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.

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Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 3 Excerpt

All four of the ladybugs were pleased to get out of New York early. The stress of being locked up in their hotel under guard, and the threat against their lives, hung over them like a cloud. Having the chance to spend two full days in Chicago before the concert, instead of only one was just as welcome. Rather than chartering another dirigible, the band was given the use of an official government airship.

“I didn’t know a Science Police agent could summon a dirigible at her whim,” commented Ep!phanee to Agent Andrews.

“We can’t, but the Science Council can. There are quite a few Ladybugs fans among them, I’m sure, and I doubt that they want any of you to hitchhike to Chicago.”

Every schoolgirl knew that the Science Council ran the world. They had since the great Science War, which began in 1956. At that time the last remaining totalitarian rulers had tried to expand across Europe and Asia. A coalition of nations picked themselves up from the depths of the Great Depression and fought back. When the war was won, a new world government had been created. Science Council members were chosen for their knowledge and wisdom and acted for the good of humanity.

Once the airship S.V. Rosalie Morton had left LaGuardia, the two agents continued their investigation. Agent Wright spoke to each of the crewmembers and support staff of the band and Andrews interviewed the two remaining musicians. The first was Penny Dreadful. They met in Andrew’s cabin and sat at the small desk beside a large window as the clouds passed by outside. She was a large woman, though not fat. If she had been a building, she would have been called structurally sound. And a skyscraper. She was about five foot eleven. She weighed around one hundred fifty pounds, a good thirty pounds heavier than she was on the old album covers, on which she had seemed extraordinarily skinny. The white corset, not quite reaching down to her waist left plenty of cleavage, and she wore long white gloves decorated with tiny pink bows. Her white-layered net tutu skirt left fourteen inches of bare, white thighs above her knees, which were covered by white lace stockings. She wore white combat boots. Her huge mane of red hair was still styled in the dreadlocks she had worn on stage, and she had two huge hoop earrings and a smaller hoop in the middle of her lower lip.

“Thanks for seeing me,” he said.

“You’re kidding, right? Before yesterday I’d never seen a man in real life before. This is really a treat for me… you know, besides somebody trying to kill me and all.”

“So you think you are the target?”

She shrugged. “Steffie’s probably right. A lot of people were pissed off when Carpetmuncher hit the air. That’s the name of the song, um… no offense.”

“I think it’s a great song,” he said.

“You’ve heard it?”

“I bought the album the day it came out.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah. I’m a huge Ladybugs fan, and that includes your solo albums. I remember watching you on the Dorothy Kilgallen Show, and I had to present my PhD thesis the next day. So you see; it’s an even bigger treat for me to be assigned here with you.” He watched her for a moment, and then asked. “I’ve been north for two years now, but I still don’t really understand the anti-homosexual attitude. There are plenty of women running around dressed as men, my partner for instance, with her little fake mustache. It all seems pretty open.”

“Not really. We’re still very parochial. Even though men have been gone from most of society for years, there is the tradition around the world of women not going out unescorted. So women like Agent Wright and Alexa Rothman, faux-men, are tolerated and even encouraged. With no men to escort women, someone just had to take their place. Sex in some ways is really just an extension of that, but nobody talks about it. Women pretend that faux-men are men and for the most part, treat them that way. Women who openly have sexual relationships with other women, or at least with other women who look like women, are ostracized.”

“That’s the other thing that surprises me,” said Andrews. “How women look. Without many men around, I expected to see relatively few women putting on makeup, but you all do… except those pretending to be men.”

“I imagine that most men and women were surprised to find out how little women dressed up for men and how much they dressed up for each other. It’s all about outdoing each other. That includes painting our faces, and wearing jewelry.”

“Yes, I knew women pierced their ears, but I wasn’t expecting everything else.”

“Maybe sometime I’ll show you all my jewelry.”

This seemed as though it was meant to be suggestive, but Andrews couldn’t find anything particularly arousing in looking through a jewelry box.

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.

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Safely tucked away on the top floor of the Armstrong, Ep!phanee took a long hot bath in the huge sunken tub, and then wrapped herself in one of the hotel’s complimentary fluffy robes and sat down in front of the radio-vid. This one was a newer and more expensive model than the one on the dirigible. It boasted a twenty-five inch screen and according to the logo was in living color, but the news program was still in black and white.

“… though at least fifteen are missing and presumed to be dead. Speculation continues that the explosion was a result of a bomb and that it might have been an attempt on the lives of one or all of the members of the Ladybugs, whose sold out performance at Shea Stadium was called by more than one fan ‘the event of a lifetime’.”

“Don’t listen to that,” said Alexa, turning it off.

“The event of a lifetime?”

“Well, that part’s okay. I don’t want you worrying about somebody trying to kill you though. You’ve got to think about your music.”

“So you think someone was trying to kill us?”

Alexa frowned. “Maybe. Dirigibles don’t just blow up. They’re not flammable.”

“Inflammable.”

“Right. They’re inflammable, not flammable.”

“Inflammable and flammable mean the same thing.”

“Well they don’t catch fire very easily. When was the last time you heard of one catching fire or exploding on its own?”

“Never.”

“That’s right. That’s why people fly in them instead of really big aeroplanes.”

Janet Shaw, one of the crewmembers, stuck her head into the room. “Alexa, the Science Police are down at the lobby. Should they come up?”

“Yes, send them up.” Then turning back to Piffy, she made a face. “Like I could stop the Science Police.”

By the time the Science Police arrived at the door, Steffie had come out of the shower in the other bathroom, Ruth had kicked off her boots and put her feet up, and Penny had assemble a huge burger from the tray sent up by room service. She had a separate platter of fries.

“You’re going to get fat,” said Steffie. “Fatter.”

“Don’t even start, you boney-assed bitch,” Penny replied.

Piffy got up and followed Alexa to the door. The two agents entered. They were both about six feet tall, lean and muscular, with close-cropped hair, and sharp features. They wore dark suits and one had a small mustache. The one with the mustache spoke in a crisp, sharp soprano.

“I’m Agent Wright and this is Agent Andrews.”

When Alexa reached to shake Agent Wright’s hand, Ep!phanee automatically reached out to shake hands with Agent Andrews. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“And you,” said the agent.

Something suddenly rushed around in Piffy’s insides. Her skin felt hot and her breath caught in her throat. Other things were happening inside her too. It was as if some kind of chemical reaction had opened the floodgates that held back rivers of hormones.

“Holy shit,” she said. “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. You’re a man.”

“That’s right.”

“No, I mean you’re a man—a real one.”

“Yes, I know.”

Agent Wright cast a sidelong glance at Agent Andrews, who returned the look with a shrug. Piffy looked at the former.

“Are you? No, I see you’re not.”

“Nice mustache though,” offered Alexa.

“Thank you. I made it with my own hair.”

“May we come in and talk with you?” asked Agent Andrews.

The other women, who had rushed over to see what Ep!phanee was so excited about, now were loath to move away from the door, each feeling something akin to what she had felt. Alexa finally had to physically push them aside so that the agents could lead them back to the living area where they all sat down near Steffie, the only one who had not rushed to the door.

“Where are you from?” Piffy asked Agent Andrews.

“Cape Horn enclave.”

“Aren’t you afraid of the disease?” asked Steffie.

“Are you married?” asked Ruth.

“We need to ask you the questions, I’m afraid,” said Agent Wright. “The NYPD has made a preliminary finding that it was a bomb on your dirigible that caused the explosion at LaGuardia. We have to assume that it was an attempt on your lives. That’s why we’re here.”

“We need any information you might have on anyone who might want to do you harm,” said Agent Andrews. “Have you received any recent threats, either as a group or individually?”

“I like it when he talks,” said Ruth.

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.

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 1 Excerpt

Rain beat against the wide windows of the promenade deck as the massive form of the S.S. Lady of Angels descended through the clouds. The dirigible, one of the largest in the air, had made the trip from Los Angeles to New York in just over twenty-six hours, almost two full hours ahead of schedule. In a few minutes, the mooring team would have it fastened to the ground at LaGuardia, and its passengers would be disembarking. The great golden craft was one of the latest generation of airships. Massive, as if someone had turned the Empire State Building on its side and launched it through the air; fast, propelled by six huge steam powered propellers; but unlike the other two dozen gigantic vessels at the airport, the Lady of Angels had only a few passengers—the four members of the rock band the Ladybugs, their managers, staff, and crew.

“Is it going to be raining at Shea Stadium?” asked Ruth De Molay, her island accent a blend of American and British dialect.

“Yes,” answered Alexa Rothman, “but don’t worry; you’ll have a cover over you.”

“I assume the electrical will be covered too,” said Ruth, but to this there was no answer.

“We’re on the radio-vid again,” said Steffie Sin, peering at the nineteen-inch monochrome monitor on the wall. A female reporter spoke into a microphone.

“It’s less than two hours before what some have dubbed ‘the concert of the century’ tonight at Shea Stadium, where performing live for the first time in ten years, the greatest rock combo of all time will begin the American leg of a historic world tour.” The image on the screen switched from the attractive female reporter to images of thousands taking their places in the stadium. “The Ladybugs burst onto the world stage in 1963, the head of the female invasion with their cover of Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue. This was followed by a string of hits, most written by the band’s four members. At one point in 1965 the group held sixteen spots concurrently on Billboard’s top one hundred singles chart. Releasing two to three albums a year and maintaining a grueling tour schedule kept the Ladybugs at the top, but then in 1967, weary of life on the road they moved to their studios in the Virgin Islands, where they released such cutting edge studio albums as Blessed Nobody, Platinum Dream, and the self-titled double album. Even as their last two albums were being marketed however, longstanding personality and management conflicts within the group broke it apart, and in 1970 the band split up, many believed forever. Now, five years later, hot on the heels of the Christmas release of Rebel Girls, the band makes its triumphant return to the concert stage.”

The great dirigible had dropped below the cloudbank now, turning majestically to start its final descent. Stretching out into the distance, one could make out the pillars of smoke rising from a thousand different smokestacks, each belonging to one of the many, many gigantic steam engines that provided electricity for New York City. The reporter on the radio-vid continued.

“We have confirmation that the band’s airship is now arriving at the airport. All four members are confirmed to be aboard. As everyone knows, the Ladybugs are Steffie Sin, Penny Dreadful (born Penelope Dearborn) both of Los Angeles; Ep!phanee (born Theresa Maria Bergman) of Stockholm; and Ruth De Molay, a native of the Virgin Islands. Ep!phanee and Dreadful have both released a series of successful solo albums while Sin and De Molay have released music more sporadically, the latter focusing on a successful movie career while the former has spent a great deal of time in seclusion in Switzerland.”

“Turn that shit off,” said Penny.

“I want to hear what people are saying about us,” replied Ruth.

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” said Steffie. “She’s just pissed off because they used her real name on the air.”

“Penny Dreadful is my real name. I had it legally changed.” She looked like she wanted to say more, but at that moment the captain’s Texas drawl came over the speaker.

“Attention passengers. As we come in for a landing at LaGuardia, I’d like to express thanks on behalf of myself and the company to all of you for flying Pan American Lines, and on a personal note I’d like to say what a privilege it is to pilot the greatest musicians of all time to their first concert of the decade. The crew and I will be looking forward to transporting you safely to Chicago in two days time. In the meantime, break a leg. Here in Queens, the temperature is a balmy 62 degrees and the local time is 6:55 PM.”

“She has a lovely voice,” said Penny.

“She doesn’t know shit about music though,” said Steffie. “If we’re the greatest musicians of all time, where do you rate Mozart, Beethoven, or Enrico Caruso?”

“Do we have time to get to the stadium?” asked Ruth.

“No problem,” assured Alexa, “assuming Piffy has her hair done.”

The last two hours had been spent getting ready for the concert. The band members had donned their custom-made outfits, each a very expensive update of the costumes they had worn on their 1964 tour. They consisted of spandex leggings and a matching bustier. Penny’s was bright red to match her hair which been carefully formed into faux dreads. Steffie’s was black, contrasting with her platinum blond tresses, which were braided into two massive pony tails and interwoven with white and black ribbon. Ruth’s outfit was blue and a blue headband held her natural dreadlocks back.

“I’m ready,” said Ep!phanee standing in the doorway in her own blue outfit, her bright blue hair styled into two buns, one on either side of her head.

The great dirigible made its landing and the crew began hustling instruments to one of the six large airflivvers parked nearby. The band waited impatiently beneath the humongous fuselage for their vehicle to be ready. Each had pulled on their goggles. The air, while breathable, would burn one’s eyes in a very short time without protection.

Alexa stepped close to them. “We’re going in four separate flivvers.”

“Why?” asked Ep!phanee.

“Safety.”

“They got another death threat on me,” said Penny.

“It’s that damned song,” said Steffie. “I told you it was going to be trouble. People aren’t ready to accept homosexuals.”

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.”

“You’ll be home for tea, at least?”

“Probably not.” She exited through the foyer, taking her handbag from the hook as Cheery opened the front door for her. Outside, she stopped and looked at the overcast sky. It was windy and it was cold. She held her hand out—no rain and no snow. There probably wouldn’t be any more snow this year.