Starspire

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Chapter 16: St. George and the Dragonfly

Bahati awoke in semidarkness, the smell of old leather and aging paper in her nostrils. Her head pounded, but the pain in her fingers had subsided. She rose slowly, trying to get her bearings, when a voice spoke from behind her.

“You would think in a dream, the boy would come up with better quality books. Must not have owned a new book in his life.”

Bahati whirled to face a familiar man, and the sight twisted her stomach. The magician. They stood in a what looked like a darkened study, lined with book-laden shelves and plush armchairs.

“Bahati, is it?” said Sir Nickeltwist with a smile. “No, no, it’s not magic. The boy simply talks in his sleep. He sees all that goes on here and so do I. It seems that I have misjudged you. I don’t think much of you at first glance, but now, I must tip my hat to you. Was that a Darke Drake you conjured up just now? Hardly a simple spell, especially for one who follows the path of ice.”

Bahati clutched his staff in fighting stance. “Stay away from me. This is your fault. If it were not for your meddling, I would already be in possession of the stone.”

True to his word, Sir Nickeltwist actually tipped his hat. It tipped far enough to fall off his head, where it landed neatly on his foot. His demon hamster, Kreide hissed at Bahati, bearing its unnaturally sharp teeth. With a swift jerk, Sir Nickeltwist sent the hat airborne to land lightly back on his head. “But it’s not the stone you really want, is it? It’s something...or someone that the stone can bring to you. What is it then? You don’t seem like the kind of girl who’s in it for the trinkets, am I right?”

Bahati’s face remained impassive, though her lip trembled slightly.

“Your eyes give it away, my dear. You miss someone very dearly and you wish the stone to bring him back to you.”

Sir Nickeltwist turned and withdrew two volumes from the shelves. He set the books, one red and one green in front of Bahati. “This is where you get to choose how your little adventure proceeds. You see, I’m not a heartless man, quite the opposite. But I can’t stand the thought of returning to the ranks of mediocrity. So I can’t let you have the stone. I could, however, let you talk to the boy in his sleep. Have him create a vision of this person for you and leave me in peace. You do not need the stone for anything else, true?”

Bahati nodded. “But this isn’t really happening. How did you get inside my head?”

Sir Nickeltwist smiled and leaned forward revealing a dark gleam in his eyes. “It’s hard to come in when you get sent a fancy invitation and come to find that the doors are wide open. Dark magic will do that to you.”

“The Darke Drake,” muttered Bahati.

“Yes,” said Sir Nickeltwist. “It’s all in your head. Which is why I have to present my offer in the form of two opposing objects.” The magician lifted the red book. If you wish to take me up on my offer of one-time use of the stone’s powers in exchange for leaving me alone, simply open this book.” He then reached down and dangled the green book between two gloved fingers. “If you, however, are foolish enough to think otherwise, you may select this book. In which case, I shall feel obligated to snuff you out.”

Bahati narrowed her eyes. “You are threatened by me, no? You have seen what I’m capable of, and you are worried that your magic is not the strongest in the Tower.”

Sir Nickeltwist’s pleasant demeanor vanished. “Listen to me you little twit. I know you for what you really are. A gifted, but misguided amateur whose magic is not even strong enough to save the lives of the people she loves. I will give you one chance out of professional courtesy for us to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. Do not spit in my face, or I will send such nightmares after you that you will literally be scared to death!”

Bahati fell silent, unable to believe what she was hearing. The chance to retrieve his father lay within his grasp, and he should have snatched up the red book without a second’s hesitation.

Her hands hovered over the red book, considering it one last time.

It would be so easy to snatch up the book to agree with the magician. Her long journey could be over. Even with her new body, she ached all over and longed for the rest of home.

However, as he considered Sir Nickeltwist, she knew that trusting him would be a mistake, perhaps even a deadly one. She had already dealt with dark magic once that day, and the experience had taken far more from him that he had wanted to pay.

And the others. She had thwarted death with them multiple times already. Even though they were strange at times, she had to admit that he felt a deep companionship with them all. Even the obnoxious Neil.

After all, what would her father say?

She moved his hands over to the green book and snatched it up, flinging it open. Sir Nickeltwist’s face bunched up and reddened so that he looked more demon than man.

“Very well then!” he screamed. “I will not hold back. Do your worst, wizard! You will soon beg for the dream to end.”

A whirlwind ripped through the library, snatching up books and pages and both spellcasters in its grip. Bahati clutched the green book to her chest as once again her world faded to black.

One look around and Matt realized they weren’t in Kansas, but probably not in the Land of Oz, either. It did have one thing in common with the land over the rainbow—green and lots of it. The rolling hills and forests around her were so emerald that it almost hurt to look at them.

A babbling brook and a trio of birds provided the only sounds, and as she craned her head to one side, he could swear the birds were singing in three-part harmony. If only he had his phone to record them. Actually, most of this stuff would make pretty awesome videos to post online. When they entered the Tower, though, it wasn’t in his pocket anymore.

His stomach grumbled again, probably remembering the edible jungle. Crossing his fingers, she approached the nearest tree, hoping that such a fairytale looking place might actually have some scenery made out of gingerbread.

The swaying branches hung low, with fruit that glinted as it caught the sun. As she drew closer, she realized with a start that the branches were laden with the one thing that wasn’t supposed to grow on trees—money. Golden coins hung from every branch, big as the old silver dollars his grandpa had shown him as a kid.

He snatched one off a branch and clawed at the surface with a fingernail in the hopes that they might be chocolate coins covered in gold foil. Little flecks of gold stuck under his fingernails. Frustrated and growing hungrier by the second, he pried at the coin from different angles, trying to find a way to undo what might be foil.

In a last ditch attempt, he stuck the coin in her mouth and bit into it like he had seen in the movies. Though he had never tried to bite into pure gold before, one thing became instantly clear—not chocolate.

Spitting and gagging, he tossed the coin away and turned his eyes to the next nearest clump of trees, on the top of the next hill. Fueled by hunger, he broke into a run and made quick work of the slope. An inviting aroma somewhere in the peach family spurred him on, and as he approached, he could see huge red and yellow fruits dangling from the nearest branches.

As he sprinted toward the trees, however, another scene stole his attention and kept it fast. Less than a mile way, the portal gleamed in the sky and right below it raged a tornado, larger and fiercer than he’d ever seen, even on TV, guarding the exit from any who would enter.

“Maybe we are in the Land of Oz,” he muttered. As she squinted and leaned forward, however, she couldn’t make out a single farmhouse twirling in the tornado’s clutches, and there didn’t seem to be any munchkins or yellow bricks around.

He gaped at the storm for a full minute, but didn’t see it move. This was not something he was going to figure out by herself. It was time to wake Dad van Winkle, and after how nice he had been on the plane, he was going to try to be nicer to him as well.

He rushed back down the hill, humming the first few bars of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

“Hey, dad, wake up!”

Neil shook the sleep out of his eyes and rose to a sitting position. “Uh, hey, Matt. So are we dead?”

Matt smiled and patted his dad on the shoulder. “Look like the score is us: 1 and Death: 0. I looked around and there’s another portal. That means we’re still in the Tower.”

His nodded and took a few deep breaths. “I’m glad I trusted you. You were right.”

“Thanks. I think it made the difference in Alec’s mind.”
“No problem.”

Awkward silence fell until Matt chuckled and pointed off in a random direction. “So, I’m going to find the others.”

In a matter of minutes, they had awakened the others, and all stood facing the massive whirlwind. It had taken a bit longer to wake Bahati, and even longer to comfortably get him to her feet, as most of her exposed skin still bore blistering burns.

“Ow, Bahati, those look nasty. Are you in a lot of pain?” asked Matt.

To everyone’s surprise, Bahati shook her head. “They look a lot worse than they are. My healing and cooling magic is already at work and so I’m merely a bit uncomfortable.”

“That fire dragon was amazing,” said his dad. “Though I wish I had listened and not looked. I’m still seeing spots.”

Bahati leaned on her staff and frowned deeply. “I hope I will not have cause to create one again. Every kind of magic has its counterpart: dark fire, dark ice and so forth. It is sometimes necessary to use them, but I think you will agree that such attempts are costly.”

She held up his blistered hands for a few seconds before stuffing them into his robes.

“We thank you for your contribution,” said Alec. “Fancy flying can only take you so far. I don’t think the Typhoon would have been much good against that.” The young pilot pointed towards the churning tornado not far now the trail. “She doesn’t seem to be around, but I’ll keep an eye out. Don’t really remember what happened once I flew into the cloud.”

“Maybe if we got a running start,” muttered his dad.

“Let us get a little closer,” said Bahati, tapping her staff on the ground. “Perhaps something will become clear when we are not so far away.”

They agreed and followed Bahati’s lead down a dirt path towards the pillar of swirling air. They passed through a section of forest and emerged on the other side into a valley of gently rolling emerald hills. Tiny hamlets and windmills dotted the countryside, and Matt spotted at least two castles in the distance.

“Look at that!” called Matt, pointing at a nearby hill. “That’s a crazy-looking tower.”

The “tower” moved, lumbering away from them on massive pillars for legs.

“Or a stone giant. Or that.”

They walked on, Matt swatting at a bug buzzing in front of his face. Just when he thought he was finally rid of the pesky winged creature, it dove at his face, expelling a tiny jet of flame at his face. He shrieked and swatted his flaming left eyebrow.

“Get that bug!” cried Matt. “It tried to burn my face off.”

Bahati swatted at it with his staff, but it quickly buzzed out of reach and flew off down the trail. “I think it was a dragonfly. Fitting.”

A sound of hoof beats sounded behind them, and a mounted rider burst into view. Seeing the travelers, he slowed his horse and stopped in front of them. He raised the visor of his plumed helmet.

“Good people, have you perhaps seen the foul fire breathing beast flying this way?”

Matt nudged his dad with his elbow. “Take a good long look, dad. That’s a white knight.”

It was the truth. The knight sat atop a brilliant white horse, and wore highly polished armor with a robe of white draped over his back and chest, bearing a crimson cross. At his side hung a gleaming sword, larger than any of them had ever seen. Neil leaned in and read the words Dragonslayer 3000 engraved on the scabbard.

Matt gestured to his half-charred eyebrow. “I don’t know about the ‘beast’ part, but a flying, fire breathing bug went that way.” He pointed off down the trail.

The night bobbed his head slightly and lowered his visor. “Thank you much, kind sir. I am sorry for thy eyebrow. I shall slay this foul creature for the sake of all eyebrows everywhere.” He spurred his horse into action and they galloped down the trail in the direction in which the bug had flown.

“That was an awfully big sword to swat that little critter,” said Alec. “Maybe it’s just his ego.”

Matt continued to rub the charred section of his eyebrow. “I don’t care how he kills it. As long as he smashes it into little—“

A flash of green light flared in the sky in front of them, and a full-fledged green dragon that buzzed around on dragonfly wings in its place.

“Oh,” said Neil. “That’s what he meant by ‘beast’.”

The knight withdrew his massive sword with shone light a lightning bolt in his hand. Still on his horse, the knight struck at the dragon over and over again, driving it towards the whirlwind. The dragon spat multi-colored flames that engulfed knight time after time to no apparent effect.

“Impressive,” said Bahati. “Fireproof armor. I’ll have to ask him who he got his hands on that.”

The dragon fought on bitterly, but could not hold its ground against the relentless knight. With a terrible roar, the dragon felt victim to the grasp of the whirlwind. The wind snatched the huge creature and whipped it around over and over again. The dragon writhed against it, but could not even begin to escape.

The beast simply disappeared, and the winds glowed green for a few seconds. The already huge whirlwind expanded to cover several feet more in every direction. The knight bounded back, barely escaping becoming part of the hungry wind.

He charged back past them, holding aloft his gleaming sword. “Victory!” he cried, not even pausing to acknowledge them. “The Eyebrow Broiler is no more!”

Continuing his cry, the knight vanished into the distance. They all gazed at each other in astonishment for a long moment.

“St. George and the dragonfly,” said Matt with a chuckle. “Who would have thought?”

“That was incredible!” cried his dad, admiration obvious in his face.

“That was terrifying,’ countered Bahati. “In case you have forgotten, that is the way we must go! I cannot even imagine what kind of dark wind magic would have been needed to create that.”

“Maybe we should stop here,” said Alec. “I know we succeeded by flying into the heart of a thunderstorm, but I don’t think that’s a strategy that’ll work twice.”

“Look,” Matt said, pointing towards the whirlwind. “There’s a man walking right towards it.”

The man stood at least a head taller than most, and had a shock of dark green hair. He wore a long black coat with drooping sleeves and a long grey vest with golden buttons. His visible skin appeared various shades of blue. He strode confidently towards the whirlwind, looking no more distressed than strolling through a quiet park.

“Look out!” called Matt. “What are you doing?”

“Maybe he has a death wish,” said Neil.

“We should help him,” said Bahati.

Matt sprinted forward waving her hands frantically to get the stranger’s attention.

“No!” Neil dashed on after her, wondering silently if his wife was the one with the death wish.

The stranger stopped only feet away from the whirlwind, spun around and raised his hand palms out. “Do not come any closer. Unless you are fond of air travel, that is.”

Matt stopped and his dad ran into him, nearly causing them both to trip and fall.

The strangely colored man approached them, keeping his hands up in a stopping gesture. In seconds, he stood before them, and both Matt and his dad drew in sharp breaths. Despite his strange color, he looked just like Tyson.

“I am so sorry to have frightened you,” said the boy, his voice distinctly British. “My name is Tyclone, and I am here to help you.”

Matt gritted his teeth. The boy looked so much like his brother that was hard not to put him in a headlock. “Why did you make us think you were going to walk in the whirlwind? We could have all been killed!”

Tyclone bowed slightly. “I am not affected by the wind, and I had to see if you were brave enough to face it. Do not worry—I stopped you long before you were in any danger.”

“A test?” Matt asked. “Next time, make it multiple-choice.”

“I will keep that in mind,” said Tyclone. “But luckily you passed and we have other things to discuss. Such as how to get through old windbag here without ending up like that unfortunate dragonfly. If you do not pass this test, you will never make it up the tower fast enough to wake the one who sleeps at the top.”

“We’re listening,” said Matt. “Though, it is does seem like a bit of role reversal, you telling us what to do. I know you’re not Tyson, but you sure look a lot like him.”

Tyclone grinned impishly. “Do not worry, I will not ground you, or make you eat a pile of vegetables.” He gestured to the whirlwind. “You have several ways you could overcome this, and it might be best if you would split up.”

He pointed east towards a long row of standing stones. “One of you should pursue the Swords in the Stones.”

His dad cleared his throat. “Do you mean “the Sword in the Stone”?”

“Hardly,” Tyclone said. “There are many, many swords in many stones. I’m not sure what you are talking about.”

“Never mind,” his dad muttered.

Tyclone pointed west, indicating a clump of distant buildings. “Another should probably talk to Mad Meraj the potion mistress. “ He turned and pointed back the way they had come. “Back that way is Camp of V.I.C.E. They might be able to tell you something if you are good at talking to villains.”

Finally, he turned and indicated the area further down the road. “And lastly, it would be worth it to send someone to the Reverse Falls. The laws of physics work differently there, and so you might be able to find something useful. It is a place of treasures and wonders.”

Matt and his dad exchanged a glance and then glanced back at the others. “So,” his dad said, “You want us to split up in this crazy place where bugs burn off your eyebrows and then turn into dragons? That twister will be the least of our worries.”

Tyclone’s smile broadened. “I thought you might say something like that.” He reached deep into the pockets and retrieved a handful of silver chains. From each chain hung a blue stone charm in the shape of a whirlwind. “I will give one of these to each of you. If at any time you feel threatened, you can press the charm at the end of this amulet and a much smaller version of this whirlwind will bring you back to this place.”

Matt narrowed his eyes. “Wait a sec, why don’t you come with us? You seem to know a lot more about this place than the rest of us.”

Tyclone cocked his head to one side. “It is not because I don’t want to. I cannot leave this place. I’m sort of the caretaker. If I try to leave, a whirlwind picks me up and dumps me back here.”

He handed the collection of chains to his dad and gestured towards their companions. “Go tell them what is going on. I will be here if you have any questions.”

Matt and his dad turned and headed back. “So, what do you think?” whispered Matt. “Do we trust this guy?”

“Who knows?” said his dad. “Who’s to say those things won’t turn us into toads as soon as we put them on?”

Matt held up one of the chains. “It doesn’t look like a toad. I think you just find it hard taking orders from Tyson.”

“He’s not Tyson! He’s a circus freak wearing his face. You heard what Bahati said about dark magic. Does that whirlwind thing look like good magic to you?”

Matt shook his head. “But you have to remember, all the other versions of Tyson have been here to help us. It may sound crazy, but we need to go along with him.”

His dad turned away and crossed his arms across his chest. Matt patted him briefly on the shoulder.

“I know you don’t like this, but I still think we should do it. You said in the plane that you trust me. Show me.”

With a sigh, his dad turned and uncrossed his arms. “Fine. But when we all get trampled by giants or toasted by dragon breath, I get to say ‘I told you so.’”
“Deal.”

A half an hour later, they had explained everything to their companions, and given each his or her locket. Bahati had volunteered to try it on first, and had slipped it over his neck without any adverse effects. Holding his breaths, Matt slipped on the charms without becoming an amphibian.

“So,” said Bahati. “we know which directions we need to take. The question is who wants to take each assignment?”

No one spoke for a moment, but then Alec tentatively raised his hand. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but the Reverse Falls sounds exciting. “ He reached into his coat and withdrew a small silver rectangle. “Somehow, this camera survived the bumpy flight. I’m a photographer by trade and that sounds like my kind of place.”

Matt sighed. His smart phone hadn’t made it, but the old-fashioned camera had. He would probably never figure out how things in here worked. His brother was in need of some serious therapy. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t be so messed up if he had been a bit nicer.

“Agreed,” said Bahati. “And I think I better not send either of you to the V.I.C.E Camp. I have some experience in dealing with dark creatures. Either of you, they would probably eat for dinner.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” muttered his dad.

“You should probably take the sword one, dad,” Matt said.

“Really?” he said. Don’t you think I can handle a mad potion mistress?”

Matt raised his eyebrows. “It’s just that she’s a woman. Maybe it will be easier for me to talk to her.”

“Or, maybe she’s a beautiful, mad potion mistress and you want her for yourself.” He sighed and shrugged. “But you’re right. The swords sound much more interesting.”

“It’s decided then. Keep those charms at hand. Meet back here as soon as you have something.”

“So, what?” asked his dad. “Do we have to put our hands in the middle and call ‘break’?”

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