The Price of Magic – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Senta looked at the fortress at the top of the hill.  Set against the shadows of the mountain, one could almost be forgiven for thinking it was part of the rocks.  Ringing it for almost a mile in every direction was a sea of mud brick and stone buildings. They were homes of lizzies, but up here, where the only trees were scraggly dwarfs, they couldn’t use lumber as their primary building material.  She looked back to see the coral dragon curled up in a ball, floating a foot above the ground.  Zoey had been asleep for five days, relying on her mistress’s magical floating disk to convey her along.

“Wake up, you silly dragon. We’re here.”

“Whoop-tee-doop,” said Zoey, without opening her eyes.

“It’s quite an impressive fortress.  It looks very different than when I was here last.”

“Yes, it’s crawling with lizzies now,” said the dragon, peering up with one eye.  “And there’s a veritable stream of them coming up that road.”

“That’s the road of supplicants,” said Senta.  “They’re coming to worship Bessemer.”

“No wonder he’s so full of himself.”

Senta waved her hands and the magical disk vanished, but like the proverbial cat, Zoey landed on her feet, seemingly with no effort.  Senta continued on and the dragon followed.  As they neared the road, Senta could see that Zoey had been correct. There were literally thousands of lizzies on it, making their way to the fortress and to the god who lived within. They weren’t all walking though. A mile from the great gate, there was an arch over the road.  Upon reaching it, the pilgrims dropped down onto their bellies to crawl the rest of the way, dragging their tales behind them.  As Senta approached, the line of lizzies came to a stop as they all watched her.  She stepped up onto the road and strode through the archway, then stepped over the crawling lizzies.  As she passed each one, he too stopped and stared up at her.

She was still walking up the road, her path weaving around prostrated reptilians when she spied a lizzie rushing down the path toward her.  He was an ornately painted male, wearing a bright red cloth cape.  He was hissing as he hurried.  Senta reached up and plucked one of the glamours from around her head, activating the spell stored within.  Once it was in effect, she could understand the lizzie’s words.

“You should not be on this road, human!  What do you think you are doing?”

Suddenly the red-caped lizzie spotted the small dragon behind her.  He was so startled that he tripped on one of the prostrate lizzies, falling in a heap at the sorceress’s feet.

“Now, what are you going on about?” asked Senta, looking down.

“You’re her?” said the lizzie, looking up from the dirt.  “Yes of course you are.  The Great God said you were coming, but I didn’t recognize your paint and feathers. I thought you were a male human.”

Senta looked down at herself.  She was dressed in what she often still thought of as her Zurfina garb—black leather pants and high black boots, and a black leather bustier in place of a shirt. Of course the entire ensemble carried magic spells to make it her most comfortable set of clothing.  She reached up and cupped her breasts.

“Yes, mammary glands, I see them now,” said the lizzie, rising to his feet, “but you have neither a very large bottom, nor a long tuft of hair.”

Senta ran a hand over her head.  She was still wearing her blond hair in a man’s short style, parted on the side and razor-cut around the ears and neck.  Of course, since she wasn’t wearing a dress, she didn’t have on the bustle that recent dress styles were requiring to be larger than ever.

The lizzie brushed himself off and then bowed.

“I am Khastla, the god’s most trusted.  You should follow me.  We will take the road of guests.

The red-caped male led the human and the dragon up a path paved with shiny river stones.  It wound up the hill, sometimes approaching the main road and sometimes veering farther away.  Finally it led to a small but beautiful gate in the cyclopean fortress wall. It was not as large as the main gate, but was lined with two beautifully carved statues of Bessemer.

The fortress had been completely rebuilt from the ruin it had been when Senta had been there before. Inside the walls were numerous tall buildings, constructed with smooth façades, but featuring many window boxes filled with flowers.  Between the buildings were flowerbeds, walkways of colorful pebbles shaded with fruit trees covered in blossoms, and fountains which sprayed out water that was collected into little gutters that wound in and out to feed the plants.  Hundreds of lizzies were working, cleaning, polishing, and gardening.

“This is all quite lovely,” said Senta.

Zoey gave a dismissive snort, sending a little smoke ring out of her right nostril.

“Pease follow me,” said Khastla.  “The god has chosen the finest accommodations for you.”

He led them to a large three-story structure with a double door of heavily polished wood.  Inside they found a spacious room decorated with mosaics on all four walls.  A large stone hearth sat in the center of the room, with funnel-shaped device reaching down from the ceiling over it, obviously designed to vent the smoke from the fire.  Around it were arranged two plush couches, and three large padded chairs with matching tuffets.  Though the couches looked just like those found in any Brech home, the chairs were just slightly odd, a little too short, a bit too deep, and much too large for a human.

“These come all the way from Mallontah,” said Khastla proudly pointing first at the couches, and then the chairs, “and these were made by our finest craftsmen.”

“Very nice,” said Senta.

“This is nice,” said the dragon, shooting across the room and curling up in one of the chairs. “Much nicer than we have at home.”

“Szarine! Your guests are here!”

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The Price of Magic – Chapter 18 Excerpt

“Here you go, little one,” said Tokkenoht, setting a handful of forest slugs down on a rock beside the human.

“I can’t.  I know I should, but I just can’t.  If I eat them, I’ll vomit, and then I will lose all the water I drank back at the stream.  You eat them.”

The priestess scooped them back up and tossed them into her mouth.

It had been two days since the small human had helped her escape from the soft-skin warriors. Tokkenoht had managed to find enough food to keep her strength up.  Forest slugs were considered a delicacy among her people.  The human, however, had eaten nothing.  Tokkenoht was beginning to worry about her.

“I’ll eat today,” said Stahwasuwasu Zrant.  “Mark my words, I’ll bring down something I can cook today.”

“I don’t mean to criticize, little one,” said Tokkenoht.  “After all, you arranged my escape, and then managed to remove my chains with that hair wire…”

“Hair pin,” corrected the human, using the soft-skin word.  “My hut elders were correct.  You really cannot do without them.”

“Yes, you have shown great cunning for a having seen so few summers.”  She bobbed her head in annoyance.  “How many summers have you seen, anyway?  Six or seven?”

Tokkenoht hissed when the human let out her strange warbling laugh.  It was such a strange sound; it was unnerving.

“I have actually seen thirteen summers, though that’s not really what you’re asking.  The fourteenth anniversary of my birth was a short time ago.”

“Fourteen,” mused Tokkenoht. “I would not have guessed it, though I have been told that the soft-skins age much slower than we do. Wait.  You mean you were born in winter?”

“Oh yes, my people routinely defy all the laws of nature.”

“Perhaps humans are much more dangerous than we thought.”

“If you are only now figuring that out, then perhaps I have been giving your race too much credit,” said the human.

Tokkenoht grunted in recognition of the insult and perhaps of an unsettling truth as well.

“As I was saying, I don’t mean to criticize, but those spears are too small to throw, even with an atlatl.”

The human female had crafted three small spears with tiny spear points and had trimmed the back ends of them with pieces of a feather she had found on the ground.

“Oh, these are not spears. I have tried throwing spears with an atlatl, but I’ve never been very good at it, and I certainly don’t have time to become good now.  I need a weapon I already know how to use.”

“But you have your thunder weapon.”

“Yes, I do.  I also only have ten more um… uses for it.  I shouldn’t have wasted four scaring the males when one would have sufficed.”  The human peered around into the forest.  “I can use these to bring down something to eat and save the thunder weapon for defense. I don’t intend to end up in the belly of a feathered runner, like poor Warden.”

“This Wharden was a member of your hut?” asked Tokkenoht.

“No, he was just a friend.”

“I am sorry.  I recently lost someone.”

“A member of your hut?”

“Yes, and more.  She was the wife of my husband.”

“The wife of… fascinating! I had no idea that your people were um… that the males married more than one female.”

“Only the most powerful kings.”

“Then… you’re Hsrandtuss’s wife?”

Tokkenoht hissed the affirmative.

“Then it’s doubly important to get you back safely to your city.”

The human stood up and taking a knife from her belt, used it to cut a long segment of a branch from a willow tree.  She carefully trimmed it.

“The warrior Azkhantice is your friend?” said Tokkenoht, after a few minutes of silence.  “You hugged him.”

Stahwasuwasu Zrant stopped carving.  Her face flushed in a way that the lizzie had been unaware was possible.

“Um, yes, Ascan is a friend too.  We should get going.  I can work on this while we travel.”

They started off again through the forest, walking in the direction of the morning sun.  Tokkenoht took the lead and Stahwasuwasu Zrant followed, working her willow switch as she walked.

“What is your human name, Stahwasuwasu Zrant?” asked the priestess.

“It’s Iolana.”

“How strange.  It sounds like a bird call.”

“I suppose,” she allowed. “What is Hsrandtuss like?”

“He is a good king. He is very strong and very brave. He is also wise.”

“Wise enough to get thunder weapons.”

“Yes, we bought them from the human traders from the other human city state—the one called Natine.”

“The Mirsannans?” wondered Iolana.  “Not too much of a surprise, I suppose.  I understand they’re setting up trading bases in the far east.  You might even be better off with them on your side. They’re not looking to export as many settlers I imagine, since Mirsanna is so much larger than Brechalon in terms of land area.”

“You seem to know much about the politics of your people,” said Tokkenoht.

“Oh, no, not really.  Everyone knows those things.”

The Price of Magic – Chapter 8 Excerpt

“Thank you for meeting me, Master Bell,” said Peter Bassington.

“Just Bell please, or Wizard Bell if you must,” said the man seated across the table from him. “Things aren’t as formal here as they are in Brechalon.  Besides, you’re not an apprentice anymore.”

Wizard Bell picked up the cream and poured a small bit into his tea.  He was a thin, pasty-skinned man, his blue police uniform seemingly two sizes too large for him.  On his shirt, where most constables wore their badge, he had a hexagram, a symbol of his art.

“Well, thank you.  I needed some advice and with my sister gone, and you the only master wizard in the colony…”

“I am happy to be of service, of course.  You don’t have a way to contact your sister?”

“I can contact her if necessary.  I would prefer not to bother her with this.”

Bell sipped his tea and waited.

“I’ve leased out the new foundry.”

“That must have been expensive.”

“Yes, it was.  But I didn’t have any choice.  I’ve got to melt down some metal, mostly copper and steel, to ingots.”  Peter looked around to make sure he wasn’t being overheard.  There was no one close to the two wizards and nobody suspicious-looking to be seen.  “What I need to know is whether I need any special precautions, since the metal carries a strong enchantment.”

Bell nodded.  “It’s the Result Mechanism.”

“How did you know that?” Peter demanded.

“One can’t be much of a wizard if he has walked this town for the past three years and not noticed the thickest aura of magic around that particular building.  Have you been to take a look at it?  The feeling is palpable.”

“Yes, I’ve been there.”

“Melting it won’t remove the enchantment, you know.  I don’t know that it will even be weakened.”

“We expect as much. But at least it won’t be used to mass produce magic spells.”

“I don’t know that anyone has melted down so much enchanted metal, ever,” said Bell.  “I don’t really know what might happen.  My suggestion is to be ready to dispel anything that might pop up.”

“That’s kind of what I thought.  No other advice?”

“No.  I don’t think so.”

“Well, shall we just enjoy our dinner then?”

An hour later, Peter stood in the shadow beneath a large oak tree and watched as Wizard Bell walked briskly down the sidewalk.  He hadn’t needed the older man’s advice about magical metal.  Neither did he need confirmation that the wizard knew about the Result Mechanism.  He had seen him at the warehouse building where the great machine was stored.  What he needed was more opportunity to figure out what the fellow was up to.

Bell walked to the end of the block and turned left.  Peter decided that he must be headed for his apartment on Pine.  Spying the trolley approaching, the young wizard stepped out of the shadows and quickly crossed the street to the trolley stop.

The city of Port Dechantagne maintained a trolley system that was constantly expanding.  New lines were being laid, and they supported twelve trolley cars, each pulled by a huge, three-horned triceratops.  Recently two additional trolley cars had arrived by ship from Brechalon, and now awaited the addition of at least two more dinosaurs to pull them.

The triceratops brought her vehicle to a stop, and the driver climbed down to feed her from a large bin filled with shrubbery.  Stepping up into the vehicle, Peter dropped a pfennig in the glass box near the driver’s seat, and then sat down to wait.  The light in the west was fading and dark clouds gave the city a gloomy feel.  The lamplighters were busy, but the yellow globes of illumination did little to brighten up the landscape.  Two middle-aged women climbed into the trolley cab and took seats a few feet away from Peter.

“Such a terrible thing,” said one.

“Yes it is.  Nothing to be done about it, though.  It’s all a part of God’s plan.”

“Terrible thing for the young mother though.  Terrible thing.  At least she’s got her little girl.”

“Excuse me, ladies,” said Peter.  “I don’t mean to intrude, but I couldn’t help but overhear.  What is it that has happened?”

“It’s the Colbshallows,” said the first woman.  “Do you know them?”

“The chief inspector, do you mean?”

“Yes.  Their wee baby has passed.  Crib death, you see.”

“What a terrible thing for a young mother,” the other woman repeated.

“A terrible thing for anyone,” said Peter.

The driver climbed back into the cab and rang the bell.  The triceratops started, jerking the trolley into motion.  Peter lost himself in his thoughts as the vehicle traveled the ever-darkening streets.  The two women got off sometime before he did.  In fact, he didn’t even notice them leaving.

When he stepped off the trolley to walk the last mile to the house he was feeling in an odd mood.  He had never quite felt this way before.  It was as if he could see his own mortality.  He had been in danger a few times in his life, particularly when he was  running errands for Master Bassington… his father.  He had felt sad when he had found out that his father had died, killed by a dragon here in Birmisia.  But it wasn’t quite the same.  There was something about the death of a little baby, a miniature little person with all the promise in the world, the way that an acorn held the promise of a mighty tree, which changed one’s perspective about things.  Peter wasn’t a child anymore.  It was time to make his mark in the world.

The Price of Magic – Chapter 7 Excerpt

The lizzies of Yessonarah lined the streets and watched in fascination as the embassies from ten nearby villages paraded down the central avenue.  Each consisted of a village king, a witch doctor, and some fifty or more warriors, all wearing the paint and feathers of their people.  As they passed the great temple pyramid, each looked up to the top. Tokkenoht stood at the top of the steps, her bright blue form standing out clearly in front of the granite and stone structure behind her.  She didn’t mislead herself into thinking that they were looking at her though.  They were looking at the god.

She peered back at the scaly form draped over the building, just as he gave a great snore.  Yessonar had been asleep for more than a week. Occasionally he would snore, exhale a cloud of smoke, or roll over, but otherwise he was just like a giant statue of himself.

Walking around the corner of the vault, she looked out away from the city, past the lake, to the woods through which the lower portion of the River Ssukhas flowed.  She could see, rising up above the trees, smoke from the camps of the humans who were searching the river for gold.

“How many are there?” came a deep rumbling voice from behind her.

“I do not know, Great Yessonar.”

“I count about five thousand.  Are they causing any trouble?’

“Not really, Great Yessonar. Our king suspects they are not paying all their taxes.  It is hard for our warriors to collect the king’s share of gold, because the humans all look alike to us.”

“Then perhaps you need some way to distinguish them.”  He rose up on his four legs and stretched out his great wings.  “I’m going to eat and then I must visit Tsahloose before I can fly back to my fortress.  I will return in a few weeks time.”

“As you will, Great Yessonar,” said Tokkenoht with a bow.

The dragon usually shot into the sky so fast when he took off that it was impossible for one’s eyes to follow him.  Not this time.  He pushed off the top of the temple and glided over the forest, with only a couple of lazy wing beats.  Flying over the lower river, he gracefully turned and headed west, before suddenly shooting up into the clouds.  Only when the magnificent beast was no longer visible, did she turn and make her way down the great staircase.

When Tokkenoht reached the palace, it was a swarm of activity.  A line of a hundred lizzies was carrying in great quantities of food through the side gate, and just inside, a makeshift kitchen was preparing that food and placing it on great platters to be brought into the throne room.  The high priestess followed the line of servers carrying the platters into the largest room of the palace.  It had been converted to a great dining hall.  The king, his wives, and his advisors sat at a long table up on the dais, while the visitors from ten villages filled the rest of the hall.  All four walls were lined with warriors of Yessonarah, each holding an upright spear. Already the assembly was becoming loud and boisterous.

“More ssukhas!” shouted Hsrandtuss, raising his cup.

Tokkenoht lifted a pitcher full of the intoxicating liquor from the platter of a food bearer, and carried it the length of the room to the dais.  She filled the king’s cup, sat the pitcher down in front of him, and then reached up to straiten his gold crown.  Then she sat down in the empty chair between him and Ssu.

“The king has had much wine already,” said Ssu, leaning over in confidence.  “Perhaps you should not have filled his cup.”

“You will tell him he’s had enough then?” countered Tokkenoht.

Ssu hunkered down in submission.

Leaning back, Tokkenoht looked at Szakhandu, seated on the other side of the king.  She rarely wore paint, but she was completely made up this evening.  Her right half from the waist up, was bright red, while her left half from the waist up, the side facing Tokkenoht, was tar black.  Her bottom half was reversed.  She wasn’t wearing the gold necklace that she usually had on, and the priestess thought she saw it around Kendra’s neck.  Instead, Szakhandu wore a necklace of gorgosaurus teeth, a symbol of strength that few females would have been allowed.

The king stood up, leaning over his table.

“What say my friends?” he shouted out, and the noise of so many voices slowly died down.  “More food and more ssukhas?”

“We have food and ssukhas!” a voice shouted back.

Tokkenoht stared down from the dais as one of the village kings slowly got to his feet.  He was a young, muscular male, with a very handsome tail.

“We have food and ssukhas at home!”  Several lizzies around the village king hissed in agreement.  “What we want is what we came for!”

Szakhandu stood up.

“What is it you came for, King Thikkik of Ar-kussthek?”

“We came for our females!” shouted the king.  A dozen warriors around him stood up and hissed.

“What in the name of Hissussisthiss’s whiskers are you talking about?” demanded Hsrandtuss.  “I haven’t raided any of your villages.”

“You have lured away our females with your unnatural, soft-skin inspired ideas about child rearing.”

“The way we raise offspring has nothing to do with humans!” growled Hsrandtuss.  “It was my idea!”

Raising their own offspring, rather than leaving them to the mercy of predators, had in fact been Szakhandu’s and Kendra’s idea, but Tokkenoht certainly wasn’t going to contradict the king.

The Price of Magic – Chapter 6 Excerpt

The horrible red head turned toward them.  Lady Iolana Staff felt a thrill of fear as the great yellow eyes met her own.  It was by far the closest she’d ever been to a tyrannosaurus.  The great black body pivoted toward them and took a single step in their direction. She could hear it sucking air through its fist-sized nostrils even at a hundred yards away.

“You mustn’t be frightened,” said her father’s voice at her shoulder.  “You must never be frightened.”

“I can be frightened, can’t I?” wondered Benny Markham.

“Quiet,” said Mr. Staff. “Everyone take careful aim. Remember what we talked about. You want the spot right between those useless little arms.  I shall be very cross if anyone shoots it in the head and ruins the trophy.

Iolana raised her rifle to her shoulder just as the monster took a second step toward the group of humans and lizzies.  In her peripheral vision, she could see Benny, Walter, and Augie doing the same thing. Although just outside the range of her eyes, she knew that Ascan was as well.

“Not yet,” said Mr. Staff. “Let’s see if she’ll get a little closer.”

It seemed as if the creature simply went from standing still one moment, to running at them with the speed of a locomotive.  Opening its great jaws, it unleashed the most horrible roar that could be imagined. All four of the others began firing, but even with the tyrannosaurus bearing down upon them, Iolana could feel her father’s eyes watching her rather than the beast.  She fired ten perfectly centered rounds in eight seconds, before calmly dropping the clip from the bottom of the rifle and slapping in another. The second clip proved entirely unnecessary, as the monster dropped to the ground, her massive blood-red head still fifteen feet away.

Iolana flipped on the safety and slung the rifle to her shoulder before turning to Mr. Staff, who stood smiling at her, his own firearm still cradled, unused, in his arm.

“Well done,” he said.

“Sweet Kafira, full of grace, thanks for our protection,” whispered Walter Charmley.

“No offense to your beliefs,” said Benny, “but I’d like to thank whoever invented the repeating rifle.”

“Oliver Winston-Davies,” said Iolana, stepping away from the others and toward the tyrannosaurus.  “In 1855.  Thankfully ours are rather improved over his model.”

“Be careful Iolana,” called Ascan Tice.  “Make sure it’s dead before you get too close.”

“She’s dead,” replied Iolana, reaching down and placing her palm against the blood red skin just behind the creature’s still open yellow eye.

The monstrous hind leg kicked into the air.  Several of the others jumped, and Benny let out a squeak.

“It’s nothing but her reflexes,” said Iolana.  “You were the queen of your world, weren’t you?”

She then turned and sat on the creature’s neck.  “Let’s have a photograph, then.  Are you ready, Mr. Buttermore?”  She placed the butt of her rifle on the dinosaur’s jaw, holding it upright beside her. She lifted her chin and smiled with only a little bit of a smirk.

Edin Buttermore was indeed setting up the hatbox-sized camera on its tripod.

“Almost ready for you, My Lady.  Let’s adjust the focal length.  Here we go. Now hold still… There we have it. That will make a spectacular print.”

“I’m surprised you were willing to carry all that equipment out here into the wilderness,” said Benny.

“These are some of the first good dinosaur pictures,” said Buttermore.  “I could get famous from these.  Besides, I thought it would be a good idea to be out of town until the Drache Girl left.”

“It’s not your fault that her picture just appeared in all of those books,” Benny replied.  “She knows that.  Senta’s quite reasonable.  Not that I’m saying I wouldn’t have chosen to get out of town, had I been in your position.”

“I knew that photo would be trouble years ago when I took it.  I didn’t even want to.  But how do you say no to Zurfina?”

“A naked Zurfina, at that,” added Ascan.

“Yes, well, even Senta couldn’t say no to her.  As I recall, she didn’t want to sit for the picture, and it turns out, I suppose, she had good reason.”

Iolana stepped away from the dead tyrannosaurus as the lizzies hurried forward and began hacking at the neck.

“Careful there!” yelled Staff.  “Cut down a little lower!”

“All in all, I think it’s been a very satisfactory day,” said Augie.

“That it has, Lord Dechantagne,” said Benny.

“The proper address is ‘My Lord’,” said Augie.

“We don’t bother with all of that,” said Staff.

“No, we don’t need to bother with all that,” said Augie.

“The next man who calls me Sir Radley may wind up with my boot stuck up his keister,” continued Staff.

Both Benny and Ascan glanced at Iolana to see if she would blush at her father’s colorful language, but she just grinned.

“Well, the lizzies seem to have everything in order now.  Shall we head on home, Iolana?”

“Yes, Father.”

The Price of Magic – Chapter 5 Excerpt

When Senta woke the next morning, she assumed it was very early, as there was hardly any light coming in, even though all the curtains were open.  Then she heard the distant rumble of thunder and looked at the clock. It was almost eleven.  She stretched decadently across her bed.  That bed had cost as much as the average working man made in a year, and was the only one she’d even been in, at least since she’d been fully grown, in which her feet didn’t hang over the bottom.  As her hand stretched across, she felt the other side—the empty side.

She really didn’t expect Baxter to be there.  He almost never was by the time she got up.  But when he was there, he was a horrible, insatiable monster.  She smiled slyly at the memory of last night, and yesterday afternoon, as she rolled over.

On the far side of the room, Aggie, the lizzie dressing maid, was carrying hangers full of dresses to the closet.

“Bring me my foundations,” she said.

The lizzie started and hissed.

“I’ll wear that green walking dress.  Yes, the one with the white underdress.”

Aggie bobbed her head up and down to indicate she understood.  The lizzies were surprisingly good at helping human women get dressed.  Senta had been to a number of lizzie villages and two of the great lizzie city-states, and she knew how they festooned themselves with paint, feathers, and beads.  She supposed it really wasn’t all that different than dressing in gingham, lace, and make-up.

“Paint,” she said to herself.

Mistaking her meaning, Aggie rushed over to the vanity, where on rare occasions, Senta applied rouge, eye shadow, and lip color.

“No, not now.  After.”

When Senta stepped off the bottom of the staircase, she found her lover and her child in the parlor. The former was reading the paper and the latter was pushing herself along on a two-foot-tall, three-foot-long wooden iguanodon. Each of the creature’s four feet was attached to a pair of small wheels.  A miniature saddle was fixed into the creature’s back, making it just high enough that little Senta could reach the ground with her tiptoes and propel it.

“What’s this then?”

“Brilliant, isn’t it? Mr. Dokkins made it.  I thought it was a wonderful idea, since the real ones proved too scary.”

“Lift your feet a moment, Pet.”  The little girl did so.  “Uuthanum tachthna.  Now just think where you want to go, and you’ll get there without having to push.”

Within moments, Sen was zooming around the room, nowhere near the speed of a baby iguanodon, but much faster than she would have been able to on her own power.  Senta dropped down into a plush chair and draped her left arm and her head over the chair arm.

“Come and give kisses,”she ordered.

Sen raced by, crashing into the coffee table, backed up a bit, and turned to kiss her mother on the cheek.  Then she was back to zooming around the room.

“I take it the morning post has arrived,”said the sorceress.

Baxter lifted the paper he was reading in reply.

She walked to the foyer and retrieved the stack of letters from the small silver plate on the table by the door.  Flipping through them, she found among several bills, a letter addressed to her from Dr. Agon Bessemer.  She smiled, as she picked up the silver opener and cut through the envelope.  Back in the parlor, she plopped back into the overstuffed chair and read through the message.

“I have a letter from Bessemer,”she said.

“I saw that,”Baxter replied without looking up.

“He’s invited us to spend some time at his fortress.  We will be leaving in four days time.”

“We who?”

“Why, all of us.”

“Traveling overland through unexplored wilderness, presumably on foot, through wild lizzie territory, with vicious dinosaurs all around?”

“I’ve made the journey before. We’ll be perfectly safe.”

“It’s not safe for a child. Even if we all arrive in one piece, that fortress is no place for her either—surrounded by lizzies, without another human face.”

“Nonsense, we’ll be there.”

“For that matter, I don’t think it’s a safe place for Zoey.”

Senta let out an exasperated sigh.  “They worship dragons as gods!”

“You told me how they treated Bessemer before.  Even now, not all of the lizzies have accepted him.  But he’s big enough to take care of himself.”

“We will discuss it after dinner,”said Senta, standing up.  “Now I have business elsewhere.”

The Price of Magic – Chapter 4 Excerpt

“Good morning, all,” said Peter Bassington walking jauntily into the dining room.

“Hi, Uncle,” said Sen from her seat atop a pile of mail order catalogs.

“Good morning, Peter,” said Baxter, watching him sit down and then pushing a platter of white pudding toward him.  “You seem in good spirits.”

“Why wouldn’t I be in good spirits?  Why wouldn’t anybody?  We’re here in Birmisia, the weather is warming up, there’s plenty to eat, and no one to tell us what to do.  Isn’t that right, sister?”

Senta didn’t answer. She was staring off into space.

“Sister?”

“What?”  She blinked and looked around, her eyes finally settling on him.  “Oh, do you still live here?”

“Don’t mind her,” said Baxter.  “She’s got her mind on important things and can’t be bothered with us mortals.”

“Well, I’m a journeyman wizard now.  I passed my test.  Maybe I could help you with whatever you have going on, sister.”

“That’s half-sister,” said Senta.  She rose out of her chair as if gravity didn’t exist for her and stepped around the table, pausing just long enough to bend over and bite Baxter on the ear, before leaving through the kitchen door.

“I think she’s getting meaner,” said Peter, frowning and reaching for the toast.

“Get Mr. Bassington some eggs.”  Baxter snapped his fingers at one of the lizzie servants.  “Like I said, don’t mind her.  She’s got something on her mind and forgets the ordinary things—like the fact that we have feelings.”

“Well I shan’t mind her. Life is too good to go around worrying about things.”

“So, what are you doing on this thoroughly wonderful day then?” asked Baxter.

“Oh, I’m going to fiddle around for a couple of hours, and then I have a lunch date.”

“Oh?  And where are you taking Miss Bassett?”

“It’s not with Abigail. I’m taking out Lucetta Hartley.”

“I don’t think I know that family.”

“They’re just here from Brechalon—Langsington.”

“Well, you certainly seem to be a popular fellow,” said Baxter.

“I know.”  The young man grinned.  “None of them ever noticed me back in Brech, but here I’m that popular.”

“I’m sure you can attribute some of that to the fact that your sister is letting you spend her money as freely as you can.”

“Yeah.  Do you think she’d let me buy a steam carriage? That’s really the only reason I’m not completely irresistible.”

“I know for a fact that Senta will have nothing to do with a steam carriage,” said Baxter.  “She doesn’t like them.  And part of your resistibility has to do with your being a dunderhead.”

“Hey!  She said I could buy what I wanted.  Besides, I don’t see you with any of your own money. How much did that fine suit set you back?”

“You watch your mouth if you don’t want it smacked,” said Baxter.

Peter raised a finger, threateningly.  Baxter gave him a withering look.

“I wasn’t referring to your spending habits,” he said, “but to your jumping from one young lady to another. You’re going to burn all your bridges. You know they all talk to each other, don’t you?”

“There are plenty of fish in the sea,” grumbled Peter, bothered less by the criticism than by the fact that Baxter didn’t seem to be afraid of his magic.

“That may be, but a good fisherman doesn’t poison the water.”  Baxter wiped his mouth with his napkin and tossed it onto his plate. “Now if you’ll excuse me, Sen and I are off to ride a dinosaur this morning.”

“You can’t take a baby on a dinosaur.”

“I’m not a baby,” said the little girl.  “I’m three.”

“You see there,” said the man, standing up and scooping the girl up into his arms.  “Come along, my darling.  Let’s get my riding clothes on.”

Peter watched him leave and then turned his attention to his breakfast, just as the lizzie brought out two basted eggs on a plate.

“You should listen to him,” said a sultry female voice.  “I would imagine he’s been with many women.”

Peter looked around, not seeing anyone at first, and then the coral dragon rose up from the other side of the table, taking Senta’s vacated seat.  She reached out her scaly arm and picked up each of the remaining platters one at a time, dumping their contents onto Senta’s barely touched plate.

“What do you know about it, Zoey?” asked Peter.

“Hardly anything, which is only slightly less than you.”

“Hardy har, har.”

Peter took two more bites of his breakfast then called for a lizzie to bring him a cup of tea, which he carried out into the garden.  Sitting in a wrought iron chair, he sipped the drink as steam rose up and tickled his nose.

“You could catch a chill out here without your coat on.”

“I might be able to catch some peace and quiet.  If only.”

“Nobody wants the dragon around.”  The smooth metallic body curled around him until the spiky, whiskered face was right in front of his.  “I could get a complex.”

“I apologize,” said Peter, with a sigh.  “I was in such a good mood when I came down the stairs, and then… well, I get reminded that I’m just me.”

“What’s wrong with being you?” asked Zoey.