The Curse of the Forge

A place where users can post their wonderful stories.

The Curse of the Forge

Postby LilJennie » Mon Sep 12, 2022 8:24 pm

The Curse of the Forge

by Jennie Flint and Miki Yamuri

There was a terrible crash in the back yard, and Monica and I jumped out of our chairs and ran to the windows.

I couldn’t immediately see what could possibly have made such a noise, so I opened the back door to look. “Be careful,” Monica said. “It could be … somebody dangerous.”

“That sounded like something crashing into something else, not like some kind of explosion or … gun, or whatever,” I said, looking around. It was broad daylight, on a partly cloudy day, so I couldn’t imagine why I couldn’t see anything. But then I looked behind the big hydrangea bush.

“What in the …?” I said. I was seeing the remains of what looked like some kind of big steamer trunk or hope chest, smashed to bits as if it had fallen from a great height.

“Sandy? What is it?” said Monica, who had come out of the house.

I was already picking up pieces of the chest’s wooden debris. It had really dug some holes in the dirt. I’d have to get that part of the yard tilled and reseeded. “This must have fallen from an airplane or something,” I said. “But it must have come open on the way down, because I don’t see anything that was in it …”

“You mean … a trunk fell out of an airplane and landed here?” said Monica. “Wow! I’m glad it didn’t hit your house! Or anyone’s house! It could have really hurt someone!”

“Yes, it could have! Thank goodness it … what’s this?” I found something. It was … a baby’s rattle. It must have been in the trunk and somehow managed to stay with it all the way down. I picked it up. It was silver, and heavy … it must have been real silver, but not tarnished at all … and it was clearly an antique. It was very pretty. I found myself wondering what it sounded like.

“What is it?” asked Monica. “Oh, it’s a baby rattle! It looks old. Was it a trunk of old baby things, I wonder?”

But I wasn’t listening. I shook the rattle, and it made a musical jingle, not a rattling noise at all. It seemed to me like it was the most beautiful sound I’d heard for a long time. I shook it, and shook it some more, and suddenly … I was inside the house. My thumb was in my mouth, and there was a towel wrapped around me instead of the slacks I’d been wearing. I was sitting on the downstairs bathroom floor. “Huh?” I asked. “Where it go?”

“That rattle is dangerous!” said Monica. “I don’t understand it! You were shaking it, and then you collapsed on the lawn and wet your pants, and just giggled and shook the rattle and sucked your thumb, like you were a little baby! I got you to come inside and got your pants off and wrapped a towel around you like a diaper just in case, but all you wanted to do was shake that rattle! I had to get it away without touching it, so I grabbed it with another towel.”

“Wannit back!” I said, my mind not clear. “It pwetty!”

“It sure is, Honey, but it’s not good for you!” said my friend. “You have to go to work tomorrow. I thought we were going to have a nice calm Sunday afternoon together, but this is not exactly something I could have expected!”

“Wattle … bad?” I said. Then I took my thumb out of my mouth and shook my head. The cobwebs were clearing, as if I’d been dreaming. “It was … so wonderful … but so strange …”

“How could a thing do that?” Monica asked. “I don’t get it!”

“It was like … like it took me right back to my childhood,” I said. “It made me want to use it, and once I did, it made me so … so I was the right age to play with it, in my mind.”

“Now I’m wondering what else might have been in that trunk,” said Monica. “This is … weird. Let’s see if there’s anything else back there, for one thing, and put it away so it doesn’t cause trouble. But we might want to check on your neighbors to see if anybody else found anything.”

“If that trunk fell out of a plane,” I said, “stuff could be scattered all over the county!”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Lacy Norris was sitting in her lanai watching her favorite soap when she heard a loud crashing thump just beyond the patio. She quickly stood and came to the glass sliding door and opened it a bit. From where she stood, all she could see is what looked like a large pile of shattered wood, and some sort of plastic wrapped items in the midst.

She quickly, but cautiously, approached. When she had gotten about ten feet from the rubble pile, she could plainly see the plastic wrapped items were some kind of clothing. She came up and looked down. On the large flat side up, were the most adorable rumba panties she had ever seen and just her size. In the same neatly wrapped bundle were other items of some sort that appeared to be the same soft yellow as the panties.

Lacy couldn’t explain it, but deep inside her arose an urgent need to take this bundle in and at least try on the panties. She had always been into cute and sexy lingerie. She brushed the plastic bundle clean of splinters and other accumulated debris, then carried it into the house.

She plopped the bundle on the large round rug in the center of the room and sat next to it. She slowly unwrapped the packages and looked at each item. There were, of course, the very lacy and ruffled soft yellow rumba panties, but there was also a matching and adorably cute fairy princess babydoll dress.

Also within were several packages of infant pullups made just her size. There was also a Glow Worm Romper, and several types of powders, oils, and creams to care for an infant.

Deep within Lacy, a need went from being an ignorable spark, to a really annoying flame, to an insistent urge she couldn’t ignore to try on some of these things. Lacy shrugged as she giggled, picked up the dress, panties, a pair of pullups, and some baby powder, then headed back towards her bedroom.

She really didn’t remember taking off her adult clothes, but she remembered the very exquisite sensations as she pulled on the pullups and sprinkled baby powder down the front. The aroma filled Lacy with a safe, contentment she hadn’t felt in a long time.

No sooner had Lacy pulled the panties on over her pullup, and slipped into the babydoll dress and smoothed the wrinkles out … her mind cleared and she was … in a hospital room in something that could only be described as a crib for a large baby.

Lacy looked around and saw one of the floor nurses smiling at her. Lacy found it difficult to speak, but she said, “Wha … happens ta mes? Why comes am …?” Lacy looked around.

The nurse quickly wrote something on the tablet she carried before hurring over to the side of the crib. “Can you tell me … what happened? Do you remember anything at all? When your roommate came home, she said she found you dressed like a toddler, sitting in the middle of your bedroom stacking blocks, of all things, and in serious need of having your pull ups changed.”

Lacy felt a terrible fear and infantile anguish rush through her. First off, she really had no idea what had happened. Second off, they took her cute things from her. She felt totally miserable suddenly ... and did what infants do under those conditions – she cried.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Or at least, that was the story that I pieced together from her roommate, Kristi. They lived across the street from me and Monica. After we’d picked through the wreckage in our own back yard – we’d found a rag doll and baby bonnet, both in pristine condition despite looking like antiques – we’d started knocking on neighbors’ doors, trying to see if anyone else had found any of these things in their yards. Or, heaven forbid, if any of them had come through their windows or dented their cars. Kristi had just gotten back from the hospital and had answered the door, holding a can of baby powder she’d picked up and sniffed once, and if we hadn’t stopped her, she’d probably have covered her whole body with the stuff, and who knows what would have happened. As it was, I distracted her, and Monica grabbed the baby powder, dropped it into a plastic bag and zipped it shut.

“Yes, it’s likely that these objects she found are somehow toxic,” I said, “and they’re probably why Lacy’s in the hospital right now. You should avoid contact with any of them.”

“What? Really?” Kristi replied, shocked.

“Yes,” said Monica. “Would you mind if we had a look around Lacy’s room? We need to make sure that anything she found is isolated, so it doesn’t put anyone else in the hospital.”

“Oh! Of course! It’s upstairs, follow me!” She went up the stairs to the second floor and pointed out the bedroom. We found and bagged some baby lotion, some baby oil, and a package of pull-ups – oddly, the pull-ups looked modern, though the other products were in antique-looking packages, though in brand-new condition. I noticed that the package of pull-ups, even more oddly, was unopened and full. I felt a desire … no. I knew about this now. I put everything in plastic bags. The glow-worm romper – that was probably new too. Into another bag it went. I tried not to even touch it.

“I have one more question, though,” I told Kristi. “You said that she went to the hospital wearing a dress and some kind of panties that you’d never seen her wear before. And you said that they took them off her. Do you know what they did with them?”

“I don’t know,” Kristi said. “They probably put them with her personal effects, as they do with all patients. But that means they’ll give them back to her when they let her out!”

“Yes,” said Monica. “And she’ll have nothing else to wear, so she’ll put them on, and, well, they’ll put her right back in the hospital.”

“We have to help her!” said Kristi. “I know! I’ll get an outfit of her clothes, and we can bring them to the hospital, and they’ll put those with her personal effects, so when she gets out she can wear her normal clothes.”

I looked at Monica. “I … don’t think she’ll want to wear her normal clothes if her baby dress and panties are there too,” I said. “I think … we have to get the dress and panties out of there.”

“But … can’t we just tell the hospital that the dress and panties are toxic?” asked Kristi.

“I’m not sure that whatever they’re laced with will show up on their tests,” I said. “I don’t even know what it is or how to test for it.” Monica looked at me questioningly, and I knew why. I didn’t know what was causing this. Maybe it was some kind of chemicals or drugs? Maybe some kind of hypnosis? What else could it be? But I’d been affected, so I knew it was real, whatever it was.

Monica looked at Kristi then. “We have to do what’s right for Lacy,” she said. “The hospital won’t understand when they can’t find anything, when they put the clothes through the wash and it doesn’t help.”

“So I’ve got to … find out where they’re keeping her personal effects, sneak in there, and swap them for her regular clothes?” asked Kristi. “Well, I’ll do it! I don’t want her stuck like … that … I mean, you have no idea. She was like some kind of baby!”

“Oh, I know exactly how it is,” said Monica. “That’s how I found this one.” She pointed at me with her thumb, and I blushed. “And all she found was a baby rattle – easy to take away. It wasn’t clothes that I had to take off her.”

“Really? Sandy? It happened to you?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I don’t really remember anything, until Monica got the thing away from me.”

“No, I won’t let that happen to Lacy!” said Kristi. “I’ll get some clothes and things for her, I’ll take them in – I’ll find a way. Give me a plastic bag for the dress and panties.”

Soon Kristi was in her car, headed for the hospital. We wished her well. And now we had several more plastic bags containing more mysterious baby items. We took them back across the street to our house and locked them in the closet.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Then we looked around more. We had knocked on every door, but most people were out. We snooped around some people’s back yards and found some things – we found a baby blanket that had fluttered onto someone’s roof, but we picked it off with a fallen tree branch, a package of disposable diapers in a back yard, and a pacifier that had fallen into mud but was perfectly clean when we picked it up. We were carrying all of it back to the house to be locked in the closet.

“What’s that in that tree?” asked Monica as we passed by another neighbor’s house. I looked up.

“I think that’s … some kind of baby booty,” I said.

“We’d better get that,” Monica said. She found another fallen tree branch and managed to snag it. “There’s only one – no wait, look up there.” I looked up higher.

Sure enough, there was another one. They were large for baby’s feet, but at this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if they grew or shrank to fit on whatever feet they were placed on. They were fairly sturdy, too, with a no-slip sole. They were pale pink. And Monica had gotten the second one down.

It fell into her hands. Directly onto her hands.

Before I could stop her she’d pulled off her shoes and socks and put them on. “No, Monica! Don’t!” I said. But she had the booties on her feet. And then her legs wobbled, and she collapsed onto her behind.

“W-what …?” she said. “I … can’t remember how to walk!”

“Can’t remember?” I asked. “You get up on your feet and put one foot in front of the other.”

“I just … can’t imagine doing that,” she said. She looked at me standing there. “How are you even doing that?”

“Let’s get those booties off your feet,” I said. I put my hand inside a plastic bag and tried to grab one of her feet.

“N-no! I like them!” she said.

“Monica, you can’t walk, and it’s because of those things,” I said.

“But they’re cute!”

“Also they’re making you crawl in the dirt.”

“Well I can’t crawl on the sidewalk; it’d scrape up my hands and knees!” She tried to crawl away from me through the grass.

“You’re gonna get grass stains on your clothes,” I said as I tried to catch her. I finally managed to grab her and wrestle her to a stop, pulling one bootie off her foot. After that it was easier, because with only one on, it seemed their hold on her had lessened. Soon both booties were inside a bag.

“That was … weird,” said Monica, still sitting on the ground. “I knew they’d taken away my ability to walk, but it didn’t matter. That was just the way I was now. I wasn’t a walker anymore. I was a crawler. I didn’t know how to walk – it didn’t even occur to me that walking was a thing I could do.”

“Can you get up now?” I asked.

“I’m … not sure,” she said. She tried to get up like a toddler, tripod-style, pushing against the ground with both hands and straightening out her legs. Then she tried to straighten up, and she seemed wobbly. I tried to help her.

----------------------------------------------------------------

By the time we had gotten the items to the house and locked them in the closet, Monica had apparently recovered. She no longer stumbled along in an infantile toddle. I then drove us to meet up with Kristi at the hospital, and she explained what had happened.

Kristy had spoken to one of the floor doctors, and the hospital was more than forthcoming about Lacy’s progress, as she didn’t seem to be ill or injured. They were happy to return the panties and dress in a plastic bag, switching them for the clothes Kristi had brought and placing them in the locker instead.

Kristi was still talking to the doctor when we arrived. She asked him, “Have you discovered anything that might have brought this on?”

The doctor shook his head. “We ran every type of test we could think of and even made a few up. All we can say is that several hours after she had arrived here acting for all the world like a 3-year-old toddler and we changed her out of her dress into a hospital gown, she seemed to recover. There are residual effects left. We aren’t sure if she will recover or continue.”

Monica asked, “What do you mean … residual?”

The doctor flipped the top of his pad open, turned a couple of pages, then said, “From what we have observed, she still has many immature traits. One thing, she has uncontrollable accidents and wets herself. It doesn’t happen as often now as when she first arrived, and she hasn’t had any more messy accidents, so apparently that’s slowly returning to normal.” The doctor quickly walked behind the circular counter and picked up a large stack of computer readouts and white paper copies. “I do have copies of what studies we were able to accomplish. The best we could find was that the garments she arrived in have slightly more radiation than the normal background – nowhere near enough to be dangerous, so don’t worry. It’s possible they were stored in a basement that contained higher than normal levels of radon gas in the past. Either that or they were exposed to deep space!” He chuckled. “We don’t have the equipment to do that kind of study, so we sent all the data to the physics research facility at Wolf Flat. They can make a far better analysis … if they’re interested enough to do it.”

I thanked the doctor after inquiring when Lacy might get out, then we headed out the door to the waiting car. We went home to lock up the panties and dress and to pick up something to show the scientists. The next stop would be a copy shop to make copies of the data we had, then off to Wolf Flat research lab. With the endorsement of the doctor, and my own security badge from the company I worked for, we should at least be able to talk to one of the scientists there.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“So you’re saying this … fell from the sky?” asked Dr. Wainwright, a particle physicist at the laboratory. He was looking at the can of baby powder, which I had brought for them to examine.

“Yes, inside what appears to have been a wooden trunk of some sort,” I said. “This is a piece of the debris.”

“Ah, wood, very interesting,” the scientist said. “We can carbon-date that. Can I keep this?”

“Absolutely – that’s why I brought it. We’d like the can back, but please feel free to test some of the powder.”

“OK, then, I’ll just put a sample of it in this flask.” He shook some of the powder through a funnel into a glass flask and closed the lid. Then he looked at the can. He weighed it on a scale, weighed the flask on a scale, then shook more of the powder into the flask and closed the lid again. He weighed both again.

“This is … remarkable,” he said. “Either something is wrong with the equipment … or the can is losing no mass, even though the flask is gaining mass as I add from the can. Strange …”

“Somehow I’m not surprised,” I said. “Look, we have to go. You have my number. Thanks very much, Dr. Wainwright. Whatever you do, don’t touch or breathe the powder.”

“But wait … conservation of mass …” he was saying. But we had left the room.

“We have to get out of here,” said Monica as we walked briskly down the hallway. “They can’t keep the whole can. It can do incredible damage.”

“Yes, it can,” I said. “And now that we know that there’s no limit to how much powder can come out of this can, I’d say it can do infinite damage. We shouldn’t have come here. We’ve got to get home so we can move all the things to a better hiding place.”

We ran for the checkpoint in the fence; my car was parked in the lot just outside. The guard came out and tried to stop us. I panicked and did something I regretted as soon as I did it. I loosened the top to the baby powder and gave the can a healthy shake.

A dazzlingly white, but semi-transparent cloud of the sweetest smelling baby powder floated on the small breeze right to the threatening guard and surrounded him for an instant. He dropped his weapon as a very large wet stain appeared in the front of his pants and spread down his pants leg to form a puddle at his feet. The man’s legs began to wobble as he sat right in the large wet spot and started to cry like any infant needing a serious change.

I felt really bad but sealed the can of baby powder and made the final dash to the car. We got in, fastened our seatbelts, and immediately left the area, unsure if they might even call the police and make up some story. What we didn’t realize as we drove quickly back to my house, was that not one, but several of the guards had been caught in the dissipating cloud of powder, rendering them all crawling babies in their minds.

By the time we had loaded all the items into my small pickup I kept in the garage so we could take these items to a better and more secure hiding place, the afternoon news and weather had come on.

The commentator for Faux News said, “Apparently there has been some kind of accident at Wolf Flats. The research facility is stating that approximately a dozen guards have been simultaneously stricken by some strange malady, but currently seem to be in no physical danger.” The man looked up into the camera as he flipped the top sheet over on the stack in front of him before continuing, “The spokesperson for Wolf Flats Research Facility has stated that there is no cause for alarm. The incident is localized to that one location, and all personnel exposed or affected have been isolated in clean rooms and are under intense study at this time … “

Everyone looked at each other for a minute before Monica asked, “What are we going to do? The very place we need to be friendly might have just become our worst nightmare.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Wolf Flats Research Facility

The prissy little man in thick spectacles and a white lab coat said to the man next to him in his whiney grating voice, “I’m not real sure what to make of this.”

The man next to him replied, “How so, Clarence? From what I can see, the data clearly indicates that those sample items were exposed to hard space for an extended period of time.”

Clarence picked up a metallic clip board and opened its top. “What about that powder and the security incident, Harold? I know we can make something up and have the girls detained, but that would not only be counter productive; the whole thing is our fault. We had no real right to do what we did. They merely defended themselves from attack with the only real weapon they had. Besides, there’s no evidence of hard space. Some increased radiation readings could mean anything. We need more details before we can draw any conclusion so concrete.”

Harold picked up an electronic tablet and turned it on. After a few minutes, and 40 more seconds of him typing with a stylus, he said, “There are other weird things, too. From the chemical analysis of the white powder, it’s just simple talc with a fairly standard perfume added. It has the same signs that I maintain indicate that it’s been exposed to high energy particles, so it must have been in deep space for quite a long time. We cannot find a reasonable cause for it to make grown people think they are infants.”

By this time, Clarence had a similar tablet powered on and was bringing up more data. “Seems there was a piece of what was referred to as wood donated for analysis.”

Harold raised an eyebrow, “You mean they got some results this fast? Now, that, is an achievement.”

Both men chuckled for a minute before Clarence said, “Apparently that piece of “wood” wasn’t wood in the conventional sense.”

“How so? From initial tests it seemed to be an exotic type.” asked Harold.

Clarence smiled, “GCM and electron scatter spectroscopy data showed it was some form of carbon arranged in exactly the proper way to imitate wood perfectly, without actually being wood. Chemical analysis later showed it was indeed a really exotic form of C64 arranged in long tubes that resembled wood fiber. Carbon dating indicates an age of approximately 12,000 years, but that’s going on the assumption that the molecules were originally part of an organic life form, and there’s now reason to doubt that.”

Harold tapped his tablet’s screen with the stylus a few times then said, “From what I see here, the items a young woman named … Humm … Lacy Norris was wearing when she was admitted to the hospital were those of a toddler, but made as if they were custom tailored just for her. According to the emergency room nurses and orderlies, the woman acted just like any messy three-year-old. As soon as they removed her outfit and messy pullups, she began to come back to her normal mind. Of course, the process wasn’t instantaneous, nor was it complete. She still has many infantile emotions and thoughts. Says here she also still has little girl potty accidents in her panties randomly.”

Clarence tapped his stylus on his tablet a few times. “I also see the results of the tests done on the outfit. Apparently it is made mostly of common cotton with standard plastic linings like found in all infantware of that type. I also see that being in close proximity of the items causes some kind of overwhelming urge to use those items in the way an infant would as well. Makes it almost like the items wanted people to be infants again. You and I both know that can’t be explained by a simple analysis of what they’re made of. There must be something more to these items than that. And I still contend that there’s no direct evidence that these things have had contact with outer space. I say we need to widen our search for the exact type of radiation that could have caused the readings. What sort of particles were they exposed to? We need more detail than merely high-energy particles.”

Harold looked at Clarence with a worried look. “The only known individuals who have direct contact with and location knowledge of the items … are those girls we scared the daylights out of. We need to make some type of friendly contact. The knowledge they have of the crash locations is not replaceable.”

Clarence nodded and walked over to a counter with several office type phones with many buttons and switches. He flipped several switches and pressed a green button. A voice replied, “Headquarters, Security.”

“This is Dr. Clarence Donger. I need to speak to your Captain.”

“He’s kind of tied up at the moment .. could I … ?

Clarence interrupted, “I’m one of the lead scientists assigned to this project, and I’m telling you to get him on the phone now. This is an Alpha One request.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Again, that conversation was pieced together from what we learned later. We were in my pickup, and the items we’d collected so far were individually wrapped in plastic, contained in the chest in the back of my truck that I used for carrying groceries. We’d gotten everything in, but there was already so much that it was practically stuffed full. And we were about to find something else.

“Take this exit,” said Monica, who’d been navigating on her phone. I turned off the highway to the right. “This road heads out into the country. My boss has a cabin out there by the lake, and he’s on vacation in the Bahamas right now, so nobody’s going to be there.”

“Yeah, this is good,” I said. “The road’s … very quiet … what’s that up ahead there?” I slowed down, because there was something in the road. It was … a large crib. Big enough for an adult. And there was someone in it.

I stopped by the side of the road. We watched. There was a man in the crib, or I think it was a man, but he didn’t have a beard and was kind of small and slight. Maybe it was a teenager? He had an old-fashioned baby bonnet and a sort of dress on, though. His mouth was open. Was he crying?

When we opened the doors and started to get closer, we could hear that he was crying. He was howling in a fairly high-pitched voice, that was sometimes cracking lower, so perhaps he was a teenager. Clearly too old to be in a crib, though. Was this something that had come from the trunk too?

“We have to get him out of there,” I said to Monica. “It’s done this to him. If we can get him out, he might go back to normal.”

As we got closer, I said soothing things to him. “Now, sweetie, it’s OK, you’ll be fine. I’m Sandy. Can you say Sandy? San-Dee?” It wasn’t helping yet; he was still crying. Maybe he couldn’t hear me. We had to get closer. But I could feel the crib’s pull – it was the strongest yet. Even though I knew the danger these objects presented, it was making me want very strongly to just get inside the crib. I tried to resist.

The boy was looking at me. “That’s right, little man,” I said. “I’m Sandy. I’m here to help you.” He cried a bit less. “Gonna help you and make it all better.” I slowly approached, and so did Monica. “Gonna open the side here.” I found and released the catch, and Monica got the other side, and the side of the crib dropped suddenly. The boy cried loudly again.

“No no, shh, it’s ok,” I said, my hands out in front of me. “We just need to get you out of there, and …” He cried even louder. I could understand. I wanted to get in there, and I’m sure the crib was making him feel like he didn’t want to get out. I bet Monica –

“No, Monica, don’t!” I said, grabbing Monica’s arm as she tried to climb into the crib next to the boy. “You’ll end up just like him!”

“But … I … no, you’re right,” Monica said. “Oh, darn it,” she said, “I’ve wet myself … wait, why aren’t my pants wet? Did it …?”

“Wouldn’t be surprised if it turned your panties into diapers already,” I said. “You did get mostly inside for a moment. We probably want to keep you diapered for a little while.”

“Oh, man!” Monica said with frustration. “If we’re gonna be dealing with these wacky baby things much more, I say we both just diaper up and stay that way until this is over!”

“We’ve gotta get him outta there!” I said. “But how do we do that without getting in?”

“How did that thing even survive the fall from the sky?” asked Monica. “It’s huge! It wouldn’t even have fit in the trunk … unless …”

“Unless it was disassembled!” I said, snapping my fingers. “And either he reassembled it, or it somehow assembled itself, which I wouldn’t say was impossible at this point. But if we can take it apart again, he’ll be out of it!”

“OK, how do we do that?” asked Monica. “Do we need tools?”

“I’ll get my toolkit from the truck,” I said, and did so. I got under the crib and managed to undo several of the screws. Some more work on the railings, and the crib’s headboard came off, dropping one side of the crib to the ground and causing its inmate to tumble out with a wail.

“Eehhhhhhhhnnnnnn …” he sniffled, sitting there on the road. “W-where am I?” They were the first words we’d heard him say.

“Talk to him, Monica,” I said. “I’m taking this thing apart the rest of the way.” The crib had a will, and it was talking to me, inside my head, telling me that everything would be great if I just put it together and got inside it, but I gritted my teeth and kept undoing screws.

“Um, what’s your name, Sweetie?” asked Monica. “I’m Monica, and that’s Sandy …”

“Nooooooooooo,” said the boy. “Put back! Put back!” He crawled toward me, but the hot pavement hurt his hands and knees. His clothes were … changing. His bonnet had already disappeared somehow, and his dress was turning into a … well apparently a T-shirt and jeans, but there was obviously a leaky diaper under those jeans. I kept taking the thing apart.

“Look, look, what’s your name?” Monica kept saying. “Monica. Mo-ni-ca. Can you say Monica?”

“M-mommy-ca?”

“Mo-ni-ca. I’m not your mommy, Honey, but maybe we can find your mommy for you. What’s your name? Me Monica, you …?”

“J-jimmy,” he said. “Me Jimmy. Me … uh … dunno. Feel funny.”

“Oh, I know, Honey,” Monica said.

“I’m getting these pieces in the truck,” I said. I’d gotten all the pieces disassembled, all the bars, all the side rails, the frame, everything. I always kept my electric screwdriver charged up. I carried everything and put it in the truck bed.

“Where do you live, Jimmy?” asked Monica as I made sure to get every spring and screw. For all I knew, it could completely rebuild itself from one tiny piece. Who knew what it could do?

“I - I - live … why is my diaper wet?” he stammered. “Wait … why am I in a diaper?”

“Why indeed?” asked Monica. Her pants were still puffy, so I guessed her underwear wasn’t changing back for a while. “I think it had something to do with that crib we found you in.”

“Crib? What?” He looked around. “What crib? And why are we standing in the road?”

“Yeah, you’re right, we probably shouldn’t be standing in the road. That’s not safe. Let’s move off to the side here, OK? Can I help you get up?” She gave him her arms, and he stood up unsteadily. That was one thick diaper under his jeans. He toddled to the side of the road.

“Thanks,” he said. “Uh, my family’s … over …” He shook his head. He looked as if he’d gotten bigger, and his voice deepened. “What? I don’t … remember … OK, I was walking my property line, and I saw this pile of pieces of some kind of furniture, it looked like, and then … everything gets all fuzzy.”

“Property line?” I asked. “So is your house around here? Can we drop you off? Something weird’s going on. We’ve seen stuff too. Maybe we can get you home?”

“I’d … appreciate that, if it’s not too much trouble, ladies,” he said.

So we put him in the middle seat of the pickup, and he directed us to his farmhouse, and we had a look around the land while we were there. We found a Teddy Bear and a bottle of baby shampoo. We put them in plastic bags and stuffed them into the chest in my truck bed.

“This is just getting crazier,” I said as we drove on toward Monica’s boss’s lake house. “Who knows how much more of it is out there?”

Monica kept giving me directions, and we made it to the lake house. There was a key under the door mat. That was when I noticed the muffled voice coming from the chest in back of my truck.

I touched Monica’s shoulder. “Tell me you hear that too,” I said.

“Hear what …? Oh no, what now?” she said.

I moved quietly back toward the truck bed. I slowly opened the chest.

“Hi!” said a voice from within. “Will you be my friend?”

“Aaa!” I said, dropping the lid, startled. I lifted it again and looked inside.

“Will you be my friend?” said the Teddy Bear in the plastic bag.

“You talk,” said Monica.

“I do!” said the bear. “I’m very friendly!”

“I don’t know if we should talk to you, Ted,” I said.

“Is my name Ted?” asked the bear.

“Well … you’re a Teddy Bear,” I said. “You’ve got to have some name. And there was this one movie. Anyway, why do you talk? What’s all this baby stuff? Do you know anything about all of this?”

“I’m your friend,” said Ted. “You can be my friends if you want! But I’m from a long time ago. All these things are.”

“Uh … maybe we should get you inside,” I said. I picked up Ted, leaving him in the plastic bag, and we all went inside the cabin.

“I can tell you a story. It’s from a long time ago. There was a Forge. And a wizard. And a princess.”

“Sounds like a good story, Ted …”

“This is so weird,” Monica whispered to me.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“So Ted, what you’re telling me is that this wizard made some kind of deal with the Devil and made black magic baby items to keep some princess bound to him against her will?”

“That’s the story!” Ted said. “He didn’t want to hurt her. He wanted her to be happy, but she didn’t like him.”

“That’s … twisted,” said Monica. “So … how come some of these things are modern, and some are old-fashioned?”

“It’s the Forge,” said Ted. “It wasn’t the Devil. It was an older wizard. Lots older. But … I think he was evil. Also I think he was a ghost. He showed the wizard how to make the Forge. And the Forge made these things, whatever the wizard wanted, but only things for the baby princess. And then … the wizard died. But others found the Forge. And the Forge … it makes people want to make more baby things. Like me. Teddy Bears weren’t invented until the early 20th century, you know. We came into being because of Teddy Roosevelt.”

“Wait … so if somebody finds this Forge, they’re going to make more of these things?” I asked.

“Yes!”

“Isn’t that … bad?” asked Monica.

“Yes …” said Ted.

“Why aren’t you … evil?” I asked Ted.

“I wasn’t made to be evil,” said the bear. “I was made to comfort babies.”

“It’s not your fault that, what, people who cuddle you turn into babies, I guess?” I asked.

“Yeah, that happens,” said Ted. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to do it.”

“Not your fault, Ted,” said Monica. “Thanks for telling us the story. Anything else you know about this?”

“I mean, probably,” replied the bear. “That’s all I can think of right now, but if something comes up, I’ll let you know.”

“We have to find the Forge,” I said. “It’s dangerous. What’s it look like?”

“It’s like a big workbench, made of dark, shiny wood, and it’s got lots of gold decorations on it,” said Ted. “It might fit in the back of your truck out there.”

“Do you know where it is?” asked Monica. “Can you … feel it or anything?”

“No, I’m sorry,” said Ted. “But … people who know how to make or fix things seem to be kind of … drawn to it. Miss Sandy, you took the crib apart. You know how to use tools. Maybe it might call to you.”

That was when my smart phone rang.

----------------------------------------------------------------

There was barely any signal out there. I was amazed it worked at all. But whoever was calling, they were from town, and they didn’t block their number. I just didn’t recognize it.

“It could be the government,” said Monica. “Could be Wolf Flats.”

“I think that’s a personal number,” I said. I answered it. “Hello?” I put it on speaker so we could both hear.

“Hello, this is Dr. Clarence Donger, and I’m trying to reach Sandy Insburg, I believe,” said the voice.

“Well, maybe there’s a Sandy here, and maybe not,” I said. “What’s this regarding?”

“Look, I understand that things got off on the wrong foot back at the lab,” said Clarence. “There’s something very strange happening, and I think we need to work together. That’s why I’m calling you on my own time, with my own phone.”

“I’m listening,” I said.

“That baby powder you showed Dr. Morton,” said Clarence. “The container seemed to violate conservation of mass. Always full, as if it generated more from nowhere. And the powder itself. Under chemical analysis it appeared to be nothing more than common perfumed talcum powder. Yet it had very unusual effects on the guards.”

“I’m … sorry,” I said. “Are they all right?”

“They were only temporarily affected,” said Clarence. “They’re under observation, but they seem fine now. But what this means is that there’s science we don’t understand, and it behaves by rules that I’m frankly fascinated by. It also means that until we do understand the behavior of whatever you’ve found … it could be very dangerous for a lot of people, couldn’t it?”

“Yes, it could,” I said. “I’m not an expert or anything, but you’re not either, not where this stuff is concerned, got it?”

“Yes, I realize that.”

“I’m trying to collect and isolate as many of these items as I can, because they’re dangerous,” I said. “I experienced one firsthand, and it was scary, and I don’t want it happening to anyone else. I mean, it was really nice, and felt really good, and that’s the problem. I didn’t have any control over it, it took control away from me, and if I hadn’t gotten help there would’ve been no way out for me.”

“That’s what the guards report, as well as Ms. Norris, at the hospital,” said Clarence. “They felt out of control, what they could remember at all, but it was pleasurable. Something like certain recreational drugs. But we’ve detected none in any of our chemical analyses. Not just no known drugs – no unexpected substances of any sort. That means it must be … something else. Some force or phenomenon heretofore unknown to science. We can’t measure it yet, because we simply don’t have tools that can do so.”

“From what I’m seeing, I’m not sure science can do so,” I said.

“Look, is there somewhere we can meet and talk more?” he asked. “I’m being truthful with you. I personally am very interested in what’s going on here, and I have been directed to investigate these incidents, but I’ve been given a great deal of leeway in how I go about it. I’ve already started a computer analysis of the locations where Ms. Norris’s items were found, as well as the debris behind your house. Satellite photos are undergoing analysis as well, searching for other impact sites. Computers are also searching for any aircraft that might have dropped the container holding the items at the proper time for them to appear when they did. I’m on the brink of putting a lot of puzzle pieces together. Any other information you could provide might allow me to find not just more of the items, but all of them. They could then be removed from circulation and isolated from the general public.”

“I … have to think about it,” I said. “I’m not going to automatically trust you, you know.”

“I understand that,” he replied. “Trust in the government isn’t at very high levels these days. But although I do work for a government research facility, we’re not a military facility, and we’re not under control of the NSA or any such thing. We’re a Department of Energy laboratory, conducting basic research that can help improve everyone’s lives – I myself study means of removing pollution from air and water. But we have facilities that you don’t, and we can help.”

“And you might be able to write a revolutionary paper that’ll make your career,” I said.

“Well, maybe,” he said. “If I could get anyone to believe me. This is already starting to look like … subjects that have never been easily approachable via the scientific method.”

“Weird stuff, you mean. Woo-woo stuff.”

“As you say. The so-called paranormal. But if the results are reproducible, that will change things.”

“Let’s meet somewhere,” I said. “But I’m not bringing any of the items with me. They’re staying locked away. We don’t need anyone running into them accidentally. I suspect that’s already happening out there somewhere …”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Clarence had agreed to meet at the Rotunda Open Grill at the park. It was open and public, although the booths afforded privacy.

The more Clarence looked over the results of all the tests they had done, the more he began to think it had to be the high energy particles the items had been exposed to that created the issue. From analysis, however, the energy residuals were still consistent with long exposure to a hard space environment for an extended period of time.

The security guards who had been exposed to the baby powder had mostly recovered. They still had immature incidents, and randomly wet their pants, but other than that were mostly back to normal. One habit they had all acquired at the same time, was sucking their thumbs. From the most recent report, that was happening on a less and less frequent basis as time passed.

As they knew, chemical analysis of the baby powder only showed it to be talc with the normal perfume intermixed. The only unusual thing was the indication of exposure to high energy particles over an extended time which left the powder with a slight radioactive discharge. Nothing dangerous, but measurable – although even the most detailed analysis had so far not been able to pin down just what sort of particles it was emitting. They were like no particle known to physics.

Because of the in-depth scanning and studies that had been done thus far on the powder, Clarence began to notice that the high-energy particle traces were sort of familiar, but closer examination proved it to have been irradiated by some form of particle, but exactly what particle it might have been was now a mystery. The signatures of the radiation were very similar to high-energy photons like gamma rays; however, closer scrutiny proved the radiation was not normal but highly exotic – something brand new that had not been seen or at least documented before.

“And that’s all I’ve been able to come up with,” said Clarence, showing me the paper records of all the studies they’d done. Now, I worked for a chemistry lab, but this was something way beyond me. I didn’t know particle physics. But Clarence did, and even he was stumped.

“So … the powder’s emitting some unknown particle,” I summed up, “and it shows signs of being irradiated with some other unknown particle.”

“Precisely,” said Clarence. “You can see why I’d be so interested. If there are new particles here, there’s new physics. There might be a fifth force of nature, and these objects might be evidence of that fifth force.”

“But that fifth force might be dangerous,” I said. “As in … what if it messes up the mind of anyone who investigates it?”

Clarence thought for a moment. “You … may have something there,” he said then. “There’s certainly a reason why such a force or such particles don’t appear in the research. If no one who’s discovered them has been able to describe them afterward, no record of their research would exist.”

“So we all have to be extremely careful,” I said. “Are we both agreed on that?”

“Yes,” said Clarence. “Yes, although I would love to press on with the research, I will have to accept that these materials and items cannot be treated lightly – it is possible that even the precautions taken for the most radioactive elements will be ineffective here. Yet you say you’re protecting them with … plastic?”

“Well, plastic, and keeping my distance,” I said. “I know what they do. I’ve experienced it, and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s scary. You have the data about those guards – what if they kept breathing in the powder for a long time?”

Clarence sucked in a breath involuntarily. “They’ve still got a trace of it in their lungs right now, though their bodies are gradually getting rid of it – and even so they’re still sucking their thumbs and having occasional accidents in their pants. Prolonged exposure and build-up within the body … this could mean a permanent infantile regression.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Almost all of the items seem to have that as their eventual effect. Now, then there’s the potential origin of all of these things. I know you don’t like woo-woo explanations for it, but …”

“Paranormal phenomena are merely inadequately studied scientific phenomena,” Clarence said. “If it can’t be reproduced in a laboratory, it’s probably a hoax, a grab for money or attention. So far I’ve seen nothing that isn’t explained by trickery or merely science that isn’t well understood yet.”

“Right,” I said. “Can you explain a talking Teddy Bear?”

“A … talking …”

“That’s what I said. Bear talks. Walks a little bit too. And he claims that these things were all made by a wizard using something called the Forge.”

“Talking bears and wizards,” Clarence said. “I’m not prepared to believe in such things – however, if we assume that instead of a wizard we merely had a scientist of a bygone era with a far better understanding of this mysterious fifth force, and that he used it to create what would be called a robot or artificial intelligence if it had been created using electronics, I might accept something of that sort.”

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “The bear said that the Forge can make more of these dangerous items. And it’s dangerous itself – it compels its user to make more of them. It’s what it was made for. The wizard supposedly got the Forge by making a deal with a demon or something – or maybe a scientist from a long time ago made a deal with an even more knowledgeable scientist from even longer ago. Call it whatever you want.”

Clarence paused, then said, “Then we would have what amounts to a contagious ancient technology. Oh dear. We must find and secure this Forge. If someone already has it, they’re using it to create even more dangerous objects.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

And as it turned out, across town, that was just what was happening, from what I pieced together later. Jake Fitch was giving what looked like a radio to his girlfriend, only it was white and pink and lit up in pretty colors when it was turned on.

“No way,” said Kylie. “You made this? Like, it was broke and you fixed it, or you made it from a kit, or …?”

“Nope, Sweetie Pie, I made it outta scratch,” Jake said. “I found this big ol’ workbench out in the desert – real fancy lookin’ – and it’s amazin'. ‘S got all these tools ‘n bits ‘n pieces – could just about make anythin’. Like this here radio. Plays music. I know you like music.”

Now, what Jake wasn’t telling her was that it was actually one end of a baby monitor. It did indeed play music, but it also had a microphone and camera. Anywhere she took it, and she’d want to take it everywhere with her, it would let him see what she was doing. It would play more and more infantile music as time went by, but she’d see that as normal, because it would change her taste in everything from music to clothing to food into things that toddlers, then babies, would want. It would make her dependent on him, because soon nobody but he would understand the baby babble that would be all she could say. And soon she would be dependent on him for feeding her and changing her diapers, too.

“Oooo, I really like the music it plays, Honey,” said Kylie. “I’m gonna take this with me everywhere. It’lll remind me how much I love you. You’e so thoughtful!”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Kylie didn’t consciously realize it, but as time slowly passed, the music began to become more infantile and lullaby like. Of course, Kylie followed suit and became more infantile.

It wasn’t long before she began to search the internet for cute little girl items. She adored the Snuggies Adult Pullups that were made exactly like a baby’s, down to the cute pictures depicted on them. She also purchased some really cute plastic-lined panties of different types, a few rompers with lots of lace and ruffles, not to mention a half dozen babydoll dresses with their matching bottoms. The booties were easy; she found an adult baby website that sold everything that she had this growing incredible urge to wear.

She finally got all the items and dressed. The pullups felt so nice and made her feel so safe and comfy. She stepped into the soft purple plastic lined rumba panties, then slipped the matching babydoll dress on. By the time she had fastened all the buttons and tugged the very short hem to get any wrinkles out, she realized she had made a mistake.

It was not only overpowering, but she knew it was happening as her legs began to wobble and she plopped on her thickly diapered bottom as any toddler would have. Her thoughts began to change rapidly as she realized her thumb was in her mouth and she was leaking a bit into her pullups.

About that time, Jake, who had known exactly what she’d been doing all the time, came in and saw her sitting in the middle of the floor. A large smile came to his lips. He cooed softly, “There she is. How’s my baby girl?” He brought another item that he’d made on his new workbench, a plastic charm bracelet with the words “baby girl” spelled out in its beads, and slipped it onto Kylie’s wrist.

Upon hearing the words “baby girl,” and especially when the bracelet was slipped on, Kylie lost her mind and instantly became mentally a little girl of almost four years old. She got up off the floor like any toddler, showing off her adorable ruffles, toddled over to Jake, and hugged him. Kylie had no thoughts at that point other than what a baby of about four would have when someone she loved very much had come in.

After that, Jake and his perverted mind came up with many games that Kylie was helpless not to play with him. Of course, she was tickled pink to play anyway. And Jake was already thinking of other fascinating projects he could build on his new workbench. Jake was going to take Kylie home with him and make sure she remained his personal babydoll plaything for the rest of her life.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Now, I didn’t know about any of that yet – again, I pieced it together later. I had pointed out to Clarence where, on a map, we had found each of the items we’d found, and approximately how large and heavy each one was. He entered that information into a computer, along with any fragments of what looked like the trunk or chest the objects had been in, and he came up with a model based on the weather patterns at the date and time when the trunk must have fallen. The next time we met, he showed me a printout.

“You keep printing things out on dead trees,” I said.

“Eh? Well … yes, on paper,” he replied. “I’m old-fashioned. But the point is that the object clearly broke apart in the air before striking the ground, since pieces of the trunk were found at multiple locations. This circle and altitude represents the range of points where it could have fallen from an aircraft, this circle and altitude represents the range of points where it could have broken up in midair, and this circle represents the region in which we could expect to find other objects. It limits our search – there is simply no way they could have fallen outside this area. Of course, it’s still a fairly wide area, and what’s more, people may have picked up and carried the items, but at least it’s something.”

“What’s this map?” I asked, pointing to another page, a map with a prominently printed crosshairs.

“Well, you mentioned some sort of item called a Forge,” said Clarence. “That got me thinking. If this object is large and heavy, perhaps too large to fit inside the trunk, then assuming it fell at approximately the same time and place, its trajectory would be fairly straightforward to calculate, given the initial conditions. Air resistance would have had some effect, especially at first, but its most probable point of impact would have been here.” He pointed at the crosshairs in the center of the map.

“Where is that?” I asked, looking more closely.

“Not anyone’s back yard,” said Clarence. “It’s property owned by an automotive salvage business, out in the desert. If this Forge fell there, the worst damage it could have done is to smash a few already-derelict vehicles, and most likely it merely hit the ground, as there’s a lot of open space, according to satellite photos. They probably have a lot of extra space in which to put more salvageable vehicles when they obtain them.”

“Sure, they’ve got lots of space for more junked cars. Can we check it out?”

“I believe we must,” Clarence said.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“Jeffords Auto Salvage,” read a faded old sign when we drove there the next day. I’d taken some time off my job to deal with this – it wasn’t how I’d planned to spend my vacation, but I couldn’t just let the babyfying items fall where they may. Nobody else would believe this story. We were lucky to have Clarence’s help, but I’m still not sure he fully believed how much damage these things could do.

“How can I help ya?” asked the gray-bearded man behind the counter. His flannel shirt and overalls were actually pretty clean, considering the dusty area he worked in and the grimy old auto parts he must come into contact with all day.

“Yes, my name is Dr. Clarence Donger, and I’m investigating an object that may have fallen from the sky three days ago. It was about 10:30 a.m. on the 13th.”

“Oh hey, you’re thinkin’ it was some kinda meteorite?” said the man. “Whoo, that’s fascinatin’ stuff, Doc! So you think it fell down around these parts?”

“Well, there’s a high probability from our computer models that it landed on the property owned by this business,” Clarence said. He was taking the lead, so I let him talk. He looked and sounded like a scientist. And he hadn’t lied at all; it was the man behind the counter who’d assumed they were talking about a meteorite.

“Well you’re welcome to look around,” the man said. “Name’s Bill, Bill Jeffords. Jeffords Auto Salvage, yer first stop for rare ‘n hard to find auto parts.”

“Well, I’m glad to meet you, Ted,” said Clarence. “And this is my assistant, Sandy. Shall we start in the center of the locus of highest probability?”

I played along, whispering to Bill, “He means the most likely spot. According to the computer.” We all trooped outside, Bill looking on with interest, walking past rows of junked cars, then past patches of scrubby plants separated by dry, dusty ground, until Clarence stopped, looking at his GPS – he had a separate GPS device that wasn’t on a phone.

“Right here,” he said. “This is the point of highest probability. Obviously it wasn’t here – there’d be a crater, or at least disturbed earth.”

“Does that count as disturbed earth?” I said, pointing at a spot a few hundred feet farther on. It didn’t look like a crater you’d see on the Moon or anything, but it was a trench that could have been made by something heavy plowing into the ground really hard.

“I believe that qualifies,” said Clarence. We walked toward it, Clarence taking photos with a digital camera. I just used my phone. We walked all around it, taking more photos. “Fascinating, truly fascinating,” Clarence said. “Yet I see neither debris nor the object. Bill, were you here at the time?”

“Well now, you said about 10:30 in the mornin’ on the 13th?” said Bill. “I was out in Jonesboro that mornin’, if I recall, pickin’ up an ol’ Buick. Jake was mindin’ the shop for me.”

“Jake is … someone who works for you?” I asked.

“Well, at least he did,” said Bill. “Not real sure if he does anymore. Ain’t seen him since around then, now you mention it. I ain’t gonna pay him if he ain’t gonna come in.”

Clarence and I looked at each other. I’d told Clarence what the Forge was supposed to do to whoever found it.

“Now you don’t think he mighta taken the meteorite?” asked Bill. “That thing’s comp’ny property.”

“If only we could have found it,” said Clarence. “Even a fragment. We don’t know if it might be harmful.”

“Y’mean like … poisonous? Radio-active?” Bill asked, looking agitated.

“Anything like that,” I said. “If it was … it could explain why he’s not coming in to work. He could be sick, or … worse …”

“Oh no,” said Bill. “Oh no … I had no idear. I gotta find out if’n he’s OK. I got his address in the office.” He started walking back toward the distant building.

“We had probably better come with you,” said Clarence as we followed him. “We can take readings to make sure it’s safe to approach his home.” Again, this wasn’t exactly a lie. Clarence had brought along a Geiger counter. He’d been using it around the impact site. He hadn’t said what it had told him. If the Forge really was radioactive, he’d be able to tell – though I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be, at least not in the usual sense.

“Yeah! That’s a good idear. Please do come along,” said Bill. “I hope nothin’s happened to ‘im. Best employee I got. Only employee I got.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

It didn’t take us long to find Jake’s place. It was a nice brick home set in a rather rural location near a beautiful pond. There were several outbuildings, including what appeared to be a well-supplied workshop.

Bill pointed, “‘E’s not home. His pickup’s here .. but the van is missin’. Wunner whar that inbred went ta?”

Clarence replied, “You haven’t heard from him in several days?”

“Nope, notta peep,” replied Bill. “Not like ‘im, neither. Usually tells me everthin’. Not seed that cutie-pie girl a’ his’n, neither. An’ she usually down at the Arcade tryin’a sell her handmade crafts. She’s real good at stuff like that, too.”

While Bill and Clarence talked, I wandered up on the porch and looked in the window. It felt funny, but not only was the window open and unguarded, the front door was slightly ajar. What I saw inside looked like the play area for a rather large infant.

There was a very large and thick playmat on the floor that held several toy cars and trucks. They all had funny googly eyes, and I was sure they made cute squeaky noises when they rolled. Against one wall, I also saw something that looked a lot like a changing counter I had seen once. It was thickly padded and had several cabinets beneath, with two drawers above them.

I walked to the door and pushed lightly as Clarence and Bill came behind, Clarence making a good show of measuring radiation levels with his Geiger counter. The open door easily swung farther ajar. From where I stood, it was more than obvious that Jake had some kind of infant staying with him. Now, the real issue was going to be finding him, and the girl Bill had mentioned. From the looks of the living room, however, one or both of them should be very close by and in dire need of adult attention.

One thing I could tell above all else was that there were items made on the Forge in the living room. I could feel them tugging on something deep inside of me. The urge … was strong. I can’t say I had gotten used to it, nor was I immune, but foreknowledge gave me an advantage, so I could successfully resist. Experience with the items also allowed me to recognize the draw they had.

Before I had fully stepped inside, Clarence tugged lightly on my sleeve. I looked back, and he beckoned me outside. I forced myself to step away from the siren song of all the baby items … and felt grateful at the same time for being out of line of sight.

Clarence whispered to me, “Our priority is the Forge. I suggest we check the workshop first. Here we’ll only find things he’s made with it. We need to get control of it away from him as soon as possible.” I nodded and looked toward the workshop outbuilding.

The workshop seemed dark. Of course, it was full daylight, so the fact that there seemed to be no lights on wasn’t a guarantee that no one was inside. I thought about the compulsions that the Forge’s items could cause in people … no doubt the Forge had a similar power, perhaps even stronger. And I doubted that Jake would part with it willingly. But he couldn’t be allowed to keep it. “That girl Bill mentioned is almost certainly under the influence of items he has created using the Forge,” Clarence continued. “And that’s assuming he hasn’t fallen victim to them himself.” I hadn’t thought of that. Would the Forge grant its user immunity to its creations?

“What in tarnation are the two of you whisperin’ about?” Bill asked, making both of us jump. “Weren’t he at home?” Bill looked in through the open front door, then yelled, “Jake! Jake, ya home?”

“No! He’s gonna get their attention,” I whispered.

“He’ll be a distraction,” Clarence whispered back. “Let’s examine the workshop.”

The workshop had a padlock on it, one with a key. Looking in the windows revealed a beautiful mahogany workbench with gold trim and many drawers, bristling with tools – this among a variety of other workshop staples like a drill press and table saw, all in far worse condition. More than that, the workbench had what looked like it was going to be a rocking horse on it, partially built. “If that isn’t the Forge, I don’t know what is,” I said quietly.

“Agreed,” whispered Clarence. “We’ll need to either find a key or disable that lock, however.”

“Jake probably keeps that key with him, wherever he is,” I replied. “Where’s Bill?”

We both went back to the front door of the house. Inside, we immediately saw Bill sitting in a large playpen, playing with blocks. “Bill, no!” I whispered, running inside. Bill saw me and smiled with gaps in his teeth, reaching toward me with one hand. I took advantage of that and grabbed his hand, trying to pull him out. Clarence helped, and we got him out of the playpen and back out onto the front lawn, where he staggered and fell onto his rear. His overalls were quite wet.

“The playpen?” Clarence asked me.

“I’m quite sure of it,” I replied. Bill babbled and crawled around in the yard, finding the dandelions very interesting. “He’ll be OK in a few minutes now that he’s out of there. But where are Jake and that girlfriend of his?” We both looked toward the house. “We have to find them.”

I led the way back inside. I could feel the playpen, changing table, and other objects calling to me, but I had to find the house’s inhabitants. “Oh my, the memories the things in this room bring back,” Clarence said behind me. “But … I must resist. There is a dire need at hand.”

“Are they in here? … No …” The living room was empty. I looked in what looked like the laundry room, the kitchen … I heard sounds from ahead and around the corner and stopped.

“I think there’s a dining room,” I whispered to Clarence.

“Now, someone’s being naughty,” I heard coming from the room around the corner. I sucked in my breath. It was a man’s voice. I didn’t move.

The voice continued. “Someone’s not eating her veggies like a good girl. Come on. Come on. Here comes the train … chugga chugga chugga chugga … going into the tunnel … open up, baby girl!” There were giggling sounds in a woman’s voice.

“I’ll go the other way,” whispered Clarence. “You go this way. We have to get those keys from him. Maybe we can do it by talking, but maybe not.”

“You want to … what, fight him?” I whispered back.

“Only if necessary,” Clarence said. He wasn’t the most muscular or youngest man ever, but I was pretty strong, and there were two of us. I supposed that it might work, if it came to that.

“Yum yum,” said Jake’s voice in the dining room. “Veggies are soooo good for babies!”

I crept around the corner and saw a young woman sitting in an adult-size high chair, wearing a bib and a thick diaper, with mashed baby food all over her face, and a man with a beard in jeans and a torn T-shirt trying to feed her with a spoon. Then I saw Clarence. The man, presumably Jake, saw both of us and looked back and forth. “Whoa! I didn’t know we had visitors!” he said. “Are you takin’ some kinda survey?”

“I’m from Wolf Flats Labs,” said Clarence. “We believe that you recently found something dangerous, and we need to bring it in for isolation and study.”

Jake’s manner suddenly changed. “Well, now,” he said. “I’m afraid I can’t allow that. It’s made me an’ Kylie very happy, hasn’t it, baby girl?”

The young woman in the high chair shivered with pleasure and giggled at that. Had he somehow connected the phrase “baby girl” with pleasure in her mind? That was twisted. Was she happy? Was she even capable of consent at this point? And, by now, would she ever be capable of regaining an adult mind again? I didn’t know whether the items were able to rob their victims of their minds permanently, but it wasn’t a complete impossibility.

“She isn’t happy, she’s mindless,” I said, “and you’ve done this to her. That … thing you found has affected your mind and turned you into … this. Did you want to completely control her before this?”

“What’re you sayin’?” Jake asked me. “I oughtta make you like her so you can’t say stuff like that to Kylie’s Daddy anymore.” He started advancing toward me, and I backed away. I saw Clarence moving, but then he was out of sight as I backed into the hallway.

“I-I’m saying you’ve turned into a-an abuser,” I said, backing up and trying not to trip or bump into things. “You can’t ask Kylie for consent because she can’t talk anymore. Do you care? Did you care before?”

“I shore do care about her,” said Jake as he continued to come at me. “She’s the most important thing to me in this world. No way am I hurtin’ her. She’s gigglin’ all the time, she’s so happy. And you ain’t takin’ away the thing that’s made us both so happy! I’m just gonna …”

I’d backed up into the front room again, with the changing table, playpen, and several other objects that were singing their siren song to me. Part of me wanted him to catch me and be my Daddy forever and ever. It was the objects getting inside my head. I saw Clarence following, looking around for any advantage.

“I’m gonna put you on the changin’ table,” he said, “an’ diaper you up real good. Then you’ll be a good baby girl. ‘Specially once’t I make you your own baby girl bracelet just like Kylie’s. You two kin be best friends.” As he did this, he grabbed me and tried to lay me down on the changing table.

Knowing that if I let him fully get me onto that soft, welcoming padding, I’d lose all will to fight, I struggled in his arms, and just as he was about to lay me down I broke free and rolled onto the floor, across the room toward the playpen. He turned and came toward me.

“Now, is that any way for a good baby girl to treat her Daddy?” said Jake, coming to pick me up again. I was out of maneuvering room, up against the playpen, but I saw Clarence behind him and locked eyes with the scientist. I rolled toward his legs, at the same moment that Clarence pushed him from behind, and Jake tripped over me and fell into the playpen.

“Oh, baby girl thinks she gotted Daddy real goo,” said Jake. “Well … uh … ooo … bwocks … bwocks is fun … baby wike bwocks …”

“Good push, Clarence!” I said, getting to my feet.

“My word,” he said, looking at Jake. “Fascinating.”

“Yeah, my theory now is that the Forge user is immune to the compulsion from its items, but not their direct effects,” I said. “But it may not be that long before he gets up out of there by accident. Let’s deal with the Forge.”

“Agreed,” Clarence said. Together we searched Jake’s dampening jeans pockets until we found his keys, then found that one of them unlocked the padlock on his workshop. Bill had somewhat recovered by then and helped us lift the Forge out of the workshop and into the bed of my pickup truck.

As I handled the Forge I felt another compulsion. The two men looked more and more like babies with each passing moment. I knew that I could use the tools and materials in this workbench to make them into the babies I knew they were. But at the same time, I also knew that it was probably doing something similar to them, and the sooner we got out of direct physical contact with it, the better.

“The … the things I could do with that there workbench …” said Bill as we got it secured. “So … good for li’l ones … what’m I sayin’? D’you think Jake’ll be OK? An’ his girl?”

“Almost certainly not,” said Clarence, “unless we can also get anything he’s made with this artifact.” He tried to explain to Bill, while I went inside and tried to gather whatever he might have made. I started with poor Kylie, taking a handful of plastic bags with me into the house.

“Well hello there, little one,” I said to Kylie, who looked uncertainly at me, as she didn’t know who I was. “I think you’re done with lunch, considering you didn’t want to eat any more. How about we take this bib off you …” I took it off her, felt myself wanting to put it on, and stuffed it into a plastic bag. “Now, I know you’ve got a bracelet on you somewhere – yes, here it is.” I found the bracelet on her wrist, decorated with beads reading “BABY GIRL.” That went into a plastic bag too. “Now then, this high chair is another matter.”

Once she was out of the high chair, I had a strong desire to sit down in it, but I resisted and carried it out the front door, past the crawling Kylie and past Jake, who continued playing blissfully in the playpen. I didn’t know what to do with it, until I had a thought. I looked at the Forge, in my truck bed, and all the tools it contained. I reached for a screwdriver from it. I felt a strong sensation that it didn’t want me to do this, but I did it anyway. I used the Forge’s own tools and took the high chair apart. And once I had done so, what was left felt like a pile of ordinary wood. There was no compulsion to put it together and get into it.

“I think I’ve learned something,” I told Clarence, explaining.

----------------------------------------------------------------

I had found the baby monitor and its receiver. I had disassembled the changing table and playpen. I had found and removed several other small items from Jake’s home that had compulsions; I’d figure out how to dismantle them later. But I felt satisfied as we drove back toward the lake house with the Forge in my truck bed. Because now I knew how to unmake the Forge’s items. I could probably do it to everything we had back at the lake house. Of course, that left numerous items that might be scattered all over the town and county.

We had left Bill back at Jake’s house to watch over Jake and Kylie until we got back. The first priority was to get the Forge away from Jake, who had obviously proven that he wasn’t to be trusted with it. We’d told him that we’d return soon with help … and probably some diapers.

“This is … fascinating,” Clarence said as we drove. “I still wish we could learn more about the force that causes this all to work as it does. I’m learning a lot by observation, but some experimentation is necessary. I must learn about whatever particles it emits that seem to be able to impact the psyches and even bodies of humans, and the field that governs them. For one thing, if I can learn more, I might be able to use this Forge to create a device that can detect other items.”

“I’m just sayin’,” I said, “if you try to use the Forge and it feels like it’s something it wants you to do … don’t do it. It’s obviously the wrong thing to do.”

“Right,” he said. “And, conversely, if it feels as though the Forge does not wish for something to occur, it is likely the correct course of action.”

“Here we are,” I said as we pulled up to the lake house. “We locked all the things up in the shed except for Ted.”

Clarence got out of the truck, saying, “I must admit, although I’ve seen some amazing things recently, I’m still having a hard time believing in a talking Teddy Bear.”

“Well, just wait,” I said, going to the door. “Monica? Where are you?”

“I-in here,” said the voice of Ted from what I knew to be the bedroom.

Going in and turning on the light, I saw Monica asleep in the bed, holding the large Teddy Bear and sucking her thumb.

“I’m sorry,” Ted said. “I couldn’t stop her.”

“Oh no!” I quickly pulled Ted from her grasp and set him down on the floor. “Monica! Wake up!” I tried shaking her shoulder. “How long’s she been asleep?”

“I … guess maybe an hour?” Ted replied uncertainly.

“Oh dear,” said Clarence, coming inside. “This is your friend Monica whom you’ve mentioned? She appears to have fallen victim to the compulsion …”

“Yes,” I said. Monica was starting to open her eyes and mumble. “Monica? Are you OK?”

“Umm ba goo gda bwa,” Monica said sleepily.

“Ugh … I think you pooped your diaper, Monica,” I said. “And we don’t have any other ones that aren’t cursed. We can’t put you in one of those. I can make more with the Forge … and of course those would have the exact same problem. Ted, do you know how long she’ll be affected?”

“Well, people who sleep through the night holding me are affected for the entire next day,” Ted said. “They start to go back to normal the day after, if they don’t hold me for the night.”

“So … it sounds as if it lasts two or three times as long as they hold you? Maybe?”

“I guess?” said the bear.

“OK. Someone has to go to town and get a bunch of adult size diapers,” I said.

Clarence said, “I’ll do that. I’ll get whatever we need.”

“All right,” I said. “Thanks, Clarence. I’ll watch over Monica and try to straighten things out here.” After Clarence and I managed to get the Forge out of the truck, I handed him the keys, and he drove off.

The huge workbench sat there in the lake house’s gravel driveway. We didn’t have any way to get it inside; Clarence and I had barely been able to pull it out of my truck bed. Without Bill’s help we were limited in how far we could move it. I had been hoping that Monica could have helped, but not now. And every time Monica crawled around and curiously pulled objects off tables, I kept thinking of ways to protect her and protect the house from her. I knew exactly how to build a playpen or a crib or a baby stroller, and I knew exactly where those thoughts were coming from.

So I led Monica out of the house so she couldn’t hurt herself on any of the sharp edges in there and let her play in the front yard while I looked at the Forge. I thought of something Clarence had said. And I stepped up and opened some of its drawers.

It definitely didn’t like what I had in mind. I found electronic parts in one drawer. It had a soldering iron. It even had its own power source. I grinned at it. “Time to see what I can do with you,” I said. Keeping Monica in the corner of my eye, I got to work.

----------------------------------------------------------------

The truck drove into the driveway with the sound of tires on gravel. Clarence was back, with several paper and plastic bags in the bed and the seat next to him. He got out just as I got finished.

“What have you been … doing there, Sandy,” he said with a suspicious cast to his voice.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I replied, “nothing that the Forge likes. I think what I’ve got here is a detector.” I turned it on and turned around. It was a black plastic box with an on-off switch and a white light. When I turned toward the storage shed, the light brightened and started to flash quickly. I moved toward the shed, and it flashed faster still. “I’d say that’s a good test.”

“That’s … remarkable,” said Clarence, visibly relaxing. “Look, I’ve brought several care items for your friend … and we might be able to take some to Jake, and poor Kylie. Also, I’ve brought some equipment from my home. I might be able to study this phenomenon after all.”

“Great,” I said. “Thank you so much! I’m going to help Monica out here. But watch out for that Forge,” I said. “Don’t do anything it likes.”

“Heaven forbid,” said Clarence.

I led Monica back inside. Ted was sitting on the sofa. “I’m still very sorry,” Ted said.

“It’s not your fault, Ted,” I said, “but we have to think about keeping you away from people.”

“I know,” said the bear and seemed to sigh sadly.

“Come on, Monica,” I said. “Let’s get you back in the bedroom for now.” I laid out a disposable changing mat on the bed and got her to get up on the mat.

“Dipee?” asked Monica.

“Hey, good girl!” I said. “Yes, it’s diaper change time.”

“Dipee time!” she said, lying there.

I got her pants off her, got her cleaned up, and got a clean normal disposable diaper on her. The one I took off … ugh. I’d deal with it later. It looked like her underpants had been modified to become much thicker and more absorbent and to have a waterproof plastic layer on the outside, but they still looked in a way like typical panties. They’d been changed by the magic or whatever of those booties she’d found, and she hadn’t changed out of them until now.

“Let’s hope you’re potty trained again soon, Monica,” I said. “But for now, this oughtta hold you for a while.”

“Mon-i-ca,” she said carefully. She looked at me and said, “San-dee.”

I smiled. “That’s encouraging. You’re getting better quickly. How’s your walking?” I helped her off the bed.

“Monica walk good!” she said, waddling unsteadily, her new diaper crinkling. I had flashes of making better diapers with the Forge that would make her diaper dependent forever, but I dismissed them. That thing was dangerous.

“Let’s go see if Clarence is getting into trouble,” I said.

In the front yard, Clarence had apparently used the Forge to make an attachment to some kind of detector he had. “Fascinating,” he said. He picked up the tube he’d made, which was attached to a box he’d brought from home by a cable. “It’s like seeing into another world.”

“Found something?” I asked.

“Near the Forge, it’s almost saturated with … I don’t know. Particles of some kind, I suppose. Interactions of a type I’m unfamiliar with. Look at this.” He showed me the screen on the box he carried as he pointed the tube toward the Forge and then away. There was a starburst of bright lines emanating from the center of the screen, which moved off to the side as he pointed toward my truck. Then he pointed it at Monica. She was apparently emitting lines too, but as the lines radiated away from her she emitted fewer and fewer of them. He pointed it at me, and I was only emitting a few of these tiny streaks, like an occasional meteor racing across the screen and disappearing.

“This is the best evidence yet of some sort of fifth force of nature,” he said. “What we’d call it I don’t know, but clearly there’s at least one type of particle associated with it, which means at least one field.”

“That’s great, and you keep thinking about that,” I said, “but let’s see if we can get Monica back in one piece.

----------------------------------------------------------------

After another hour, during which her speech got better and better, Monica started remembering what had happened. She apologized profusely for succumbing to the compulsion, but mostly Clarence and I were interested in getting the Forge inside the house so we could lock the door and get back to Jake’s place. But all the while the Forge had me thinking about making a nice crib to put Monica in with Ted.

The three of us rode in my truck with lots of baby care items in the box in the bed – mundane ones. We even checked to make sure the box hadn’t been somehow changed by all the items it had carried inside it. It hadn’t been. On the way, we called the hospital, the same ward that was still holding Lacy under observation, and told them that there was another case for them whom we’d be bringing in, and perhaps two.

----------------------------------------------------------------

As we drove up to Jake’s house, I was thinking about the Forge and all the many items that apparently came with it. My biggest thought was where all this had come from to fall and crash here. I also thought to myself about how, since taking apart the high chair and other items had seemingly rendered the compulsion inert, what would happen if I disassembled the Forge itself with several of the wrenches in its own tool bin?

We pulled up, and as I talked to Bill, Clarence went inside. He returned a little while later and said, “From what I can tell, the unfortunate young woman is going to be infantile for a long time to come. Jake, on the other hand, should recover relatively quickly, based on what Ted told us.”

I looked over at the makeshift playpen that Bill had made for Jake out of some old cardboard boxes and saw that Jake was in serious need of changing. He had created a small puddle between his soaked pants legs. “What if … I build him a new playpen, and we let him stay in it for a year or so …?”

A look of surprised horror came to Clarence’s face, “That … that would most surely mean he would remain an infant in his mind for an extended period of time. I think that would be rather unethical.”

I pointed to Kylie. I had to admit that she was adorable in her cute little ladybug romper, but this had been an adult woman much like me, and he had done this to her. “What about what Jake did to her?” I asked. “Was that any less ethical?”

Clarence looked over at the very adorably cute Kylie and replied, “Well ... no, not in the least. However, I know it’s a cliché, but … two wrongs cannot make a right. It would merely compound the wrong.”

I replied, “I’m not so convinced it would be unethical. I mean, we know Jake had malicious intent when he took Kylie’s adulthood. All we would be doing is keeping an already identified predator harmless and unable to harm another victim.”

Clarence raised an eyebrow, “You know? If I look at it from that perspective, it might even be more humane than having him arrested and put in jail for many years.”

Bill spoke up about then, “Hold on, thar, consarn it. Is yall talkin about puttin’ Jake in jail? He’s’a only employee I got. What’m I gonna do ifn he’s in jail?”

Clarence replied, “I can easily find you a replacement for Jake who would be a far better employee.”

Bill rubbed his beard for an minute, then said, “Shore. Jus’ lemme meet this here person first, afore ya make promises.”

We all laughed as Jake began to snivel. We could tell he had gone potty both ways in his pants by this time and was in serious need of a change. I suddenly stopped laughing. “Wait,” I said. “What’s happening? We can’t make another playpen. Who knows who might fall victim to it? And … I don’t want to become like him. An abuser. No matter who the victim is. No! It’s the Forge. It’s evil. It’s trying to pull us in.”

“What?” asked Clarence. “Wait, you’re right! We can’t let it make us into victimizers. Besides, Jake was under the influence of the Forge when he did that to her. We don’t know that he had any abusive plans or even thoughts before he found the thing.”

I said to Clarence, “If we take apart that workbench with some of its own tools, I think it will render the parts inert. Seemed to work for the highchair, anyways.”

“But we can’t do that until we’ve used it to dismantle all the other items,” Clarence objected. “If we destroy the Forge before we dismantle everything it’s been used to create, there won’t be any way to destroy them.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Well, right now, we’ve got to take care of Jake and Kylie and get them to the hospital.”

And that’s what we did. We found some clean clothes for Jake after we’d gotten him cleaned up and into a diaper, and Kylie needed a change by that time too. Bill took them to the hospital with him in his truck, and Clarence, Monica, and I went back to the lake house.

----------------------------------------------------------------

The lake house had a back room that was mostly unused and worked well as a place to store the Forge for the time being; we moved it back there once we got back. It was getting dark, so we fixed something for supper and talked about what to do in the morning.

We now had basically two detectors that could find items the Forge had made, though Clarence’s was intended more for studying whatever these new particles were, and I knew how to make more detectors if it came to that. But some storm clouds were rolling in, and it looked like rain for tonight.

“My phone says there’s a chance of rain all day tomorrow,” said Monica.

“We should still go hunting then, but not now,” I said. Thunder rumbled across the lake. “I’m exhausted anyway. It’s been a long day.”

“As am I,” said Clarence.

“Where can I lock myself up so nobody takes me to bed with them?” asked Ted sadly.

Then lightning struck very close by. The lights dimmed for a moment, and when they came back up, there was a knock on the door.

All three of us jumped, and Ted gasped. But when we opened it, the newcomers were two young women, possibly younger than Monica and myself. They looked college age. One was a blonde, and the other was a redhead. But they both wore unusual looking dresses with golden trim and strange symbols decorating them, and they both had some sort of decorative gold chain belts around their waists with odd tools and pouches hanging from them.

“Oh! Sorry,” said the redhead. “I’m sure we didn’t mean to startle you. But the lightning made an excellent conduit.”

“So much easier to get here!” said the blonde. “But I guess we could have picked a better moment to knock.”

“Who …” I began, looking at the driveway, where there was no vehicle other than my pickup truck. “No, come inside first. It’s starting to rain.”

“Thanks!” the redhead said, and they came in. “So … my name’s Alicia, and this is Misty. We’re here because we were tracking … um … how to explain …”

“A focus of dark magic,” said Misty.

I blinked and looked at the others sitting in the living room. “Magic, you say,” I said. “Um, maybe we should all be sitting down. Please make yourselves comfortable. Would you like some tea? I was going to make some.”

“Thank you,” they both said, and took seats while I made tea. I hadn’t been going to make tea, not really, but it seemed like a good idea now. We would obviously be asking questions for a while.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“So that’s the story,” I said, after we’d told Misty and Alicia what had happened and they’d told us something about themselves. “We called the hospital, and Jake and Kylie are there now. Jake’s using words again, but I’m afraid that poor Kylie might take a long time to recover. She might even have to grow back up like any baby.”

Alicia nodded somberly. “If she ever does,” she said. A chill ran through me. “She had prolonged contact with at least seven of the Forge’s creations, and probably more.”

“So do you know where these things come from?” asked Monica. Clarence was covertly pointing his detector at them from time to time and making notes on a pad of paper.

“Uh … no,” said Misty. “But we know somebody who probably does. We can ask her. But the computer we told you about can track dark magic. We saw a blip, and we were going to investigate what it was, but then it kind of … exploded.”

“That made tracking it a bit harder,” Alicia added.

“But after a while we found the biggest signal and tracked it here,” said Misty. “It must be this Forge you’re talking about.”

“You must want to see it,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” said Alicia. “But … I want to know about you, actually. You’re really good at resisting it. You were affected by one of its creations at first, you said, but every other time since then you’ve been able to resist them, and you’re resisting its temptations. You even figured out how to bend it to your will and taught Clarence how. That Jake guy fell for the thing right away, but you, Sandy, you’re a strong one. I have to wonder …”

“Ooh, now you’ve got me wondering too,” said Misty. “I wonder what her affinity is. It isn’t truth, because she wasn’t going to make tea until after we showed up.”

“What?” I asked.

“That doesn’t help much,” Alicia replied. “There are over a hundred known affinities, and new ones keep being discovered. I mean, Will, Forge, Artifact, and Resistance could all explain it, and probably a bunch more I can’t even remember. I need to look in the books.”

“Did you say Forge?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Alicia. “We think you might have some hidden talent or affinity. It means a kind of magic. You can use it to make things happen, if you know how.”

Misty said, “For example, Fire Mages can set things on fire, control fires, make fireworks, heat up food, walk through flames without being hurt, transport from one place where there’s a fire to another, put fires out, and so on.”

“But there are so many kinds!” Alicia broke in. “If you have a talent, we can help you figure out what it is, if you want.”

“There’s one called Artifact,” said Misty. “An Artifact Mage is good at creating items that have magic powers.”

“Yeah!” said Alicia. “Whoever made that Forge, that’s probably what they were. If you had that affinity too, you’d be good at using it to make things, maybe even things its builder never intended. But that’s only one idea.”

Misty added, “If you were a Will Mage, you’d be good at imposing your will on reality, so your willpower would be very strong and you could resist compulsions. That would also explain it. And what was the other one you mentioned?”

“Resistance?” replied Alicia. “Yes, Resistance Mages are good at resisting attempts to affect them and can grant that resistance to others too. But there are probably other affinities that could explain what’s happened. You’re not necessarily one of these. They’re just the ones I thought of right away.”

“Wait, wait, you’re saying I’m magic?” I protested. “Nothing I want to happen has ever happened. I mean, nothing unusual. I wanted to get a job, and I eventually ended up getting one, but that happens to a lot of people.”

Misty replied, “That may be so, however, did something that you really had inclinations to do, and all your friends were wanting you too as well, but you somehow managed to resist? Then later you discovered you avoided a situation by resisting?”

I replied thoughtfully, “Well … yeah. That happens a lot. It even causes me to be the designated driver, so to speak, all the time. Somehow, I guess, I’ve been able to resist the temptation many times when if I hadn’t, there would have been some serious issues.”

Alicia said, “There you go. So it seems likely that your talent is resistance, and that’s what gave you the edge to resist the Forge and its creations – once you understood what it was you were resisting.”

I took a good long look at Misty and Alicia. Both of them were dressed in a spotlessly white chiffon-like outfit trimmed in gold with what appeared to be a belt made of solid spun gold. I also remembered something else …

I asked, “Misty, you said the lightning bolt made a good conduit? From where to where?”

Misty giggled, “From the place we were to here. We were trying to find and contain a dark magic trace – which turned out to be this artifact and all the items it created. Apparently the items were contained, but it seems that the container exploded. Man, that made a huge mess. Apparently it was a large disaster looking for just this kind of place to happen.”

Alicia said, “Yeah, those items could spell the end of the world as you know it if enough people come in contact with it.”

I replied, “Yeah, I know. It somehow takes over something deep inside, and we become infants once again.”

Alicia replied, “Exactly. A world full of infants and toddlers can’t very well take care of themselves.”

I thought back to when I was affected. I remember how normal everything had felt and how I really didn't want to give up the rattle. I though about Kylie and Jake. Jake apparently would recover. Kylie, on the other hand, being exposed to multiple items for an extended period, meant she just might not ever grow back up. I had heard Alicia say so.

Finally I asked, “Just who are the two of you, anyway? You explained before that you’d been chosen as the successors of some kind of wizard or something. But … magic? From all I know, magic is just a fancy name for sleight-of-hand tricks and prestidigitation.”

Misty and Alicia giggled, then Alicia demonstrated. “Watch this. It’s a simple spell, but impressive.”

From out of one of the folds in her gold-trimmed white dress, Alicia pulled a small finger-sized rod and waved it. There was a beautiful shower of sparkling light in somewhat of a rainbow pattern, and then several large and very pretty butterflies of all colors appeared in a burst for a minute. They fluttered all around, seemingly spreading the sparkling rainbow lights, then vanished as rapidly as they had appeared.

I was totally flabbergasted. “That’s … beautiful!” I said. “So, you’re some kind of wizards?”

Misty replied, “For the lack of a more accurate explanation that you would understand, yes. We were originally just trying to find out what that dark magic blip was that we found, but now it looks like we’ve come to recover the many items created and scattered by the Forge.”

Alicia said, “Like all those items you said were stored in the shed. We need to collect them before someone gets into serious trouble with them. Although you said you’d had some success in dismantling them?”

As I started moving towards the back room, the roar of the storm outside could plainly be heard. “I would love for nothing else other than being able to get rid of that stuff,” I said. “Guess we can wait for a bit until it stops storming.”

My comment was punctuated by a very bright and intense crackle of lightning, then a house-shaking explosion of thunder.

I opened the door to the back room we were storing the Forge in. Misty and Alicia both looked at each other and nodded. I could sort of hear and feel the urge to use the workbench to create some kind of baby item. Of course, it had become easy to recognise this influence and resist it, but it didn’t stop the urge from being strong.

“Interesting,” said Alicia. “I can hear it whispering to me that Sandy would look very cute in a baby dress.”

“Hm!” Misty said. “It’s telling me she’d look great with a pacifier. And it’s telling me exactly how to make one.”

“Yeah, it does that,” I said.

“But do you notice that it wants us to do those things to you?” asked Alicia. “That may be because it thinks you’re its greatest threat.”

“It may not know who we are yet,” added Misty.

“I think it’s because I’ve thought of how to destroy it,” I said. “By taking it apart with its own tools.”

Alicia gasped. “That’s … well … that might actually work. But it probably wouldn’t be as easy as just that. Still, it wouldn’t be focusing on defeating you if your idea wasn’t a step in the right direction. It clearly doesn’t want you even trying.”

“That’s the thing,” I said. “I’ve learned that if it doesn’t want me to do something, that’s almost certainly the right thing to do. Do evil artifacts usually have a will of their own?”

“Not always, but pretty often,” said Misty. “Those who create such items don’t want them destroyed, so they weave them full of spells they can use to protect themselves.”

“Do you know anything about who created it?” Alicia asked.

“Well all I know is what Ted told me,” I replied. “Ted? Are you here?”

He seemed reluctant, but Ted came to the back room and looked at the Forge.

“Oh. My. G- you are so cute!” Misty said.

“Aww … gosh,” said Ted. “You almost made me forget I’m doomed to either destroy the mind of anyone who ever hugs me or be destroyed as an evil artifact.”

“Aw, Ted …” I said. “He’s not evil, just cursed. I feel so bad for him.”

“I … oh no …” said Alicia. “I don’t want to destroy him – it wouldn’t be right! But he’s one of the cursed items. Why would someone create you? It’s cruel.”

“A man named Veladny made me using the Forge,” said Ted. “I think it was in … 1937? He was keeping a woman named Novaya as his baby girl. He didn’t want her to escape him, but at the same time he didn’t want her to be lonely. So, among other things, he made me. She held me at night, and I helped make sure she was too helpless to get away.” He sounded very unhappy about this.

“Who made the Forge, though?” Misty asked Ted. “Do you know?”

“I’m not sure,” said Ted. “From what I gather it was a wizard who had a crush on a princess and wanted her for himself.”

“Probably an Artifact Mage,” said Misty. “They’re great at making artifacts. I wonder what legacy he was with.”

“Plenty of time to look that up later,” said Alicia. “Sandy … can you keep an eye on us? We have to use some magic to help us find the rest of the cursed items.”

“But to do that, we’ll need to touch the Forge,” said Misty. “We have to get a good idea of its magical signature. It’s like a fingerprint that it leaves on everything made with it.”

“OK,” I said. “What do I do?”

“Just … keep thinking about how you don’t want us to be affected by it,” Alicia said.

“That seems easy,” I said. I thought about just that. I remembered when Clarence had been making his detector tube. It had always been in the back of my head, how I needed to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn’t fall under its spell.

“Cognoscaris,” the two girls said in unison, as they touched their wands to the Forge at the same time. It was as if I could feel the Forge trying to invade their minds, and I just hoped it wouldn’t. It felt as if I was brushing aside the feelers it was trying to work into them.

“Yes …” said Alicia. “I can … I see its signature. And now … to find it.”

She and Misty said together, “Inveniatur.”

There was suddenly a beam of white light that pointed from their wands straight toward Ted, illuminating him like flashlights. “Yes,” Misty said, “the closest artifact created by the Forge.”

“I’m sorry for what was done to you, Ted,” Alicia said. “We’ll see if there’s something we can do for you. You never asked to be cursed.”

“Something … can be done?” Ted asked.

“I hope so,” Alicia said. I could tell she wanted to hug him, but she didn’t dare. It would be better if she didn’t. Unless she had some kind of protection spell against the curse.

“We’d like to destroy the Forge right here and now,” Misty said, “but if it can really be used to dismantle the items it’s made, there might not be any other way to do that. They’d have to be locked away somewhere forever … and nothing ever stays locked away forever.”

“So what we’re going to do is put a ward on the thing,” said Alicia, “preventing it from calling anyone here to help it.” The two of them did some kind of more complicated spell, I guess, using too many words for me to remember, in Latin and probably other languages, and touching the Forge again with their wands. “That should hold it for a month or two, and that’s probably more than we’ll need.”

They left the back room, then, and so did Ted and I. I closed the door, taking one last look at the Forge through squinted eyes, mentally telling it I was watching it.

Their wands were lighting up the detector I’d made and the tube Clarence had made as well. “This is fascinating,” Clarence said. “The particles interact with the electromagnetic force, and yet they aren’t charged as far as I can tell. I wish I had a particle source – one that wasn’t dangerous, that is.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” said Alicia, “once we get the cursed objects rounded up. But for now, it’s still raining like the dickens outside. You stay here. We’ll get the items. We can travel faster.” Then, with the next flash of lightning, they were just – gone.

“OK, that … was really weird,” said Monica.

“Yeah,” I said. “Not gonna disagree. But at least there’s somebody who has some idea what’s going on.”

“I have … some idea,” said Clarence. “Not that I have what I’d call an understanding, but I have at least the inkling of a theory. I’d need to test it. I won’t bore you with it, as it could be completely wrong. But I’m working on some math.” His notepad was in fact full of scribbled equations.

“Do you really think they can help me?” asked Ted.

“Well, maybe they can remove the curse,” I replied. “Or maybe once the Forge is destroyed, it’ll be gone … but I worry about that, because that could also mean you’d be gone. I don’t want that to happen, Ted. You’re our friend.”

“But … I’d rather be gone than be a threat to my friends,” Ted said sadly.

“I know, Ted,” I said. I pulled together what I imagined was all my resistance and hugged him. Monica gasped, and Clarence blinked in surprise.

“W-what are you doing, Sandy?” Ted asked. “You shouldn’t …!”

“I’m fine,” I said, putting Ted down. “I think … they may have been right. I think I have some kind of natural resistance that I can use.” And I did feel fine. I was still using words and walking. I wasn’t sucking my thumb. My panties weren’t even slightly damp.

“I wonder if I can go home and shower in the morning,” I said. “It’s not as if Wolf Flats is looking for me. But it’s good that we have this place – it’s isolated, so not much chance somebody will randomly come along and find the Forge. You did say your boss was in Europe, right?”

“Bahamas,” Monica said. “But yeah, until the 14th.”

“Oh. So that’s almost two weeks. OK. Well, I’m going to get some sleep. I am exhausted. But I don’t want anyone falling victim to the Forge back there. I’m not sure how well this will work, but …” I touched both Monica and Clarence on the shoulders and said, “I’m just hoping really hard that whatever I can do helps you resist the effects of the Forge and its creations. For as long as I can make it last. Because I have to go to sleep. And wow, now I am really tired.” I yawned and found my way to one of the bedrooms.

----------------------------------------------------------------

In the morning, I woke up. Monica was sleeping next to me in the bed, not holding Ted. Clarence, as we soon found out, had picked one of the other bedrooms to sleep in. Ted didn’t really sleep, but he had closed himself inside one of the kitchen cabinets for the night. Apparently it was a tactic he used to prevent people from finding him and wanting to hold him.

After we had some breakfast and cleaned up, we decided that Clarence and I would go to our respective homes and freshen up, then we would attempt to find more of the Forge items. Clarence would be able to get his own car, and some other things from his home that he wanted to use.

We met up at the same park where we had met before, better equipped than earlier to find more items. My detector could indicate a direction and an approximate distance, so we worked our way toward the nearest signal.

This was unusual. The signal was right in the park. There was a baby stroller, and in it was a baby, wearing an antique-looking baby bonnet … and I could tell that it was that bonnet we were interested in. The baby’s mother was talking to another woman while the baby in the stroller pointed at birds and squirrels, babbling adorably all the while.

“I had not considered the possibility that an actual baby might be using one of the items,” said Clarence quietly.

I replied, “No, I hadn’t thought of that either. Maybe she found the bonnet herself while playing?”

“Regardless, we will have to obtain that bonnet,” Clarence said. “How we do that and get cleanly away I am not sure.”

“Well, what would happen if we just asked her mother to give it to us?” I wondered. “She certainly doesn’t know where it comes from. What if we told her that it’s, I don’t know, some antique family heirloom we lost?”

“How would we convince her of that?” asked Clarence. “It’s not as if we have photographs or a certificate of ownership.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “she’d definitely resist our attempts to take it away, especially if the baby’s fond of it. But we have to take it – or that baby’s never going to grow up. She’s going to wear that thing all her life, and she’ll stay a baby, too.”

“Wait,” said Clarence, “what did you just say? She’d resist our attempts?”

“Yeah, she’d … resist …” I started thinking.

I waited until the baby’s mother was done with her conversation with her friend, then walked over to approach her. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” I said. I hoped this worked. “My cousin and I have been searching for a lost family heirloom, my grandmother’s baby bonnet, and I was wondering where the one on your baby’s head came from …” I was focusing on my supposed ability to affect resistance. Could I lower her resistance to my argument? I didn’t want her to become prey to every con and flim-flam artist, so I tried to imagine limiting it only to this one pitch I was trying to make right now.

“You know, I don’t remember her having that bonnet before yesterday,” the woman said. “We take a walk through this park every day, so this is where she must have picked it up. She really seems to like it, but if it belongs to your family, I can always get her a different one. I doubt she’ll know the difference.”

“You have no idea how much this means to us,” I said. “Here, let me give you a reward, to pay for the cost of another bonnet. It’s important to keep the sun off their delicate skin.” I reached for my purse.

“Oh no, please, I couldn’t,” she said, reaching down to untie the bonnet’s laces. “It’s not mine, so I have no right to keep it from you. But thank you for the thought.” She handed it to me. I could feel its curse reaching out, wanting her to put it on her own head, wanting me to put it on mine … I shut that right down. I blocked the whole immediate area.

“Well, thank you so much, Ma’am,” I said, zipping the bonnet into one of our plastic bags. “This should keep it safe. I hope you and your baby have a wonderful day! Now we can keep looking for the other heirlooms that were lost.”

“Oh my goodness, I certainly hope you find them!” she said. “You have a good day too, and good luck!”

“I can’t believe that worked,” I said quietly to Clarence. “Or … what I mean to say is that it’s confusing to me that it did.”

“What exactly did you … do?” asked Clarence. I explained. “Fascinating,” he said. “I wish I’d been monitoring you at that moment, but I didn’t think to do so.”

We decided to drive to the lake house to deposit the bonnet with the other items – and to check on Monica. We didn’t want to leave her alone with the Forge for long.

----------------------------------------------------------------

No sooner had we driven up than Alicia and Misty appeared, right by the lake house’s front door, out of thin air. I almost jumped three feet into the air, and Clarence took a step back before realizing who it was. “Oh! Hello!” I said to them. “No lightning bolt this time?”

“We left a marker here last time,” Misty explained, “so we’d be able to come back easily.” I didn’t see any marker, but maybe it was small and easy to miss.

“Well, I’m glad to see you again! I have something to talk to you about.”

“We’ve got something we need to talk to you about too,” said Alicia. We all went inside.

“Monica, look who’s back,” I said. Monica was fine, fortunately. Ted was on the deck looking out at the lake, and Monica had finished making the beds and was watching morning shows on TV.

We all had a seat, and Misty and Alicia told us what they’d found.

Misty and Alicia had been fretting over what they’d called the “Ted Problem” as they studied dozens of tomes in hopes of finding a way to remove the Forge’s influence from Ted without destroying him. He had a very nice life force, but there had to be a way to remove or mitigate the intense curse on him.

If they used the brute force of the all-consuming intensity of the power of truth, they were positive it would totally destroy Ted. And all their research indicated that if the Forge was dismantled, the items created with it would continue to exist and be effective. However, there was a sort of a workaround in the form of a young woman they had found named Vickie. According to their scrying spell, which they had used to find infant situations with adults, she wanted to be a toddler again in the worst kind of way. They thought this was a bit unusual, but ultimately harmless; she didn’t want to hurt anyone. Alicia and Misty had seen a lot of really twisted humans determined to bring harm and grief to others; this was nothing of the sort.

Vickie had even arranged for a permanent Nana to come and care for her as an infant; she apparently had the financial means for this. They could arrange for Ted to live with Vickie. That would be perfect, if she were agreeable, and they could make it so the Nana wasn’t affected. Once they had accomplished that, and once the Forge was neutralized, then the curse would actually become a force for truth, insofar as helping the willing Vickie achieve her primary goal.

Alicia commented, “That might be a way to solve both issues. Once the curse on Teddy becomes a truth, it is no longer a force of darkness, and we have total control over the powers of light. And that, in turn, could let us dial back the effects of the magic a bit. It wouldn’t have to permanently destroy the person Vickie is, which is what the curse does now if allowed to run rampant.”

Misty commented, “It might even behoove us to see if we can find others so willing. It would be a big help in taking care of that huge pile of other items – we don’t know for a fact that Sandy will be able to actually destroy them all with the Forge.”

It hadn’t taken very long to locate others who sought stress relief in becoming a toddler once again. But then the question became whether they could find a way to keep it from becoming permanent if used over extended periods of time. They would have to experiment with that once the Forge was dismantled.

Alicia said flatly, “There’s something else. From the best I can tell with the scrying spell, aside from the baby items still out there, there’s still a lot of debris left scattered from the container that broke apart, the chest or trunk that held the items. That debris can’t be a Forge item, because those can’t be destroyed by normal means, but it was originally made to contain Forge items by someone who knew what they were doing, and its pieces could still have an effect on people. And now the bits are scattered over a large area. We either have to find all those scraps … or we have to find a way to mass collect them so no one is affected by them.”

Misty looked at me and said to Alicia, “If we could somehow teach her better how to focus her powers, we might be able to create a complete ethereal inversion, and the trash would gather itself into a pile.”

Alicia came to me and said, “We need to discuss something. If we can help you better focus your talents …”

To my total amazement, I saw a large stack of what appeared to be extremely old and very large books appear on the table. Oh man, I thought … here comes the study hall from hell I was dreading all during high school. Figures it would hunt me down one day.

“This all connects to what I wanted to ask you about,” I said out loud. “It’s about how we were able to get this Forge item …” I held up the bonnet, inside its plastic bag, and told them about the incident at the park.

“You’ve made a great leap forward in just one day,” said Misty. “That’s awesome! Yes, the books say that Resistance Mages can lower resistance and make things, and people, more susceptible instead of less. And resistance to persuasion is something they have power over.”

“So … what’s this ethereal inversion thing?” I asked.

“Well, it’s a form of entropic reversal,” Alicia explained. “Here, it’s in this book … I have the page bookmarked …” She took one of the heavy tomes out of the stack and opened it to a page marked with a purple ribbon. “Oops … it’s in ancient Hyperborean … oh well.” She took out her wand and tapped the page with it, and suddenly the peculiar symbols on it seemed to rearrange themselves into handwritten English. “Truth magic can reveal what things say, so translation spells are a natural application.”

“OK,” I said, reading the page. “This is still confusing, even though I can read it now. So … if I understand this, there’s a natural tendency for ordinary matter to deteriorate and fall apart – entropy – and the universe resists the reversal of entropy. But it says that a Resistance Mage can lower that resistance?”

“You can make the reversal of entropy likely instead of unlikely,” said Misty. “You would need to put very specific limits on it, and we could teach you how, but that would be a huge step in your training … if you want.”

“I think I have to do this, if I can,” I said. “If I don’t, it could harm people.”

“OK, well, first we need a piece of the debris. Do you have any here?” asked Alicia.

“Yes, in the storage shed with the other stuff,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

I took the opportunity to place the bonnet in the shed with the other items, all wrapped in plastic. I could feel them all reaching out to me, all wanting me to use them in one way or another. Just a little dab of baby powder, right where some article of clothing was chafing. Just a comfy baby blanket to cuddle. I gritted my teeth and said, “No.” And it all went away. I found the chunks of wood that were apparently the chest or trunk debris and took them, locking the shed back up.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Clarence was making copious notes and monitoring me with his detector device, while Alicia and Misty were coaching me. “Concentrate, but also relax,” they said. “You’re going for something like a trance state, so you can focus on only your thoughts. Relax your body, so your mind can be clear and focused. Focus on the piece of debris you’re touching with your hand. It’s part of other pieces. Some of those pieces are right over here on the table nearby. Feel the connection between them. They were once part of the same thing. Imagine how they must have broken apart, all the pieces going all over. Focus on how that happened, the pieces going every which way. Just the pieces of this one object. The breaking. The scattering. Now imagine flipping a switch. Making it natural for all those pieces to come back together instead. Coming back together into one place. Just these pieces of this one thing. They don’t have to reassemble themselves. We don’t need it to be that hard. They just have to come together. Come back here. Come back to these pieces. They should return to these pieces. Do you have it?”

I nodded. I felt it. I could feel the energy … or force … or whatever. Terms were hard to find. I put limits on it, changed its direction, and pushed very hard on that light switch image I had thought up. I toggled it the other way. I told it not to stop until every single piece had made it back to the rest, one way or another. I deliberately did not think of them reassembling into the original container. I was too busy thinking of them all coming together into one pile anyway.

“Good,” I heard Misty’s voice say. “This is great. I can feel your mystic force reaching out and affecting reality.”

“My word,” Clarence said. “The particles emanating from you. This is fascinating.”

“Can I open my eyes yet?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Alicia with a smile and almost a giggle. “I think you’ve done what you can do. Only one thing remains.”

I took the pieces we had and set them down outside the front door, off to one side. I knew they would attract the rest. “Now we’ll see what happens, I guess,” I said.

----------------------------------------------------------------

In a vary arid place where sand and sun bleached soil lay as far as the eye could see, rested several extremely small pieces of wood that used to be a large chest. Mysteriously, a huge ball of blueish light appeared.

Many spark like bolts of lightning arced from it as it slowly began to rotate. What few creatures were there, fled in terror as the spinning ball rotated ever faster, picking up small amounts of sand into what appeared to be a dust devil.

This in turn picked up the many small pieces of wood within the ever increasing strength of the induced winds. Instead of scattering the small pieces, it instead seemed to blow them in a particular direction. Once the area had been completely scoured of any remaining wood debris, the spinning mass seemed to rise into the sky and the cloud of debris moved with purpose off towards town.

As if nature had determined those scraps of wood were to be collected, birds gathered around a large collection of the wooden debris. Each bird picked up several of the scraps in their beaks, then in a well ordered flock, flew off towards town in a beautifully graceful V formation containing many noisy birds.

Other animals seemed to take up the gathering of the remains of the wooden chest. Several dogs had found some rather large sticks, and began to play with them. Of course when they had carried them a good distance and seemingly tired of their game, other small creatures would take notice and pick them up.

The scraps would wind up on the back of trucks that were headed in the right direction, or on top of cars whos unsuspecting drivers also carried them in the proper direction.

At first, Clarence, Monica, and myself didn’t notice, but the designated place I had wanted the debris to be piled began to grow. The small windstorm and dust devil was slightly sensational, but didn’t bring any immediate awareness of the fact, the debris pile was growing larger by leaps and bounds.

Clarence was the first to notice, “Sandy, you and Monica come here. I want to show you something really weird.”

Monica laughed as she came to the window, “That sounds real scientific there Doc.”

When I came to the window, what I saw was this huge flock of birds all hovering over the designated debris pile. Each bird seemed to drop something on the pile before flying off. I also noticed other creatures seemed to rush timidly up to the pile, and drop something on it.

It was about that time, all the creaturs scattered, although they didn’t seem to do it out of fear. I saw this blueish swirling mass with many arcs of what seemed to be blue lightning appear on top of the pile. To my utter amazement, When the swirling mass suddenly vanished, I could tell it had dropped a quantity of some kind of debris on top of the pile.

Although we didn’t notice at the time, since we were marveling at the strange wind storm, the pile had grown still larger.

“I commented, “Now, don’t that beat all?”

Clarence nodded his head and replied, “What you said. I have never in my life seen anything like that or ever heard tell of it.” He brought up a detector and began to take readings. “This is incredible. I’m getting massive readings of those weird particles.”

I said to the already incredulous Clarence, “I think you need to realize those particles are what mankind calls Magic.”

Clarence laughed, “That might well be. But from a scientific view, this is a remarkable serendipitous discovery of another type of, heretofore unknown, energy. Imagine what we could do if we learned to control it.”

I shook my head and replied, “Yeah, we could create a thing that makes other things that take away an adult’s mind and replace it with an infant’s. A wonderful usage, I would think.”

Clarence looked at me for an instant and said, “That is also true. Mankind can misuse any discovery. Just look at nuclear weapons.”

Monica said, “I think we need to search out any and all remaining items the stupid Forge created. If we don’t, it could prove to be a global calamity.”

Clarence and I looked at Monica for a minute before I replied, “Really?? And just when did you figure that out, Miss Smarty?”

Monica looked at us with a strange expression as Clarence replied, “That’s the whole reason why we’re here, and why we’ve gathered the things we have in the shed.”

Monica had a strange expression on her face for an instant, one I actually recognized. It was a real live toddler poopy face as Monica had an accident in her panties one more time.

Monica gasped as she stammered, “I … I’m .. I couldn’t help it … it … just happened.”

I walked up to Monica and patted her obviously droopy backside, “Don’t fret over it. We bought several packages of pullup diapers just in case anyway.”

I took Monica by the hand and led her towards the changing place I had made on the bed. “So,” I said, “extended contact with this mess obviously creates some kind of residuals that recur in some people at random. Maybe something like LSD flashbacks?”

Clarence commented, “Apparently, except you don’t seem to have any lasting effects from your encounter with the silver baby rattle – although you seem to have a natural talent for manipulating this ‘magic’ force. Now I understand why Monica forgot – it seems some infantile memory or thought process got in the way, a side effect from her encounters with the items.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

As I understand it from what they told me later, this is what Alicia and Misty were up to in the meantime. They appeared on the porch where their incantation had told them that a very special young woman named Vickie lived.

Misty asked, “Are you sure this will work?”

Alicia answered just as the door opened, “If she’s really willing ... yes.”

An adorably dressed young woman wearing the cutest strawberry pink romper with lots of lace and ruffles answered the door. It was obvious to both Misty and Alicia that she was in a thick diaper. She giggled and asked in a very cute voice, “Yes? Can I ... help you?”

As both Alicia and Misty reacted with astonishment at how adorable the girl was, an older woman dressed in a maid’s uniform came up behind her and said, “Baby girl, what has Nana told you about answering the door?”

The girl backed up a step and said adorably, “Baby sowwy. Waza axxedents,” then promptly started sucking her thumb.

The woman smiled and turned to Alicia and Misty. “I’m sorry about that. She’s only three in her mind and gets into mischief at times. How can I help you?”

“Well, this is a bit hard to explain,” said Alicia, “but we may have found something of interest to young Miss Vickie here. My name’s Alicia, and this is Misty, and we’re, well, scholars of what most people would consider unusual.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t want to put Vickie on some TV show, do you? She doesn’t want to be some kind of laughingstock or circus freak.”

“Absolutely not!” said Misty. “It’s just … if there were a way for her to truly regress in mind and really lose the abilities to walk, talk, feed herself, control her pottying … would she do it?”

Vickie’s eyes sparkled as she heard this and stared with great interest, sucking her thumb avidly.

“Perhaps you’d better come in,” said the woman, looking at Vickie.

“We have found certain … items … that have this property,” Alicia said. “They’re not … fully explained. They could even be dangerous in the wrong hands. But we understand that there are certain people for whom their effects would be considered beneficial. And in their hands … they could be purified so as not to be dangerous at all.”

“Me twy?” asked Vickie around her thumb. It was as if she already knew what sort of things they were talking about. “Make me … wittle fa’ weal?”

“Well, yes,” Misty replied to her. “Imagine, well, a diaper that makes you so you need it when it’s put on you.”

“Oh!” the girl said and looked at the woman. “Is like what me dweamed of foreber!”

“And I suppose you’ll want to charge money for this, yes?” asked the woman, still sounding skeptical.

“No, not at all,” said Alicia. “We are just trying to find homes for these objects. They’re dangerous in the wrong hands, and we think Vickie’s might be the right hands.”

“So how’d you find us?” she asked.

“Well, as we said,” replied Misty, “we’re scholars of … unusual knowledge and forces.”

“I’d say somebody’s been reading too many stories from the Internet,” the woman said, “but if you’ve got some free diapers for Vickie to try, she’s in need of a change anyway.” Vickie blushed brightly.

“All right,” said Alicia, and produced what looked like a package of disposable baby diapers, with bright colors, ruffles, lace, and babyish patterns printed on the package and the diapers themselves, but they were a larger size that would fit even an adult. “See what happens when you change her into one of these. And be careful not to put one on yourself. There’s an urge they generate. We’re hoping to fix that.”

Vickie gasped when she saw the package of diapers, which was open at one end so that one diaper was sticking out. “Pwease pwease pwease?” she asked the woman.

“We’ll have to see whether they’re any good,” the woman said, taking one of the cute diapers from the package and taking Vickie’s hand to lead her into another room. “We don’t want any leaks.”

“Here goes,” said Misty. As she and Alicia watched, the package of diapers magically replenished itself, and another diaper protruded from the open end.

A few minutes later, the woman led Vickie back out into the living room where Misty and Alicia were still sitting. Vickie now looked different. She was sucking her thumb as if she’d forgotten it was still in her mouth, and she looked around at everything as if it was new. She reached out her other hand toward Misty and Alicia and made a happy sound that wasn’t a word. Then she wobbled unsteadily on her feet and clumsily collapsed to the floor, where she crawled.

Alicia and Misty did some magic at that point. I don’t fully understand it, but instead of stealing the adult mind from someone who wanted to keep it, these diapers were now giving Vickie the gift of a child’s mind, a gift she wanted to have, and that allowed Misty and Alicia to magically access them as light magic instead of dark.

They manipulated the spell on the diapers – both the one Vickie was wearing and the ones in the package, as well as the package itself, since they were all one and the same – to make it no longer dangerous. Not only would Vickie not deteriorate with time the longer she wore these diapers, meaning that she’d come out from under their spell as soon as they were removed from her, she also kept her self-awareness and would remember every moment while she was under the diapers’ effect, rather than having no memory of what had happened. The diapers would also no longer tempt people into trying them on. Basically they now had a beneficial spell instead of a curse on them – beneficial only to certain people, but beneficial nonetheless.

And besides, although she seemed to be of independent means, Vickie would save money on diapers, with an infinitely replenishing package.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“And so I think the diapers won’t need to be destroyed,” said Alicia. “They’re effectively no longer Forge items. The spell on them has been altered.” Misty nodded.

“So,” I replied, “you’ve found another way to neutralize the Forge’s items! I feel … relieved, actually. I’ve proven that I can use the Forge itself to destroy them, but every one is a fight.”

“It can’t hurt to have another way to make them harmless,” said Clarence.

“Speaking of the Forge items,” I said, “I had an idea about what to do about Ted. But I don’t know if it will work.”

“Well, what’s the idea?” Alicia asked.

“Well, suppose we could somehow put Ted’s mind, or life force, or spirit, or however that works, into another body?” I asked. “Then I could use the Forge to destroy his old body, but he’d be fine.”

“Transmigration of consciousness?” asked Misty. “There are books about that.”

“And however Ted’s life force works, it’s obviously capable of inhabiting a stuffed toy,” said Alicia, “since it’s doing that right now. We’d just need another stuffed toy – we could just buy one.”

“We could even let Ted choose his new body,” I said. “I think that would make him happier.”

“Well, I have no idea how to do such a thing … yet,” said Misty, “but we’ve got some research to do.”

Alicia added, “We don’t want to get Ted’s hopes up, so don’t mention this to him yet until we’ve had a chance to do some research and make sure this is even possible.”

“Well, OK,” I said, “but he is pretty sad. I hope we can do something for him.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Clarence was tinkering on the coffee table with various equipment he’d gotten from home.

“What are you doing, Clarence?” asked Monica, coming over and sitting in a nearby chair. She crinkled audibly, as we’d been making sure she had diapers on in case of another relapse – ordinary diapers, though. I’d been trying to make sure she had whatever resistance mojo I could muster, but I still wasn’t sure how to control that.

“I’m trying to study this fifth force and the various types of particles that seem to respond to it,” he said. “It seems to be generated by certain people and objects, but it would be easiest to study if we had a predictable way to generate it. But I’ve only got a vague idea how. Physics has never truly understood exactly what causes a wave function to collapse – it happens when it’s observed by an experimenter or interacts with something macroscopic, which are the same things that seem to generate this fifth force …”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t help,” Monica said. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re talking about …”

“Oh, don’t worry, just take a few physics classes and you’ll be fine,” said Clarence. “But for now, I just wish I had access to an object that emitted these particles but wasn’t dangerous.”

“Well, Sandy made that item finder,” said Monica, pointing to the gadget I’d made, which was sitting on the table.

“Wait … you’re right, that locator was made by the Forge, but isn’t dangerous because Sandy was able to resist its influence.” Clarence pointed his detector at my item locator. “Yes, it does emit the particles! And it seems to absorb them as well. I just need to take some readings and make some calculations.”

Meanwhile, I was outside, looking at the growing pile of bits of what looked like wood and metal, though Clarence had told me that they were actually some form of carbon. I wondered who had made this. Whoever it had been, they hadn’t used the Forge. It was completely different from anything made by the Forge, even the locator I’d made.

----------------------------------------------------------------

I suddenly realized – of course the chest hadn’t been made with the Forge. The trunk was specially constructed to contain all the items created using the Forge – at least, up to the point the chest had been created. Something about it – maybe the arrangement of carbon atoms, maybe something else – did one thing very well: it blocked all the magic particles, or however that worked, and kept them from affecting their surroundings.

Now, the overriding question on my mind was: Who had created the chest, and why? Why the chest had been created I now sort of already knew. It was to contain the artifacts people had created with the Forge – perhaps someone like myself had discovered it, determined to stop the damage it was doing, but had failed somehow. We’d heard Ted’s story about the wizard who had bargained with a “demon” for the Forge and why, but he didn’t know many details. I also wondered about Alicia and Misty. They seemed to have this really mysterious way about them. The fact that they could come and go every time lightning flashed – or even at other times – was rather scary.

If I asked them probing questions, would they answer them or answer by avoidance? Thus far, everything either of them had said had always been true, so it seemed likely that they would either answer … or not.

----------------------------------------------------------------

But little did I know then that things were going to get even more complicated for us. In a dark palace somewhere, a man named Nimore Hezwynn dressed in an ebony black robe sat on his throne and fretted. All his creations had somehow vanished, along with the chest that held them. From what his minions had told him, some strange vortex had appeared and swallowed everything in his conjuring room. Since the only things that he had left in there were the Forge and the item containment chest, this was really vexing.

He snapped his fingers. Several large sconces flashed into flame with a loud popping sound. He wandered among the many tomes and scrolls, each safely in its own cubby. He finally came to a tome that seemed to be bound in some kind of scaly leather. He removed this one from its place in the large, seemingly neverending bookshelf and took it to his conjuring table.

On the front of the scaly tome was an ornate depiction of a dragon made in gold, with rubies for eyes. He opened it to the first page. In large glowing letters, in a language mankind had not spoken in thousands of years, it said, “Book of Dragon Magics and Elixirs.”

He sat and lit two red candles on either side of the large bowl he had placed on the table. He began to add powders and several brightly glowing gemstones before he opened a small container filled with a black fluid. A small wisp of vapors emerged from the top as he slowly poured the smelly liquid into the bowl.

As he put the top back on the container, he smiled a crooked smile. He knew that dragon’s blood was almost forbidden due to the evil powers the concoctions usually created. This time, he was bringing back Thermatrix Frigolity, the mightiest and most powerful dragon to ever live.

Of course, the reincarnation would be totally under his control. He would send this beast to look for his treasured Forge. He must keep the fairy princess captive as an infant. His heart couldn’t bear to lose her again.

He looked to his left at the magic viewing mirror and saw his beloved infant sleeping soundly in the crib he had made for her. He smiled. He was going to do everything he could to insure that his little girl stayed that way forever.

----------------------------------------------------------------

I had been practicing on the pieces of the chest. Unlike earlier, I was focusing on making its pieces less and less resistant to coming back together into the shape they had originally been in. It was devilishly difficult, manifesting this energy or whatever it was, in just the right way. But it was looking a lot more like a trunk than it had before.

I’d also made some headway destroying the Forge items – the bib Jake had made specifically to take away Kylie’s ability to feed herself had readily come apart with the Forge’s seam ripper, and I had then destroyed the parts in a fire. They had burned readily enough, which was an indication that dismantling the thing on the Forge had removed its magic. After that, I’d worked on the playpen Jake had made, but I’d already dismantled it – it turned out that I’d had to put it back together, then take it apart again on the Forge, using the Forge’s tools. But that had worked. I’d destroyed several other items as well.

Now I was focusing on bringing the pieces of the trunk or chest back together. I opened my eyes. It looked like a large treasure chest, the kind you saw in a pirate adventure movie, only really big. It still had some pitting and holes in it, from the pieces of it that hadn’t yet come back, but it was mostly intact now. I opened it and looked inside.

To my surprise, it was considerably larger inside the trunk – perhaps this was how so many items had been stored inside it. And, perhaps, this was why it had exploded and scattered its contents all over the county. There did seem to be an inscription inside the lid, but not one that was in letters that I could read. They looked … Chinese?

And then, suddenly, someone was reading over my shoulder. “Hong Yue-shin,” said Alicia’s voice. “Maybe that’s the name of whoever made this?” I spun around and saw her and Misty. Well, we were right outside the lake house’s front door, and they had said they’d put a beacon of some kind to allow them to get here quickly.

Misty said, “Wow! You’ve figured out how to make the pieces come together! That’s amazing! We’ve definitely got ourselves a Resistance Mage here!”

“Which is great!” said Alicia. “We’ve never met one of those before. And you’re not evil, either, so that’s a big plus!”

“Oh anyway, we came back because we think we’re ready to tell Ted something,” Misty said, holding up a large book bound in white leather trimmed in gold.

“Let’s tell him!” I said. “I’ve been feeling so bad for him.” I opened the door and called out, “Ted? Ted? Are you here?”

One of the kitchen cabinets opened up, and he climbed out. “Yeah … I’m right here, trying to stay out of the way. What’s going on?”

“Misty and Alicia have something to tell you,” I said.

“Oh?”

“This book is the Wisdom of Shankararamanujan,” Misty said, holding up the white and gold tome. “It contains, among other things, spells that can transfer a life force from a body with one to a body without one.”

“That’s … great?” Ted replied, sounding confused.

“Here’s the thing,” I explained. “You’re a magical life force trapped in a cursed body. What if we got you a different body, one that wasn’t cursed, and transferred your life force into it?”

“Wait … wait!” Ted said, sounding hopeful for possibly the first time I’d ever heard him. “That would mean …”

“Yes, it would mean you could touch others without the curse taking hold,” said Alicia. “If this doesn’t work, there’s something else we can try, but this … not only would this mean you wouldn’t have a curse at all, but …”

“... but you could pick what you wanted your new body to look like!” said Misty.

I had opened up a website that sold many kinds of plush toys on my phone, and I held the screen up for Ted to see. “Just look at all the possibilities!” I said. “You could be a bear of any color – or not a bear at all! Cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, even magical animals! Unicorns, dragons, pegasuses … pegasi? Anyway, the possibilities are endless!”

“This … this is …” Ted looked up at us. “Thank you so much!” he said. “I … I’ll have to decide …”

“Yes, but you have a choice now!” Alicia said. “You can look at what’s out there.”

“We’ll want to get you a real good quality body,” I said. “No cheap stuff.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Ted was more than motivated, it seemed. Alicia had somehow managed to create a computer system that Ted could operate with his stubby paws. Ted searched many sites while we occasionally watched as we collected as many magical infant items as we could find. I dismantled them regularly, but it was hard work fighting the Forge’s will.

I said to Monica, “We’ve filled the shed, even with me destroying items as fast as I can. I’m not sure we can stuff anything else in there without a shoehorn.”

Monica replied after a laugh, “We still have the spare room the Forge is in. How goes the reconstruction of the chest?”

I looked out the window nearest to the partially-rebuilt chest. The pile of remaining bits and pieces next to it had significantly grown. “I think we have almost all the scattered bits collected, at least enough to store this stuff in.”

Monica said, “I still think it’s totally amazing that the trunk is way larger on the inside than outside.”

I laughed, “So am I. Then again, this thing about magic is new too. Now that we know it’s real, and I have some kind of power, perhaps I can help fix several major problems.”

About that time, Ted came from the back and said in a humble voice, “I … I found a body I would really like to be transferred to.”

Monica stood as she said, “Great. Lets see it.”

As she followed Ted into the other room, I rubbed that weird glowy sphere Alicia had left on the table as she had shown me. From what she had said, no matter where she was, it would contact her and provide a conduit for her and Misty to return.

True to their word, Alicia and Misty suddenly appeared in a bright white sparkling flash.

Alicia said, “Hi. What’s up?”

I pointed towards the back where Ted and Monica had gone. “Ted says he found a body.”

Misty clapped her hands together. “Great. Let’s go see.”

We all walked into the back to the place Ted had his system set up. On the screen was one of the most beautiful female babydolls I think I had ever seen. It stood about 4 feet tall and was called a Fairy Princess Playmate Doll. They were made of fabric, ornately embroidered, and they came in many sizes, types, and colors. There were both Fairy Princes and Fairy Princesses. The one Ted had chosen was one of the Fairy Princess Playmate series and was absolutely gorgeous.

Ted said quietly, “This way, I can be here with you, and you can all be my friends. I will even look like a little girl, so there won’t be any questions. Besides, then I’ll be perfect. Soft, cuddly, and loveable without hurting anyone.”

Alicia said cheerily, “Ted! You are going to be a really cute girl.”

Ted looked at Alicia and giggled, “But .. I already amma girl. Always have been. Can’t help it my body looks more like I’m male … sort of.”

I can tell you the weird amazed looks on everyone’s faces. None of us had even suspected Ted ... was a girl. Of course, we wasted no time in ordering the doll, nor balked on the expense for next-day delivery.

As we waited for it to arrive, I tried putting the chest together again with Alicia and Misty’s help, this time with even more pieces. There were barely any chips or dents in it. Opening its lid, I could now make out the inscription even more clearly – not that I knew who “Hong Yue-Shin” might have been. It did have a rather Chinese design to it, now that almost all the pieces were reassembled.

“Hong Yue-Shin was an artisan who made many fine works of lacquered wood and passed away in 1918,” said Alicia.

“Did you find him in one of those magical books you have?” I asked.

“No, Internet,” Alicia replied with a giggle. “But this can’t be his work … because it isn’t wood. What it could be, though, is a magical duplicate. There are some who have an affinity for Duplication, or so I’ve read. They might have used their power in a creative way, duplicating a chest that really existed but with a very specific goal in mind: the goal of containing the dark magic of the Forge’s creations.”

“Now, we examined some of the fragments and found that they were quite clearly made out of fullerene,” said Clarence, who had been observing the process using his gear and making copious notes.

“That’s what, a form of carbon?” asked Misty. “It could be that’s what they had around for raw materials. Duplication Mages can make copies of things that are so exact that no amount of scientific testing could tell the difference … if that was the goal. But in this case, the goal was to produce a container for Forge items, so they focused on that instead. I guess they let the chips fall where they may when it came to making the copy exact.”

“I see, and the … I hesitate to say magic, but I know no better term at the moment … put the carbon atoms into the form of fullerenes, because they are light and strong, I suppose,” Clarence mused. “The physical form was unimportant, really; the desired effect was the only consideration. But since they were a Duplication Mage, they needed to make a copy of an original object, and they chose … a real chest that looked like this.”

I nodded. “And I suppose the spell copied the appearance of everything, including the original artisan’s signature.”

“That’s how it works, or so I’ve read,” said Alicia. “Duplication’s another affinity we’ve never met anyone with yet.”

“Is there any way to find out when this duplicate chest was made?” I asked.

“There … might be,” said Misty. “Let’s work on that. We might be able to find out who made it at the same time.”

So while they looked at books and tapped at the trunk with their wands where it sat, outside the front door, I went inside and made an effort at dismantling another item, this time a wooden rocking horse. Durable items like this were pretty easy, actually – other than overcoming the will of the Forge, they just had to be taken apart with the Forge’s tools. They could even be reassembled elsewhere with ordinary tools, and they were back to being ordinary items, so soon we had a normal if large-sized rocking horse. After I examined it and pronounced it decursed, Monica tried rocking on it, and she didn’t experience any ill effects. She giggled some, but she was clearly still able to speak. I tried it too.

“Oh, that looks like fun!” said Alicia, coming back in from looking at the trunk. “Looks like you got the curse off another thing. Maybe we can give that to Vickie.”

“Oh, hehe, I was just trying to make sure it wasn’t cursed anymore,” I said, blushing. “Um, did you find out anything about the trunk?”

“Yes,” said Misty. “It looks like it was conjured in 1994, though we can’t be sure of the exact month. As for the mage who did so, that’s hard to say. We have their magical signature, so we’d recognize another spell cast by the same person, but without finding something else they did it’s hard to link it to the person.”

“We did try to discreetly scry on them,” added Alicia, “but they’re blocked, as any competent mage is, light or dark. This means they’re still alive, though.”

“What about … how it got broken?” I asked.

“That’s something different,” said Alicia. “There are traces of … fae magic. Fairly recent, too.”

“Fae magic?” I asked. “Now you want me to believe there are fairies?”

Misty held up a finger. “OK, well, some people call them fairies, but there are a lot of names for them. Suffice it to say that humans aren’t the only intelligent life form native to Earth, and we’re talking about another race that uses magic like humans use science and technology.”

“Fascinating,” said Clarence. “This would imply that some of these fae do employ technology, but they are looked upon much like humans who use magic.”

“Yes, in the sense that they’re a very small minority,” said Alicia, “or so we’ve read. But the point is that they were involved in either the destruction of the chest or the transportation of the chest that led to its destruction. The picture we’re getting is very chaotic, as you might imagine for an incident that smashed the chest to smithereens. Very hard to reconstruct the sequence of events. But it was being transported via air in some way, and then it was … struck very hard by something, enough to splinter the chest and send it and the Forge tumbling to Earth.”

“And the items and the Forge itself are indestructible,” I said, “well, not without using the Forge itself, so they survived to make it to the ground.”

“But why the Forge and trunk were being transported – by whom, to where, from where – and why it was … shot down, for want of a better word,” Misty said, “we don’t know that yet.”

“I can assure you that there was no aircraft that appeared on radar at the time in question,” said Clarence. “That’s one of the first things we checked. Wolf Flats Labs has an anti-espionage department, and they investigate any unidentified aircraft that come near enough to take surveillance images. But there weren’t any.”

“That would rule out mundane air travel,” said Alicia, “but not magical air travel.”

“Broomsticks? Flying carpets?” I asked.

“I mean, those exist,” said Misty. “They aren’t common, but you can make just about anything fly, with the right spell, and then there are flying creatures.”

“Winged horses?” I asked. “Dragons?”

“They’re rare, but real,” said Alicia. “Also ki-rin, shedu, chimerae, sphinxes – a whole range of entities. But that gets us no closer to figuring out what force or entity was carrying the Forge and the trunk through the air.”

“We can rule a few things out, though,” said Misty. “Most of these creatures are too small to carry something as big and heavy as the Forge. That thing requires something like your pickup truck to tote around – and that’s on the ground. Dragons are really the only creature big enough to fly something like that through the air along with that trunk. So it’s either magic or dragons.”

“And, frankly, magic is …” Alicia paused. “Not really common, but less uncommon than dragons nowadays. The books say that dragons were a lot more common a long time ago than they are now. But they don’t agree about why, not that we’ve really bothered to investigate that. Maybe they’ve been dying out, or they’ve gone to some other dimension, or they’ve gone into hiding?”

“Anyway, dragons are cool and all that,” said Misty, “but that isn’t getting us any closer to figuring out what happened.”

“Well, you say that fae magic was involved,” I said. “So either some … fae person was flying the Forge and the trunk along and somebody else attacked them, or somebody or some … dragon was flying them and a fae person attacked them.”

“Or it was fae on both sides,” said Alicia. “They do have their conflicts among themselves, just like humans do.”

“Excuse me,” said Clarence, “but is a dragon larger or smaller than a passenger airliner?”

“That depends on if they’re old or young,” said Misty. “Old ones can be a lot bigger than a jumbo jet. Why do you ask?”

That was when the shadow passed over us and we realized that Clarence was looking up in the air. We all looked.

----------------------------------------------------------------

So it turns out that dragons have better eyesight than eagles, and the trunk was sitting there outdoors in broad daylight. I could’ve left it as a pile of debris, and Thermatrix Frigolity wouldn’t have recognized it. But then we wouldn’t have figured out what we had. Anyway, once I’d gotten the chest reassembled, it was only a matter of time before the dragon found it. It was sort of possessed, in a way, by the mind of that wizard, Nimore Hezwynn, whom we hadn’t actually met yet, but that was his name. And he knew what the trunk looked like. So down the dragon swooped to grab it.

Alicia and Misty held hands, pooled their power and made some kind of truth shield thing around the whole lake house and its yard. I didn’t know what to do, so I just thought really hard about making the whole place resistant to dragons. I didn’t know if it would help, but that’s all I could think of.

So there we were inside this big white bubble of light. We could see the house, the yard, my truck, some trees, and everything outside it was just … white light. Then there was a big THUMP sound from somewhere above, and the whole place shook.

“Oof, that’s a big one!” said Alicia. “That’s not just some average dragon!”

“Wait … that’s not just a dragon, is it?” asked Misty. “Something doesn’t feel … right about it.”

“You’re right,” said Alicia. “Like it’s … not supposed to be alive?”

“Wait,” I asked, “are you saying it’s a zombie dragon?”

“Zombie?” asked Misty. “No, more like it’s been … resurrected and filled full of dark magic. Wait. That could tell us …”

“Dark wizard messing with dead dragons?” asked Alicia. “I doubt they knew they were coming after Truth Mages. And a Resistance Mage! Sandy, see if you can make the dragon resist dark magic. We’ll see what we can do to find out some truth!”

So they held hands and did some kind of spell again, while I just basically tried to imagine wherever the dragon was – which was pretty easy when it thumped on the shield again – and think hard about making it resist dark magic. I hoped I was having some kind of effect.

Outside the big white dome, the dragon was flying back upward to make another assault on the shield, taking a big breath to attack it with fire. It’s a good thing that didn’t happen, because the whole area would have been incinerated except for a suspiciously circular border around the lake house. But instead the dragon’s wings faltered, and it seemed to be squirming in the air. I’m making a lot of this up because I couldn’t see it from inside the shield, but it must have been something like this. The dragon had trouble staying aloft; gradually it came down to earth, still seemingly fighting with itself, out in the woods.

The shield went down then, and Misty and Alicia said, “Good job, Sandy! We got a lead! Keep focusing on making it resist the dark magic! We’re going this way!” And they walked toward the huge struggling dragon, which was knocking over trees some distance from the house – its location was pretty obvious, really. I followed after the two of them as best I could while trying to focus on getting all the dark magic out of the dragon, and preferably out of the whole area.

Soon we came to a clearing that hadn’t been a clearing until just a few minutes ago. Trees were knocked down and had been bodily uprooted, broken to kindling, and pushed away in all directions. This huge, magnificent creature was squirming and thrashing around, its eyes changing from red to green as it made horrid howling strangling sounds and moaned in some language I didn’t know. I focused on helping it resist whatever was wrong with it, not knowing exactly what that was.

Well, it turned out there were two things wrong with it, not just one, and it turns out that I’m stronger than anybody thought. The red light left the dragon’s eyes, and it stopped struggling, seemed to calm down, and moved into a sitting position. It looked down at us and said, in a quiet voice that was still louder than a rock concert, “Three human mages of light. Thank you for chasing away the mage of darkness and the chains of death. I am in your debt. I, Thermatrix Frigolity, will not forget this. But for now, I go to punish a certain dark mage for his arrogant presumption.”

The dragon took off again, and his beating wings kicked up near hurricane-force winds. We had to back away until we could find some trees that we were still standing to hold onto. Then I realized that I could make us resistant to wind, and things got calmer, but by that time the dragon was high in the air.

“Did – did they say Thermatrix Frigolity?” asked Alicia. “Didn’t they die?”

“I think so, about 900 years ago,” said Misty. “What was that they said about the chains of death? Sandy, what exactly did you do?”

“I … I just wanted it to resist whatever was wrong with it,” I said. “What was wrong with it, by the way?”

“They were possessed and dead,” said Alicia. “I guess the dark mage whose signature we now have resurrected the dragon and possessed them, sending them after us. The dark mage wanted the trunk, and probably the Forge. And you fixed … both problems, I guess?”

“You resurrected a 900-years-dead dragon,” said Misty. “Not bad. Although the dark mage seems to have started the process, he left them as an undead shadow of themself. You brought them back to life for real.”

“And now that dark mage knows where the trunk and probably the Forge is,” said Alicia. “But I’d say he’s about to have … some pretty large problems on his hands.”

“Still,” said Misty, “we might want to move the Forge, the trunk, and the items soon. Monica’s boss will be back in a few days anyway. We’ll think of another place where we can all hide out.”

We walked back toward the lake house. “The dragon is a ‘they?’” I asked.

“Yeah, dragons are beyond human concepts of gender,” Alicia explained. “Dragons would probably say that human concepts of gender are entirely un-draconic. Even humans who spend their whole lives studying dragons don’t fully understand dragon gender. I certainly don’t.”

We continued back to the house. As soon as Ted’s new body arrived and we got her safely into it, we’d move things to whatever new location Misty and Alicia thought of for us to hide them. And we’d leave the lake house just as we’d found it … though there was now a spot in the forest some distance away that looked like a bomb had gone off.

----------------------------------------------------------------

We didn’t yet know it at the time, but there were certain non-human types of eyes watching. What the air traffic controllers thought their readings had told them wasn’t correct. From what the controllers could tell, according to radar contacts that first spotted the huge flying object, it had to be some kind of very large unidentified aircraft.

Readings weren’t clear enough to determine what type of aircraft it might have been, just that it was large and gave the strangest return signals. After all flight logs for the area had been scrutinized by comparative computer search, an immediate call to Sky Over Watch at Satellite Control was sent due to the lack of a federally required and logged flight plan. Elapsed time: 60 seconds.

Satellite readings and the pictures they took from orbit, showed what looked like the giant aircraft being shot down and crashing near by a house or cabin of some type near Norman’s Reservoir.

From that point, an immediate C & R call went out ( C & R = Crash and Recovery ). The emergency teams instantly loaded into their specially-modified helos and departed for the site. Total elapsed time from initial contact to liftoff: 10 minutes. That was the same length of time it took us to deal with the dragon.

----------------------------------------------------------------

When the delivery arrived, we opened it right away in front of an excited Ted. Ted lay down on the bed next to the new plush doll and lay still while Alicia and Misty prepared for the spell. There was chanting, there was candle lighting, there was incense, and it was all very cosmic. But in the end the little girl doll sat up and said in Ted’s voice, “Did it work?”

Ted was now absolutely beautiful, adorable, and cuddly in her new body. Of course, Monica had insisted that our little girl would be in diapers. It gave Ted a cute poofy bottom to show off her ruffled panties just like any toddler.

We had taken Ted’s old, cursed body to the Forge table as she watched. The new body was actually able to make decent facial expressions. The one on Ted’s face now was one of relief and something that looked like sorrow.

As I took one of the Forge workbench’s seam rippers and started working the main seam up the bear’s back open so I could begin removing the stuffing, I said, “We need to give you a better name. Ted ... just doesn’t seem right somehow. You’re not even a bear now, so it doesn’t even work for that reason.”

Alicia said, “Yea. I was thinking of something like … Layla.”

Misty spoke up and interjected, “Or maybe Aurora, that’s cute. ‘Cause now your future is bright.”

I said, “Why not call her Genesis, since this is the beginning of a new life for her. We could shorten it to Genny.”

It was then that Alicia and Misty turned towards the window and moved in that direction.

Alicia said with a bit of irritation in her tone, “Ladies, I think we are about to have some visitors.”

I asked, “What makes you say …” I never got to finish as the sound of many incoming helicopters rapidly approaching became louder and louder.

I went out and stood on the porch and watched about a dozen, very large and exotic looking helicopters take up hover positions above the huge cleared and destroyed space among the otherwise dense trees, before they all landed.

Alicia, Misty, Monica, and myself hurried out the door and off in that direction. Ted stayed behind and watched out the window. It would have been impossible to explain her away in any reasonable manner.

By the time we got close enough to read the markings on the helos, one silver, very sleek Allowett helo was plainly marked in large contrasting letters: FAA Crash Recovery and Investigations Unit. I nodded my head. It made sense for them to be here; this whole area did sort of look like a crash site.

I took a good look round. Many of the trees had been shredded, blasted to splinters, and uprooted bodily. The ground had been turned over like a huge plow had passed several times. There were even a few spots where small smoldering fires still smoked, and as many anomalous icy patches too.

Thermatrix had both Fire and Ice lungs. In their thrashings they had released a few blasts of each. The only thing missing was any debris of a crashed vehicle. The site was absolutely devoid of any normal crash site debris. This created a large mystery since site observations in no way matched the radar and satellite data. The men and women swarmed the site and began taking photos and measurements as we watched, but with every passing moment they began to look more and more perplexed.

“Is there something we should do about this?” I asked Misty and Alicia quietly as we watched from a distance.

“Well, when magical or supernatural things happen,” said Alicia, “the mundane authorities tend to try to explain it away as something they can understand. But there’s sometimes one or two agents who just can’t leave it alone and go on a crusade to find the truth. So sometimes we have to do something, but that’s hard because all our magic relies on truth.”

“And it’s probably only a matter of time before they come over here and ask us what we saw or heard … oops, here they come,” said Misty. A man and a woman were approaching us, wearing suits with official name badges on them.

“What do we say?” I asked.

“I recommend we tell the truth,” said Alicia. “They’ll either think that we’re crazy, or somebody pulled a huge prank, or something, but if all our stories match, they’ll have no choice but to write it down as an unexplained phenomenon.”

“Good afternoon, ladies,” said the woman. “I’m Special Agent Landry of the FAA, and this is Special Agent Giffen. Radar indicated a rather large aircraft with an odd signature that came down in these woods. We were wondering if you saw or heard anything.”

“Yes,” said Alicia immediately. “It was a dragon. Quite a large one, I would say. I think they were disoriented. They landed over there, and then recovered and took off again.” I had an odd feeling. It was as if I could somehow sense Alicia’s magical strength increasing next to me.

“A … dragon, you say,” Agent Giffen said, raising an eyebrow. “And did the rest of you also see this dragon?”

“Hard to miss, really,” said Misty. “Big and black, with eyes of fire. They were in some distress, I think. Then their eyes became more of a green color, and their scales became more reddish gold instead of black. Then they flew away.”

I nodded. “Their wings stirred up wind that was like a hurricane,” I said. “It was broad daylight, so it couldn’t have been anything else but a dragon. Like something out of a movie. I wouldn’t have thought such a thing really existed, but I guess I was wrong.”

“You keep saying ‘they,’” said Landry. “Were there more than one dragon?”

“No, I just don’t want to assume their gender,” Misty replied.

“I … see,” said Giffen, “That’s … very considerate of you?” The two of them looked at each other with puzzled expressions. “Did anyone else see anything?” They looked past us suddenly, and we turned around to see Clarence and Monica approaching. “Did you two see anything?”

“No, I’m sorry,” Clarence said, “I was inside the house when the disturbance occurred, and by the time I got outside, whatever had happened was over.”

“Same with me,” said Monica. “These three were outside at the time, but we were inside. There was a loud noise, and I ran outside too, but all I could see was some smoke rising from the woods in the distance.”

“That was from the dragon,” I said. “They breathed both fire and ice. They seemed to be struggling, as if plagued by an internal conflict.”

“Fire and ice, you say,” said Giffen. They whispered between themselves. “Did you actually go to the spot where the, uh, dragon came down?”

“My goodness, no!” said Alicia. “It was far too dangerous there. We got to the edge of the clearing they had made and didn’t go any closer. Some of the brush was on fire. And the dragon was gigantic.”

“I don’t suppose any of you got any photos of the dragon?” asked Landry.

“Oh no, it all happened too quickly,” said Misty.

“OK, well, we won’t keep you, ladies,” said Giffen. “You have a good afternoon. We’re investigating the site, but we’ll stay on the public land over there.”

“Good luck, Agents!” said Alicia.

After they had gotten out of earshot, I asked, “So, why could I feel your … I don’t know, some kind of strength or power increasing as you were talking?”

“You could feel that?” asked Misty. “It was telling the truth that did it. We were a bit depleted from the ritual to move Ted to her new body. But since we’re Truth Mages, telling the truth, especially in the fact of great temptation to do otherwise, restores our strength.”

“Oh? What restores my strength?” I asked.

“I … don’t know?” replied Alicia. “But we can look it up. Resistance Mages would be replenished by … resistance, I guess?”

“Uh … thanks, I hope you can tell me more about this once there’s time,” I said.

We went back into the house, and I had a thought. “We can think about Ted’s new name as we go, but I think we should probably start getting the Forge and the trunk to a new hiding place. Somebody knows where it is now, somebody who can summon ancient dragons.”

“Oh!” Alicia said. “You’re right. We’re not expecting a delivery anymore. Give us a moment.” She and Misty whispered for a moment, then said, “All right, we have an idea, and we’ll try to get everything there all at once …”

Monica said, “I’m going to have to clean up the house so my boss won’t think I was having any wild parties here.”

“Let’s all help,” said Misty. “That way it’ll get done fast!” So we all cleaned up, doing dishes, vacuuming the floors, making the beds, taking out the trash. I cranked up my resistance and put all the remaining intact Forge items into the trunk and closed its lid and latch. And they did all fit inside.

“OK, all ready?” asked Alicia as sunset was lighting up the sky. “It’s a little place we like to go to sometimes.” There was a white light, and suddenly we were all somewhere else – some sort of seaside villa, with a beach nearby, but inside I could see a workroom where the Forge was now sitting, the trunk was in what looked like a cabana area, and I even saw my truck and Clarence’s car. The sky was dark now, clear and filled with stars, so we had traveled some distance.

“There,” Misty said. “Now we can keep working on this problem, and there’s less chance of Mr. or Ms. Dark Mage finding us again. And we can ask Fontina questions.”

“Fontina?” I asked.

“Right over here,” said Alicia, leading me to the interior garden of the villa, where there was an exquisitely ornate marble fountain. “Fontina, we’re back.”

“Oh! And you’ve brought visitors!” said a small voice, and a tiny woman in a blue and silver dress stepped out from around the fountain’s main jet of water. She can’t have been bigger than twelve inches tall.

“Fontina, this is Sandy, the Resistance Mage I’ve been telling you about,” said Alicia. “Sandy, this is Fontina, the Fountain of Knowledge.”

“Oh! A Resistance Mage!” she said. “I’ll bet you have a thousand questions.”

“I … can’t count them all,” I said. “I’m glad to meet you, though! Why are you so … tiny?”

“Oh, I’m a water sprite,” she said. “I can be multiple sizes, but this is the size I’m being right now. To answer more completely, sprites don’t have a fixed size, so we just have to pick one.”

“That’s … I would say surprising, but nothing is surprising me anymore. Do you know how Resistance Mages restore their … power?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” said Fontina. “You mean how to regenerate your magical energy reserves, right? You go your own way, resisting doing what others may want you to do. The more you might be tempted to just go along, the more energy you get back.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “Who sent that dragon after us?”

“Dragon? I obviously need to catch up,” said the water sprite. So Alicia and I filled her in on the details, and Misty came along shortly afterward.

“All right,” said Fontina. “Thermatrix Frigolity’s been dead for centuries. Somebody half-resurrected them, and that takes a lot. You’d need dragon blood, and no regard for the protocols of death. And a very strong will to possess a dragon – the kind that only a Will Mage would have. Hmm. And Sandy, you not only gave them enough resistance to throw off the possession spells, but also to throw off the chains of death, which is … well, I’ve never heard of resistance magic doing that.”

“A Will Mage,” I said. “So that’s another affinity?”

“Yep,” Fontina said, nodding. “So, a dark Will Mage wants the Forge. Maybe had the Forge before. We’re still trying to piece its history together, but suppose somebody stole it from this Will Mage, and while they were getting away with it, somebody else attacked them, and boom! Magic cursed baby items all over your town. And either the thief or their attacker or both were fae.”

“And somebody before that made the trunk to put all the items in,” I said. “Probably a Duplication Mage, Misty and Alicia told me.”

“Yes, someone who clearly believed the items needed to be contained,” Fontina said.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Now I have to explain some things that we found out about later – I didn’t see them happen, but it must have been something like this. In a very beautiful, lush, and natural setting, built seemingly from the very plants around it stood an exquisite example of natural architecture. A rather large palace stood with delicate crystals within the walls making up the rest.

In the middle of the large courtyard was an ornate fountain, covered in many exotic and magical plants … all in flower. Their wonderful odors drifted on the breeze. Large glowing butterfly-like creatures flitted all around. Within the pool at the base of the fountain, magical fish the like mankind had not laid eyes on in many millennia swam and frolicked.

A regally dressed being wearing a crown made of gold and jewels stood next to the edge of the pool and tossed in bread crumbs that the fish roiled the otherwise calm waters in getting. He turned and waved to the approaching individual and said cheerily, “How goes the retrieval, Lathium? I heard we managed to retake the Forge and the chest.”

The other individual was dressed in black and red. He came up to the one with the crown and bowed at the waist. A small pair of gossamer wings fluttered briefly before he stood upright, “Not well, Your Highness. We had the Forge and chest and were returning them to the catacombs for safekeeping. No one is sure what it was, but it had great power. It hit the chest and shattered it, scattering the items all over the surrounding area of the mortal realm.”

The king had a very worried expression. “Did we at least manage to recapture the Forge?”

Lathium replied, “Not yet, Your Majesty. We did have a location on it, but apparently something took it somewhere using light magic. It will be a bit before our Soothers can scry it back out.”

The king turned back and looked at the swarms of strangely shaped fish. “At least it was someone on the path of light. Let us hope the items don’t fall into the wrong hands.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Also, in a dark and dank cavern buried somewhere deep in a lost and lonely mountain range lit only by 3 smelly smoky torches, an ogre mage sat and fretted over his big mistake. He read the tome through once again to see what his error had been.

From the best he could tell, he had used too much lokanda weed in the mix and made it too strong. He grunted evilly as he thought about how weak the Fae transport had actually been compared to what all had been saying for centuries.

He turned the page. From what it said in the book, the transport could have be made indestructible if the Fae had thought something was going to attack them. He slapped his forehead several times. Of course it was too powerful; the Fae had no idea they too were after the Forge.

He pulled a bowl made from the crown of some large creature’s skull in front of him. He tossed several arcane powders into the bowl, then added a smoking fiery red liquid to it. This was the most powerful Essence of Damnation he could find. A large puff of smoke that smelled like fire and brimstone rose from the bowl.

The cloud formed a sphere and began to glow within. A picture formed, although the mage had no idea where this might be, and some type of more powerful spell kept his from discovering where it might be, but he could see the chest and the Forge sitting in some type of room. He could plainly see that the chest had been meticulously reassembled.

“Damn.” The beast swore under his breath as he banged his large fist on the table making everything jump. “It would figure some mage with more powerful spells would be after the darn thing too.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

So yeah, while I continued dismantling items using the Forge, various interested parties kept trying to find it and the trunk. Ted helped me as we continued trying to think of a better name for her – it turned out that she was immune to the Forge’s temptation. That made sense, I suppose, as she wasn’t alive in the strict sense of the word – basically speaking, she was a golem, a life force inhabiting an inanimate object.

The problem was, and it had been bothering me, Ted’s new body wasn’t indestructible, as her old body had been. She was vulnerable to damage. If she got cut or stained, that would be permanent, until it was fixed. She could be harmed, and she couldn’t heal.

Ted brought the next item. “Here’s a pair of booties,” she said.

I saw them and immediately renewed my resistance spell. “Those are the ones that Monica put on. She couldn’t walk for a while after that.”

“Yes, I remember those too.” Ted shivered, and her body didn’t experience cold, so I know it wasn’t from that.

“Crystal?” I suggested. “Noelle? Finnola?”

“I don’t know,” Ted said. “I’ll know it when I hear it.”

“What happens if I only destroy one of these, I wonder?” I said, as I started taking one of the booties’ seams out.

“I think it’s like if you only destroy part of an item,” said Ted. “It eventually restores itself.”

“Hm,” I said. “Wonder how you make a spell that resilient.”

“It’s like it’s … resistant to being undone,” said Ted.

“Wait … you think I could learn how that was done?” I asked. “I mean, you’re not indestructible anymore. What if you were damaged? I could make your body restore itself if it was ever harmed.”

“You’d … do that for me?” Ted asked. “I’m sorry, it’s just that you and the others have already done so much.”

“Of course,” I said. “I don’t want you to gain all of this and then lose it to falling in a mud puddle or something.”

So that explained how, later that night, Misty and Alicia walked me through the ritual. I ended up sewing a tiny arcane symbol on Ted’s lower back during this spell – which made her permanently damage resistant. Now Ted would heal over time if she ever got damaged.

----------------------------------------------------------------

But then there was the question of Nimore Hezwynn, whose name we didn’t even know yet. He was smiling and looking at the image of his captive fairy princess in his magic mirror when something happened to the sky above his dark palace. It cracked like a breaking egg, with fire-red and ice-blue filaments intruding on its usual pitch black, as the entire place shook as if hit by a huge mallet. Then it happened again, and pieces of blackness shivered and fell out of the broken sky. And the largest dragon who had ever lived smashed through the fractured barrier.

“Nimore Hezwynn, you will now pay for violating my grave and disturbing my well-earned rest,” said Thermatrix Frigolity, their fearsome wings angling as they dove toward the evil palace. Hezwynn ran out onto the balcony and started throwing spells at the dragon, but Thermatrix had already started breathing great blasts of fire and ice at the structure, and the spells were just consumed by the dragon’s ferocious breath. Soon half the palace was on fire, and the other half was on … cold fire. Whatever the opposite of fire is. It was burning and spreading even though it was freezing cold.

Hezwynn ran back inside and tried to pour his last remaining reserves of Dragon’s Blood into his crucible and place it into his orichalcum athanor, but before he got very far with that, the floor of his laboratory collapsed and all his equipment fell through it, and fell through the floor below that, and the one below that too. It was all Hezwynn could do to save his own miserable life, but we’ll get back to him.

The best thing I can say about what happened was that the fairy princess was fine. The indestructible Forge-made crib she was in protected her, although it fell through floor after collapsed floor. Thermatrix Frigoly ignored her; the dragon’s goal had been to destroy Hezwynn, and although the dark mage had escaped, his realm lay in ruins, so Thermatrix departed to search for Hezwynn again. The dragon wanted to finish the job, and there wasn’t much in the universe that could stop them. Not that I have a lot of sympathy for Hezwynn, you understand – if anything, I was rooting for the dragon – but I didn’t want to see any harm come to innocent beings who happened to get in the way.

So what had been a luxurious if dark palace was now a smoking hole in the ground containing some debris that was rapidly being reduced to smaller particles of debris by various kinds of dragonfire, plus an indestructible magical crib protecting a helpless baby fairy princess who now had no one to care for her. She awoke and started to cry in fear, but there was no one to hear. There was one good thing, though – the dragon had completely destroyed the magical barrier around the place. There was now some chance that someone could find her, if they were looking for her.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Of course, she was a princess, which implied that she was of royal blood, meaning that someone with authority might well have been looking for her, and I did indeed find out that someone was. It went something like this, I’m told.

King Bryan sat next to his sobbing queen and did his best to comfort her. “Now, dear. Never fear. We will find our daughter soon. We have some of the finest Soothers in creation, and there is no dark magic that can …”

The king was interrupted as the court courier appeared in a poof of tinking silver. “Your Majesties! I have great news,” he announced with a deep bow.

The queen looked up, her eyes all puffy and red with crying, “Did you find my baby?”

King Bryan asked with excitement in his voice, “Where is she? Is she all right?”

The courier answered, “Yes and yes, Your Majesties. From what the scries have shown, she’s completely uninjured. She’s in the remnants of Dark Wizard Hezwynn’s domain and castle. Something dire clearly happened to the place. His magic barrier is completely gone along with everything else, or the Soothers wouldn’t have been able to finally get through.”

The Queen gasped as her gossamer wings fluttered in agitation, “Is .. is .. is she ..?”

“Again, she is unharmed, Your Majesty. Hezwynn appears to have confined her within a magical artifact that fortunately protected her. We have sent the winged Shalires to fetch her,” replied the courier.

The king looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “From what I think that artifact might be, it might behoove us to take along some diapers.”

A quizzical expression came to the courier’s face. “Why would we need those, Sire? She’s well over 200 and old enough not to need them.”

“The reason we were looking so hard for the Forge,” replied the king, “was that Hezwynn had stolen it when he kidnapped Elwina. I would think he used the Forge to create something to keep her captive while keeping her happy too. Are we sure we don’t know where the Forge is now?”

“The Soothers were focusing on finding the Princess, Your Majesty,” the courier replied, “but the magicologists have been carefully studying the spell remnants and believe that the magic used to transport the Forge was Truth Magic, possibly of the legacy of Ahmen Khotec.”

“Dare I hope that those two young human apprentices of his line have stepped in?” asked the king. “They have dealt some heavy blows against the dark mages recently. It gives me some measure of hope for the humans. But if it is they … send them a message. Ask them if they know of the Forge’s whereabouts.”

“At once, Your Majesty,” said the courier with a bow, vanishing in a shower of sparkling silver shards.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Ted, Monica, Clarence, Misty, Alicia, and Fontina were helping me destroy Forge creations, but at the same time, in what was once Hezwynn’s domain, about a dozen strange-looking winged creatures fluttered over the huge pit of smoking ashes that used to be the dark wizard’s palace. Of course, there were other creatures scurrying around, both of the light and the dark, although they were in a state of total confusion and posed no threat to anyone at the time.

The ash pit was not the problem; the problem was the adamant framework that the dragonfire had been unable to burn. It had collapsed and fallen inward, warping and twisting into a shattered, mangled wreck that surrounded the princess’ crib and looked like a big blackened pile of giant interlocked paper clips. The winged creatures alighted on the metal and began to grab sections of it. They looked as if they might be frail, mosquito-like insectoid things, but appearances are deceiving. Their spider like arms displayed tremendous strength as they picked up and tossed pieces of adamant debris that weighed in excess of several tons and tossed them as if they were tinfoil.

One of the creatures called out, “Elwina! Can you hear me?”

A very faint crying sound was heard. It sounded like an infant in distress. At that point, dozens more winged Shalires swarmed to the spot, settled into the tangled mess, and began tossing huge pieces of metal great distances. Each piece would land with an earthshaking impact, half burying itself in the charred soil, due to its extreme weight.

Finally they got to the ash layer and quickly dug through it, following the sound of the princess’ cries. They found the crib, lying on its side but intact, and in it was the princess, upset and in serious need of a new diaper but otherwise fine. The Shalires quickly righted the crib and lifted off with it, carefully flying the princess home to her parents.

The crib, of course, told them that they should make sure to leave the baby inside to keep her safe, keeping its lid firmly shut too. The Princess had been surrounded on all sides, but that had perhaps saved her life in this case. It took only one Shalire to carry the crib and the Princess; the rest of them guarded the precious cargo with all their strength, and each one had the strength to throw multiple train cars at once. Needless to say, she made it back to her family’s palace. Nobody was reckless enough to try to stop them, and nobody was motivated to, except possibly Hezwynn, but he had some very big dragon problems at the moment, so he was busy.

----------------------------------------------------------------

There were actually only a few items left in the trunk when the message arrived. Alicia and Misty were watching me dismantle that baby rattle, the one that had started the whole thing. I could still feel it calling to me to grab its handle and give it a good shake, but I resisted – I’d been getting better at it – and instead gave its handle a good twist with the Forge’s magical pliers. It came right off, revealing a hole, out of which I dumped the small glittering crystal beads within.

I now had access to the screws that held its two halves together, so I removed those and separated the pieces. It was now no longer a rattle, and I no longer felt any trace of the compulsion – only the compulsion from the Forge to make something new with the parts. I dumped the pieces into the box of materials to destroy later, since they were now destructible.

Without warning, there was a tiny flash of light and a sound like a little ringing bell between Misty and Alicia. They looked at each other. “We’ve got mail,” said Alicia with a giggle. Misty smiled and snapped her finger, and a scroll appeared in her hand. It was gilt-edged and tied with a silver ribbon, sealed with some kind of crystalline wax.

“That’s the seal of King Bryan of the Seelie Fae,” said Alicia, looking at it. “Official business. What’s he want with us, I wonder?”

“King of the Fae?” I asked. “What’s Seelie?”

“Well, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts have been at odds for … well, forever, I suppose,” Misty explained. “Basically it’s all complicated Fae politics that I don’t understand. Suffice to say that they hate each other and you don’t want to get on either one’s bad side. Let’s see what King Bryan wants.” She cracked open the seal, slid the ribbon off, and unrolled the scroll, which sparkled as if stars were printed on it.

Alicia looked over Misty’s shoulder. “Mm hmm,” she said.

They finished reading, looked at each other, then showed it to me. So I read it too. It basically said that the king wanted to know if some kind of apprentices of Ahmen Khotec – I guessed that was Misty and Alicia – knew where the Forge was. It also said that he knew they were devotees of Truth, so he knew their answer couldn’t be a lie.

“We’re going to have to be careful with how we answer this,” said Alicia.

“We’re going to tell the truth, of course,” Misty said to me, “but how much truth is the question.”

Taking out her wand, Alicia intoned a spell. A blank papyrus scroll appeared in the air, a quill pen hovering hear it. “To His Majesty King Bryan of Faerie, from the Apprentices of the Legacy of Ahmen Khotec, our greetings and salutations,” Alicia said. The quill pen immediately began writing this in precise, beautiful script. “To answer your question, we do indeed know the whereabouts of the object known to many as the Forge. We are loath, however, to answer in more detail, as we have learned that several parties desire to obtain it, not a few of them of the Dark, and messages may be intercepted. Therefore I hope that Your Majesty will understand the need for circumspection in this matter and accept our assurances that all will be revealed when it is possible. In the meantime we are concerned about the scattering of the Forge’s dangerous creations and are attempting to collect them so that they may be properly dealt with. If Your Majesty has any news of the whereabouts of any such items, we would greatly appreciate such information. With the utmost respect, and here affix our magical seals.”

The quill pen finished writing this, and then two glowing magical symbols appeared on the scroll. They both looked it over. “Looks good,” said Misty, nodding.

“OK, off it goes,” said Alicia, waving her wand, touching it to the scroll they’d received, and then touching it to the one she’d just conjured. It rolled itself up, a white ribbon appeared and tied itself into a neat bow around the scroll, and then Misty tapped it with her wand, causing a white wax seal to appear, attaching the ribbon to the scroll. The whole thing hovered in the air for a moment and then vanished in a flash of bright golden sparkles.

“There we go,” Misty said. “I’m not sure how he’ll take it, but I hope he can read between the lines.”

I clearly had a lot of magic to learn. “I have a question,” I said.

“What’s that?” asked Alicia.

“I’m getting close to done with the items we have here – how long until we dismantle the Forge so no more items can be created and just use other means to neutralize whatever other items may be out there?”

“Well, we could do that now,” said Misty, “but you’ve only got a few more things to go. It seems like a shame to stop now.”

“How about we do that when you’re done with the things in the trunk?” asked Alicia.

“That sounds like a good milestone,” I agreed.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“With utmost respect,” the courier read, “and the apprentices have here affixed their magical seals.”

King Bryan nodded a bit and thought. “Hmm. Sounds to me as if they have the Forge and are hiding it,” he said. “The fact that the Soothers can’t find it could be because they’ve got spells blocking scrying. Spells like that are among the first learned by any apprentice, but enough strength to block all our Soothers? … On the other hand, they are strong, and there are two of them. But still … anyway, they say ‘properly dealt with …’ Are they saying that they actually have a way to destroy the Forge’s creations? I didn’t know that could be done.”

Then there was considerable excitement out in the courtyard. One of the heralds entered. “I beg your pardon, Your Majesty, but you left orders to be informed when the Princess was returned.”

“Quite right,” said the King. “Inform the Queen. We will welcome our beloved daughter back to us … no matter what shape she is in.” To the courier he said, “We will discuss this further shortly.” The courier nodded and bowed.

“At once, Your Majesty,” said the herald, scurrying off, and in moments the Queen joined the King.

“Oh, our baby is back,” said the Queen, “I’m beside myself with relief!”

“Let us welcome her home, my love,” said the King. “But be warned; she has been subject to dark magic for a considerable time.”

“I know, but let us go to her anyway,” the Queen said. “I must see her!”

The two went out to the courtyard, where the Princess’ crib had been carefully set down. “Oh dear,” said the Queen. “That … that crib … it was made using the Forge, wasn’t it?”

“Quite so, my love,” said the King. “But we must release our daughter from it. It will try to make us accept her as its prisoner, but I here weave spells that will not allow this.” He gestured, and golden light played around himself, the Queen, and all the Fae and other creatures present, including the Shalires, which blinked in astonishment as the crib’s enchantment was rendered powerless for the time being, except on the Princess herself.

“My darling,” said the Queen, rushing up to the crib. “What has that evil wizard done to you? We must get you out of there.”

The Princess looked out at her mother, and her eyes brightened into a smile. “Ma-ma!” she cried out happily, babbling some other syllables that meant nothing, but occasionally she repeated “Ma-ma,” causing tears to form in the Queen’s eyes as she attempted to get the crib open.

The King and several others helped, and soon the crib’s top opened and its side dropped, allowing the Princess to be lifted out. It was clear that she could not walk or fly. It was also clear that she needed a diaper change desperately.

“We shall take her to the royal nursery, where she was cared for as a baby,” said the Queen. “Until she has regained her adult mind, that will be her home, and she will be cared for as our beloved daughter as she always has been. Summon the royal nurses.”

Attendants quickly conjured a stroller big enough for the Princess to fit in – it floated above the ground via Fae magic, and the Queen pushed the Princess into the palace and down the hallways to the rooms where the girl had been cared for not that long ago, as the Fae measure it. The King followed behind, wanting to see that his daughter was safe and cared for, but also seeing what had been done to her. A deep desire for revenge on Hezwynn began to burn in his heart. Not that I can really blame him, of course.

“That crib,” he told an attendant. “Ensure that it is closed, and see that it is placed in the Chamber of King Bleys Banefast. Let none go near it without a Greater Warding of the Mind.”

“At once, Sire,” said the attendant and flew off quickly.

The Queen had changed the Princess’ diaper herself and cleaned her daughter up, using magic to ensure that the girl was absolutely spotless. When the King caught up, she was in a fresh diaper and adorable baby clothes, playing happily with toys in her old playpen, all of which had been made larger by a simple spell.

“Who’s my baby girl?” said the Queen, tickling the Princess’ chin. The Princess looked at her mother and giggled.

Except for her size, the Princess was every part the toddler she was dressed as. According to the Royal Physicians, she would have to grow back up over the course of several hundred years. None of the King’s best could find a way to undo what had been done. So, although the Queen was overjoyed to have her baby back, King Bryan was infuriated at what the wizard had done to his daughter. Chalk up one more furious powerful being who wanted horrible vengeance upon Hezwynn.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Remember that ogre mage? Well, in a dark and dank cavern buried somewhere deep in a lost and lonely mountain range lit only by 3 smelly smoky torches, that ogre mage sat and studied what his best scrying spell had to say about the current location of the Forge. He was finding it most frustrating having such a strong wielder of light opposing him.

Without warning, many of the wards and protective spells he had woven crackled in a large fiery flash, leaving a smell of brimstone. Within the large arcane hole in his shield appeared a smoking ball of flame. Within the ball a spot cleared, and the face of another sketchy character named Uklantak appeared. He was one of the most feared of the Orc Commanders.

The Mage stood rapidly, knocking over the chair he was seated in and drew his wand. A shield of darkness wove itself instantly around the Mage as he said, “Come ta gets me didja?? Am ready ta feast on your innards.”

The face of Uklantak laughed, then replied, “I have something far more important to discuss with you, ogre, if you’re intelligent enough to reason.” Now, that was a bit insulting, because ogre mages were more intelligent than the average ogre, or they couldn’t become Mages.

The Mage felt a wash of insult creep through him for an instant, before he lowered his wand. If the mightiest of the Orc Commanders needed to talk to him, and both of them knew of the sworn blood oath to kill each other on sight, then perhaps it was important enough to listen.

The Ogre Mage said in his gruff and gravelly voice, “Ok, orc. Is so important you risk war to say it, then speak.”

Uklantak replied, “We are in far greater danger than either of our clan’s leaders seem to realize.”

The Mage asked, “Why comes you said that? Only danger toa orc or toa Ogur, is each others.”

Uklantak laughed. “What would you say if I told you that there are not one, but two disciples of Ahmen Khotec? They are not novices either. In a shorter time than any other great Mages took to arise, these two have exceeded the mighty Ahmen by many leaps and bounds.”

The Mage looked around at his scrying apparatus and the dismal showing the mightiest soothsaying spell ogres had produced. Now he understood what was powerful enough to block his spell.

Uklantak said with a bit of sarcasm in his tone, “If we fight each other, we have already lost. Both want the Forge. Let us make a lasting truce here and now, then both of our armies become greater than the sum of their parts.”

The ogre Mage laughed for a second, then stopped with a thoughtful expression on his face, “What mean what you jus said?”

Uklantak smiled patiently. He knew ogres weren’t the brightest torches on the wall. “What I mean is, together we are far stronger than we are separately. Each of us knows a different way to accomplish whatever it is we are trying to do. If ... we are to have any chance to regain control of the Forge, we must work as a team, or we fail as individuals.”

This the ogre Mage understood well. If all orcdom and all of Ogredom fought together as one army acting as a team, instead of this foolish each creature for themselves as in the past, yes, they would become extremely mighty indeed.

The Mage said, “Am willin ta try. But, affer alla eis time, no sures Chieftain will listen.”

Uklantak smiled then stood back. Another face appeared within the fiery smelly ball. BoneScragg’s scarred face sent chills down the Mage's spine as he knelt, “Oh, Supreme Leader. How may this humble slave serve?”

BoneScragg said in his gravelly rumbling voice, “To survive, Ogur mus change its ways. No option. From this day on, combined tribes known as: On-Ogur. That mean Ten Arrows. Your mighty army, along wifs your knowledge of dark magics combined with Orcs’, will make On-Ogur the most well fed and feared army ina world. We then has no opposition ta gettena Forge for ourselves.”

I hope you appreciate my attempts to render their terrible pronunciation into something resembling letters. It’s really hard to do.

----------------------------------------------------------------

So … I had managed to dismantle all the Forge creations we had in the trunk. The thing was empty now, bigger on the inside notwithstanding. “So … is it time to take the Forge itself apart?” I asked Misty and Alicia. I really wanted to. That thing was trouble.

“I really think we should,” said Alicia. “Of course, by that I mean you should. You’re kind of the expert at defying its will now.”

“OK,” I said, turning to grab one of its tools.

“But wait,” said Misty. I immediately patted her on the shoulder and gave her a resistance booster to make sure that whatever she was about to say wasn’t some kind of Forge-influenced excuse not to go ahead. “Oh. Right. Never mind.” Yeah, I thought so. That thing was insidious.

So I upped my resistance to the max and started taking the thing apart. That’s right. There was no more Forge. I was expecting some kind of blinding flash or huge explosion. But all I really felt was its constant drumbeat against my resistance coming to an end as I removed its vertical support legs, disassembled its tool racks, took its drawer tracks apart, and ended up with a pile of gilt-edged wooden parts and antique screws.

Of course, just because the Forge was no more, that didn’t mean there weren’t several parties interested in getting their hands on it. It just meant they weren’t going to get it. It also didn’t mean that the remaining items in the world that had been created by the Forge stopped working. No, they kept right on doing whatever they did. The fairy princess’ crib was still just as effective as ever. Victoria’s pack of diapers … well, actually Misty and Alicia had changed the spell on that one, so it doesn’t really count.

So we made a beach bonfire out of the remnants of the Forge, and the wood burned like any other wood, proving that the thing’s spell really was broken. Clarence, of course, had been watching carefully, using his scanner, and taking even more notes. Monica, though, really didn’t have a lot to do, so she was really just trying to learn more about the fascinating world she’d found herself in – she’d been asking Fontina a lot of questions.

“So who brought marshmallows?” I asked as we sat around the fire. Alicia and Misty giggled, and Monica grinned.

“I’ve got something even better,” said Clarence. “I think I can construct a source of these particles I’ve been observing – one that isn’t dangerous and doesn’t cause any adverse effects. This could then be brought back to the lab and studied. Predictable and reproducible results!”

“Sounds great,” I said. “Maybe” – and then a flash of silver sparkles appeared.

Misty and Alicia had already leapt to their feet and had their wands out by the time I had figured out that somebody had just appeared. But they relaxed, so I did as well, when we realized that he was obviously a Fae. His slight, agile figure was one clue, and his pointed, upswept ears were another, but the clincher was the pair of shimmering gossamer wings on his back. “Greetings, Disciples of Ahmen Khotec, and friends,” he said with a bow. “I bring tidings from King Bryan of the Seelie Court.”

“Be welcome, messenger,” said Misty. “We were expecting you. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“His Majesty has sent me to tell you what has transpired,” the messenger said. And he explained about the princess.

“I see,” said Alicia. “So the princess was under the influence of a Forge item for months without a break. I’m afraid that even a Fae would be very seriously affected by that.”

“Do you know if she will recover?” the courier asked.

I replied, “What we’re seeing is that those so seriously affected basically have to grow up again.”

“Oh,” said Misty, “this is Sandy, our valuable ally. Her talents have assisted us greatly against the Forge and its creations. By the way, have you noticed our bonfire?”

“Indeed – it is made of the remnants of some sort of furniture,” said the courier. “I had assumed that you had been engaging in some … extreme redecorating.”

“You could put it that way,” said Alicia. “These are the remnants of the Forge.”

“The – the Forge?” stammered the courier, losing his composure ever so briefly. “Pardon me. I was given to understand that it was indestructible.”

“Sandy discovered the means,” Misty explained, “by using its powers against itself. She dismantled it with its own tools.”

“Thus breaking its enchantment,” said the courier with a nod. “Whereupon it became but ordinary wood. Quite clever … and Sandy must possess extraordinary resistance.”

“Resistance is basically my thing, I guess,” I said.

“Ah, a Resistance Mage,” said the courier. “Very rare among humans, I understand. I was sent to ask … whether any of you knew of any way to help the Princess.”

“Help the Princess, you say?” asked Clarence.

----------------------------------------------------------------

In case you’re wondering, the realm of the Fae and that of the Orcs and Ogres aren’t found on Earth as we know it. They’re separate planes, other dimensions, alternate universes, or whatever you want to call them. Magical creatures of legend don’t live among us anymore … but some of them have ways of coming to visit, it turns out.

In a large, damp grotto, lit only by many of those smoky, smelly torches they seem to love so much, a huge gathering of Orcs on one side and Ogres on the other gathered. On the raised place that had been carved from the living rock, Uklantak, the current leader of the Orcs, and BoneScragg, the current leader of the Ogres, both stood at the speakers place.

Uklantak, raised his voice and said amid the many guttural grunts and snarls, “On this day a new tribe is born. One men and other creatures will fear. It will be known from this day on as On-Ogur. We are the Ten Arrows of Destruction.”

There was a loud growling roar from the combined armies, with many metallic clanking sounds as weapons were brandished.

BoneScragg raised his left hand, in which he held a very large war axe that obviously had been well used, and cried, “Together, usns anna Orcs are way more powerful danna apart separates. As bof becomes a army, also become bother n sister. Make us far more powerful.”

There was another huge roar of approval as many weapons flashed in the torchlight.

Uklantak said loudly with passion as he too waved his wickedly-spiked magical sword above his head, “As army, we shall go from this place and make war with humankind just as in ancient times. This time, we take the Forge from ‘em first. Spread all the magical stuff all over an’ render ‘em all helpless. Makes for much feasting … eh, brothers?”

Another loud roar filled the grotto as once again, many weapons were waved and clanked together.

BoneScragg tossed his mighty war axe. Its large double-edged blade smaked the wall and stuck, “Tha time now. Go! Show scrawny humans tha raw powera On-Ogur.”

A loud roar of approval was heard as the old Ogur Mage came to the podium and began a chant. He tossed several handfulls of arcane powders into the fire before he waved his wand towards a far wall. What felt like an earthquake happens as the massive rock face split, then slid back.

The huge horde, roaring with each one’s favorite battle cry, left the grotto through the new opening, a massively large collection of Orcs and Ogres, each dressed in their battle armor and carrying their favorite weapon.

BoneScragg said, “Upta usns, Uklantak, ta make some magic sosa fleshies getsa be inna stewpot tonight.”

Uklantak turned towards the Mage and said, “Guessen ya gotsa get to it … huh?”

The Mage laughed his guttural laugh as he set up the items necessary for his large magical incantation. Amid all the other preparations to resume a centuries-overdue war, the Orcs and the Ogres traded weapons and armors and special personal fighting techniques … and also many of the best savory recipes for cooking a human.

Now, you know all of this was going on, but we didn’t. But that’s fair, because we knew the Forge was no more, but the Orcs and Ogres didn’t. They had a plan to use the Forge and its items to make the human race helpless, which was actually kind of a smart plan. Fortunately there was no Forge anymore. But unfortunately the King’s courier had pulled us out of the universe we called home at just the wrong time.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“She’s … adorable,” I said. We were in the royal palace of the King and Queen of Faerie … or of the Seelie Court, anyway. Misty and Alicia hadn’t really explained that to me, but I assumed there were Fae somewhere who didn’t consider King Bryan to be their sovereign. I guess they would be … Unseelie? Who did they look to as their leader? I didn’t know. But in any case, we had been transported here, and I’m given to understand that this was quite an honor that was afforded to very few mortals.

Clarence had been scanning everything with his device as discreetly as he could, but he was obviously fascinated by whatever it was telling him about this place. And now he was scanning the sleeping princess, who lay in her crib, occasionally sucking on her thumb in her sleep. Dressed in the laciest nightie imaginable, her blonde hair tied up in buns out of the way, she looked like some kind of perfect doll. But all the Fae had that sort of look of perfection to them. “Indeed, indeed,” Clarence said. “Yes, yes, very interesting.”

“This one is not a Mage,” said the King to Alicia and Misty. “Yet he is able to know something of magic with this contrivance?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” said Alicia. “He is a learned man who has earned high academic honors among us humans, but of the arcane arts he is only just beginning to learn. As you know, most humans believe magic and even the Fae to be nothing more than legends, and so he believed until quite recently.”

“Well, anything any of you can do for our beloved daughter, we would appreciate greatly,” said the King. “The kingdom’s foremost experts have all looked at her and have been able to do nothing. But they all agreed that a human Mage can sometimes – rarely, but it does happen – do things that even we cannot.”

“I understand,” I said, adding, “Your Majesty,” when Misty gave me a sidelong glance. “We’re the longshot.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” said Misty, nodding to Alicia. They joined hands and chanted a spell they’d prepared, combining their powers. Together they simultaneously touched their wands very gently to the sleeping princess’ head. She was surrounded by a pure white aura of light for about a minute as the two Mages concentrated. But then it faded.

“There is no spell upon her to break, Your Majesty,” said Alicia. “I’m sorry, but the crib she was in has done its work and changed her. Its influence has been and gone.”

The King nodded sadly and looked at the Queen. “This is what our wise ones have said already.”

“Maybe you could try something, Sandy?” asked Misty.

“I’ll … do what I can,” I said. I took out the shiny gray selenium wand that Misty and Alicia had helped me craft, steeled my will, and made an attempt at an incantation. I didn’t know any ancient languages, so I simply said, “I help you resist what was done to you,” and lightly touched the tip of the wand to the princess’ head as the others had done. I could feel … something. There was an … obstacle that was in my way. Moving it was like trying to move a weight of tons. I could not do it. I tried my hardest, but it would not happen. And I’d pulled tiny bits of a shattered trunk from all over the county together to form the original trunk again.

“This is … fascinating,” said Clarence. “See here.” He pointed at the screen of his detector, which showed an odd double image of the princess’ outline. “She emits the particles, as does everyone here. Perhaps it is a natural Fae characteristic. You see that the particles have a pattern. But … it is fading, but a second pattern appeared as Sandy made her attempt.”

“Second pattern?” said one of the King’s advisors. “Perhaps this is the princess’ original aura asserting itself.”

“Your Majesty,” said Clarence, “I believe I can influence the patterns of these particles. Using these lodestones, I have found that I can change their paths.” He held up a handful of what looked like gray rocks that stuck together.

“The lodestone!” said the advisor. “Yes, it can alter the direction of magical flows. But how could it help here?”

“If you will allow me some time to take some measurements and make some calculations, Your Majesty,” said Clarence, “I could attempt to assist.”

“It could hurt nothing,” said the King. “No Fae has ever been harmed by lodestones. One should not attempt to use magic as normal with lodestones present, however; the results are unpredictable.”

“Your Majesty,” said the advisor, “I have found that with careful calculation, the results can actually be quite predictable.”

“Very well, Dr. Chrystomalos,” said the King. “If you two could work together and assist one another, we will let you make your measurements and calculations in peace. The rest of you, come along.” The Queen motioned, and she and the princess’ nurses stayed in the room while the rest of us left, with the exception of Clarence and Dr. Chrystomalos. We heard them comparing notes as we left them to it.

“Can he really do anything?” I asked Misty and Alicia. “He’s not a Mage.”

“I … have no idea,” said Alicia, looking mystified. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like what he’s doing before. He wants to change the flow of her magical aura to an earlier state? Is that what you were trying to do?”

“Now it’s my turn to say I have no idea,” I said. “It’s not as if I knew what a Fae’s magical aura was like before a few minutes ago, and frankly I still don’t know. But I felt like I was pushing against a mountain, trying to move it.”

“My daughter’s very self has been moved into a baby’s pattern,” said the King, “and it has taken root there. But what you say … none of my wisest advisors has been able to even shift that pattern, but you have actually exerted a force against its state?”

“Or … so it felt to me, Your Majesty,” I said. “I’m just a beginner at this. I haven’t had anything like their training.” I motioned toward Misty and Alicia.

“And yet … you destroyed the Forge and most of its creations, a task that many had considered impossible,” said the King with a raised eyebrow. “Your future may prove interesting indeed.”

“Pardon me, Sire,” said the royal courier, flying up to the King carrying a scroll. “A message for you from the Glittering Reaches.”

“Ah, of course, matters of state wait for no one,” said the King, going off to read the scroll.

Time passed. Clarence and Chrystomalos were doing something in the nursery, but we didn’t know what until the door opened and one of the nurses fluttered out, saying to us, “If you please, they are calling for the human Mages once more.”

So Alicia, Misty, and I followed her back into the nursery, where Clarence and Dr. Chrystomalos had attached lodestones to the princess’ crib and to the floor, walls, and ceiling of the room in some kind of intricate pattern. “Ah, yes, Sandy,” said Clarence. “If you could … attempt what you attempted earlier, being careful not to disturb any of the lodestones … we have reason to believe that the result would be beneficial, or at the very least tell us something important.”

“Well … I’ll try,” I said, taking out my wand again.

“We’ll help,” said Alicia and Misty, each putting a hand on one of my shoulders.

“OK, here goes.” Reaching out and again focusing on whatever it was that caused resistance magic to happen, I concentrated and stated, “I urge you to resist the change that was made to you.” I touched my wand to the princess’ head very lightly, again, only this time I had to avoid touching the lodestones that were stuck somehow to the bars of the crib as I reached in.

And this time, the mountain-like weight of what I supposed was the princess’ magical pattern, or whatever the term was, seemed more tractable, as if it were levitated above the ground. It was still heavy and slow, but it actually moved. I could feel Misty and Alicia helping me push, but it was still terribly difficult. I didn’t want to push too hard, because there was a place where we wanted it to stop, but it wouldn’t move without this huge amount of effort. But as it began to move, it moved toward a place to which it seemed to be drawn. The mountain moved slowly toward it … then seemed to go over a hill, move faster as we tried to slow it down, then snap into place and stick fast.

I realized I was breathing hard, as if I’d just run a mile. My knees felt weak. I opened my eyes, and sweat dripped from my forehead into them, stinging. Misty and Alicia held me up.

The princess was sitting up. She was still sucking her thumb, but her eyes blinked, and she looked around. “Wha’ goin’ on?” she asked, her thumb making her speech a bit unclear. The Queen gasped. “Oh no, whewe the bad man? Is he gonna get me? I think I need a diapew change … Mommy? Is that you?” The Queen almost started crying and rushed to the cribside, reaching into it and taking her daughter’s hand.

“Oh, my child, you’re safe, you’re home, I’m here, your mother is here,” said the Queen.

“Mommy! Mommy!” said the princess, crying happy tears. “There was a bad man, and he took me away, and I think … I think he put me in a weiwd cwib that made me feel all funny, like I was a weal little baby an’ not a big girl.”

“He can’t hurt you now, Sweetheart,” said the Queen. “Your father brought in everyone to try to help you … even these humans. And maybe you’re not the big girl you were, but you’re still a big girl.”

“Oooo wow, humans,” said the princess, looking at us. “Those girls gots bright lights awound them,” she said, “and that one looks weal tired and should take a nap.” She was looking at me when she said that. I did feel like a nap, now that she mentioned it. “And that boy there is … is … huh! He gots no magic! Doctow Chwysommawus, he no gots magics!”

“That’s true, Princess,” said Dr. Chrystomalos. “This human is Dr. Clarence, and he is not a Mage, but he is very smart, and he figured out how to help you using numbers and stones.”

“Wowww … he use smart stuffs …” said the princess. “Doctow Clawence …” She looked at him with wide eyes.

He looked back at her and gasped, blushing. “It … it was my honor, uh, Princess,” said Clarence with a bow, after hesitating.

The door opened. “It would seem that some sort of army of Orcs and Ogres is on the move,” said the King, entering the room, but he gasped when he saw the princess, who saw him too.

“Daddy!” the princess shouted with a big smile, raising her arms.

“Melliflora!” said the King in joy and rushed over to pick up the princess. “I’m so happy to see you, my dear! My goodness, but you need a change, don’t you?”

“Uh huh Daddy, needa change.” The King gave the princess to the Queen and the nurses, who quickly took her to the changing table.

“Ah,” said Dr. Chrystomalos, “it would appear that we have restored her mind and faculty of speech to some degree, but not perfectly to adulthood. Still, this technique has had a significant beneficial effect, unlike anything any of us tried previously.”

“Glad … it helped …” I said faintly, still supported by Misty and Alicia.

“Here,” said Alicia, tapping my forehead with her wand. I felt energy flow into me and suddenly felt less wiped out, though still tired. “Whoa, you were really tapped out, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, I … it felt like I really did push a mountain,” I said.

“We should all get a good rest,” said Misty. “That was no mean feat there. I would have thought it impossible. But then … Sandy, I’ve come to think that you don’t know the meaning of that word. And Clarence – what did you do? I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“Well, once I explained my theory to Dr. Chrystomalos, here,” said Clarence, “he confirmed some of my hypotheses and cast doubt upon some others, allowing me to refine the theory, and we arranged an array of lodestones to direct the princess’ energy flow toward her earlier pattern, which you had revealed. Then we merely needed an appropriate amount of force to throw the energy into the desired past quantum state. It’s possible that if I could find a way to generate and accelerate these particles, I would not need the help of a Mage …”

“Quite extraordinary,” said Dr. Chrystomalos. “I consider myself an expert in magic, but I could clearly benefit from learning some of your fascinating mathematics.”

“Well, it seems that this would not have been possible without all of you,” said the King. “Please, feel free to rest in our palace if you wish.”

“Sandy needs a decent amount of sleep, Your Majesty,” said Misty. “She’ll tell you she’s fine, but her energy is really seriously depleted, and the amount that Alicia was able to restore is just a drop in the bucket, so to speak.” She was right. I was about to say I was fine. I wasn’t.

“Very well,” said King Bryan. “Let guest rooms be prepared for each of them,” he ordered.

“At once, Sire,” said several attendants, who then bowed and hurried off to make arrangements.

“I will demand no more of your time,” the King said. “Please go rest, and I will not summon you again until you have had a chance to replenish your energy. The Queen and I must spend time with our daughter.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Alicia said with a curtsey. “And thank you for your hospitality.” I bowed, as I was wearing pants, and Clarence did too, but Misty had her ceremonial robe on and curtseyed along with Alicia. And we went with the royal attendants who offered to show us to our rooms.

Let me just say that the rooms were spacious, the beds were beyond comfortable, and when I awoke I felt more refreshed than I had ever felt in my life.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile, back on Earth in our home plane, the Orcs and Ogres executed a perfect surprise attack … unfortunately in the entirely wrong part of the world. On a very remote mountainside, a section of the cliff face seemed to split, then slide open amid many ground-shaking tremors and a large amount of falling rubble.

Down at the foot of the mountain was a terrain farm, and all the laborers there saw this happen. There was much lightning and many sparks flying until a huge opening appeared, filled with some type of thick billowing white cloud. They thought it had been some sort of landslide or at least an earthquake.

They could hear, at first, what sounded like a large rumbling sound that quickly resolved into many roars, growls, and guttural oaths. From the large, dark, cloud filled opening in the side of the cliff came a horde of creatures the farm laborers had only heard about in monster tales as children.

The army that emerged wore many types of ragtag armor although they did carry formidable looking weapons. Despite their extremely large size, they moved swiftly, gracefully, and as a unit, quite unlike the ragtag collection they appeared to be.

As fast as they could, the farm laborers scattered and ran for their lives. Many of them became dinner guests for the On-Ogur, who later said they were delicious.

One of the laborers, whose name was Chi Ho, had gotten lucky when he slipped. His slide took him swiftly down the side of the mountain to the fence of the army base below. His bottom didn’t feel so good, but what he had to say to the guards at the gate started the emergency sirens blaring.

Immediately, several choppers and a large contingent of well-armed men exited the base and headed up the mountain. By the time the men on foot had reached the level of the huge On-Ogur army, the choppers had already learned what a magical weapon could do.

Several of the war choppers lay in flaming heaps where magic bolts had taken them down. This time, mighty tanks trundled up and took firing position. The first several volleys seemed to be effective as huge divots were taken from the ground in the large explosions amid the horde’s ranks. Many On-Ogur appeared to have been taken out too, as they were thrown haphazardly around.

To the sheer amazement of the military men, more than a few actually stood right back up, angrier than ever. Those that didn’t stand up immediately did so after a short time, and they too were enraged. The large human army found itself pitted against its worst nightmare, an extremely large enemy that seemingly couldn’t be killed and could perform miracles, as they watched many of the Orc and Ogre mages perform their magic spells.

The news reports that managed to get out from this remote location were spotty. Many of the things they said didn’t make any sense. What was firmly understood that was some very large army had invaded, and the base at the location of the invasion was being decimated and needed immediate backup.

Immediately, the entire country went on war alert. Some of the mightiest weapons mankind had ever devised prepared to reduce the mountain to a smoking, radioactive valley.

(translated to English for our readers )

“This is Hobby Snobby with a message in two parts, do you copy Brandyglass?”

“This is Brandyglass, copy you loud and clear Hobby Snobby. Proceed with message.”

“Affirmative, Part 1 … Code red is enabled, say again enabled. Part 2 … Coordinance are …”

Some of the mightiest missiles on the planet left their silos all at the same time. Of course, Skyhook, Rocking Horse, and Looking Glass saw the launches, and they too began their preparations for retaliatory launch, until they realized the target of that massive group of missiles was a large, remote mountain range within the very same country that had launched them.

I found out there had been many high military officials scratching their heads over that at first. Most totally didn’t believe the intelligence that came in. An invading army out of nowhere? How could that happen? Firing nuclear missiles against enemy personnel? Why would any nation do that? The world’s largest governments were confused.

----------------------------------------------------------------

I got up and had a luxurious bath and a wonderful breakfast of fruit, cream, and honey that had been brought to my room. When I got dressed and asked the attendants where my companions were, they brought us all together in a room that was something like a lounge, and Alicia said, “I think something may be going on.”

“Meaning?” asked Misty.

“I would like to look at our computer,” she said, “but do you remember the King saying something about an Orc and Ogre army on the move? I’ve overheard some royal advisors talking about it. It’s caused a disturbance throughout the realms. I don’t know the specifics, but I’m worried that it’s our world that they were heading for.”

“Orcs and Ogres … are an actual thing?” I asked.

“Not merely the stuff of fantasy novels and roleplaying games?” added Clarence.

“Not that I’ve seen a lot of them,” said Misty, “but yes, they’re real, though not found on Earth, at least not anymore. Long ago they were banished to another realm after a huge battle. But here’s the thing. Orcs and Ogres are enemies. They hate each other. Normally they’re at each other’s throats. The fact that they’ve combined their armies means that something very unusual is happening.”

“Either they’ve been attacked by an outside force and have banded together for mutual defense,” said Alicia, “or …”

“Or else,” said the King, striding into the room, “they have banded together to attack a hated enemy.”

We all stood up – Misty and Alicia did so first, then Clarence and I followed suit, assuming it was the proper protocol. “Your Majesty,” said Clarence. “How is the Princess?”

“Far better in many respects,” said the King. “She is able to speak, though in a very childlike dialect. She cannot yet walk, and her condition still requires diapers. It seems she still has a strong tendency to suck her thumb, and she seems to require being fed by others and can only drink from baby bottles. But she is back. Your efforts seem to have cut several decades off her recovery time.”

“Decades?” I asked. “How long … do your people remain infants, Your Majesty?”

“It varies, but it can be anywhere from one to two of what you would call centuries,” the King replied. “Some maintain babyish behaviors all their lives, but that is a matter of individual choice.”

“You were saying, about a hated enemy, Your Majesty?” asked Alicia.

“Yes, the army of Orcs and Ogres may have banded together to seek something that would benefit both. You are correct; they have invaded your realm, from which they were banished long ago. According to my scouts, they have defeated token opposition, and the human military response is … escalating.”

“You mean armies can’t stop them with guns and shells and tanks?” I asked. “What kind of weapons do they have?”

“They’ve got Mages of their own,” said Misty grimly. “Their magic works differently, but it does work. Human armies have no defenses against that.”

“Can we … give them some?” I asked.

“We’d have to be nearby,” said Alicia, “and that would be dangerous. I’m sure that Earth’s Mages will do something about this, but we should be there to help. Some of the darker Mages may attempt to make a deal with them, but other dark Mages will try to stop them too, as will the light Mages like us.”

“I’m more interested in what they think they’re going to get by invading our Earth,” said Misty.

“Orcs and Ogres are not subtle,” said the King. “It would have to be power of some kind. Territory, or a weapon, or a spell, or even the glory of victory itself, might motivate them.”

“A … weapon?” asked Clarence. “Might they be after the Forge?”

“The Forge?” asked Misty. “Have they had it in the past?”

“Its location over the past few centuries is … murky, at best,” said Alicia. “It was in the hands of Hezwynn until the Fae took it from him in their attempt to rescue the Princess. They were bringing it back to this realm …”

“The Forge has from time to time been locked away in the Catacombs for safekeeping,” explained the King. “Some time ago – millennia, by Earth reckoning, and this was before my reign – it was taken by the Unseelie, curse their name.”

“And then,” said Misty, “someone took it from them. It may have changed hands multiple times. At some point it must have been in the hands of one or more human Mages of the light, because they tried to rein in its power by creating the chest.”

“Yes,” said the king. “Then, at some point thereafter, Hezwynn obtained the Forge and chest and used them to imprison our daughter. We got them back, but before they could be transported back here, they were struck by a mighty bolt of dark magic …”

“Could that have been Orc or Ogre magic, Your Majesty?” asked Alicia.

“It could,” said the king, “and that is the leading theory among my experts.”

“And who had the Forge before it was last in the Catacombs, Your Majesty?” I asked. I was getting the hang of the protocol.

“I … seem to recall,” replied the king after some thought, “that it was captured from the Ogres, who had tried to invade this realm using it as a weapon. Again, that was before my reign. But this could easily mean that the Ogres have decided they want the Forge back – and it matters not that it’s been destroyed, because all know that to be impossible. Attempt to tell them it no longer exists, and they’ll not believe you.”

“We’re … we’re going to have to defeat an army, aren’t we?” I said. “Oh well, what’s one more impossible task?”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Back at the targeted impact zone within our home dimension, the On-Ogur Mages had created a temporal spell that cast the many missiles into another realm – which one in particular didn’t matter, but they lucked out and sent them to an empty realm. The massive detonations all combined into one huge miasma. Light appeared for the very first time within the stygian blackness of this location’s empty void as the seeds of life were sown by the super powerful weapons of death. It would be many billions of years in the future for life to come to fruition, but a whole new universe was born.

At this point, the On-Ogur army had regrouped, then begun rapidly descending the mountain, only stopping long enough to eat. Many large bonfires could be seen all along the trail the massive beasts had taken. The disgusting smell of what they were cooking filled the valley as more human military began showing up with more firepower.

A squad of fast attack jet fighters accompanied by several scatter bomb drones rapidly approached their targets.

The squadron leader sent his final order in this life, “This is Skipjack calling all fighters. Live fire authorized. Initiate MLS 1 now. Acknowledge order to fire.”

About 100 confirmation replies came over the flight leader’s comm as he squeezed the fire trigger. His aircraft was momentarily buffeted by the weight change when the many missiles launched.

His radar tracked them almost to their targets, then the scope readings splattered with some type of never before encountered energy. To the total amazement of the entire attacking squadron, all the missiles vanished without detonating.

The last thing any of the fighter pilots experienced was the massively bright light and the severe prickly heat that washed over them. Then over 100 of this earth’s most deadly aircraft became a mass of flaming, tumbling junk that smashed into the ground and exploded once again into a huge grouping of fireballs.

A mighty warcry rose from the huge On-Ogur army as it continued on with ever more confidence. Many of them were overjoyed at the feast they were going to have at day’s end. It would make what they had already done seem like a small snack.

The major world powers took notice and began doing satellite recon of the mountainous area. The pictures they got and other data clearly showed some large army overrunning the huge defending armies. All of them were amazed at the disappearance of so many nuclear weapons at the same time. None could explain away the mystery of what was striking down some of the most advanced aircraft and drones the world had ever produced either.

The red phone on the U.S. President’s desk lit up and began to flash with its irritating buzz signal. The president took a deep breath as he looked around at the highest ranking personnel in the military.

He reached over and answers, “Hello. This is the President of the United States. I understand the seriousness of the call, Vladimir. You say what? How many disappeared? Over a thousand. And the entire air force as well?” The President put his hand over the mouthpiece and said, “Henry, I need current data of that battle and I need it now.”

General Eastlessland replied, “Immediately, Mr. President.” He then took out a small comm device and pressed its center. “Sergeant, I need all current and updating data on the invasion we have been monitoring in the Oval Office ASAP!!” The general looked at the President and said, “Most recent data will be here as soon as the network can get it here, Sir.” Almost before he was done saying this, the large tactical screen on the wall lit up with information.

The President nodded and took his hand from the mouthpiece, “I’m now seeing the most current data and photos … You say what??!! The invaders are cooking and eating the bodies and captives? Even eating some alive?! That’s in violation of so many international agreements that …”

By this time, most of the industrialized nation’s military might was being mobilized for all-out war.

----------------------------------------------------------------

The Fae magical conveyance looked like one of Leonardo DaVinci’s bird-shaped framework flying machines, only much larger. The wind whistled straight through the vehicle, although there were no gaps large enough for any of its passengers to fall through. I was sitting in one of a few makeshift seats that had been added for human passengers. Clarence had opted to stay behind in the Fae realm for now, Monica and Ted were back with Fontina at the workshop, and Misty, Alicia and I were flying with Lathium toward where the computer had said the Orc and Ogre army were.

“Shouldn’t we be … really cold?” I asked as we passed downward through the clouds.

Alicia replied, “The vehicle isn’t really open to the air; the breeze inside is just an indication of which way it’s moving.”

“There they are!” shouted Misty. Some kind of magical effect was magnifying the view; we were just below the clouds, but through the aircraft’s floor we could see the dark figures of the army advancing. They were busy overrunning a small town on the outskirts of a large city.

“They haven’t seen us yet,” said Lathium, piloting the craft with his hands hovering over two flat, glowing, polished marble discs that hovered to his left and right.

“I’m trying to remember everything you’ve taught me,” I said. “Protect this vehicle from attack …” A net of golden light appeared, taking the form of the craft’s framework and seeming to merge with it.

“Good work!” said Alicia. “Keep that up and it’ll deflect their magical attacks – when they do see us, which they will sooner or later.”

“What do we do when they do see us?” asked Misty.

“We’ll figure it out once we find out what they’ve got,” said Lathium. “I’m sure nothing in the technological arsenals of this world can stop their magic. It takes magic to stop magic.”

He was taking us ever closer, trying to get their attention. They were killing humans, who were trying to flee. People were streaming out of the city as the army marched toward it, trying to get away ahead of time in their cars and airplanes. As we watched, they shot an airliner out of the sky with a bolt of dark energy, like lightning, but sucking the energy out of the air instead of being bright.

“There,” said Alicia. “That’s a darkling bolt. They’re using corrupted elementalism, among other things. Sandy, that’s something they might throw at us.”

“I’m ready,” I said.

Then they saw us.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“Nother birdie!” shouted an Orc spotter, pointing at the flying machine in the sky.

“Bring it down!” ordered Uklantak, and several Orc Mages turned their attentions to trying to do so. Dark lightning raced through the air … but with no effect. The flier was still there and had become a bigger black dot against the clouds.

“You missed!” yelled BoneScragg. “Shoot it! Zap it! Crush it!” Several Ogre Mages sprinkled foul-smelling herbs into the burning pots that hung on iron chains from the upper ends of their war staves. Black smoke issued forth out of which went several missiles of dark force, only one of which had taken down a flying machine like the one we were in not too long ago, the one carrying the Forge and the chest.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“Oof!” I said. “But that wasn’t too bad.”

“Here comes more,” said Misty.

I steeled myself for the impact. Huge black missiles of some kind of evil energy splashed against my resistance shields … and were gone. “I … huh. I thought those would be worse.”

“How are you even doing that?” asked Lathium. “That would have shredded our defenses, not to mention this conveyance. And it was barely any effort for you? Resistance Mages are too rare, I say!”

“The fact is, this is exactly what Resistance Magic is for,” Alicia explained. “But I doubt they’re done with us. Keep holding them off. It’s time to counterattack.”

I was focusing on knocking their shots aside, so I didn’t get to see exactly what they were doing, but Misty and Alicia were combining their power again. They waited for the next attack … and it came. It was one of those dark lightning bolts.

Only when it hit, it seemed to freeze in the air for a moment, turning light at our end first. The light followed the bolt’s trail back toward the invader who had cast it. A massive explosion of light erupted around that Orc, throwing him and everyone nearby many yards through the air. When they recovered, they found that their wands, staves, and other tools of magic had crumbled to dust.

The Ogre Mages had a different problem. Their projectiles didn’t move at the speed of lightning. I reached out and … yes! I batted one straight back where it had come from, just as if I’d been playing tennis.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“Huh?” asked the Ogre Mage as he felt, then saw, his own spell rebounding on him. “No!” He tried to run, but it still hit nearby. Other Ogres and Orcs saw it coming and ran. But it hit the ground like a huge mortar shell, sending debris and bodies flying everywhere.

The resulting explosion put all the 4th of July fireworks displays I had ever seen to shame. The Ogre Mage groaned, covered in bricks and stones, with more still raining down on him.

“How they do that?” asked BoneScragg.

“Their Mages are here!” shouted Uklantuk. “Target them! Stop their magics!”

By this time, some of the Orc Mages were unable to cast spells, and the Ogre Mages were disrupted, so it took a while before they could come up with a response. Still, in time they did.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“What’s this?” I asked. Something didn’t feel right. There was some kind of … wrongness in the air. It felt like I couldn’t do anything. The vehicle seemed like it was in free fall.

“It’s to be expected,” said Lathium. “They do this whenever they face Fae. They’re casting a field of anti-magic. Just ride it out. It doesn’t move. They’ll try to hit us as soon as we’re out of it, so get ready.”

So I did, and apparently Misty and Alicia did too, because the instant the flying machine stopped feeling like it was falling, I batted aside more dark bombs, and Misty and Alicia did … something I couldn’t tell what it was.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“Huh?” said the Ogre Mage. “That trick always work on Fae.” He was wrong. It literally never worked on Fae, unless it took them completely by surprise.

And then, there was a mighty explosion of multi-colored light in numerous patterns that shifted and twisted, surrounding them with a confusion of blaring sound.

“Wha?” Wha dis?” shouted BoneScragg, but nobody could hear him, any more than he could hear anyone else. Everything was in a total state of insanity and all actions only resulted in more insane crazy chaos.

“Dunno wha dis is!” shouted Uklantuk. “Mages! Do something!”

“Is … chaos magic!” shouted the Orc Mages. “Got no wands … no talismans … everything going crazy!”

When it cleared, there was a bombardment of bright lights from the sky. It didn’t touch or harm a single building, Orc, or Ogre … but every single remaining dark wand or talisman shattered like glass.

“They – they’re trying to make us vulnerable to this world’s weapons!” shouted Uklantuk. “But it doesn’t matter! Press on! Into the city! The Forge must be there!”

The Forge, by the way, was not there, because it wasn’t anywhere. They were not smart. They’d only gotten as far as they had because Earth’s military forces had no idea what to do in the face of magic. But they’d appeared on the wrong side of the world, and they were in search of a Forge that no longer existed.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Let us not give the impression the human army walked roughshod over the remaining On-Ogur. That would have been a fantasy. Nor that the On-Ogur didn’t suffer heavy losses too. Before the human armies managed to drive off the invaders, even without the On-Ogur magic, the human army suffered extremely heavy losses. Needless to say, the remaining On-Ogur, and there were still thousands, had the feast they had hoped for when they returned to their own realms. Although they were still convinced the Forge was there somewhere for the taking, but, for now, they were going to replan another attack. This time the opposition would certainly be too great without their Mages, but they were proud enough to try anyway.

Of course, the human scientists were completely baffled by the remains of the two types of creatures from the invading army as they studied them. There were no fossil records of anything like either of them. The only references to such were from the many fantasy fairy tales told to children.

Another baffling mystery was the metals the armor and weapons had been made of. They were of some type of seemingly indestructible crystalline form, and it radiated strange energies no one had seen before. Another thing that really baffled them was the fact that they were unable to analyze or recreate the metallic crystal.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“What … what’s that?” asked the President when he saw drone footage of our aerial assault from the flying machine. “Whose aircraft is that?”

“Doesn’t match any known signatures, Sir,” said the general. “But it’s attacking the invasion force, and it’s being more effective than anything the entire world’s sent.”

“Good enough for me. But this is on China’s turf. Can we suggest that they attack now – something that wouldn’t be a suicide mission?”

“Looks like they’re firing some more of those long-range conventional missiles, Sir,” said the general. “If they don’t do anything, well, nothing ventured. But if they do … look at that! Look at that, Sir! “ The display on the wall showed the missiles striking. The explosions were as impressive as the damage they did. “Their defenses are crumbling! Whatever that army was doing that made them invincible, it’s gone now! China is now ordering a full assault!”

“Looks like we have that mystery aircraft to thank … wait, where is it? It’s gone! Did we see where it went?” The President was confused.

“Drone footage shows that … no … I can’t tell, Sir,” said the general. “It seems to have vanished just as the missiles struck. But it wasn’t in range of any of them. It just … went away.”

“Are you telling me that China, and maybe the whole world, was just saved by … a UFO?” asked the President.

“I … I’m not sure what to tell you, Sir,” said the general. “We may have to wait for more intel to come in.”

More intel came in, but the mysterious aircraft was never explained. It had mysteriously vanished in the same manner as it had appeared.

----------------------------------------------------------------

I was tired again. Alicia and Misty have explained to me that all Mages have an internal reserve of energy that’s depleted whenever we do anything … magically strenuous, anything that takes lots of effort. When we’re worn out, we can’t do much, and in fact we feel physically exhausted too. It recovers when we rest, though. And I needed to rest.

Misty and Alicia had completely wrecked the Orcs’ and Ogres’ ability to cast spells. Once they’d made sure of that, Lathium had taken us out of there, transporting the whole flying machine back to the Fae realm. The Ogres and Orcs might never know who had hit them … assuming any of them survived the onslaught of Earth’s military forces.

The airframe touched down gently in the courtyard of the royal palace. Lathium bowed and said, “Well done, ladies! I must report to Their Majesties.” The side of the craft opened up, and he flew out. We unstrapped ourselves, then climbed out in the human way.

“Tired,” I said.

“I’ll bet you are!” said Misty. “Me too!”

“Me three,” said Alicia. “Wow. But we can find a place where they’ll at least let us sit down, I’m sure.”

“Please, come this way, honored guests,” said an attendant, leading us to a lounge area with some very comfortable chaises. They brought us drinks and let us rest. We assumed that Lathium was bringing the King and Queen up to date with what had happened.

He reappeared shortly after that, hovering behind the King, who came to see us. “Your Majesty!” said Alicia, attempting to get up.

“No, do not get up,” said King Bryan. “I waive the usual protocols in this case. You must rest.”

“Very well, Your Majesty,” said Misty. I said something like that. I was very tired, but feeling better.

“Diplomatically, we’re probably in the clear, Your Majesty,” said Lathium. “I doubt any of them saw any more of us than a black spot in the distance, and all magic used against them was cast by human Mages – and considering that they were invading the human realm, I can’t imagine they’d fault humans for defending their own realm. That, of course, is assuming that there are any survivors who are able to determine what sort of magic was used to attack them.”

“Lathium has described the sorts of spells you cast,” said the King. “Misty and Alicia, I was unaware that you had such a grasp of Chaos Magic. Impressive. And equally impressive was your adeptness with Resistance Magic, Sandy. And you have only been studying for a matter of … days?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” I said. “It’s basically been a whirlwind of activity with one thing after another, though. I’m glad for the occasional rest.”

“What you’ll be able to do when fully trained I can only imagine,” said the King. “I’m glad a state of peace exists between the human and Fae realms.”

“Well, I beg you to keep in mind, Your Majesty,” said Alicia, “that there are many nations in the human world, and many are at odds with one another in a variety of ways …”

“Yes, I understand. Well. I’ll let you rest. I’m glad you’re in one piece. Dr. Clarence and Dr. Chrystomalos have been continuing their efforts to help my daughter, by the way. I think she’s much better now … although she’s going to be very childlike in a lot of ways for some time, at least she’ll be able to function again. It’s just wonderful that she’s able to recognize us now.”

So time passed. We rested, but it was some time before we found out the fate of the On-Ogur army. No, they weren’t all wiped out. In fact, after they saw the stiffness of the resistance and the heavy losses, the horde retreated, or we wouldn’t have known about how it all got started. But this tale isn’t over yet.

There was still the matter of a certain dark Mage who was being hunted across the many realms by a mighty and vengeful dragon. There were also several items created by the Forge that were still at large … and there was the trunk, and its creator.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Hezwynn cowered in his newest hiding location. He had managed to make a small bubble between two continua amid the energy vortices that bound all creation together. Not even a dragon could sense him here; there was too much primal energy disguising everything.

Hezwynn couldn’t understand how the dragon had come back to life. He was going to do more research to try and find out and knew just where to look. His resources were limited at the moment, but not nil.

He sat at a construct table and snapped his fingers. Amid a small blue / white flash, a very large and obviously extremely old tome appeared. The huge book was bound in some type of scaly armored kind of leather, and its front cover featured a beautifully crafted dragon’s head made of the purest gold with glowing fiery red gemstones for eyes. A small curl of smoke smelling of brimstone slowly rose from the image’s nostrils.

Most of what he read, in one of the oldest tongues to have come to the knowledge of mankind, told him that he had performed the ritual exactly perfectly. Right down to the smidgen of Dragon’s Blood.

It also told how to kill a dragon, and that was no easy task. Beneath the armored chest plate all dragons have, there was a flap that opened and revealed both hearts. Both must be taken, or the dragon would yet live.

He also read how one of the hearts could be substituted for a dying individual’s, and it would restore that individual for so long as the dragon’s other heart beat. Through the dragon’s heart, both were bound. The dragon and such an individual would share vitality, which basically meant the individual couldn’t be killed by normal means and would live as long as the dragon lived.

It didn’t say anything about this particular spell bringing the darn thing back to life, and of all dragons, it had to be Thermatrix Frigolity … the King of all Dragons. Hezwynn banged his fist on the top of the construct table. Nothing happened except a loud bang. The construct was magical, and a physical action like that didn’t affect it in the least.

Hezwynn put his face in his hands and sighed tiredly, “How in this earth did that dead and moldy thing come back to the land of the living? It’s such a huge mystery.”

A grumbly, slithering voice came from the tome, saying, “If the power is just and used with truth, it can cause resistance to death, even unto life.”

Hezwynn sat up and raised his eyebrows. Resistance? He scratched the back of his head. There hadn’t been a Resistance Mage in hundreds of years, and he’d never heard of one powerful enough to allow an already dead being to resist death itself.

The tome seemed to read his mind. A thick trail of smoke began to rise from the nostrils of the image on the tome, and the voice said, “There is one who has the symmetry. Her power is young and not yet focused. She is the most powerful Resistance Mage ever to have arisen, and even untrained now is able. When her power matures, and she has learned to wield it properly, nothing shall resist her will.”

A chill ran up his spine. As a Will Mage, the thought of anything or anyone able to resist his will would make them completely immune to anything he could do. Hezwynn said out loud, “OK, how do I stop Thermatrix?”

A loud snort and several smoke rings came from the image’s nostrils. “With luck, powerful spells, and one of those magical crystal weapons from Androlia to pierce a dragon’s armor.”

Hezwynn was floored. The means to create those kinds of weapons had been lost centuries ago when the Eldelong Tribe of Elves had vanished. He hadn’t even heard of anyone having seen such a weapon in the several hundred years he had been a wizard.

Still, no one had ventured to Androlia since the mysterious way all the Eldelong had vanished. Perhaps there just might be an artifact that had been overlooked all these years. It had happened before in even more busy places. In a place no one ever went to, prospects were high. Of course … that raised the question of exactly why no one had dared go there.

Now all Hezwynn had to do was find a way to get there and search without Thermatrix finding him. Maybe this would do the trick …

----------------------------------------------------------------

In a location lost in the realms of time, the lid of a device slid open. Clouds of thick vapor rolled out and down the sides as a very beautiful young woman sat up. Her gossamer gown did little to hide her perfect female form.

As she exited her device, many others slid open in the same manner. Very young and beautiful men and women all stood up from their long slumbers and looked around as the first female came to an ovuloid shelf and waved her hand. Many twinkly spots of light lit up, all arranged in particular orders across the shelf. A large section of the wall above it filled with many wavy boiling clouds of color, before an Image of Alicia and Misty appeared within.

The woman turned and said in a musical tinkling voice, “We have guests coming. They will be searching for a particular type of item made using our type of crystals.”

One of the beautiful young men said as he stepped from his device, “We Eldelong were known for it, many many seasons past. Seems they might want to know the secret of Null Resistance, which we used to help a human make a chest to place magical items within, to keep their magic from harming others. Let us hope that denizen of the dark doesn’t arrive too early. He only has need to be the dinner guest of his antagonist.”

Those men and women who were now moving about and energizing more shelves filled with points of light, and activating more viewers, all laughed as they made preparations for guests they had awaited for millennia. And by that time, I hadn’t even figured out that I needed to go there.

----------------------------------------------------------------

So we had all returned to Alicia and Misty’s sanctuary. Clarence had said his farewells to the Princess, for now, and we’d rejoined Ted and Monica, who had been spending their time swimming in the ocean and talking to Fontina. We knew we had to find and neutralize whatever Forge creations remained out there, both on Earth and in other realms, and we had the trunk to store them in. But something had been bothering me about the trunk, now that I’d had a chance to rest and think about it.

I decided to ask Fontina about it, since she was the Fountain of Knowledge, after all. “Fontina,” I said, “I wonder if I can ask you a question.”

“The answer is yes, if you can formulate it,” she said with a giggle. “Any further questions?”

I chuckled involuntarily. “I do have one, in fact. Do you know anything about the creator of the chest, Hong Yue-shin?”

“Hong Yue-shin was a fine woodworker of Dunhuang, in western China, 1602-1689 CE,” recited Fontina. “He was known for his lacquered wood creations, often decorated with beautiful artwork.”

“But he didn’t make this chest,” I said, gesturing toward the one that had until recently held the Forge’s creations, insulating them from the outside world.

“No,” Fontina replied. “That was made by a Duplication Mage. By its magical signature, I can see that it was made by one Darielle Bouclier, most likely in the year 1994 CE.”

“I see,” I replied. I noticed that some of the others had wandered by to listen in. “But if they’re a Duplication Mage, how could they make an item with such powerful resistance? Wouldn’t it have to be very strong in order to block the magic of Forge creations? We all know how powerful they are.”

“Hmm, well, you’re right about that,” Fontina replied. “Unless she’s the most powerful Duplication Mage who ever lived – and although Bouclier’s quite competent by all accounts I wouldn’t say she’s of legendary power – the only way it could have that sort of property is if she got, well, help. Someone or something else lent extra power during the trunk’s creation. And a lot of it, I’d say.”

“And that’s really what I want to know about,” I said. “That’s a lot of resistance power. Where does that kind of resistance power come from? I don’t know the technical terms for things like this. It seems like my magic that I can do, but it’s different too.”

“Yes, it is different,” said Fontina. “Another Resistance Mage, perhaps, except you’re the only human one who’s come along for quite some time. A Resistance Mage from another realm, maybe? Or someone with resistance-type abilities, like a Fae who has a specialty in resistance magic or a being who has natural resistance?”

“What about the elves of the Eldelong Tribe?” asked Alicia, who had been listening nearby.

“They had crystals of various magical types,” Fontina said, “and resistance was one of them. Somebody could have used one of their Androlian crystals of the proper type … except that there’s one problem. There haven’t been any Eldelong Elves for centuries. They were driven out of their home in Androlia by an unknown force, and all of them are thought to have been killed in the battle. Nobody goes back to Androlia, because those who have gone there have never been seen again.”

“Thought to have been killed?” I asked. “Who thinks that?”

“Well, anybody who thinks about it,” said Fontina, “and that isn’t many, because nobody’s seen any Eldelong Elves since then.”

“So how do we know they were driven out of their home?” I asked.

“Well, visitors could come and go freely, to and from Androlia,” said Fontina, “but then, one day, the last visitor to return from Androlia, Reginald the Red, claimed that he’d barely escaped with his life, that the air had turned to burning sand and the sky to fire. One of the Eldelong escaped with him but was badly hurt, even worse than Reginald, and soon succumbed to her wounds, saying that ‘it’ had claimed their home. And ever since then, no one who has gone there has returned.”

“Seems unlikely that Bouclier used a crystal from whatsit, Androlia?” I replied. “If it’s certain death to go there, how could she both go there and get back?”

“The obvious answer is: she didn’t,” Fontina said. “Here we don’t know the true answer, but the possibilities are many. Perhaps she didn’t use an Androlian resistance crystal; she used something else. Perhaps the Eldelong survived and brought crystals with them, and they’re in hiding somewhere. Perhaps there are crystals that came from Androlia before whatever happened. But …”

“But what?”

“But the magical signature of the chest is so similar to Androlian Crystals that I don’t know what else it could have been,” said Fontina. “And Androlian Crystals never lasted long outside Androlia, not unless the Eldelong made them into an artifact there. There are stories of magic swords, amulets, rings, and even one chalice, that the elves of Eldelong made from the Androlian Crystals. But the crystals themselves crumbled into dust soon after leaving Androlia.”

“So maybe the rumors of the Eldelong Tribe’s demise are greatly exaggerated?” I asked.

“You do seem to have uncovered a mystery,” said Fontina.

“How do I get to Androlia?” I asked.

“It’s a separate realm, like the realm of the Fae or that of the Orcs,” Fontina explained. “A cross-realm traveling spell is required. Anyone with enough magic and training could do it – meaning that you could, once you learned the spell and the proper coordinates. But Sandy, nobody who’s gone there has ever come back! Not for centuries! Hyallduran the Wise went there and never returned, and he was the most powerful Travel Mage of his generation! It’s not worth the risk, just to solve a mystery!”

“It’s not just to solve a mystery,” I replied. “I want to know … how to really protect humanity.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

This thing about resistance was becoming some kind of main focus in the things that were happening and information I was getting. Misty and Alicia both agreed that it was fate attempting to get me to learn more of my skill, and how to use it for the betterment of all.

All I knew so far was that I had the ability to allow things to resist … anything, whether that was a temptation, an attack, or even just a state of being. I was still sort of in a state of shock about causing Thermatrix’s dead possed corpse to actually resist death and return to the land of the living.

From what Fontina had told me, I was the first actual Resistance Mage to come along in centuries. Not only that, Alicia had told me I was perhaps the most powerful mage with that affinity ever, judging from what she and Misty had studied thus far. She did, however, make it very plain that out of all the extensive study she and Misty had done so far, it barely even made a small scratch compared to what was left.

I heard this very strange tinkling sound, and then a musical female voice said, “Greetings, and welcome to our realm. I know this will be sort of hard to accept, but we have awaited your coming for many centuries.”

I immediately jumped up and cast my very best resistance spell to protect me if possible.

The voice laughed, in a very pleasant tinkling way, then said, “Relax. I am here to teach you how to travel to our lands. There are things you need to learn that only we can teach. What’s more, there’s an item you want that can only come from us.”

Now, I had already figured it out and knew who this was, but I asked anyway, “And just who are you … and where are your lands?”

Once again the voice laughed in its very pleasant and tinkling way, “Why, we are the Eldelong and our lands are called Androlia. But, I know you already know this.”

I gasped in total incredulity as Misy and Alicia came in with their wands out. I put up my hand and said, “Relax, guys. I don’t think anyone is here physically. The Eldelong are here to tell me that they want me to come to their lands.”

“Wow,” Misty said as she began to relax, “The Eldelong still exist? But … go to Androlia? That would prove to be fatal. At least nobody who’s gone there so far has ever returned.”

The voice replied, “Only those with nefarious intent are put in peril, and two have been cast out for that reason. Although there is one very wise young man still here. He is a very delightful and inquisitive student.”

Alicia asked, “It wouldn’t happen to be Hyallduran the Wise, would it?”

The voice replied, “Why, the very same. He has proven to be wise beyond his years, and a very adept learner. We are delighted to give him all the knowledge he can master.”

Misty said, “So, to come see you, you have to be invited?”

The voice replied, “That would help, although, if one’s intent is honest, there is nothing to fear.” It was more than obvious that the voice had turned to me, as it continued, “With great power comes an even greater responsibility. We are like you; we have been given a very great power. Now it is up to us to teach you how to use yours, as decreed by the Sisters of Fate. They wove your thread into the tapestry of all there is uncounted time spans ago.”

I was totally floored. The myth about the Sisters of Fate wasn’t just a bedtime story; they were for real? I looked wide-eyed at Misty and Alicia, but all they did was sort of shrug.

A sparkle of light appeared in front of me. A very large and ornate tome appeared atop some sort of crystal pedestal. The tome was covered in the whitest leather and trimmed with something that softly glowed with a golden radiance. On the front, ornate letters flickered as if they were made of fire, saying, “HISTORIUM.”

A small tendril of light opened the book. The page glowed softly blue/white as I approached to look. Alicia and Misty came beside me to look as well. The page clearly detailed how to perform the simple spell of translocation. The next section told how to get to Androlia using that spell. Both were simple to me now that I had had a bit of study time with real magic – the first page was the spell, but the spell required sort of magical coordinates to tell it where to take me, and the second page contained those coordinates.

The Eldelong had just given me what I thought of as a large gift – the ability to instantly teleport to almost any location, if I had the coordinates, although there was probably some other, more mystical word for that.

By this time, Alicia had taken notice of the crystalline stand the tome rested on. She bent down and used a small revelation spell. What it showed was that the stand was made entirely of Androlian Crystal. Alicia gasped in amazement. From what Fontina had told her, those crystals were unknown in this and all known realms other than Androlia itself – although one couldn’t be sure of all of them, as their numbers are infinite.

Alicia said with incredulity obvious in her tone, “This stand is made entirely from Androlian Crystal. That’s … incredible.”

Misty bent and examined the stand. I could tell both were in a state of amazed shock.

I asked, although it really wasn’t necessary .. I already knew the answer, “So, I take it we’re officially invited?”

There was a moment of tinkling giggles. “You are so cute. I really like you. Yes, bring your friends there too. I know we have many things that we could teach all of you.”

With that, there was this sparkling tinkle and we all knew that the voice, or whatever the presence had been, had gone. I looked where the stand and tome had been, but they too had vanished.

Even though the pages describing the spells were gone, the knowledge of how to use them still flickered brightly in my mind amid the very large and growing list of spells I had the ability to perform.

----------------------------------------------------------------

I practiced a bit. Alicia and Misty already had a few different types of travel spells in their repertoire – they said they could travel to anyplace involving truth, and they’d learned how to travel using elemental magic, which was how they went to somewhere with lightning. The Fae had transported us to and from their realm themselves using their own magic.

But this was something Misty and Alicia hadn’t known. They were taking notes. So was Clarence, who observed me with his detector as I popped from the beach to Fontina’s fountain to the cupola on top of the sanctuary. I even teleported back to my house, so I could send an email and let my workplace know that I’d probably need another week – I had a lot of time off saved up, and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to save the world.

I discovered that the spell wouldn’t let me go anywhere I hadn’t been before, so I had to climb the stairs to the cupola first, but once I’d done that, it was in my … internal directory, I guess. But the Eldelong had given me their address, so to speak, and without extensive research that was the only way one could get to a place one had never been before.

So the time finally came. I’d been asking Fontina some final questions about the Eldelong when the others gathered around. “All right,” I said. “We should decide who’s going to the place nobody’s ever returned from.”

“Actually until a few centuries ago, people regularly went there and returned,” said Fontina. “If you find out why the Eldelong changed their visiting policies, please let me know. Assuming you return. I’m staying here – I can’t leave my fountain for an indefinite period.”

“I understand,” I said, and more importantly, so did Alicia and Misty, who had known her for longer than I had.

“I beg to come along,” said Clarence. “I got the most amazing readings in the Fae realm, and I long for the chance to correlate them with yet another continuum. Although … I do hope I can visit the Fae realm again and see how the sweet Princess is getting on.”

“Well, it sounds as if they’re OK with visitors as long as they don’t have nefarious purposes,” said Misty, and we all agreed.

Monica said, “I … actually, I’ll stay here. I don’t want to go home yet – we haven’t made a final sweep for Forge items, and I don’t want to be alone in a place where those exist until we have.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “Misty and Alicia seem to have a well-stocked kitchen, and you’ll have at least Fontina for company – Ted?”

The doll whose name was still Ted said, “I’m still looking for a name. Maybe I’ll find one there. I don’t think that’s a nefarious purpose.”

“Certainly not,” said Clarence.

“Well, then, let’s get going,” I said. “But first, can we get back?”

“Misty and I will always be able to come back here, and bring all of us with us if necessary,” said Alicia. “It’s a place of truth, and we have a special connection to it.”

“OK, that’s sets my mind at ease,” I said. “Well, everybody grab my arm.” I channeled with my gray wand and said the words, which I somehow remembered. It wasn’t Resistance Magic, but some spells were very general and worked for anyone with the ability.

When it came time, I tapped into my memory of the page that contained the genius loci, the Platzgeist, the defining spirit of the destination, and I don’t even remember if I said any words or what they were. But then it was as if one location just faded into another, and there we were, in a courtyard paved with crystal pathways among multicolored crystalline … plants? Trees? They were nothing like anything I’d seen before.

And then they walked up to us – they had to be the Eldelong Tribe. They were about as tall as us humans, though considerably taller than Ted, of course, and they looked just like the images they’d sent us. Brilliant gold and crystal jewelry adorned their delicately pointed ears and their flowing hair. “Welcome to Androlia,” said a sparkling, tinkling voice identical to the one that had contacted us earlier. “I sense no ill intent in you, just as before. We will help you find what you seek, because so it is written. Please follow us.”

The courtyard was surrounded by shining bejeweled walls, and the two elves led us to a doorway, which opened for us, and then through beautifully decorated hallways to a room of cushioned chairs and divans, surrounded by shelves of books. “Please find a seat. There is much to discuss.”

And discuss we did. They got right to business – a bit hastily, I thought, for unaging beings who had exactly one other visitor. Alicia and Misty asked about the history of this place, Clarence examined everything and everyone with his scanner, and Ted just asked people their names for inspiration.

As for me, they brought me to a place a short way from the complex of crystalline buildings to a large white crystal in the wilderness, among the mineral trees. They told me it was the largest Resistance Crystal they had ever discovered. They said I should meditate on it, ask it to teach me.

I didn’t know how to ask a rock to teach me, but I did what I could. I sat down, I tried to calm my mind, and I tried to reach out to the crystal with what I hoped was a common thread, my Resistance affinity. And … I contacted something. It was not something that I really talked to with words. It was more like part of me was akin to the energy of this crystal, and they were resonating. It was like going to a foreign country and finding out that you had ancestors from there. I started to really understand what this part of me was.

Of course that’s when it happened. Of course. I didn’t know it was happening at first. I just came out of my meditation for some air, opened my eyes, and noticed a lot of shouting and magical flashes of light over by the complex of crystalline buildings down in the valley half a mile away. That was where Alicia and Misty were, and Clarence, and Ted. And something was happening down there.

I didn’t even really think. I put up a brand new null resistance spell that was deeper and more sophisticated than anything I’d ever done before and teleported myself right down there, since I already knew the place.

----------------------------------------------------------------

I knew immediately as soon as the location I was standing in dissolved then resolved into the place below I wanted to go, that something major had changed. Just by sheer accident, the place I appeared was the exact spot Hezwynn was standing in before he launched his last dark attack and teleported to another location.

As soon as I materialized, the area all around me was hit by a thermal reaction that was just this side of being nuclear in nature, except there was no radiation – just massive heat on heat. That assault was followed instantly by the same type of attack, only in cold flames that neared what science called absolute zero as Thermatrix let go with a full-powered blast from both his ice lung and his fire lung.

Both attacks impacted my newly acquired null resistance shield. I experienced 100% resistance to both forms of elemental energy. All they did was put on a rather pretty display of fire and ice and destroyed the beautiful crystalline artwork all around me. Or they might have been this dimension’s equivalent of plants. I still wasn’t sure.

Misty and Alicia had also launched some of their most powerful light spells. Since I was not of the dark powers, and my intentions were in no way dark, the powers of light danced all around me in a very pretty wash of ever-changing rainbow colors before the spell dissipated and vanished.

At the same time those assaults were hitting my new null resistance shields, the Eldelong Tribe’s launched combined attack struck. Many fireballs and stranger types of impactors fell on top of me. The very air around me seemed to catch fire as a tornado of burning sand and other debris began to swirl around me. It seemed as if the very sky and the air around me had caught fire … all to naught.

Once again, I was almost in shock as I realized I had resisted the entire assault by some of the mightiest spells and assaults the elves could throw … not that I was complaining, but still … I was amazed.

When the smoke cleared and the debris settled, I was standing in the exact center of a huge scorched area. Everything within a 75 yard circle had been scorched, blasted, then flash frozen. That is, all but me.

I looked down at myself as I held my arms out. I couldn't believe it. My jeans, top, and tennis shoes had turned into some type of jet black, skin tight leotard. My top was some kind of half robe with large sleeves and many brightly glowing golden mystic symbols. Kinda like a mixup of a poet shirt, a mage’s robe, and a smock top with a very stylish hoodie thrown in for good measure.

One of the Eldelong Tribe stood and shouted in their musical tinkling voice, “Look. It is her! I told you so,” as he pointed at me.

The leader of the Eldelong Tribe said in total astonishment, “I knew she was supposed to be the one foretold whom we have awaited for so many centuries, but actually seeing a real live EURM … is mind boggling.”

( Note for readers: The top of the top Resistance Mages were identified as EURM: Elite Ultimate Resistance Mage )

Another shouted, “There hasn’t been a Resistance Mage born in centuries among humans! But this one might be the most powerful one ever!”

I didn’t have time to ask any questions, as I could plainly see Thermatrix readying yet another devastating attack on Hezwynn. I knew if it came to pass, he would destroy another huge segment of this beautiful place.

I waved my hand and created the means for Thermatrix to resist rage and short sighted anger, to resist being misled and the overpowering need for revenge. Thermatrix slowly released the air from his fire lung as he realized that a judgment made in anger was a faulty one. Thermatrix broke off his attack and settled to the pavement, then transformed into his humanoid form.

Hezwynn felt fear run down his spine for the first time in several hundred years. He had read the legends too and understood what the runes of fate had told all the lead mages of times past. Three would come who would be the most powerful to have ever emerged. They would be the Council of Magic.

To his total amazement, he had watched a very young woman not only stop an attacking dragon, but totally calm it and take away enough of its wrath that it transformed into its humanoid from. This could not be. Since dragons have been dragons, all had known that none could take over a living healthy dragon’s soul or mind. They can be fooled and at times manipulated into wrath … but this was … he was in total shock.

Hezwynn already knew two of the top mages. He had already scried them out and dreaded the fight he was in with them now. This last young mage scared him even more. He could feel the massive power emanating from her as she moved towards him with determination. He knew his power was useless against such as her.

I wasn’t quite sure why I did what I did. I felt it as a kindred spirit, I suppose I should call it, came upon me and filled me. It didn’t take me over, but it did cause my mind to open to possibilities I had not dreamed of and created a power within me the likes of which I had never had the slightest inkling could happen. The elves were obviously rejoicing; I could hear them cheering that the EURM was now here to take her rightful place as leader and protector.

I had this really weird thought cross my mind. Immediately, I focused my new energy onto Hezwynn. He immediately realized that I was on the offensive and he was my intended target as the tendrils of resistance to dark began to rise within him. He immediately threw many kinds of dark energy bolts at me. Nothing he could conjure could make any kind of headway against my new null resistance shield.

Now it was my turn. I pictured in my mind’s eye that Hezwynn would be 100% resistant to all darkness, dark powers and evil thoughts and intentions. Instantly there was this huge explosion around Hezwynn ... well the only thing I could call it at the time was an explosion of dark.

It looked so weird as this huge debris cloud amid the dark explosion spread out from Hezwynn, leaving him momentarily nude. He screamed a soul wrenching scream, then he too exploded in a huge messy splatter, as his very essence was evil and totally infused with dark energy.

Hezwynn had no way to defend against this kind of assault. His own spirit was now 100% resistant against the very forces that made him a wizard. His spirit did the only thing it could: repel all the dark forces and evil. In so doing, it totally destroyed Hezwynn’s darkness-corrupted body.

Silence filled the courtyard as the messy debris-filled splatter settled to the ground with a squishy sound, and the last of the red mist that was Hezwynn’s body stained a huge gory circle around where he had stood.

Needless to say, I was mind blown and stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed in horrified shock at what I had just done.

As the elves began to cheer and celebrate the victory, Misty and Alicia came over to me and put a hand on each of my shoulders.

I said, almost in tears, “I … Just killed a man. I .. didn’t mean to. All I was trying to do was purge him of darkness.”

Alicia said softly, “It’s ok. Really. He sold his soul many centuries ago. You didn’t technically kill him. You actually freed him from an eternity of torment.”

I looked at Alicia with tears in my eyes. I really felt horrible. “How do you get that?” I asked as I pointed to the bloody mess that used to be Hezwynn.

Misty repled, “That mess you’re pointing at is where his soul cast off all the darkness and evil. The only problem with it was … except for that part of him you redeemed, the rest was evil and was cast away as you requested it to do.”

About that time, an extremely handsome young man dressed in a dark red robe approached us. Around his neck hung a very ornate crystal pendant that glowed a soft blue. The individual came to my feet and took a knee.

He took the pendant from around his neck as he said solemnly, “From the last Resistance Mage to walk the realms, unto the most high Resistance Mage a gift.” He stood and placed it around my neck before I could protest.

I could feel a warm friendly infusion slowly creeping all through my body as the artifact had finally found the individual it had sought for so many fruitless years, me.

“I … thank you, but I’m … just a person. Just a human. And … I don’t feel like I deserve a reward for doing … that.” I nodded at the remains of Hezwynn.

“This means that you are humble and moral,” said the Eldelong Elf. “These are good qualities.”

“But …”

“If it helps,” said Misty, “his soul wasn’t entirely corrupt, and the part of it that was still pure – a small part, I’ll grant you – is now free, thanks to you.”

A tall figure with golden scaled skin and white hair walked up to them. “It is to you three that I owe my renewed life and vigor – and yet now, I need not spend them seeking vengeance. Ordinarily I would be furious at my vengeance being stolen from me, but you have allowed me to resist this rage. Because of this, I can see now that you have also been targets of that dark mage’s evil, and therefore we share vengeance.”

“I assume we are speaking to Thermatrix Frigolity?” asked Alicia.

“Indeed,” said the dragon in humanoid form. He looked around himself. “I had not thought I would ever visit Androlia again.”

The Eldelong Elves invited us all into a portion of their complex that was still in a good state of repair, where we sat and talked, each of us catching the rest up on what had happened. I learned about what Hezwynn had done to Thermatrix Frigolity using Dragon’s Blood, and we explained how I’d destroyed the Forge and how well Princess Melliflora had been recovering.

----------------------------------------------------------------

We had returned to Misty and Alicia’s sanctuary. I had a lot of studying to do now that I had become the most powerful Resistance Mage there ever was. I really liked my new wizard outfit too. It was cute and sexy at the same time.

I also needed to understand this medallion and what its secrets were. I already knew, it was a very powerful talisman.

I was determined to learn how to properly channel my new powers; I really didn’t want a repeat of what I had done to Hezwynn. I still felt horrible over having killed him, even with the assurances that I had actually saved at least a part of him from eternal torment.

Ted had begun to mope about. She had become an extremely pretty little girl snuggle. Her body was soft and cuddly yet firm and supple. Ted even had facial expressions which made her so cute.

All of us had started taking turns taking her to bed with us so we could snuggle at night. It made Ted very happy. It was one of the essential core items that made up her awesomely sweet and loveable spirit.

Ted had wound up by Fontina’s beautiful fountain and was tossing bread into the waters, making all the wonderfully exotic magical fish come up for some.

Fontina appeared in a very pretty spray and sat on one of the carved flat places in her fountain. “Supp?” Fontina asked brightly.

Ted replied rather disheartedly, “Just trying to find a name I like other than Ted. Not a really apt name for a girl.”

Fontina replied, “Well, Ted could still be short for Theodora, Lover of the Divine, but if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. But I have a thought – since you came into this realm by magic, why not call yourself Chāmu – meaning charm or spell. We could call you Cammie.”

Ted’s pretty face lit up like a light bulb, “That’s perfect! Ok, from now on I’ll be Chāmu, or Cammie.”

Of course, this was a very special thing, which made Fontina port all over and tell everyone that Cammie had chosen a name and what it meant.

Of course, many of the Fae who had visited now and then had fallen in love with Cammie, and she had some of the cutest and most exotic outfits woven on the magical looms out of many exotic and magical threads within the gardens of inspiration.

And we all insisted that Cammie was in diapers, including Cammie herself – she’d chosen to be a baby doll, and she wanted to live that identity, although I still wonder whether that might be some residual effect of the Forge. Which brought up the discussion of whether one of us should cast a small spell and make it possible for Cammie to experience the full effects of being diaper dependant. This was a bit difficult, considering that she had no actual internal organs and ran entirely on magic – but spells could be altered.

OK, Cammie wearing the diapers was a foregone conclusion, but actually using them boiled down to whether her spells could be changed to cause her to start having accidents out of the blue. Of course we thought that would be so adorably cute. I still remembered having a baby doll who wet her diapers when I was a little girl. The thought was just precious. If she wanted it.

The other part of this discussion was the involuntary part – making such a radical change without permission.

Fontina was gung-ho and was having one of her chat sessions with Cammie. At one point she brought it up. “You are so adorably cute, Cammie! Have you ever given any thought to needing to be changed now and then?”

Cammie replied, “All the time. I think it is somehow part of my makeup when I was created to desire that kind of attention.”

Of course this tickled Fontina to her core, and she rushed off to tell us Cammie was all for it, although it would be a neat surprise if it just started happening.

Alicia mused as she and Misty prepared the simple spell, “This would also mean Cammie would need to start eating and drinking. Ooo, such a huge gift after all this time.”

Misty giggled, “Wonder how Cammie would feel about sitting in a high chair and being fed.”

The girls looked at each other and giggled as they continued with their spell for Cammie’s naming party. They were all ready to catch the first poopy or accident face. Of course, Cammie knew nothing of this.

I can’t really capture things from Cammie’s point of view, but when it came time for her naming party, we had a table set up, and in the seat of honor was a high chair just her size, which we lifted her up into. I fastened the tray in front of her.

“Oh, this is so special!” she said. “Thank you! You’ve even made a cake! I wish I could have some.”

“You can,” said Alicia, “because it’s magic, but I have to feed it to you.”

Misty added, “We’ve got a bottle for you too, and you can drink from it, but again, I have to feed it to you.”

“That’s so wonderful!” said Cammie. “I wish I could really taste things instead of their being pretend.”

“Just wait,” I said. “Are we ready to begin?” Everyone nodded.

“Yes yes yes!” said Cammie excitedly.

Alicia, Misty and I started to intone a chant. We’d worked on this pretty hard. There were magical glyphs inlaid into the high chair and printed on the bib we’d conjured for her, so unbeknownst to her she was sitting within a veritable vortex of invisible magical energy. Finally, I said, “We are here to celebrate your new name, Cammie!”

As I said the name, there was a magical glow around her for a moment, and she said, “Oooo! That tingles!”

Alicia came up with a slice of the cake on a plate and a fork. “Open wide, Cammie!” she said. And again, when she said Cammie, the magical glow shone around her for a moment, then faded away.

“You mean I can mmph?” said Cammie as Alicia giggled and stuffed the bite of cake right into her mouth. Then Cammie’s eyes lit up, and she said, “Mmmmmmm!” She chewed the cake, clearly delighting in its flavor. This was the first time she’d ever tasted anything, and it was a delicious angel food cake with frosting.

“Now it’s time for your bottle of juice, Cammie!” said Misty. Once more the magical glow lit up around her and faded, seemingly being absorbed into her body. She held up a baby bottle full of fruit juice, and Cammie took the nipple into her mouth and started drinking. She made sounds that indicated that she absolutely loved the sensation and flavors, and soon the bottle was empty.

Together, Alicia, Misty, and I said, “Now you’re a real baby doll, Cammie!” We applauded, and so did everyone else. Fontina had helped Alicia, Misty, and I create the spell, and Fontina had an amazing amount of magical knowledge, so it was really well crafted.

“Oh, thank you! Thank you! I love my new name!” said Cammy. “Um, can I have more cake?”

Alicia giggled. “Of course you can!” she said and gave her another bite of cake, and another, and another, until she seemed to slow down and feel full.

“Oh, this is so wonderful!” said Cammy. “Is this what eating is like for all of you?”

“I … actually don’t really know,” I said, “but we tried to make it as good for you as we could!”

“But now I feel – WHA?” Cammie suddenly squeaked in happy surprise. It had happened. “Wha – huh? What? What just … I don’t know what happened! That felt … amazing! But it was in … my diaper?”

“Uh-oh,” I said, lifting Cammie’s skirt and feeling her diaper. “I think somebody’s wet!”

“Huh? But how …?”

“That’s part of the spell,” I explained. “Now you wet shortly after you drink.”

“Just like a real baby,” she said in wonder. “But it felt so good … will it always feel like that?”

“Every time,” said Misty. “That’s how we made it.”

“And it won’t matter how much comes out, either,” said Alicia. “It’ll feel just as good. We want you to be happy!”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Cammie made the perfect babydoll. We all enjoyed taking care of her. Something I did notice, but Misty and Alicia didn’t say anything when I asked, just sort of smiled. I noticed that as time passed, Cammy appeared more and more like a real toddler girl than the snuggle toy she was originally.

I walked into the play area we had set up and saw another large young woman dressed perfectly as a babydoll. Recognition dawned as I saw her Nana coming from the direction of the kitchen with several bottles filled with some type of juice which she promptly gave to Vickie and Cammie. Apparently, Vickie was doing her level best to be the toddler she was so adorably dressed as.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Alicia banged her fist on the table the large moldy book she had been reading sat on.

Misty looked up from her studies and asked, “Ok, girlfriend, what’s got you so frustrated?”

Alicia replied, “I have looked and used some of my very best truth spells, and for some reason, if I didn’t know better, some of the cursed infant items we are looking for are .. multiplying on their own.”

Misty gasped, “What? Is that even possible?”

Alicia replied, “It must be. We had maybe a dozen items left to find … now suddenly there are well over 75. From the best scrying I can do, there isn’t another Forge.”

Misty said, “Darn, that means we’re going to see more of the Ogres and Orcs, huh?”

Alicia looked over her shoulder sort of in my direction, “I wonder if it’s possible …”

I’m not sure if she used some type of come hither spell on me or not, but I suddenly had to go see Alicia. We had a nice long conversation and a deep dive into esoteric spells and the twisty ways they might be used.

I had an idea. I excused myself and went to the quiet place Misty, Alicia, and myself had set up for conjuring new spells.

Just as the On-Ogur mages started to do their incantation to bring themselves back into our realm, I began my own. Without warning, all the mages had this seriously strong aversion to opening a rift back to where we were.

“Hmm, wait,” they said. “Before, we could just use da Forge ta make alla things we needed ta turn alla weakling humans inta babies. But now we heard da Forge gone. So we gotta find tha things, ‘cause can’t make ‘em. Um, maybe dis not tha greatest plan …”

The more they fought against it, the stronger the resistance to the travel became until they were totally powerless to do any traversing spells into our realm. None of them had a clue as to why, either. They thought they were just thinking their plan through better. They’d come across when they thought of a plan that was totally foolproof. Never did they suspect that they would never arrive at such a plan.

But we had to collect those items, which seemingly kept multiplying. Why this would be none of us had any idea. It was as if normal objects were turning into Forge-like items when in the proximity of Forge items …

----------------------------------------------------------------

“I’m worried about Chad,” said Irene. “All he seems to want to do is suck on baby Tamara’s pacifier.”

“Now, Irene, that sounds like you’re exaggerating again,” Helen replied. “He’s probably just making sure it’s clean. Jim and I used the same trick when Sylvia was just a baby.”

“But Tamara’s been using that pacifier since she was born,” said Irene. “Now suddenly Chad is using it … and somehow it fits in his mouth. And Tamara just won’t put down those keys either. Not since she found them somewhere a few days ago.”

In case you can’t tell, yeah, the keys seemed to have been a Forge item, and somehow they’d corrupted the baby’s pacifier. Nobody noticed when the baby started acting like … a baby. But then there was the father, Chad.

“But you don’t understand,” said Irene. “Chad gets kind of glassy-eyed when he sucks on that pacifier, and sits on the floor, and wets his pants. I got some big diapers from a medical supply store for him, and I managed to get him to let me put them on him before he put the pacifier in his mouth, but I really don’t get it.”

“That does sound a bit strange,” said Helen. “I’ve heard of men who want to be big babies. It’s on the Internet. But did he ever want to do that before?”

“No, that’s the thing …” Irene began, and then we walked up to them where they were, sitting on Irene’s backyard patio, talking to her neighbor Helen.

“This is indicating that there’s a level of Forgelike contamination in this area,” said Clarence, looking at the screen of his device. “But it’s not exactly the same. It’s as if it’s … mutating.”

“Well, with the chest in the back of my truck, we can isolate those things from the rest of the world,” I said, “or at least keep them from causing trouble until we can figure this out.”

“Excuse me, can I help you?” Irene said. “You’re in our yard. Are you from the lab …?”

“Well, I am in fact from Wolf Flats Laboratory,” said Clarence, “but this is an unofficial investigation, you understand. I’ve been following up on some unusual effects.”

“Wait, unusual effects? … You mentioned contamination … is there some kind of danger?”

“We’re still trying to determine that,” he said. “Were you mentioning something about a baby pacifier? Is there a way that I could examine it and take some readings? I don’t mean to trouble you …”

“This works so much better when we let Clarence take the lead,” Alicia whispered to me, and I agreed.

Inside the house, Irene went up to her husband, a large grown man who was sitting on the floor in a polo shirt and shorts with the waistband of a diaper clearly sticking up out of them. He looked up at Irene from the blocks he was playing with, and he did indeed have a pacifier in his mouth. “Chad,” said Irene, “can we look at your pacifier for a minute? This is Clarence, and he’s a scientist.”

“Fascinating; it’s similar to the signature of one of the items, but it’s weaker, and slightly different,” Clarence was saying. “I take it this is not like his usual behavior?”

“No, not remotely,” said Irene, trying to tug the pacifier out of Chad’s mouth. Chad tried to bat her away weakly with his hands, but he obviously wasn’t using his full strength. She got the pacifier out, and he burst into tears, wailing inconsolable. “Here it is … it’s …” She was looking at it oddly.

“It’s fine to just set it down,” Clarence said. “Yes, right there, on the countertop. Perfect. Let me get some readings …” He looked at it through the screen of his device. I looked over his shoulder. There were all kinds of strange lines and squiggles all over the screen, coming and going. I didn’t understand it myself, but then Clarence had designed it and built it himself using the Forge, so he understood it fully.

“Yes,” he said after a minute or two, “it’s clearly showing signs of having been contaminated … but by what?” He turned and looked around the living room. “Is there something … upstairs?” he asked.

“Well, just the bedrooms, as usual,” said Irene. “You think there could be something up there …?”

“Is there anything that you or your family could have found?” asked Alicia. “There’s a specific date when a number of unusual baby items appeared in this area.” She mentioned the date when all this had started.

“Oh goodness! Those keys! Here, let me show you …” She led us upstairs, to where there was an adorable baby girl lying asleep in her crib, a set of those colorful plastic baby keys in her hand.

“Oh dear,” said Clarence. “Those keys are without a doubt a Forge item … but there’s a strange behavior I’m seeing here too … we’ll have to study these items …”

“Oh goodness, are they harmful?” asked Irene.

“Potentially so, Ma’am,” Clarence said. “The behavioral changes you’ve no doubt noticed in your husband are almost certainly due to that pacifier and these keys.”

“Oh goodness!” she said. “Well, I’d be perfectly happy if you took them away.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” said Clarence as Misty carefully picked up the keys within a plastic bag, while I tuned a resistance field on baby Tamara to reduce the effect the keys had on her and in turn the urge to keep them gripped tightly in her tiny hand. Downstairs, Chad had calmed down a bit, and Alicia had already put the pacifier into a plastic bag as well.

We took the pacifier and keys back to the trunk, which was in the bed of my pickup, and added them to the stockpile of items we’d been collecting.

“That’s two items, one of which is an original Forge item and one of which is not,” said Clarence. “Add this to the six original and 36 ancillary ones we already have, and that’s seven and 37, respectfully.”

“Right now,” said Alicia as we got back in the truck, “my theory is that without the Forge to keep them stable, the items’ magic is going wild. Something like a cancer cell, they’re mutating and metastasizing, causing other nearby objects to go wild too. But if this is true, then without the Forge keeping them stable, we might be able to neutralize them directly with magic, which was never true for Forge objects while there was still a Forge holding them in its power.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Clarence was hidden away in the back guest room that Alicia and Misty had let him make into a sort of workspace. There were no beds, only work tables, strange electronic devices, and several large flat screens mounted to a wall. Beneath that was his computer system, which he’d installed with the influx of money and various equipment from the laboratory.

Misty and myself lounged on the pillow chairs and watched Vickie and the Fae princess, whom King Bryan had insisted come and play with Cammie, both do just that. Cammie was in the midst of having a literal fairy princess gown pulled over her head.

We heard Clarence screech in what sounded like total shock. Alicia was at the room’s door at the same time Misty and I were. We all had to stop, as there wasn’t enough room for all of us to go through it at the same time. I saw Clarence sitting in one of the captain’s chairs holding a pencil in his balled-up fist.

Alicia had taken a quick look around and found nothing out of the ordinary. “What’s got you so excited?” she asked.

Clarence replied as he opened his hand and held it flat with the pencil in his palm, “I feel this is … enough to scare some.” The pencil stood up on its tip and appeared to dance for a bit before Clarence took his palm away. The pencil remained exactly where it was and continued doing its little dance. “The energy given off by the Forge Items can and do irradiate other objects. Contact contamination is our problem now.”

Alicia looked at us with big eyes, “You mean those Forge items are like .. radioactive or something?”

Clarence snorted a stifled laugh. “I suppose you could say that. The particles given off don’t seem to be ionizing.” He sat at the computer keyboard and typed for a minute. A comparison graph appeared on the screen. He pointed to it and said, “As you can see, the original readings are somehow different than the ones we are seeing now. I also see those items that are irradiated, lose their energy fast. I’m not quite sure if they can contaminate other items as well. Their energy levels are extremely low and appear to be dissipating, as you can see.”

Misty commented, “I have never heard of … or maybe I have …”

Alicia looked at Misty with a weird expression and said, “I have never heard of an artifact being able to transfer its power that way.”

I held up the medallion I was given when I had defeated Hezwynn and replied, “Actually, I’d think it would happen frequently. Talismans, rings, and other magical items share their imbued powers all the time.”

Clarence said, “Yes, that they do, but not in an ionizing way like what I’m noticing now. I have no magical affinity.”

Alicia laughed, “You do now – it seems you have a form of telekinesis.”

Clarence asked, “At this moment, but will it last?” He picked up the particle detector he had created with the Forge, then scanned himself well. After entering the data into the computer, he brought the results to the large screen.

After looking over the graphs and other data on the screen, Misty commented, “From what I see, your new powers aren’t dissipating, but are in fact growing stronger. It seems that the more you use them, the stronger they manifest.”

I decided to go to Fontina. After all, she knew so much. It was only a few steps out to the courtyard and the fountain. “Fontina, I hope you don’t mind my intrusion,” I said. Misty and Alicia followed, and Clarence was behind them.

“Not at all,” she said, rising from the water and sitting down on a flat stone, her feet trailing in the fountain’s current. “What’s going on?”

“I have a number of questions about the nature of magic, and, well, you know a lot about that.”

“It’s my job,” she said. “Go ahead!”

“First of all,” I began, “Alicia has a theory that without the Forge, the Forge items are contaminating items around them. Is that possible?”

“Definitely,” she replied. “The Hammer of Vulcan used to make magic swords. But it was wrecked in a duel with Thor, and after that, all the magic swords that had been made with it started going wonky. Some of them turned into other kinds of artifacts. One became a magic healing sword that healed people who were impaled with it. Another became a magic set of bagpipes. Another one disintegrated and enchanted a whole quiver full of arrows that it was being stored with.”

“Wow,” said Alicia. “So it really could be happening.”

“OK,” I continued. “So could the device Clarence made with the Forge to analyze magic particles be going wrong?”

“It was made with the Forge,” Fontina answered, “so it absolutely could be. You might want to make something else.”

“Wait, so my data could be inaccurate?” Clarence asked. “I will have to come up with another measuring device …”

“Next, does this mean that we don’t have to use the Forge, which no longer exists anyway, to destroy or at least neutralize Forge items?” I asked.

“Well, they started out pretty powerful,” Fontina replied, “but over time that will fade to the level of a standard magic talisman, so yes, at that point you could neutralize them with spells. It would take some powerful spells, but we’re talking about something that used to be impossible.”

“OK, thanks,” I replied. “Next question. Can magical items impart magical abilities to people who don’t have them to begin with?”

“If they’re designed to,” said Fontina. “The Wand of Shalmari was famous in the hands of a conjurer named, you guessed it, Shalmari, but she had no inherent magic powers of her own – at least, not to start with. But after a whole lifetime of performing magical tricks before an audience, she found out that she’d acquired magical abilities that could be used without the wand. It turned out that the wand had been a gift from her grandmother who had wanted her to have these abilities, not just the wand itself.”

“Clarence didn’t used to have magic powers, but now he can levitate pencils,” I said.

“Wait, what?” asked Fontina. “But I don’t know of any items like that around here …”

“What if there aren’t any – or should I say, what if there weren’t any until recently?” I asked.

“I see,” Fontina replied, “you’re talking about what if his deteriorating scanner has either mutated into something that is giving him abilities, or it’s mutating something else around him into something like that. Well, Clarence, since you’ve joined us, can you levitate the pencil?”

“I will endeavor to do so again,” he said, having carried the pencil with him. He held it up, balanced it on his palm, and took his hand away as before. It hovered in the air, dancing slightly.”

“Well, how about that?” Fontina said. “First of all, that pencil’s the catalyst. It’s basically your Wand of Shalmari. It’s got a similar feel to your scanner … were they in contact?”

“The pencil was lying on the scanner overnight …” Clarence said, scratching his chin thoughtfully.

“Yes, so it’s transformed into an artifact that gives people magical abilities,” said Fontina. “It’s not going to last long, but it’s lasted long enough.”

“We should let Monica hold it,” I said.

“I doubt it’s got more than 12 hours in it,” said Fontina.

“But would that affect me?” asked Clarence.

“You’ve already been affected,” said Fontina. “I doubt it would make any difference whether you gave the pencil to Monica or slept with it for the next 12 hours. You’ve been magically altered by a random artifact. Luckily it’s become a beneficial artifact and didn’t turn you into a lizard or something.”

“I’ll see if Monica’s free,” I said. I used the transportation spell I’d learned and went to our house. That was one good thing about it – teleporting to a place I already knew well was easy, and the house where Monica and I were housemates was definitely well known.

I appeared just inside the front door, which I figured was a good place to enter. “Monica?” I called out. “You here?”

“I’m supposed to be working,” she called down from the top of the stairs, “but I can take a break. What’s going on?”

“Wanna try something?” I asked. “I’m gonna warn you right now, it might give you magic powers.”

“It might what now?”

“Clarence’s pencil got irradiated with magic and turned into a thing that gave him magic powers. Well, minor telekinesis.”

“Wow, that’s awesome!” said Monica. “So I can try this?”

“Yeah, if you want to.”

“I’m in!” she said. “Let me just lock my screen.”

“OK.” In a moment I’d teleported her back to Alicia and Misty’s villa.

“Hi, Monica!” said Fontina. “Want to hold a pencil? We want to try something.”

“Um, sure!” said Monica. “So, what do I do? I mean, anything other than holding the pencil? Should I hold my breath, wave it around, say some words …?”

“If you want,” I said, “but I think all you have to do is hold it.” Clarence brought it over and held it up without holding it.

“Wow, that’s awesome, Clarence!” said Monica. She took the pencil and looked at it. “Drixon Anaconderoga #2. Am I supposed to be feeling anything?”

“Not at first,” said Clarence. “If you do feel anything, it will be very gradual. I’d say just carry it around with you, but stay in physical contact with it. It took hours for me to notice anything.”

“Oh. I guess I could go back to work.”

“If you want,” I said. “I’m probably going back to work next week, but I wonder what they’re going to make of a lab tech with magical powers.”

“Hey, it’s good to have money, though,” said Monica.

I took Monica back to the house. “One more thing,” I said. “Do you want me to lower your resistance to the pencil?”

“Lower my what now?”

“I don’t know if it’ll work, but maybe it’ll affect you more strongly if I make you more susceptible to it.”

“Um, would that mean I’d get stronger magic powers?” asked Monica.

“It might?” I said uncertainly. “Or it might not do anything. I wouldn’t lower your resistance to anything else.”

“Hmm,” she said, looking at the pencil, which she still held in her fingers. “Might be worth a try.”

“OK,” I said. “Give me your hand – the one you’re not holding it in.” She did so. And I felt her open up to the influx of magic from the pencil.

“I … think I felt something there,” said Monica as I released her hand. “Does that mean I’m open to the power of the pencil?”

“Mightier than the sword, they say,” I said. “Or is that a pen?”

“Probably both,” she replied. “Well, I’m going back to work, but I’ll stay in physical contact with the pencil.” She put it behind her ear. “It’s … feeling warm.”

“I guess we’ll see what happens,” I said.

“Eww, when did I get all these pores in my hands?” she said. “Look at all that dust on the mantel!”

“Wait, what’s going on?”

“Aaa why did you have to yell so loud? Aaa why did I? I’m going to whisper now,” she said, her voice sinking to a whisper. “What smells … good? Something smells like Kristi’s chocolate souffle.”

“I don’t smell anything …” I said quietly. “I’m gonna ask what’s going on again.”

“It’s like all this sensory overload all of a sudden!” she whispered. “But … no, I think I can control it.”

“I think … I’m going to go ask Fontina about this,” I whispered. “Good luck.”

When I came back, Clarence was levitating a pebble instead. “I can confirm that the effects are similar for other objects,” he said. “Now the question is how I will measure this force. I have some ideas, from what I have read. I will begin constructing it immediately. Although I should really check on the Princess and make sure all is well with her.”

“This is interesting,” said Fontina to me after Clarence left. “I wonder what sort of magical ability Monica will develop.”

“She won’t necessarily get the same as Clarence?” I asked.

“No, there’s no reason why it would have to work the same for everyone,” said Fontina. “It might awaken Mage powers in her. Or she might just be able to read minds. Or something else. It’s hard to say.”

“So Clarence isn’t a Mage now?” I wondered.

“That remains to be seen, but he’s only levitating small objects so far,” she replied. “If he graduates to moving ten-ton boulders like they’re pebbles, then we might have a Kinetic Mage on our hands.”

“I didn’t know there was a such thing,” I said.

“There are hundreds of different affinities, and there are probably more out there waiting for us to come up with a name for them,” Fontina said. “But Clarence might only get a minor talent. Who knows? We’ll have to see!”

“What if Monica is seeing the pores in her skin, everything we say sounds loud to her, and she can smell the neighbors baking?” I asked.

“That … sounds like Monica’s getting some kind of perception abilities,” said the sprite. “We’ll have to see what she can detect, with time.”

“Are there Perception Mages?” I asked.

“There absolutely are,” she replied. “They can see a rock on the far side of the moon. They really can read minds. And when it comes to scrying, there are no better specialists. And they can interfere with others’ perception to make themselves invisible to them. But like Clarence, Monica might only be developing a talent. We’ll have to see – again.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Monica sat with her head in her hands as seriously intense impressions danced through her awareness. Then it happened suddenly, as if a thick fog within her mind had cleared: she KNEW how it felt to stop the increasing intensity of what was happening to her.

Once this awareness happened, it was like a switch had been thrown and the sensations stopped. She actually felt normal. It was quite a relief. But then she wondered if it had gone away or if she could do it again. So she listened, and she could hear every bird making sounds in every tree in the yard – and one of her neighbors named Jack trying to start his car and cursing at it. Then, with some effort, she turned it off and heard only the quiet hum of the ceiling fan. It took about 45 more minutes before she had actually gained enough control to turn it on and off at will.

A short time later, her work day was over, and she turned on the TV. By sheer accident, the TV news was talking about the mega lotto that had reached 6 million dollars, saying that the winning numbers had yet to be picked. She wondered what they would be, and something in her just clicked. A series of numbers danced across her mind’s eye. On a whim, Monica wrote them down and grabbed her purse. If she really had this ability, she decided, she would use it for something constructive for the first time.

She arrived at the Fall Cart store and walked up to the service counter. The young man behind the counter smiled and asked pleasantly, “Hi, how may I serve you?”

Monica replied, “I want to purchase a couple of lotto tickets please … lets make one of them the Mega-Billions scratch-off and the other the Powerball, please.”

The young man selected two cards and slid them across the counter to Monica. She casually detected the young man’s thoughts on the matter – he thought she was wasting her money and knew how astronomical the odds were against picking the winning numbers.

He said pleasantly, “Good luck. I’ve been selling those tickets for several years, and the most any of my customers has ever won was maybe $100.”

Monica laughed as she wrote the numbers in the proper blanks on the Powerball card. Next she picked up the scratch-off. She could just sense that it was the wrong card. She asked, “Is it against the rules for me to select my own scratch-off?”

The young man scooped up the scratch-off card on the counter and slid it in the large stack with the rest. He shuffled them like a stack of cards and laid them on the counter for Monica to look over. She slowly ran her open palm across the stack until she came to a particular card. It was like fireworks went off in her head. She picked it up and KNEW – this was the big one.

She bought her two tickets and had the Powerball one registered. The young man frowned for a minute as he entered the numbers for the Powerball. Monica noticed this and realized that the machine was reacting differently than it ever had before in the man’s memory, pausing at strange times, but it readily accepted the serial number of the card and the numbers Monica had chosen, so he shrugged and ignored it, since it had accepted the entry.

The man smiled as he watched Monica nervously hesitate to scratch off and reveal the numbers on the other card. Monica looked up at the smiling face of the young man, then took out a quarter and chose the blocks she would scratch off.

When she had done so, the scratch-off place revealed the words, “Congratulations winner, you have won 6 million dollars.” Both of them stood in complete shocked incredulity.

The young man said apologetically, “I’m sorry, young lady, but I have to notify the lotto rep about this.” He promptly took several pictures of the scratch-off ticket and Monica as he entered the card’s serial number into the machine.

Instantly, bells began to ring and lights began to flash as several men appeared. One was carrying a briefcase. He walked to the counter, placed his case on it, and opened it. Within were several electronic devices and a small compact video recorder.

Needless to say, there was much pomp and circumstance over it. By the time Monica had taken care of all the required procedures and managed to get home, she turned on the TV just in time to hear the Powerball numbers for today. Once again, the numbers she had chosen were right on ... and she heard a knock at the door.

When she answered, there was a small crowd of people, several with video cameras, and one with a large six-foot-long, four-foot-wide lotto card. Three people approached, two holding the card and one with the video camera. The other people with cameras seemed to be from local TV news channels.

A man in a well-tailored black business suit held his hand out and said in a cheery friendly voice, “Hi. I’m sure you know who I am. My name is Billy Oldsome. I’m the head of the state lotto commission, and I have some wonderful news for you …” as the two holding the card turned it towards Monica and the cameras. It had the impression of a check, made out to her, in the sum of 6 million dollars.

“Omigosh!” Monica squeaked, not really in surprise, but in amazement. She had won twelve million dollars just that fast. “I gotta tell Sandy!”

At that moment, I somehow knew Monica had something she wanted to tell me urgently. I wasn’t sure how I knew; I just did. Later on, Alicia told me that since we were friends and spend a lot of time in close proximity, there was a magical resonance between us, and my magical training had made me sensitive to it. She also said that if our situations had been reversed, Monica would have picked it up much more easily and with less training, because my particular affinity wasn’t related to perception, and hers was.

“And who is Sandy?” asked one of the reporters.

“She’s my housemate!” Monica said. “She’s not here right now. She’s on vacation. OMIGOSH!”

They interviewed her. There were lots of boring details, she told me, like deciding whether to take a lesser payout in a lump sum right now or get the full amount in monthly payments over a period of several years, signing forms to that effect, signing releases to allow the TV news to use her interview on TV, and so on. But she’s smart; she got it in monthly payments, and she contacted an accountant and a lawyer right away to make sure taxes would be figured out right. Talk about arcane. When you have to deal with tax laws, bring in the people who already know about them.

Meanwhile, Clarence was making something. I wanted to help him, so he and I went searching for the materials he needed. Sheets of mica were available, but a thin sheet of garnet wasn’t easy to find. Garnet sandpaper, I reminded him, was readily available, and he thought about this.

He’d taken a large metal picture frame and laid the sheet of mica within it. He’d bought a pack of garnet sandpaper sheets and cut one to size, and he laid it face down on top of the mica. I just watched. I hadn’t the first idea what he was trying to do.

He concentrated on this picture frame and its stack of layers for a moment, then he carefully reached out and just peeled off the paper, revealing a thin pinkish layer of almost-transparent material. “And now for a sheet of slate,” he said. “I got one at the same craft shop where we got the mica.” He took a large sheet of black stone from the paper bag. “This is too big, of course, but …” He laid it on top of the picture frame, concentrated, and …

CLUNK. A perfectly sized rectangle of slate fell out of the larger piece and landed perfectly within the frame, on top of the mica and garnet layers. He concentrated more. Then he removed the large piece of slate, which now had a rectangular hole cut out of it, and tightened the clips on the back of the picture frame that held it all together.

Then he turned it over.

There was a black rectangle behind the picture frame’s glass. Or that’s all it looked like, until he held up his hand behind it and used his newfound telekinesis ability to pick up a pencil eraser from a table across the room and bring it to him. I saw an amazing flow of light, or particles, or energy, or something. It was beautiful and fascinating. “How … how did you do this?”

“I have been reading about the supposed properties of different substances, and I simply applied what I read,” he said. “I am not sure how well this sort of discovery would be received in the scientific literature, but one thing I am certain of: it is a repeatable experiment, so they will eventually come around. This is not like the ‘gizmo’ that Ted Serios used to take his ‘thoughtographs’ with, which no one else could use. Anyone can use this, and I can make others. It’s quite simple: I need a layer of glass, a layer of mica, a layer of garnet, and a layer of slate, bonded well together, with a fine layer of magic particles between the mica and garnet layers. I simply restructured the molecules of the garnet crystals on the sandpaper into one very large, very flat crystal, and I homogenized the mica and garnet as much as I could. I also made the surface of the slate perfectly flat.”

“And you’ve made a magic particle detector much bigger than your previous one!” I said. “That’s amazing!”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Wolf Flats Research Facility - Top Secret Weapon Development Section

In a large auditorium type area, many men and women assembled. One individual came to the large well lighted podium and tapped the mic. The thumping noise brought everyone’s attention to him as they quickly took a seat.

He opened a thick folder in front of him and said, “Good morning ladies and gentlemen. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dr. Shaeth Hurminger. I’m the head of the High Energy Physics Department here at Wolf Flats.”

A small hushed murmur of recognition circled for a bit as Shaeth turned on the small laptop computer sitting on the shelf under the podium top. The huge screen on the wall behind him came to life and showed graphs, particle densities, and other subatomic particle interactions.

Shaeth took a laser pointer from the top pocket of his spotlessly white labcoat and pointed to a place on the screen, “From this preliminary data we received from Dr. Clarence Donger when he submitted his request for funding … as best as we have been able to determine, Dr. Donger has discovered a brand new type of fundamental particle.” A sound of excited voices rounded the huge room, “However, from what we have seen thus far, Dr. Donger has made no further requests for funding since he requisitioned time on the the XrZ Computer system about a month ago, nor have we received much in the way of updated data that made any kind of reasonable sense.”

A voice asked, “What do you mean by reasonable? I would think any updated data would be useful.”

Shaeth smirked as he typed for a minute on the laptop. The data on the screen changed. What it depicted, the physicists knew to be impossible – yet here in plain sight was exactly how this new particle accomplished it.

A loud round of mostly incredulous voices with many extremely technical questions rose up until Shaeth picked up the gavel in front of him and tapped it on the block. The voices stopped as he typed a bit more. The image on the screen showed that this new radiated energy acted like no other particle known.

It had particular aspects of an ionizing radiation, but only at certain times and against certain objects as if it were somehow tunable. The rest of the data they thought was sheer fantasy – that is, until they saw the actual footage.

Shaeth pointed to one young lady and said, “Yes, Dr. Mitui. What thoughts have you on this … foolishness?”

A meticulously dressed young woman stood and replied, “My thoughts on this are: either Dr. Clarence Donger has gone totally bonkers, or he’s stumbled onto something mankind has searched for throughout its history.”

A snarky voice with a sneering tone asked, “And just what might that be? We are all educated, Dr. Mitui, and what that data implies is sheer fantasy.”

Dr. Mitui laughed as she held her hand towards a new screen, which quickly filled with advanced physics and math. “He has actually discovered the magic particle. Check the math if you don’t believe me. Spooky action at a distance is only the minutest tip of the iceberg of possibilities.”

The room filled with loud speculations and many wild theories as the large gathering of learned men and women argued over what they knew had to be a fantasy … but the math was sound, and the theory put forth by Dr. Donger was also sound, reproducible in the laboratory with the proper artifacts present, and they watched the video presentation Donger had sent them again in total shocked incredulity that showed beyond any doubt it was fact.

Quietly, in the back of the auditorium, Dr. Gunnar Henderson had been quietly speaking with someone in the hallway through the slightly-opened doors. He was handed a large, flat package and brought it up toward the stage.

“What do you have there, Dr. Henderson?” asked Shaeth.

“A courier has just delivered this,” Dr. Henderson said. “I thought it would be of interest, as it’s from Dr. Donger.”

“And just where has Dr. Donger been all this time, I might ask?” said the person with the snarky voice. However, at that same moment there was a hubbub throughout the room, so they were drowned out, and only their immediate neighbors heard.

“Let’s open this and see what it is, then,” said Shaeth. He took the package, opened it, and saw a large flat object like a picture frame, a small box, and an envelope. He first opened the envelope. “It’s a message,” he said. “I’ll read it. Dear colleagues, enclosed please find a new form of detector I have developed for the new particles I have detected. As you know from my previous messages, I hypothesize that they are the carriers of a previously difficult to detect fifth force of nature. The small box contains a test sample that emits these particles. I urge the department to analyze and examine these to every degree it can in hopes of discovering the secrets behind these phenomena. I realize that the simultaneous discovery of a new particle and a detector to detect it looks suspicious. Indeed, when the particle itself is necessary for the construction of the detector, that makes it difficult to support my theory. But that is why I urge you to attempt to disprove what I believe I have discovered. However, whatever you may believe, please be careful about exposure to the particle source. The box it is in is carefully shielded; please treat it with care as you would any radioactive sample. Yours, Clarence Donger.”

The audience burst into excited murmuring. “He has diagrams of how to use the detector – it appears to simply be like a window, making the invisible visible.”

“Is this possible?” asked one man.

“Show us the sample,” said another.

“Oh yes,” said the one with the snarky voice. “Please show us this ‘dangerous’ radioactive sample.”

“We will treat it as we would any potentially radioactive sample,” said Shaeth. “Here’s a lead box, and a Geiger counter. I will place the sample box in the lead box, open its lid within the lead box, and check for radioactivity. He did so. The lead box was closed, but he had tied a thin wire to the lid of the sample container, and now he pulled the wire, measuring with the Geiger counter the entire time. The Geiger counter did nothing unusual.

And then the lead box floated up off the table as if it weighed nothing.

The audience went wild. Shaeth stared in surprise for a moment but then held the detector frame up in front of the phenomenon. The black screen lit up with the image of the floating lead box, permeated with particle traces.

“Oh, so it’s magic tricks now,” said the person with the snarky voice.

“Would you care to examine the box, Dr. Fieger?” asked Shaeth.

“I – well –” Dr. Fieger suddenly had all eyes on him. “Very, uh, well.” He got up and made his way to the stage. The lead box hovered over the table. He started moving his arms around it, looking for any hidden strings or threads holding it up. He pushed it lightly with the eraser end of a pencil, and the box drifted slowly.

Shaeth noticed something in the detector frame, however, and held it up. “Why … why do I see you in this frame, Dr. Fieger?” he asked. He held it up for all to see. Dr. Fieger moved aside. “No, I encourage you to hold still,” said Shaeth. “When I hold my hand up behind the frame, nothing is visible. But …” He managed to interpose the frame between Dr. Fieger and the audience, who got a good view of Dr. Fieger’s outline within the frame. “Have you been exposed to these particles?”

“I … you … this is balderdash!” said Dr. Fieger.

And he vanished, leaving a shower of small black flowers drifting in the air.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Clarence watched the video of this again on his phone; several of his colleagues had recorded the incident and sent him the videos, so he had the same events from several points of view. “How peculiar. I must admit that I don’t know much about Dr. Fieger, as he has only recently started working for the laboratory.”

“What?” I asked, looking at his phone over my shoulder. “That’s so weird. And he showed up in the detector you sent them?”

“Yes. He looks exactly like the Princess. Completely outlined in the particles.”

“Wike me?” asked the Princess. “Me see?”

“Of course, my dear,” said Clarence, bringing the phone over. “Look at this man. See how he appears in the detector frame, unlike anyone else there. And then he vanishes. With a shower of …”

“Ooo, bwack nightshade,” said the Princess. “Is tha f’owers of tha Unseelie Court. Dey no nice.”

“But black nightshade flowers are white,” I said.

“Not dose,” said the Princess.

“Fair enough.” I supposed they had their own variety of magic flowers in the Fae realm.

“So this man, Dr. Fieger, he must be of the Fae?” asked Clarence. “But of the Unseelie faction? What would he be doing at Wolf Flats Laboratory in the human realm?”

“P’obly better tell Daddy,” the Princess said.

“That makes sense, Princess,” I said. “I’ll do just that.” I went about preparing a message to King Bryan as Alicia had shown me how to do. I hoped I remembered the proper formal language.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“You won … what?” I asked Monica.

“The lottery,” she replied. Monica explained to me how she’d used her newfound abilities to win money.

“I’m not sure that’s …” I began.

“Fair?” she interrupted. “No, it really isn’t. I’m gonna find something positive to do with the money, though. So it won’t be tainted with greed or anything.”

“OK, anyway, so that pencil’s probably well and truly discharged by now, but we’ve gotta get you tested or something,” I said. “You might be a Perception Mage.”

“There are Perception Mages?”

“That’s what Fontina said,” I replied. “Want to find out?”

“OK,” she said. “Do we go back to that cute villa? I miss Fontina already.”

“Yes, we probably should,” I replied. “Alicia and Misty will know what to do.”

Moments later, we appeared in the courtyard. “Can I learn how to do that too?” she asked.

“Well if you’re a Mage now, I would guess you can,” I replied. I spotted Misty walking down a corridor. “Misty, could I borrow you for a moment?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“How do we find out if Monica’s a Mage?” I asked.

“Monica’s a Mage now?” she asked. “That pencil was a doozy.”

“I guess so, but how do we find out?”

“OK, the difference between a Mage and a person with one talent is pretty simple,” Misty said. “It’s all about whether they can learn to cast a spell that doesn’t have to do with their talent.”

“Well, I want to learn how to transport myself like that,” she said.

“I learned that from the Eldelong Elves,” I said, “but I could try to teach you.”

“OK, let’s give it a shot,” she said.

This story’s already a long one – the short version is that I taught her how I did it, and she learned how, and now she can do it too. She’s a Perception Mage, all right. She teleported back and forth from the villa to our house.

“I’ll never be late for work again!” said Monica.

“You don’t want anyone to see you doing this,” said Alicia. “Fortunately, as a Perception Mage, you can scout out the area you’re going to beforehand and make sure no one’s there. We can’t do that.”

“Or you can make yourself invisible before you go, pop up unseen, then go somewhere nobody’s looking and make yourself visible again,” suggested Misty.

“Ooo, that’s a good idea too,” Monica said. “You know … I’m really just happy I can do something. I was kind of feeling left out.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I never meant to make you feel that way.”

“It’s OK, Sandy,” said Monica. “I know a lot has been happening. Thanks for thinking of me with the pencil thing. By the way, how’s Clarence?”

“Oh, he can move things without touching them,” I said, “and he’s been getting better at it. Don’t know if he’s a Mage, though.”

“That whole magic detector frame thing he’s invented,” said Alicia. “That’s Artifact magic. He’s a Mage.”

“Wow,” I said. “So what do we do?”

“I think the next thing to do is read the letter that’s about to come from King Bryan,” said Monica. “I’m sorry, I just kind of see it coming.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

In another place that was obviously Fae, but not Seelie Fae, a bright sparkle of light formed amid a shower of black flowers, then turned into a humanoid shape all knew as the mage Fieger.

One of the opulently clad individuals standing by the fountain Fieger appeared next to said cherrily, “Welcome back. It’s about time. Prince Yourker is having a fit over you not reporting to him sooner.”

Fieger waved a hand over himself, the finely tailored suit he was wearing transformed into an equally finely tailored Wizard’s robe. He said, “I need to talk with the prince immediately. Something we have dreaded for centuries apparently has happened.”

The individual indicated with his hand as he started walking toward a beautiful palace further up that seemed to be made of some type of sparkling crystal. After walking through a very verdant and magnificent garden full of magical flowers and other creatures, the guard allowed them to enter the ornate palace gate.

Fieger followed the individual through long halls and down several flights of stairs before arriving at a set of large wooden doors, which opened when they approached, then closed behind them once they had passed.

The hall was opulent beyond mortal descriptions but filled with creepy and disturbing artifacts. The carpet was thick and blue as the summer skies of antiquity, but the ceiling was of matte black marble. The two men walked by many elaborate sculptures carved from some very precious blood-red crystals, not to mention the art works hung decoratively throughout the hall, mostly of creatures of darkness like bats and basilisks. The hall opened into a huge reception area with a large built up dais at the far end. Sitting on a meticulously crafted reddish gold throne was an extremely impatient Prince Yourker.

Fieger approached the dais and bowed in the gracefully artistic way elves did such things, “Greetings, my Liege, I bring news most grave.”

Prince Yourker sat up straight on his throne and said, “It’s about time. It’s very bad we lost that stupid Forge again. I hope you found something useful in locating it.”

Fieger replied, “It seems that piece of dung twin brother of yours was correct …”

Without warning, The prince rose from his throne, clenched his fist, and brought it towards his chest. Instantly, a massive energy wave grabbed Fieger by the neck, lifted him off the ground and bodily snatched him to a hovering location with the now angry prince in his face, “We may have disagreements as to who the first born was and who is entitled to sit on the throne. But know this, little man, my twin Bryan is still king until such time as we resolve who was actually first born, and you will show proper respect.” He opened his fist, and Fieger fell to the floor in a gasping heap.

This time, Fieger was on his knees and whimpered, “My deepest and most humble apologies, Sire.”

The prince made a disgusted humphing noise before he sat once again. “So tell me, what news have you?”

Fieger slowly and fearfully stood once again. He replied this time, humbly, “The … the humans have actually discovered a means to detect and create the magic particle. I witnessed a real-time demonstration, in fact.”

The prince’s expression went from anger to shock. “No … that … Bryan did warn us about that sort of thing happening if we allowed the Forge out of the catacombs.”

Fieger continued, “Not only that, but from what I saw in one of the many reports about this strange new particle they discovered, it seems the mortals now have several master Mages … at least enough to recreate the Mage Council with three of the strongest Mages the humans have ever produced sitting in the lead council. I’m not sure, but somehow, there are notations that they also might have found a way to create Mages from individuals who have no affinities. Not sure how that works – haven’t found enough information about it yet.”

The prince snapped his fingers. In a bright sparkle of light some strange-looking creature appeared and groveled for an instant. It then said, in a really strangely accented voice, “Yes, Sire. What duty would you have this humble servant perform?”

The prince said authoritatively, “Take this message to King Bryan Immediately. To my brother, styling himself King of the Fae Realms, etc. I write to you in haste. In light of certain recent discoveries, I urge that all hostilities between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts must cease … the Unseelie Court will forthwith begin unilaterally observing a truce and hope that negotiations can make this state mutual …”

----------------------------------------------------------------

I was awakened from a sound sleep by a tinkling bell. “Huh? Wha?” I said, looking around, but I didn’t have to look far, because there was a scroll hovering in the air next to my bed, glowing and ringing at me. Behind it, the door to my bedroom opened.

“What’s – ohhhhh,” said Alicia. She was in her pajamas. Apparently it was a different time zone in the Fae realm today, because it was the middle of the night at Misty and Alicia’s villa.

“Is this from King Bryan?” I asked her.

“Yes, this is what they do. Pretty polite scrolls, really. Just reach out and take hold of it.”

I did so, and it stopped ringing. I broke the seal. I read the scroll aloud. As the previous scroll from King Bryan had been, it was written in an elaborate, beautiful calligraphy. “From Bryan Boru, King of the Fae Realms, Protector of the Twilight Reaches, etc., to the honorable Sandy Insburg, our fondest greetings. We were astonished to read of the presence of one of the Unseelie at a place of learning in the human realm. We have recently been in peaceful communication with messengers from the Unseelie Court, and this we have also found astonishing. It would seem that good Doctor Clarence’s discovery has them in a state of uproar, in conjunction with the appearance of several powerful human Mages in recent times. Our inquiries have discovered that this Doctor Fieger was sent to interfere with human science’s discovery of the mechanisms of magic. He has been successful for centuries, but he was discovered. It is possible, even likely, that we are entering an age of greater magic awareness in the human realm, one that the Unseelie Court has been attempting to forestall for some time. As a result of their failure, the balance of power in the Fae realm will also shift. But I will not bore you with politics. The Unseelie do not yet know that the Forge has been destroyed. We wish them to continue in their ignorance. However, in order to suggest to them that it still exists, it may be necessary to casually present some evidence. I believe that you still have in your custody several items created by the Forge. If we may temporarily borrow some of them, it may be very helpful; we also still have the crib in which the Princess was imprisoned, of course. We await your response by whatever means you see fit.”

“They want to borrow some Forge items?” asked Alicia. “Well … it’s not as if we weren’t going to destroy them, if we can.”

“I don’t know; the things are dangerous,” I said. “But he’s right; they still have that crib.”

“And we are talking about the Fae here,” said Misty, who had come into the room. “They know how to handle magical artifacts.”

“But why do they need to pretend that the Forge still exists?” I asked.

“That’s a good question, and I have a few ideas,” said Alicia, “but I’m not sure. We could ask Monica, though.”

“Wait, you’re right,” I said. “Now that she can do Perception magic, she could find out, couldn’t she?”

“You can’t really keep secrets from a Perception Mage,” Misty said.

“So much for my plans to have a surprise birthday party for her,” I mused aloud.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Monica sat in a very quiet place near the fountain. The only real sounds there were the soft tinkles of the water and the chipper songs of the songbirds. She was having a bit of trouble with what was running through her awareness as she thought of the Seelie and Unseelie Fae.

She now understood why no one knew the proper birth order of King Bryan and his twin. During the early days of the Orc wars, their mother had been killed in a surprise attack against their hunting camp. The magical contamination surrounding the incident was horrendous. It was like trying to see through a really dirty window, when very little light was available to aid.

What was known, was that when the rescuers had arrived after the attack that day, the two infants had already been cut from their mother, and there was no one to tell in which order. Trying to scry the incident with magic was difficult: not only was it seriously gory and upsetting due to the feasting habits of Orcs, but everything was also infused with a large amount of magic, making a clear image almost impossible.

One thing was very clear: the mother and father, both the Fae king and queen, had been slaughtered that day, and there had to be a successor. They had brought in a soothsayer to prophesy which baby would be the heir most beneficial to the realm. But some had complained that Bryan had been chosen just by sheer luck.

Now the Unseelie faction itself had existed since time immemorial; no one living remembered the cause of that schism anymore, and it was lost to history. They had always existed apart from the Seelie Court and had a vital function: they opposed whatever the Seelie Fae wanted to do. They were important; they made the Seelie justify anything they did, making sure nothing was done without a good reason.

Everyone would have accepted that Bryan had been the firstborn and Yourker had come second, and none would have been the wiser, except for a mischievous Imp who happened to be with the rescue party that took it upon itself to tell. This basically amounted to treason, since it not only worsened the division among the Fae but started a familial cold war that had raged on for hundreds of years.

Prince Yourker had been brought up as a prince in the royal palace of the Seelie, but once he had learned that he could have been king had the soothsayer chosen the other way, he began to feel cheated out of his birthright. Once he was old enough to go out on his own, he went and found the Unseelie faction and lived among them, and they eventually made him their leader. As a result, the Unseelie became more than a loyal opposition; they were now a rebel faction.

The Seelie-Unseelie war wasn’t the sort of war with Fae killing one another and destroying one another’s lands, though; it was all political, with both factions at each other’s throats and trying to ruin everything the other undertook to do. For King Bryan and the Seelie it was extremely frustrating.

The Imp had waited for almost 100 years before telling anyone, which made it an even more difficult issue, since by that time King Bryan had been accepted as the true king of the realm. Of course, the Imp suffered horridly, as it was roasted alive over the lava pits for the gross transgression. The even more shocking thing about the punishment was that both sides had agreed to it.

Alicia, Fontina, and I were discussing how we might help the new Mages learn more uses for their skills when we happened upon Monica. She had her face in her hands and a look of hard concentration on her face, as beads of sweat dripped due to the serious concentration she was doing.

Alicia asked softly, “Whatcha doing, girlfriend?”

Monica looked up and smiled, “For one thing, I think I’m going to take a break. My head is starting to hurt with all the concentration.”

Fontina asked, “What are you trying to see? Apparently it must be well hidden.”

Monica replied, “I’m trying to see if I can discover who was firstborn and perhaps end this foolish conflict between the Fae factions.”

Fontina’s face now took on an expression of serious thought. “Not sure why, but that particular incident is super well masked by an overabundance of magical contamination. Over the centuries there may have been too many people trying to scry it out.”

Monica asked, “If that’s what contaminated the area, why couldn’t it be seen from the beginning?”

Fontina replied, “That’s a very good point. Images are clear up until the Orcs burst through the door to the hiding place where the queen was. It’s also clear when the king entered and killed 6 of the 7 Orcs who had shredded his queen. Whatever happened with the 7th Orc is anybody’s guess. The area was super saturated with dark magic then and has blinded that particular incident for many centuries.”

“Could that last Orc have been a Mage?” I asked. “Maybe they cast a spell that caused the contamination.”

Fontina said, “That is indeed one of the theories that have been put forth to explain it – although Orcs are like Fae in that there aren’t really Orc Mages in the same way there are human ones. They can all learn magic, if they put forth the effort, but most of them prefer fighting. Anyway, no one knows whether a spell cast by an Orc caused the contamination, not for certain.”

“I’ve got what might be an easier thing to try to see, if you’re up for it, Monica,” I said. “What King Bryan wants the Forge items for. I mean, he wants the Unseelie to think that the Forge still exists, but why does he want them to think that?”

“Oh, that?” replied Monica. “That’s easy. I can see it. The Unseelie stole the Forge from the Catacombs a long time ago – and then they let somebody steal it from them, leading to Hezwynn kidnapping Princess Melliflora. King Bryan wants to blame his brother for all of this and get some concessions from him. His case is weakened if it’s out in the open that the Forge is gone.”

“That makes sense, I guess,” I said. “He could just say, ‘Well it doesn’t matter now, since it doesn’t exist anymore.’ I guess we’d better pack up the Trunk, so to speak. Actually I think it’s basically already packed. Maybe make sure it’s locked.” So I went and found the thing and, sure enough, it didn’t have a padlock or anything. So I looked in the books for a locking spell … finding one wasn’t a problem, but choosing the right one was, because there were about 20 different approaches. I talked to Fontina. Soon there was a magical lock on the chest that supposedly only I could open. We were good to travel.

Monica still didn’t know who the real firstborn was, though. Nor did any of us know how to cut through the fog of magical corruption that made it impossible for her to see through.

----------------------------------------------------------------

So we brought the Trunk with us to King Bryan’s castle in the Fae realm. I gave King Bryan the key to unlock it if he needed to, and his negotiations with his brother began. I’m not going into those, because they were very intricate and frankly really boring. There were lots of accusations and counteraccusations. Fortunately we weren’t required to stay.

Not even Misty and Alicia were able to stand it. They found a library to pass their time in, studying Fae treatises on magic. But I wandered the hallways, wishing none of this were necessary.

And in the hallways I encountered Dr. Chrystomalos. “Oh, hello Doctor,” I said. “You aren’t watching the proceedings either?”

“Oh, no, I’m no diplomat,” he said. “I’m a scholar. Magical puzzles to solve, magical riddles to unravel. But right now … one conundrum in particular has bearing on the very matter being discussed in the council chamber as we speak.”

“What conundrum is that?” I asked.

“The very question of which is the true firstborn, King Bryan or Prince Yourker,” he said. “I’m sure you know the story – as far as anyone does, at any rate.”

“Yes, and even my friend, who’s a Perception Mage, can’t read what happened that day,” I said.

“Not even a Perception Mage,” he said with some surprise, pinching his long blond beard agitatedly. “I was going to ask whether by any chance human magic could be the key, but it seems not. What could have obscured events so completely, and for what purpose? We have records from that day, and they are obscured as well.”

“Obscured records?” I asked. “What does that look like?”

“Well, here, follow me, and I will show you what I mean.”

He led me to a library, where Misty and Alicia were already looking at some old scrolls, but he was working at a different table. He unrolled a scroll that was lying there and whispered, “The events were not even so long ago, as the lives of Fae go, but this scroll cannot be read. It must once have been in the Fae tongue – just look at the title – but the rest is a magical gibberish.” And he was right. Not that I could read the Fae language, but the title across the top was clearly in some language, while the rest of the scroll was a constantly changing morass of wiggling symbols, like tiny worms made of ink on the papyrus, or parchment, or whatever the material was.

I gasped. “Why would someone go to that sort of length to prevent a scroll from being read?” I whispered.

“Two reasons,” he whispered. “Either Bryan is the firstborn, and someone Unseelie does not want that confirmed, or Bryan is not the firstborn, and one of the Seelie does not want that discovered.”

I suddenly noticed Misty and Alicia at my elbows. “Oh, now that is fascinating,” whispered Alicia.

----------------------------------------------------------------

So it was that we were all sitting around a large table stacked with many scrolls that were older than Western civilization, but so laden with obscuring spells that no magic we knew could translate the words into normal Fae, let alone into English so we could read them.

Monica slapped her hands on the table and said with frustration, “And just what is all this intense studying supposed to accomplish?” She waved her hand towards a very large bin container that had many more scrolls stacked neatly within, “We have studied hundreds of the oldest scrolls the Seelie have in their archives and found no reference to even what type of magic is blocking that one incident. Now that we’ve been looking into it, we can’t even tell if it’s light or dark magic. It’s a type we haven’t ever encountered before.”

“Indeed,” said Dr. Chrystomalos. “And not just scrolls about that incident – every scroll written around that time exhibits the same obscuring magic – a spell I have not seen before.”

Alicia replied softly, “Nor have I. But turning to the context if we can determine exactly who the firstborn is, I feel it will spark a total all-out war amongst all the Fae.”

Misty added, “Almost assuredly, if it turns out King Bryan wasn’t the firstborn. Although, it would seem to me, this is one of those things the sisters of Fate would have assured didn’t happen, and they wove the thread to make Bryan king.”

I asked, “Why would they even care?”

Misty smirked, “It would more than likely mean the total destruction of the Fae and their entire realm. Odds are good it would take a few others with them.”

“How could you possibly think that? The Fae are perhaps the most knowledgeable people there are,” I asked.

Alicia replied, “Exactly. Think about it. If two factions of one of the most magically powerful peoples known got into a real knock-down, drag-out war, how much residual and other collateral damage do you think would come to pass?”

I hadn’t thought of that. It would result in a holocaust worse than all the nuclear powers in my reality going to all-out war with all their weapons of mass destruction. Imagine if not just each soldier but each citizen were individually their own nuclear weapon. This made our subject of inquiry and subsequent investigation extremely dangerous, to the point where I asked, “I see what the possible end result might be. So then, why are we looking into this so hard? Seems we are courting disaster.”

Alicia replied as she unrolled a rather large scroll made of some sort of different material than all the hundreds we had looked at earlier. It felt like the same type of carbon fiber the chest was made of, somehow rearranged to create the scroll.

“Ah, that one,” said Dr. Chrystomalos. “That one’s probably the most important, but also the most obscure of them all. Some say it’s the actual account of the deaths of the old King and Queen and the birth of the twins, penned by the Imp who witnessed everything. That material is quite unique. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” I had, but I didn’t mention it yet.

The words within were written in an extremely flowery type of script with pictograms that sort of reminded me of the Voynich manuscript. But surprisingly, even though the script wasn’t constantly changing, magic couldn’t translate it at all. “If we could actually prove Bryan is the firstborn, all hostilities between the factions would immediately end,” Alicia said.

I replied with a tone heavy with sarcasm, “Yeah, and if we prove Prince Yourker was firstborn, we destroy the Fae.” I realized by the looks everyone gave me they already knew this. “That material – it’s like the chest, isn’t it? Doesn’t that suggest that it was created by a Duplication Mage? Where’s the original?”

“A … Duplication Mage?” asked Dr. Chrystomalos. “Why would a human have duplicated the scroll and taken the original away?”

It was about then that a large ball of sparkling energy appeared off to one side of the table. Whatever magic it was, was totally unaffected by any of Alicia’s, my, or Misty’s protection wards.

Monica and Alicia stood and backed away from the apparition since they were right next to where it appeared. The sparkle transformed into a very beautiful woman in what looked like an outfit made of nothing but fog.

Alicia said as we all prepared a defensive attack, “Who are you and how did you get past all the protection wards?”

The woman giggled in a tinkling sort of way then replied, “I’m a Celestial Messenger and have come to answer the question your group seems to be so interested in.” She waved her hand dismissively, “All that nonsense you call magic has no effect on one such as me. You might as well relax; none of whatever you’re thinking of doing means anything and would have no effect.”

My eyes grew as large as saucers as I realized what a Celestial Messenger was. I said with incredulity obvious in my voice, “You ... are an angel?” I almost couldn’t believe it.

She replied, “I would suppose those of lower orders may call me that from time to time. I’m just me, and my job is to deliver messages from the One above all. And I apologize for not allowing any to see the births. It was decreed that none should know the truth until the proper time. The incident created an issue that would rock all reality, and we couldn’t allow that.”

By this time, all of us were in total shocked incredulity as Alicia asked, “What issue might that be?”

The woman waved her hand over the scroll Alicia still clutched. The scroll glowed for an instant as the script on the scroll looked as if it were on fire. Everything rearranged into a flowery Old English type of script that was completely readable along with moving images that showed the things that were written. It reminded me of the video clips on webpages.

What it showed was horrible and gory beyond belief. We witnessed an Orc as it brutally cut the Queen open, removed several of her internal organs, and shared them with the other six. One of the other Orcs took his blade and slashed the Queen across her swollen tummy. There was no firstborn and no second; the two babies emerged at the exact same time. The Orcs would probably have eaten them too, but at that moment the King, Bryan and Yourker’s father, burst in and killed all but one Orc, who ran him through with a nasty jagged sword.

Next, a large flash of light appeared, and this time a man dressed in an outfit of fog materialized, evidently also some sort of angel. The being said in solemn tones, “Judgment is at hand, Greetalie. Payment for all your transgressions and sins is now being collected.”

The Orc screamed horribly as what looked like a large fissure opened beneath him, and he fell in. It closed, cutting off his soul-wrenching screams. The being vanished as the rescue party burst into the tent.

Now we knew that both Bryan and Prince Yourker had been born at the same time. There was only one difference: Bryan was unconscious, his infant eyes closed, and he was blissfully unaware of what had happened. Yourker, on the other hand, had been very much awake, his eyes open as he viewed all that had happened. Human infants don’t remember what happens to them that early in life, but I very much doubted it was the same for Fae infants. Yourker had probably been scarred for life – a very long Fae life.

I looked askance at the Celestial Messenger as she replied, “If Prince Yourker had been chosen, due to the very spark of darkness within him that was instilled in him from the moment of his birth, he would have led the Fae along a course of action that does not follow the divine Plan. Bryan’s light, on the other hand, remained undimmed. His actions would, and did, lead the Fae on to become the great people they are today.” With this, the messenger vanished.

“But wh –” I started to say, but stopped. The messenger had answered all the questions she was going to answer today. I sighed. “What did that Orc do to get swallowed up by the abyss?”

“My guess is that that’s a long story in itself,” said Dr. Chrystomalos.

“And what would Yourker have done as King?”

“Most likely lead the Fae to revenge against the Orcs as soon as he was able,” said Alicia.

“He wouldn’t have stopped until he’d killed every Orc in existence,” said Misty.

“Genocide,” I said. “Even though they’re Orcs … they may have a cosmic role to play.”

“And would he have stopped there?” Alicia wondered. “With a taste for power like that … would he have gone on to lay waste to other realms? The human realm, for example? Any that could be a threat to the Fae one day?”

“Perish the thought,” said Dr. Chrystomalos. “But you may be right. The Orcs and Ogres are a rare force of destruction … but if that had happened, the Fae would have become the accursed destroyers and enemies of every realm. He would have turned us into the very thing he hated.”

“And one more question,” I said. “Where is the original? The creator of the chest is a Duplication Mage named Darielle Bouclier, and it wasn’t that long ago that she made it, either. And … what’s the magical signature on this scroll? Is it the same? Somehow I doubt that every Duplication Mage makes magical duplicates of things out of buckyballs.” It didn’t take Misty and Alicia long to confirm.

“I think we have some questions for Ms. Bouclier,” said Misty.

“Meanwhile, this scroll is still translated,” said Dr. Chrystomalos. “This resolves the conflict dividing the Fae. I must show this to the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, and both are in the council chambers at the same time.”

“Who will believe it?” I asked.

“I think we’ll probably find,” said Alicia, “that the strange force preventing anyone from scrying back to that time is now gone.” She held up one of the other scrolls that had been obscured. Its letters no longer writhed and changed.

“That’s an account of another battle on that same day,” said Dr. Chrystomalos, adjusting his tiny glasses and squinting at that scroll. We looked at each other and nodded.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“The Throne now calls Dr. Chrystomalos,” intoned a herald in a high but loud voice that we could hear through the door, which began to open. “and his fellow researchers …”

We filed into the council chambers. Seated at either end of a long table were King Bryan and another Fae who must have been Prince Yourker. He looked like a real storm cloud of a man, black-haired and with a black beard, and he really did look like night compared to King Bryan’s red-haired and red-bearded day. Several nobles of each Court lined the table at either end.

“Doctor,” said King Bryan, “I am given to understand that you have made a discovery.”

“Yes, Your Majesty, we have,” said the scholar. He unrolled the scroll upon the center of the table for all to see. Everyone either leaned forward or stood to get a better view. There was a collective gasp.

“This … has been obscure for many a long year,” said King Bryan. “But what this tells us …” He looked at Prince Yourker across the long table. “My brother, the horrors that were your first sights in life … I have no words.”

“Truly the Orcs visited their worst upon our people that day, my brother,” said Prince Yourker. “But this means that the soothsayer who declared you firstborn did lie.”

“Ah, but the soothsayer did not declare me firstborn,” said King Bryan. “She declared me king. She merely foresaw a better realm for all of us, and I have endeavored each day to bring us all that.”

“You … you are correct,” said the Prince. “I fear that I would have led us into a war that would have changed us as a people. I no longer see that as a way forward. I will never trust any Orc or call him brother. But you I freely call brother, for that we are and will be for as long as we shall live.”

“All can now see that neither of us was the firstborn,” said King Bryan. “You cannot claim to have been firstborn … but by the same token neither can I. That means neither of us is king … or both of us are.”

“You mean …” Prince Yourker looked as if he couldn’t believe his ears.

“Brother, let us return to the old ways,” said Bryan. “The Seelie and Unseelie need one another. We should debate, yes, but not fight. We should rule together. As before, so shall it be, if you be willing. I propose that we share power equally. Let no decision be made by just one or the other of us, but both together.”

So, as a new day was dawning for the Fae, and as they figured out how they were going to make another crown and scepter or whatever, we took our leave from the Fae realm. We collected the Trunk, and made sure that every Forge item was in it, along with every contaminated item we’d also found. We negotiated the return of the crib too, the one Hezwynn had made and kept the Princess in for so long. It fit in the Trunk too, bigger on the inside as it was.

We had to make sure that there were no more items out there. Luckily, Misty and Alicia had a wonderful computer that could find dark magic signatures. That seemed straightforward. However, there was still a loose end, and its name was Darielle Bouclier.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“I was like you, in a way,” Darielle said. “I had been affected by a Forge item, but I had been rescued, and then I was determined to do something about it.” I had gone to the Eldelong Elves and asked them about Ms. Bouclier, and they had told me. They hadn’t told me earlier, simply because I hadn’t asked, but Darielle had been living with them in their realm of Androlia the whole time. They had introduced us to her, and we finally got the answers to some questions. Let me tell you the story she told us.

----------------------------------------------------------------

In a small city in China in the early 20th century, a very old man sat at his workbench and created yet another fine lacquerware work of art. The old man was proud of his work, as it was known as the finest throughout the land. Slowly and meticulously, he added the finishing touches to this large and very fine chest.

The old man smiled as he placed one of his chop labels on the inside that identified him as the creator of this chest. It was truly a work of art, and he wanted to make sure whoever looked inside the chest would know that it was he who had made it. He was still highly curious about the request that had been made by the pretty young foreign woman dressed in a silk robe he had never seen an equal to.

All she had wanted him to do was build the chest. She had paid him triple what he would have charged normally, and most mysteriously, she was going to allow him to keep the trunk. He had shrugged – it was confusing, but it didn’t really matter to him. Not only had he been paid triple what he would have ordinarily gotten, he got to keep the chest and sell it to someone at regular price, meaning he got four times the normal going rate for a simple trunk.

Of course, he couldn’t allow anything but the absolute best to be made, since he had been given enough for this chest to make three more chests. He glanced at the sundial outside, which he had also made. She would be here at almost any minute. He quickly tidied the place up, put on some oolong tea, and placed the ornate and finely crafted trunk on a stand for display.

And she was there, at the door. She spoke perfect Chinese, but she was a foreigner, her skin pale, her hair light in color, and that very expensive silk robe she wore. And as before, he had seen no sign of a horse, wagon, or any means for her to take the chest with her. She had said that he could keep the trunk … but there was also the question of how she had gotten here, to this remote town, when he hadn’t heard of any foreigners staying nearby.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Hong,” she said.

He stood up. “Madam Bouclier,” he said. “You are right on time.”

“Is that the chest, then?” she asked, looking at it on its display stand.

“It is,” he said. “It is my finest work.”

“I can see that,” she said, sounding impressed. “So beautiful. It looks like one piece of wood. Even that hinge looks as if it is a solid piece.”

“And yet you do not wish to take it with you?” asked Hong.

“It … is complicated,” she said. “What I have paid you for is its form.”

He was confused. “Its form … is this some kind of magic?”

“It is,” she said. “This is my work.”

“You … are not here to put a curse on my shop, are you?” he said suspiciously.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “I need to contain objects that have a curse on them.” He looked distressed. “But I do not have the ability to make such a masterwork as this, nor do I have the ability to put an enchantment of protection on your work, not one powerful enough for what I must do. I’m sure this is confusing, but as I said, it is complicated. I am, however, telling you the truth. What I can do … is make copies of things, and it is in doing so that I can place enchantments.”

“Copies?”

“I am prepared. I will show you,” she said. Placing her left hand palm-down on the chest, she extended her right hand. She began to chant quietly in a language Hong had never heard before. And from bottom to top, another chest just like the one he had made coalesced out of the air, right under her right hand. It looked exactly like his! But … something was different about it. He could tell. He had made every tiny detail with his own hands. Something was off about its weight somehow.

She took a breath. “As you can see, it’s the exact form, but it is a different object entirely.” She opened the lid to show the place where he had signed the original, and there was his chop.

“See.” She lifted a tall lamp stand and placed it in this new chest, and it disappeared inside. He blinked with a start and went to look inside, but she reached in and took it back out, placing it by the door where it had stood before. “It has room inside such as nothing made of mere wood could have. And objects cursed with evil magic will be contained inside, unable to harm those outside. It is to protect the world from evil.”

“I … I am honored to help protect the innocent from evil,\” said Hong with a bow. “Are you a god?”

“Oh my – no, of course not,” she said. “I have merely been given a certain gift, I know not by whom, and have chosen to use it to protect the world … with some help from others. Others such as yourself – this enchantment cannot be placed on some ordinary item, made by amateurs. Only the work of a master craftsman can be the host of magic such as this.”

“And yet you cannot use the chest I made?” he asked, still confused.

“Sadly, no – fate decreed that I, gifted with my talent for duplication, should be the one in this place and time. If I had had other talents, it would not be so. It is merely how things have occurred.”

“Well, Madame Bouclier, I hope I have done the right thing today,” said Hong.

“You have,” she said. “Here is the money I owe you.” She took from her European handbag a stack of currency, which was indeed three times the usual going price for work such as this, and a bit more. She set it on his workbench. “Thank you, Mr. Hong. And now … I must go.”

“Will I see you again?” he asked.

“I do not think so, unfortunately,” she said. “Fate has decreed … other things as well.”

And at that point she stepped into the duplicate chest and pulled the lid closed behind her. At that point, a strange woman appeared, with an even paler complexion and white hair, with pointed ears and strange eyes – Hong had never seen such a person before. She bowed to Hong, put both her hands on the chest that Madame Bouclier had conjured and then stepped into, and vanished along with it. Had it not been for a small amount of dust tracked into the shop from outside, he would have thought he had fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing.

Now, that is what Darielle told us. Yes, that was one of the Eldelong Elves who had taken away the chest with Darielle Bouclier inside it. The next step of the story was in 1994. You see, time doesn’t pass for things placed in the chest – that’s part of how it can prevent cursed items from reaching out and influencing the world around them. When the Elves took her out of the chest, it was the same moment for her – even though it was almost nine decades later. “It is time for your chest to become important,” one of the Elves had told her as he helped her step out of the chest. “In time, it will lead to the downfall of the Forge.”

“That’s what you’ve said before, and I’ve no reason to doubt it,” said Darielle, “so what must I do now?”

“You may do as you wish, but you are welcome to stay with us,” the Elf said, “and we will watch what happens in the human realm. If you are needed, we will call upon you.”

She actually fit in fairly well in the world of 1994, because as a Duplication Mage she was able to copy clothes, a car, anything she needed. If she needed money, well, she had a French Rooster gold coin, and copying it produced another gold coin. It wasn’t as if it was made of carbon … it was real gold, as long as she didn’t put any kind of extra enchantment on it.

“But … did you duplicate that scroll in the Fae library?” I asked her.

“Yes, long ago,” she said.

“But you’re a human …”

“Yes, but I was born a very long time ago,” she replied. “Before the Forge was made. I was a princess, you see. The kingdom no longer exists, but it was in the west of what is now France. They named Paris after it, you know. Its name was Ys, and Paris means ‘like Ys.’”

“Wait, were you …”

“The princess who the dark wizard Dractyl made the Forge to capture?” Her expression darkened. “Yes, I’m afraid so. He gave me a rattle, irresistible, insidious.”

I paled. “I … know that rattle.”

“Ah, so you touched it too. I am glad you were rescued. As I was. But I stayed his prisoner for five years.”

“Five years? By the time you were rescued …”

“Yes, I had forgotten my entire life and was nothing but a helpless baby. He had made me clothes, toys, diapers, everything. I even forgot my magic. When my father’s knights found him … well, my father took his revenge, and he was also a powerful Mage. Only a charred mark on the earth was left.”

“Fire or lightning?” asked Alicia.

“He was a Lightning Mage,” said Darielle. “I am told that he was quite fearsome when infuriated.”

“Ah,” Alicia said with a nod. “I’ve heard tales. Armies of soldiers made of living lightning were among them.”

“But you had to recover, afterward,” I said.

“I was no longer who I’d been,” she told us. “That person no longer exists. That is the evil of the Forge. It has left me in diapers forever, a constant reminder of my captor. I dedicated my life to finding a way to destroy the thing. My father stored it in the royal treasury. I tried to destroy it, but didn’t find a way. Then my father passed away, and my brother became King. With my magic I copied a blank scroll and made a scroll that told me the future. It told me that a rare and powerful Mage would be born who would destroy the Forge, among other things. I made a cabinet in which time did not pass that let me out after a year. That is how I have lived all this time.”

“But … the Fae scroll,” said Misty.

“Yes, there was a great deal of commotion in the magical community when the Fae-Orc wars were going on,” said Darielle. “I was in the Fae realm trying to help as I could and just happened upon the scroll telling what had happened to the poor Queen and her babies. There was a sparkling light, and my scroll told me that Heaven was taking a hand in the royal succession. I made a quick copy of the scroll and took the original away to another realm.” She looked on a shelf and showed it to us. It was the same as the one we had seen. “It didn’t protect it. Even in another realm, the account soon turned into gibberish, but recently it’s cleared up. My scroll of prophecy told me that this scroll about the twin Fae Princes would somehow, someday, be intertwined with those who would destroy the Forge.”

“The Eldelong Elves helped, it seems,” I said.

“Yes,” said Darielle. “I was noticing that the Forge kept producing more items, which Mages of the light kept trying to round up and lock up, but their curses kept reaching out to people. I asked one Mage and Fae after another whether there was a way to seal the cursed items away, and the Eldelong Elves kept coming up, so I decided to seek them out and ask them. They helped me work out the enchantment to put on the chest and brought me back here with it. They don’t like dark magic, and they knew of the Forge and wanted it destroyed too.”

“And then you started collecting the items,” I said, “like we did.”

“I did,” she said, “but the owners of the Forge kept making them, because it compelled them to. Still, I tried.”

“How did the chest get into Hezwynn’s hands?” I asked.

“It was a few owners before Hezwynn,” said Darielle. “I got caught. I got a little too careless, or ambitious if you will, trying to capture Forge items shortly after they were made and squirrel them away. Dark Mage named Vitruvia blew a faceful of baby powder at me, took the chest, and left me there sucking my thumb. I finally recovered but had no idea where she’d gone. The Elves and I tried to track her down, but by the time we found the Forge and the chest again, Hezwynn already had them both. So either he took them from her, or somebody else took them from her and Hezwynn took them from that person.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I guess we know the story from there,” I said.

“More or less. I watched your battle with Hezwynn, by the way. My divination scroll told me not to interfere. Nice work convincing the dragon king not to roast you. I wonder where he went.”

“He was vague about his future plans. Something about visiting the ancient dragon homeland?” I said.

“Wherever that is,” said Darielle. “We’d need to ask a dragon expert, I guess, if it matters.”

“So … what will you do now?” I asked her.

She looked around at the abode of the Eldelong Elves, where we’d gone to visit her. “I’m not sure. I think I’ll stay here for a while and get used to the idea of not having a vendetta against an inanimate object.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Time passed quickly for some, and more slowly for others, depending on their perspective, as Alicia and Misty gathered the many remaining cursed items and stored them within the trunk.

It was interesting that Lacy Norris had become intrigued enough with her short brush with being regressed to an infant, that she had started wearing the cutest little girl outfits. To her … surprise, she even had little girl accidents now and then completely randomly and uncontrollably as any little girl would. She started taking to wearing diapers to protect her cute outfits.

Clarence, Monica, and myself were in what amounted to a Mage’s school for advanced learning as the Fae did their best to teach some of the most powerful Mages humans had ever produced to use their newfound abilities properly and add some extra powerful and very useful spells to our ever-growing repertoire.

Thermatrix had even arrived in his human form, to aid in our instruction by teaching us many of the lost Dragon Magics. We kept being reminded that we were the actual inner high council of the long-standing order of Witches and Mages. Some of the lessons were fun, while others were borderline torture.

“Again,” said Thermatrix, pacing back and forth in the center of the courtyard. Alicia, Misty, Monica, Clarence, and I all tried the transformation spell again. I tried hard; I really did. My fingernails and toenails took on a metallic sheen, and I pushed, but they burned like fire, and when the shock of the pain caused me to lose my concentration, they reverted to normal. Misty had changed her eyes to a golden yellow before reverting, while Alicia had turned her hair into an ornate crimson crest. Monica had gotten the skin of one arm to turn into turquoise scales, while Clarence had changed the shape of his mouth and grown fearsome fangs for a moment.

“Hm. Progress, I suppose,” said Thermatrix. “Do you know what distinguishes a Mage from a human with a magical talent? The ability to learn spells outside that talent. That’s all. I suppose you’ve proven that you’re all Mages – technically – but I expect more. Again.” We all continued trying to learn the Draconic Transformation that the ancient Dragon Mages had once been famous for – according to the legends.

The On-Ogur were still contained within their own realms. The harder they tried to create the necessary magical means to transport to any other realm, the more the spell I had cast on them to resist such magic seemed to intensify on its own and stopped them. For the first time in recorded memory, all invasions and hostilities caused by those horrid creatures ceased.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but a special demi-plane had come into being. It actually belonged to Monica, Clarence, and myself, and there was a permanent gateway connecting it to Misty and Alicia’s villa sanctuary. Fontina had moved her fountain to that location and created a most beautiful garden filled with some of the most amazing magical plants and creatures I could imagine.

It was also the place where the Fae came to do their advanced magical instruction for us. All the buildings seemed to grow like soap bubbles out of the mysterious Eidolon Crystals and produced a sparkling campus of the most exquisite sparkling crystalline edifices imaginable. When the sun was up, they would sparkle like diamonds and cast a beautiful rainbow of color.

Callie had come to stay in our special realm too, along with a very special little girl named Vickie and her Nana, who was very much in awe about the fact that she was actually living among magical peoples.

Clarence was as happy as a clam at high tide with his new custom-created physics lab with all the possible trimmings. He had become famous back in our home realm, having not only discovered a new force of nature and family of subatomic particles never before proven to exist, but created devices to see and make them in enough abundance that mankind could study them. His winning the Nobel Prize in Physics insured his place in the history books.

Monica’s 12 million dollars grew into billions over the course of time with prudent investments. We donated to everything we could think of, which started bringing in more millions as people demanded to know our stories and we wrote books and went on speaking tours. Alicia came up with the bright idea to build colleges, schools, and other places to aid the youth of the world. That too, started a cascade of incoming money we couldn’t even keep track of.

Of course, we met a group of ugly, rather ill-tempered, but well-mannered beings that handled money and our financial affairs far better than humans could. I had always thought of Imps as being mischievous pranksters. What I learned was yes, they were – however, they were also extremely professional within their own realm of monetary expertise and made it possible for our money supplies to grow exponentially, which caused them the greatest joy. We kept setting up trusts for charities, foundations to improve blighted urban areas, and scholarship funds for disadvantaged populations. It was very strange to be in a situation where I didn’t know how to get rid of money fast enough.

As for the remaining Forge items … after a few years we were unable to find any more, no matter how many perception spells Monica cast and no matter how hard Misty and Alicia pushed their quantum computer. It seemed likely that everything was in the Trunk. But I couldn’t use the Forge to dismantle them, so we had to use Alicia and Misty’s method. At that point it was just a matter of finding people who wanted a pacifier, baby bonnet or baby bottle that would instantly take away their adulthood until they stopped using it, so Alicia and Misty could change the curse into a blessing.

I don’t suppose you want one?

And that’s how the three of us became the High Council of Mages and undid the Curse of the Forge.

~~The Start of a New Dawn ~~
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
User avatar
LilJennie
 
Posts: 42
Joined: Mon Jun 23, 2014 9:38 pm
Location: Boominton, Inidana
Mastodon: @liljennie@meow.social

Return to The Story Circle

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron