Chapter 39 – Tuesday, June 17 – Land of the Lizards
Animus was standing watch, and was enjoying the beauty of the crescent moon. It was just a finger or so above the eastern horizon, which was not yet showing strong signs of the sun’s impeding arrival. A slight noise behind caused him to whirl around, an arrow nocked on his bowstring.
A black-beaked lizard-bird, stood at the far edge of the camp, dressed in brown robes. He said something in lizard tongue.
Animus sidled over to where Flummox was sleeping and prodded him with his toe. “Wake up. Ask our lizard friend here to repeat himself.”
Flummox sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Raven. How are you? What’s going on?
Raven repeated himself, and Flummox translated. “I really expected you folks to make your move before this, given the dark of the new moon and all.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
Sapphire rose out of her sleeping spot, wand in hand. “What’s going on?”
“It’s just Raven, trying to figure out what our plan is.”
“Unfortunately, so are we.” She tried to run a hand through her tangled mop. “Maybe he can help us pull something together. Fill him in on what we’ve been talking about while I fix my hair.”
Flummox offered Raven a seat by the fire that the elf was coaxing back to life, then put a pot of something on to brew. “So here’s where we are. The first question was whether to ask help from the Queen, or go directly to that southern lair. We’re coming down on the side of asking first, since we expect to be dragging one comatose body, and possibly two captives, with us. We didn’t want all the lizard tribes to be in hot pursuit.”
Raven nodded. “That is a wise decision, for another reason. Mandor and The Seer are powerful, and not to be dealt with easily. If you get the Queen’s blessing, those two are likely to back down rather than oppose you. I’ve been trying to convince the Queen that they were up to no good, but so far no luck.”
“Okay then, we need to get the Queen’s blessing. The problem is none of us want to risk being turned to stone. Personally, I think it’s a bluff, just like the dragon said, but why take a foolish chance?”
“What Dragon told you that?”
“Umm… the big green guy that perches in the trees at the edge of the barrens? Crysophordia? Ever hear of him?”
“Of course. But there is another Dragon, a red one, that lives on the opposite side of the barrens. Phylospectrada – but she’s rather aggressive and not likely to talk with anyone that approaches her. At least she’s truthful, though, when she talks – comes from being arrogant. Crysophordia, well… he’s a rather sly and duplicitous one. He’d rather talk first, then talk again, before fighting. You are wise to doubt his words.”
“Okay, so, we must approach the Queen carefully. Sapphire has shown that viewing her indirectly, via the spirit plane, is not dangerous. So, we are imagining that two of us must approach the Queen, blind-folded.”
Raven cocked his head. “Seems dangerous, to put yourselves at her mercy. Go on.”
“Animus would stay well behind to watch our backs, bow at the ready. I would have to go with Sapphire to translate, and deal with the snakes that are everywhere, while she has to be there to provide us eyes, via clairvoyance. The good bit is Sapphire can also cast an illusion that we are somewhere other than where we actually are. Our illusionary selves would of course not appear to be blindfolded, nor would they be affected by any sort of magic or web of fear she throws at them. We walk right up to the Queen and get her to admit that the whole stoning thing was a bluff.”
Raven dipped his beak. “Okay, then what?”
“Well, that’s where we’re stuck. We’re not at all sure what sort of argument might persuade her – especially after we’d pissed her off by blowing her best trick.”
Raven rubbed a clawed hand up and down his beak. “Truth that – she would not react well to having her principle defense breached so arrogantly.”
Flummox smiled. “See, we knew you could help. Actually, I have to admit we were waiting here all night in hopes of you showing up to help.”
Raven accepted a mug of steamy liquid, and breathed in the fumes. “Let’s simplify your plan. Go in as you said, but I will accompany your illusions. You will put on a show of having to summon great magics to make you proof against her stoning, but act like it is a great strain and you must rush to leave her presence. I introduce you as emissaries of the human Lord, here to recover the humans that have criminally trespassed on Lizard lands. She will finally have to believe me, and give her blessing. Forget that part about pissing her off by humiliating her.”
Flummox gazed at the fire. “I have to be honest with you, the human Lord does not actually know that we’re here.”
Raven gave a clicking laugh. “All the better. You will leave quickly and have an incentive to never tell another human what you have seen here, for fear of the wrath of your Lord. There will have been no official breach of the treaty and we will have peace, with no further intrusions.”
Flummox held out his hand. “It’s a deal then.”
Raven tried to fit his bill into the mug, gave up and set it down on the ground. He took Flummox’s hand in his own clawed one. “Very good. We should approach her garden at dawn. She’s a slow thinker in the morning. Give her less time to come up with objections.”
Rufus crouched low and faced the two razor dogs. He spread his cape wide, and waved his staff enticingly. Thunder couldn’t restrain himself and rushed forward. Rufus baffled him with a swirl of his cloak and managed to jump on his back. Sparks ran up and down his arms, but they did little more than tickle. He dropped his staff and reached under the razor dog’s belly, found a far leg, and pulled. Thunder went down, with Rufus on top. Thunder was well pinned, and couldn’t reach around with his head, though his jagged teeth snapped inches from Rufus’s ear.
Flash took this opportunity to rush in and seize Rufus by the ankle, closing his jaws with surprising gentleness. He dragged Rufus off, and all three of them rolled around on the ground, laughing and sending up sparks.
Rufus sat up and dusted off his cloak. “That was fun. And I think I’m getting a feel for how to imitate the lodestone. But you two, I have a better game for you to play.”
Thunder sat at attention. “Really? This game was pretty fun. Tell us.”
“Well, the first thing I have to make sure you understand is, you are guests in this world. You like it here, yes? You want to stay?”
“Then you must never, ever hurt anyone here, or all the human wizards will see you as a danger, and they will come together and force you back to the air world, or worse. Do you understand?”
Flash nodded vigorously. “Yes, we do. That’s what I’ve been telling Thunder.” Rufus nodded. “Good. Not only must you not hurt anyone by accident, you must never ever do it on purpose. Only a few humans can rub up against your sparks without getting hurt, and even they may need a moment to get prepared, you understand?”
Thunder head drooped. “Yes, I get it. I can’t run up without being invited.”
“Very good. Now, here’s the game. I know some people, dwarves, that are going to be building a glassworks down on the beach, right next to the beach. They are going to be using the power of Fire, from under the mountain, to fuel their furnace. The game – your job – is going to be to protect them, and everybody else in the valley, from the fire snakes and the sea monsters.”
Flash drew his head back. “But those things can hurt us too.”
Rufus smiled. “Aha! That’s where the game comes in. I am going to give you two special artifacts. This shell will make it so the fire snakes can’t hurt the one wearing it. This shark tooth will make it so that one of you can go under the water and zap the sea monsters with your sparks.”
Thunder sat up straight. “Oh, that does sound fun!”
“But here is the thing, I don’t trust these dwarves to be responsible. Your job is not just to protect them and the people who live in the valley, it’s also to make sure the dwarves don’t do anything dangerous. You watch them close and make sure all the magic creatures are under control, and if they ever ask you to do anything you don’t think is safe, you say ‘no’ and come tell me. Okay?”
Flash looked closely at the amulets, and sniffed. “Who gets to wear which one?”
Thunder bounced around. “I want to chase the fire snakes!”
“You two will take turns, and if one of you ever has to sleep, then the other will wear both. Now I’m going to give this third amulet to one of the dwarves. They’ll pass it around between them, and you can’t hurt the one wearing it, but you have to ask before running up to any of them, right? The one with this lodestone will help you switch around the amulets when you want to trade, and tell you where they need you most, and you do what they say, but only if it’s safe, right?”
“Right! We got it! This will be so fun!”
“I’m not sure what these cords are made of, but the Chief seems to have known what he was doing. Come here and I’ll put them on you.” He did so, and the cords held up – they were even exactly the right length!
“We’re going to go try them out!” Thunder ran up the hill towards the dam, and Flash followed.
Parrot fluttered down on Rufus’s shoulder and rustled his feathers. “There, there old boy. You’re not jealous of the attention, are you?”
Maude’s voice sounded in their heads. What cute puppies, though. They’re almost cuddly. Come on Grace, let’s go see what they do.
Grace dutifully started up the hill after the razor dogs, followed by Rufus, D-Stract and Cleo. Cleo had to balance carefully, as she had one hand on her bow and the other steadied the saddlebags across her shoulder.
Grace stood on the top of the dam, and watched the razor dogs. Flash was already down in the water, splashing around gleefully. Thunder was still working his way around to the right, towards the fiery lava vent.
Rufus looked around, and climbed a small outcropping to get a more commanding view over the valley, muttering. “Now, how to get their attention…”
“Allow me.” Flicker hopped up on a boulder a little further up the slope and hurled pyrotechnics into the air. His voice boomed out, magically amplified. “Oy! You four! Over here! Now!”
Sticker had been standing near Flicker’s rock. “Oh Bog!” He then scampered away, down from the dam, away from the water. Cleo, Grace, and D-Stract backed away as well, but stoped short so that they could barely see the space beyond the dam.
And so the Elementals approached, cautiously but with a sense of grim determination. Air flashed in quickly, and hovered above Flicker’s rock. Water came up from the lake, like a wave, that hung in space, ready to crash down. Earth stomped to the far end of the broken dam, then stepped over the raging waters to tower over the two magic users. Fire came last, like a black and red serpent, with Thunder nipping at its flanks. It rose and spread its cobra-like hood, towering over them as large as any dragon.
Earth spoke first. “Who are you, little pipsqueak, to summon us so rudely? You are about to feel our wrath.”
Flicker waved his wand and bowed. “I am the reason you are here at all. I created the conditions that put this place in play, and I am the one that fueled your little war, and by the way, your elemental magic can’t touch me, for I am Flicker, mighty sorcerer, master of all magics. And now, your little war ends. You will cease all hostilities and listen to my servant, Rufus here.”
Air shot a wee lightning bolt that bounced off an invisible sphere surrounding Flicker. He waved his wand and a rain of hail shot through Air, who jumped back out of range. Fire slithered around Flicker’s rock, but where he got too close, steam rose, and Fire drew back.
Water purred smoothly into the ensuing silence. “And if we don’t?”
“If three of you gang up on one, I will boost that one’s power to stop your plans. If you insist on all-out war, I will suck you all into this place so completely that you will never see your own worlds again. Think of all that will be lost, if you can’t attend to affairs elsewhere. This petty spot is not worth all that you have to lose.”
Earth growled. “The mortals here would be destroyed.”
“What care I? We mouslings thrive in the abandoned ruins of human civilizations. But cross me, and I will tie you all in knots.”
Air huffed. “What do you want anyway?”
Rufus lifted his staff. “From you, Air, nothing. You other three must, as Flicker said, cease all hostilities, and abide by your agreements. Fire will fill the break in the dam with lava, then cooperate with the dwarves at their new glassworks. Water will rise and seal the hole that fire made in the mountain, and a few other things we agreed on — to our mutual benefit. Earth, freed from having to watch you two, will keep Air in check. The truce begins now. Balance will be restored, and you can return the bulk of your energies to other places and other worlds.”
Flicker’s voice boomed out loud again. “You heard him. Do as you agreed to do. Back to your corners now, and be at peace.”
With a great deal of huffing, hissing, and growling three of the elementals backed away from the dam. Fire reached out a tongue of flame at the retreating Air, then drew up above the dam. “Open the door as you promised, that I might touch the sky again. I will be waiting, but not forever.” Red hot coils were building up behind him.
Rufus was in the best position to see what was happening. “Lava! He’s plugging the hole now! Run to high ground!” He turned and ran past Flicker’s boulder, who was already hopping to higher ground. Sticker and the adventurers left the road and climbed away from the waterway. The Lava hit the dam and a great cloud of steam arose.
Rufus got high enough to see beyond this bank of fog, which was slowly dissipating. Even with his magical senses tuned up to full, the valley was quiet.
As the hissing subsided near the dam, the spillway grew silent. The water level must be rising, oh so very slowly.
Earlier that day, about dawn, Sapphire pointed out that they had not decided what to do with Foggy Bottom as they approached Queen Medusa’s garden. She said Animus would have to watch out for the mule too.
Animus protested that he could not watch a stubborn mule and watch their backs at the same time. He suggested sending Foggy Bottom back to town.
Flummox objected, pointing out that it carried equipment that they might need in assaulting the southern lizard lair.
Raven came to the mule’s rescue by producing a bottle of liquid. He said it was essence of dragon musk, and nothing would approach the mule while its effects lasted. He was worried that the mule might bolt upon smelling it, but he was surprised that Foggy Bottom seemed to enjoy the smell, and tried to rub up against him as he applied it.
Flummox laughed. “This mule and the dragon are old friends!”
The second hitch in the plan occurred on the outskirts of the garden. They had just put on their blindfolds, and Sapphire was working up her spells, when a gray figure rushed around the corner and almost walked right into them.
The gray one dropped a mallet and chisel and turned to flee. Animus leapt forward and grabbed him, putting a knife near his throat. Raven shouted out, “Don’t hurt him! Rodan, stop struggling! They’re not going to hurt you if you just hold still.”
The sculptor went limp, then sneezed.
Flummox turned to Raven. “He’s seen us with the blindfolds.”
Raven dipped his beak. “Rodan, listen to me. You are afraid of Mandor and The Seer, aren’t you?”
The sculptor swallowed and nodded his bony grey head.
“Well, this is all about them. We’re trying to thwart their plans. If they find out we’re working against them, we’ll all be in trouble.”
Rodan stuttered. “But… but… I’m not working against them.”
“Oh, but they won’t see it that way. You’re going to wait here with Animus while my friends convince the Queen that what Mandor and The Seer are up to will hurt the lizard tribes. Then you will have a very few choices. One – you can tell them that you knew who we were all along, and didn’t alert the Queen. Maybe they’ll believe you tipped her off to their nefarious plans. Either way, they’ll tear you apart. Or… Two – you can tell the Queen about this after she’s been duped into helping us – tricked into doing what is actually her proper job. You know how she is when she loses face – apt to blame the messenger. You’ve experienced her temper before…”
Rodan nodded vigorously.
“And the third choice…” Raven paused for effect and Rodan stared with open, fearful eyes. “Three – you can tell no one that you saw us, and trust me that everything will work out in the end. Which will it be?”
“Okay, okay. I will be quiet. I will stay with this…” He looked at Animus and shuddered. He rolled his eyes skyward. “This elf.” He looked down at the ground. “But can we get my tools in out of the weather. I don’t want them to rust or anything.”
Animus pulled a colored handkerchief out of his pocket with one hand. “Bite on this, so you can’t yell, and I’ll let you loose to get your tools.”
Rodan took the handkerchief with a look of disgust, folded it neatly and stuck it in his mouth. Then he gathered his tools up lovingly, dusted them off, looked around, and sat down on a slab of granite at the back of the building, hugging the tools to his chest.
Animus looked at the others. “I guess this is as close as I can come, anyway; I’ll wait here. This one won’t give me any trouble. Go ahead with your spells, Sapphire.”
Sapphire grimaced. “I wasted a bunch of energy on that first attempt. I’ll have to draw more power from my wand to pull up the spells aain. I was hoping to save the energy for the assault.”
Flummox shrugged. “There’s nothing for it now. Here, let me help you with your blindfold again. Raven, you can do mine.”
To outward appearances, Raven and the two humans seemed to thread their way into the garden of tortured statues with their heads held high. In truth, the humans were shuffling along behind, eyes covered and elbows linked.
Numerous snakes slithered from the shadows of the screaming marble figures, but Raven and Animus were able to shoo them away.
Queen Medusa was sitting on a stone bench between a cringing stone maiden and a young boy with his brittle arms thrown up in shock. She was crooning and petting the snakes that wove their way through her piled-up hair. She heard them approaching, and turned.
Raven stepped forward. “My Lady, I warned these two about the power of your gaze, but they insisted that their magics could keep them safe, at least for a brief time.”
The Queen stood and looked at them haughtily. “What do they want?”
“They are emissaries from the human Lord, with a petition for you.”
The Queen strode forward confidently, and stared into the eyes of Sapphire’s illusions. “You are bold, to risk my gaze.”
Flummox spoke, from directly behind his illusion. “It is a great strain, oh Queen, worse even than we imagined. I don’t know how long our magical defenses will hold, but we had to come; our Lord commanded it. We had to warn you that two criminal humans have abducted a third, and have tried to evade the Lord’s justice by trespassing in your lands. We are instructed to beg your forgiveness for this trespass and ask you to allow us to retrieve these criminals.”
The Queen whirled on Raven. “You’ve tried to tell me something about this, haven’t you? The ones with Mandor & The Seer.”
Raven bowed. “Yes, your highness, but I knew only that Mandor and The Seer were having some sort of secret dealings with the humans. I knew not the nature of their plans, so could bring you no proof until now. But here, the truth is revealed.”
The Queen turned back to face Flummox’s illusion. “Very well, you have my permission to retrieve these miscreants, but don’t expect any assistance. These humans are from your lands; I expect you to fix things.”
Raven spoke to the illusions. “My friends and I will guide you on your path, so that you can resolve this situation quickly. The sooner you are out of the Queen’s territory, the better.”
The Queen rounded on Raven. “Tell Mandor and The Seer I wish to speak with them before sunset tomorrow. Right here.” She turned to the others. “You may go.”
Flummox’s illusion bowed deeply. His voice came from the air above. “Thank you, your Majesty, you are most gracious.”
The Queen frowned in puzzlement, then turned away, muttering. “Crazy human wizards.”
They carefully returned to Animus before removing their blindfolds and dropping the illusions. Sapphire sat on a second granite block, eyes closed and head in her hands.
Raven approached Rodan. “You remember what I said?”
Rodan stood up, chin high. “I’ve had word of a wonderful stone outcrop a good day’s travel to the east of here. I expect to be gone for some time, to evaluate it. In fact I need to write a note to that effect to leave in my studio for the Queen – dated last night.”
Raven gave a clicking laugh. “That will do, my friend. Let me see you on your way – and act as lookout.”
Flummox patted his shoulder. “You’ve been a tremendous help. We’ll wait for you south of here.”
Raven laughed again. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch up. It’s a long trek; best make time while you can. Batty and Tutu will let me know where you are.”
Flummox gave a nod, and turned to help Sapphire to her feet. Animus gave Rodan a meaningful look as he got out his bow. Then, the three adventurers headed south.
They saw neither Batty nor Tutu, but the greenish eagle could be seen high overhead much of the morning. Flummox warded off several snakes, and they avoided another swarm of beetles.
One largish lizard, running on all fours but bigger than a dog, watched them from a far hill-top. Animus let fly a warning shot, and they didn’t see it again.
Raven joined them mid-day, but then went off to chase the beetles when they told him about the swarm. It was almost evening when he joined them again.
They were hunkered down side-by side along the top of a ridge, surveying the face of an escarpment that lay ahead. Broken rock lay strewn about the depression between.
Raven came up behind and nestled down beside them. “Glad you made it in one piece.”
Animus looked over. “Hope you enjoyed your beetles. We’ve been trying to guess which of those dozen cave-mouth openings leads to this laboratory lair.”
Raven cocked his head. “Most of them do – they’re interconnected. But if you watch long enough, you’ll see their guardian lizard, Raptor, duck in the closest route. He’s coming down the valley now.” Sure enough, the very large four-legged lizard that they had seen earlier came sprinting down the valley on its hind legs. They got a much better view of it, with its brown flanks and golden crest, before it popped into one of the dark cave openings in the escarpment.
Almost immediately after, they were joined by two figures falling from the sky. Batty landed gracefully beside them and was totally silent.
Tutu landed heavily behind them, and slid partway back down the ridge in a spray of gravel. “Uhh, Raven, we been watchin’ jus’ like you toad us. They’s all in dem caves now. I tink they saw us, doh.”
Batty hissed. “You think? Of course The Seer has seen us all, you idiot! That’s what he does. He probably knows what you ate for lunch.”
“Let’s see, dere was da snake, and da lizard, and dat little birdie…”
Sapphire coughed. “That reminds me. I’ve been meaning to ask what exactly the powers of your… colleagues were. If we’re going to have a fight on our hands, we ought to know.”
Raven clacked his bill three times. “Right. The Seer sees things – in distant spaces and distant times. He cannot be surprised, and in combat he will anticipate your every move.”
Batty nodded. “Raven speaks the truth. I tried him. Once. I could not land a blow, and he would reach past my guard and poke me in the eye. He uses a crystal globe for his magic, but it might be impossible to get it away from him. Maybe you could catch him sleeping. Maybe.”
Raven shook his head. “Mandor is a little less subtle. He is a demon with fire magic. His power is legendary – more than any human wizard I’ve heard of. He uses a staff. But all this is irrelevant if we can deliver the Queen’s summons. Whether they know what we want to do or not, they’ll have to go. You can strike tomorrow evening.” He turned to Tutu. “You have an important job. Fly down there and tell them the Queen commands their presence by tomorrow evening.”
“Righto.” Tutu flew down to the cave opening, but was surprised to find Mandor and the Seer emerging.
They conversed briefly, then Tutu turned and pointed at the ridge. The two started a stately march towards the adventurers and Tutu lunged heavily into the air and started circling above. After a minute, Batty bowed to the adventures, said, “Excuse me,” and joined Tutu in the sky.
Raven and the adventurers saw there was no point in lying low, so stood and loosened their weapons. Raven cautioned them not to make the first overtly hostile move.
The Seer came into speaking distance first. “Well, Raven, I see you and your friends finally got through to the Queen. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”
“What you two are doing is wrong, and you know it. You’re in for it now.”
“Oh really? We were simply being courteous to surprise visitors, to avoid creating a treaty incident. We did not invite them, nor welcome them – and you have nothing to prove otherwise. Your human friends here are welcome to fetch them back home – it’s no scales off our hides.”
Mandor hissed and pointed his staff at them. “You better not break anything inside, though, or you’ll have me to answer to.”
The Seer nodded. “Right then, we have an appointment with our friend, the Queen. I trust you will have removed the… interlopers by time we return.” They strode on past, exposing their backs, as if daring the four of them to make a move.
As they watched the receding figures, Flummox spit. “What about that lizard — Raptor, you called it?”
Sapphire turned to Raven. “Oh bog, it’s still inside with Doc Green and The Visitor, isn’t it? Is it going to give us trouble?”
Raven shook his head. “More than we can guess, in those cramped quarters, I am certain. Well, nothing for it but to rest up for tomorrow. I have some extra beetles, if any of you have changed your mind about trying them. They really are a delicacy.”
The others ignored his offer and hurried about the business of making camp. Foggy Bottom rolled in the sand, drinking in the essence of dragon.