I have not been idle during this down time. I went through my manuscript over and over and over to make sure that it’s perfect (and it is, so please put away any flame throwers reserved for self-published novels), all while writing “Kingdom Smackdown” (I’m halfway through the first draft) and editing “A Tale of Randall the Rambunctious” novella (hoping to release this fall), so there is still more snarky buns in my oven. Since you dear readers have been waiting with the patience of sugar coated saints (I bet you’re awesome when dipped in chocolate), I am posting Guy’s first chapter in the story as another preview. (If you missed the preview for Renee’s chapter, you can read it here.) I still hope to get these “Wizards” published by the mid-month of July (keeping my fingers and toes crossed).
Keep posted for updates and happy reading (and more aside comments to come)!
* * * * * *
Guy remained flat upon his back outside what remained of King Jesterous’ labyrinth. The disparity of his broken heart was like a weight upon his chest, and he felt as though he could not move even if he wanted to. His cocoa-colored skin, his tattered green vest over his traveled-stained white shirt, and tights as blue as a peacock’s plumage did nothing to camouflage him as he lay upon the ground and waited…and waited…and waited.
Certainly she wouldn’t just leave me here, he comforted himself, for there was no one else to bestow comfort upon him. She will come back. All I have to do is wait here, look really sad (which isn’t so hard), and she will return to apologize.
Morning passed into afternoon, and Renee did not return. Guy’s body ached from lying upon the ground as if his muscles started a mutiny with his bones to force him upon his feet again. He got up and changed into a fresh version of his garb from the extras he still had in his pack. He piled his soiled clothes where he once laid and stared at every stain and rip, reflecting upon his journey with Renee. Thus it was that Guy’s heartache boiled into rage. He stomped upon his discarded clothes before he kicked them into the woods. He shouted and pounded upon every rock in his way until the whites of his amber eyes were painted with thin lines of red. All living creatures within earshot heard his wails and wondered when someone would put such a suffering creature out of his misery. Guy certainly killed the mood for a pair of mating Gurble Wurblers, and they left their family’s mating den of fifteen generations in search of more romantic settings.
Guy’s stomach roared for sustenance. He built a fire and made a meager meal from the salted pork from the Lost Tavern that remained in his pack. As he ate, he dwelt upon Renee’s parting words, and he nearly chewed through his eating utensils. He thought about all that occurred along his journey from Mudville to King Jesterous’ labyrinth, and he remembered what Fayna the Fearless had told him about his mother and the illness Cassandra Smokes suffered.
My mother warned me not to travel with a woman I didn’t know, thought Guy, and she was right. I should return back home and ease the suffering of her sniffles. At least she will not be ungrateful for my help.
Guy threw dirt upon the fire, and a shadow loomed over him. Guy found it odd that the shadow giggled like a maiden, and his skin pricked when unfamiliar fingers ran through his slate-colored, spiky hair.
“Where is your lady friend, the demon child? Is she nearby?” The gray eyes of Sister Jocelyn undressed Guy as she licked her lips. “I hope she does not interrupt us.”
“I have no lady friend,” Guy said as he stumbled backward and smashed his back into a tree trunk.
“All the better,” Sister Jocelyn said as she threw her net upon Guy.
The lustful nun made the net herself from the lightest hemp so that it would not weight down her habit when she tucked it away into one of her many hidden pockets. The rope was twisted to form tiny triangle patterns, and the more Guy twisted to break free, the more entangled he became. “I thought this would come in handy to catch some prey for a meal. How right I was. Stop your thrashing.” Guy froze upon hearing her command. “Sister Petunia may hear you, and she is not as kind as I am. She shall slay you before we can finish our tryst.”
Guy’s lips quivered upon the thought of that nun flashing her knife from the hole in the labyrinth’s ceiling. “If you speak of the surly nun, then you should know that she fell into the sinkhole when the labyrinth crumbled beneath her feet. I doubt she will ever emerge from that grave.”
Sister Jocelyn wiped the tears from her eyes. “Then I am the only assassin remaining in my company. I must pray for the souls of my lost sisters.”
The nun fell upon her knees and spoke the death prayer of the Holy Light. When Guy realized her eyes were closed, he crawled away as best he could, but the net dug into his skin like barbed wire, and although it did not draw blood, every twist Guy made was pure torture. He only crawled a few inches away when Sister Jocelyn jumped on top of him.
She circled her forefingers around Guy’s nipples. “It would seem as though I am blessed by the Holy Light, for he/she/it/whatever has allowed me to live while my sisters have fallen. There is nothing to come between you and my tongue.” She wiggled her pink appendage as she shoved it through a hole in the net and into Guy’s mouth. He retched upon her affections, and Sister Jocelyn jumped off him.
“What is your problem?” Guy shouted, before shaking his head. “You know what, don’t tell me. I don’t care about your issues, I don’t care about Renee, and I don’t care about Questing anymore. I just want to go home, so release me at once and hinder me no more.”
Sister Jocelyn seemed to glow red with the spite she bore upon Guy, so that his angered blood froze in his veins. “You are a cruel man. All I ever did was love you, and kiss you, and made you hard in your breeches.” At that Guy blushed, for he was so caught up in the heat of his anger, he had not noticed he was visibly aroused. “No wonder the demon child cast you aside. Perhaps I should do the same.” Sister Jocelyn removed a knife from the sleeve of her camouflaged habit, and, although it was no longer than her forefinger, it gleamed with the coldness of death, and Guy perceived her intention at once.
“If you slay me, you’ll never find her.” Guy knew not why he spoke thusly, except that perhaps his mind panicked upon facing his impending doom yet again without any hope of rescue.
“I thought you said she was no longer your lady friend,” Sister Jocelyn said. “If you are no longer friends, then how would you possibly know where she is?”
“I only said that to protect her,” Guy lied. “She and I are forever intertwined. You could use me as bait and lure her out into the open, but only if I am living. If she should see me dead, she will no doubt take your head.”
Beads of sweat poured from Guy’s forehead as Sister Jocelyn stared at him in thoughtful silence. He could not breathe easily until she tucked the knife back into her sleeve.
Sister Jocelyn stroked her chin. “Bait, huh? Perhaps you are bait, for your countenance has ensnared my heart. I could set up a trap and slay her when she comes to rescue you. Perhaps once the demon child is dead, her bewitchment over you shall fade, and you shall return my affections.”
Sister Jocelyn grabbed Guy by the ankles and dragged him through the Dark Wood. Guy struggled as best he could, but the net was too tightly wound around him, and he gave up after he chafed his limbs raw. He kept his gaze upward to avoid the sight of Sister Jocelyn’s buttocks as she walked.
As lovely as the spring afternoon was with its gentle temperatures and soothing wind, he found no comfort in the joys of nature. Sister Jocelyn rested often, for although Guy was of a light build, he was still a heavy burden. Guy felt as if they crawled through the Dark Wood, and he could not tell if they had gotten very far when the sun set that day.
The night brought no relief to Guy’s suffering. Although Sister Jocelyn built a fire to keep away the spring night’s chill, she would not keep her hands to herself. Every pinch and rub she inflicted upon Guy intensified the pains of his bruises from the daytime’s drag through the woods.
“Enough of your lustful torture,” Guy said, his eyes bulging from his skull, as he could endure the pain no longer. “Release me and leave me at peace, evil nun.”
“There are worse tortures than enduring the love of a lonely woman.” Sister Jocelyn ran her fingers through Guy’s hair. “I cannot stay angry with you. We have been blessed by the Holy Light, for he/she/it/whatever has set up the events in our lives to ensure we would be together. Can you not enjoy his/hers/its/whatever’s gift as I can?”
“If this is a present, I would like to exchange it for a gift certificate, preferably for a pub that has a magical never-ending keg, if such a blissful place exists.”
Sister Jocelyn shook her head with a tsk-tsk motion. “You have spent too much time in the company of the demon child. As she has infected your heart with such madness, I shall have to perform an exorcism at the nunnery to save you.”
“If I have become mad, it is the fault of the opposite sex. You must release me, mad or sane. I must return to my mother and make certain that her illness is not serious.” Guy slumped against the tree trunk he was propped against and turned his gaze away from the lustful nun ashamed of the tears that swelled in his eyes.
“Do not dwell in despair. You shall regain your sanity once the demon child is slain. I shall kill her myself to save your soul. I am certain your mother would want to see you well and whole again, so it is for the best that you stick with me.”
Guy turned his head aside and would not speak. Sister Jocelyn realized she could do no more for him that night. She curled up into a ball on the opposite side of the fire and fell into a deep slumber. Sleep would not come to Guy, so he stared at the sky above and counted his sorrows amongst the stars.
Just as Guy lamented his troubles upon the fifty-eighth star, his view was broken by the silhouette of a stranger’s face against the backdrop of the full moon. Guy could not make out the person’s features, except that the right side of the stranger’s head was completely shaven, but the other half was full of long flowing hair that flipped over the bald side like an ocean wave crashing upon the shore.
“Zephyr, come here, I have found the wind rider.” The stranger’s whisper was not quiet enough to hide her maidenhood, and Sister Jocelyn shot up upon the sound of potential competition. Guy crawled as best he could under his restraints but only fell upon his back. At his new angle, he could tell the half-bald maiden had a slender figure that would have hardened Guy’s breeches under different circumstances.
“Step away from my man,” Sister Jocelyn said, her slender knife flashing in her hand.
“This is a man?” The half-bald maiden stepped closer to the fire, and Guy could see her crinkle her nose at him. “That cannot be true, for her build is too slender for a mortal male.”
“Thanks for the flattery,” Guy muttered, but his sarcasm was lost upon the half-bald maiden.
“You must be mad,” Sister Jocelyn said to the mystery woman, “and I pity you, half-bald maiden. However, I cannot suffer you to live, for you are my competition and must be dealt with accordingly.”
Sister Jocelyn flew over the fire and swiped at the half-bald maiden, but she was quick to dodge the attack and did not suffer the slightest scratch. The maiden sidestepped every swipe Sister Jocelyn threw at her. Guy did not pay attention to their dance of death, for he realized he could take this moment as an opportunity for escape. He rubbed the binds against the sharpest rock that dug into his back. As he was still entangled in Sister Jocelyn’s net, he could not move faster than a snail’s pace.
“You are not a very nice person,” the half-bald maiden said as she swerved. “Kitty will not like you.”
“You have a kitty?” Sister Jocelyn’s eyes softened, for she had a fondness for cats, as most lonely women do. “Where is he? Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”
If Sister Jocelyn had known what kind of a kitty she called for, she would not have been so quick with her request for its appearance. As Sister Jocelyn bent over in search of a small, cuddly creature, she found instead a pool of drool that dripped upon the ground like syrup from a bottle. Sister Jocelyn’s eyes followed the trail of saliva to the jaws of a tigress, her fangs as yellow as the urine that ran down Sister Jocelyn’s thighs at that moment. Behind the glistening fangs were a pair of eyes that flickered of gold and glowed in the night as brightly as the sun. Before Sister Jocelyn could utter a prayer for help from the Holy Light, the tigress released a mighty roar so that it seemed to Guy as though the ground shook from underneath him. With a piercing scream, Sister Jocelyn ran into the pitch black wood.
The half-bald maiden pointed to Guy. “Look, Zephyr, I found the wind rider. She can help us, yes?”
“Perhaps,” the tigress said, “but that remains to be seen.”
At this Guy halted from cutting his bounds and lay upon the ground, mouth agape with amazement. No animal ever spoke the common speech in Quaal. Even the eagle who was Guy’s feathered friend for a little while (or at least as Guy perceived him to be) never said anything more than a squawk.
“Come,” the tigress growled. “We must flee before that foul troll returns. It might have friends, and we do not.”
There was no time to correct the tigress’ assumption of Sister Jocelyn, for the beast looped the circlets of the net around her fangs and took off like an arrow from a bow. The world became an inky blur as Guy bounced upon the ground. The rope he rubbed against the sharp rock a few moments before snapped upon the friction of the ground, and Guy untwisted from the net. The momentum and tigress’ speed caused Guy to skip across the terrain. He crashed into a tree trunk and saw no more.
* * * * * *
The morning sun’s beams roasted Guy’s eyelids. He fluttered his lashes and felt his brain swim around his head. Guy rubbed his forehead and felt a bump just along his hairline. He looked at his hand, and, although he saw no blood upon his fingertips, the throbs of pain made Guy feel as though his skull had split asunder. As his pain pounded all other thoughts out of his mind, it took Guy a while to realize he was completely free from his bonds…and of his clothing.
As his eyes adjusted, Guy realized that he was upon an open field of lush grass that cushioned him like a pillow. He knew he still remained in the Dark Wood, for a circle of trees bordered the small open area. Guy wondered where his clothes went, where his pack and food went, and if he could stand up to relieve himself. Alas, he was dizzy, and Guy fell flat upon his back when he tried to get up.
When his head stopped performing the backstroke, Guy cautiously sat up. Although black dots swirled before his eyes, he did not lose consciousness. The half-bald maiden smiled upon him as she rolled in the grass next to him, naked as her day of birth. In the daylight, Guy could tell that her hair (or what she had of it) was as deep purple as twilight. He could not help but notice that hair of the same hue dangled in between her legs like a wizard’s beard. Guy snapped his head when he found himself lost in her sea green eyes.
“Did I miss something…fun?” Guy asked after he cleared his throat.
The half-bald maiden’s giggles were like rain upon a tin roof. “Oh, yippie, you are awake. You got a nasty bump on you head. I thought for sure you were dead, but Zephyr said you did not smell like it. As I can no longer smell as good as she can, I could not argue against it.”
Guy swallowed his nerves and smiled as best he could under such circumstances. “Is that so?”
The maiden’s breasts swayed as she sat up and met his gaze. “Oh, yes. I am so glad you live still. Zephyr is not great company, and she is always mad about something.”
“Was she mad about our clothes?” Guy crossed his legs over his manhood.
“I always take my clothes off when Zephyr is not looking,” the maiden said. “I hate them so! It is unnatural to run around in a second skin. We had to take yours off without asking, since you were not conscious. I do not understand why the sight of your own body would offend you, but you had a lot of cuts on your body that needed to be tended. I healed them all with my wizard’s spit. Magic is nifty like that. Let me show you.”
“Stop that,” Guy shouted when the maiden grabbed a nearby stick and scratched his arm. He winced, but the wound was not deep and only a thin line of blood surfaced. Guy stared at the maiden with disgust when she licked the scratch, but his expression turned to that of amazement when the wound disappeared.
The maiden smacked her tongue inside her mouth and crinkled her nose. “You are dirty and need a bath.”
Guy was uncertain how to react as the half-bald maiden licked his face clean, so he once again wore the comfortable expression of absolute confusion. When the maiden licked the bump, he recoiled from the pain, and it seemed to Guy as though the maiden whimpered.
“Do not touch that man, and put your clothes back on.”
Guy whipped his head around and remembered the beast that shook the earth. A tigress it was, white with amethyst stripes and a full purple mane more akin to a horse. Her golden eyes were nothing more than slits as she emerged from the bordering trees.
Guy gave the maiden a sideways glance. “Did that tiger just used the common speech, or did I hit my head harder than I thought?”
“I spoke, mortal,” Zephyr said, “and I shall use my power of speech to tell you not to mess with this talking tigress.”
“Where are my clothes and my pack?” Guy asked.
Zephyr nodded at the pile of Guy’s clothing behind the naked maiden. “They have been set aside with more care then they deserve. You were injured and needed medical attention. Also, we could not agree on the proper assignment of your gender, and there was only one way to get to the truth.”
“I am sorry I thought you were a maiden like me,” the half-bald maiden said as she returned the articles back to Guy. “It was hard to tell when you flew up into the sky.”
“I get that more often than you think.” Guy avoided the maiden’s eyes as he dressed and blushed upon the memory of the song that the patrons at the Riff Raff Tavern wrote for him: “It’s a Wonder He Wasn’t Born a Girl.”
“I told you to put your clothes back on,” the tigress said to the maiden, before she turned her glare upon Guy.
The tigress sniffed the air as she circled around Guy. Guy squirmed underneath her gaze, and she snapped at him with every dodging movement. “This has been a grave misunderstanding. We thought you were a skilled female Quester. We cannot put our trust toward a man to be our champion. Men are the most treacherous creatures in the entire world and the cause of all female strife.”
“Are you going to eat me?” Guy no longer cared about how his voice cracked whenever he was afraid. He had grown accustomed to the sound, so he now thought that was the way he was supposed to speak.
The corners of the tigress’ lips curled upward. “I might give you a nibble.”
“Do not do such a thing!” The maiden threw herself in front of Guy, and he was touched by her protective gesture. “He might be a man, but he is a warrior and can help us.”
“Males should be slain upon sight, before they torture us with their lustful nature.” Zephyr swiped her claws, and Guy barely avoided them when he ducked.
“I am no mighty warrior,” Guy shrieked with his palms outstretched. “I am mortal and can be killed easily. Please don’t take advantage of this.”
“You must be a Quester,” the maiden said, batting her lashes. “We saw you ride the beast of the sky, and only the mightiest Quester in all of Quaal could accomplish such a feat. It is better that you are a Quester, for there are rules that Questers must follow, and that should put Zephyr at ease. As we saved you from the evil troll, you must help us in return.”
Guy frowned as the memory of Renee flooded back to his mind. “I could tell you a thing or two about Questers. One thing about them is that you can’t always trust them to obey the rules of Questing. No such rules apply to me, however, for I am a simple Assistant Barkeep and want nothing more than to return to the safety of my home.”
Guy brushed the half-bald maiden aside and stood up to leave. The roar that rumbled from Zephyr’s throat froze his feet.
“Not so hasty.” Zephyr jumped in front of him. “We cannot allow you leave our company. You could inform Ayagross of our whereabouts, probably for some selfish financial gain, no doubt.”
Guy was tired of being threatened on a clockwork basis, and found his spine. “I have no idea who Ayagross is, nor do I even know who you are beyond what I have seen, and even then I am more confused of your existence than anything. Be gone if you are a foul creature, for I have great need to return home where my steady employment and ill mother await me.”
Guy’s hard expression fell with surprise as the tigress bounded to the border of the trees with her tail between her legs.
“Good riddance to you,” the tigress hissed, for despite her tough exterior, she had not the guts to challenge him.
“Do not leave yet.” The naked maiden threw herself at Guy’s feet. “You must first hear our sad, sad tale of misery and woe.”
“Thank you for saving me from the, um, well, troll is a good word for that nun, but I want no further doings with the troubles of women folk.” Guy turned his back on the maiden. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there are no shiny heroes to save beautiful maidens from their sad, sad tales of misery and woe.”
“But you have to listen!” The maiden burst into tears as she wrapped her arms around his left ankle. “It is such a good tale, and I never got to tell stories when I was in my former body. Please, please, pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaase, listen to our sad, sad tale of misery and woe.”
Guy did his best to shake her off his ankle, but she had a grip of steel, and all he could do was drag her naked body through the grass. Although Guy’s heart had hardened since his misadventures with Renee, it softened as he looked upon the naked woman who convulsed with sobs at his feet. Besides, his curiosity was piqued when the maiden mentioned her “former body.”
Guy rubbed his throbbing forehead. “Tell me what misadventure has fallen upon you, but after I take care of my natural urges.”
“What kind of ‘urges?’” Zephyr said, her fangs flashing.
“The kind that requires me to go alone into the woods, away from the prying eyes of a certain paranoid tigress.”
“You persons and your hypersensitive rules of modesty,” the maiden laughed. “I have squatted there, and there, and left a steaming pile over there, and I am not mortified to show it.” The maiden beamed with pride as she pointed out her markings. “Just do what you must. There is nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to natural body functions.”
“There is when that function is disgusting,” Zephyr said. “I cannot permit you to leave my sight at any rate, mortal. You could be thinking of dashing off to Ayagross right now.”
“What hope do you have in earning my help,” Guy said, “if you can’t even trust me to go off into some bushes? You are a tigress, and if I were to betray you, I don’t doubt you could track me down with your animal senses and rip me apart. However, I swear not to run off to this Ayagross of whom you speak and to return to you when my business is complete. Now, please, I must go. I can’t hold my bladder any longer.”
Zephyr stiffened as she watched Guy head off into the woods. She paced throughout the duration of his bodily venture and wondered if she had made a mistake in allowing Guy to leave her sight. The maiden sat upon the ground and rocked back and forth with her arms wrapped around her knees.
“I want to tell the tale soooo badly,” the maiden whimpered.
“And I want you to put clothes on!” Zephyr snapped.
After Guy had relieved himself in a private area, he returned as promised. “Ta da,” Guy said when he emerged from the trees. “See? I am not such an evil man after all. Have I earned your favor?”
Zephyr’s eyes fell to the ground, and she no longer bristled her fur. The maiden could not wait a moment longer, and their tale burst from her lips. Zephyr took over the tale, but reliving her ordeal created a sense of nausea to flush through her feline body, and the maiden would pick up the story whenever Zephyr paused to swallow her pride. Guy could not ignore his hunger, and he broke his fast with leftover meat from his pack as the maidens told their entire tale (which you no doubt already read in the prologue, dear readers). When they were done, Guy looked as though his digesting food would pour back out from his mouth.
“That truly was a sad, sad tale of misery and woe.” Guy stared long at the tigress, and she slunk behind a tree. “I fear that I can’t provide any aid, for I am not as mighty as you have perceived me to be. I have my own sad, sad tale of misery and woe which I do not wish to recall at this time, and I have received dire news that my mother has the sniffles. I can’t abandon the only woman who has ever truly loved me.”
“She could just be sick.” The maiden frowned.
“Or she could be on her deathbed.” Guy’s frown matched hers.
“It comes as no surprise that you refuse to help us,” Zephyr growled. “Men are such cowards.”
“And if you are such a brave female, why did you hide behind a tree while I speak to you?”
Guy only received a hiss for an answer.
The maiden gazed upon Guy with a glimmer of hope. “If we show you that your mother is not truly dying, will you become more inclined to help us?”
“If such a feat were possible, then perhaps.” Guy shrugged. He had no idea how anyone could show him the fate of his mother, so he thought he would win this argument and be on his way back to Mudville soon enough.
Guy stared at the maiden’s chest as it bounced up and down and side to side as she skipped with joy around him. A smile crept across his face. The tigress was not as thrilled.
“I am not telling you again to put your clothes back on,” the tigress snapped.
“But they are itchy and they stink.”
“Put on your big girl panties, now, and follow me. Do not make me count to three.”
The maiden obeyed, although with much reluctance and whining, and it was not until she was fully clothed that Zephyr turned her attention back to Guy.
“Where are you taking me?” Guy glanced back as Zephyr snapped at his heels, shepherding him into the Dark Wood.
“We promised to show you how your mother is doing. Unlike you men, we women folk always keep our promises.”
They continued their journey in silence through the Dark Wood. Guy could only pity himself, as he had become a female’s prisoner yet again. The sight of the half-bald maiden fully clothed did not ease his worries. Indeed, she appeared lovelier in the nude, for she wore tattered crimson breeches cut off at the knees. Her black tunic smelled as if someone had dug it out of a landfill, washed it in sewage, and then used it for a baby’s diaper. She appeared more of a madman than a maiden, but Guy felt compelled to be friendly to her, for now more than ever did he pity her existence.
“Do you have a name?” Guy fell back from Zephyr’s lead and whispered into the maiden’s ear.
The maiden nodded. “Oh, yes, names are important. Forgive my rudeness for not asking you for yours. I am wholly new to this being a person thing. Please, tell me your name first, as Zephyr always says it is best to get the asker’s information before revealing one’s own.”
“I once knew someone of a similar paranoid nature.” Guy shook the memory of Renee from his head. “I am called Guy Smokes, Assistant Barkeep of the Riff Raff Tavern from the village of Mudville.”
“That is a good name,” the maiden said as she flashed a smile. “It has lots of information. Mine also has all the information you need, for Zephyr calls me a Particularly Annoying Creature, but she shortens it to Pac. You do not get all the information you need with such a short name.”
“Shorter names are preferred where I come from. ‘The less words you use, the more you can accomplish,’ as we say in Mudville.” Thusly Guy explained the use of contractions, and Pac absorbed all he had to say.
“I like the way you talk, Guy.” She nodded with approval. “I shan’t n’t use l’ng wo’ds.”
Guy snickered at Pac’s attempts to use contractions. “You should practice some more.”
Zephyr rushed in between them. “You, the one called Guy Smokes.”
“How did you hear my name?”
“I can hear an ant complain about his work load.” The tigress snapped her fangs at Guy’s backside. “Come to the water with me.”
“You don’t have to be so rude with your request.” Guy watched his backside as he made his way toward the rushing water. Guy remembered his current location as the Dark Stream where he was nearly drowned by Captain Dormin and his hideously scarred hand. He shivered upon the thought of that memory.
Zephyr snapped her teeth at the half-bald maiden’s heels. “Pac, put your hands in the water and show the girly man his mommy.”
Pac huffed but she obeyed. She placed her hands into the rushing water and sang softly in a dead language Zephyr whispered into her ear. The water darkened until it was so wholly black, Guy could see his own reflection in the water.
Then to Guy’s amazement, the water burst to life. He observed the hustle and bustle of Mudville, unchanged in its routine. He caught flashes of Old Tom yelling at his nephew, Milton, who would not leave his whining corner to aid the old man in the lunch rush. Guy’s heart jumped toward pity upon the sight, but it would have fallen out of his backside (if such a feat were physically possible) when he saw his parents’ home. In his parents’ bedroom, Guy beheld his mother Cassandra, pale as death upon her bed with balls of used fabric wadded up with dried snot laid about her chest. At her side, Dapper placed a damp cloth upon her brow. Guy bit the knuckle of his forefinger as he watched his mother retch up all that was in her stomach.
“Is that your mother? She does have a bad cold.” Pac averted her eyes from the image in the stream.
“She does not suffer from a mere cold.” Zephyr frowned upon the image of Cassandra’s retches. “Her malady is none other than the Sniffles of Death.”
“How can you tell?” Guy had become suspicious from his travels with Renee and wondered if this was a trick of magic to get him to help them.
“It is a difficult ailment to diagnose, for it is similar to a cold in many ways, but lo! Do you not see the vomit of plaid spewing forth from her lips? That is a sign of death to come.”
“Why should I trust you to be honest about my mother’s health when you couldn’t trust me to use nature’s outhouse?” Guy was pessimistic of this tigress’ assessment, despite the multi-colored striped pattern in his mother’s vomit.
“Do you want to take a chance with your mother’s life?”
Zephyr’s words brought back to Guy’s memory the curse of the shield that Renee touched: If you touch this shield, you shall die a shameful death just as you are about to accomplish all of your hopes and dreams, and all who love you shall die as well. Although Guy had not touched the shield, he loved Renee, and as Guy was vicariously cursed through her careless action, his mother would now die for loving him.
“If what I saw is true,” Guy said, “then I should return to Mudville with much haste and not waste time dealing with you two.”
“On the contrary, we are your only chance of curing your mother’s ailment.” Zephyr nipped at Pac’s hands, and she pulled them from the water. The stream resumed its normal color as though no magical event ever took place. “The only thing that can cure the Sniffles of Death is the tears from a unicorn. A few drops upon your mother’s tongue, and she will become healthy in a flea’s sneeze.”
“I have encountered unicorns before,” Guy said, twisting his mouth with disapproval. “They are unfriendly creatures and will not give up a tear so easily.”
Zephyr nodded in agreement. “True enough, but I saw many jugs of unicorn tears in Ayagross’ cave. They can be yours for the taking.”
“We can help you, and you can help us. Huzzah!” Pac clapped.
“That is, if you agree to these terms: help us find Ayagross and force him to switch our souls back into our rightful bodies, and we shall give you the unicorn tears to save your mother’s life. Do we have a deal?”
Guy sighed after much thought. “Upon my mother’s life, I agree to this arrangement.”