Here we are again! Another delay and another part of the story. I expect the next shall finish our little fairy tale, and, as always, would like it to be written and posted soon, but cannot promise as such.
Benjamin slid a seven pound math textbook onto the table and grimaced at it. Twenty-seven homework problems grimaced back. He looked up from where he slouched in an uncomfortable chair as someone stuffed an empty package into the trashcan beside him. It would be so easy to just throw the book away. He laughed quietly too himself, and wondered why he had decided to study in the mail room in the first place.
“Change of scenery,” he muttered to himself, and shook his head. The walls in front of him were plastered with notices and advertisements. The walls behind him were filled with mailboxes. A television stared down at him from one side, informing him of the latest world crisis. Drink and snack machines stood, no doubt bored out of their minds, inviting students to buy exorbitantly priced flavored sugar in bottles and bags.
Benjamin couldn't help but laugh at himself again as his mind began to rebel against the injustice of the college life. He opened his notebook and started writing out the first problem.
His cellphone buzzed in his pocket. He sighed, whispered "works like a charm,” set down his pencil, and dug the phone out of his pocket.
“Hey Benjamin, it's Sheep.”
“Hey man,” Benjamin greeted his other roommate. “What's up?”
“Aw, nothin. I was just calling to see if you had any plans for this evening.”
“I've got a boatload of Calculus, and then a boatload of physics. I'll probably be here in the mail room till pretty late. Sorry. Hey, if and when I wear my brain out, do you have any anime' you wanna watch?”
Sheep suggested a show that Benjamin had heard of, which was unusual, and a good sign for the evening's entertainment.
“That'll be great. I'll give you a call. What are your plans until then?”
“I...don't know,” Sheep replied. “Do you know where Graybeard is?”
“Yeah, he went to some fairy world with Nathanael and Georgie.”
“Why did he do that?”
“They were getting chased by these agent dudes.”
“Well, I've gotta get back to it.”
Benjamin hung up and stared miserably at his Calculus homework.
“I take back everything I said about this building's design. They're being attacked by evil forces. They have locks on the doors. But they don't have walls!” Graybeard fumed as they left Lilliput's office.
Nathanael peered out of the tower through a knothole roughly twice his height in diameter. “At least it helps us see how to get around. I suppose we should go for that bridge;” he pointed, “it looks like it's on this story.”
“Guys, it sounds like we're in some serious danger here.” Georgie was somber. “Are we sure we don't want to find the cabbie and ask him to take us back?”
“Positive,” replied Nathanael. “After all, why waste our only chance at a fairy tale we'll probably ever get?”
“She has a point, Nathanael,” said Graybeard. The two dissenters followed Nathanael to where one of the bridges led from the tower to the ring building. Thick wooden planks suspended by ropes rocked slowly in the breeze. As they started across they heard a sound like a jet engine growing louder overhead. One of the clouds popped like a balloon, revealing an angular, metallic craft hovering above them. The wind from whatever it used to suspend itself kicked up flower petals and tarantulas from the courtyard. Black cords uncoiled from its sides and blacksuits began to slide down them. Most landed in the courtyard.
“Look! Remember the spiders?” Graybeard pointed, and he and Nathanael watched, fascinated, as the insects swarmed toward the blacksuits.
“This is gonna be grose, guys,” warned Georgie.
But as the insects approached, the blacksuits pulled out their wands. Blue flashes lit up the courtyard, and insects flew back, making weird, insect noises as they crumpled up on the ground, miniature lightening bolts tracing their contorted legs. The blacksuits were holding their own when something happened to turn the students' attention away.
A blacksuit slid down his rope onto the bridge in front of them. Whipping out his wand, he started their way.
The students retreated around the corner.
“Maybe the cabbie's still downstairs,” said Georgie hopefully.
“Well, then, here's your chance to be useful,” Nathanael stopped running and stepped into a vacant office.
“What are you doing?” hissed Graybeard as his friend climbed under the desk.
“Hiding,” Nathanael grunted, frowning. He took off his hat and set it on the desk before squeezing down underneath it. “He'll follow you downstairs, and I'll be able to get across the bridge once he's passed. If you decide to help, meet up with me somewhere in the ring building. Now go; I can hear him coming.”
Graybeard and Georgie tumbled into the spacious antechamber and hesitantly approached the fairy Doris, still at her desk in the center of the room.
Before they could get up enough courage to speak, the secretary's gaze popped from her computer to drill into them. “What can I do for yas?”
“Yes, excuse me, we were wondering where the cabbie had gotten to?” inquired Graybeard as politely as panic would allow.
“Your guide went back to the transit sector of the ring building. Go out that door, across the lawn, second door on your right, you can't miss it.”
“There were these, er, large arachnids out there before, and some rather malevolent-looking men in black suits,” Graybeard tried to explain.
“Here, take these visitor badges. None of the ring monsters will pay any attention to you so long as you have those on. For the blacksuits, you'll have to speak to grounds; would you like their extension?”
“Well, there was a bit of a fight going on...” Graybeard said hesitantly.
The fairy sighed and leaned forward over her desk.
“Look, yous guys, I'm real sorry about the whole unsurmountable odds mo-teef, but it's there all the same. Youd'as better just get across quick, or I'll be the innocent bystander who gets killed to show how serious things are!
“Will you be safe?” asked Graybeard.
“Aw, sure. I've got training in self-defense magic with a concentration in vaporization.” she smiled and laced her fingers under her chin. “Good luck!”
“You all right?” Graybeard inquired of Georgie as they started across the lawn outside, pinning on their visitor badges.
Georgie snickered. “Sure, yeah, let's just hurry, I don't like spiders or creepy guys in sunglasses.”
Nathanael puffed for breath and adjusted his hat, crouching at the far end of the bridge after sprinting across. He peeked through the doorway and moved slowly forward until he came to the end of the floor. Beneath him was a massive room, filled with multi-story racks, catwalks, and the strangest assortment of magical objects he had ever heard of, much less seen. Thousands of items of clothing of all types and eras hung down from metal bars, labels sticking out here and there. Crates marked “treasure,” “m-food,” and “m-drink” were stacked twenty high along the walls. Construction materials filled shelves. Swords and other melee weapons lay scattered about tables. Chemical storage containers were stacked just below him, labeled “fireballs,” “lightening bolts,” and “m-cures,” -- “handle with care.” Voices and the far-away sounds of machinery and animals echoed back and forth from the walls. What little of the building interior he could see beneath its contents was skillfully carved or engraved.
Nathanael clattered down a narrow set of stairs into the middle of the room, running his hands over the swirling metal railing that drew pictures of animals and fairy creatures, and wishing that “all-purpose invulnerability” came in smaller containers so he could take some with him.
He had just reached the ground floor when he heard footsteps behind and above him. He slid up against a box labeled “worst nighmares,” and tried to ignore the growls and rustles from inside as he watched two blacksuits step out on the platform he had only recently vacated.
The box of worst nightmares picked that particular moment to give a savage jolt, throwing Booth out into the open. The blacksuits spotted him and started down the stairs as Booth took off at a run, deeper into the building, looking for any signs that could direct him to the Ringmaker.
Despite the sounds of machinery and people, the warehouse seemed deserted to Nathanael, with the notable exception of his pursuers. He reeled slightly as he turned down what he had thought to be a narrow aisle of vaulting shelves, stunned to see aisles shooting off in every possible direction, up, down, and diagonally. He bumped into something he could not see, and a huge mirror fell, shattering on the engraved concrete floor with an echoing crash.
“Ah!” he said, noting the label “m-mirror, inhabited by spirit of ancient Arab princess.” “My apologies, madam.”
“What have you done!” cried a girl's voice, with almost as much annoyance as horror, “Indeed, sir, even be you handsome as the gods and as fleet as the eagle, may they smite you with all the..all the...oh I hope they put you in one of these forever! Ahahaha!” she laughed, but Nathanael was already gone.
Knowing now what he was looking at, he focused on the one aisle that ran straight ahead, and, ignoring the reflections from what must be hundreds of magic mirrors, sprinted to the end of it. Looking back, he saw the blacksuits just turning the corner, skidding on the broken glass.
He started to jog again, breathing heavily now and muttering about using the bicycle in the gym more often. He darted down a few shorter aisles, hoping to loose his pursuers in a maze of m-animal crates. Then, joy of joys, he rounded a corner and came face to face with a large pillar in the middle of his path. Upon the pillar was a plastic sign illustrating the layout of the entire ring building.
“Ringmaker, Ringmaker...” Nathanael ran his fingers over the map, “ah!” He jabbed at a blue dot on the top of the ring that bore the appropriate title. “Now where am I...” he found himself, a small hat-shaped symbol about thirty degrees clockwise from the Ringmaker's. “Not too far!” he congratulated himself, but then, moving rapidly towards his symbol on the map, he saw two black dots.
“Dash it all!” But the worst was yet to come. Even as he was about to leave the map behind, he saw two more symbols, which he knew must be his two friends, on the far side of the ring. Even as he watched, he saw black dots moving to surround them.
Georgie ran back from the doorway to help Graybeard strip the long cardboard box off a wizard's staff.
“They're coming. Do you think you can make it work?” she asked, as her friend held up the staff and brushed off the last of the packing peanuts.
“I hope so. All those years of Dungeons and Dragons, you know. Better get behind the counter, unless you want to have a shot at it.”
“Oh, you'll do wonderfully!" Georgie reassured. "Can you believe they have a returns office in a fairy world?” she laughed from behind Graybeard, as he turned to face the door. The footsteps of several blacksuits approached slowly from outside.
“Now that I'm trapped inside it, yes,” Graybeard barked back, and tried to assume a wizard's stance.
“You know...” Georgie mused behind him, as shadows darkened the doorway, “...I wonder why that staff was in here in the first place.”
“Oh, no!” Graybeard gasped, even as two blacksuits turned the corner.
They were perhaps five feet from him as they stood in the doorway, and their wands were at the ready. Even as Graybeard flexed his hands on the staff and searched for some word of power, they snapped the wands forward sharply, bolts of blue lightening lancing out.
“Aaaaaaaaa-bracadabra!” Graybeard half yelled, half encanted. The staff made a disappointing “whiff” sound.
“Eep!” Georgie protested, as she fell eight feet to the ceiling. The blacksuits grunted in deep voices as they too plummeted to the roof, crushing hand-crafted fluorescent light fixtures.
Graybeard stood frozen on the floor, not even daring to look up, his eyes fixed on the doorway, where lightening bolts had gouged into the frame and wall.
“Gravity and polarity reversal, with full caster protection. Wow.” Graybeard's lips slowly turned up in a broad smile, and his eyes turned the same direction to observe the blacksuits, just getting to their feet on the ceiling.
“Let's see now...dematerialize?” Graybeard thrust his staff upward experimentally. The staff said “Zuzuzuzu” and the metal returns desk, still bolted firmly to the floor behind him, burst into purple flames.
The blacksuits looked down (up for them) at Graybeard, smirked, and turned their gaze to Georgie, who was untangling herself from a pile of packing peanuts where boxes of returns from behind the desk had fallen and burst open on the ceiling.
“Petrify!” Graybeard suggested to the staff. It chose instead to mutter “Wuuowww,” and cause a veritable thicket of fescue grass to sprout from the floor.
One of the blacksuits chuckled as he pointed his wand at Georgie, “abracadabra,” he mocked.
Georgie wound up and hurled an ancient-looking jar in the blacksuit's face.
Whatever was in the jar, it certainly belonged in the defectives box from which Georgie taken it. The blacksuit transformed into a shockingly fat bullfrog and fell into a deep sleep. Georgie couldn't help giggling at the absurd little creature, though she turned red trying to stifle it.
Georgie dug through the peanuts, found another unbroken jar, and flung it in at the other blacksuit. It shattered, drenching the blacksuit in a strange-smelling liquid.
The blacksuit hesitated, grimacing at his snoozing compatriot, to wipe from his face the sweet smelling liquid that had burst out of the jar, but failed to turn into anything less menacing.
Two more blacksuits burst through the door at that moment, and the gravity reversal spell had no affect on the new arrivals.
While Georgie tried desperately to find another unbroken jar, Graybeard retreated to the desk, purple flames heating his back, and prepared to risk trying to cast a meteor storm.
"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess." -Martin Luther