It has been quite a while since the last installment, for which I am truly sorry, but college is both busy and distracting. Now, however, with the summer come, I intend to update with more of my usual promptness, in other words, at least once a month. To refresh your memories, note
The taxi roared over the top of the hill and down the access road. Everyone looked that way, and the blacksuit menacing Nathanael began turning to face it, but he was not fast enough. The cab ran him down and came to a stop over him, rocking from the sudden stop.
“Look, doc,” the cabbie said as the four students dove inside, “I can't be responsible for your friends who stand in the way...holy moses!” he dropped his stogie as he saw the three other blacksuits. The forth stood to his feet just outside the window, grimaced, and popped his neck. There were tread marks up the front of his suit.
“Time for a little vacation, eh?” smiled Nathanael, as the cabbie gunned the cab away. “I'm glad you were so prompt.”
“When did you use the ring?” asked Graybeard.
“I counted to about three after I rubbed it before he appeared,” said Nathanael nonchalantly.
“How does it always get here so fast?” asked Georgie.
“You waited that long?” Graybeard almost shouted.
“We've got more important things to worry about; the only exit this way is behind Carter, and they keep it blocked off,” groaned Benjamin.
“Well, Graybeard, the timing had to be perfect for him to hit the blacksuit. Cabbie? Cabbie...” said Nathanael politely, leaning forward.
The stogie stopped in mid chew.
“What. Doc.” growled the lips.
“I wonder, is there a place where we'll be safe from those blacksuits?”
“Safer than here. You gotta ask to get there, though.”
“I think he just did,” said Graybeard and Georgie at the same time.
“Whatso funny?” muttered the cabbie. He reached up and whacked the meter.
“Hey!” he growled after a minute, and slammed on the brakes. “What's this? Somebody doesn't really want to go. It don't work unless everybody wants to go.”
“Oh, well,” it was Benjamin, long legs folded up in the middle of the back seat. “I just need to be getting back. I've got tests Monday, you know.”
“Benjamin,” said Graybeard quietly.
“Whatever, doc. Hop out now. Anybody else wanna bail?”
“Where exactly are we going?” asked Georgie.
“The repository of magic rings, doc.”
“Benjamin,” said Graybeard a little louder as his roommate clambered over him and out the door.
“So it's another world?” Georgie pressed.
“Yeah, yeah, now make up your minds already.”
“Benjamin, it's Friday. You have all weekend!” Graybeard remonstrated.
“I'd love to come -- you guys know that -- but I just can't; I've got work to do. I haven't studied for the tests at all yet, and...”
“That's a beautiful speech, bub, now have fun,” the cabbie gunned the cab and sped out of sight into the woods, leaving Benjamin in the dust. There was a brief crashing sound as they passed where two metal poles should have blocked the road, and then the engine roared into the distance. Benjamin sighed and began to trudge uphill towards Carter. It was going to be a long evening.
Even Nathanael buckled his seat belt as they squealed off Jupiter Road onto Scenic Highway.
“I never knew a taxi could do that,” commented Georgie, fighting back panic.
Graybeard just gripped the door handle tightly.
The taxi had jumped over the two poles blocking the road.
“Here we go, yous guys, the repository,” sneered the lips, and the cabbie slapped the meter. The winding road in front of them jerked and uprooted itself from the mountain, taking a new course directly toward the sun. They accelerated, leaving quaint houses and pine trees far below. The road itself seemed to be moving too, adding to their speed. Nathanael leaned back comfortably, but his face was a little pale. Graybeard caught a glimpse of the valley below them, and the vibrations in the cab caused him to accidentally rub his ring. They broke the sound barrier in a shock wave of popcorn, and the world they knew was gone, the sunlight reaching out around them to swallow it.
The cabbie grumbled something about after work traffic and swerved, flashing past objects so quickly the students couldn't see what they were. They were on a multi-lane highway, zipping downhill at breakneck speed. They hurtled underneath a sign:
Before they could catch their breath, they decelerated hard, everyone leaning forward in his or her seat, and swerved off and down an exit ramp. They slammed back into their seats as the taxi came to a complete stop at a little stop sign. The cabbie signaled, “first legal thing he's done, I think,” whispered Graybeard to Nathanael.
Fairy Tale Center: 4 m-miles
Holiday Character and Tooth Fairy Residences: 2 m-miles
Magic Ring Repository: 1 m-miles
And then, another marvel, they watched a knight in shining armor cross the road. When he was directly in front of them he bobbed his head in their direction, feather-crest dipping over his visor, and continued on his way.
“What are m-miles?” asked Georgie.
“They stutter!” snapped the cabbie, and then he guffawed loudly, guiding the taxi down a winding, forested road.
“Oh yeah?” Graybeard and Nathanael tensed in the backseat as Georgie's voice developed an edge. “Look, buddy,” she continued, “I really appreciate you saving us and driving us around and everything, “really,” her voice lightened for just a moment, “I do,”
“But!” she leaned forward in her seat. “You are going to have to shown us some more respect. I mean, you call that being a servant? You're passing performance with flying colors, but your attitude needs a spanking.” She sat back with a huff, and for a while everyone faced straight ahead. The lips worked on the stogie.
“That last part was a little strong, I'm sorry,” Georgie said in a subdued voice.
“d'mention't,” grumbled the cabbie, and there was another period of silence.
“In case yous guys were wondering,” the cabbie roared suddenly, spinning to address the passengers in the back, “m-miles are magic miles. One of yous's cars wouldn't never make it anywhere's,” turning back, he busied himself adjusting his flatcap.
Graybeard and Nathanael smiled in the back seat.
“Here we are, doc! The Ring Center in the Ring Repository.”
“Oh, how well-designed!” smiled Graybeard. They drove through a tunnel in the side of a circular
building, whole tree trunks supporting the floors above them, and into an open court in the middle. In the very center of the ring-shaped court was a massive, gnarled tree trunk. Walkways connected it to the upper stories of the surrounding building, windows peered out of the trunk and some of the branches, and several thin, metal spires rose through the uppermost branches, reaching towards puffy white clouds in a deep blue sky.
“Ring Center, very clever,” agreed Nathanael.
They got out (“watch the killer insects,” warned the cabbie) and tip-toed their way past scorpions and tarantulas to the door. “Lazy repository workers never get around to collectin'm again after they get sent for” he explained, and led them inside.
A gaping hole in the side of the tree trunk admitted the party and the sunlight. Curving stairs carved into the tree led from polished platform to polished platform. The leaves of the tree gave off a green light, and amber glowed a soft red.
“State the nature of your problem, cabbie,” whined a Brooklyn accent, coming from a female fairy in business casual from behind a desk of mossy bark.
“These users needs asylum, Doris, you know that! Blacksuits are out again.”
“I gotta follow pro-to-cal, cabbie; take 'em to the Pretty Seriously Almost in Charge Boss. Third floor, first platform on the...hey, I'm talkin' ta you!” she shouted as the cabbie brushed past her.
“I know where the Boss is!” retorted the cabbie, and led them up the stairs as her voice echoed behind them “You know it's pro-to-cal.”
“What kind of boss again?” inquired Graybeard as they ascended.
“Right above the Sort of in Charge Boss, and right below the Really and Truly Boss – bureaucracy, pah! You'knows?” said the cabbie.
“Oh yes, we have the same model in most of our businesses,” smirked Nathanael.
They reached the top of the stairs, and the cabbie opened a door into an office.
“But...but...” Georgie protested, staring at the door, or, rather, around it. There was a frame for the door, but no walls around the office.
“I think it makes 'em feel important,” the cabbie said in a forced whisper, and left them standing in front of a large desk.
“So good to see you,” said a portly man from behind the desk, and he stood to greet them. He wore a green elf-hat, red suspenders, and had pointy ears, but he must have been at least six feet tall, and almost as wide. The students shook hands with him respectfully, each relieved when they managed to retrieve their hand from the huge fist that swallowed it.
“I'm Lilliput, Lilliput Jones.”
The students introduced themselves.
“Lilliput?” Georgie whispered to Nathanael, “I thought they were the small ones.”
“Perhaps Swift got it wrong; perhaps his parents had a cruel streak.”
But before the two could decide which was more likely, Lilliput interrupted them with a “Well, I'd love to get to know you, but, down to business. I'm in charge of the Magic Ring Repository, or 'MRR'. We here at MRR make sure that magic rings show up in your world in magical ways, and that, more importantly, they always work to the user's satisfaction. We've been having some trouble lately. The Mean and Evil 'Hood ('MEH') has been sending agents after our ring-runners and trying to follow them back in here. You see, MEH is comprised of all the villains who aren't magical at all. The magical villains are actually not so bad; they give us knowledgeable and resourceful good minor characters a reason to exist, thereby keeping the economy going. But anti-magic villains want to harness our magic, industrialize it, and run us out of business. Since the head of the Fair Fairy Business Bureau came down with a case of Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, MEH has taken the opportunity to use some...er...below-board methods. Anyway, this is a big enough problem that we thought maybe if we brought you all in it would cause the plot to progress to a fairy tale ending in which you defeat the blacksuits against all odds, and we reap the benefits. In other words, we were hoping you wouldn't mind being the protagonists.
A lullaby sounded, and Mr. Jones pulled a cell phone from his suspenders pocket, “excuse me.” He answered it.
“Hello, Jones here. Mmmhmm. A tracking device on the taxi? They just dropped through an artificial dimensional vortex? They're about to zip line agents into the Ring Repository? I see. Thanks. Hmm? No, no that won't be necessary, we can handle it, but Al...Al? Yeah, if you happen to pass the bakery tree run by those elves, get me a half dozen double-fudge wafers, ok? Mmmhmm, they're uncommonly good. Yes, I know about the muffin man; I don't like muffins. Yes, I know where he lives...now stop that, stop that right now, Al, I will not play this game.”
He hung up and looked at them, smiling.
“You know, I got a desk job because I was too fat to be a convincing elf – user stereotypes and all. I thought I would never get to be in a real fairy tale. But it looks like I will be after all. The blacksuits are infiltrating the building as we speak. You had better get going and start causing that fairy tale ending. Here's the big clue: Find the Ring-Maker. He'll be somewhere around the ring building. He can tell you which ring to use to defeat the blacksuits.”