Senta strolled down the white gravel street toward her home, singing the latest song to arrive from Brech. The wax cylinder had come by ship exactly one month before, and it was already almost worn smooth by constant playing on the music box in Parnorsham’s store.
I’ll pay you a pfennig for your dreams,
Dreaming’s not as easy as it seems,
Images of her, are keeping me awake,
And so I’ll have to pay a pfennig for your dreams.
When Senta sang it, she replaced “images of her” with “images of him”. She thought that it made more sense for a girl to be kept awake with images of a boy than the other way around. If it had been her choice, she would have chosen a girl to sing the song, rather than the somewhat effeminate-voiced man on the recording.
“Not a very catchy tune.”
Senta turned to see a man emerging from behind a tree along the east side of the road. It was the same tall, dark man that she had seen arriving on the Majestic. His long, black rifle frock coat had made him blend into the background of the woods in the shadows of the late afternoon. She didn’t need to guess that he was a wizard. She could see the magic aura amorphously floating around him. She wondered if he could see hers.
“I’ve been waiting quite a while for you, sorceress.” He smiled broadly, his thin-lipped mouth seeming abnormally wide across his heavy jaw line.
“I’m not a sorceress. I’m just a little girl and you should leave me alone.”
“Ah, I know that game.” He pulled the horn-rimmed spectacles from his upturned nose and wiped first his eyes and then the lenses with a handkerchief, replacing the glasses on his face and the handkerchief in his pocket. “You make three statements. One is true and the other two are lies. Then I have to guess which is true. Right? Then I will have to say, you are a little girl.”
Senta crossed her arms and rocked back onto the heels of her shoes.
“My turn,” said the wizard. “My name is Smedley Bassington. I was born in Natine, Mirsanna. I know nothing about magic.”
“That’s too easy,” said Senta. “Smedley.”
“You should say Mr. Bassington. After all, I am your elder. One mustn’t be rude.”
“Okay, this one is harder,” replied Senta. “I’m going to have to say, number two, you are my elder.”
Bassington took a step forward, and then another.
“Uuthanum,” said Senta, waving her hand.
“Uuthanum,” said Bassington, waving his hand in an almost identical motion.
It might have seemed as though the two were exchanging some kind of secret greeting. In actuality, Senta had cast an invisible protective barrier between them. Bassington had dispelled the magic, destroying the barrier.
“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, the chosen apprentice of the most powerful sorceress in the world. That is, after I found out Zurfina was here. I had no idea where she had gotten to. Here I was, checking out that idiot and his machine, and instead I find the two of you.”
“I think that’s too many statements,” said Senta.
He stopped in the middle of the road about five feet away from her. A little wisp of wind whipped his short graying hair.
“Did she leave you here alone to take care of yourself? That’s just what she does, you know? She’s totally unreliable.”
“Are you allowed to use questions?” asked Senta, thinking to herself that this wizard did indeed seem to have her guardian pegged.
“Let’s not play that game,” said Bassington. “Let’s play something a little better suited to our unique abilities.”
He held out his hand, waist high, palm down and said. “Maiius Uuthanum nejor.”
Red smoke rose up from the ground just below his hand. It swirled and coalesced into a shape. The shape became a wolf. Its red eyes seemed to glow and the hair on its back and shoulders stood up as it bared its dripping fangs and snarled at Senta. She held out her own hand, palm pointed down.
“Maiius Uuthanum,” she said.
Green smoke rose from the ground below her hand, swirling around in a little cloud, finally billowing away to reveal a velociraptor with bright green and red feathers.
“A bird?” said Bassington, derisively.
The wolf lunged forward, snapping its teeth. The velociraptor clamped its long jaw shut on the wolf’s snout, and grasped its head in its front claws. The huge curved claw on the velociraptor’s hind foot slid down the canine’s belly, slicing it open and spilling steaming entrails out onto the gravel. A moment later, in a swirl of multihued smoke, both creatures disappeared again.
“Prestus Uuthanum,” said Bassington, placing his right palm on his chest, and casting a spell of protection on his own body.
“Uuthanum uusteros pestor,” said Senta, spreading her arms out wide. She seemed to split down the center as she stepped both right and left at the same time. Where there had been one twelve year old girl a moment ago, there were now four twelve year old girls who looked exactly the same.
The wizard waved his hand and said. “Ariana Uuthanum sembor.” All four Sentas found themselves stuck in a mass of giant, sticky spider webs.
One of the blond girls fell down. One of them pulled vainly at the webbing. The third picked up a rock from the ground and threw it with all of her might at Bassington hitting him just above the temple. The fourth waved her hand, saying the magic word “uuthanum”, and dispelling the webs. The girl who had pulled at the webbing helped the fallen girl stand up, and then the two of them merged together. The other two girls merged into her, and once again, there was only one Senta.
“Uuthanum uusteros vadia,” said Bassington and he disappeared.
Senta stood there for a moment, and then out of the corner of her eye, she saw several pieces of gravel shift on the ground to her left. She pointed her finger in the direction.
“Uuthanum Regnum,” she said.
A ray of colorful, sparkling light sprayed from her fingertip in the direction she pointed. Bassington cried out in surprise and reappeared, though he didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects of the spell, which usually left its victims covered in painful rashes.
“Erros Uuthanum tijiia,” he said.
A huge spectral hand, more than five feet across, appeared in the air in front of Senta. The middle finger was bent back beneath the thumb, and then flicked Senta in the chest. She fell backwards onto her bottom, crunching her bustle, and sliding several feet across the gravel road. She struggled to suck in a breath.
“Time to say ‘uncle’, don’t you think?” Bassington crossed his arms.
Senta tilted her head back and at last managed to pull some air into her lungs. The wizard waited.
“Well,” he said, finally.
“The sky is purple,” said Senta. “My dress is orange, and my dragon is going to bite your head off.”
Bassington stared for only a moment at Senta’s blue dress, before diving out of the way, just as Bessemer landed with a huge whomp right where he had been standing.