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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 51.5

Apologies for what has turned out to be a very short snippet but this has been a craaazy busy week and my weekend begs for more relaxation than what it actually has time for. One of the relaxing things I will be attempting this weekend is trying my hand at homebrewing, which at least gave me a good reason to clean the kitchen. Since our kitchen happened to be in such a sorry state that I would have gladly attacked it with a fire hose if I could have, this new hobby has not started off all that relaxing. But hey, clean kitchen! (And if all goes well, I’ll have a few non-story snippet posts coming up in the near future about my adventures in homebrewing).

bird_feather

Serena frantically waved a hand in front of her face while mumbling panicked gibberish but to no avail and soon the nose was not only green but becoming pointed at its tip as well.

“I’m afraid you’ll find any magic you try to be a tad useless,” Raynerus called out to her. “At least the sort you’re playing with.”

“What have you done?” Serena threw her spoon mirror at him. “Just what sort of trick is this?”

Raynerus shook his head. “No trick, it’s quite real. But you see, that very special hat of mine is more special than you realized when you snatched it from me. It managed to turn our friend here,” he patted Wymer on the shoulder, “from a zombie back into a person because the hat recognized he truly wasn’t a monster at all. You, however, are apparently the exact opposite. As far as normal outside appearances go, you’re a beautiful woman with hardly a flaw in sight.” He nodded at the top hat still resting on her head. “But my hat there must have caught on to all that greed, pride, and lust for power swirling around inside of you. This transformation occurring is simply my hat showing the true monster inside.” 

“I’m sure you must be quite proud of your little hat but you forget I’m holding the most powerful object in this room.” Kirkaronus spoke with a sneer. “I can easily fix her back to normal and turn all of you into monsters, what do you think of that?”

“I think you’re mistaken in believing that stone puzzle in your hands to be the most powerful thing in here.” Gwendoloena held up a single black feather. “This actually is.”

 

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 42.5

Sylvia_and_Bubbles_colored

Kirkaronus shot a finger upward while elbowing Serena in her side. “I think those girls have the stone puzzle on top of that table – and it’s completed!”

Serena jabbed him back. “Impossible you idiot. There’s no way all of the pieces could have been found.”

Oh yes there is!” Sylvia ran across the table from her end to stand triumphantly over the stone puzzle. “And I’m going to hold it up to show you”—she bent over and grabbed the jagged plate-like object, grunting as it remained stubbornly unmoved—“just how powerful”—she pulled and grunted louder—“the magic from this can be when”—Sylvia finally gave up after a third tug delivered the same results—“Never mind!” She stood back to her full height, trying to still sound proud and confident. “I don’t need to hold it up, you obviously see it!”

Is it stuck on that table or something?” Serena squinted and craned her head forward. “I think it’s stuck.”

It’s not stuck at all.” Sylvia crossed her arms. “I just think it’s fine were it is.”

It is stuck and quite deliberately,” called out Gwendoloena, raising her hand up with an open palm toward the puzzle as if she expected Sylvia to toss it to her. “Some things shouldn’t revealed if using them can be avoided. But it seems some eyes are also too curious to keep anything hidden.” Still keeping her hand up, she wiggled her fingers in curling motion and the table began drifting toward her.

While the slow ride down elicited another mirthful squeal from Meriall, Sylvia stomped her foot atop their makeshift wooden airship that was soon to become grounded. “Why would we try to avoid using it? It’s in our possession and we know it could be powerful!” Before Gwendoloena could answer, Sylvia bent down and grabbed the stone puzzle by its edges again. Not having a clue what sort of spell she was supposed to chant in order to get the puzzle to actually do anything, time seemed to dictate that she just needed to wing it with what came to mind:

Run and hide villains below

For what awaits you is nothing but trouble,

Raining down upon your heads shall be—”

A bunch of bubbles!” cheered Meriall beside her.

Bubbles?” Sylvia let go of the puzzle to stand and heave an annoyed sigh at the little girl. “Meriall, you can’t blurt things out like that when I’m trying to do a spell.”

Meriall shrugged an apology. “But it sounded like just another poem. And that one was starting off even more lousy than the last one so I wanted to help.”

Fine, but you probably made me mess things up when I—”

Ooooh,” cooed one of the henchman under them, “look at all the bubbles coming down!”

Don’t touch them!” yelled Serena

But they’re so pretty,” lamented another henchman like a child who had just been told they had to put their toys away for bed. “And look at how big they’re getting!”

Sylvia and Meriall turned almost in unison to look back at the stone puzzle, which now spewed out tiny bubbles that gradually grew larger as they floated over their heads and then slowly sank. With great reluctance, Sylvia bent down and peered over the table’s edge to find that the bubbles truly did continue growing as they made their descent. More strange, the bubbles were barely translucent and instead appeared to be filled with different colored gases. The colors themselves belonged to a confused palette: Many of the bubbles were a rosy red or almost lilac pink. Some were sickly yellow or an equally putrid shade of green. A couple beheld a whitish or gray tint and even fewer possessed a more soothing blue or purple tone.

Sylvia stood and sighed at the little girl again. “Meriall, you made me let go of the puzzle and end my spell with ‘raining down upon your heads shall be bubbles’. That sounds dumb, it’s not what I meant to say at all.”

“That’s okay, I like it.” Meriall jumped and clapped as a handful of more colorful orbs drifted away. “And some of the bubbles are pretty, don’t you think so?”

“But you can’t fight evil with bubbles.” Sylvia lost her footing as the table finally landed and instinctively grabbed the hand that reached out to keep her from falling on her face. As she looked up, its owner appeared displeased with the spell’s results as well.

“I would normally agree with you my dear Sylvia,” Gwendoloena paused to shake her head at one of the man-sized bubbles that now jiggled and bounced along the ground, “however, it seems that you have decided we will in fact be fighting evil with bubbles today.”

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 20.1

Stone_Puzzle_colored

The vampire queen’s reaction to the medallion-puzzle was hardly what Sylvia anticipated. Considering she and her court had searched for and tried to piece the object together themselves for supposedly centuries, Sylvia expected elation at finally gaining possession of it. If the queen even had a court. Royalty was rather low-key here in the Kingdom of Fools, the queen herself decked out in a plain sage-colored dress adorned with only a white sash belt. Her strawberry blonde hair remained void of a crown, still loosely tucked in a braid trailing down to her waist. Considering the medallion’s potential power, Sylvia expected having it close at hand to be the one requirement needed before Her Majesty sounded a battle cry against the Keepers. But instead, the queen gently placed it on the same table where they’d had tea during the last visit. She proceeded to slide the one fragment she owned into its jagged-edged home on the larger piece. Though it was difficult to tell for certain given the irregular shape of the medallion itself, it appeared only two fragments remained missing. Sylvia supposed Deigen and everyone else remained silent during this process due to something akin to awe;she did so out of disbelief at seeing the awaited treasure treated like a jig-saw puzzle during family game night.

“Did you attempt any magic with this?” the queen directed her question to Sylvia while staring at the medallion.

“No, your Majesty.” Sylvia rubbed her thumb over the tip of the pricked middle finger. It still ached even though hours had passed since leaving the swamp. Despite the fact she’d returned the medallion back to the ship before anyone realized it was missing, she was certain V now gave her a quizzical glance. Not daring to turn her head and confirm this certainty, Sylvia stared straight ahead.

“Good.” The queen traced a finger over the engraved pattern of the Keepers’ braid, a lighter-colored portion in the rough black stone. “This needs to be studied before any attempt to use it.”

“Studied?” Sylvia blurted the words out, not caring how rude her tone sounded. “Why can’t we use it now?”

“Because,” Deigen shot a thumb toward Bastiick, who lay asleep on the floor but would likely still be cheering about the Keepers if awake, “this type of magic is not to be played with lightly.”

Sylvia rolled her eyes. “Magic is magic. As long as we’re the ones who have the larger piece of the puzzle, that’s all that matters.”

“But how easily we’ve seen ownership of this item can change hands,” reminded the queen. “And with that knowledge, it is not wise to place our trust nor dependence on it.” She regarded one of the familiar components of the puzzle. “Speaking of pieces, was this the pendant you were carrying?”

Sylvia nodded. “The Keepers took that and the spell book I had. At least I basically got the pendant back when we stole the medallion but the book is still somewhere in their castle.” She looked around the room, landing on Uncle Albert with a glare. “Along with the rest of our family if anyone is interested in trying to rescue them.”

“Sylvia, we aren’t going to get anyone out of there by just barging in again and acting foolhardy,” argued Uncle Albert.

Sylvia pointed at Trevor. “But we have someone who used to be one of their guards! He probably has knowledge about secret entryways or weaknesses in the castle’s defenses.”

Trevor audibly gulped at the sudden importance he was being afforded. “But I was in charge of guarding entry into the kitchen. The only secret passageway I know is a short cut through the dining area.”

V looked at Sylvia while waving a hand toward their incompetent accomplice. “Unless you would like to fix the Keepers lunch, I would suggest we plan out our actions first.”

Trevor rubbed his stomach. “Speaking of lunch, we sort of skipped that in all our traveling. Is there anything to eat here?” His face scrunched further while realizing this question was being directed in the presence of vampires and a zombie. “Something that’s not living. Like a sandwich?”

Guarded the kitchen, did you?” The queen smiled and made a slow circular arc with her arms. She nodded toward his left hand. “It’s not a sandwich but I’m sure that will do.”

“Wha-oh!” Trevor began devouring the turkey leg he unexpectedly held within barely a second of discovering it. He muttered a full mouthful of gibberish while waving his lunch in the air.

“You’re welcome, I think.” The queen turned to Sylvia, who had a similar turkey leg in her hand. “You should eat too, dear. You’re looking a bit pallid and should try to keep your strength.”

Sylvia threw the turkey leg across the room. “What for? None of us need our strength for anything, we’re not going anywhere!”

“Sylvia!” Uncle Albert nudged her with an elbow. “Stop acting like child again.”

The queen simply waved a hand over the turkey meat scattered on her stone floor. “Sylvia, I know finding your mother and the rest of your family is important to you and it is to us as well but-”

“-No it’s not!” Sylvia stamped her foot. “It’s not important to you, none of you! You have enough skill and time to make poultry magically appear but apparently not enough of either to help me!” She raced up the steps to the guest room she’d been given and slammed the door.

Silence overtook the room until Trevor raised his hand, which now held a nearly bare turkey leg bone. “Um, if she’s not hungry, could you maybe have time to make more poultry appear?” He gulped down his last bite after receiving looks from everyone that foretold there would be no more magical turkey at the moment. “Never mind, I’m full.”

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 19.4

Seth's_hand_colored

What’s that young magician’s name? ‘S’ something – Sara, Sylvia?” Serena drummed her gloved fingers against the pitcher’s side. “She not only did you a great disservice but us as well. You, she changed from being a monster worth any merit into a worthless bag of bones and rotting meat. From us, she stole a valuable artifact that we’ve been piecing together for quite some time. I believe we can help you recover what you’ve lost if, in return, you assist us with our little problem.”

“Help me recover what I’ve lost?” Seth echoed the words back to Serena, shaking his head in confusion. “You want to make me able to eat people like other zombies?” He shook the head again. “Thanks but I’m fine just eating fish.”

“Oh no, Seth, I’m mean recovering much more than your piddly means of attack.” Serena stepped closer with her pitcher. “I mean to make you no longer a zombie at all.”

Seth didn’t know what she meant by this nonsense nor what form of liquid horribleness could possibly reside in the pitcher; he was fairly certain it would not be in his best interest to learn. He tried fighting his way out of the guards’ hold but found this to be a rather futile effort. Zombies were not renowned for having supernatural strength or any strength at all for that matter. While the guards themselves were not muscle houses by any stretch of the imagination, they at least still had muscles that weren’t slowly decomposing, which gave them an unfair advantage. Seth stomped down on one of their boots in attempt to break free but only ended up howling in agony as a feeling akin to being struck by lightening coursed through his body. Not experiencing pain when trying to attack someone was also a considerable advantage the guards held in their favor.

“Now, now, Seth. Why must you be so disagreeable?” asked Serena, taking his hand in hers. “As I said, there’s no harm intended. Our only petition is for a mutual partnership.”

“Mutual partnership with a pack of crazy magicians bent on ruling the world? Again, thanks for the consideration but I regret I shall have to decline.” Seth began trying to jerk his hand away; while Serena’s grip was unyielding, a tearing sound from somewhere on his shoulder served as a reminder that his was not. Submitting to the fact there was no escape, he clenched both eyes shut as Serena tilted the pitcher over his hand.

What Seth expected to pour from the pitcher was some form of magically derived goo that would cause additional pain or otherwise incapacitate him even further. While the substance running over his hand was certainly wet, it felt like water. Felt like water. Not just the vague sensation of “something liquid is touching me” that came with being an undead creature and unable to perceive any real sense of anything. Seth felt his skin tickle where the flowing stream made contact with his hand, sensed goosebumps rising from the coldness. Alarm and elation raced through the zombie at this impossibility. His eyes shot open to find it was, in fact, simply water (but obviously not simply since something magical was occurring) running over his hand. His normal, living, flesh-colored hand. Not the entire hand; only where the water touched.

Seth brought the hand closer once Serena released her hold. He flexed the fingers, marveling at the fact he could actually feel each one. He touched the hand to his face and gasped at both the vague sensation of something warm touching his zombie cheek while the living hand writhed at the clammy, cold dead skin it was forced to stroke. “How did you do this?” he practically shouted the words out to his captor and healer.

Serena shrugged as though it were quite a simple occurrence which just happened and an even simpler question asked. She nodded to the guards, giving them permission to release their hold on him. “Our magic is stronger than your little magician’s. And this is just a little taste of what I could do if the pendant that vixen stole is returned to us. You see, Seth-” She reached over to bring the hand he still clung to his cheek to hers, “-when I said I could help you recover what you lost, I meant your life. Fully. I can make this gruesome current state of yours a dismal memory to be quickly forgotten.”

“At what price?” he asked

Serena gave a quick kiss to his hand as though she were a chivalrous gentleman greeting a lady. “That mischievous little magician’s life.”

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 16.2

This is a lovely chat we’re having but those guards will come back eventually.” Seth glanced at the open door while flinging both arms toward his right, again keeping Arthur and Megan at bay. “This is probably as bad a place to be as that dungeon.”

How many guards?” Deigen stood in the cage and reached for his knives, being quickly reminded of their absence and kicking the bars in front of him again.

Seth shrugged. “It was only three and I wouldn’t worry about not having any weapons. All I had to do was stand in front of them and speak. Hmmm-” he raised both hands, pressing down the fingers on one while listing his heroic achievements thus far, “-dug my way into a dungeon with a shovel, found Sylvia and the children, scared away the guards who came to fetch them, and chased the children away to safety.” He wiggled his thumb with a proud grin. “I’m sure there’s at least one more thing to add, I just can’t think of it right now.”

V snorted, still choosing to remain in his squatted state. “Seth, what are you doing?”

Just counting off all the things I’ve managed to do while you two were sitting cozy in this library.” Seth shook his head with mock sympathy at the other hand, still bearing an an open palm. “The way I see it, that’s four points for zombies and none for vampires.” He stretched the hand out and waved his fingers in front of them. “Looks like you guys have a little catching up to do.”

Seth, no one’s keeping score!” Sylvia rolled her eyes while stepping up to stand between the two cages overhead. “I wish there was a way to open these things. I don’t even see a door or a keyhole!”

When the Keepers let you and Bastiick out, that woman chanted a bunch of gibberish and you both just fell through the bottom,” offered Deigen. “I think the only way to open them is to use magic.”

Seth gave Sylvia a side glance. “Er, no offense to anyone but I think the spell on these cages may be higher caliber than a young novice can tackle. I left a shovel back in the dungeon, I bet if-”

She hasn’t tried yet Seth!” snapped V. “Give her a chance before you go running off for some useless tool.”

Sylvia felt her face flush; the tone sounded reminiscent of reprimands for wanting to jump in while her younger siblings fumbled through simple tasks like sewing a button. She couldn’t help but feel even more like a useless child. “No, Seth’s right, I wouldn’t be able to open the cages.”

Sylvia, don’t give up before you’ve started.” V leaned forward, his smile of encouragement foiled by the two pointy fangs. “Try first.”

Then give up,” Seth muttered under his breath a bit louder than he probably intended. He cleared his throat upon the vampires giving what would otherwise suggest death stares if not for the fact he was far past the point of that being a concern. “Sorry, Sylvia, give it a shot.”

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 15.4

Meanwhile…

The decision to set traps about the house in case of additional intruders proved to be a grand idea on Uncle Albert’s part. Granted, he hadn’t planned on using all traps at once but the rope and mechanisms by which they operated were simple enough materials to set back up quickly if needed. For now he regarded his four uninvited guests.

Three hung upside down by the rafters of his ceiling, the loops of rope they’d unknowingly stepped into now securely tied around their ankles. Two of these were some type of henchmen decked out in frumpy cloaks while the third happened to be the Bastiick fellow he remembered meeting during Sylvia’s visit. The fourth man evaded his traps but managed to render himself an non issue after tripping over a warped board in the floor and landing head first into the adjacent wall. Albert checked to make sure the slumped over fellow lying on the floor was only unconscious, though he certainly wouldn’t complain if he found himself in the company of another zombie instead of yet another trespasser.

I seem to be quite the popular one lately,” he spoke to the two cloaked men. No doubt they were more aware of the general plan as Bastiick was clearly the victim of either some potion or spell and only happily rattled off something about keepers. “Now what do you want and where’s my niece?”

Silence followed, except for grunts and a slight creaking from the rafters as the hapless minions tried to free themselves from the rope. Bastiick was also now quiet and seemed content to swing about upside down with a foolishly large grin on his face.

Albert lowered the rope slightly on the rafter bearing the fattest member of his hanging intruders until they were within arm’s reach. Grabbing one of their swords that had fallen to the floor during the commotion, he stepped closer to rest the blade against the man’s neck. “This is when you should say something.” It was a rather mute action considering he would likely eat both of them anyway but he was fairly certain neither had much of a clue about that just yet.

We’ve come here on the authority of the Keepers to take the puzzle shard and gain your secrets of how to travel to the other realm.” The man spoke with such authority, it was a wonder if he remembered he was the one captured and hanging upside down.

Albert lowered the sword while raising his brow. “By puzzle shard, I assume you mean that supposedly magical rock. You’re a little late. Someone else already murdered me and ran off with it. As for this other realm, I don’t have the foggiest clue what you’re talking about.”

Your darling niece told us your family is from another world.” The man took a moment to indulge another failed attempt of freeing himself before continuing. “Surely you must know something about it.” He paused again, this time frozen with confusion. “Did you say someone already murdered you?”

Um, Arden-” the skinnier and more observant henchman clamped his mouth shut at Albert’s amused side glance.

Answer my question first.” Albert returned his attention to man hanging in front of him. “Where is my niece?”

She’s safe enough, being held at the Keepers’ castle,” Arden replied dryly. “Soon, they will give her the choice of whether or not to follow them. If she chooses correctly, she’ll remain safe.”

I’m surprised they didn’t just make that choice for her like they did this poor lad.” Albert swung an arm toward Bastiick, still lost in his own little world of contentment.

She’s resistant to their spell,” said Arden. “But the Keepers will eventually rule every living thing in the land.”

Albert shrugged. “Guess that means I don’t have to worry about them much then.”

Arden chuckled and sneered back. “Did you not hear what I just said? The Keepers are powerful magicians, more powerful than anything you could ever-”

Both the man’s arrogance and voice seemed to become lost in a single gulp of air as he became fixated on something under him. Albert stared at the man, utterly perplexed until he looked down and saw his pinky finger lying in the floor.

Oh blast it all!” Albert inspected his right hand, the one he slung in Bastiick’s direction just a moment ago, and found it did indeed only bare four digits now. “Serves me right for trying to used these rigid things too much while working on that project earlier.” He kicked the stray finger across the floor. “At least I can do without that one.”

You just lost your finger!” Arden pointed at Albert as though he’d done it to personally offend him. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

Well it probably would if I was still alive.” Albert crossed his arms. “And I’ve suffered worse enough wounds that I should be dead but I believe your precious Keepers and their magic decided otherwise.”

Arden reeled his hand back. “But you can’t be a zombie. You’re thinking and carrying on a conversation.”

That I am.” Albert agreed. “And I’m also a zombie.”

But you-” Arden seemed to be trying to climb his way up the rope he was tied to now, “-you don’t eat people like other zombies, do you?”

Albert casually strolled over to lower the man’s rope a bit more. “Only people who intrude upon my home with intent to rob or murder me.”

Oh no, no, you misunderstand!” Arden’s companion squealed out. “We weren’t trying to intrude!”

Albert lowered his rope down a little as well. “And yet you somehow succeeded. Amazing.”

What Nicolai means is we had no intention of harming anyone.” Arden shot his comrade a look. “We were going to simply ask if you happened to know anything about the other realm and would interested in selling the puzzle shard.”

Ah, I see,” said Albert with mock understanding. He turned to the only person hanging about and not hugging themselves in fear at the moment. “Bastiick, my friend, did these good fellows let you in at all on what their plans were for this visit?”

Oh sure! Break into the house, steal the shard, kill the girl’s uncle!” Bastiick’s gleeful desire to provide information proved to have no regard for frantically shaking upside down heads. “Go back to Keepers and help Keepers rule the world!”

Thank you, Bastiick, very good.” Albert spoke to him with the approval a teacher might give their prized student. And as is usually the case with teacher’s pets, the rest of the class was none too happy.

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 15.3

How did you-” Sylvia pointed at the hole and shovel, finding the rest of her question lost in shock over the absurdity of this near rescue.

Turns out there are benefits to being a stinky, walking corpse.” Seth shook his shovel triumphantly in the air. “I scared away one of the guards outside just by walking up and making moaning noises. Not sure why the fellow had a shovel in hand but he dropped it rather quick when he saw me.” He tossed his digging implement next to the hole. “And there’s benefits to the combination of not having to sleep and being persistent as well. It took me all night but I knew I’d make it to you guys eventually!” Seth took another visual tour of the room. “So where are we and where’s everyone else?”

As far as I know, this is the closest thing the Keepers have to a dungeon.” Sylvia finally took a few steps away from being a protective barrier against danger for the children. “Bastiick was put into a trance like Arthur and is off leading a gang of guards to Uncle Albert’s house. V and Deigen were still in birdcages last time I saw them.”

Seth raised a brow. “Birdcages?”

Never mind.” Sylvia waved a hand, deciding it best not to try to explain things she didn’t fully understand herself. “They’re in another room.”

Why would the Keepers want Bastiick to take them back to your uncle’s? Don’t they already have the stone fragment they wanted from him?”

Sylvia found herself matching the zombie’s confused expression. “They’re interested in the possibly of my family being from another world. Why would they have the fragment?”

Well these Keeper people are looking for all the pieces of the so-called puzzle right? And the Caleb guy who murdered your uncle had a friend who ran off with the fragment.” Seth shrugged. “I kinda figured the mystery friend must be one of the Keepers.” He paused, considering. “But then that just means there’s more than one group of crazy people trying to put this puzzle together.”

Great, that’s what we need.” Sylvia groaned, rolling her eyes. She lowered them with a frown. “I hope the guards don’t harm Uncle Albert.”

Sylvia, he’s already dead and turned into a zombie.” Seth flung his arms up. “The worst that could happen has been done.” A strange grin crept up his face. “By the way, did Bastiick or any of you bother mentioning to the guards about your uncle’s present state?”

She received the zombie’s amusement with crossed arms, already knowing what he was thinking; she admittedly had the same thought roughly an hour ago. “No.”

Won’t they be surprised! I think your uncle will be just fine.” Seth snickered. “A little full maybe.”

Seth!” Sylvia’s arms moved down to place both hands on her hips. “He has appetite suppressants, he’s not going eat anyone.”

Well, the only one way to find out is get ourselves out of this place first.” Seth motioned toward the hole. “That leads to the backside of the castle we’re in. I suppose us and the children could slide down there and escape but that won’t help our vampire friends any. And I don’t think my digging will be successful a second time, the guards might actually gain enough courage to stop us.” He shuffled his stiff body toward the metal door. “Is this the only way out?”

Yes, and of course it was locked shut as soon as the Keepers tossed us in here.”

Seth shifted his eyes toward Sylvia while nodding at the door. “And I don’t suppose you’ve tried any of your little magic tricks yet?”

Sylvia groaned again, glad Seth had not witnessed the blunder of landing herself in the room’s closet. “Not successfully.”

Seth took a few more steps closer toward the door until he was standing directly in front of it. “Then we’ll have to figure out a way to open it.”

As if on cue, a load clank echoed throughout the room as the door’s lock became undone. On the other side stood three guards Sylvia did not recognize from before. The trio appeared quite bewildered at their discovery of the room’s unexpected guest.

Ah well-” Seth gave a partial bow to the guards, “-that was easy. Many thanks my friends.”

Seth’s new friends did not stand around long enough to say anything back; all three let out girlish yelps just before fleeing away, one of them yelling “Zombie!” down the hall.

Observant people these Keeper guards.” Seth motioned toward the open door. “I’m thinking we probably don’t have a lot of time on our hands so let’s get a move on.”

No!” Megan stamped her foot, pouting at the zombie. “The Keepers came to get us and you made them run away! Now we have to wait for them to come back!”

Sylvia bent down eye level with the spellbound children. “I don’t think the Keepers are very nice people. We need to get out of here.”

Arthur crossed his arms. “We’re not going!”

Let me guess.” Seth stumbled over to stand next to Sylvia. “They’re both in that little trance that makes them think the Keepers are great aren’t they?”

Yeah, but we can’t leave them here.” Sylvia scooted closer to them, cooing her words out. “You guys, the Keepers put a spell on you to make you think you like them. They’re very dangerous. Seth and I want to help you but you have to come with us.”

No!” the children yelled in unison, both looking like they were on the verge of having a tantrum. “We’re staying here!”

Seth gave Sylvia a pat on the shoulder. “Um, nice try, but you’re not going to be able to reason with them. Until we figure out a way to knock that spell out, we’ll have to stick with a more basic approach.”

Sylvia shrugged. “Like what?”

Well, like this.” Seth raised both arms up to his shoulders and made running charge toward the children. “Graaagggghh!”

Megan and Arthur squealed, clutching each other for safety as they raced away from him. Sylvia remained in her squatting position while he chased them in a circle around her and in the direction of the door.

Graaggh! Graaggh!” Seth flailed his arms every direction for added effect but this only managed to make him lose balance and fall over. The children stopped just a few steps away from the doorway, leaning in to peer at the zombie sprawled out on the floor. Within seconds however, Seth half-hopped and half stumbled back up, stretching his arms out and running toward them again. “Graaagggghhh!”

Megan let out another shriek, grabbing Arthur and pulling him along as they bolted through the door. Seth continued the chase even after the children started running down the hall.

Graaggh! Graaggh!” Seth paused in the doorway, turning halfway around. “Sylvia, are you coming or not? Let’s go already!” He continued wobbling through the door. “Graaggh!”

Sylvia stood and let out a long sigh. Not only had she failed miserably at saving the day with her knowledge of magic but she hadn’t even been able to coax the children out of the room by herself. Obmuj climbed up her cloak and took up residency on her right shoulder while she slowly marched behind the growling zombie and screaming children. “Maybe V and Deigen were right, Obmuj,” she muttered more to herself than the monkey. “I really am boring and ordinary.”

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 15.2

Sylvia, come play hopscotch with us!” cheered Megan as she and Arthur traced a play area onto the floor with their fingers. “It will help pass time until the Keepers come to get us!”

No thanks.” Sylvia remained squatted on the box. “I think I’ll pass the time by working on a way to get out of here.”

Arthur tossed a pebble across the crude squares and numbers, giving her a puzzled look before hopping across to his mark. “But then the Keepers won’t be able to find you.”

That’s the idea.” Sylvia gave Obmuj a scratch behind the ear while trying to concentrate on all the spells she’d managed to vaguely memorize over the years. Surely she could conjure some way for her and the children to escape if she spoke the right one. Closing her eyes, she confidently began chanting. “Out of this room and into another space, out of this room I journey to a different place.”

Sylvia was shocked to find it still dark when she opened her eyes. She stretched her hands out and quickly rubbed against stone and a wooden plank in front of her. The wooden plank had what felt like a door handle near the left edge. She swallowed hard, cautiously turning the handle it to see what lay on the other side of the door. Aggravation quickly replaced amazement as she found herself looking out into the room she’d been in before, with the children still playing hopscotch and Obmuj looking back at her curiously. Sylvia groaned and slammed the wooden door behind her, sulking back to the box. The only thing her botched spell managed to do was help her locate a closet she hadn’t noticed before.

As she sat feeling insignificant and sorry for herself, Sylvia also stared down at floor. This turned out to be fortuitous as it helped her to quickly become aware that the middle square of the hopscotch game was moving. Or rather, the square itself wasn’t moving but the packed down dirt it laid on top of certainly was.

Megan, Authur, get away from there!” Sylvia ran over and scooted the children away from their game. Obmuj hopped up and down on the box, screeching as the floor gave way to becoming a hole that grew larger in harmony with strange scratching sounds underneath. Sylvia’s eyes shifted from wide-eyed fear to confused recognition; was that a shovel scrapping against the ground? Her suspicions were confirmed when the tale-tale flat metal plane tossed a mound of dirt out of the hole, now large enough for a man to poke their head through. And one did – a very over-dead one Sylvia knew.

Seth?” She stared at the zombie easing himself out of the hole.

Seth, for his part, seemed equally perplexed as he surveyed his new surroundings. “Great, just great. This isn’t the room I thought I’d end up in at all!” Finally clearing the hole and taking stock of the room’s inhabitants, he waved at the small huddle. “Oh hello, Sylvia! I may have overshot my mark but looks like I found you anyway!”

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 13.2

Sylvia hopped off her mule and rushed to Megan’s side, finding her unconscious. There appeared to be a growing number of unusually large dragonflies as four more claimed a home on nearby trees. “Um, Arthur, do you know anything about these?”

A second ‘ping’ took the boy down before he could answer while a third unfortunately affected Sylvia as well.

We’re surrounded by these things, how are we supposed to fight them?” yelled Bastiick, raising his sword to take down the dragonfly closest to him. A ‘ping’ stopped him before making it halfway there.

It’s alright,” Deigen assured the collapsing body while hopping off his horse to continue the attack. “V and I are vampires, we have supernatural strength and endurance. A few bugs spitting out darts won’t affect us.” Five ‘pings’ later, he rocked back and forth, speaking out to no one in particular. “Never mind, we are affected. It apparently just takes more darts.”

V watched gape-mouthed as his comrade and the horse next to him crashed down. He ran over to Sylvia, trying to duck away from the flying darts, and placed his sword just under her nose. “She’s still breathing,” he yelled out with relief, holding the fogged blade up as proof. “They’re all just sleeping.”

Why didn’t you check her pulse rather than risk cutting her nose off?” asked Seth, glancing down at his left forearm after a ‘ping’ was delivered to him.

What’s a pulse? Ah!” V shot his arm back down after three ‘pings’ marked him just over the elbow.

Living things have a pulse, it has something to do with the heart beating. Sylvia’s uncle rattled off about things like that while the rest of you who can actually sleep were dreaming.” Seth pulled what looked like a glass needle from his forearm. “Great, like I need more wounds that won’t heal.”

Seth-” V waved his other hand toward him while teetering forward, “-you’re not affected!”

Looks like I’m not,” agreed the zombie with surprise. He stepped over as V fell face down in front of him. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He rolled him on his back just in case vampires needed to breath and looked over at Sylvia’s monkey, huddled down in a pile of leaves. “Well, Obmuj, it looks like it’s just you and me now. Glad to know I’m not alone though.”

The monkey screeched at the darts still shooting around them and attempted to jump up into a nearby tree. A moment later, Obmuj took a nose dive back into the pile of leaves.

Seth let out a long groan while looking over the six people sprawled out around him. “I hate magic. I really hate magic.”

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Once Upon a Time – Chap. 12.2

And who exactly are these Keepers?” asked Bastiick.

The Keepers are our rulers.” The boy repeated ominously. “They’ll rule everyone and everything.”

That’s a mighty big challenge for the Keepers to undertake.” V rose up to stand his full height. “But some of us already have a queen and many people these days prefer not to hold allegiance to royalty. Is that what your Keepers seek to be, kings and queens?”

The boy continued looking insulted by his questions. “The Keepers will destroy your kings and queens.” He stood straighter, puffing out his chest. “The Keepers are our rulers. They’ll rule everyone and everything.”

Yes, I believe you told us that already,” said Seth. He looked at the girl while nodding at the child intent on proclaiming world domination. “Your brother seems a little single-minded.”

He’s not my brother, he’s my cousin.” The girl shook her head. “And it’s not his fault. One of the Keepers put him and everyone else under a spell.” She cast an annoyed glance at the boy. “After that, no one in the village would shut up about how wonderful they are.”

A spell?” Sylvia gasped. “Did a group of magicians put a spell on everyone in your village? I think that’s what happened to the people in mine.”

The girl shrugged. “Well, I guess they must be magicians but they didn’t call themselves that. At first there were just three of them. They sang a song that made everyone want to do whatever they said.” She rose her chin up proudly. “I could tell they were up to no good and covered my ears until I knew they were done singing.” She flopped a hand toward her cousin. “Arthur didn’t believe me when I told him he shouldn’t listen to it and he ended up under the spell too.”

So your mesmerized cousin’s name is Arthur.” Deigen gave a partial bow toward her. “And yours, little miss?”

The girl crossed his arms. “Mother always told me not to give my name to strangers.”

Wise advice indeed,” V agreed. “Well I’m, Vandalarius, which you may shorten to one letter as everyone seems wont to do. Also we have Deigenhardus, content to be called Deigen. Easier to remember and pronounce are our friends Sylvia and Seth. And the gentleman who retrieved you from the tree is Bastiick.” He pointed at himself and the other members of the group while delivering their names. “And since we’re no longer strangers-” he extended open palms in the girl’s direction.

Megan.” The girl spoke her name as though she still expected providing it to be a bad decision.

Pleasure to meet you dear Megan.” V copied Deigen’s bow and waved his arms at the empty houses surrounding them. “Now these Keepers who visited seem to have taken quite a large following with them. You said there were at first only three? How many more appeared?”

I don’t know.” Megan shrugged. “I suppose there must have been ten or so of them all together. The rest showed up a few hours after everyone was enchanted. Me and Arthur hid in the tree when they commanded all the people to leave.”

I didn’t want to hide!” whined Arthur. He shot a plump finger at Megan. “She made me go up the tree and covered my mouth so none of the Keepers could hear me calling them to come back for us!”

It sounds like your cousin did you a grand favor,” said V. “Though I suppose that’s a little hard to accept when you’re under a spell that would make you think otherwise.”

Can’t you counteract that with the mind control power or whatever it is you used on the tavern keeper?” asked Sylvia, pushing the boy toward him.

Well, let’s see.” V leaned toward Arthur, staring into his eyes. “Arthur, you do not think the Keepers should be rulers. You have independent free will and you are freed from their spell.”

The boy blinked twice. “The Keepers are our rulers. They’ll rule everyone and everything.”

V stood straight again, giving Sylvia a resigned shrug of failure. “Looks like the answer to that would be no.”

Sylvia sighed. “Great. Whatever magic the Keepers are using must stronger. The only thing to do now is confront them.”

Seth’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Come again?”

Right.” Deigen hopped back on his horse and glanced down at the children. “I trust the two of you have at least some idea as to where they went?”

Arthur turned on point and began walking away from the group. “This way.”

Deigen nodded. “Good lad.” He directed his horse forward. “Everyone follow the boy.”

Seth maintained his spot under the tree as everyone else began following the children. “I’m not certain this is a such wise plan.”

V paused his stead to turn and face him. “Seth, we need to find the rest of the stones and figure out what happened to Sylvia’s family.”

And our only option is to follow two spellbound kids we know nothing about toward dangerous villains we possess even less knowledge of?” asked the zombie. “Is there really no other way to go about this?”

Only one of the children is spellbound and we at least know their names,” argued V. He gave a tug on his horse’s reins to get it in motion again, calling out over his shoulder, “And there will be danger but that’s no reason to become a coward now.”

Coward? You people are the ones who need to be worried about danger, not me!” shot back Seth as he began hobbling behind. “Somehow I doubt it will be a huge surprise if I’m not the only zombie in this merry little group of ours soon.”

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