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Dawnstorm
April 3rd, 2004, 11:50 AM
Arleena D'Jyle darted through her room, looking for clothes suitable for travelling. There weren't many. She was a stationary mage specialising in the identification of magical artifacts. Not someone who went out on adventure a lot; she'd come along on the other adventure, back then, because she'd been desperate for a job. And It'd been worth it. This world held much more opportunities for female mages; it was nothing like the other, where her male fellow mages patronized her and customers largly ignored her.

"So what's it like, having two pasts? Reed couldn't really tell me." Gilli hovered over Arleena's bed, just behind the open bag.

"Confusing," Arleena said, scrutinizing one of her favourite dresses for durability. "Reed made the transition best. Not that it hadn't been confusing for him, but since it's his default state of mind..."

Gilli giggled. "I'm so glad, you're coming along. Thank you."

"Yeah, you're welcome," Arleena said, frowning at a pair of city shoes.

choppy
April 3rd, 2004, 12:10 PM
“Welcome to Wight Square,” Evin said as he led both Cromwell and Mik into what seemed like just another of the Crystal City slums. They had been walking all day. The city seemed endless. And the more they walked, the more people there were. If there had been a Great War and a plague years back, one would never know it. The cobblestone road was wide and worn. Townhouses lined its sides with yet more city shops open at the street level. The place was dirty and poor. There, the people kept their faces down and their hoods pulled up.

“This is the place to come if you want to get lost,” the little thief explained. “It’s about three dozen blocks right in the heart of the city. It’s the ***hole of the city. The Imperial Magistrate hides this place away from the world. You can’t see it from the palace. It’s where they throw all the dirty little secrets – kids who don’t have parents, cripples, criminals, whores, and anyone too mad to be safely locked away in an attic. You can make a lot of money here if you’ve got a quick wit. You can buy just about anything here too – if you have the money. This is the spot where anything goes. A man can master his destiny in the square.”

“So why don’t you live here?”

“You can get your throat slit just as easy. And no one will even know you’re dead. The body will just disappear.”

Mik turned to Cromwell. “A fine hole you’ve picked.”

“Smell bad,” was the only thing the ogre said.

“Well, just you stay out of trouble,” Mik ordered. “We have to track down this girl fast. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack.”

“Why do you need to track her down so bad?” Evin asked.

Mik looked at the ogre before answering. “Our boss had a thing with her.”

“A thing?”

“Now he wants to tie up loose ends.”

Richardb
April 3rd, 2004, 11:33 PM
_________________________________
Note, made a map, on request of Juzza...
Can't post here, unfortunatly, but you can go to an MSN group and download at:
http://groups.msn.com/BrunkePage/

go to the documents section and see two downloads named colabstory. One is a FCW file, if you have campaign cartographer, the other is a lower resolution JPEG.

Donwload at will, let me know if there are other cities or names to change. I'll work on an 'under earth' map if I get a chance. Please don't re-distribute map.
You'll find hull city and the camp in the upper right, and Crystal City at the very bottom. Tried to capture other mentioned spots.
recommend going to www.profantasy.com to the download section and get free map viewer and printer. You can then download the FCW map and get a real clear version, and print it.

Dawnstorm
April 4th, 2004, 10:23 PM
"Go on, fly. You're not safe with me."

The pegasus took a step back.

"Tell Horton, we're even. Give my regards to Jinx. And now... FLY!"

The pegasus tilted her head to the side, watching Reed. Then, suddenly, she reared, whinneyed and spread her wings.

"You're not safe with me," whispered Reed, as the winged horse ascended. "But then, who is?"

And he made for the city gate.

===

"Out with you all, I need to talk alone with that one," bellowed Sharn.

Suzé had never seen men comply with such haste, and she'd seen a lot in her times. She bowed, "Alone with me? Why, you old flatterer, not even that would change my mind." When her head came up again it bore a serpents smile.

Sharn guffawed, slapping his thighs. "You're not scared, and I like it." Then, calming down slightly: "You said no to me. I accept that. Once you're out of the door you're on the List."

Suzé continued her smile. "As I would expect to be."

"Then tell me." And Sharn got up from his chair and got close to her. She could feel his breath in her face. "You do nothing for me while you're here, and then you go. Deja vú. You're not refusing to kill that gambler because you two are playing a practical joke on me?"

Suzé gave her best shot at mocking thoughtfulness. "Now, that would have been quite a funny joke. But no, we're not conspiring against you in the name of mirth."

"Then why? Why do I lose all the competent people, and get to keep the idiots?"

Suzé looked him straight into the eye. It was good to be an elf this time round. They had a knack for condescension. "If you keep up a reign of fear, all you get to rule is cowards. Really, it's obvious."

Sharn stiffened. "I don't think I like your tone."

Suzé was unmoved. "What you like is of no concern to me. You're just a pawn in my game, and whatever you do now, will suit my plans."

Sharn was fighting for control. "Out. Now!"

Suzé bowed again, then turned and went. At the door, she paused, "As for Reed, he's just someone who never says no. I bet you assumed that meant he was working for you." And then she was gone.

===

The crystal figurines were hideous. A woman on a dragon in midflight; all of it clear white crystal. It was not hard to guess who was depicted. Reed hadn't been aware just how famous Dani was around here.

"How does she put up with this?" asked Reed.

The small, bald man behind the stall smiled, "She thinks they're beautiful. She's flattered. Only last week she bought..."

Reed laughed. "Yes, I bet she loves them."

The merchant looked at Reed, uncertain. Reed gave him a good natured smile. The merchant smiled back, nodded. "You know her, then?"

"I met her," said Reed, picking up a figurine. "You exaggerated her breasts."

The merchant rolled his eyes. "They need to sell, don't they?"

"Pity she's not in town." Reed put back the figurine. "I would have liked to meet her."

"She's in high demand lately, isn't she?"

Reed raised an eyebrow.

"Two, er, people... asked for her. One of them an Ogre, the other didn't look much better. Told them I hadn't seen her for some time. Which is true."

Reed leant forward, and lowered his voice. "But you know more."

The merchant replied in a conspiratory whisper: "She's off to the Emerald Lake to retrieve it!"

Reed frowned, "I heard she'd gone to the moon, same reason."

The merchant gave a short laugh, and shook his head, "And you believed that?"

Reed shrugged, and then leant closer again. "It's a good thing you didn't tell the strangers she went to the Emerald Lake. You know who they're working for?"

The merchant frowned and then his eyes opened wide. "You mean..."

Reed held a finger to his mouth. "Shhh... He's going to be here, soon, you know."

The merchant gaped.

"How much is this one?" Reed picked up a figurine.

"Three coppers, if you please," the merchant said, but he was still staring at Reed.

Reed dropped a silver coin onto the stall. "Keep the rest. For not telling." Another smile, and then he ambled on, wandering about the circulation rate of rumours.

===

As soon as Reed had turned a corner, he got rid of the figurine amidst some cucumbers on a vegetable stall. A notice caught his eye.

Obviously, the Crystal Miner's Museum had acquired the Chrysalis; a crystal rumoured to help latent telepaths develop their powers. It is said to have belonged to a local hero of yore, and had disappeared long ago. It's on display, now. For flavour the notice informed anyone who cared about the history of telepathy.

One thing was interesting: telepathy seemed to be a rare gift, averaging at 15 latents in 3 generations. About 5 of them manage to mine their potential. The Crystal Cities, alone, account for 3 of them.

Or differently put, if you wanted to find a telepath, the Crystal Cities are your best bet.

And the Loveable Rogue had come here, with the Kult'ar in his pockets. A coincidence?

And then the absurdity of the entire quest struck him: If you want to retrieve an object from someone who might give it up, if you say "pretty please", is this your best bet? You come for a telepath with the mobility provided by a dragon, and you're doing so with a huge party on horse back (you even take a cook!). You do so after you decided not to contact her personally, but let her find out on her own that you might be coming, via an advertisement in a well distributed publication (at least they didn't state what they're after). And you're heading for a city, where she may no longer reside. And finally, you're sending advance scouts. To find her?

How do you find a telepath with the mobility of a dragon, if she doesn't want to be found? You change that. You make her want to find you.

The Rogue, he had had two lovers. One has lost kin already. Didn't Dani mention a brother? Gavin, or Kevin or something like that? A coincidence?

There was something going on, but certainly Juzzza wasn't a murderer? Well, he'd attacked him, possibly with intent to kill. But, to be fair, if all the people who wanted to kill Reed were murderers...

The Rogue knew something he didn't tell. Could they be on the same side? Had the Rogue intended to use him as an advance body guard for the Longress family, betting on his instincts to sort it out, eventually? Secrecy being paramount, for some reason?

If so, Reed ****ed up. How do you protect someone, if you, in case of violence, are more dangerous to them then the prospective killers?

He was getting paranoid. If only that meant he was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, wrong...

Jadziel
April 5th, 2004, 01:22 PM
Xhao strode through the blackened streets of Duredin. They lay deserted, a criss-crossing web of cobblestone alleys and passageways. Meticulously clean. Hideously silent. The city was as cold and sterile as a mausoleum. He drew a cowl over his head and turned aside down a narrow corridor. Shadows fell across his lithe form, absorbing his presence into their dark realm. On either side of him, buildings towered, carved from granite and black marble. They slanted farther inwards with each successive storey, leaving only a thin streak of half-light between their roofs. Entombed amongst them, thoughts reverberated through his mind like richocheting cannonballs. Unnecessarily loud and explosive. He could find no respite from their ceaseless pounding.

The dark elf's fingers crept inside his leather jacket, seeking and probing, infiltrating the slight tear in its lining. His heart skipped a beat. The disc was gone. Digging and scrambling, his long nails plunged into the torn silk. Over and over, they pillaged and ransacked without success. A bead of sweat trickled down his temple. At last, trembling and shaking, he clasped the small flat disc, and traced the symbol etched into its surface. He released a ragged sigh of relief.

Three more turns at intersections, and he stood before a windowless building. A small wooden door provided the sole means of entry. He knocked four times, gloved hand nudging the dark blue paint. A hatch slid open and a dark eye peered from its depths. He waited, staring unflinchingly into the gaping black aperture. Time crawled inexorably. A bitter, aching cold spread through his limbs, clawing at his heart. His fingers twitched and jerked. He grimaced with disgust.

Locks glided across, releasing the door. It creaked ajar. A thin crack of light was visible, a violet glow. He ducked under the lintel, squeezing himself into the premises. The door slid shut behind him, locks clunked into place. There was no sign of the gatekeeper, no residue of his presence.

"Thankyou for granting entry", Xhao said, bowing towards nothing.

An open archway beckoned, Xhao headed down the hallway and beneath its granite masonry. Thick, grey smoke coiled through the air. His eyes stung, watering in reaction to the bitter substance. His gloved hand rose instinctively, smothering his mouth and nose. He moved swiftly though a cluster of bodies, scowling at those too weak to resist the lure of alcohol and opium. Decadent, emaciated beings who long ago relinquished their designation as dark elves. They deserved no pity, no remorse, only a brutal end to their suffering.

He swept into the backroom. A game was in progress, painted cards hurtling across a circular table. Six figures huddled around its edge, clutching half a dozen cards in their fingers and glancing furtively at each other. A random assortment of characters, all male, varying ages and attire. Making a quick assessment, Xhao grabbed a thin dark elf by the neck, tossed him to the ground and claimed his seat.

"Impudence, impudence", an elder murmurred, leaning back leisurely. Delicate fingers rose to trace the embroidered hem of his crimson robe. His cheek bones were finely chiselled, and his eyebrows arched high above deep set eyes.

"Deal again, i want fresh cards. These ones are soiled.", Xhao's words were tight and clipped.

The dealer looked towards the elder, seeking his authority. The elder nodded, ebony face a blank mask. The dealer bowed low, then gathered up the cards. A whir of motion, and they were shuffled and redistributed.

"What are the stakes?", Xhao asked, examining his cards and surveying the opposition.

"A hundred Va'Din each round", the elder declared, looking over him with distaste. His eyes fell upon the clasp fastening the young assassin's cloak. It bore the scarab insignia of the Kretik Citadel. "I didn't realise the Xa'Chari could afford to pay their apprentices so well".

Stifled laughter echoed around the table. Five stacks of coins were pushed into the centre.

"Only those possessing both ability and ambition", Xhao replied. He placed his own stack onto the table. The coins clinked against each other, a sharp metallic sound.

"A rare combination, not witnessed since the wars", the elder said icily. He nodded to the dealer and received an extra card from the pack.

"If it were to be witnessed again, the bearer of those traits would surely prosper", Xhao said, meeting the elder's cold gaze.

"Only if the individual possessed a modicum of modesty and showed appropriate deference." Ringed fingers sifted through half a dozen cards, tossing one into centre of the table. "One can never be too discerning when choosing where to pledge allegiance."

"Especially in these treacherous times", the youngster concurred, snatching up the discard to add to his hand.

Cards skimmed across the polished mahogony, claimed and discarded from six directions. A blur of motion shrouded the table. Daggers, rings, chalices, dragons, jewels and steeds switched hands with alarming rapidity. In the blink of an eye, the round expired.

"I think it's time you revealed your hand, boy. Don't you?".

Xhao spread his six cards face up on the table. Mocking laughter rung his ears. The robed figure waited till last before flicking his cards over with a flourish, revealing six dragons. His thin lips curled up at the ends.

"It seems you still have much to learn, apprentice."

"Likewise, venerable one". Xhao rose from his seat and sauntered towards the door.

The elder glanced down at his newly acquired hoard and froze. On top of the nearest stack, a jade disc shimmered. Upon its surface, two curved blades crossed each other.

Jadziel
April 5th, 2004, 08:03 PM
"This has to be a sick joke", the Emperor muttered, ashen faced. He flipped the jade disc over in the palm of his hand. "It can't be real. Can it?".

"It's his seal alright", Calizan confirmed, smoothing down the folds of his red robe. "He had four cut from a single piece of jade. The jade is unmistakeable. I recognised it immediately."

"I thought the seals were destroyed when he... expired?".

"Indeed, I thought so too. They were scheduled for despatch the day after his death."

"Then how in damnation did this one survive?". The Emperor glared at his advisor, cold eyes demanding the truth.

"I don't know", Calizan admitted uncomfortably. He twisted a large ruby ring around his finger. "It's something i intend to find out though."

"He can't still be alive? He was killed, damn it". The Emperor's hands shook. He dropped the seal into his lap and gripped the arms of his obsidian chair.

"The records show that he's dead", Calizan replied impatiently. "The seal was delivered by a Xa'Chari apprentice, probably on a whim of that fool Belaris".

"I don't care about records. Anyone can manipulate them to match their needs. Look at the seal."

Calizan gazed at the seal, swallowing heavily. "Well, it... there could be... that is to say... there must be... a rational explanation.... surely...". His words faded into nothing.

"The seal only reveals its insignia under certain conditions", the Emperor snapped.

"Yes, i know that", the advisor's voice was chilling, "It's only visible for a short duration after direct contact with... him. Contact with his body and spirit. But there's no way that could have happened. Tularis Yassassin is dead."

"Exhume his corpse. I want his death confirmed."

Richardb
April 5th, 2004, 11:22 PM
The troup travelled south over the next two uneventful days. The countryside was dotted with small farmsteads. The small village of Tipple, passed the day before was the only chance the group had to stay in a warm bed and eat a decent meal.

"Be eating camp food again tonight," grumbled Boldar.

"Don't antagonize Shef again tonight!" Bass looked miserable, but sounded angry and deadly serious.

"Ah, come on now, you old turtle, just a little camp fun!"

"You called his beef stew barf chew, you childish oaf. And there was the little matter of his revenge this morning... which I shared in!

Boldar smiled broadly. "So those weren't raisins in the porridge... no harm..."

Bass just shook his head.

Meanwhile, Juzza rode slowly back the line to Boldar, the dark elf staying near him, eyes a mix of possessiveness and curiousity.

Juzza pulled his long pipe from his mouth, blew a line of smoke, and then tapped the ash from the pipe on his saddle.

Boldar tired of the slow build up. "What is it?"

Juzza smiled. "You, my friend, have no style... no sense of flair."

"Perhaps I'm no lovable rogue, but I my friend, have survived near thrice your years, and that's style enough for me."

"Point taken, mate. Anyhow, with all the complications we've had, I've little chance to set plans. I was wondering how familiar you are with the lands around Crystal City, and the nearby mountains?"

Bass looked oddly at Juzza, and gave Boldar a meaningful sidelong glace, which the big man pretented not to notice.

"Stupid question for a stupid man, eh? Boldar said.

Juzza shook his head. "By which you mean?"

Boldar belched loudly. Myst grimaced. "Just that you would ask your companion if you wanted to know about the mountains. Her skin color is, after all, lovely, but a dead giveaway as to where she came from. What do you really want to know?"

Juzza looked at Myst. "Could you give us a bit of privacy?"

Mystique looked miffed, but complied, falling farther back in the line after another long, even look at Bass, who was riding quietly nearby.

Juzza paused a long minute until they were alone. "Right then, so here it is, my large, and not unintelligent friend. First of all, I am a bit worried about your man Bass here."

Bass jerked his head up at the mention of his name.

Juzza looked directly to Bass, speaking past Boldar. "I can't get from Myst what the history is, but it is clear that there is something between you, and for her part, it's not friendly. I offer advice..." He paused, seeming unsure for a moment. "Perhaps more of a warning." He noted Boldars scowl. "I'll moderate Myst, to the extent possible, but don't put me inbetween her and you, as you won't find me as an ally." The last had an ominous sound.

Boldar pushed in close. "Don't discount the friends Bass does have, Lovable Rogue."

Juzza shook his head. "I did not come here to threaten, just to warn. Let's just keep them apart, right?"

"Right. And the second thing?"

Juzza smiled widely. "A simple thing for a warrior and a wizard such as you two. When we get to Crystal City there is somebody who needs killing, and I think you two right for the task."

Boldar was shocked. "I'm no assassin!"

"No, you are not. This is not an assassination, but a challenge of sorts."

"Who?"

"That," Juzza placed his pipe back in his mouth and spoke around the stem. "Is not something I can share with you just yet, as the answer depends on a great many things I hope to find out over the next week." Then he pulled reigns and turned his horse back to where Myst was talking with Gina and Mya at the end of the troup.

Boldar watched him until he reached those at the back of the line and started talking in earnest with them.

Bass seemed to make a small motion, cock his head and would appear to be listening if the distance and forest noises did not make that impossible. After a minute he shook his head and looked at Boldar.

"You, big man, are not the only one recieving an offer today, it seems. Juzza works towards complex ends, and though I sense no directed malice toward us, I don't think we are more than pieces in the game at this point."

Boldar dismissed this with a vague wave of his hand. "Never could understand how to play these games. But I do know that one can always tip the board when things go bad."

Bass smiled, then grimaced. The big man just did not seem to grasp how serious this all was...

choppy
April 6th, 2004, 12:23 AM
Mik had trouble sleeping. There were two beds in the room and he didn’t fit either of them. His feet hung off the end, slowly getting chilled by the night air. They weren’t even in an inn. It was a spare room in someone’s house that they called the “Happy Pappy Inn.” From the smell of the place it was most likely a cheap accommodation for patrons who ventured too deep into Wight Square and got too drunk to venture back.

Evin slept like a baby. It was probably the first time the guy had sleep in a real bed for years. His nose sounded like a carpenter’s saw – making enough noise to wake the dead. Then there was the ogre. Cromwell didn’t sleep. He sat on the wood floor, nested in a ground blanket with his spine perfectly straight and meditated. The ogre looked like a sleeping cow – ripe for tipping.

Suddenly Cromwell’s eyes popped open.

Mik knew that look. Trouble.

Downstairs he heard some commotion – voices – lots of voices.

Mik pulled himself out of bed and calmly sauntered over to the window to see what was going on. Horsemen. There were at least a dozen horses outside. They looked to be uniformly outfitted.

“Looks like the night watch,” Mik said. “But why would they be here for us?”

Evin snored again, still asleep.

Cromwell grabbed his mace and sniffed the air. “They good men,” he said. “Bad intentions.”

“Well let ‘em come with their bad intentions.” Mik rolled his bare shoulders. “I’ll give out a few good scars.”

“Ready at door,” the ogre said. “They crash it.”

Mik unsheathed his sword and readied himself.

There were sounds at the stairs – footsteps – then knocking against the door. “What are they doing?”

Cromwell looked at the door. He looked like a confused dog, tilting his head to the side – as if that would help to figure out what was going on. Then he figured it out.

He swung his mace hard at the door. Wood splinted, but it didn’t move. That blow should have knocked it off its hinges. He swung again, hammering the door. As another plank broke, Mik could see that there was something behind it – stones and wood. They were barricaded in.

Then, from the downstairs, Mik heard a soft pop, followed by a rush of air. He knew that sound. Someone just lit fire - using a hell of a lot of oil.

Thick dark smoke began to seep into the room through cracks in the floor.

Outside someone shouted. “Burn for eternity in bowels of hell!” Others shouted their approval.

“This is what happens to assassins!”

Cromwell stuck his head out the single window. “Not assassins! Friends!”

“Death to all assassins!”

Mik got down on the floor and pulled the thief out of bed – waking him up. The air above them was quickly contaminating with smoke. He rolled towards the door and began to kick at it with his legs – hoping he could find a weak angle. More wood splintered, but he soon realized whomever was outside had piled a lot of rocks outside the door in a real hurry.

“Well Mr. Got-the-Smarts,” he asked. “How do we get out of this mess?”

juzzza
April 6th, 2004, 10:17 AM
Loveable Rogue Inc. had been riding hard all day and the rest came as a welcome relief to all.

Juzzza lay with his head resting on his pack, his legs out straight before him. He watched Myst jump around, animating the tale she was telling to Hume, Mya and Gina with her hands. He smiled, he had missed her enthusiasm and creativity.

To love and respect another person was a gift, to have that reciprocated was divine, that was what his mother had taught him... Amongst other things.

His head was pounding, strategies and plans whirling like a storm behind his blue eyes. Everything had been set in motion as planned, he just hoped that, as Albert had said, 'the snakes will reveal themselves and you can assess the size of their fangs, and if they carry poison.'

As an assassin and rogue, every instinct cried for stealth and yet Juzzza had tried his best to stir up the hornets nest. There was no doubt that every interested party was now aware that the Rogue and his allies were after the Kult'ar and he knew they were being followed by at least three groups already.

Reed was an unexpected complication but ultimately he would help with the commotion necessary to complete the mission... A mission in the making for almost a decade.

The Rogue's thoughts turned to his long time friend, Mik and he hoped that he and his new companion were safe in the Crystal City. There was a good chance that they were already dead, a fact Mik was fully prepared for before he left the LRI camp for the capital.

Juzzza closed his eyes, the late afternoon sun warming his face. He dozed and dreams of the past shimmered into life.

**************************************

"I would put Derudin before my own life and those of my family, to be thought of as a traitor means little to me," said Tularis pacing back and forth.

Juzzza was sat at a basic wooden table, a mug of brew steaming in his hand.

"Why can't we just destroy this Kult'ar?" asked Juzzza.

"Because it is simply a means to an end Rogue, we need to draw those responsible out from the darkness when the time is right. Besides, Sacrifice is never wrong, if this is the way things need to unfold, then that is the way they will unfold."

"And if I fail?" said Juzzza.

"Then all life is doomed," said Tularis flatly.

Dawnstorm
April 6th, 2004, 04:26 PM
The excited little boy rushed in through the open door. "Look, Uncle Sandy I've found a baby dragon. He hurt his wings."

Alexander Horton looked up from his notes and squinted at the thing the boy, cupping it with both hands, held up to his eyes. He frowned shortly, then held up one big hand, just below the boy's, then said, "Very well, boy. Tilt your hands, now, slowly. She will crawl onto my hand."

The boy did as he was told. "She?"

Horton looked at the small animal, which slid onto his hand, not once scratching or biting. He nodded, assuming the boy was paying attention. "Yes, she's a girl." And then he added, "And she's not a dragon." He then turned and walked over to his operating table, where a fresh, clean blanket lay.

"She's not a dragon?" the boy asked somewhere behind his back. Horton waved his hand, without turning. "Come here," he said.

The boy came. Horton pointed at the small creature. "How many legs do you see?"

The boy looked puzzled at the easy question, then counted just to make sure. Finally he said, "Two. I see two legs, Uncle Sandy."

Horton nodded. "Yes, there are two legs. Although the wings, you see, they are really legs. Or arms. Limbs. You see. Most vertebrates..."

The boy frowned.

"...most animals with spines have four limbs. We have two arms, and two legs. Cats have four legs. Birds have two legs and two wings. You see the pattern?"

The boy nodded.

"Okay, so what we have here is an animal that conforms to the natural order of things, not in any way modified by magic. So it can't be a dragon. You see, dragons have four feet, and in addition they have wings on their back. To understand what that means in terms of nature, imagine you had two arms on your back as well. Each of your shoulders would have to have two joints; one for each arm."

The boy looked at the creature. "But what is she, then."

Horton smiled. "She's a wyvern. You were lucky, she didn't bite you. Wyverns are poisonous, you know. Although her poison will not yet be strong enough to kill you, you could have been paralyzed."

The boy looked at him with big eyes, as he thought about what could have happened. Horton's eyes, however, focussed upon the wyvern. She cocked her head and stared back at him. The wyvern was unusually relaxed, certainly didn't look hurt.

Horton turned to the boy. "Listen, she has not hurt any of her wings. She may have fallen out of..."

Outside a horse whinnyed. Horton looked up. "What the..." he mumbled, recognising the voice of Starlet, his pegasus.

The boy rushed to the window looking out at Horton's huge garden. "It's Starlet," he exclaimed. He had ridden her before.

The local Kids loved "Uncle Sandy", because he had the strangest creatures at his house. Alexander Horton was the local expert for "non-humanoid" anatomies: both animals and magical creatures. He'd never refused to heal a sick or hurt creature if it was brought to his attention. And some, like Starlet, ended up staying with him.

Horton didn't bother with the window, but rushed out directly into the garden. There she was, shifting her hooves, sniffing the air, obviously nervous. He hadn't expected her back so soon. Didn't Reed need her anymore?

"Jinx!" he called. "You there?"

A small pop, and suddenly a faerie dragon perched on his sholder. "Yes, Uncle Sandy?"

Horton gave him a sour look, but did not comment any further on the dragon's address. Something was wrong, and he wanted to know what. "Starlet is back. And she's upset."

The faerie dragon's tail curled around the vet's neck. Then he quipped, "Not with Reed, then?"

"Something happened. I need to know what."

"I liked Reed. He got you the ground manticore sting you needed when my tail hurt. Played "Spot the Obvious" with me, while you were making the potion. He almost won once. Even though he's just a human."

Horton was impatient. "Will you talk to Starlet and tell me what's wrong?"

"Will do", chirped the dragon and pushed off Horton's shoulder, digging his claws into skin. Horton winced, while the little faerie dragon spread his gossamer wings and approached Starlet. He let down on her back and crawled close to her ears.

No sound from the both of them, until suddenly: "Uh oh..." And with a pop Jinx was gone.

"Jinx?" Horton called. "Jinx, you there?"

And then louder: "Jinx?"

And while he was calling to the absent faerie dragon, the little boy tugged at his sleeve. "Uncle Sandy, what's wrong with Starlet?"

"That unrelialable..."

"Uncle Sandy?"