The Story (and links to corresponding reviews)
Part 3: The Old Goat Adventure
Makhabesh grabbed an ordinary sack and started stuffing food inside. "Why not--" A knock at the door froze Quin and Makhabesh in place. Quin heaved a sigh and went to the door. Outside, an old man with a stringy little beard hunched over his cane. Makhabesh thought he looked very much like an old goat.
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"Sir!" Quin said, straightening his spine. The old man cleared his throat. "Wizard Quin, sphinx Makhabesh, you are summoned to Mount Ferovere, to the Wizards' Palace. You are to appear before the High Wizard himself. You are to leave at once! Primus awaits at the keep to open a portal to Norvelt." Quin gaped. "Who's the old goat?" Makhabesh whispered.
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"He's the Keep Steward," Quin whispered back. "He serves the High Wizard." Quin stuffed the food bag into his pack, then he and Makhabesh followed the old man toward the keep. "So, where's this Norvelt?" "It's the nearest portal to the palace." Makhabesh jumped up onto Quin's shoulder. "What's this High Wizard want with us?" Quin shrugged. "Ow!" "You shouldn't shrug with a sphinx on your shoulder."
129 Sailor Shikiori Chushu
As the portal closed behind them, Quin glanced around quickly, comparing what he saw to accounts he'd read as an apprentice. Ahead of them, a trail curved uphill. Elsewhere, trees formed a dense forest. "Why not send us straight to this palace?" Makhabesh asked. "The palace has magical protections against portaling too close."
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Makhabesh launched himself from Quin's shoulder. "Ow!" Once above the trees, he circled, and saw nothing but forest, the trail, and a walled city in the distance. He returned and landed again on Quin's shoulder. "I'm going to need to buy a leather jacket," Quin muttered. "What is it with wizards and walls?" Makhabesh asked.
131 Sailor Shikiori Yonaga
Halfway to the first curve of the trail, Quin turned into the forest. "I thought we were supposed to go straight to the palace," Makhabesh said. "Exactly. The path curves." Quin grinned. Makhabesh cocked an eyebrow. "When I was an apprentice, I spent a lot of time in the library. Turns out, the best way to the palace is a straight line. There are magical herbs and such in the forest - ingredients for things like ink."
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While Quin collected a plant with jagged purple leaves, Makhabesh flew ahead until he came across a giant red punching bag hung from a tree limb. He landed on top, puzzling and waiting. When Quin finally appeared, his face contorted through surprise to fear. "Look out!" he yelled. Before Makhabesh could move, something smashed into the bag from behind him, sending him reeling.
133 Diamine Purple Rain
Makhabesh barely managed to get his wings working before he hit the ground. He soared up. A smoke screen puffed into existence and Quin took off running on one side of it. On the other side, a giant black goat with curly horns snorted and smashed into the punching bag again. Makhabesh dove after Quin.
134 Diamine Registrars Ink
"What was that?" Makhabesh asked when he caught up with Quin. "One of the dangers of the forest," Quin said. "They put up the punching bag to distract it from attacking travelers." Makhabesh couldn't figure out how to answer that. "Fortunately, that one wasn't magical, or it could have been much worse." "And you couldn't be bothered to warn me about magic goats!?"
135 Diamine Deep Dark Blue
"So, what else do we need to worry about?" Makhabesh asked. "I'd tell you to avoid stepping on mushrooms, but all you do is ride on my shoulder." Makhabesh ignored that. "What happens if we step on a mushroom." "Depends on whether it's sentient. The sentient ones are all connected underground, and will track you and mob you as soon as they get the chance." And he wonders why I ride on his shoulder.
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"Are you sure that's not sentient?" Makhabesh asked as Quin reached toward a mushroom. "Positive," Quin said. "The sentient ones all have spots or stripes. These green ones are good for several potions, mostly for healing." Makhabesh watched carefully. Quin had spent the past hour telling about magic bugs, animals, and sentient plants. The sooner they reached the palace, the better.
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"Wizard Quin and sphinx Makhabesh," Quin told the guard at the city gate. "We've been summoned to the palace." "They've been waiting," the guard replied, and ushered them into a horse-drawn carriage. As soon as the door closed, the carriage accelerated into the city. "Wings are quieter," Makhabesh said, shouting to be heard over the clatter.
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At the palace, a man calling himself the High Wizard's personal aide whisked them away so quickly they barely had time to see anyone or anything. Faster than they knew, they were standing in a room with six other wizards - the aide, and five counselors, each wearing a dark blue robe with a different pattern in gold thread embroidered throughout.
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"Welcome, welcome," the aide began. "Your work in finding Marsell was--" "There's no time for that!" said a wizard with geometric patterns on his robe. "The High Wizard is missing and we need the two of you to find him!" Quin and Makhabesh gaped. "We'll provide the best supplies we can, and an enchanted object for each of you, but we must hurry."
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"Uh," Quin said, "there must be someone more experienced..." "We can't send anyone from here." A wizard with wavy swirls on his robe stepped forward. "For all we know, someone from here is the reason he's missing." "We need outsiders," geometric said. "And after your success in apprehending Marsell, you're the logical choice." Quin and Makhabesh exchanged a glance.
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"Just one enchanted object, huh?" Makhabesh mused. "There's no time to make more," geometric said. The lone wizardess, with leaves and vines on her robe, addressed them: "You should pick complementary enchantments. But first, Wizard Quin must choose a new staff from the Staff Grove." Quin's eyes went wide.
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Staffs from the Staff Grove were the most powerful ones a wizard could have. Magical trees of every kind grew in the Grove. "We'll do it!" Quin said. Makhabesh whispered, "Are you insane? This smells like politics." Quin turned away from the others and whispered back, "For a staff from the Grove, I'd track down a dozen Marsells." "OK, but I get to pick the first enchantment." "Done."
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Quin wandered breathless through the Grove, gaping at all the magical trees. The wizardess in the leafy robe had explained that it was best to let the staff choose him. So he wandered. After nearly an hour, he thought he heard his name whispered on the wind, and turned to follow the sound. If that's Makhabesh, I'm going to be really disappointed.
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The geometric wizard had explained that it was best to enchant an object with which Makhabesh was already familiar, so he'd agreed to let them enchant his spider pendant. He flipped through a book of enchantments: healing, speed, a shield against magical attacks, another against physical attacks, the ability to entrance enemies.... I want them all!
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Quin stared at the ironwood tree that had called him. Bark so dark it looked black contrasted with leaves so white they seemed to emit light. At the base of each leaf, a small 3-petal flower grew, its white petals streaked with green, blue, and dark brown. "Quin, son of Omira by Aithen..." Quin's jaw dropped as the tree named his parents. "...come, receive the staff I have made for you."
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The staff protruded from the tree's trunk, held only by its tip. "Take this staff made from root and branch," the tree continued, "with strength and wisdom drawn from her who knows all who live upon her sphere." The branch and root entwined from the base to merge into a smooth, round handhold, then twined again to the top, where they split into tendrils holding a crystal sphere streaked like the tree's flowers.
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Quin wrapped his hand around the grip and felt it form to his hand as the staff came free of the tree. "Hold the staff in both hands and plant it in the ground while speaking the word 'shield' and it will shield you and those near you from attack," the tree said. "Cast your spells through its sphere and they will be strengthened. Learn its name and it will reveal the wisdom of the earth."
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When Quin returned to the palace, Makhabesh paced at the leafy wizardess' feet. Her face paled for a moment. "You have received a rare gift." Quin beamed as he explained the staff's powers. Makhabesh jumped up onto his shoulder. "Yeah, yeah, nice stick. Let's pick enchantments!"
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They practically flew through the rest of their time at the palace: enchantments were completed; the five counselor-wizards tried again, and failed, to scry the High Wizard's location; and they laded Quin and Makhabesh with food, water, and magical supplies - including a pouch-size infini-pack for Makhabesh, complete with mini notebook and mini pen with magical ink; Quin got his pen and notebook back, with extra ink, and a leather jacket with padded shoulders.
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As they approached the gate through which the High Wizard had departed, geometric handed them a map. "The High Wizard was on his way here," he said, pointing to a spot further up the mountain, "to counsel with Kri Nachi, The Ancient of Goats. If you can find him, you may learn where the High Wizard disappeared to. Keep your wits about you - the goat-wizards can be dangerous!"
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Quin: "Should we have told them what really happened with Marsell?"
M: "Pfff, no." Quin spun his new staff. Makhabesh switched shoulders.
Q: "Yeah, they would've sent us anyway. We've probably been set up to take the blame if we can't find the High Wizard."
M: "That's what I told you. We can always run to Mom for protection." Quin shivered and Makhabesh spread his wings to avoid falling. (He was trying to use his claws less often.)
Q: "Ow! Get your wing out of my face! We should probably come up with a plan."
M: "Yeah, a better plan."
Q: "Right. Only we have no idea what's going to happen next."
M: "You should have gone for the enchantment that lets you see the future."
Q: "Maybe they'll give us a reward when we get back."
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The next day, Makhabesh cocked an eyebrow when Quin began talking to his staff. "Don't worry, staff. I'll take good care of you. You can trust me." "You know that's a stick, right?" "Don't listen to him. He doesn't understand anything. When you're comfortable, you can tell me your name. It'll be our little secret." Makhabesh rolled his eyes.
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"My turn!" Makhabesh said once the fire was laid. Before Quin could beat him to it, he concentrated on the wood and his pendant, and shot a bolt of fire right on target. The wood whooshed into flame, sparks flying. Makhabesh cackled with glee. "That never gets old." "Next time you have to gather the wood," Quin muttered, quickly adding more logs to replace the ones Makhabesh had just turned to ash.
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After several days of talking to his staff failed to yield any revelations, Quin asked Makhabesh, "What sort of name do you suppose a staff would have?" "How would I know that? I've never been on a first-name basis with a staff." He looked away and rolled his eyes. "I don't even know if it's a he or a she or maybe an it. Maybe it's more of a descriptive name: Staff of Earthly Wisdom." He held the staff in front of his face. "Is that your name?"
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"Goat prints!" Makhabesh jumped to the ground. "Goat smells, too," he said and launched into the air. While he circled, Quin followed the prints. "Goats inbound," Makhabesh announced as he landed on Quin's shoulder. "They've got a surprisingly tall tower, complete with stairs and watch-goats. You might want to warm up that stick of yours." Quin continued to follow the goat prints through the trees. By the time he spotted the tower, he also spotted a whole herd of goats racing toward them.
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The herd showed no sign of slowing. Quin took his staff in both hands. "Maaah," bleated the lead goat, and all the others bleated in response. "Shield!" Quin said as he planted his staff. The air seemed to waver around him, as if a thin layer of water surrounded him. The lead goat slammed horns-first into Quin's shield, followed by the second, while all the other goats flowed around him. "Maah, I win!" announced the first goat. "Mi-ine." Quin and Makhabesh exchanged a glance.
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The herd bleated and danced around Quin's shield, some battering their forehooves against it. Quin tried to get their attention: "We come--" A deep voice boomed from the direction of the goat tower: "Ma-ah!" and a man-sized goat stalked toward them on his hind legs. "Ba-ack to the village you ra-ascals!" he ordered. All but the first goat raced away. "Mi-ine," said the first goat. "He's a wizard," the big goat answered. "You cannot have a wizard. This one is for Kri Nachi." The smaller goat stomped away with a departing kick.
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"Thank you," Quin said. "We come in search of the High Wizard." "You'll have to talk to Kri Nachi about that," the big goat answered. "Follow me!" Quin followed as the goat led him past the watch tower and along a narrow trail up the mountain toward an even larger tower. "I don't like this," Makhabesh whispered. "Why?" Quin asked. "Remember the last time you were led into a tower?" Quin hesitated only a moment before following the guard into the tower. They were better prepared this time.
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"Ma-ah. Sphinx," Kri Nachi said, curling his upper lip. "Try to eat one of my herd and I'll roast you with magic!" "I prefer bacon cheeseburgers," Makhabesh answered. "Speaking of which," Quin said, "I brought a gift, most honorable Ancient of Goats." He carefully reached into his pack and pulled out a silver tray, then piled several cheeseburgers on it. "You brought cheeseburgers and didn't tell me?" Makhabesh demanded. Quin ignored him. "In gratitude for any help you might offer in finding our High Wizard."
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As soon as Kri Nachi caught a whiff of the cheeseburgers, he came down from his goat-y throne and chomped a bite out of the top one. "Ma-ah. Mmm. Um nom nom." Quin waited patiently. "We accept your gift," Kri Nachi announced after finishing his first burger. "Your High Wizard requested my help to--" The door smashed open behind them. Hooves clattered. Quin turned his head. "Mi-ine!" The goat who had butted his shield smashed into his behind. Quin stumbled forward. Makhabesh was sent spinning.
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Quin fell to his knees, barely avoiding the remaining burgers. As he spun, Makhabesh saw more of the smaller goats at the door. He flapped like mad to avoid hitting the floor and getting stomped. "Mi-ine!" the smaller goat cried as it crashed into Quin's back, knocking him on his face. "Mi-ine!" it declared as it hopped victoriously on his back. Makhabesh kicked off the floor, and then perched in the rafters. One paw felt for his pendant. "Ra-ascals!" boomed the man-sized guard. Kri Nachi snatched another burger and returned to his throne.
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"Explain yourself, Ricky Cha," Kri Nachi ordered. "Ancient One, they're intruders," the little goat began. "I saw them first. I butted them first. I should get to keep them." Kri Nachi glanced at the stack of cheeseburgers. "We're not intruders," Quin said, pondering how to get the goat off his back without giving offense. "We're visitors; official representatives of the Wizards' Council. I promise any offense was unintended." Kri Nachi glanced from Quin to Makhabesh, then scratched his goaty beard.
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Makhabesh kept one paw on his pendant, but couldn't decide on a target. It wasn't too late to get help from the goats, so he waited, scowling at Kri Nachi and Ricky Cha in turn. "Try a cheeseburger, Ricky Cha," Kri Nachi ordered. After a brief hesitation, the little goat clambered off Quin's back. Quin was on his feet in the next instant, both hands on his staff. "Um nom nom," Ricky Cha said. "You must offer Ricky Cha a gift," Kri Nachi announced.
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"No!" Ricky Cha shouted. "I want a wizard!" Quin started racking his brain, trying to remember what was in his pack. "I accepted the wizard's gift and agreed to help him. You will accept another gift in exchange," Kri Nachi said. Ricky Cha glanced up at Makhabesh, who snarled. "Not him, either," Kri Nachi said. Ricky Cha stomped with all four hooves at once. All eyes turned to Quin.
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From his pack, Quin extracted a cylindrical case about a pace long and a span in diameter. "This is the best I can offer," he lied. "Once the case is open, the enchantment will be activated and it will only last for a year. The object will only work for a few hours per day, and only in daylight. It must be rolled up and put back into the case overnight to recover energy." "What is it?" Ricky Cha demanded. "It's a carpet. That will fly. Slowly. Close to the ground--" "Done!" Ricky Cha declared, grabbing the case and racing from the tower with his friends close behind.
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"Your high wizard sought for a Muirdoor," Kri Nachi said. "Get them a map," he instructed the guard. Makhabesh swooped down from the rafter to land on Quin's shoulder. "What's a Muirdoor?" "A door to another world," Kri Nachi answered. "He said the wizards had a problem for which this world has no solution." "What problem?" Quin asked, suddenly concerned. "He didn't say, but it must be serious if he was willing to travel into the dark forest." The guard returned and handed them a map. "If I were you, I'd go home and pick a new High Wizard."
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Quin and Makhabesh climbed a narrow trail up the mountain away from the goat village. Once Kri Nachi had provided them with all the information he had about the High Wizard, they couldn't leave fast enough. Quin almost jumped at the sound of a familiar voice behind them. "Only crazy people go that way!" Makhabesh reached for his pendant. Quin turned to find Ricky Cha floating up the trail behind them on his flying carpet. "There's snakes and giant mushrooms and Mad Mara, the Wacky Goat-Witch up there."
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"Thank you for the warning," Quin said, then turned and increased his pace. "Keep an eye on him," he whispered. Makhabesh watched behind them until the goat and his flying carpet could no longer be seen. "Good riddance," he muttered. "Now, got any more cheeseburgers?" "They were veggie burgers. Goats don't eat meat." "You couldn't have mentioned that before?" "Sorry. Maybe you can roast Mad Mara if we run across her." Makhabesh rolled his eyes. "Yeah, sure, along with some 'shrooms."
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By the second day, the forest was so thick they navigated by light orb even at midday. On returning from a flight over the trees, which revealed nothing but trees and the setting sun, Makhabesh said, "Admit it, we're lost." "Nonsense, we're almost there." "You've been saying that for hours." "I'm pretty sure it's just beyond that boulder." "You should have gone left at the stream." "I know how to read a map." "Maybe you should ask the mushrooms if they saw any wizards recently."
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"Sentient mushrooms don't speak our language," Quin answered. "Then how do you know they're sentient?" Quin stopped and looked down at a cluster of mushrooms, each larger than Makhabesh and sporting a variety of brightly-colored patterns. "Huh. I don't know. It's just what I was taught. Anyway, I'm not lost." Quin resumed heading toward the boulder. Makhabesh jumped carefully to the ground and walked toward the mushrooms. "Hi," he began. "I wonder if you've seen another wizard go by here recently, and which way he went?"
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Quin rolled his eyes, then glanced back. "They're not--" He nearly squeaked. The mushrooms leaned in unison toward Makhabesh. "Look out!" Makhabesh leapt into the air. The mushrooms kept leaning. Makhabesh landed on Quin's shoulder. Some of the mushrooms leaned in toward the others. Makhabesh started to laugh. "I told you we were lost!" Quin gaped. The mushrooms formed an arrow. Quin glanced in the direction they pointed. "Could be a trap," he mused. "Pfff. Who'd want to eat a wizard?" Makhabesh returned to the 'shrooms. "Thank you!"
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After several minutes walking in the direction the mushrooms had pointed, Quin and Makhabesh spotted another group of mushrooms. As they neared, this bunch swayed first toward them, then away, indicating a slight course correction. "I don't know about this," Quin whispered. "Pfff." Makhabesh jumped to the ground, trotted over, and thanked the 'shrooms before returning to Quin's shoulder. This pattern repeated for nearly an hour. "There!" Makhabesh shouted.
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"What do you think?" Quin asked. They circled two pines and the door between them. "I think that's where your High Wizard went. That or the 'shrooms are in league with the goats." "But which side did he go through?" "Does it matter?" "It might." "Well, the 'shrooms pointed us to this side, so I guess we should go in here." Quin reached for the door knob. "Ma-a-a-a-a!" Quin nearly jumped out of his skin. He spun. Makhabesh sank his claws into Quin's coat to keep from falling. When he saw what had made the sound, he whispered, "Quick! Open the door!"
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A hideous goat with vines twined through her matted black hair glared at Quin. Makhabesh counted a dozen pendants hanging around her neck. "Through the door! Through the door!" he hissed, grabbing his own pendant. Quin backed into the door, felt for the knob. "Ma-a-a-a-a-a," she cackled. Quin turned the knob. "Death awaits you!" The door sprang open. Quin stumbled backward through the frame. Suddenly he was falling backward in darkness. His fingers brushed the door as he dropped. Makhabesh spread his wings. "Quin!"
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Quin saw the doorway disappear as he plummeted down a cliff face. Makhabesh dove after Quin, seeing him only because his orb of light fell with him. Quin squirmed out of his pack, one arm at a time, the other holding his staff. Makhabesh caught up in an instant. "Hurry," Quin said. "Take pack. Carry it while I get inside!" Makhabesh didn't dare point out that the pack was surely too big. He grabbed the straps and held tight as Quin let go. Surprisingly, the pack seemed to weigh almost nothing. Quin stuffed his staff into the pack, then shouted, "Slow!"
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Makhabesh plunged past Quin. He spread his wings and flapped back. Quin had slowed almost to a stop. Makhabesh tried to get the opening of the pack below Quin's feet. Something whinnied! Out of nowhere, a horse appeared in mid air. It spread a pair of wings and before they knew it, Quin was flying on a winged horse, still under the speed-altering enchantment. The horse began to climb back toward the top of the cliff. Makhabesh flapped after them, holding tightly to Quin's pack.
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By the time the winged horse had carried Quin back to the top of the cliff, the enchantment had ended. Quin dismounted and took his pack from Makhabesh. He couldn't see anything outside his orb's light. "Thank you!" he breathed. "I'm Quin." "Hi, I'm Makhabesh," Makhabesh said as he flew a circle around the horse, then landed on Quin's shoulder. "Call me Peg," the horse replied. "It's a good thing you had that orb and spell, wizard. Otherwise I might not have noticed you in time. You really don't want to encounter the things below."
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Peg continued, "What brings you to this side of the Roodrium?" "Roodrium?" Quin asked. Peg pointed her nose toward the doorway. "Oh," Quin said, finally recognizing the word. "We call it a Muirdoor." "Ah, yes, that's what the last wizard called it." Quin's eyes lit up. "He's why we're here! He's our High Wizard." Peg nodded. "His arrival wasn't so, uh, exciting." She turned and led them from the cliff edge to a cabin. "In the morning, I'll take you to someone who can tell you more. Tonight you can stay here. Lock the doors. Sometimes the things from below climb up."
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The next day Peg led Quin and Makhabesh to a large building labeled "Unique Tours". A door slid open and out stepped a unicorn. "Hi," she said. "I'm Unique." Peg introduced them and explained their quandary. "Oh sure," Unique said, "I remember the older wizard." "Can you tell us where he went?" Quin asked. "I'll do better; I'll take you there." "Uh, I'm not sure we can afford--" "Don't be silly, wizard. We don't need money on this side of the Roodrium - we have magic."
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As they followed Unique from the village, she explained. "Your High Wizard wanted to consult the Oracle Sivad. But Sivad lives at the center of a maze and will only speak to those who can find their way to him. I took your High Wizard to the nearest maze entrance. There's no way to be sure where he is. You'll have to decide whether to wait for him, go in after him, or check the other exits. But we can assume he'll eventually return to the Roodrium." Several hours later, Quin and Makhabesh gaped at the giant block that housed Sivad's maze.
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"Roofed," Makhabesh said after a flight over the giant maze. Unique had returned to her village. Quin frowned. A sound came from somewhere: "Pththt." Quin and Makhabesh glanced at each other. "Was that you?" "No." The sound came again. "Pththt." They looked around. "Pththt." "There!" Quin said, pointing to a small snake just inside the maze entrance. Makhabesh hissed. "Hi!" the snake said, "I'm Ethri." "Nice to meet you Ethri," Quin replied. "Not Ethri, Ethri." The little snake heaved a great sigh. "I have a lithp. It'th E-eth-eth-R-I." "Oh," Quin said, "Essri." The snake nodded enthusiastically.
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"I don't like snakes," Makhabesh said under his breath, "even if they talk." "I'm not a thnake," Essri said. "I'm a thnek." He rose a little taller and puffed out his chest. "What's the difference?" Makhabesh muttered. "We have magic. And we're thmol and cute." He grinned, showing his fangs. "Therpentth are the wortht. Don't trutht them, they're all mean." "What's your magic?" Quin asked. "I can find your friend." "You know where he is?" The snek shook his head. "I thaw him go in. I can find him. That'th my magic - finding."