you to work out a curse for the Hero.”
Nadisda’s eyes went wide with surprise, but she nodded again. The Villain’s red coat accidentally changed to green.
“You… you want me to kill him?” she asked, knowing that there would be implications – if she could only remember what they were.
The Villain laughed. “Oh no, not kill… that would be by far too kind for that pompous nit. I want a curse that will make him wish he were dead.”
“A curse is black magic,” Nadisda pointed out needlessly.
“Can’t you do it?” asked Valentine, taken aback.
“Of course I can, but black magic always has repercussions.”
“Ah, that,” laughed Valentine. “It will probably only mean that Haley the perfect heroine will come after you and lock you in the clink. Surely that’s no problem for you? You can magick yourself out of there faster than the blink of an eye, can’t you?”
Nadisda pulled a doubtful face. (A little spring welled up out of the ground under the Villain’s feet and he had to jump aside quite suddenly to keep his designer shoes from getting too soaked.) Yes, she could; but even prison breaks had consequences, she was sure of that. Besides she could never quite remember the whole sequence for her vanishing spell.
“Oh, don’t worry,” said the Villain impatiently, “I’ll protect you. Good enough? You’ll cast that curse?”
Nadisda nodded. A tangle of vines began to grow from overhead, encroaching on Valentine. Nadisda’s mind was on gardening this morning.
“Excellent,” said the Villain and made a hasty getaway.
“A curse,” Nadisda repeated to herself. “A curse on Hugo. So he wishes he were dead.” She sat down on a moss-covered log that had conveniently sprung out of the ground to accommodate her shapely hindquarters, and absently waved a hand in the direction of the withered moss which returned to life and burst into bloom. Or more specifically, into sporophytes.
She watched those strange little flowers that were not flowers, flower on the resurrected zombie moss, and carefully let her mind wander (keeping it on a rope however in case it got lost again). Sporophytes. Moss. Hero Hugo. Valentine. And suddenly she had it.
“Uranium!” she shouted, jumping up and causing several masked weaver nests to grow clusters of noses on a tree opposite, which duly started sneezing, scaring the baby birds. “No, wait, what was that word – Eu… Euphorbium… whatever, I have it!”
“A curse for Hero Hugo, so he wishes he were dead,” Nadisda repeated to herself as she walked through the scratchy undergrowth. It was hot here, in Faff’s territory. Hot and arid. He liked things warm.
Faff was Nadisda’s mentor. He was also the oldest dragon around. Partly because he was the only dragon around, but that was not all.
Faff had been around in the middle-ages when some people had mistaken his emissions for those of a volcano (because they didn’t ever see them from close-up). He had been around before that. Faff dated back to before the time of the dinosaurs. He had eaten his fair share of dinosaurs. Faff, in fact, was the creature who had always been around. He had survived the terrible slaughter heroes had wreaked on dragons during the Dark Ages. And various other things including being declared a myth.
The way a shark never stops growing as long as it lives, Faff’s formidable knowledge and magic had increased without end through the ages. With it, in time, had come genuine wisdom and insight which had led him to stop eating intelligent life forms and try helping them with their lives instead; and then even more wisdom that dictated to him that it didn’t help to help people, people needed to help themselves; and eventually, enough wisdom to say, bung that, I’ll help them if I feel like it.
Faff had some unique abilities. He lived in all dimensions available. He crossed between worlds freely without the need for portals (which he created and closed again as he went along). He could read minds (of course he could), but could also choose not to, and in many cases he was too lazy to bother. Very often he found to his amusement that when people came to him with a question, if he simply listened to them long enough they would figure it out by themselves. In some cases he’d present them with a small token bauble from his considerable hoard, telling them (falsely) that it was imbued with magic and (correctly) that it would help them focus and solve their own problems. This saved him time.
Faff lay snoozing in the hot afternoon sun when Nadisda approached. He woke up when she tickled his huge nostril with a blade of grass, and he sneezed. Reflexively Nadisda blocked the fire-wave with a shielding spell, waited for him to clear his sight by blinking and brought him her request.
“You’re not coming to me to ask for an answer,” observed Faff. “You already have that.”
Nadisda smiled at the dragon. “You’re right. I’m here to ask for help with the spell itself.”
“But you have cast such spells before,” replied Faff, puzzled. “They are your daily fare!”
“Not this one,” she said. “This one needs to make him wish he were dead. It has to be just right, and Faff…” she sighed.
“Your head gets in your way of doing it just right,” he completed for her. “Poor girl! Let me give you something…”
Nadisda smiled again and held up her hand. “I know about your jewellery,” she said. “It’s not magical. People simply need something to focus on. That’s not going to help me.”
“What I’m going to give you, is magical,” he promised. “And it will focus you.” He dug in his hoard with his massive jaws and picked out a small stone which he delicately passed to her. It was glowing softly.
“A moonstone,” Nadisda breathed, impressed. “Loaded with moonlight!”
“Light from Luna, the moon of Earth, twelve thousand years back. Use it wisely,” warned Faff. “And bring it back when you are finished!”
“Oh, I will,” said Nadisda happily and bounced away. She was nearly home before it occurred to her that she hadn’t had a single magical mishap the whole time that she spoke to the dragon.
Back at her cave, Nadisda got to work. She fetched her favourite cauldron – the one with the fine elderberry patina – and her mortar and pestle, and combed her store (which was located in the back of her roomy cave) for the right items. Dried petals from the black Damask roses that grew in the palace gardens. A tiniest, tiniest smidgeon of Belladonna, for the opening of the eyes. A handful of pure white sand for romantic beaches and sand in the works. Ground-up clear quartz for reason and logic; a mere hint of obsidian for that touch of the-end-is-nigh. And so on. Doomed, caged, frustrated out of his mind poor Hugo would feel.
The moonstone’s gentle, calm light kept her focus beautifully on track. It hung on a chain around her neck, dangling over the infernal stew, casting its eerie blue light. But just as she put the most critical ingredient into the cauldron – a touch of lipstick from an adulterer’s collar – she heard that familiar crunch on her moss. She huffed in exasperation, and small flames sprang up from the cauldron, which she put out again hastily. Didn’t that forsaken Villain know that she needed to be alone during spellwork?
“Wood fairy!” called the Villain. “How far is your curse?”
“Nearly done,” she called back, hoping he wouldn’t enter.
Valentine, being a true villain, didn’t care what she hoped. He entered. Nadisda’s stress levels started climbing. If she made a mistake now…
“Eye of newt and strength of brute,” she whispered the incantation over the cauldron as she stirred, carefully, sunwise, “cat’s claw, snake’s head, iron root…”
“A potion?” asked Valentine, surprised. “I thought you’re working on a curse?”
“This is a curse,” said Nadisda through gritted teeth. “Or verse. Worse. I mean. Now I lost my place!”
“Iron root,” prompted Valentine.
“Iron root and rabbit’s snoot,” she continued. “Beautiful evil far afoot. Valentine, get out!”
“You speak to me like that?” challenged the Villain.
“Shoosh, I can’t concentrate…” She bent lower over the potion, trying to remember what came next. Big bubbles were rising to the surface and popping gloopily. The moonstone dangled a bit too low – and touched the liquid.
There was a blinding flash, and Nadisda was blasted backwards. She fell and knocked her head hard, and passed out. The last impression she had before spiralling into nothingness was a hand grabbing hers, trying to stop her fall.
Nadisda tried to see through the impenetrable blackness. Total silence. She had the impression that she was falling through nothingness, tumbling around her own axis. The void seemed airless. She must have banged her head really hard.
That’s what you get for doing a villain favours, she scolded herself. A curse on the hero? For what? Just because she couldn’t shake her head rather than nod, when the villain made his one-sided conversation? She’d show that brute, next time he visited! She was pure magic – she was not afraid of him!
The spinning stopped, and she held her breath, waiting for some sort of impact. None came. The sense of movement ceased altogether; she hung suspended in nowhere.
And panic set in. Was this the end? Her karma catching her and sending her spiralling into Nirvana? Was her beingness, her very spirit being destroyed as punishment for arbitrarily abusing magic for senseless evil?
Nadisda had never worried about karma before. It was something that happened to others. But now the thought gnawed at her that perhaps magical beings got hit harder by karma.
She lit a little white mage-light from her left hand and held it up. Nothing, still. She was literally in the middle of nowhere, but now at least she could see her own pale arms. Her right hand searched for the chain around her neck, the moonstone pendant – both were gone. She hoped the moonstone hadn’t been destroyed by the spell.
So what came next? She watched the white mage-light for a few more moments before panic threatened to take over again. She reached out with her mind.
Nothing happened. She called out several more time and was about to despair when an answer came:
“Fairy! You’re calling me?”
“Where am I?” she asked desperately.
“You are lost between worlds,” came the unpromising answer.
“Can you find me?”
“No. You’re lost in your own head. You need to find your own way out.”
“Am I dead?”
“No. Just unconscious. But to wake up, you must find an exit.”
“How do I do that?”
“Just focus,” said the dragon. “Stay calm.”
She tried to focus harder. The silence and blackness all round stayed the same; but her mage-light went out.
“Faff!” she cried in panic.
The dragon was gone from her head though. She was alone.
Find an exit. She groped in the dark to try and find anything at all: A door, a handle… a rope end… but all she found was void.
With longing she thought of her grove at home, her cosy cave behind the moss and the shielding spell. A crunching footstep on the moss pushed itself into this image of home, and she remembered that she’d once again have to heal her poor moss. How could anyone be so vile that plants withered wherever he stepped?
Well, the Villain had probably caused her to break some or other fairy code she had been unaware of. She resolved to deal with him severely the next time she saw him. How dare he?
Suddenly that hard surface was there underneath her, and sound returned, and with it, smell. Foul smell. Wherever she had come out of her exile, it had to be bad. Also, the place was noisy, with something causing a thundering and roaring that had nothing in common with waterfalls or storms. She opened her eyes to painful daylight, to find someone crouching over her.
Young, sea-green eyes with golden flecks studied her face intently. Wild, shoulder-long brown hair hung in tatty strings around the face. A steep crease between two well-shaped masculine eyebrows. And a chin pushed forward in determination that was only showing the very first fuzz of beard growth.
“So,” said the youngster, “you’re awake?”
She did a double-take, her eyes wide open now. She wouldn’t have recognized him, but for his voice and accent.
“You’re -” she gasped. “You’re you!”
The Villain laughed softly. “Course I’m me, fairy! The real question is, are you alright? Did you survive intact? Is your magic okay?”
“I… I don’t know.” She tried to comprehend the surrounds. They were somewhere dank and dark, somewhere surrounded by grey walls that looked like tunnels. Lewd words were painted over the walls, and the place stank.
Valentine helped her sit up and gave her some water to drink from a water skin he had with him.
“Check if you can use your magic,” he said.
She tried to light a mage-light and failed, but it was mostly a function of not having enough energy for it.
“You lost it!” said the young Valentine, sounding disappointed.
He was disappointed? She was more than that! She was horrified. It was a disaster! Her magic!
“If I did, it’s your fault,” she pointed out. “For asking for that arbitrary curse against Hugo.” It was surprising how flowers entirely failed to spring up wherever she turned her head.
“My fault, really?” huffed Valentine. “And who was so quick to accommodate me? I’d have guessed you enjoy your black magic!”
“Where are we?” she asked, panicking.
“In the canals under Detroit,” said Valentine. “Earth.”
He shook his head with an evil grin. “I’m from here.”
Nadisda gaped at him. “You were born here?” Suddenly, all the anger she had felt towards the Villain evaporated. What a horrible place to grow up in!
“Not down here, of course,” he laughed. “But up there is not exactly a picnic, either. Come!” He extended a hand. “Feel good enough to get up?”
Nadisda took his hand and allowed him to help her up. Instantly her head started spinning and her legs gave way under her again. The darkness crept in around the corners.
“Whoa there, slow down!” she heard his voice and wished that he should just keep talking so that she could have that anchor point. She didn’t want to get lost in her own head again.
Valentine did keep talking to her.
“Wow, girl, you really must have banged your head hard! You’re still feeling sick?”
Nadisda groaned, wishing she could wake up in her comfortable bed of moss. But that fairy wish was not granted. Instead, as the spinning stopped and the world steadied, she found herself once again looking up into that too-young villain face. She tried taking a deep breath.
“You’re apparently not going anywhere in a hurry,” muttered Valentine and lowered her back down to the hard, cold floor.
“Careful, my wings…” she started objecting, then realized they were missing. “Where are my wings?” she whispered in horror.
“Wait!” He took off his slightly smelly jersey and rolled it up, and lifted her head again and stuffed the woolly thing underneath as a cushion. “I’m going to organize you some blankets.” And he turned away and started scrambling up rungs that led to what seemed like the outside.
“Don’t go!” Nadisda whimpered after him, despairing.
Time passed. Nadisda listened to the loud rushing that ebbed and flowed around her, like water yet not like water. Sometimes something roared like a wounded beast; sometimes something groaned and ached along, sighing loudly, before she could hear it disappear again. All this was coming from overhead.
Down here, there was movement too. The roaches and bugs were the first to come crawling to investigate her. Next, a few grey shapes flitted furtively along the shadows. Nadisda realized with mounting terror that they were rats.
Mice and rats in the forest context, she had no problem with. But here, the rats seemed evil, their red eyes glinting in the semi-dark. And there were too many, now that she paid attention. They seemed to be listening to her.
Valentine, where are you? Her desperation was beginning to climb. Faff? Can’t you get me out of here?
There was no answer from Faff, and of course none from Valentine either, as the Villain had not a single magical cell in his body. Where was that forsaken scoundrel? What took him so long?
One of the rats came a bit too close. Nadisda panicked and flung a reflexive spell at the rodent. A blast of lightning lit up the tunnel and hit the ground right next to the rat which squeaked in fright and fled. Where it had been, a fern pushed out of the barren ground.
So her magic was back. Nadisda tried getting up, to find her way out of the tunnels; but her body betrayed her once more and collapsed out under her again. It felt heavy and unwieldy, as though it were made of mud. She swore heartily and looked around for something to use as a wand. There was absolutely nothing.
With another curse she pointed her finger, abusing it for a wand. She didn’t like doing this as the focus was never quite the same as a real wand. There was no telling what would run off the rails. But it was all she had now. She drew a circle around herself, and dense sword ferns arose from the cold floor, growing so tightly together that not even roaches would find their way. And rats could forget it! And then, for her own comfort, she sat up with immense effort and patted the hard floor, and lush, deep moss grew up, providing a soft covering. She lay back down on it with a thankful sigh and allowed herself to slip away into troubled, noise-riddled dreams, trying to ignore the too-close-for-comfort young villain smell rising out of the jersey, mingling unfortunately with the dank odours of the cavern.
When Nadisda next opened her eyes, it was because someone was shaking her.
“C’mon, fairy! C’mon, up, we’ve got to get you out of here!”
She glanced up at Valentine.
“You’re burning up with fever,” he pointed out. “C’mon, got to go, get you back to where I stay. If I leave you here, you’ll die!”
“Die?” she croaked, horrified.
Nadisda let him help her sit up; then he put his arm around her back and helped her stand. He pulled her right arm across his shoulders and supported her with his left, making her lean on him as he half-dragged her away from her mossy bed.
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked crossly. It was his fault, for making her work that spell, and then distracting her at the wrong moment!
“A virus,” said Valentine. “That’s what you’ve got, from being in the real world!” He panted a bit from the effort of heaving her along. “Girl, did you eat rocks while I was gone? I’m sure you weren’t this heavy in the Realms.”
Nadisda snorted in disgust.
“Well, I’m sure you weigh as much as a mountain wherever you happen to be,” she shot back, annoyed. “A mountain range!” She had no idea what a virus was. They didn’t exist in the Magic Realms. She was feeling miserable. It was all his fault!
Valentine laughed. She recognised that little snigger, laced with his inherent evil.
“Just come along,” he instructed and kept on dragging her through the grey tunnels that smelled so bad.
It seemed to be an eternity until they finally came out into the open air, and it was into a glorious sunset over a ruined town. The wood fairy gasped.
“It’s so – beautiful! And then again not!”
Valentine laughed. There was that cutting edge on that laugh, again! “That’s exactly how many of us feel about it.” He rolled his eyes and nudged her onwards. “Come, fairy, it’s far to go!”
“We got to get to Faff,” she muttered as they together started down the pebbly, rubble-strewn slope. “He can take us home.”
“I am home,” said Valentine, pausing with her at the bottom of the slope. “As for you – I have no idea! Who’s that Faff?”
She gaped at him. “You don’t know Faff? The Ancient One? The dragon?”
“Oh,” said Valentine. “That one.” He grinned. “Forgot about him. Got to work on him a little, there’s an idea… Hey! How is it that you and Faff know each other?”
“You forgot about Faff? He’s my mentor in magic and in life wisdom!” said Nadisda, taken aback. “He’s the single most powerful creature in the Realms.”
“That’s a fallacy,” said Valentine, urging her to carry on. “C’mon, fairy. It will be dark soon!”
“But where are we going?” she asked.
“My place,” he replied. And he stopped her again, and looked at her critically. “We’ve got to find a good name for you.”
“A name? What’s wrong with Nadisda?” she challenged.
“It’s so… otherworldy. I’ve got it. You’re Fae. That should keep reminding you what you are, too.”
Nadisda laughed. “Oh, no chance of forgetting that!”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Valentine, pointing at her. “Fae. Yes. I like it.”
“But Valentine -”
“Ah. That’s another thing.” He grinned at her in the fast-deepening dusk. “Here in this world, I’m not Valentine. I’m Mike. Just Mike. Please, don’t call me Valentine where people can hear you.”
“But I like the name Valentine!” objected Nadisda.
Valentine laughed. “So do I. That’s why I picked it. Pretty cool name for a dreadful villain, don’t you think? Wimpy and evil, yet with options.”
“You picked it? Didn’t your mother give it to you?”
“You’ll understand in due course,” said Valentine. “Fae.”
She shook herself free from his supporting arm. To her surprise she found that her anger made her stronger. She could stand on her own without collapsing.
“No, dammit. I’ll call you Mike if I must, Valentine. But I am Nadisda and you’ll keep on calling me that or – or I simply will not answer!”
Valentine stared at her in surprise.
“Sure, whatever,” he said. “I also picked your name, incidentally.”
“You did not! I’ve always had it!”
“Nadisda,” said Valentine with that infuriatingly know-it-all grin again, “who were your parents?”
She shook her head. “I was born of pure magic. A star fell from the skies and turned into me.”
“So how did you know what your name was?” he asked triumphantly, as though it proved something.
“It just always was that,” she replied. “What silly villainous game are you playing now, Valentine?”
He shook his head with a secretive grin and beckoned her on.
A good while later they arrived at a ramshackle building, a house with a patchy roof and an overgrown garden and a broken-down picket fence. There was light inside, and interesting smells wafted through the evening air. It was properly dark out here by now.
Valentine led Nadisda up the half-broken cobblestone pathway, and up a few steps to a front door that was overlooking a veranda. The door had a pane of rippled glass set into it, with a crack running diagonally through it, and Valentine rapped on that. There was some movement inside, and then the door opened. Another teenager, this one in an even scruffier torn shirt, peered at Nadisda with curiosity.
“Hey, Mike! You were out late!”
“Yup. I brought someone, guys,” announced Valentine. “She’s in need of help.”
A girl of roughly the same age, with honey-blonde locks that hung care-free to shoulder-length, came to the door to have a look.
“Oh my gosh, bring her in! She looks all torn up, like she’s fallen through a thorny hedge!”
“Been dragged backwards through it, more like,” commented the other teen drily.
“And what on Earth is she wearing?” came a gasped question from another angle.
“Get a life, Nancy! She’s probably got nothing else,” snapped the honey-blonde. “Rather go get her some proper clothes!”
Nadisda peered down at her perfectly good fairy gown – granted, it was a bit tattered from the fall through dimensions, and its lovely moss-green had faded into some dirty grey.
“Come, girl,” said the honey-blonde resolutely. “Let’s get you into something warmer!” She took Nadisda’s hand and led her into the room.
Not two steps into the messy-but-homey front room, Nadisda’s legs folded out under her, and her senses left her again.
When Nadisda surfaced next, the first sensation she had was of being somewhere warm, safe and comfortable. Thank the Stars! Because her body felt as though someone had taken a heavy hammer and beaten every part of her into splintered pulp. All except her head, which was under water – but at least not as badly as it had been.
There was a girl sitting next to her on the floor. She herself was lying on something soft. A bed of sorts, perhaps of moss. It was dry and warm though, so probably not moss after all.
“I’m Jen,” the girl introduced herself. “Mike says you’re Nadisda. What an unusual name!”
The forest fairy nodded. “So is Jen.”
“You must try and drink this,” said Jen and held out a cup for Nadisda. The fairy looked at it. Did she really have to sit up and drink something now?
“It will make you better,” urged Jen.
Nadisda sat up and took hold of the cup, but screamed and let it go again. It was lucky that Jen had not yet released it. A bit of the piping hot liquid spilt over the blanket.
“Steady on,” said Jen. “Sorry. Mike warned us that you had a bad fall, and you cracked your head, so you’ll react to weird stuff.”
Nadisda scowled and shook her head. What on Earth had Valentine meant with that?
“It’s hot medication,” insisted Jen. “You’ve got a serious case of sewer-flu.”
“What’s that?” asked Nadisda, though her body reminded her what it was.
“We should get you to a doctor,” added Jen. “We’re checking if we have the funds.”
“A doctor?” echoed Nadisda, wondering what that was.
“Yes. It’s that bad. C’mon now, drink up!”
Nadisda carefully took the hot cup again, this time prepared. She sipped the steaming liquid very slowly. It tasted strange, bitter and sweet at the same time.
“Where’s Val – where’s Mike?” she asked between sips. “Can I speak to him?”
“He’s out hunter-gathering,” said Jen factually. “But I’ll tell him when he comes in.”
Nadisda drank up the beverage which made her feel strangely better. Maybe it was just the heat that penetrated all the way into her bones. She handed the cup back and lay back on her cushion. A soft, purple cushion. The bed was purple too; and the blanket was fluffy and blue. She wondered. The Princess had such commodities – blankets filled with feathers or lamb’s wool. Was everyone in this world a princess?
“So, where are you from?” asked Jen.
Nadisda smiled. “The Magical Realms. Where I come from, I live deep in the forest,” she said nostalgically. “My cave is cosy and warm, and adorned with flowers and moss. It’s very beautiful. And of course the trees are always kind to me.”
Jen nodded and regarded her with pity.
“Don’t worry, girl, we’ll get you fixed up! You really did hit your head hard, didn’t you?”
Mike came in a little later that evening. He unpacked his backpack, for all to see and share.
“There you go, Ben, that video card.”
Ben, tall, gangly and with wild long hair of an indeterminable colour, let out a whoop of delight.
Mike took cans of food, bread, milk, sugar and some fruit out of his pack, for Jen to pack away in the semi-functional kitchen. There was no fridge as the electrics had been cut long ago; they lit the place with candles. So their food had to be accordingly.
Mike let the others loot the rest of his backpack, and shot a glance in the direction of the door to the short passage.
“How is she?”
“Still confused,” said Jen. “She asked that you go talk to her when you come in.”
“Will do.” In the door, he turned and studied the evening’s loot pensively. “Guys, this is not forever. Sooner or later our program will go viral, and then we’ve got it sorted. We’ll never have to steal again.”
“So say all of us!” said Nancy, grabbing a cucumber and saluting with it.
Valentine entered the room where Nadisda was lying on a mattress on the floor. He crouched down to her and felt her forehead.
“Still a nasty fever,” he muttered. “Seems like it’s getting worse.”
“Jen came in and gave me something to drink,” mentioned Nadisda feebly. “It did make me feel better.”
“Hotmeds,” he surmised. “Supposed to fix a fever in a blink. It does, but only for the common flu, not for sewer-flu.”
“What is sewer-flu?”
“If you’ve been in the sewers, and you’ve been exposed to the bad air in there, and the rats and bugs,” he said. “Especially if you haven’t ever been down there before. But I think in your case there’s something else.”
“There’s more?” How much worse could it get?
“Two things,” said Valentine, sitting down comfortably on the floor next to her mattress-bed. “Firstly you’ve never been to my world before. You don’t have much of an immune system. Every virus going around is going to make a meal of you.”
“What is a virus?” She just couldn’t seem to get an answer to that question.
“Never mind,” said Valentine. “It doesn’t matter, because I have another theory. I think what’s hitting you much harder than the viruses is the fact that in this world you have no magic.”
Nadisda rolled her eyes, waved her hand, and the whole ceiling became a creeping tangle of wallflowers. Painted ones.
“You were saying?” she prompted.
Valentine smiled so broadly, she thought she saw tears in his eyes.
“The others won’t believe this,” he whispered. “No. We won’t tell them. This is our secret. We did it! We brought genuine magic into this place! I thought we’d failed, back in the canals. I thought you’d lost your magic when you transitioned into my world.”
“Didn’t you see the ferns and moss I conjured for myself as a bed, back in – what did you call it – the sewers?” she asked quizzically.
“Ferns and moss? There was nothing, girl! You were imagining.”
She sighed and idly painted the walls with her fingertips, too. It didn’t help the pain in her head. And she paused and stared at the young man.
“Wait a minute – are you saying you brought me here deliberately?”
Mike shook his head. “Pure accident, I promise!” She couldn’t tell whether he was lying.
“So maybe it’s not that,” said Valentine. “Maybe it’s really just the sewer fever. We should get you to a doctor.”
“Yes, that’s what I wanted to ask: What the heck is a doctor?”
“Something this world needs, as you see,” said Valentine. “Someone to make you well again.”
“And what is a virus?” she pushed, irritated that once again, her question had been dodged. Her wrath expressed itself in a very small bouquet of plaster-of-Paris roses sprouting out of the doorknobs of the cupboard.
“You won’t like it,” warned Valentine.
“I already don’t. Tell me!” A small sketch sprang up on the ceiling, of a villain being strangled by vines.
“It’s an invader, a very small creature that gets into your blood and multiplies thousands of times and makes you sick from inside.”
Nadisda went deathly pale.
“You look like you want to puke,” observed Valentine.
“What’s that?” she groaned.
“Never mind. Something we don’t do. Let me -” and he jumped up.
“No, wait, stay!” begged Nadisda, but he had already left the room. Abandoning her to the deepest misery and disgust she’d felt in all the time she could remember.
“Tonight,” said Mike as he, Jen, Nancy and Ben put the system together, fuelled by a newly recharged car battery, “tonight we beat the crapp out of that Hero Hugo! Who’s with me?”
The other three gave him hi-fives. Ben ripped open a few packets of chips that Mike had looted at a fuel station miles away. Nancy went to the small, dirty kitchen and dipped four mugs into the vat of ginger beer they were home-brewing, with plenty of raisins drifting on the top of it. She brought the mugs back to them one by one. Mike was already deeply engrossed in something, hacking away at his cobbled-together laptop.
“What’re you up to, sunshine?” she asked, batting her fake eyelashes at him and handing him his mug of iffy brew.
“Taking this thing to a new level,” he said off-handedly, never pausing in his programming. “They will have such a surprise when they hit level thirty – if they ever do!”
“Why? What’re you putting in?”
“Let’s say,” Mike looked up with a grin, “her name is Elena. Don’t go there without me leading you guys, alright?”
The modem lit up.
“And we’re live!” announced Ben with glee.
A crunch on her moss.
Nadisda opened her eyes. She was on her own mossy bed in the depths of her cave; but she hadn’t dreamt the whole thing with Mike and the place he called the ‘real world’, this she knew by the way she felt. Miserable, sore and grim.
She arose from her mossy bed and came out to look. The Villain was there, as she had thought; but something was different about him. Somehow he wasn’t quite as evil as usual. She also thought if she looked very carefully, she could see the mischievous young face of Mike behind Valentine’s evil features. It had come as a surprise how young he was in that other world. Then again she had also come out there as a teenager, or fairy equivalent.
“Hey, fairy,” said Valentine. “Feeling better?”
But wait! Nadisda glanced about in confusion. “I’m home! You did it! You got us home!”
Valentine reached out to touch her arm. His hand went right through her.
“You’re transparent,” he said. “You’re not really here. Don’t let it worry you, fairy.”
The whole forest glade suddenly came up in white, ghostly flowers that glowed slightly in the half-dark.
“I’m really still in that house, right?” asked Nadisda, frightened. “And you really are still Mike?”
“That’s right,” smiled Mike, and his villain-age fell away from him, revealing the teenager underneath. “And you really still have all your magic.”
“So how can I get back, for real?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, Nadisda. I’m working on it. We’re all of us on a quest looking for the moonstone. I suspect you need that back.”
“It belongs to Faff,” said Nadisda. “I promised to return it. It’s twelve thousand years old.”
“This stuff is brilliant!” said young Mike with unconcealed glee. “Twelve thousand, hey?”
“Loaded full of Luna’s rays shining on an older Earth,” said Nadisda seriously.
“The stuff of poetry!” grinned Mike. “Hang tight, girl. Tomorrow we get you to a doctor – but we must be careful that you don’t lose your magic from Earth medication.” He listened up. “Whoa. Time for me to go, someone’s coming!” He slipped away between the trees.
Hooves clopped closer, and with a small fanfare, Hero Hugo appeared between the trees.
Nadisda took a good hard look at him. Was there an Earth teenager hiding behind this one, too? Or was he truly from the Magic Realms?
“Magic witch creature!” stated Hugo brassily. “Hast thou any ken of one villainous villain by name of Valentine? If he came through here, let it be known that I shall slay him, unto his utmost death!”
Nadisda shrugged. Antlers grew from Hugo’s horse’s head.
“What have you done, witch?” bellowed the hero. “Restore my steed without delay, or I shall visit woe unto thee!” He ripped out his sword and pointed it at her throat. Nadisda blinked. The sword turned into a pennywhistle and Hugo’s golden glimmering helm turned into a three-horned jester’s cap. And suddenly there was a question in Nadisda’s head that she had no idea where it had come from.
“What have you done with the knight errant?” she asked. “The Shadow Knight of the Princess?” There was this history, all of a sudden. The Hero had somehow done away with the Princess’s knight. But the moment Nadisda wondered where this new information had come from, she realized it wasn’t new. It had been there for a while – in fact since the knight errant had vanished.
“Oh, begone, foul witch,” snapped Hero Hugo. He bullied his mount into the forest, to follow where Valentine had left.
Nadisda rubbed her nose. The horse turned into a seal.
Hero Hugo found that the riding was a bit slower after that, especially since the seal was rather playful and wanted to take breaks to fetch and retrieve sticks. Also, riding it had turned into an interesting challenge.
The wood fairy retreated back into her cave and lay down on her moss bed again, feeling depleted. The whole place felt wrong. Something was pulling at her, to fall asleep again.
A curse for Hero Hugo, she thought. So he wishes he were dead. She understood the sentiment better now. And she also realized that she had picked entirely the wrong curse.
Jen sneaked into the darkened room to feel Nadisda’s fever. It was still pretty high, but there was also a sign of moisture coming through at her temples.
“You’ll make it, girl,” whispered Jen at the sleeping foundling teenager, whose pitch-black, long curls wreathed poetically across the blanket and pillow. “You’ll be fine. Stick with us.”
She got up again, making sure there was enough water for the sick vagabond to drink, and nearly stumbled over something. A potted rose in full bloom, with its sweet scent that was noticeably improving the air. She smiled to herself and whispered, “aw, Mike! You’re such a romantic!”
…to be continued. Please watch this space and download this book again for more chapters as it grows. :-)
The Light Path, the Dark Path. When Ivy Pennington, a sensible, intelligent young woman, plummets head-first into the occult, her biggest problem is trying to explain that she is simply not interested. Soon the storms of dark magic rage around her. Will she perish in the gruesome maelstrom?
Incomplete, being updated as it grows. You can download and view all of it... Vonce there vas a villain so vile, the vegetation vilted vhere he put his vicked vorking boots. And a Hero so Huge, so Hunky and Heroic, his name could only be Hugo. And a dragon so dangerous and diluvian (ante-), you dared not dash past his daggery glare. And a heroine so humble she ... hid herself haway... and a Princess so Precious, she... okay, you get the idea. And then there was Nadisda: A being of pure magic. A little ADHD, a bit scatterbrained, and very beautiful. And one day the vile villain asked her to create a curse, and that's where it all went wrong...