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The Strongest Magic

By Philip Borup

Adventure / Fantasy

Prologue: The Circle of the Night

Bastian Balthazar Bux had experiences under his belt beyond his years. Indeed beyond the years of anyone his age, or even older. It was what made him who he was, which was a confident youth of agreeable humor and virtually no inhibition when it came to speaking his mind. Because of this confidence he excelled in both academics and athletics. His teachers knew he was going to make a great noise in the world one day. No one could explain how he had transformed from the pudgy little urchin who had so often been the butt of everyone's jokes (peer and teacher alike) to the golden boy of their town. Adults liked him, girls liked him, boys respected him at the very least. But don't misunderstand this to mean that he was in any way arrogant. No Bastian was not arrogant. He simply had far more experience than anyone would have guessed, and this accounted for his near fearlessness at anything he attempted. But how he came to be this way is a story that has already been told. But the reason that this at least must be told is that on this particular day there was something that, even for one as fearless as Bastian Balthazar Bux, was very troubling indeed.

"I must be going mad". He said to himself. Because he swore he had seen the very same cat that was trotting gingerly along the wrought iron fence along the corner of his block as had been at the schoolyard that very morning. He stopped to look closer. No he wasn't mistaken because this black cat had the very same streak of violet fur near its crown. He wondered how the cat had come by such a peculiar marking. Such coloring on a cat was certainly not natural. Whoever owned it must have been very strange.

The cat must have noticed he was observing because she (he had a feeling it was female) suddenly met his gaze. Her eyes were blue and like a cat's they seemed to carry that attitude of passive curiosity and boredom all in one. He dismissed the thought quickly when she leaped off the fence and pranced across his neighbor's yard. But when he caught sight of her again, this time across the street from his house where he peered out his window, he suddenly found himself wishing his father had not left him home alone for the weekend.

But all thought of the strange cat had vanished by the time he remembered he had promised to call Christa that night. She would soon be through with school for the year and the two of them could not wait for when her mother Anna would bring her home and the two of them could visit. Though they had grown older and entered their high school years, two things between them had never changed. One, Christa still loved to hear Bastian's stories, especially the ones about his adventures in Fantasia. And two, Bastian was still very fond of her, and growing fonder still.

He related his experience with the cat to her, but she must have thought it was him just getting ready to tell another story because she didn't seem too concerned. Though she admitted cats in general gave her the creeps. She told him not to worry about it and he decided she was right. After he hung up with her it was very late. He dressed for bed and took one last look outside his bedroom window, half expecting to see the cat staring back at him from across the street just as she had been earlier. The street was empty.

"Christa's right." He said to himself. "Just a cat." And with that he laid his head down to sleep. But as he drifted off, there was still that one small nagging feeling that something was off about that cat. It wasn't strong enough to rouse him when sleep finally took him, but there came a time when he wished he had listened to it.

The window to his room slid open ever so gently so as not to wake him. Bastian did not stir, and the owner of the pale hand that reached through his window and spread its violet fingernails over his sleeping head would make sure he stayed that way. Bastian felt nothing as the spell was cast. That's the thing about sleeping spells; you usually don't feel them. With Bastian lying in an enchanted sleep, the one who had opened his window floated uninvited into his room. At first glance she didn't seem all that imposing. A petite little thing she could easily be mistaken for no older than fourteen. But this girl was clearly more than she seemed. The moonlight shimmered on the one violet streak in her otherwise night black hair, and the long black cat-like tail that swished back and forth beneath her skirt cast an eerie shadow on the floor. And if Bastian had been awake to see her eyes he would have seen the same blue eyes he had seen in the black cat earlier that day, with that same look of curiosity mixed with petulant boredom. Her voice carried virtually no feeling in it when she called.

"It's clear."

Two more shadows crept into Bastian's room in much the same way as she had. The first stood hunched and its head swiveled from side to side as it sniffed the air in a most canine way. In fact its features seemed quite canine indeed, with the beginnings of a snout protruding from its face, and long furry fox-like ears which like his wildly long and tangled hair were an outlandish shade of azure blue. A network of piercings lined both ears. A light coat of the same colored fur extended all the way down its arms which were covered in a swirling matrix of black markings. Its hands appeared much larger than they should be and ended in crude hooked claws. Around its neck it wore a black spiked collar, and like the girl it had a long tail covered in the same blue fur as his ears. It spoke in a voice that was low like a man's, but somehow had a feminine tone to it.

"Why did we have to come all the way to this world Fay?" it whined, addressing the girl. "It's so boring. They don't even believe in magic here."

"Not to mention the risk it presented to us crossing the rift between worlds." Said the last one in a polished voice that was sharp with culture as well as arrogance. In comparison to the other two he was quite ordinary looking, though his white collared shirt and black coat with black cravat seemed very outdated, not to mention sloppy. His hair was unkempt, his cravat looked like it had been halfway tied before he'd given up on it, and his coat was stained with ink, and who knew what else. The moonlight gleamed off of his crooked rectangular glasses.

"That obdurate lizard nearly caught up to us that time. And the day she does is the day she swallows us whole."

"We didn't come all this way so you could bore me with your complaints Thoth." The girl said in her usual flat tone. "Nag, find it."

The creature with the snout lowered its head and began to sniff like a dog. The other two watched as it moved toward the door.

"It's not in here." It said, moving out of Bastian's room and into the hallway. It continued to sniff out the object of their intrusion while the other two followed it. Bastian all the while lay motionless in his bed.

"Remind me again why we needed to come all this way when you have a perfectly suitable one that led us to this delusion of an experiment?" the young man in glasses inquired.

"Because I only possess a copy. In order for us to get there we need the real one." The girl replied.

"Strange to think that such a thing exists in this world where there is so little magic."

Though the girl rarely, if ever smiled, the beginnings of a wry smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth. "If this next experiment goes the way that I've planned, we'll soon see that this world is in possession of the most powerful magic of all."

"Not that again Fay." The young man sighed. "We've been over this a thousand times and we've never gathered any conclusive data to support your theory."

"But we have gathered data. And you lost our last wager, so it is my turn to conduct the experiment. I will prove that it is the strongest magic."

"Mighty talk for one who has never felt it." He said bitingly. To this the girl had no answer. The creature that was their third companion slung its arm over the young man's shoulder and drew its face uncomfortably close to his.

"Oh come on Thoth, let Fay have her fun. This experiment sounds like it's going to be a real party."

"You," the young man in glasses said as he shrugged out of the creature's grip, "will go anywhere there is promise of fine food, drink, and other such debauchery."

"As though the two of you are any different."

"Certainly not. I am a man of science."

"Details, details." The creature teased.

"Enough." The girl snapped. "Keep looking."

"I don't have to, I found it." The creature pointed toward the door in front of them. It reached for the knob and jiggled it. "Wouldn't you know. Locked."

"Let me." Said the young man in glasses. He reached for the keyhole just beneath the knob and pointed his fingertip at it. As impossible as it sounds he actually fit his index finger into the keyhole and turned it. The door opened quite easily after that, and the three slipped casually into the study of Bastian's father. It was a place his father rarely used anymore, so Bastian at times was permitted its use as a quiet place to read.

The creature didn't waste any time, slinking its way to one of the bookshelves and running its claw-tipped fingers over the books. At last it found what it was looking for.

"Here it is!" It said in a sing-song voice, pulling a single book from the shelf and laying it on the desk where the other two gathered around. It was a book bound in copper colored silk that shimmered when they moved it about. On the cover above the title there were two snakes intertwining; one light and one dark biting the tails of one another.

The young man in glasses huffed, completely unappreciative of the treasure in front of him. "It doesn't look any different than the one you have."

"But it is." The girl said plainly.

"She's right" the creature agreed. "I can smell it. It's rich with magic. Strange magic. I've never really smelled anything like it before."

"Well we didn't come all this way just to look at it." The young man said impatiently.

The girl seemed to agree. "Open the book Nag."

The creature did as instructed and flipped the book open. Its pages appeared to be printed in two different colors. All three of them laid their hands on the book, and here one would find that the three witches had more in common than black twisted hearts. On the backs of their right hands were identical markings; a crescent moon with three stars arching over it. Their fingertips glowed with dark violet light.

"Time to begin." Said the young man in glasses.

"This is going to be so exciting!" screeched the creature with blue fox ears.

The girl with the purple streak in her hair kept her cold blue eyes transfixed on the pages of the book. "To Fantasia."

And in a flash of dark violet light they vanished. Only the book remained on the desk. Somehow it had been shut. Just below the symbol of the two snakes read the title plain as day in intricate lettering; The Neverending Story.

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