Edition: Beta 0.1
With contributions from:
The Bellingham Writer’s Group
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This story will be updated. You may want to check for updates or turn on the Automatic Book Update setting on Amazon.com’s Manage Your Content and Devices.
We could use your help. If something in the story is confusing or could be better, please let us know. You can send a quick one-line response, leave suggestions on the Google Doc or join our discussion group, all at http://unashamedstudio.com/feedback.
To be notified when these are available,[* follow us on Facebook, Twitter or email. *]More information at: http://unashamedstudio.com/subscribe.
Florence tried to pace herself through the dark woods, but her efforts were hindered by her longing to explore. Her impatient hercinia, Edison, raced ahead, leaving golden streaks of light in the wake of his wings. If they were going to explore fifth-century-BC China, they both wanted to do it at full speed.
The thin autumn air left her shivering. The trunks of the trees were thin and curving, a shade of pale rose gold in the low light. All the leaves had gone rusty-red and sunset-orange. Florence loved the aroma of melted snow in the air; there was a crisp freshness to it. Bark peeled off of the trees in auburn strips, fragrant and sparkling with moisture.
Mr. James Newforth, museum curator and time-travelling companion, would remind her to slow down, to lighten her footsteps. Florence would listen—just forget soon after. Pursuing mythical creatures, no matter where or when, gave her a jittery sort of weightlessness. She was eager to run.
“Don’t worry, Florence,” Mr. Newforth said. “We’ll find a Huli Jing soon, and won’t it be worth the wait? Yes, it will.”
“I do hope we find one soon,” she said, waiting for the curator to catch up. “I’m excited to meet it! And anyway, Zhou Dynasty China is a rather long way from home.” Home was, in Florence’s case, Boston in 1909.
A nearby orange, hanging on a branch, caught her eye and she snagged it for a quick snack. It was much smaller than the ones she was used to, and when she took her first bite she couldn’t keep from puckering her lips. “So sour!”
Mr. Newforth laughed. “Yes, they’re not as sweet as twentieth-century oranges, dear.”
Florence and Mr. Newforth trudged through dusty, dry earth speckled with fallen leaves. It was a very still night, though the leaves testified that it had indeed been windy not too long before. Many of the trees climbed up the hillside to their right, providing a varying canopy that would have left them lightless if it weren’t for Edison’s glow. That was what hercinias were for, after all: lighting the path, showing the way.
Some movement ahead caught her eye. “Is that one? A Huli-Jing?” As a ten year-old, Florence had mastered the art of an excited whisper.
Mr. Newforth froze, squinting. “Ah—no. That is but the common squirrel, dear. It has only one tail. Our prize will possess nine of them.”
“They could be a baseball team,” Florence said absent-mindedly, popping another orange slice in her mouth. In the rare breaks between tree-born shade, Florence could look up and see stars, much brighter than they were in smoggy Boston.
“That’s one!” she exclaimed, dashing forward and dropping her orange. The Huli Jing had been still, sniffing the dirt, but Florence’s high-speed approach startled it. All nine tails raised stiffly and Florence could see its eyes shift color from gold to silver.
Then, she couldn’t see a thing at all. “It’s blinded me!”
“Just a defense mechanism—the little bugger. You’ve frightened it, Florence. Never fear, your vision will return shortly.”
The curator caught up with Florence as the world started to come back into focus.
“Where did it go off to?”
Mr. Newforth shook his head. “It did that to run away, dear.” He folded his hands as they walked on. “Now, Miss Florence, I’d really like to discuss your upcoming trip. There is much we have yet to determine.”
Florence sighed, blowing a strand of brunette hair out of her face in the process. “You really needn’t worry about it so much, Mr. Newforth. I’ve read about the Sanctuary so much. I do know what I’m doing. It’s in New Zealand, on Calypso Island, in the year 3000 and—” Florence leapt forward at a prospective Huli Jing, but found it to be a very ordinary fox with a very ordinary singular tail. “Gee, there sure are a lot of animals in this wood.”
The curator rubbed his glasses on the untucked corner of his shirt, cleaning off some specks of dirt. “This will be your first time actually going in, though, not just reading about it. There are so many dangers. You might even run into Marvel,” he said. “It is her Sanctuary.”
“I would stand up to her if I did!” Florence shouted, directly followed by a [_shh _]from Mr. Newforth. She lowered her voice. “That’s why I’m working with you—to look after these creatures. She can’t steal all those poor things and not take care of them. It’s absolute bunk. And I would tell her so.”
He shook his head so quickly it seemed like he was vibrating. “You can’t. I’ve told you, Florence. The Sanctuary is unsafe. She hurts her creatures, pits them against each other. She’s dangerous. And she’ll lie—try to trick you.”
“I do wish you could come in with me,” Florence said.
“You know that I would. But Marvel’s trained her gate guard to cause a ruckus at the sight of me, since I’ve been saving creatures from there for so long. Just remember—if you see Marvel, you must not speak with, not even go near…” His voice broke off and Florence followed the path of his eyes up the hill.
An orange fox with nine tails.
It took all of Florence’s energy to [_not _]sprint up after it. Mr. Newforth had told her, time and again, that she needed to approach carefully, but doing much of anything “carefully” wasn’t exactly Florence’s style.
“Go slowly,” he advised her. “Once it starts moving toward you, you’ll know that you’ve established trust.” His hands were shaking.
Florence scoffed—quietly. “This isn’t my first magical creature, Mr. Newforth.”
“No. It is your sixth.”
[_As far as you know, _]she thought, suppressing the secrecy-induced smile that crept onto her face. Counting the trips she’d been making on her own time, it was her eleventh.
Her hercinia lit the autumnal hill with his light as he flew closer. She stood still as the Huli Jing raised its golden eyes to meet hers. It took a tentative step forward. When they made eye contact, she knew they had bonded. It would follow her anywhere.
“I’m going to call you Marie after Madame Curie,” whispered Florence. “I’ll take care of you, I promise.”
“I think it’s a boy—male, that is,” the curator said.
With a shrug, Florence said, “I hardly think Marie cares about his name.”
“I don’t know why they trust you so easily,” Mr. Newforth muttered.
“I’m a charmer. That’s what my granddad says.”
They started back through the woods, Marie walking calmly beside them and waving his tails. Edison led the way, beating his wings steadily.
As they travelled and it became darker, the hercinia’s glow wasn’t enough. Florence held out her hand until he landed on it, then stroked his feathers as Mr. Newforth had instructed. Edison chirped and a grand fan of light spiraled out from the bird’s small body, illuminating the woods completely. He radiated warmth in her palm, singing his song in pleasant staccato tweets.
The eventual sight of their train relaxed Florence. She tried to play off her relief by talking to her Huli Jing. “Now, I know what you’re thinking, Marie. You’re very bright. ‘There are no trains in fifth century BC China,’ you’d say. Well, you would be right. But this is no ordinary train.”
The curator unlocked the hatch that led into the engine, ushering in Florence and her creatures. “Mr. Newforth knows all about time travel, and this is his time travelling machine,” Florence said to Marie. “Wait now—this is the best part.”
Once they were all safely tucked into the engine, Mr. Newforth smiled at Florence. “Don’t forget to pet Edison,” he reminded her. “It’ll calm him.” Hercinias were, she’d learned, very nervous travellers.
“Die Wiege der Freiheit,” the curator said to the train. She recognized the words that would send them to Boston. The train buzzed to life.
On her first trip, Mr. Newforth had explained to Florence that the train had been enchanted in Berlin, hence the German. She’d learned the words to take herself all sorts of places—her parents immigrated from Germany—in her spare time. Since there weren’t any special codes to operate it, she just had to explain where she wanted to go.
A golden glow filled Florence’s vision, shining from the panels covering the train’s interior. The light faded and glowed like the pulse of a heartbeat. She closed her eyes and listened to what was quickly becoming her favorite noise: the humming and whirring of the train’s journey back to Boston.
As they arrived, each panel flickered one last time, the wonderful racket of the train quieted, and Mr. Newforth unlocked the hatch. “Miss Opal.”
She nodded at him very seriously and climbed out. They’d returned, as always, to the exact moment in which they’d left, just as dusk was approaching.
“A successful excursion as always, good sir,” she said, attempting a British accent complete with extravagant curtsy.
“Indeed,” he agreed. “You’re a strange ten year-old, I must say.”
“And you’re a very strange curator.”
Mr. Newforth held out his arm for her hercinia, but he stayed on Florence’s shoulder.
“Here, little guy,” he said.
Edison tilted his head inquisitively. Florence nodded and he fluttered to the curator.
“Would you like to say goodnight?” Mr. Newforth asked Florence.
She tapped her bird’s beak with a smile. “Goodnight.”
Florence looked up at the curator. “Thank you for looking after him for me. I wish he could stay with me—even for just a day.”
“I’ve told you, Florence. It wouldn’t be safe for you to keep creatures at home. Some are dangerous, others are too rare. It’s only prudent that we keep them safe at the Museum of the Unexplained.”
“What about Marie, then?”
She planted her hands firmly on her hips. “Why not? We’ve bonded, and he likes me.”
“That doesn’t mean he’s completely controlled,” Mr. Newforth said. “Creatures have autonomy, in the end. They could decide they don’t like you at any point.”
“But Marie? He’s harmless. If anything, I’d be blind for a few seconds. And they’re not rare—we saw three Huli-Jings just this evening.”
“Two. One was a squirrel, remember?” Newforth scrunched up his nose. “No. I insist he will be safest at the Museum.”
Florence stuck out her chin. “Mr. Newforth, I must insist that you reconsider. I have not only proved myself an excellent explorer and traveller, but as a particular favorite of most creatures. Marie would be nothing but secure in my care.”
“You don’t know how to take care of him, dear.”
The patronisation in his tone made Florence’s skin itch.
“I do my research!” she exclaimed. “I would never suggest such an arrangement without due preparation. Huli Jings require no physical sustenance. They draw their energy from dreams. And I dream a lot, so I’ll be an ample provider.”
He stared at the Huli Jing. “Fine. But you must be extremely careful to keep it out of view of your family.”
“Deal.” She shook his hand.
Mr. Newforth entered the Museum of the Unexplained with her hercinia perched backwards on his shoulder, watching Florence until the museum door closed between them.
Marie followed Florence back home, where Florence made space in her wardrobe.
She lived in the attic of her family’s old Victorian home. It was dusty, half-lit from dawn till dusk, with just enough light streaming through the windows to illuminate flecks of dust floating through the air like miniature pixies. Her thin cotton curtains were always pulled aside for maximum sunlight; even though her house didn’t have electricity yet, she rarely had to light her oil lamp. The flooring—scratched and scuffed wood planks—creaked under her feet. The yellow goose-patterned wallpaper peeled a little more each day, and Florence paused to pick at it. She then collapsed onto her bed, which consisted of a squeaky mattress and a golden-wire frame. Her grandfather had embroidered her pillowcase, which automatically made it her favorite thing in her room.
A porcelain bathtub occupied the corner furthest from the door. Florence figured she had been the first to ever fill it. It was home to her kawa-uso, a supernatural otter.
Mr. Newforth didn’t know that she’d been making trips of her own, finding creatures by herself and for herself. She didn’t think he needed to. She was always safe about it.
Against the wall with the windows, a large wardrobe was kept comfortable with plenty of blankets, for her jackalope and now her Huli-Jing. The curtains made a nice place for the atomies to flit about. A small trunk, a nest for her hedgehog-esque Arkan Sonney, was pushed up against the corner.
Her room suited her just fine.
Florence recognized most of the hundreds of creatures locked up in the Sanctuary as she scanned it with narrowed eyes: griffons, pegasi, lynxes, phoenixes, and even a wyvern. But her goal was to find a lopsided mountain goat called a dahu. Florence tended to be distractible, so she knew she had to really focus. One creature at a time was about all she could handle, and she’d already decided.
Once they got it home, the dahu would join the other creatures Florence and Newforth had rescued together, living in the back room of the Museum—safe and sound.
Her hercinia ruffled his feathers. She hummed “A Bicycle Built for Two” to calm him, and he scratched a talon along the silver surface of her grandfather’s ring, which Florence always wore for good luck.
She’d been studying the curator’s notes for weeks. Just as he had warned her, many of the creatures were scraped and bloody, or limping with patched fur. A dragon with a torn-up wing lay curled around a water dish.
The sun beat down through the glass roof of the atrium. It made Florence want to scream, to see the creatures neglected. Edison chirped anxiously, and she reached up to stroke his feathers. “Don’t worry, pal,” she whispered. “I won’t let her get near[_ _]you.”
In the corner of the property, tucked out of the way, a clearly splinter-infested cabin pressed up against the walls. The smokeless chimney and dusty windows suggested Marvel hadn’t been home for a while.
The dahu, she knew, should be free-roaming, since it wasn’t rare, fierce, flying, or mentally-powerful. She searched carefully, keeping her footsteps light (though it hardly mattered on the marshy grass).
There. A dahu nibbled at some dry grass on a hill a dozen yards away. Its left legs were much longer than its right. Florence tip-toed closer, trying to keep a hold on her instincts, which urged her to sprint forward and pull the adorable goat into a hug.
Instead, she moved toward her goal with patient footsteps. The traditional method to catch a dahu would be to knock it off balance and catch it as it fell, but she found that a little cruel. Her plan was to form an emotional connection. That was a skill in which she was well-versed.
As hoped, the dahu looked up and met her eyes. Its pupils were rectangular, giving it a cross-eyed look that made Florence giggle. The dahu stumbled down the hill in her direction, and she grinned. [_Another job well-done. _]
Florence was reaching her arms out to welcome the approaching dahu when, out of nowhere, a cascade of water drenched her completely like a tidal wave. Her dahu bleated and dashed into the wood. After regaining her wits, she turned toward the lake.
The first thing she noticed was the giant serpentine dragon, a gargouille with shimmering ocean-blue wings extended. Its long snout creaked open in a snarl, sending the surface of the lake into crashing waves.
Florence’s attention was suddenly drawn to motion in her peripheral vision. She whipped around to see a woman riding straight at her on an eight-legged horse, with hair as red as her mother’s ruby brooch. The woman’s gaze fixed on Florence.
Long-imagined scenarios of heroic confrontation vanished from Florence’s mind. She sprinted for the gate, her hercinia flying beyond her, lighting the way.
An opalescent wall appeared a few feet in front of her without warning, stretching as high and as far as she could see. Florence pressed her hand against the surface, which was like looking through a soap bubble, and was surprised to find it completely solid. On the other side of the barrier stood a unicorn, its silver horn shining in stark contrast to its coal black coat. Florence was a little awed; she’d never seen a unicorn before.
She turned to run in the other direction, away from the unicorn’s wall and the roaring gargouille to her left.
But before she could make much progress, a hand clutched the hem of her dress, sending Florence tumbling to the dirt. I always knew a dress would be my downfall.
She stood, dusted off her skirt, folded her hands, and held her chin high: “Good afternoon, Marvel.”
“Good afternoon to you, small girl,” Marvel returned, still astride the eight-legged horse. She hardly sounded like she meant it.
Marvel whistled, calling her Nemean lion away from the other creatures. The impenetrable beast stalked toward them, its eyes on Florence. “A small precaution, so you won’t run,” said Marvel. “Now, how did you get in? And who, exactly, are you?”
The lion was eyeing her like its next meal, but Florence took a deep breath. If I don’t answer, she thought, Marvel will think I’m scared of her.
“‘Exactly?’ My name is exactly Florence Addison Opal. I’m ten years and seven months old, and I live in Boston, Massachusetts in 1909.” Then she scoffed. “And you may consider your mapinguari to be a fierce gate guard, and though it’s large and menacing, it still has a soft spot for tasty leaves as most sloth-like things do.”
Marvel frowned. “Twentieth century Boston, hm? Then I’m guessing you’ve made acquaintances with Newforth.”
“Yes. Mr. James Newforth. And he’s helping me to save the creatures. The ones you clearly care nothing about.” Florence tried to stand taller, but lost her balance a little when she went up on tippy-toes. “Don’t bother lying to me. I know you lie.”
“I care about these creatures. You would do well to stay out of business you don’t understand, Florence Opal.”
“I do understand this business. I know lots of things about magical creatures because I’m learning about them all the time—reading and listening and studying. And I know they need to be taken care of, a lesson you could stand to review. We even recite it in school. ‘Oh ne’er delight to make dogs fight, nor bantams disagree. Be kind to animals where you may be.’”
“I went to school in the 2050s, honey. We didn’t learn recitations.”
For a moment, Florence was flustered. She had had no idea Marvel was from her future, but it only made sense; she was bound to meet a time traveller who came from further forward than she did.
Marvel motioned for the Nemean lion to inch closer. “And why would you believe Newforth that I mistreat them, small girl?” She dismounted her horse, and towered over Florence.
“I’m not small,” Florence protested, and she felt her cheeks flush. “And I’ve seen it for myself.”
“You don’t understand my business at all,” Marvel said. “Did Newforth find you your hercinia, too? That’s quite a creature perched on your shoulder—powerful, you know.”
Florence reached up and put one hand on her bird’s talons. “I know that! And don’t talk to me like a child.”
“You are a child!” Marvel exclaimed with a laugh. She didn’t look to be too old herself, maybe somewhere around twenty.
“And I found my hercinia myself, in the woods.” Florence’s head was filled with all sorts of brilliant things to say, but she sputtered out, “And he’s mine and you can’t have him!”
Edison chirped in agreement.
“I don’t need him. I’ve already got one,” Marvel said. She gave a low, cooing whistle, and another hercinia came swooping toward them. “You can’t trust Newforth. He’s just using you.”
Florence glared. “And just what do you mean by that?”
“You really don’t know much, do you?” Marvel sighed. “Well, I do believe you could use some time to think about your actions, you clueless girl.” She whistled again, one short time then two long ones. The Nemean lion retreated, replaced by two horned rabbits.
“Bunnies?” Florence put her hands on her hips. “Now I’m very scared.”
Marvel ignored her. “Burrow, please,” she said.
Within seconds, the ground beneath Florence fell away, as the rabbits dug straight down. The hole was twenty feet deep before she fully realized what was happening.
“They’re called Al-mi’raj,” Marvel explained from above, strolling around the edge of the pit. “They’re primarily for their horns, which are great for stabbing things, but I’ve found them to be very helpful with excavation and archeology. I’ll send down help for you later, small girl, once you’ve thought about what you’ve done. And who you’ve decided to trust.”
“I think,” Florence said, “I’m going to trust the person who hasn’t put me into a pit.”
With that, the rabbits tunneled back up at Marvel’s whistle, leaving Florence stranded. The sun baked her skin. On the other hand, it made quick work of drying her soaked hair.
Florence had to clench her teeth to keep from screaming. She never had liked being outmatched, and she wasn’t about to let it stay that way.
What she lacked in burrowing skill, she made up for in effort and willingness to cover herself with dirt. Still, after an hour, Florence had managed only a few solid hand-holds out of the dirt incline. It was nowhere near enough to scramble out. Edison had stayed nearby, fluttering just above her head in support.
A soft bleating echoed down from above. Florence shielded her eyes from the sun and her eyes followed the perimeter of the hole. Her dahu stared blankly.
“Hi, buddy,” she said, waving. The little mountain goat hurried down with ease, finishing its descent with a contented nuzzle against her side. “I don’t suppose you could help me out?”
Florence slung one leg over the dahu, hoping she wasn’t putting too much strain on its back, and pointed up. It understood.
As unprepared as the dahu was for walking on flat land, it was perfectly-equipped for ascending the slope. When they surfaced, Florence pressed a kiss on the dahu’s head. “Thank you, my friend. Let’s get you away from here, shall we?”
This time, she didn’t bother trying to dust off her dress. Her small victory had done little to improve her mood, so she let her hercinia lead her back to the train, where Mr. Newforth was waiting for her. Her dahu wobbled along.
Mr. Newforth grinned impishly.
“Goodness, Miss Opal, what’s happened to you?”
“I got a little lost,” she muttered. She was worried that if she mentioned Marvel he wouldn’t let her come back. “I had trouble finding my dahu. And dirt and I don’t get along.”
The curator frowned. “It seems more like you and dirt engaged in a civil war.”
“Far from civil,” Florence corrected, smirking at him.
He stared. “Are you lying to me?”
“Why would I do that?” She forced herself to meet his eyes. Whether it be considered a skill or a flaw, Florence was pretty good at lying—or, at least, omitting the truth.
He gripped tightly onto a lever. His hand grew white and his face grew red. “I don’t know, but I’d hate to think you’d lie to me if something happened. You’ve got to stay safe.”
“Are you entertaining your temper, Mr. Newforth? It is one of my least favorite of your dispositional house-guests.” Florence gave him her best disapproving look, which was easy to muster as a girl with two brothers. The dahu, who she had named Badge, gave a small kick.
Mr. Newforth raised one eyebrow. “You don’t always make a lot of sense, miss,” he told her, and relaxed. “I’m sorry I got worked up. Let’s get back to Boston.”
Florence swallowed her guilt and nodded. “Count me in.”
They were researching together in Mr. Newforth’s study, at the museum. At least, one of them was. Florence liked to help, but at the moment, she was more interested in examining the bone structure of the mermaid skeleton a few feet away, which she liked to think was a form of research in its own right.
The Museum of the Unexplained was the usual location of their meetings, containing Mr. Newforth’s grand collection of oddities, curiosities, and anything mythical. His study was tucked into the far corner, a small room with barely enough space for his desk and a chair and side table for Florence. A tall bookcase had been squeezed between the corner and the door, filled with books with names so funny Florence could read the spines all day.
“How old is time travel, then?” Florence asked the curator.
“Very old,” he mumbled, leaning closer to his musty anthology. “Very old…” His voice trailed off.
Florence snapped her fingers to get his attention, and he took a deep breath.
“I helped stabilize it with a team I was working with at a time. We figured out the train and everything. But you must understand that ‘time’, how old something is—well, that’s a relative figure in my line of work.”
He appeared done, but Florence wasn’t satisfied. The more she thought about her confrontation with Marvel, the more resolved she was to get informed. “And how does the train work?”
Mr. Newforth closed his book. “Well, it’s powered by magic. Very old, powerful magic.” He pointed at his unicorn horn, mounted in a glass case. “Same type of magic that gives unicorns their healing powers.” He smiled at her, and resumed his reading.
Edison was resting on her shoulder, which was rather odd. He usually got bored sitting in one place, and would go zooming around the almost-always-visitor-free museum. She figured he was tired, but couldn’t think of why. They hadn’t left Boston since they met Marvel at the Sanctuary.
“But… I mean, I don’t know how it works. I want to be able to help.”
He looked up. “You’re acting strangely, Florence. Are you sure nothing happened when you raided the Sanctuary?”
She raised her hands solemnly. “Oh, no. Just your average dahu retrieval. In fact, I’d love to go back soon. How is your calendar looking?”
The curator’s face reddened. “If something happened on Calypso Island, and you’re not telling me…” Whenever his temper got a hold of him like that, she pictured him whistling like a kettle.
After a pause, a look she didn’t recognize came into his eyes. “It’s all right, Florence.”
She nodded, petting her hercinia carefully. “Speaking of acting strangely, do you happen to know what would be upsetting Edison? He’s been picking at his feathers all of the time. I’m very concerned he’s not feeling his best.”
“Poor little birdie,” Mr. Newforth said, cleaning his glasses. “He might have a little cold or something. We’ll monitor him carefully, dear. We’ll have to keep a keen eye.”
“How about this one?” Florence suggested, holding up a glass eye from the drawer marked “miscellaneous”.
He smirked at her and returned to his work.
She hesitated before continuing, but the thought of the crippled creatures at the Sanctuary steeled her. “Mr. Newforth, I think I could do more. Go after more of them, save more. I could help more—for example, right now! Instead of pawing through these ancient books, I could be finding a griffon in Egypt!” [_Or from the Sanctuary, _]she thought.
“Florence, you’ll be most helpful at this point by reading.”
“I’m tired of books!” she protested. “Can’t I just go now?”
The curator frowned at her. “I know it’s hard Florence, but I can’t let you head into danger unprepared. I’m looking out for you.”
Sensing he was becoming tired of questions, Florence picked up a dust-coated copy of The Logic Behind Spellcasting _]and forced herself to read. If he was too busy to answer her about the history of magic, she’d have to start educating herself. “[_All spellcasting requires the essence of a specific magical creature as a power source,” it began, and Florence wondered how long she’d be able to stay awake.
Florence woke up as a chilly wind billowed out the curtains on her window. She hastily undid the braid she’d knotted her hair into, and hopped to her feet. There was too much to do to risk dawdling.
She said good morning to all her creatures, gave them kisses and hugs and head-pats as was appropriate. Marie, her Huli-Jing, was perched on her trunk. He twirled his nine-tails in an excited spiral, wishing her to stay and play, but she was eager to pay a visit to her hercinia.
Before heading downstairs, Florence tip-toed into her older brother’s room and stole his satchel from under his bed, hoping to capture some caterpillars as a treat for her Arkan Sonney.
Some pleas from her nightgown-wearing mother persuaded her to pull on a sweater over her dress, even though it was the hottest summer anyone could remember. As she strolled toward the Museum of the Unexplained, Florence felt chipper. Boston looked beautiful in the clear June sun.
The street was loud and bustling, filled with people, steam, the dings of streetcars, and the honk of the occasional horn. Florence loved the smell, too: the freshly-laid asphalt, the cooking food, the rising smoke.
The rows and rows of windows on each building made everything seem neat and put-together. She was fond of the way they filled the air above her, so tall and high. If it were possible, she would have stood on top of one and screamed, just to add a little chaos to the orderliness.
The museum itself was old and decrepit, but Mr. Newforth had done his best to make it seem shiny and exciting. A ‘closed’ sign was hung on the window, indicating that the museum hadn’t opened for the day yet.
She swung open the door—pausing a moment to listen to the chime of the bell—and skipped inside. The entryway was its own little hallway, with enticing artifacts lining one side to convince passers-by that the museum was worth exploring. Florence’s personal favorite was a miniature pair of iridescent faerie wings she swore she’d once seen flutter. At the end of the entryway waited a grand velvet curtain leading right to the desk where customers paid to enter.
Newforth wasn’t at the front desk, so Florence roamed through the exhibits: skeletons and shining scales and feathers and fossils and framed personal testimonies. But Mr. Newforth was nowhere to be found.
She looked further back, into the study. She needed to see Edison.
If they weren’t in the Museum itself, they had to be in the back, with the other creatures. When she unlocked the door, she found plenty of mythical animals, all quickly eager for her attention, but no hercinia and no curator. Florence reentered the museum.
Soon, she’d checked every corner, retraced any possible scenario, and had snooped around each artifact, all without finding a note, a golden feather, or any sign that Edision had been there.
Florence twisted her grandfather’s ring around her thumb. She came most mornings, and Newforth and her hercinia were always waiting for her. Beyond that, it was Saturday, the day when the most people visited the museum. She loved explaining exhibits, so she never missed a Saturday.
The clock on the wall read 9:32, and the Museum of the Unexplained opened every day at promptly 9:30. He was never late.
[_Where could they be? _]Florence sunk against the front desk, chin rested in her hands as she tried to think.
A flurry of wind sent Florence’s hair in all directions, then died away as quickly as it had appeared. And in its wake, Marvel—with a hercinia perched on her hand.
Florence leapt up. “Give me my bird!” she shouted.
“Get back!” Marvel said, holding out her hand. “This is mine – Artemis.”
Then, Florence could see it most certainly was not her Edison. This one looked older. Its feathers hardly shined, and it didn’t seem to care about Florence at all.
Florence crossed her arms. “‘Artemis’ and ‘Calypso’? Someone likes Greek Mythology.” Her grandfather always told her the stories while they were gardening.
“I read a lot as a child,” Marvel said.
“What are you doing here?” Florence scanned the Museum for anything she could use to defend herself if Marvel became violent.
Marvel averted her eyes from Florence. “I’m just scoping out some things. I’ve got a problem back home, and I’ve come for research.” She looked up. “Have you lost your hercinia? That’s highly irresponsible.”
“I left it right here!” Florence said. “For safekeeping. There are lots of people who would love to get their hands on one,” she added in her most insightful tone.
With a sigh, Marvel said, “And Newforth is one of them.”
“Why would he need my hercinia?”
“You can’t time travel without one. Their magic is the power behind the whole thing. I prefer free-travel, just using my bird, but that’s too dangerous for Newforth, so he relies on that train of his.” She smirked. “I [_knew _]he was using you!”
“He has not used me!” Florence said. “I’m sure they’re just… out somewhere. Maybe he went to go get it some medicine or something. Edison has seemed rather ill, lately.”
“That’s my bird.”
“Cute.” Marvel rolled her eyes. “I promise you, he’s not fetching medicine,” she said, then took a slow breath. She cast her eyes downward. “Newforth’s on Calypso. He used your hercinia to get in, and he’s got all my creatures under a spell. I barely escaped with my bird.”
“Well, that’s wonderful news!” Florence said. “He’s finally going to save those poor creatures.”
“I take care of them! Have you ever developed an original thought, or do you just absorb everything he tells you with a spoonful of sugar?”
Florence shook her head. “You can’t fool me, Marvel. I saw all your creatures—scraped up and limping and ill.”
“I take in sick ones—injured ones!” Marvel exclaimed. “I find the ones that need help and they recuperate and grow to health in my Sanctuary. I made it to protect the creatures, never to hurt them.”
“I don’t believe you.” Florence stood tall and lifted her chin.
“All right, then,” Marvel said.
Before Florence had a chance to ask what she was doing, Marvel had reached out her arm. Artemis perched one of her talons on Florence’s shoulder.
“In das Land der langen weißen Wolke, zum Heiligtum,” Marvel rushed out.
Almost instantaneously, Florence found herself deep in the New Zealand woods outside the Sanctuary. But landing was not a smooth process: the ground seemed to swerve under her feet, her stomach rolled, and Florence fell to the ground.
“You could’ve warned me.”
Marvel smirked. “That would have been less amusing.”
“What are we doing here? Take me back!”
“Stop being demanding for a minute and pay attention,” Marvel said. “If you’re not going to believe me about Newforth, I’ll show you myself. But you must be careful—and quiet.”
The two of them crept through the wood towards the light of the clearing. Florence was hesitant to follow Marvel anywhere, but she wanted to see that the Newforth was helping them with her own eyes. Nothing was better to her than solid evidence.
When the Sanctuary came into view, Florence’s heartbeat quickened.
There was Mr. Newforth. And Marvel was wrong.
He called softly to a small pegasus, still a winged foal, and waited as the creature stumbled toward him before reaching out both arms.
“See?” Florence said, pleased. “I don’t know what kind of bunk you thought I’d believe—”
Marvel shushed her, and pointed toward the curator and the pegasus.
Just as the little foal reached him, Mr. Newforth reached up with a knife and sliced a set of feathers off its pearly wings. The pegasus fell back with a neigh.
Marvel turned turned Florence and whispered. “That little foal is called Aira, and I found her abandoned outside of Athens a few weeks ago. Or 2500 years ago, depending on your perspective. She’s deaf.”
Florence just shook her head.
“Small girl, you’ve got to use your own head, now. Newforth has planted himself at my Sanctuary, put my creatures under a spell, and he’s going to hurt them. Are you going to let him?”
“Why would he?” Florence asked, still unable to take her eyes from the little pegasus, curled up on the grass.
“He’s trying to make a profit, nothing more virtuous than that. He’ll sell their fur and feathers and scales and eyes and whatever else he can get. If this was some master plan for the greater good, wouldn’t you have been in on it?”
For as much as she tried to stay composed, tears were brimming Florence’s eyes. “But I have been, haven’t I? I’ve been helping him—bringing more and more creatures to him. They’re hurt because of me!”
“You didn’t know what you were doing,” Marvel said, and for the first time her tone bordered on kind. “Now you have a chance to fix things. Make it right again.”
Florence wiped her eyes and changed the subject. “You said your creatures are under a spell?”
“Yes,” Marvel said. “An aggression spell. Now, they’ll attack anyone but him at first sight. It’s a mental connection sort of thing, keeping them controlled.”
“How did you bring your hercinia if she was aggressive?”
Marvel started to tap her fingers on the tree. “Artemis[_ _]wasn’t aggressive—hercinias aren’t affected by spells of aggression. Hercinias are incapable of aggression and are, by nature, selfless.” Marvel spoke quickly, like she was reciting from memory.
“Then it sounds like my hercinia hasn’t been affected. They’ll come back and Mr. Newforth will explain everything.” As much as she tried to stay composed, Florence’s confidence was far past wavering.
With an over-dramatic groan, Marvel said, “It’s barely[_ ]your[ _]hercinia any more! Look at the evidence. Newforth’s own hercinia has been dead for years—”
“Well, ‘years’ are a relative thing, in your line of work.”
Marvel rolled her eyes. “To get your bird to take him here, he must’ve forced a bond. Probably took off for Calypso the moment it happened.”
“I don’t really know. If he did find a way to force the bond, it probably took a while… and I doubt it was very pleasant for the hercinia. Didn’t you say your bird’s not been feeling well?”
Florence’s world froze.
“He hurt my Edison?” She felt something hot stirring beneath her skin, and her shoulders tensed. “How can I fight him?”
Marvel scoffed. “I didn’t come to the Museum for a fighter.”
Florence’s fingers trembled with nervous energy. “Why did you come, then? I thought I was childish and stupid and… and lots of things you didn’t say but surely meant.” She had to focus on keeping her voice subdued, and tucked herself further behind the bush.
“I didn’t come for you,” Marvel said sharply, then knit her hands together. “But now that you’re here, I do think you could help me. I was impressed by your ingenuity in escaping the pit dug by my Al-mi’raj. You’ve seen Newforth recently. You know what he’s been working on, where he keeps his files. I need to find the spell he used so I can fix this. And, I’m thinking you’ve probably got whatever supplies I’ll need to cast the spell.”
“I am your best hope, aren’t I?”
Marvel nodded shakily, as if the very notion made her ill.
“Well, you were very smart to come to me,” Florence said, beginning to pace. “If there’s information on the aggression spell in the Museum, I’ll bet I can find it.”
In Newforth’s study at the Museum of the Unexplained, they rifled through every drawer, searched every shelf, and flipped through each journal. They couldn’t find anything at first.
“Don’t worry,” Florence said. “If we don’t discover much in here, we can always go into his secret laboratory. Because I know how to get in there. But don’t tell him that.” She paused. “Or do, because I’m very upset with him.”
“And you didn’t think the secret lab would be a good place to look from the beginning?”
Florence chose to ignore this and flipped the lever in the closet. The pedestal that held the mermaid skeleton slid aside, revealing a wooden staircase that led down, down deep.
“I just can’t believe Newforth would sell pieces of the creatures,” Florence said as they descended the stairs.
“Believe it,” Marvel insisted. “He used to travel to save them, like the rest of us, but then he found out just how powerful their parts could be, and how much people are willing to pay for them. He’ll be rich.”
Despite its inherent thrill, Florence wasn’t fond of the secret lab. It was pitch-black until Marvel lit the gas lamp. A caged enfield stalked in circles. Its eagle talons scraped on the metal, while its fox ears were stretched wide as noise filled the normally silent room.
“Drawers,” Marvel noticed immediately, and Florence didn’t need to be told to start digging through them.
“What’s that?” Marvel asked, pointing to a book on the table.
“Ah—‘Creatures and Allegiance.’ He reads that a lot.” Florence wasn’t paying Marvel a whole lot of attention, altogether more interested in the ingredients filling her drawer—magical sorts of ingredients.
Marvel frowned. “That’s it, then. That’s how he allied your hercinia by force.”
“That was so rude of him,” Florence said, looking up. “Can I get Edison back?”
Marvel quickly became very interested in the spellbook she’d picked up.
Eventually, she said, “According to this, there is no counterspell for the aggression. But if we can perform the spell stronger—and we should be able to, considering there are two of us—then we can overpower his.”
“Do you really mean to make them aggressive toward him?”
“Mm-hm,” Marvel muttered. “We’ll need the feather of a griffon—its essence—to power the magic. You go find one. I’ll stay here and read through the spell a couple of times. At least one of us should be practiced going in.”
So Florence ran up the steps to the display room. She rifled through cases until she found the black griffon feather she’d spotted a few days before.
The moment Florence reentered the lab, Marvel commanded, “We’re leaving.”
Florence reached out, and Marvel’s hercinia obediently put one of her talons on her pinky. Marvel spoke the German: “In das Land der langen weißen Wolke, zum Heiligtum.”
The world swirled around them maddeningly fast, until it settled on the woods outside of the Sanctuary. Calypso Island was lush and sunny, whatever time of year Marvel had taken them to.
Feeling too dizzy to focus, Florence held her hand to her head. “How are we going to get inside? Your mapinguari is a little more intimidating under the spell,” she noted, glancing over at it. The beast growled and sharpened its claws on the metal of the gate. “I don’t think he’s going to accept leaves.”
“If we do the spell from out here, I think it should still work.”
Florence surveyed the Sanctuary in front of them.
A horrible notion occurred to her. “But if the animals start attacking Newforth, he’ll use my hercinia to get away, and I won’t get him back!”
Marvel’s fingers tapped on her legs. “Listen, that probably won’t happen. He’s never trusted travel without a train. And he’ll be disoriented. Okay?”
“Okay,” Florence mumbled, not feeling very “okay” about it at all.
Florence pulled the griffon’s feather out of her bag and cradled it in her palms.
A manticore prowled in the distance, wings held tautly at its side. Florence’s heartbeat quickened at the sight of its bared teeth, and she couldn’t believe Newforth would encourage hostility in such a magnificent creature.
They started to read off the spell, with Marvel holding the book so they could both see. The dark feather glowed warm.
[_If I could just sneak past the mapinguari, I could grab Edison before he has a chance to disappear with him, _]Florence thought.
As they spoke, Marvel’s eyes slid closed in concentration. Quietly, Florence set the griffon feather on the ground and tiptoed toward the mapinguari. When the spell had finished, Florence leapt forward into its field of vision—and it lashed out.
Florence could hear Marvel shouting as the mapinguari’s claws came at her face, and then she was temporarily blinded by a flash of golden light.
Scrambling back on her elbows, Florence squinted. What happened?
Then she caught sight of Artemis bleeding on the ground.
“How could you!” Marvel yelled, running forward. “You’ve messed everything up! That was the stupidest…” She picked up her bird, made sure it was breathing, and jogged toward the forest. Florence threw the feather into her brother’s satchel and ran after her. As they hurried away from the Sanctuary, Marvel kept repeating, “It’ll be okay,” to Artemis.
She lay her bird on the forest floor, in a patch of pale green leaves. “It will heal,” she said, “but it will take time.”
She turned to Florence, eyes cold.
Florence held her hands behind her back, shaking. “Well… If your spell had worked the mapinguari wouldn’t have attacked me.”
“Of course it didn’t work! I told you our spell needed to be stronger than Newforth’s, and that required the two of us. But you, apparently, felt the need to make friends with my aggravated mapinguari half-way through!”
“Only ‘cause you weren’t worried about my hercinia,” Florence said.
“It appears you weren’t worried about mine.” Marvel sat down in the dirt, pushing her hair out of her face.
“How was I supposed to know it would stop the mapinguari?”
Marvel glared at her. “I seem to recall mentioning that hercinias are, by nature, selfless creatures. And here you were, bumbling into danger like a stupid fly to a bug zapper—of course it’s going to protect you!”
“I’m sorry,” Florence said softly. “I really didn’t mean to. What’s a bug zapper?”
“It’s important you do as I say,” she snapped. There was silence for a moment, then she stood. “We can’t go back. Can’t leave Calypso without a hercinia, and Artemis won’t be able to travel for at least a few weeks. So we might as well try this again.”
“I’ll read the spell with you, I promise,” Florence said, clasping her hands. “I’ll be perfect and everything will be all right. In the end, it will.”
Marvel pursed her lips. “That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
As they came closer, Florence felt her fingers begin to tremble. “I think I may very well be nervous,” she whispered.
“Don’t be nervous,” Marvel ordered.
Florence did her best to do as she was told, and followed Marvel forward with the Sanctuary in sight. “How much further do we need to go, exactly?”
“A few feet.”
They stopped, and Marvel pulled out the book. “Quietly, now. All quiet creatures of peace, rise.”
[_“Let your mind hear your heart’s cries,” _]Florence joined in, running her finger over the black feather.
The two of them spoke through lines and lines. Florence couldn’t take her eyes off the mapinguari stalking back and forth in front of the gate, or the gargouille darting across the lake.
But just as they began the final line, a colossal wyvern knocked Marvel to the ground.
Florence leapt to one side, but not quickly enough to avoid the wyvern that swept in and pulled her into the air. Its dragon talons kept hold of her collar, and its slithering serpent tail flickered back and forth below. Immediately, she searched for the griffon’s feather, but the satchel was empty; the feather had fallen.
Newforth strutted out of the Sanctuary with a smug grin. He picked up the feather and held it between his thumb and index finger. “Hello, Miss Opal.”
He tossed the feather into the lake behind him. “It was so kind of you to bring me a griffon’s feather, but I’m afraid I already have one.” He stepped forward, eyes scanning over Marvel’s unconscious body. “And you’ve brought Marvel, too. Your helpfulness is just unending, isn’t it?”
Newforth stepped closer, and Florence could hardly keep from screaming as her very own Edison flew over and perched on his shoulder. “It’s so nice,” he said, “to have a hercinia again.”
“I’ll get him back,” Florence said.
“You will not.” Newforth rubbed his glasses with the corner of his shirt like she’d seen him do so many times before. “I can’t have you two bothering me, do you understand? I’ve brought along some cages, and they’re about to come in handy.”
James Newforth whistled, and the wyvern lifted Marvel’s unconscious body from the ground. The spellbook Marvel was holding fell to the ground. Newforth picked it up and tucked it under his arm.
The wyverns carried the pair of them past the mapinguari and into the Sanctuary.
In the air, Florence wriggled and pushed, but she couldn’t free herself. She and Marvel were set down next to the iron cage—each bar about two inches apart—and forced in the cage door by a powerful shove of the wyvern’s wing.
Newforth sidled up to the cage and casually locked the door. “Nice and comfortable.”
It was not. The cage’s flooring was corroded, rusty metal and it had chilled in the shade. Florence sat up and her head nearly touched the top of the cage.
“I’ll be back to deal with you later. I have work to do.” He cast an unbreaking spell on the cage while rubbing the fur of a Nemean Lion between his fingers.
Even though they were locked up, the cage was guarded by a pixiu—a creature that was intimidating in three different ways, with its body of a lion, its sharp horns, and its wide dark wings.
Marvel was still unconscious, and Florence watched in silence as Newforth pulled out a knife. Then he was out of her vision, behind a couple of trees. A few minutes later, he followed a fluttering chakora back into the part of the Sanctuary she could see. He skinned the bird and collected its glittery feathers in a velvet drawstring bag. As each feather fell from the bird, it chirped sharply, the knife scraping its skin.
[_With all the animals in the Sanctuary, he really is going to make a fortune, _]Florence thought.
Suddenly, Marvel groaned. “Where are we?”
“Trapped,” Florence said. “You got knocked out by a wyvern.”
“It’s happened before.” Marvel bumped her head on the ceiling of the cage and lay down again with a sigh. “How are we going to get out?”
After a pause, Florence nodded. “Right. There has to be a way. He has my hercinia, and that just isn’t the way the world is supposed to be. There must be a way to make it right.”
“Your optimism is painful to my ears.”
Florence continued nonetheless. “How do we get out of this cage? He cast an unbreaking spell.”
“In that case, we can’t,” Marvel said. “Not by force. No animal, not even a dragon, can break an unbreaking spell. What we need is a politely-allow-us-to-evacuate[_ _]spell.” Marvel peered into Florence’s empty satchel. “Which we couldn’t perform anyway since you appear to have lost our only magical object and our spellbook.”
Just as Florence noticed the awful crick she was developing in her lower back—a result, she imagined, of the prolonged cage-occupying—Newforth strolled over, whistling. He unlocked the door and motioned for them to leave.
A manticore strode a few paces behind Newforth, its lion tail flicking back and forth with a steady rhythm. With each step, it raised its leathery bat wings a few inches higher, until they spread out to either side. Florence could feel its low growl in her toes.
Marvel moved in front of her, her arm raised. “Newforth, there’s no need for anyone to be hurt.”
“I can’t risk you two, anymore,” he said quietly, his eyes focused on the manticore. “You’re a liability to my business. I hope you understand.”
The manticore bared its teeth.
He can’t really be all that bad, Florence thought, watching it closely.[_ He’s just a little manticore. What has Newforth done to you, buddy?] Few of the creatures she’d encountered were naturally vicious, and she had been able to easily sway those who were with a treat or two. Of course, she’d neglected to bring any zebra meat, so she doubted the manticore would be all that interested in anything she had to offer.[ Too bad, though. I’m sure he’s a real sweetheart._]
Meanwhile, Newforth squinted his eyes as the manticore slowed. He motioned forward. “Go on then, beasty.”
The manticore stared at Florence. At first she found it unsettling, but when she met its eyes she felt a sort of kinship. Magical creatures have autonomy, she remembered.
Ignoring Marvel’s yells, Florence ran forward and flung herself at the manticore, wrapping her arms around its neck. Marvel and Newforth froze in surprise. Florence thought happy thoughts, warm thoughts, trying to show the manticore it didn’t have to be savage.
She smiled against its rough fur coat, thinking about how that was a strange sound to come from a manticore.
“No!” Newforth exclaimed. He shook his head, eyes darting around. “That makes no sense!”
Marvel smiled. “No, it does. The spell of aggression only suggests that they be vicious. If given a reason, they can resist it. And the creatures seem to like Florence an awful lot.”
The manticore turned away from Florence and toward Newforth, teeth bared.
Newforth called his pixiu, mapinguari, and one of the wyverns to his aid. As the creatures approached, Marvel and Florence caught each other’s eyes. I’ll get help, Florence mouthed, and Marvel nodded, raising her arms. She knew these creatures, and she could ward off Newforth.
Florence dashed off into the deep of the Sanctuary, where she figured she would be safe from Newforth. He would probably be too focused on Marvel to come after her as well.
Curious animals peered out of their cages, all gangly necks and wide eyes. The ones Newforth had confined were less powerful, more oddities than fighters. Don’t worry, little guys, Florence thought. I’m going to help you.
She placed her hand on the beak of the featherless chakora, and the glimmer in its small eyes reminded her of Edison. Her stomach pitched when she thought of him stuck with Newforth. Even though the chakora, a lunar bird whose only mythological function was thriving off moonbeams, would not be all too helpful in battle, she took a moment to heal it, chasing away its thoughts of hostility. When Florence was done, the bird fluttered off in Marvel’s direction.
Florence followed its path with her eyes, and tried to catch a glimpse of Marvel. With only the manticore for help, she was barely dodging Newforth’s attacks, not even attempting to make any offensive moves of her own. She needed more help.
Florence hurried toward the Teumessian Fox. It was the size of an elephant but didn’t do much except for being large.[_ Perhaps it could help Marvel with defense_]. She rested her hand on its snout, ignored the snarling and its attempt to bite her, and tried to relax it. Once it had become peaceful, she pointed to Marvel and it ran off to help.
She repeated this process again and again, trying her best to be helpful. She healed the Al-mi’raj rabbits that had tunneled her into a hole the last time she’d visited the Sanctuary. She de-aggravated the phoenix, and sent it to use its healing tears on Marvel’s hercinia in the woods. From one creature to the next, she continued.
It’s starting to look better over there, she realized. The Teumessian Fox was covering defense for Marvel’s team, with the help of the chakora watching from the air. The backwards-flying Oozlum bird was managing to confuse a couple of Newforth’s griffons, and the eight-legged horse Marvel had been riding when she and Florence first met had engaged Newforth’s jackalopes in a race. A wyvern—now on Marvel’s side—swept through Newforth’s cougar-like Onzas and plucked them up to drop them in the lake, while the manticore’s growl alone was enough to frighten several pegasi.
Marvel was in the center of it all, guiding her creatures and fending off attacks from atomies and nymphs. The nymphs, more specifically, were epimeliads, who threw apples at painful speeds.
Florence turned back to the dahu she’d been helping, smaller than her own—It’s okay, little one. Who says goats have to be symmetrical?—when she heard a scream.
Startled, Florence spun around to find Marvel. She was laying on the ground, eyes closed. She’d been knocked out. Then she noticed the Nemean lion stalking on the other side of Marvel, looking awfully proud of itself. It leaned towards its prey.
“Marvel!” Florence shouted, and ran to help.
“Stop right there,” Newforth said.
Florence turned to face him and froze. He held Edison in his outstretched arm, fingers wrapped around his fragile neck.
“Do you know, Miss Opal, what the very most frustrating part was, when I was bonding your hercinia to myself?”
Florence glanced back at Marvel, surrounded by creatures—some concerned, others looking for an easy meal.
Newforth didn’t wait for a guess. “I couldn’t destroy your bond with it. Not only did we have to keep up our little ruse, but I couldn’t turn Edison against you. Breaking a hercinia’s bond will destroy its ability to bond at all. I couldn’t take that risk, Florence. But now, I don’t need this bird… at all.”
He looked down and, following his gaze, Florence saw a wrought-iron cage where he’d trapped Artemis. “I’ve got one of my own. Spotted the little fella finding his way back to the Sanctuary,” he explained.
Florence’s heart was racing, but all she could think to say was, “It’s a girl.”
“That hardly matters.” His focus wasn’t entirely on her, she could tell. His eyes skipped around the creatures of the sanctuary, willing them to stay close to Marvel’s fallen body.[_ It must take a lot of concentration,_] she thought.
“I won’t let you hurt her—or my hercinia, either. And I won’t let you hurt Marvel.” She faltered—her words sounded naïve even to her own ears.
“If you don’t step away,” Newforth said, “I’ll break its neck.”
Though she was trembling, Florence stomped her foot down. “I’m not moving.”
He won’t do it. He won’t do it, he won’t.
She watched with balled fists and clenched teeth as Newforth’s hand tightened around her hercinia’s neck. Edison made a cry of pain that that nearly sent her flying to his rescue. But just as Newforth began to close his fist, he vanished.
Edison fluttered alone in the empty air, wings beating weakly.
Florence hurried forward and allowed her hercinia to land in her outstretched hands, then stared at the gigantic pit where Newforth had been standing. Though the pit might not keep Newforth for long, it had been enough to break his concentration. Florence could see that the creatures that had been under his control were confused and starting to wander aimlessly.
From behind her, she heard a shaky voice: “Al-mi’raj. I’ve found them to be very helpful with excavation and archeology.”
“Marvel!” Florence ran and wrapped her arms around her. Florence’s hercinia fluttered out of her hands and perched happily on her shoulder.
“It was the phoenix,” Marvel said, backing uncomfortably out of Florence’s hug. “Fixed me right up.” She darted off to let Artemis out of Newforth’s cage.
The aggressive creatures, without Newforth’s direction, hissed and scratched aimlessly—at trees, at grass, at creatures much bigger and tougher than themselves who promptly knocked them to the ground.
Quickly, they discovered that the best place to aim their aggression was the dazed man in the bottom of the pit, who was in need of a scruffing up.
Two months later, Florence and Marvel were incredibly busy.
Newforth had been sent back to the Museum of Unexplained, after a magical cat called a bakeneko helped them erase his memory. All the creatures that had been living at the Museum were moved to Calypso Island.
There were always repairs to be made, fur to be groomed, troughs to be filled, creatures to be rescued, and a seemingly endless supply of animals that were still aggressive from Newforth’s irreversible spell. Between the two of them, they kept up pretty well.
“Now, Talulah—stop biting, Talulah!”
“She’s a lynx,” Marvel called from the other side of the Sanctuary. “She doesn’t speak English.”
Florence held the sliced trout higher above the cat. “Sit, Talulah!”
“She’s not a puppy! Stop trying to teach them tricks, small girl.”
“We’re already training them to be kind. There’s no reason we can’t teach them other things while we’re at it, you know.” The lynx purred, and Florence rewarded her docility with a slice of fish.
Edison pecked at her shoulder affectionately as a goodbye, then bolted from off to chase a glimmer of light or perhaps an atomy.
Artemis, having adopted a manner of prudence and respectability, kept herself on on the gate, keeping watch over the Sanctuary with her careful eye. The mapinguari beside it had been the first to be rehabilitated, and now required only a single leaf before it would lumber aside.
“Will you [_please _]focus?” Marvel had noticed Florence’s distraction. “There’s so much work left to be done today, Florence.”
“In a moment,” she said, and sprinted toward the gargouille, thinking that she’d rather like to be cooled off with a nice splash.
If something in the story was confusing or could be better, please let us know. You can send a quick one-line response, leave suggestions on the Google Doc itself or join our discussion group, all at http://unashamedstudio.com/feedback.
To be notified when these are available,[* follow us on Facebook, Twitter or email. *]More information at: http://unashamedstudio.com/subscribe.
_Olivia, a priestess with an aptitude for telepathy, is enlisted to sabotage a battlestation. While on the mission, her desire to convert her military recruiter grows into an obsession and endangers the mission and her life. _
The smell of sweaty fur registered too late as the door swished shut behind her.
Even before her eyes adjusted to the dim red lights, she sensed movement all around her. She reached out with her mind and sensed basic desires and instincts, but no higher-order thought. She walked slowly, squinting to see if the path in front of her was clear. To her left, there was slithering and crunching. To her right, the rattling of a cage and a strangled cry that could belong to a small mammal or large bird.
She neared a cage and made out the dim features of a Sardonian kreptaw, with claws and tentacles gripping the bars. It was about a quarter of her height and its head tracked her movement. She gave it as wide a berth as she could while maintaining an arms-length distance from whatever lurked in the shadow-darkened cages on the opposite side.
As she passed next to it, the kreptaw lunged, hissing and touching her arm with two tentacles that stretched between the bars. She screamed and jumped out of reach, frantically wiping the slime on her uniform. She couldn’t remember anything about the kreptaw being poisonous, but didn’t want to take her chances.
Then she froze. The thoughts of an intelligent mind had awoken on the edge of her consciousness. She reached out toward it and felt the thoughts of a semi-sentient creature that her scream had awakened in the dark. A creature that was quite surprised to discover that its cage was open… and quite grumpy from being awakened on an empty stomach.
The thoughts were coming from behind her, cutting her off from the door. She walked quietly in the opposite direction, searching for a door on the other side, but in spite of her stealth the creature registered her every footfall in its mind. The scent of human flesh triggered a cascade of desire -- sweet flesh, not the alkali-saltiness of the Sardonians.
The animals around her became quiet as they sensed the monster’s presence.
A breath shuddered with excitement in the darkness. It was a gutteral, pulsating exhale that gave away the creature’s size -- it was a grundaal.
She sprinted away from it, almost tripping to keep her legs under her. The red-green-red light pattern of a doorway emerged from the darkness and she turned toward it. The door detected the speed of her approach and slid open sooner than usual, but it didn’t matter -- claws wrapped around one of her legs and her body jerked to a stop, with her momentum slamming her down into the grated floor.
Pain pounded in her face. She gasped as claws pulled at her leg, twisting in her flesh, until it rolled her onto her back. The creature was staring down at her, saliva dripping from the base of the bottom row of its teeth, its chest heaving.
Suddenly a klaxon alarm rang out and flashing lights transfixed the monster. Ignoring the pain, Olivia stumbled for the closing door. The grundaal chased close behind, grabbing at her feet. She dove for the door, sliding under it as it closed.
The grundaal slammed into the door, denting it with its head. Silence. Then a pounding as one of its fists hit the door, with the screeching sound of bending metal as the door began to pull away from the wall. It wouldn’t hold the monster for long.
Ten-year-old Florence Opal has a secret hobby: she travels through time looking for mythical creatures and brings them to turn-of-the-century Boston for safekeeping in the Museum of the Unexplained. The museum curator coaches her on these expeditions and prepares her for a raid of Calypso Island, where her rival, Marvel, hoards mythical creatures and neglects them. When her closest companion, a magical bird named Edison, disappears and Marvel accuses the museum curator, Florence must figure out which of them is telling the truth. And she soon discovers that Edison isn't the only one in danger.