About wesleyallison

Author of twenty science-fiction and fantasy books, including the popular "His Robot Girlfriend."

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 10 Excerpt

The large field of purple flowers stretched in any direction as far as the eye could see.  The one-foot tall flowers, each with five petals danced back and forth, enjoying the sunlight streaming down from above.  In unison, they blinked the very human looking eye that was located in the center of each flower.  Amid this endless field of purple flowers was a large flat rock, roughly disc shaped about ten feet in diameter.  Lying on the rock, on a red blanket was Terrence Dechantagne.  His nude body exulted, as did the flowers, in the warm rays of the sun.

“Are you happy?” asked a voice from above.

Pantagria floated down from the sky, her huge, feathered wings outstretched. They were twelve feet from tip to tip and as white as the clouds, as white as newly fallen snow, as white as faith and hope.  The rest of her body was smooth and supple and sublime and beautiful and completely naked. Her feet came gently to rest beside Terrence and he gazed up at her lovely face and that perfect body.  Her long blond hair cascaded down her shoulders, impossibly thick, almost to her waist.  Her eyes were spaced wide above her prominent cheekbones and small but perfectly formed nose.  Her full lips smiled crookedly exposing straight teeth as white as her wings.

It had been years ago that he had first met Pantagria.  She had been as different as he had been.  A beautiful child, an impossibly beautiful child with great white wings and cascading golden curls; she had been waiting for him in her little cottage.  The little cottage had been there in the unearthly field of unearthly flowers in whatever unreal world the mind retreated to when milky magic was applied to young eyes. And Terrence had retreated there, with his boy’s body and old man’s soul, and Pantagria had welcomed him, and had enfolded his body in her own body which then had been only a bud and not the brilliant rose that it would later become.

“I am so glad to meet you,” she had said.  “I have been waiting just for you.”

He had only sobbed into her shoulder.

“Tell me everything,” she had said.

“He shot her!  He shot her right there!”

“Why?  Why did he shoot her?”

“He found her.  He found her with Mudgett.”  He had broken into sobs again and she had pulled him tight against her.

“There, there,” she had said.  Her large white wings had flexed out and folded back again.

“He shot them both.”

“Are they both dead?”

“Mudgett got away.  He tried to shoot him, but he got away.  Then he shot her again.  And she’s dead.”

“But you’re all right.  You’ll be all right.”

“How can I be all right?” he had wailed.  “I don’t have a mother!”

“You won’t need a mother,” Pantagria had said.  “You won’t need anything else but me.  And I’ll always be yours.”

“Are you happy?” the fully-grown Pantagria asked again.  Her wings folded behind her and she sat down beside Terrence.

“How could I not be?”

“You could have the sudden, stark, and horrifying realization that none of this is real.”

“I already know that none of this is real.”

“Do you?” she asked, stroking his cheek.

“Of course.”

“How about me?”  Pantagria kissed him lightly on the lips.

“Oh, you’re not real either.”  He sighed

She stuck out her lower lip, pouting.  He laughed.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said.  “I love you more because you’re not real.”

“How can that be?”

“You are unequalled.  Nobody in the real world is unequalled.  Everyone has a flaw.”

“I thought it was the flaws that made you unique.  Isn’t slightly flawed and real better than perfect but unreal?”

“No,” he said.  “Everyone has a flaw.  Everything has a flaw.”

“Can’t something be good without being perfect?”

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “You’re going to make me wake up and I don’t want to waste a full dose.”

“Too late,” she said, as the world started to drain of its color around him.

That world faded away.  Pantagria faded away.  The rock and the endless field of purple flowers faded away.  Terrence was once again lying on his bed in his cabin aboard the H.M.S. Minotaur.  Someone was knocking at the door.  He sat up and looked at the door but didn’t get up to open it.  The person on the outside pounded on the door, changing from knuckles to the ball of the fist.  Terrence just sat.  Whoever it was finally went away.

Picking up the tiny blue bottle on the nightstand, he held it up to the light and gauged how much of the milky liquid remained.  The bottle was almost completely empty.  He had been rubbing the potion onto his eyes continuously and had almost used it up.  He would have to go get another bottle from Oyunbileg.  He couldn’t quit just yet.  He just needed Pantagria a little bit longer.  Maybe he would buy two bottles.  Money was no problem.  Maybe seven bottles: he probably wouldn’t be able to find any more in Mallon.  Maybe one really big bottle.  The ship suddenly rolled with a wave, and he had to steady himself with a hand on the nightstand, knocking over a drinking glass as he did so.

“Bugger!” he cried.  Shoving the blue bottle under his bed pillow, he jumped up and ran out the door, down the corridor and out onto the deck.  The ship was at sea.  There was not a speck of land anywhere on the horizon.

“Bugger all!” he shouted.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Senta watched from the deck of the H.M.S. Minotaur high above, as Iolanthe Dechantagne paced back and forth on the dock, her hands clasped tightly behind her back.  Senta clasped her own hands behind her back and paced back and forth across the deck, all the while keeping watch on Miss Dechantagne from the corner of her eye. Miss Dechantagne’s older brother, Captain Dechantagne, walked up to her and she stepped close to him and spoke, emphasizing whatever words she was saying by poking her index finger into his chest.  Senta walked over to the small tiny steel dragon sitting near her.  He had a tiny chain fastened around his ankle, attaching him to his carrier box.  She poked her finger at the dragon.

“You listen to me,” she said.  “I’m very important and you are only my brother, and I am the boss, and you’d better not do anything I don’t like.”

The dragon half-heartedly snapped at her finger, which she pulled out of the way.

“Don’t tease our boy, Pet,” said Zurfina, appearing behind her.

“He doesn’t want that chain on,” said Senta.

“We can’t let him loose right now,” said the sorceress.  “He’s liable to fly off into the forest and not come back until well after we’re gone.”

“He can’t fly very good.”

“That’s just what he wants you to think.  Now bring him inside.  I have something for you.”

Senta opened the door of the animal carrier, but the little dragon just looked at her.

“Go on,” she said.  “Get in.”

The dragon made a noise more like a cat yowling than a reptile.  Senta reached out and rubbed the scales on its belly. The dragon bit her on the wrist, not hard, though its needle sharp teeth still drew blood.

“Ow!”

The dragon made an apologetic noise and then crawled down into its chamber. Senta closed the carrier and then sat down.  The ship was starting to spin around her.  She looked down without real comprehension at her wrist and watched as the blood flowed freely down her palms, down her fingers and dripped into a puddle on the deck.

“Cheeky twonk.” said Senta, woozily.

“Oh good grief,” said Zurfina.

She bent down and pulled the large, black ribbon from Senta’s hair and tied it around the girl’s bleeding wrist.  Then she picked her up and heaved her over her shoulder.  Leaving the dragon in his carrier, sitting on the deck, she carried the girl to the hatch.  Senta couldn’t pay any attention to the direction they were going, once below deck. It didn’t really matter.  Every time they went below, they went to a different door.  Once inside the door though, they were always back in their cabin.  Senta wouldn’t have been able to find her own cabin without the sorceress, but Zurfina was usually there to guide her.

The cabin was spacious.  It was large enough to hold two comfortable beds and had its own bathroom.  It also featured a great many pictures on the walls—a few were photographs, but most were painted, and all were of Zurfina. The biggest picture was taller than Senta, and was a portrait of the sorceress sitting on a blue day couch, naked except for a pair of dark silk stockings, a silver necklace with a large, dangly pendant, and a black feather boa around her neck.  The painting hung just above one of the beds.

Zurfina tossed Senta onto the bed just below the great nude painting.  She walked to the other bed and opened a huge wooden trunk at its foot, rummaged around for a moment, and then approached the girl with a small brown bottle.  She unwrapped Senta’s wrist, took the stopper out of the bottle, and poured some of its contents onto the bite marks, which had immediately begun to bleed again upon being exposed to the air.  The liquid from the bottle was cool and clear, but it bubbled and fizzed on the blood.  After a moment, Zurfina poured on a second dose, and it washed away the blood, leaving not a single bleeding hole, not a blemish, not even a scar.

“That’s the fourth time this week,” said Zurfina.

“He didn’t mean to bite me,” said Senta.

“No, he didn’t,” said the sorceress.  “He’s just too little to help himself when something that looks like food gets near his mouth.  Just imagine if someone who looked like a giant teacake was waving her hands around your mouth.  It would be hard to resist, now wouldn’t it?”

“Now I’m hungry,” said Senta.

“You’ll be very excited to hear then that we are having dinner with Miss Dechantagne.  You’ll be able to watch her from up close,” Zurfina smirked.  “Believe me.  That will be even more fun.” She sat the small, brown bottle on the floor by the bed.

“Yay,” said Senta.

“Have a crumpet to tide you over.”  Seemingly from nowhere, the sorceress produced a small plate with a steaming crumpet covered with melted butter and strawberry jam, and a small glass of milk.  Senta ate the crumpet quickly, and wiped the excess butter on her dress.  Then she drank the milk.  When she was done, the plate and glass went mysteriously back to wherever they had come from.

“Now,” said Zurfina, producing a large sewing needle.  “I’m going to pierce your ears, Pet.”

“Is it going to hurt?”

“Yes,” said Zurfina, grabbing the girl’s earlobe and sticking the needle through it.

Senta screamed.  The sorceress didn’t wait for the girl to stop screaming.  She took the needle and plunged it through her other earlobe. Then, while the girl’s crying lessened to a weeping, she pulled out two hoops of gold, about an inch in diameter, and placed one in each of the girl’s ears.  Retrieving the brown bottle from the bedside, she poured a bit of the clear liquid on each of the tiny holes she had just made.  Senta took a deep, sobbing breath.

“All right, stop crying.  It doesn’t even hurt anymore.”

The girl stuck out her tongue.  Zurfina returned the gesture.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 8 Excerpt

The market in the center of Nutooka was filled with native people buying local fruits, nuts, fish, vegetables, fowl, pig’s feet, eggs of all sizes, and rice from dozens of vendor stalls.  Some of the sellers had occupied their sites for many years, and were situated under large shelters made of wood and bamboo.  Others were more temporary, yet even they had canvas awnings to protect from the noonday sun.  Terrence Dechantagne walked past the area where raw foods were available and through the portion of the market where the smells of roasting chickens and stir-fried pork assailed his nostrils.  Beyond that, merchants sold hand-made rugs and bolts of unusual cloth.  And beyond them were tents where native prostitutes plied their trade, offering whatever sexual services a man would pay for, usually at prices that wouldn’t have bought a decent drink in the great city of Brech.  And beyond that was the vendor for whom Terrence had been looking.

A large grey and black striped tent stood near the edge of the market, and in front of it was a table covered with animal furs, piled more than a foot thick. One would have thought the old, withered, native man, with the long, thin grey beard, big round bald head, and gap-toothed smile was a seller of furs, and he probably did sell a few now and then.  But animal furs were not his stock and trade.

“Dechantagne,” said the old man.  “You look good.  Not like the last time I see you, eh?  Then, you look like Guma eat your heart.”

“Oyunbileg, I’m surprised to see you,” said Terrence.  “I thought you’d be dead by now.”

“I’ll be here long after you,” said the old man, smiling again to expose all four of his yellow teeth.  “So, you want to see, or what?”

“Yes.  I want to see.”

“Two hundred marks,” said Oyunbileg.

“Fifty marks, gold,” said Terrence.

“Dechantagne, you’re a good friend, so I give it to you for one hundred.  You know I have to bring it all the way from Kutambata.”

Terrence fished a small, black, cloth bag from his shirt pocket and tossed it to the old man, who opened it and poured the contents into his palm.  There were exactly ten gold decimarks. Terrence had brought no other money with him from the ship.  Maybe this time, he would be able to stop after just one.  Oyunbileg reached below the table covered with animal furs and pulled out a tiny cylindrical bottle, made of dark indigo glass.  It was only about an inch long and a half-inch in diameter. He handed the bottle to Terrence, who held it up to the light.

“It’s full!” said the old man.

“Yes.”

“You go inside.  In back. Nobody will bother you.”

“If somebody does bother me, I start shooting.”

“Yes, yes, I remember.”

The little old man pulled open the tent flap behind him, and Terrence Dechantagne stepped around the stall table and through the opening, which was then closed behind him.  Inside, a young native woman, Oyunbileg’s daughter, was washing herself with a sponge and water from a wooden bowl.  She was naked from the waist up.  She stared at him for a moment and then went back to what she was doing.  He stepped past the young woman and walked to the back of the large tent and sat down cross-legged on a hand-woven rug.  He looked at the tiny vial in his hands, his eyes already starting to water, and pulled the stopper from its mouth.  Placing a finger on the tiny opening, he overturned the bottle to moisten his finger with the milky white liquid inside.  Then he reached up and rubbed the liquid directly onto his left eyeball, and then his right.  He had just enough awareness left to recap the bottle before he began to see it.

He was sitting cross-legged, though he was no longer in a tent, or in Nutooka, or in Enclep.  He was in the middle of a great field of purple flowers that stretched ahead and to the left and right as far as the eye could see.  Each flower was a foot tall, with a blossom as big around as his hand, with five purple petals, each almost the same color of indigo as the little bottle he had purchased from the old man.  And in the middle of each flower, where normally one would find the pistil, was a very human looking eyeball.  Terrence stood up and turned around.  Twenty yards away was a small yellow cottage, with a green roof and door and two windows with green shutters.  And to the left and the right of the house, and beyond the house, the field of purple flowers stretched away to the horizon.

As Terrence walked toward the house, the flowers leaned away from him as if to get out of the way, though he still stepped on many.  He walked up to the green door of the cottage, and knocked on it.  He was just about to knock on the door again, when it opened.  And there she was.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 7 Excerpt

Iolanthe Dechantage, as she had every evening since leaving home on the H.M.S. Minotaur, held a dinner in her cabin.  The cabin, which the Captain of the ship had vacated for her use, was quite tiny.  It barely had enough room for a bed, a desk and chair.  But it had a small private dining room attached, capable of seating eight for dinner.  A rotating list of guests arrived each evening to be served Iolanthe’s favorite dishes prepared by Mrs. Colbshallow and served by two of her wait staff—for the room was only large enough to allow two waiters.  Tonight’s guest list included Captain Gurrman.  The captain was always included, after all it had been his cabin and he was nominally in charge of the ship.  On those evenings when he was unable to attend, he sent an alternate.  Iolanthe usually invited a second officer.  This evening that second officer was Lieutenant Staff.  The rest of the guest list included Professor Calliere, one of his assistants Mr. Murty, Father Ian, and Iolanthe’s two brothers Augustus and Terrence.

The meal this evening was roasted chicken with roasted potatoes, boiled broccoli, savory pudding, and thick brown gravy.  It was a rather ordinary meal, but the necessities of travel required certain sacrifices.  This would, in fact, be the last of the fresh produce until the ship made its stop at the island nation of Enclep.  Iolanthe had seen to it that the colony to be established would have plenty of food. Modern packaging made it possible to supply food for a thousand people for an entire year.  Granted, it was processed, canned food, but the colony wouldn’t go hungry.  They had also brought huge quantities of seed in order to establish farms and plantations. But fresh vegetables were limited and had to be consumed anyway before they went bad.

“The meal was delicious,” said Father Ian.

Father Ian was a big man in his late fifties.  He was six foot two and nearly three hundred pounds.  He carried most of his weight in his stomach and chest. One might certainly call him fat, but he was also large in some indefinable way.  Men who were taller, and even men who were heavier, were dwarfed when they stood next to Father Ian.  He had white hair and a friendly, clean-shaven face, with somewhat rosy cheeks, that stood out above his black clerical robes and his white collar. When one shook hands with him, one couldn’t help but notice his long, but slender fingers and well-manicured nails. They seemed to point to him as an individual unlikely to take off on the great adventure of conquering a new continent and establishing a new colony.  On the subject of his devotion, there was no word.  Only a few had heard him pray, and none, to Iolanthe’s knowledge, had seen him perform the miracles that marked the truly favored in the Church of Kafira.

“Simply wonderful, Miss Dechantagne” agreed Lieutenant Staff.

A young man about the same age as Iolanthe, Lieutenant Staff was tall and blond, with the freckled face of a man far younger.  His white naval dress uniform was starched and perfect, with a row of brass buttons running up the front, a stiff leather collar around the neck, and stiff leather epaulets on each shoulder.  Iolanthe was quick to notice that he smiled appreciatively whenever his gaze landed upon her.

“If you keep this up, Miss Dechantagne,” said Captain Gurrman.  “My officers will be ruined for normal navy food.”

The Captain might have been Lieutenant Staff’s father.  Nearing sixty, he still had a boyish face and boyish charm.  His white naval dress uniform was a little tight in the middle, but made up for it by being heavily decorated with gold brocade.  A thick white beard minimized his heavy jowls, and thick white eyebrows almost hid his green eyes.

“From what I can see Captain, navy food would ruin anyone,” said Professor Calliere.

Everyone paused to see what the Captain would say, but he just chuckled heartily.  Iolanthe pursed her lips.  Even a sheltered academician should know better than to belittle the navy aboard a battleship.  She had spent a great deal of time with the professor just before and now during the journey aboard the Minotaur, and she had to admit that she found his keen intelligence engaging.  He wasn’t bad looking either.  But the long period of inactivity seemed to have brought out in him a certain looseness of etiquette that simply could not be tolerated.

“It’s been two days, Captain.” Augie suddenly interjected.  “What’s the news on the murder investigation?”

Iolanthe looked at her brother and narrowed her aquamarine eyes as she thought about the events of the previous morning.  She had stepped into Augie’s apartment on an errand to discuss the supplies to be purchased upon arrival at Enclep, and found him lying naked on his bed. The room had reeked of alcohol. Iolanthe had grabbed the closest thing she could find, which were a pair of Augie’s trousers and beat him about the head and shoulders with them until he fought back.

“Kafira’s cross, Iolanthe!”  He had shouted.  “What? What do you want?”

“Go get cleaned up and dressed, Augie.  I need to talk to you.”

Augie had jumped up and grabbed a pile of clothes, and as Iolanthe still whipped him with his own pair of pants, he had dashed out the hatch and down the hall to the water closet, which on the ship was called ‘the head’.  While she had waited for his return, Iolanthe had looked around the tiny room in disgust at the mess.  There had been clothes strewn everywhere and open and empty bottles of whiskey on every horizontal surface.  Then she had noticed something in the corner.  It was a pair of women’s bloomers, and peeking out from under them was something strange.

Iolanthe had bent down and picked up the bloomers, holding them at arm’s length, then retrieved the item of clothing beneath them, and examined it carefully. It was a man’s shirt, and on its front were two handprints, in what appeared to be blood.  It was as if a man, his hands drenched, had wiped them on his front.  Cognizant of the fact that a murder had been committed the night before, and mindful that Augie had been present at the site of a previous murder in the great city, she had quickly decided that this was a piece of evidence that could not be allowed to be found here.  She had rolled up the shirt inside of the bloomers and then exited Augie’s cabin and walked through the hallway to the hatch on deck.  Once there, she had quickly determined that she was alone on deck, and then had tossed both items of clothing over the side, watching them until they landed lightly upon the water and then trailed away into the distance. She didn’t believe that Augie could be guilty of murder, so any time spent investigating him would have been a waste, but murderer or not, it was in bad taste to bring it up at dinner.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 6 Excerpt

There seemed to be more people milling around on the starboard side of the ship, so he headed to the port, in hopes of finding a spot to sit.  When he rounded one of the battleship’s great gun turrets, Zeah saw why most of the others were eschewing this particular location. Zurfina the Magnificent was standing near the railing.  Her blond hair was its usual, carefully cultivated chaos.  She was wearing a dress which completely covered her from head to heel, but which was so tight and so contoured to her body, that it was more lewd than if she had been standing there naked.  Zeah would have sworn that it was made from rubber, had such a thing been possible.  The girl that had accompanied the sorceress when she had boarded was with her now. She too wore a black dress, in a more traditional style, though made of the same shiny substance.  And the question of what type of animal that the sorceress had brought aboard with her was now answered.  The case that she had carried when she had arrived sat beside the girl, and on top of the case perched a small, sinewy, winged reptile. It had a long, snakelike neck, and an equally long, snakelike tale, four legs and two thin wings.  It was covered in scales the color of new steel, even on its wings.  When it suddenly flapped them, sparkling reflections caused Zeah to cover his eyes. It was a dragon, the first that the head butler had ever seen.  The girl was feeding it pieces of raw, red meat with a gloved hand.  Between bites the tiny dragon would make growls reminiscent of an angry housecat and the girl would giggle.

Zeah paused for a moment, uncertainly.  He was about to turn around and go back the way he had come, but the sorceress looked up and saw him.  Not wanting to be seen a coward by one so powerful, he squared his shoulders and stepped forward with his porridge and pumpernickel.  The girl was sitting on a case covering some type of shipboard equipment, and the butler moved to sit next to her only a few feet from the dragon and the obscenely dressed magic user.

“May I join you?” he asked.

“You are more than welcome, Mr. Korlann,” said Zurfina, in her smoky, sultry voice.  “We are at our lessons.  Perhaps you can benefit from them as well.”

Zurfina raised her hand and a glowing sphere rose up from the deck.  It floated up until it reached the height of her shoulders, and then began expanding and becoming more opaque, until Zeah recognized it as a globe of the world, which stopped growing at eleven or twelve feet in diameter.  As it slowly spun in mid-air, Zeah could make out the shapes of the landmasses and oceans of the world.

“This is Greater Brechalon,” said Zurfina, and the shape of the four islands making up the country glowed.

“It’s little,” said the girl.

“Yes it is, Pet,” said Zurfina.  “It’s just one of many countries on the continent of Sumir and Sumir is just one of the twelve continents.  We’re going to this one—Mallon.”

Another portion of the globe was illuminated as it slowly rotated around in mid-air.  This was a large portion of a tremendous landmass made up of four continents, and was almost on the opposite side of the world from Greater Brechalon and the rest of Sumir.

“And this area right inside of Mallon, is the land of Birmisia”

“It’s little too,” said the girl.

“True, it is only a small portion of Mallon, and yet it’s larger than all of Greater Brechalon.  You see that’s why the King and the Prime Minister want colonies on all these other continents.  There is all this land, just sitting there, filled with the riches of nature, and no one to reap them—a vast world without the benefits of civilization.”

“What’s so great about civilization?” asked the girl.

“You see, Mr. Korlann?” said Zurfina.  “Out of the mouths of babes come great truths.”

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength over thine enemies, that thou might slay them and lay waste to their lands and their flocks,” quoted Zeah.  “For the kingdom of the Lord shall reign over all the other kingdoms of the world.”

“Yes, well,” said Zurfina.  “She has plenty of time to become disillusioned later.”

The tiny steel dragon startled Zeah, as it let out a short growl.  The little beast was undeniably beautiful.  It reminded the butler of a statue that was heavily detailed—the pointed barb and the end of its tail, the whiskers around its face, each individual scale fitting neatly together as it moved.”

“You have a question, Mr. Korlann?” asked Zurfina.

“Is this a real dragon?”

“Most assuredly.”

“Aren’t they… well, dangerous?”

“Most assuredly.”

“How large will it get?”

“Far too large to sit where it is now sitting,” said Zurfina, her smoky voice punctuating the image.

The girl fed the dragon one last piece of meat, and then took off the leather glove that had protected her hand.  The dragon, evidently unhappy that his meal was over, let out a particularly long and unhappy growl.

“Does it have a name?” asked Zeah.

“Of course,” said Zurfina.

“We don’t know it yet,” said the girl.  “He’s too little to talk.”

Zurfina clapped her hands and the giant globe disappeared.   She snapped her fingers and the carrier on which the little dragon sat, popped open.  The dragon squawked unhappily, but climbed down into the carrier, then tried to bite the girl as she reached down to close the door.

“Brassy berk!” said the girl.

“No more lessons today, Pet,” said Zurfina.  “I’m going to take a nap.  Put our boy away and then practice your magic.”

The girl picked up the animal carrier and began lugging it forward.  Zurfina smiled at Zeah and winked.  He half expected her to raise her arms above her head and disappear, but she didn’t.  She just followed the child carrying the dragon, and all three passed through an open hatch and out of eyesight.  Zeah ate several bites of his porridge; just enough to have something on his stomach, then poured the rest over the side and tossed his bread in the ocean after it. Then he walked back to the stern to return his bowl.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 5 Excerpt

“That’s very good. That’s very good indeed.  Because you see, my little Senta, you are going to come and live with me. And if you are very good and do everything that I tell you, I am going to teach you things.  Ponderous things.”

“I don’t know what that means,” said Senta.

“I know you don’t. My name is Zurfina the Magnificent.”

Zurfina stood up and took Senta by the hand and led her down the sidewalk, away from the palace where the woman who had once worn the white pinstriped dress lived. By the time she had taken her fourth step, Senta no longer wondered at the strange turn of events that had overtaken her.  By the time she had taken her tenth step, she no longer thought of pulling her hand from the grip of the blond sorceress and running away.  By the time she had taken her sixteenth step, it seemed to Senta as if she was exactly where she was supposed to be, walking down the street at the side of her mistress.

“Come along, Pet.”

Zurfina led Senta on a long walk through the city, finally turning south on Prince Tybalt Boulevard and passing Hexagon Park.  Throughout their trek, none of the many people on the street seemed to notice the strangely dressed woman leading a small child along by the hand.  No one turned a head at all.  Just past the park, they turned west on Prince Clitus Avenue and came to a small storefront.  There was a sign above the door, but Senta couldn’t read it.  It seemed to be written in a strange language. Zurfina opened the door and led her inside.

The shop contained counters and shelves filled with goods, though Senta couldn’t make out what they were.  Several shopkeepers scurried about to help the half dozen customers making purchases. But something was very strange. The customers, the shopkeepers, the counters, and the shelves were all translucent, as if they were made of the same stuff as rainbows, gathered together and transformed into the semblance of people and things one would find in a city shop.

“What do you see?” asked Zurfina.

“I see ghosts.”

“They aren’t ghosts.  They’re illusions.  To everyone else, they seem real enough.  To the people on the street, this shop is just one more emporium of useless mundania. No one ever questions it, and no one ever comes in.”

Zurfina, still holding Senta by the hand, walked through the shop and through a doorway in the back, to a staircase leading upwards.  At the top of the stairs were a landing and a door, but the sorceress continued up a second flight of stairs to the third floor, where the stairs ended in a blank wall.  The sorceress waved her hand and a door appeared.  She opened the door and led the girl in to a large and dark room, filled with all manner of strange things.  More of the translucent people were moving about.  Here they were packing away items in large black steamer trunks and stacking trunks into great piles.  Unlike downstairs in the shop however, the steamer trunks and the items being placed within them were not, like the people, partially transparent. The items being packed and moved here were real, opaque, and completely solid.

The first thing that caught Senta’s eye in the room was the dragon. It was almost an exact replica of the dragon that sat in front of Café Carlo—about three feet long with a wingspan of about four feet, sitting on a stone plinth.  Instead of a burnished brass color though, this dragon looked as though it were cast from steel.  The effect was that this dragon looked far less lifelike than the brass one at the café. It looked far less lifelike until it moved.  First it blinked its eyes, then it yawned, then it folded its wings and curled its neck up, exposing the underside of its chin.  Zurfina rubbed the bottom of its long neck with her fingers, but when she pulled her hand away, it snapped at her with a mouth full of needle sharp teeth.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Iolanthe Dechantagne walked slowly down the wide, sweeping staircase that led into the vast foyer of her home.  She had expected to make a rather grand entrance, but was disappointed to find no visitor awaiting her at the bottom of the stairs.  The room was peopled only by several members of the household staff: the doorman, one of the maids, and a young man on a ladder cleaning the wall behind one of the gas lamps.  Iolanthe turned slowly to look at Yuah, who stood just behind and to her right.  The dressing maid, in a gray and white dress that made her look rather more like a governess than a maid, shrank back slightly. She knew how disappointed Iolanthe was, especially when she had purchased the new evening gown for just this occasion.   It was white, and the skirt featured seven layers, one upon the other, each trimmed with red and black, the hem creating a circle more than five feet wide as it swept the floor.  The bodice featured matching red and black trim.  It was of course so thin at the waist that no one could have worn it without a patented Prudence Plus fairy bust form corset and it featured, as was the style, a prominent bustle in back.  It was strapless, leaving an unobstructed view of Iolanthe’s long, thin neck, her smooth shoulders and the top several inches of her chest.  Instead of a hat, she wore an arrangement of red and white carnations atop her carefully curled hairdo, which matched the rest of her outfit perfectly.

“She was here, Miss,” said Yuah.

It had been two days since her brother had learned from a police inspector that a powerful sorceress was available for hire.  She had arranged a meeting, carefully setting the precise date to give herself plenty of time to prepare.  When one met a powerful magic user, especially when one intended to hire a powerful magic user, one had to make a good impression.  If Iolanthe was going to hire this woman, if this woman really possessed the gifts that she and her brothers would need in their great enterprise, she intended to show the woman, right from the beginning, who was boss.

Yuah scrambled down the steps of the sweeping staircase and whispered to the doorman. The doorman whispered back.  Then Yuah ran back up the stairs to Iolanthe’s side.

“Master Augie just took her to the library.”

“Bloody hell, Augie, you idiot,” said Iolanthe.

She stomped her way down the remaining steps of the staircase and through the foyer, stopping just outside the door to the library. Hyperventilating for a moment, she stepped through the door with a stately and unhastened grace.   Yuah followed her, several steps behind.  The library was a relatively small room, about thirty by thirty feet, but with a ceiling two stories high.  All four walls were completely covered in bookcases to the ceiling.  Two railed ladders allowed access to the books at the very top.  The room made quite an impression—when full of books. Unfortunately, the books had been packed and loaded onto the H.M.S. Minotaur.  The resulting room, empty except for the three overstuffed chairs, two small tables, two oil lamps, and a single volume—Baumgarten’s Brech Stories—was noticeably unimpressive.  Along the far wall, Augie leaned against one of the ladders with practiced nonchalance.  In the center of the room stood the woman—the sorceress.