Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

The Ore of Nouméa

ONE

“How was your holiday, Sarah?” Anna asked her roommate. They were standing in Loon’s Lagoon and waiting to go up the gangway to the Allegany Pride.

“It was…very… very… nice,” Sarah stammered back. “How… about…” she struggled and coughed, “y…y… yours?”

“It was okay” Anna looked at Gwen pensively. Sarah was still struggling to speak to Anna directly.

“Did you get anything good for Christmas?” Gwen asked Sarah, looking to end the girl’s struggles.

“Oh yes. I got a new pair of ski boots and poles.”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to ski again?”

Sarah smiled. I’ve already been. There was thirty inches of new powder in the mountains back home.”

Gwen rolled her eyes. “Honestly, girl. I’ve never met anybody working so hard to break her neck.”

“Anna… are you,” Sarah struggled again, “are you… oh… oh… okay?”

Anna caught herself thinking about her alley. She wanted to tell her two friends about her struggles to find the vessel holding Leola, but she knew Dumbledore would forbid it. Any mention of a horcrux would break her promise.

“Yeah… I guess I’m just a little sad about leaving daddy again.”

The three girls shared their holiday experiences all the way back to the docks of Spellsburg. An hour later they were winding their way up the cobblestone streets of the city, smiling and waving at the shopkeepers lining the way to welcome them back. A few minutes later, they were inspecting the newest fashions in robes when they heard what sounded like angry yelling farther up the hill.

Anna looked at the others frowned. “What’s going on?”

They headed off together to the increasing sounds of a crowd yelling when a blast from a wand pushed them to run. A crowd of students had gathered around the base of the steps at the city museum.

The girls found another Guardian standing behind the crowd. He was yelling angrily at something in the center.

“I said get back!” they heard another man yelling.

“Let them go! You have no right. Stop it!” somebody in the crowd yelled back

“Joe — what’s going on?” Gwen said, pulling at the other guardian’s robes. She noticed his wand was drawn.

“Stop it!” Joe Philias cried out. “You’re hurting them!”

“What’s happening?” Gwen turned her classmate by the arm. “Joe!”

The boy was red in the face. “The Crimson Guards are arresting some Guardians.”

“What?”

Anna stood on her toes to see what was happening. “Why? Who is it?”

Joe began to shove his way through the crowd. “Get out of my way. I’m going to stop this!” Anna, Gwen and Sarah followed Joe through the crowd until they came upon an open circle where they saw three Guardians lying face down on their fronts and several Crimson Guards standing over them with their wands drawn. Another guard was waving the angry crowd back.

“Stay back, I tell you. This is official security business and these three are under arrest!”

The Guardian Knight Gabriel Laroche pushed her way through the crowd and into the circle. “What is this? What are you doing?” she yelled at the guards.

The Crimson sergeant brought his wand around to point at her and suddenly looked relieved to see a student knight.

“Guardian Knight… get your people back — now!”

Gabriel looked around to see the members from every union hall in the crowd, including a number of Guardians with their wands out.

“Lower your wands!” the sergeant yelled.

The Guardian sixth year Teresa Sinclair came forward raising her wand threatening at the guards. “And I said let them go — now!”

The Guardian Knight stepped in front of Teresa. “Put that away!”

Teresa looked furious. “We’re not going to stand by and just let these thugs treat our people this way!”

Gabriel grabbed her arm. “I said PUT IT AWAY!”

Teresa finally obeyed and the Knight turned to face the other students. “The same goes for the rest of you!”

Slowly… each of them lowered their arms.

“Please, sir,” came a soft voice and Gabriel looked around to see Anna slowly walking forward to face the guards alone, “please… what have these students done?”

“They were caught stealing from the museum!”

“That’s a lie!” yelled an arrested fourth year guardian named John Gryskiewicz. “We asked them two months ago to stop abusing the Ore! We were only offering to help them today when they jumped us!”

Anna looked down at a large, polished stone the size of a man’s head engulfed in green flames.

“They were trying to smoother its flame!” yelled another guardian, lying on the ground next to John.

A guard standing over them rudely used his boot to shove the girl back down.

“Stop that!” Gabriel yelled out. “That’s not necessary!”

“Please, sir,” Anna pleaded softly. “Please… let my friends go. They were only trying to protect an object of magical significance, which is our mission and cause. Surely you can see they didn’t mean any harm.”

“I said step back!” the guard yelled, pointing his wand menacingly at Anna. The guard was immediately struck in the back by a bolt of red light emerging from the other side of the crowd.

“Oh my God!” Anna yelled.

At once several more Crimson Guards swooped in on doors and brooms all around them.

“You will disperse or risk arrest and expulsion!” yelled another guard, who moved in to stand over his injured comrade. Several more guards began pushing their way through the crowd and it wasn’t long before the students realized they were completely outmatched. Another guard pointed his wand skyward and sent an orange bolt into the air. Within seconds the crowd could hear the sound of squeaking and flapping wings over their heads. They looked up to see a large cage with metal wings gliding in to land in their center. The metal oddity hit the ground with a bang and a hinged door, rusted by age, screeched loudly as it swung itself open. The three guardians were hauled upright by the back of their robes and pushed roughly into the cell. The bared door was closed with a bang behind them.

A Guardian sixth year, Janet Wardrop, immediately stuck her hands through the bars at the Guardian Knight. “Gabriel — please send an owl to my parents. Tell them what’s happening.”

“Tell them we were set up!” John yelled through the bars next to her. “The guards were waiting for us and pounced when we tried to help them with the stone. Somebody give me a wand!”

“No!” Gabriel yelled back. “Please… everybody calm down. I’m trying to defuse the situation before somebody gets hurt.”

“It’s too late for that, Guardian Knight,” moaned the hexed Guard as he was helped to his feet again. “Take them away!”

The flying cell unfurled its wings with a screech of galling metal and began to flap as the crowd started to yell out with anger and disgust. Servers, Defenders, Artisans, Guardians, Searchers and Laborers alike were all screaming at the guards.

“You set them up! This isn’t right! It’s brutality!”

“What do you think will happen to them?” Anna asked Gabriel as they watched the cage flying away. The girl looked afraid.

“I expect they might be suspended.”

“Suspended? No… they wouldn’t. They were only trying to help.”

The Knight grabbed Anna by the arm and pulled her to the side. “Do you have a way of contacting your brother Eric?”

Anna was surprised. “I… I think so. He left for Castlewood two days ago. He’s either up at the castle or in his apartment preparing his classes again. Why?”

“Because Eric warned us something like this might happen after the Guardians protested at the museum before the holiday. He met with the mayor afterward and came back with a warning that if anything like that happened again, the Mayor might suspend or even expel any Guardians involved. If your brother still has any influence with the mayor at all, we could use his help now. Can you find him?”

“All right. I’ll go to his apartment and…”

“No you will not,” said a man’s voice behind her. It was John Dell. “You are restricted to the castle, Anna. You are not allowed in the city without an escort.”

“John? What are you doing here?” Gabriel yelped in surprise.

“No time to explain. Anna can’t be in the city alone. Send somebody else to Eric’s apartment to petition the Mayor’s office. Anna can search for her brother inside the castle.”

“I know where Eric lives,” Gwen offered. She looked at Anna. “He’s still at The Blotter on Leth Alley, right?”

“Yeah… room 507, facing the Guardian Hall.”

Gwen looked at Gabriel and John Dell, “Sarah and I will go and see if we can find him.” She immediately began pushing her way back through the crowd and then ran off with Sarah by her side.

“Let’s get you back to the castle before something else happens,” John said, directing Anna up the hill. He looked at Gabriel. “And I would suggest you get this lot in line before more Guardians are put at risk.”

“Where is it?” yelled one of the Crimson Guards. “Where’s the Ore?”

Anna, John and Gabriel looked around and several guards were now pushing their way roughly through the crowd of students.

Anna looked down at where the flaming stone sat just a moment earlier. Sure enough, it was gone.

“Where the hell is the stone?” yelled the guard again. He glared up at Gabriel. “One of the Guardians must have taken it. I want it returned — now!”

“How do you know it was a Guardian that took it? It might just as well have been a Defender,” said a smiling Steven Durkin from the Defender Union and a large crowd of Defenders around him cheered in agreement.

“Or the Laborers!” called another student with green embroidery on her arms.

“No,” said another student, “I thought I saw an Artisan running off with the stone in that direction.”

The sergeant looked furious as he turned to look at his men. “Find it! I want that stone back in the museum immediately. Check everywhere. I want it back!”

TWO

An hour later.

“I’m sorry, Eric, but the mayor isn’t here at the moment. He’s up at the castle talking to the Chancellor about this afternoon’s lawlessness at the museum,” said the mayor’s assistant.

“Lawlessness? Who would call a simple misunderstanding lawlessness?”

The man looked at Eric and frowned. “Why… the Mayor Prowler did before he left.”

Eric was worried. Ever since Gwen and Sarah had come banging on his apartment door, he was afraid whatever action he took with the mayor to defend the guardians would come far too late.

“Do you know where they’ve taken the arrested students?”

“Yes. They’ve been placed in the city dungeons, where all criminals end up.”

“The dungeons? But they’re just children. Is that really necessary?”

“The mayor was quite insistent on the matter and, as it turns out, the Minister of Magic was in full agreement.”

“The… the Minister of Magic? You mean Minister Barkelnap is already aware of this?”

“Yes she was. In fact I believe it was the Minister’s idea to put them in the dungeon.”

“Dear God,” Eric whispered. He turned and headed for the door.

“And… Eric?”

Eric looked back.

“It would be rude of me not to warn you: I would suggest you stay clear of this office unless the mayor decides to summon you directly.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because I believe the mayor blames you for the disorder in the city today.”

“Me? Why me?”

“I heard the mayor telling the Minister he tried to warn you before Christmas that this kind of hooliganism would not be tolerated. He asked you to warn the Guardians away from creating the kind of disorder seen a couple of weeks ago at the museum and yet we have what happened today. The mayor is very angry with your lack of diligence in his matter.”

Eric frowned. There was something in the assistant’s manner that troubled him. He returned to the desk. “Can I ask you a question? Why were there Crimson Guards stationed in the museum today?”

The man looked surprised. “I would think it’s because the objects within are extremely valuable.”

“But the museum already has a caretaker and several watchmen, all of which are extremely gifted and understanding the differences between security and the special needs of the objects in their care. In fact I know the caretaker Mr. Lumsden very well. It’s hard for me to believe he would allow an untrained Crimson Guard on the premises given his fondness and concern for these magical objects… and yet there were several guards already inside the building when the students arrived on the plateau today. It would seem to the most objective observer… they might have been expecting trouble.”

The man didn’t answer him.

“In addition, several Guardians have told us that the Crimson Guards looked like they were trying to extinguish the stone’s enduring flame. If true, that would have certainly caused them to expect a reaction.”

The man sighed. “As I said, Eric, it might be wise to stay clear of his office until this issue is finally resolved.”

Eric nodded and then turned for the door. “Thanks for the warning.”

THREE

Later that same evening, all of the students in the Rotunda rose as one when Chancellor Thordarson entered the dining hall and stepped up to the podium. Even through his black glasses, he looked forbidding. He scanned the entire audience from left to right before speaking.

“Sit!”

As quietly as it seemed possible, all of the students of Castlewood took their seats.

Thordarson’s face turned angry and his mane of white hair seemed to rise up as he spoke. “I am very disappointed with those who participated in the unlawful and shameful thievery at the city museum today.”

There was an immediate and negative reaction from the students.

“No Professor… that’s not what happened… the Crimson Guards were at fault… they brutalized…”

“SILENCE!”

The room was immediately quiet.

“For whatever the reason the Guardians have contributed to this… episode… know this: you have put our school and your mission into jeopardy with this unthinking action.”

Gabriel looked around at the table of Guardians and nodded her agreement.

“I am especially disappointed in the student leaders who were present at the time and did nothing to stop this inexcusable breach of our code of honor. Need I remind you that while Castlewood might have been here before the city was built around it, by charter we are now guests of the city of Spellsburg?”

He paused as if to calm himself. “Additionally, I am most outraged by the unwarranted attack upon a Crimson Guard while in the deployment of his duties at the museum. If anybody in this room knows who it was that hexed Sergeant Miller in the back, then I implore you to come forward at once.”

He looked around the room as did most of the Guardians in the Rotunda, but nobody said a word.

“Very well.” He took a deep breath. “It is my unfortunately duty to tell you that two of our fourth year students, John Gryskiewicz and Marian Nelson, and a sixth year, Janet Wardrop, all of the Guardian Hall, have been expelled from the city by the Mayor of Spellsburg.”

There was a collective gasp from the students.

“These three students,” the Chancellor continued over the spattering of protests, “have already been escorted back to the dock, put aboard the Allegheny Pride, and at this very moment are on their way home. If… they are invited to return next September, they will have to repeat this entire year of study at the academy.”

Anna was stunned. She looked around at the rest of the Guardians who were all surprised; some were crying.

“Lastly, it has come to my attention that the magical object that caused this… near riot… is still missing. Stolen from the museum! I’ll have you know the Living Ore of Nouméa is a very ancient artifact of great historical significance on loan to our city from France, and that country’s Minister has already lodged a formal protest to the American Minister of Magic about it being taken. If this artifact is returned to the museum by the end of the day tomorrow, no further enquires will be made as to how it went missing. Otherwise, I have promised the French Minister I will lead the search to find it myself and to insure its safe return. The task in finding it should not be too difficult given there are not too many minerals of such magical quality that burn continuously. If the stone is not returned by the deadline given, and if the person found keeping is a student, it will be assumed they are the thief and will be expelled from the school permanently.” He stepped back and heaved. “I am very disappointed with you tonight and I can only hope you will diligently work with me to savage what we can of our reputation.”

Stunned, the entire student body sat in silence as the Chancellor turned to leave, but as he opened the door to exit he turned again. “Anna Grayson?”

Anna gulped and then slowly stepped into the aisle. “Yes, sir,” she replied meekly.

The Chancellor was scanning the student tables until he found her. His stare darkened. “I’d like a word with you in private, if you please.”

Anna looked fearful. “Yes, sir. Right away, of course.” She left the table to join the Chancellor at the door.

“Follow me, Guardian.”

Anna had been in the room adjoining the Rotunda one other time at the beginning of the school year when the Dark Arts teacher Professor Van Dorn scolded her for yelling at her fellow Guardians about Voldemort’s return. This time, however, Anna was much more fearful as to the meaning of her being called in.

“Close the door behind you, Miss Grayson.”

Anna did as she was told and then came forward. The Chancellor was standing by the fire with his hand to his chin, seemingly in troubled thought.

“Anna... I was told you were assigned to detention along with a new first year Guardian earlier this year by the name of Unity Yolland. Is that correct?”

Anna was surprised again. “Nox? Ah... yes, sir. I was.”

“I was told it was because the two of you were fighting.”

“Well... yes, but I was only trying to break up a fight and...”

The Chancellor turned to her. “What is your relationship with the girl presently?”

“My relationship?” Anna thought. “I suppose we get along all right. She’s having some issues at home that make it difficult...”

“If you’re talking about her coming from a scrub village... yes... I am already aware of that fact.”

“You are?”

“I also know that your father has asked Miss Valeria to visit the girl’s home to confirm the story.” The Chancellor shrugged. “He needn’t have bothered; I can confirm the girl is telling the truth.”

Thordarson came forward. “Despite the rocky start to your relationship, I’m going to ask you to set aside whatever differences that might still exist between yourself and Miss Yolland long enough to deliver a personal message to her from me.”

“A… message, sir?”

“That’s right. Tell her that I expect the prompt return the Ore of Nouméa well within the deadline I have set for tomorrow.”

Anna was shocked. “Nox? She… has the stone?”

“I see from your reaction that you were unaware of this fact. It pleases me to know this, Anna, because I would have been very disappointed with you otherwise. With three Guardians already expelled, we should avoid seeing another kicked out before the beginning of the term. I suspect you would agree?”

Anna frowned. “To tell you the truth, professor, had I known what the Crimson guards were doing with the stone at the time, I might have been a party to taking it as well.”

Thordarson studied her carefully. “I thought you might say that and that’s why I’ve asked to see you tonight.” He turned again to the fire, waved his orbed staff, and the flames rose to warm the space between them.

“There seems to be something of a lack of priority on your part while you continue your studies here at the school, Anna. In the future, you and the rest of the Guardians will take on the monumental task of insuring the magical objects, creatures and places within the wizarding world are protected.” He looked at her. “But that’s well down the road. For now, it’s much more important that you continue your studies here at the academy. You must take in everything offered you here by its staff and teachers. You must also learn to protect yourself and your fellow Guardians before you look to protect the things of magic. Otherwise, you risk repeating what happened today and chance expulsion at a time most critical to your training. Do you understand?”

Anna frowned. “I... I think so, Professor.”

He studied her again and then came forward. “Then let me be most direct: The gravest of times are coming, Anna, and they come sooner than we thought even a few months ago. Things are not always as they seem, so you must trust me and focus on what I tell you is important. Your lessons here at the school must take precedence over everything else. Do you understand?”

Anna looked into the fire, a storm of thoughts racing through her mind; the images of her mother, her Ally, her father, her family and the evil that was Voldemort. She looked at Thordarson again and the old wizard’s stare darkened.

“Nothing is as important,” he repeated, as if reading her most private thoughts.

“I can only promise to try, Professor.”

“More than trying is necessary, Anna. Leadership is calling you. The German writer Von Goethe once said, ‘A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.’” The Chancellor nodded his encouragement. “Will you delivery my message to Miss Yolland?”

Anna’s expression became firm. “Yes, sir. If Nox has the ore, I’ll get it back.”

The top of the old wizard’s staff blushed and the door behind her suddenly clicked. “Then you had better rejoin your union before you miss desert. I hear the plum pudding is rather good tonight.”

Anna twitched a quick smile and then turned. She opened the door and then glanced back to see the Chancellor had returned to the fire and to his deepest thoughts. He looked very worried.

FOUR

Gabriel was yelling at Nox. “I can’t believe you took the stone! Are you insane? And why the hell did you leave it here in the forest?

Anna, Gwen, Gabriel were standing around the Living Ore of Nouméa just inside the edge of the Shadowed Forest, as Nox stared disbelievingly up at Crimson draped hulk that was Trog standing three feet above her.

“Well… I couldn’t very well take it into the castle, could I?” Nox replied, still staring in astonishment at ogre who was hiding his face behind a crimson mask. She finally looked at Gabriel. “I think levitating a large stone ablaze in green flame might have brought a little unwanted attention. So… I just did a little Mobili-Lapis when nobody was looking,” she said, waving her wand, “and tossed it over the Searcher Tower.”

“It would have been better had it landed on your head.” Gwen looked at Anna. “The girl’s insane.”

Anna looked at the stone and smiled. “You have to admit though… it was a nifty bit of magic for a first-year. I couldn’t have done it.”

Gabriel wasn’t amused as she turned on Nox again. “What the hell were you thinking? We have to return it immediately.”

“Why?” Nox countered.

“You want to be expelled like the others? We’re already out of the running for the Chancellor’s Cup because three members of our hall were kicked out.”

“Who the heck cares about the Chancellor’s Cup? I thought we were supposed to be protecting magical objects. Well? Here’s one right in front of you. So why aren’t we protecting it?” Nox argued back.

“You’re an idiot,” Gwen replied. “The Ore was never in any danger of being extinguished. You heard what Eric said. It was just a trick to provoke a reaction from the Guardians. And you fell for it.”

“Oh I fell for it… right, like I was the only one making a fuss. Seems to me half the school was yelling and screaming at the guards outside the museum.”

“They were angry about the way they were treating their friends and fellow students, not because of what they were doing with the Ore!” Gwen fired back.

“Enough!” Gabriel yelled back. “We have to find a way to get this back to the museum without anybody seeing us. We need some ideas fast.” They all stopped to think.

“Maybe we can cover it with something that doesn’t burn?” Gwen suggested.

“Humph… good luck with that,” Nox smirked, “I was hours trying to hide the stupid thing before finally deciding to just leave it here.”

“The flame is made eternal, it is,” Trog told them. “It cannot be held.” He had a wanting look as he stared down at the Ore. “It would warm Trog’s cave in the winter nicely, it would.”

Anna smiled up at him and then thought. “Maybe we should just leave a note at the museum telling them where they can find it.”

Gabriel looked up at Trog and saw him shaking his head disapprovingly. The knight agreed.

“You don’t understand — I know how the Chancellor’s mind works,” Gabriel answered. “He’s giving us a way out of this mess, but there’s clearly a lesson to be learned here as well. He said the Ore had to be returned to the museum and now it’s up to us to figure out how to do that without getting caught.”

“Why don’t we just chuck it over the wall again?” Nox suggested, raising her wand once more.

“So much for protecting it,” Gwen shot back.

“We can’t just throw an immensely important magical object into the streets of Spellsburg,” Anna retorted. “It might get damaged.”

“It could kill someone, it could,” Trog added, curtly.

Gwen agreed. “Not to mention the fact that if it landed in the wrong spot, it could start a fire. Maybe several fires as it went rolling down the street.”

Nox looked at the stone burning at their feet and laughed. “It’s a good thing it landed where it did out here in the snow… I guess it could have burned down the entire forest.”

“You think this is funny?” Gwen said, stepping forward.

Nox straightened to face her. “Yeah, I do. What’s your problem?”

“Stop it, you two. Think! We have to find a way.”

Gwen looked at Anna. “Maybe we can get Eric to help us.”

Anna flinched. “Are you crazy? I’m not putting my brother at risk. I don’t want him thrown out of the city too.”

“Come on, people, let’s think through this thing,” Gabriel challenged them.

Gwen dropped to her knees in front of the stone and the flames suddenly grew hotter as she leaned in. She scooped up a handful of snow and dropped it into the flames, which instantly turned to green steam.

Gwen looked up at the others. “We’re in a lot of trouble here, folks. You can’t even touch the stupid thing.”

Anna was walking in a circle around them. “So we’ll have to levitate it or hide it in something that won’t burn or melt.”

Gabriel heaved. “Well good luck with that. Before coming here, I stopped by the museum to read what I could about the Ore. It sits on a dirt filled pedestal because that’s the only thing it won’t burn. They say its flame is hot enough to melt lead.”

Anna sat frustrated in the snow next to the object. She reached out to the living flames to warm her hands and watched them retreat away from her. Anna frowned as she pulled back.

“Hey… did you see that?” Gwen said, pointing at the stone.

Anna looked at her friend and then moved a pointed finger toward the emerald flames once more. The four girls watched in amazement as the flames moved to make a hole, like a mouth opening wide.

“Cool!” Nox said laughing. “It wouldn’t let me near it before.” She stuck out her hand toward the flames and it bloomed bright in response, spitting green sparks at her.

“OUCH — HEY!”

“Careful… you don’t want to get burned by the Ore’s flame. It could take years to heal,” Gabriel warned them. The Knight leaned in closer to the sphere and watched the flames bloom hot in response. She looked at Anna and nodded for her to try again.

Anna reached out and watched the fire react to her closeness. The green color lessened to yellow as she moved nearer to the sphere and the flames suddenly parting as if her hand were a blowing wind. She finally made contact the Ore, which felt surprisingly cool to the touch. The flames bloomed bright around the sphere and then with a soft pop they snuffed themselves out. Anna yanked back.

“Uh-oh.”

“Hey… it went out!” Nox yelped in surprise.

“Oh my God,” Anna replied. “What have I done?” She reached out again to poke at the sphere, but nothing happened. She slowly moved a hand over its smooth surface and closed her eyes. She could feel the magic within the object warming her fingers as a trio of voices began to sing to her.

Mind this heart of stone

That once knew love was left alone

But through your touch a landing dove

Our heart now sings this song of love

Anna smiled. The voices within the stone were angelic and their song so immensely moving that she found herself reaching out with both hands to caress the magical object.

Your heart is now open and we see the truth

The love above all that binds you to youth

Set in sadness and wanting none other

The holder of your heart remains… your mother

A single tear rolled down Anna’s cheek as the voices whispered and hummed and reached out to caress her soul. Bonded in the images of love, Anna had a vision of her walking hand in hand with her mother outside the Jennings ancestral home. Victoria was smiling down at her as she stopped to hug her daughter and Anna was crying as several intruding voices began to break through the Ore’s magnificent spell.

“Anna? Anna, let go.”

Anna opened her eyes and found Gwen was sitting on her knees looking at her.

“Are you okay?”

Anna smiled as she pulled her hands away the stone. “Love above all that binds you to youth…” she mumbled. She looked at Gwen and then unexpectedly reached out to hug her friend.

“How did you do that?” Nox asked her, looking at the stone now sitting quiet and free of the flames surrounding it. “How did you put out the fire?”

Anna stood and looked down. She was worried. “I only touched it… the magic within speaks to the truest love within your heart. It’s really quite beautiful.”

Nox squatted down next to the stone, which suddenly began to sputter and pop. She tried to touch it, but the Ore swiftly erupted once more in green flames. The girl looked at Anna and frowned.

“Whelp… it looks like you’ll be the one carrying the stone back to the museum.”

FIVE

Later that night, the moon was full and bright. Its light poured into the streets of Spellsburg in all but the darkest places where the vermin conceal themselves to thieve their advantage. In a small corner where the moon longed to see, a man could be heard whimpering.

“Please, don’t hurt me.”

“Your editorials in the local newspaper make for interesting reading, my friend. You choose your words well… and use them like scalpels.”

The man cringed at the voice speaking to him. “If… I’ve done something to offend you, I’m… very sorry. It’s never meant to be personal. If you let me go, perhaps I can write something to make up for it. I’ll do anything…”

The other’s voice giggled with anticipation. “Your weapons are indeed formidable.” And then from out of darkness a face came forward bearing fangs. “But mine are lethal.”

The the man’s muffled screams echoed in the darkness as his body gave way to ripping teeth that cracked his bones and a cloud of bats silently passed over the city to steal the moon.

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