Thursday, 1 November 2012

No New Actors for Star Wars Characters - Pass the Lightsaber Instead

NO NEW ACTORS FOR STAR WARS CHARACTERS - PASS THE LIGHTSABER INSTEAD

BY PHILLIP J. BOUCHER

As a young teenager I was fascinated by the movie Star Wars (I still think Han shot first) and was one of those people who camped in line at the theater to be the one of the firsts to see The Empire Strikes Back, and Revenge, oops, Return of the Jedi. (By the way, does anyone but me remember a theater-still from Empire that showed Darth Vader in an all red costume?)

Like most Star Wars fans, Episodes 4, 5, and 6 blew me away. Episodes 1, 2, and 3 were ok, targeted more towards a younger new fan base rather than the old farts like me who grew up on the original trilogy. So it was with both enthusiasm and a "what the hell?" reaction that I had to the announcement that Disney acquired Star Wars and is making a third trilogy with internet talk about who will play Luke, Leia, and Han.

To continue the franchise with those characters is one thing. To do so with other actors replacing Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford is quite another. It is an almost guarantee that if the script starts off from where Jedi ended, with other actors playing the lead characters, the films with not be very successful. We old Star Wars fans are finicky when it comes to our franchise. You can bet that if Hamill, Fisher, and Ford are not Luke, Leia, and Han, then there will be less bums in the theater seats and less money in Disney's collective pockets.

If Walt wants to keep the old fan base happy, he needs to be realistic in the script. It has been almost thirty years since Jedi. Hamill, Fisher, and Ford are all thirty years older. They can play older versions of their younger characters, thirty years after their victory over the Empire. Luke is married, Leia and Han are a couple, and each have a child or two. Han is a farmer, more mellow and calmed down, and C-3PO is his good friend. Luke and Leia are on the Jedi council (yes Leia is a Jedi. She has those Midi-chlorian things in her too. And the kids? You know where I'm going with this.) The Sith are not extinct, and a new leader emerges to conquer the galaxy. Called to help, the three old friends get back together to save the universe (will Chewbacca show up as well? Wouldn't it be sweet if he was now the pilot of the Falcon and Han was his co-pilot?). Yes they are old. They have the force, just not the youth. Enter the kids. They get to swing the lightsabers, shoot the blasters, and run like hell from the enemy. (Hey, maybe I should write and pitch a script for Episode 7.)

The potential is there to please and placate the original fans, not piss them off with new actors, and attract the newer and not-yet fan base. It would be in both Disney's and the franchise's interest to not replace the original actors with new ones and cause a revolt and uproar. To properly continue the series, the characters should pass the torch, or more appropriately, the lightsaber, on to their offspring. It happened in sorts between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Why shouldn't this be the same with the new trilogy? Let the sons or daughters of Skywalker/Solo take over the franchise. It is their destiny.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Responsible Gambling is Everyone's Responsibility

Responsible Gambling is Everyone's Responsibility

by Phillip J. Boucher

Gambling in regulated gaming establishments such as casinos and racetrack slot facilities always seems to draw the ire of critics who are quick to shout out how the gaming industry is turning the ordinary citizen into an addicted gambler without any sense of moral or ethical conscience. Critics are quick to ignore the fact that horse racing, lotteries, and even the coveted and precious Bingo parlours have their share of extreme gambling addicts. Yet it seems these types of gambling and gaming establishments and the problem gamblers who use them are immune from the critics' comments.

Yet no one is forcing anyone to gamble. The simple fact that a casino exists is not fodder for some to say that because it is there it has created the gambling addiction monster. For if the critics were right, then the simple fact of opening a bar would justify the action of stating that it has created the alcoholic. Yet no one is forcing anyone to drink.

Critics of gambling need to realize that gambling addicts are triggered by feelings. The feeling of beating the system. Of beating the odds. Of showing who's the boss, who's in control. So a slot machine is not the only trigger. Bingo can trigger the same feelings and "create" the same addict. Break-open tickets, playing the lottery, or a simple friendly card game can turn the ordinary gambler into a raging addict. So it is important for the critics to note that everyone, including themselves, must practice responsible gambling.

Most operators and regulators of gaming facilities and lottery products have aggressive measures to ensure they are providing Responsible Gaming to their customers. Many use self-exclusion programs for guests, employee training in the recognition of problem gambling indicators, and referral programs for those guests who request help. Some also have outside addiction counselors or referral agencies on-site to deal with those guests in crisis.

These measure go far to help the gambling addict deal with their problem. Dispelling myths about slots is very much a needed addition. Further measures could include the implementation of on-site educational programs given by the slot technical staff with handouts (such as brochures) that explain exactly how slot machines work, how the Random Number Generator operates, and what Payback Percentage really means. Posting on each machine the exact odds for hitting the top award for that machine. The immediate intervention to anyone having a crisis. Just as some jurisdictions make it illegal to serve alcohol to someone who is impaired, it should also be illegal to allow anyone to continue to gamble when they obviously show sings of problem gambling crisis.

However, the gambling addict is also responsible for their own behaviour. Understanding how a machine operates and reading each machine's paytable, realizing that they have a problem in the first place, and availing themselves of the help offered will enable them to get their disease under control. Since there is no one forcing them to go to casinos and no one forcing them to spend their money, it is the gambling addict who is ultimately responsible for their own situation.

But to those critics who time and time again cite casinos as the evil instigator and perpetrator of gambling addiction, you have a responsibility as well. Instead of always criticizing the gaming industry as the sole cause of gambling addiction, start to lobby for more addiction centres and counselors specifically trained in treating gambling addiction. Lobby for better programs put together by regulators and operators that specifically target the triggers as discussed previously. Push for better education towards the dangers of addiction, not the "dangers" of gambling. Do your research before you speak your say. Don't put the blame solely on the gaming industry or solely on the problem gambler, or solely on the government, or solely on the public.

Remember that Responsible Gambling is everyone's responsibility.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Embrace the Manager's Equilateral Triangle

Embrace the Manager's Equilateral Triangle

by Phillip J. Boucher

There seems to be a skewed view about what a manager's actual job functions entail. Directing staff, applying company policies and procedures, and keeping the revenue stream incoming are considered to be at the top of the list. However, the responsibilites and obligations of a manager go far beyond this thinking.

A well-rounded and effective manager is one who embraces the concept of the Manager's, or Managerial, Equilateral Triangle. This position model encompasses the three most important parameters of every single managerial position. This new model is controversial and many managers and businesses may find the concept strange or unusual, but when put into practice, is an effective way to manage company, customer, and employee relations.

The Manager's Equilateral Triangle is based on the geometric equilateral triangle in which all three sides, all three points, and all three angles are exactly the same. One side, point, or angle has no more or less importance than the other two. 

On the one side of the triangle is the manager's loyalty and obligation to the company. They are required to manage policy and procedure, implement change, oversee employees and supervisors under their authority, deal with unusual situations, and generally keep their department running smoothly so the revenue stream is constantly increasing.

The other side of the triangle represents the manager's loyalty and obligation to the customer. Everything the manager does and oversees must be in advocacy of the customer, to ensure adequate stock of products, efficient and effective execution of service, and to provide an exceptional experience for the people who gladly part with their money in return for something that satisfies their needs or wants. 

The third side of the equilateral triangle is the manager's loyalty and obligation to the supervisors and employees under their authority. The manager must ensure that staff have proper training and the right tools and materials for them to do their job effectively. There must be a consistent application of communication between all managers, and information must be consistently delivered to staff. The manager must back up their employees in all aspects of management direction, oversight, and employee performance. The manager must be an advocate for the employee as well, as front line staff are the ones who interact with customers and provide the workforce that actually gets customers to part with their money.

Some companies are still having their managers, or are oblivious to the fact that their management staff are, operating with old-style managerial models, the "I'm the boss and you'll do what I say" style. This style of management is as outdated as dinosaurs and just creates an "us/them" atmosphere that is not good for the company, the managers/staff, or the customer.

Whenever one side of the Manager's Equilateral Triangle falls, the other sides fall as well. When this happens, you will get management/staff adversarial attitudes, with staff following policy and procedure to the letter making managing them extremely difficult. Management response is usually to increase the incidents of disciplinary action and documentation which just infuriates the staff and causes them to rebel even more. This spiral of mutual retaliation is extremely detrimental to business.

It is important that managers always back and advocate for their staff and provide staff with what they need to do their jobs. Managers need to keep staff happy and champion staff moral at all times. With many employees having educational and job related experience that sometimes is much better than what the people who manage them have, the "I'm the boss" management model no longer applies.

As a manager, you are simply a team leader, in charge of other members of the team whose common goal is to keep the company profitable and keep customers happy. Any type of adversarial management practice is detrimental to the common goal. Change your attitude, change your management style, and you will see a better work environment, pleased company executives, happier staff, more satisfied customers, and more money coming into the company coffers, which benefits everyone in the work place.

Remember what you tell staff when decisions are made and you are directed to deliver them: "Change is good!" Embrace the Manager's Equilateral Triangle. Changing the way you manage can change things for the better.
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Website: http://www.phillipjboucher.com

LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/phillipjboucher

This blog may be re-posted both electronically and in print provided it remains unchanged in any way, gives credit to the author and provides a link back to this blog, and also provides a link to the author's website, http://www.phillipjboucher.com

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Scientists Know Squat

 Scientists Know Squat

by Phillip J. Boucher

Scientists, those people who include anyone from cancer researchers to rocket developers to big-wig doctors, are simply regurgitated, educated minions of teaching-scientists, who are the educated minions of their teachers. Scientists are trained in how things are perceived to be and that things cannot exist in another way. They learn the same things that generations of scientists learned before them, albeit also learning new discoveries.

However, these discoveries upon themselves are simply revelations of training they already received. And with this education and regurgitation, the eyes of scientists look down upon us peons over the ever-upturned nose, down upon the peasants and uneducated who have no access to the knowledge these Gods possess. We are to simply accept what they tell us. What they know. What they have been taught. And their minds, through all of this, are as closed as a door to a jail cell.

Here are some examples:

In Mexico and Peru there have been discoveries of strange, giant, and elongated human skulls. Scientists insist, in fact they really demand that we agree, that such skulls are a total, absolute, and finite impossibility. These skulls can not possibly exist and no human or human-like creature ever existed to leave behind skulls such as these. These skulls are either hoaxes, gross deformities of regular old human beings, or are the result of binding the skull in infancy to create these “beautiful” heads in adulthood. Just because these skulls have been found does not mean they really, truly represent what they look like.

“It is fact. We are scientists. We know."

However, they want us to believe, without question, without thinking, without challenging them at all, that giant reptiles used to walk the earth. It must be true. They have the skulls of these creatures to prove it!

“These giant reptiles were living breathing creatures that shook the very ground they walked on. They were real. They left behind their bones to prove it. It is fact. We are scientists. We know."

Giant reptile skulls equal real living animals. Strange human skulls equals no such thing. Really?

And fisherman in the early twentieth century would catch a weird looking fish and tell scientists about it.

"Impossible. You fisherman must be smoking something on your boats. That fish doesn't exist."

"But it looks just like this fish in this book on dinosaurs!"

"Nonsense!" the scientists would say. "That fish has been extinct for over sixty-five million years!"

"Oh yeah?" the fishermen said. "Then what is this?" as they threw down the body of the impossible extinct fish.

At that point scientists were forced, yes forced against their will, to admit that the fish, the coelacanth, was alive and well and living in Earth's waters. Today, not only are there three species of this ancient and supposedly extinct fish, but some city aquariums actually contain some specimens living in their tanks.Really?

Then there's cancer. A hundred years ago a doctor and her team were investigating the possibility that cancer was caused by a virus.

"Heresy!" the medical and scientific communities shouted. And they persecuted this doctor and her team, kicking them out of the medical profession and forcing them to die in poverty and shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Quacks.

Today, there is a vaccine to help prevent cervical cancer, which is caused by the Human Papillomavirus. Recently, the medical and scientific communities have admitted, quietly, shhhhh, that some lung cancers are caused by a virus...the Human Papillomavirus. Gee willikers, could that mean that most if not all cancers are caused by the HPV?

"Impossible!" they say. Really?

Scientists should be very wary about declaring absolutes on many of the things in this world that provoke thought and controversy. As has been shown throughout recent history, they continue to be proven wrong. And how can you trust anyone who is proven wrong over and over again?
_______________________________________

Website: http://www.phillipjboucher.com

LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/phillipjboucher

This blog may be re-posted both electronically and in print provided it remains unchanged in any way, gives credit to the author and provides a link back to this blog, and also provides a link to the author's website, http://www.phillipjboucher.com

Business Card Marketing

Business Card Marketing

by Phillip J. Boucher

Whether you provide a product or service via business-to-business or business-to-consumer channels, advertising, promotion, and marketing are key elements for you to become successful. But even for a sole proprietor, budgetary constraints dictate an effective and cost-efficient marketing program. Yet many businesses, from the solo business operator to multimillion dollar corporations, ignore the least expensive and most effective marketing tool in their possession: the business card.

Although the more professional your business card looks the more interest it may generate, even if you have a basic black on white home made card done on your printer, if they are not circulating out in the public then they are not working for you. Having the cards sitting in the box or not being distributed serves you no good and wastes a powerful marketing product. You need to get your business cards out in front of people as much as possible. Here are some tips on how you can accomplish this.

Keep Cards On You At All Times

Carry your cards on your person every single second of the day. Put them in your pocket or purse, carry them in your wallet or briefcase, and stuff them in your laptop, netbook, or tablet bag. And make sure you have them secured in a business card case. Even a cheap one will keep your cards neat and pristine. Give them out at every opportunity and keep replenishing your stock. Never be without cards.

Hand Them Out To Everyone You Meet

That's right. Everyone. You might be networking at a conference or gathering, or chit-chatting in line with another customer in the grocery store. Don't throw or force the card at them though. Ask them if they have one first before offering yours. If a person asks you your name or what you do for a living, then give them your card as you answer their question. Good judgement and discretion are important here. Never force your card on anyone, but grasp every opportunity to get it into their hands. Just because they may not be a potential customer for you doesn't mean they may not know someone who is.

Leave Your Cards Everywhere You Go!

That's right. Some business experts say that business cards should be handed out selectively. Why? If you hand out your cards to only a few people you think may want them, then you may miss an opportunity for gaining work or a new client. The more people who see or receive your card increases the chance for new business, either directly from them or from someone who they have given your card to. So leave them wherever you go.

Post at least three cards on every single bulletin or cork board you come across, such as at the grocery or variety store, diner, restaurant, library, school. Everywhere. If there is bulletin board with a business card on it, then add yours to the mix.

Leave cards when you pay a restaurant bill or at a checkout. Give your card to the server or cashier and verbally thank them for the good service. These people work hard and get very little appreciation from most customers. Stand out from the crowd and they may pass along your card to their boss.

"Accidentally" drop a couple cards as you get out of your car in the parking lot or while going into a store or business. People are naturally curious and will pick them up just to see what it says.

Some businesses have fishbowls set out to collect business cards in exchange for the chance to win a free meal, product, or service. Always drop your card into one of these. Not only could you win the prize, but you get your card looked at by the business operators which could translate into business for you.

Are you the kind of person who is not easily embarrassed and find that tact sometimes eludes you? Then leave a card on the sink in every public washroom you visit. Even high-level CEO's have to go potty.

Have you borrowed some books from the library? Stick your cards in the books before you return them. Write on the back of the card, "Free Bookmark".

After shopping for groceries or goods, leave your card in the shopping card for the next person to find.

At your local coffee shop you can leave your empty coffee cup on the table, sitting on one of your cards as a coaster.

Include Your Card In Every Snail-Mail Letter or Package You Send

It doesn't matter if it is a letter to your Aunt, a bill payment, a package, or anything else you are sending by post, include a couple of cards with the contents. You may find that your card has made its way to a potential customer.

Write On The Back Of The Card For Value-Added Benefits

Write information on the back of your cards that add value to the cards. Writers and authors should sign their name. Who wouldn't want an autographed business card? You can write discount codes for people to redeem for products or services upon presentation of the card. Or list a direct phone number that potential clients can reach you at.


Supply Every Staff Member With A Personal Business Card

This a radical departure from general business thought, however, providing every single employee with their own business card, right down to the lowest level of pay grade, benefits you and your company in many ways:
  • it increases employee moral and makes them feel appreciated and more positive towards your company
  • providing employees with cards encourages them to hand them out to current and prospective customers as demonstration of personal service
  • you should provide a recognition system when a current or prospective customer mentions they got an employee's card. Give the employee something that will show them you appreciate their marketing effort. Employees would appreciate a free small lunch over a pat on the back anytime
  • outside of work, you never know who your staff know or meet. Their private personal and business network is a great potential for you to tap, and staff business cards help you achieve that goal

Put Your Card On Your Website

Place a good sized image of your card at the bottom of your website. Make sure you write alternate text for the image display such as "Business Card for Greenever Grocery Supply, John Smith, Manager."It is simply another place in which your card will be seen by many people.


Toss Them Out Your Car Window

That's right. But don't litter willy-nilly. Toss a few out the window in strategic areas, such as the parking lots of potential clients or in well-to-do neighborhoods.


The idea here is that during the course of the day, there are many potential situations and opportunities to get your business cards into the hands of those people who either can directly benefit from the products or services you provide, or can, through their own personal network, get your cards into the hands of others who may one day end up as your client.

Business cards may be small but they pack a huge wallop in very inexpensive marketing power. Make sure you tap into the power of your own business cards today.
_______________________________________


Website: http://www.phillipjboucher.com

View Phillip J. Boucher CESsr, CTT, CSS, GMR, VE3BOC's profile on LinkedIn 

  This blog may be re-posted both electronically and in print provided it remains unchanged in any way, gives credit to the author and provides a link back to this blog, and also provides a link to the author's website, http://www.phillipjboucher.com

Monday, 28 May 2012

Progress in Canada's Amateur Radio Service

 Progress in Canada's Amateur Radio Service

by Phillip J. Boucher


With CW (Continuous Wave, or Morse Code) no longer being a requirement to get an Amateur Radio license, restructuring and grandfathering of the requirement to operate on HF (High Frequency), and cheaper radios mean that during the past twenty years more people who may have been or who are interested in pursuing Amateur Radio as a hobby found or will find entry into it a lot less intimidating. And that's great progress, especially in regard to young people and females. Our hobby is made up of mostly males over fourty. That means in thirty years, half of us could be Silent Keys (dead.) If we had stayed the same hobby we were twenty years ago, then without new blood coming into the hobby, Amateur Radio could have become a Silent Key as well.

Progress also reduces the "Geek" factor. Face it, our hobby is stigmatized as a group of geeky old men or young adolescent males with no lives or social interaction to speak of. If you are a Ham, you know only about radios, electronics, and "Morse's code". Putting an greater emphasis on operating and regulations has made our hobby look a bit more fun and not geeky or stuffy as it once did. And the practical use of electronic theory today is not what it was even twenty years ago. With surface mount and micro mount technology, multilayered printed circuit boards, and all-encompassing chips, it may be better that a new Ham know how to properly solder a connector onto a piece of coax and how to conduct themselves on air, than what the voltage drop across a diode is.

Today, our hobby is mostly plug-and-play. Whether that is a positive or negative testament to the advances in electronic theory and application when looked at within our hobby is open to debate. However, progress and change is always a good thing, no matter how much we kick and scream against it. Personally, I'd rather talk to a Ham to knows how to operate a radio properly, conduct themselves on the air, and act like a "professional", than a guy who simply talks electronic theory and tells what marvels he can do, but never leaves enough room between QSO's (contacts) for other Hams to join in or ask a question. I think our hobby has changed to the point where electronic theory must take a back seat to proper operating skills, experience, and adhering to the rules and regulations. Obviously, from listening to some people on the air, electronic theory knowledge does not a well-operating Ham make.

_______________________________________

Website: http://www.phillipjboucher.com

LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/phillipjboucher

This blog may be re-posted both electronically and in print provided it remains unchanged in any way, gives credit to the author and provides a link back to this blog, and also provides a link to the author's website, http://www.phillipjboucher.com

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Short Story: Disturbance Call at the Fairy Bar

 This story originally appears on Necrology Shorts (http://www.necrologyshorts.com/disturbance-call-at-the-fairy-bar/)

by Phillip J. Boucher

The hot, dry southern air teased Sheriff Eugene Pennifore’s face as it drifted through the open window of the SUV and hung there like a curtain. He wiped away the small beads of sweat that ran down his forehead, drying his hand on his uniform pants. He glanced into the rear-view mirror, looking at the empty road that disappeared around the bend over a mile away, devoid of traffic this Sunday morning. Pennifore pursed his lips in disappointment. He aimed the radar gun toward a tree and pulled the trigger.
“Tree’s doin’ a hunert and two,” he said, the thick southern drawl almost too difficult to understand. He aimed the gun at a rock. “Rock’s only doin’ forty.”
He tapped the radar display twice, but it never changed. He lifted his head and gazed out the front window, popping another piece of gum into his mouth.
“Just goes to show ya,” a voice from the passenger side said.
“Now what’d be that?” Pennifore asked.
“That trees is faster than rocks.”
Pennifore chuckled and offered his deputy a piece of gum, which the young man politely refused. He opened the door and stepped out, his back sore and his left knee cracking as he gently placed it down on the ground. His knee gave out and he grasped the steering wheel to catch himself, his finger hitting the switch for the roof lights. The flashes of red and blue caught his attention immediately, even in the bright morning sun.
“Can you turn that damn thing off, Davey? Too damn early to be a seein’ that stuff in the mornin’.”
Deputy David Carswell leaned over and turned the lights off as Pennifore got up and walked up the road to relieve the pain in his knees and back. He had a slight limp to the left, the result of a bullet wound to the leg many decades ago when he himself was just a young deputy. His back problem was simply the result of carrying an overweight belly for most of his adult life. But as Davey watched the old man walk, he had also seen the sheriff run after suspects like an Olympic sprinter, and take down some very violent criminals all by himself. “It’s not the outside of the man that dictates what he can do,” the sheriff had told him many times, “but the magick that’s inside the man.”
Davey left the truck and quickly caught up to Pennifore, who now stood in the middle of the road, looking around at flat ground and tall trees.
“Whatcha see, Sherf?”
“I see a whole lotta nothin’, Davey. And I also see the sky and I see the trees. I see the birds and everythin’ else that an old man’s eyes can focus on. And you know what else I see, Davey?”
“What’s that, Sherf?”
“I also see some youngin’ a comin’ up the hill there by the pond.”
Davey looked but he couldn’t see anything.
“I don’t see anythin’ at all but the youngin’.”
“You don’t see him over there right next to the pond?”
Davey squinted and focused hard on the area that Pennifore was pointing at. He still saw the boy, but no pond.
“I see the youngin’ all right, but there ain’t no pond over there where he be at.”
Pennifore gripped Davey’s head in his hands and moved it over slightly to the left.
“First, boy, you gotta look in the right spot. Then you don’t look. You see. See the pond, Davey. Look at the spot but see the pond. Practice what I taught you, boy.”
Again Davey squinted his eyes, and he tried hard to see the pond, just as Pennifore had taught him. And within a short moment there it was, large and blue and rippling very gently.
“I sees it, Sherf. I sees the pond now!”
“I sees it too. Booteeful, ain’t it?”
“Yes, sir. Beautiful it sure is.”
“See, Davey? You’ll get the hang of these special po-licin’ duties yet.”
As they both gazed at the pond, the boy’s head suddenly popped up from behind a rock as he reached the top of the hill, and he stopped, frozen to the ground, as he saw the two lawmen standing there looking at him. Nobody moved.
“Am I in trouble, Sherf?” the boy nervously asked.
“Nope, not at all, son. We was just a lookin’ at the pond.”
The boy looked and crinkled his nose.
“What pond. There’s never been a pond there.”
“Never?”
“My granddaddy woulda tole me if a pond a hadda been there. He’s fished all over.”
“Yes, but it is booteeful none the less.”
The boy stared at the sheriff for a long time with a look on his face that made Davey think the boy thought the lawman was nuttier than the peanut farms that graced the county.
“He’s an old man, son,” Davey said. “Reminiscin’ bout old times.”
“What old times? My granddaddy’s older than the Sherf and there ain’t ever been a pond there.”
“Sherf’s real real old,” Davey quipped.
“Who you callin’ old, boy?”
“Can I go now?” the boy asked.
“Yep,” the sheriff said. “Get yer butt outta here now.”
The boy hesitated for a moment then ran away as fast as he could. Pennifore put his arm around Davey’s shoulder and pointed to the pond again.
“You sees them birds on the water?”
“Yep. Them’s big birds. What are they?”
“Them’s is Ca-na-da geese. Came in the winter one year, never left. Sorta claimed the pond as their own. I consider that pond Ca-na-da territory. Them’s perty geese, they are.”
“Sure are.”
“Yep. If’n you can see the pond, you can see the geese. Perty sight. I’m glad you can see it.”
“Me too.”
“Yep. ‘Member now, the less you look and the more you see, the easier it becomes.”
“I hope so.”
“Hope so? Boy, I know so! Well tie me to a tree and whip me til I bleed, boy, you sometimes frustrate the heck outta me with not trusting me in training you to see the world that exits alongside-”
“Station callin’ Sherf Penfor,” the radio suddenly crackled from the microphones on their lapels.
“Penfor, here, Tracy-Jean. What can I do you for?”
“Eugene, I just got a call from Mrs. Abertin that the noise from the Winged Sprite Bar is so loud that it’s disturbin‘ her concentration in makin’ a Healin’ Cake. Says the music and yellin’ is preventin’ the energy from comin’ outta her fingers.”
Pennifore sighed deeply and shook his head.
“Okay, Tracy-Jean, we’ll head over there and take a look.”
“Ten-four, Shef, I’ll let her know.”
Pennifore spit out his gum and popped a fresh piece in. He slowly turned and headed back to the car, Davey right on his heels.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you ever seen the Winged Sprite Bar, have you?”
“No,” Davey replied.
“You won’t like it,” Pennifore said. “It’s a fairy bar!”
“A fairy bar?”
“Yep,” Pennifore said as he and Davey entered the SUV. “It’s a bar restricted to fairies only. Non-fairies ain’t allowed in. I hate them fairies. The way they are, the things they do. Some of the things they do, I mean, it is so disgustin’ it makes my stomach upchuck into my mouth. They are the sickest things I’ve ever heard about.”
Davey was shocked as he watched Pennifore shake his head in disgust. Although he had only been a deputy for just over a year, he had never heard the sheriff utter so much as a negative word against anyone. But this display of discrimination was quite unsettling to the young officer.
They arrived at Mrs. Abertin’s house and Davey was subjected to more derogatory comments from the old lady.
“…and screams. The have the music turned up so loud and they’s be yellin’ and carryin’ on so’s that I can’t make my Healin’ Cake!” She held up her hands right in front Pennifore’s face. “See, Sherf? See? I’m bothered so much that I got no energy from my fingers. It’s not right. I thought you took care of this problem last year, Sherf?”
“Thought I did too, Mrs Abertin, but apparently they’s at it again, and I apologize for that.”
“I don’t know why we’s got fairies in this town. Especially this town. We don’t need’em for anythin’. They don’t contribute to the town’s energy and they do things that even my stories on television don’t dare to tell.”
“I know, mam.”
“Listen! I mean just listen to that racket! How’s a soul to think with that goin’ on, and imagine what sick things are goin’ on in there?”
“I hear it, Mam. It is quite a disturbance, I will grant you that, and we’s goin’ over there right now to talk to them. The noise will be gone shortly.”
“Thank you, Sherf,” the old lady said, and as she closed the door, Davey heard her say, “Damn fairies!”
“Um,” he began, “I don’t hear any music or noise, Sherf.”
“You can’t hear that? Well, hog tie me and turn me on a spit! I can hear it as plain as day comin’ from right over there,” Pennifore said as he pointed to an old rundown and abandoned bar just up the road. “That’s the fairy bar, boy.”
Davey heard nothing and saw no activity coming from the shell of a building to indicate that even rats were living in it. “C’mon,” Pennifore said as he adjusted his belt, checked his gun, and walked toward the building.
They entered and Pennifore let out an “Oh my Lord will you all shut up!” at what Davey could see was a totally empty old run down bar.
“You fairies are nothin’ but trouble in this town.”
“Um, Sherf?”
“What is it, Davey?”
“I don’t hear or see anything here.”
“My God, boy, are you so dense that you can’t see instead of look? Remember what type of town this is and what I been a teachin’ you. See, damn it, see the fairies, boy, don’t just look. Do whatcha did at the pond! I trained you in the magick, boy. Use it.”
Davey squinted his eyes and concentrated on the bar. He told his mind to see the other world that existed alongside this one, the one Pennifore had told him and taught him about when he became a Deputy. The town of magick that they policed and protected. And there it was. The bar was filled with fairies! All kinds of fairies. And the noise! It was deafening from all the screaming and yelling they were doing, and the music was as loud as a symphony of jackhammers. He watched as one fairy came right up to Pennifore’s face in defiance. She was small and floated in the air from the beat of tiny wings going a mile a minute. Pennifore coughed hard at her but she never flinched.
“Get out, Pennifore,” her tiny high-pitched voice commanded. “You’re not allowed in here.”
Pennifore’s face was stone cold and his aggressive stance never changed a bit.
“The hell I’m not! I’m the Sherf of this town and I can go wherever I damn well please!” he said back in absolute authority.
Several of the other fairies in the bar laughed at him and about half the room, all drunk, flitted around trying to fly toward him, but they mostly flew into each other. A small group of them were able to get close and he held up his hand in defiance.
“I’m warnin’ y’all to back off.”
Davey was quite amused at the situation and decided to make a joke.
“Want my Taser, Sherf?”
“Don’t need no Taser, Davey,” Pennifore said seriously. “Not here.”
Before Davey could reply, two of the fairies held out their hands and blew on them. Dust flew up and hit Pennifore in the face, which suddenly lit up in flame and he screamed in pain. Davey jumped back in total surprise just as Pennifore raised his hands to his face and patted the flames out. His skin was red and Davey could see the anger in his eyes.
“I damn well warned you, didn’t I?” Pennifore shouted. He raised his hand and blue streams of light shot out of his fingers and hit the floating fairies who had just attacked him. Davey covered his ears as they let out the most horrid sounds he had ever heard and watched as they crashed to the ground, lifeless.
“Oh my Lord, good Lord Almighty, you killed them, Sherf, you killed them dead!” Davey cried out.
“Relax boy. If I had of wanted to kill them they’d be burnt to a crisp.”
Davey looked at them and could see they were unconscious but breathing. It was then he noticed the silence that had fallen over the bar and saw every fairy eye locked on Pennifore in terror.
“What in blazes are you two doin’?” a voice behind them asked, and as they turned, they saw the Mayor standing there.
“Beg pardon, Mayor?” Pennifore asked casually, a slight smile on his face.
The Mayor looked at them, standing in the quiet, empty, run down bar.
“Well,  Sherf, I’m drivin’ by and I see yer car just a sitting outside and I wonder why is the Sherf here and I come in and I find you two in this dark empty building ayappin’ to yerselves like a couple of escaped crazies from the looney bin!”
Davey was not all that surprised that the Mayor had no idea his town existed alongside a magickal one.
“We’s just rehersin’,” Pennifore said immediately.
“Rehersin’ for what?”
“For my neice’s video. We was just a passin’ the old bar and kinda decided to make sure it was secure and while we was doin‘ it we was rehersin’”
“What the hell kinda rehersin’ is that? What kinda video?”
“Just a school project. Two coppers being weird and a talkin’ weird and she’s gonna put in some of that computer animator stuff over us and make us into monsters or freaks or somethin’ like that.”
The Mayor simply stared at them for several moments.
“You gotta do that in here?”
“Just passin’ time as we make sure the old place is locked down. You wouldn’t be a wantin’ us to be doin’ it out in the open I magin’?”
“Deputy,” the Mayor asked, “are you as kookie as this here old fart?”
“I sure as hell hope not, Mayor.”
“So do I, for yer sake, son. By the way, Sherf, you usin’ sunscreen?”
It took a moment for the Mayor’s question to register and Pennifore touched his face and smiled.
“Bought me some at the dollar store. Guess it don’t work very well.”
“Guess it don’t work at all.”
The Mayor shook his head and walked out the door. They both stood silent until they heard the Mayor’s car drive off. When Davey looked back at the bar area and concentrated again, he could see that none of the fairies had moved except for the two who had attacked Pennifore. They were back at their tables, slumped over their drinks. Every one of them was still in fear of the Sheriff.
“Now. Before I zap the crap outta the rest of you fairies I want the music turned down, the hoots and a hollerin’ stopped, and any other noise kept to a bare minimum, y’all understand me?”
Most of them nodded their heads in agreement while the rest simply nursed their drinks and kept their heads and eyes to the table. As Pennifore turned around and began to walk to the door, a soft but high pitched voice cut the silence.
“Can you be that tough with the Finder?”
Pennifore stopped dead and immediately turned around. He stared at the old fairy behind the bar who had spoken. Her defiance instantly turned to fear as she saw the anger her comment created. Pennifore marched over to the bar and was about to grab her when an old male fairy floated in between them.
“Please, Sheriff, she was just speaking out in anger.”
“Speakin’ out in anger? I think that comment was more a message.” He looked at the fairy who had spoken. “Why mention the Finder to me?” She was silent. He looked around the bar at every fairy that was in there. “What about the Finder?” he yelled, but only silence filled the room.
He suddenly turned and grabbed the fairy in his hands, pulling her to him. Davey quickly ran over and grabbed Pennifore by the arms, trying to get him to let her go, but he violently pushed his deputy back away from him and then yelled directly in the fairy’s face.
“What about the Finder?”
“Sherf, c’mon, let her go. She’s tiny and-”
“Shut yer mouth, Davey! You don’t know what’s goin’ on here. Now tell me why you mentioned the Finder. Tell me or I swear I’ll kill you all.”
“Let her go, Eugene,” Davey said. “I damn well mean it now, Sherf.”
Pennifore turned and saw that his deputy had one hand on his pistol and was ready with pepper spray in the other. Undaunted, he took one hand off the fairy and swung his arm backwards, sending a blue flash that engulfed Davey and in an instant the deputy vanished.
“What about the Finder?” he yelled as he turned his attention back to the fairy in his hand.
She shook violently and tried to speak, but was petrified and nothing came out. The old male fairy coughed and looked at Pennifore, conceding a win to the human and the release of his wife.
“He was here.”
“He was here and you neglected to let me know?”
“This was yesterday and we were all a little drunk.”
“I see.” He sat down on a chair that, in the regular world, was covered in dust and had the paint peeling from the legs. “What did he want?”
“He wants to talk to you.”
“’Bout what?”
“He didn’t say. Just that he wants to talk when the time is right.”
“Really now? Now when has the Finder only wanted to talk? And when did you think you were goin’ to tell me about this? Like after I have to deal with him?”
“We’re sorry. He said if we said anything that he would kill us.”
“I’m sure he would. Well put me in a dog house and feed me kibble. The Finder. I forgot all about what’s comin’ up. Well, I thank you for the information. Why don’t we just forget this conversation ever happened and keep the noise down and let me deal with the Finder, all right?”
“Yes, Sherrif,” the fairy said, surprised by the softer tone Pennifore had taken.
“Good, good. Y’all take care now. Have a nice day.”
Pennifore stood up and walked toward the door. He came back into the real world and as he left the rundown building, entered his SUV and proceeded to find his missing deputy. It didn’t take him long to find Davey walking along the lonely backcountry road, his uniform shirt wet with sweat and a look on his face of frustration and anger. Pennifore pulled the SUV over beside him and rolled down the window, letting the cold air blast out of the cab and into Davey’s face.
“I thought you said the air conditionin’ was broken,” Davey said sarcastically.
“Lied. Thought you should learn to live without fer once, boy.” They looked at each for a few moments. “Well, son, you gonna get in or what?” Davey walked around to the passenger side and got in, savoring the cold air that turned the sweltering vehicle into a delicious walk-in freezer. “Enjoy yer trip?” Pennifore asked.
“How did you do that?”
“Magick.”
“You never told me you had any magick in you.”
“See, Davey, now that’s where you gotta use yer po-licin’ skills. You freaked out when you learned about the magick world we po-lice but you finally accepted it. You had the magick spark in you. I knew you’d be able to see the other world with lots of trainin’ and I was right. But one of the questions you shoulda asked me was if I had magick in me. Since you didn’t, you had to learn the hard way.”
“What else can you do?”
“Other than inflict some real damage to things in the magick world, and send people to other places, not much else. I can go to places in the magick world like I sent you from the bar to here. That’s about it. I can’t even shoo away a fly from Shoo Fly Pie any more than that in this world.”
“Gee, that’s all?”
“Boy, from the look upon yer face I’d say that’s more than enough.”
“And the fairies?”
“All fine. Was just puttin’ a scare into ’em.”
The drive back to town was done in silence and they entered the station. Pennifore made coffee, bringing back a cup for Davey. He took a sip of his own black brew before he spoke.
“Anyways, it looks like we got ourselves a little bit of a problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“Seems the Finder wants to talk to me.”
“Okey doke. Who’s the Finder?”
“More ap-pro-pratly is what is the Finder? Well, it is a creature of sorts. A creature that looks like a man but has a hunger for magickal souls. Sucks the souls of youngin’s turning twelve, when their magick comes out. On Monday, and stupid me, I forgot about it, two youngin’s I’m protecting turn twelve. I just gotta keep him away from them. If I can do that then he won’t eat their souls and they won’t die. I can’t kill him, he can’t kill me. Been there, done that before.”
Davey just sat there with a look of utter astonishment and bewilderment.
“You’re effin‘ nuts, Eugene!”
“Wish I was Davey but that’s the truth and come Monday the Finder’ll be able to see me. No more runnin’, no more hidin’. I hired you because you got the magick in you. Don’t know how the magick world works or why it exists with this one. Don’t matter. I chose you to help me out cause I knew the Finder’d be showin’ up eventually. Well, boy, he’s here and I need you to help me protect my two people.”
“Really? Who are they?”
“Bobby-John and Kitty-Jean.”
“Who?”
“Bobby-John and Catherine-Jean.”
“Bobby-John and Cath…you mean BJ and Kit Voker?”
“That’s right.”
“BJ and Kit Voker? The Voker kids? Town clerk Voker’s kids? My Lord, Sherf, you gotta be pullin’ my chain here! Those kids are on the baseball team. They aren’t magick. Leroy and his wife aren’t magick. Whatdaya mean?”
“On Monday they turn twelve. They get their magick. The Finder needs them to eat their souls.”
“How do you know this?”
“My grandma told me and she ain’t ever lied to me, bless her soul in the ground. Now you gotta trust me like I trusted her and help me-”
“This is insane! Yer insane Euge-”
Pennifore suddenly grasped Davey’s head between his hands and stared a hair’s breath away from his eyes. Davey’s head filled with flashes of images, so many that he felt sick to his stomach. He saw Pennifore as a young child learning magick from his Grandmother. He saw a very young Leroy and Betty Anne Voker with Pennifore and several other young men and women in some type of a classroom, practicing magick, with Pennifore obviously the best skilled. He saw his parents as children also learning magick skills. He saw a tall and ugly man holding two young girls with each hand, a reddish light escaping from their bodies as they died and going into the body of the man. This must be the Finder.
The images instantly disappeared as Pennifore released his grip on Davey’s head, and the young man collapsed to the floor exhausted and shaking. It took a while for him to calm down and pick himself up back into his chair. He stared long and hard at the Sheriff.
“But why is this happening? I saw my parents. The Vokers. I don’t understand?”
“Davey, if I knew, I would know, but I don’t know why the magick world exists or why you and I are part of it, why yer parents or my grandma or the Vokers were part of it or nothin’. It just is and we gotta live in it with the real world and deal with it as it comes. Nobody gave me an explanation and I ain’t got one for you. So come Monday, you gotta take the Voker kids somewhere safe and I gotta get ready to face the Finder.”
Davey sat with his eyes to the ground and his breathing shallow and rapid. He had no explanation either but still didn’t believe it.
“I don’t got no magick. Never got it when I was twelve, never had it now.”
“Never knew you had it. Nobody ever told you you had it. Yer parents decided not to tell you, for whatever reason I still don’t know to this day. Told me not to tell you til after I hired you. But you got it, sure as hell as a bat’s got its radar, you got the magick, boy! You better believe me cause you was one of the one’s I saved from the Finder twelve years ago!”
Davey sat with his mouth wide open in awe.

#

Monday morning came too early for Davey as the alarm blared away in his ears. He reached over behind his head and turned it off, rolling over and sitting up on the edge of the bed. He let out a frightened yell and jumped a few inches off the mattress, then immediately pulled the covers over his naked form. Pennifore, in civvies, and BJ and Kit Voker stood there as he crawled under the covers.
“Damn it, Eugene, what the hell? I had a late night! The kids! I sleep nak-”
“I told you seven a.m., Davey.”
Davey looked at the clock.
“It is seven a.m.”
“Sure is boy, but when I say seven a.m. I mean be ready to go, not just a getting’ up. You better git yerself dressed boy, right now! Regular clothes. We’s be in the livin’ room. C’mon kids.”
Davey quickly dressed and as he entered the living room, he barely caught the shotgun that Pennifore tossed at him.
“There be an old cabin I use fer fishin’ way down yonder in Parker’s Grove. Quite secluded for sure. Take this map and take the kids there and don’t do nuthin’ til I come and get you.”
Davey took the map from Pennifore and quickly looked at it.
“It’s all backroads, Sherf! My car ain’t a gonna make it-”
“My SUV is out front. Four wheel drive and all gassed up. Yer gonna take Kit and BJ there now. Go.”
“I ain’t even had my coffee yet-”
“Damn it boy! Get it on the way. Go! Go!”
Pennifore was waving his hands at the three of them to get out of the house and without another word Davey hustled the children to the SUV. He watched as they drove away, and when he couldn’t see them anymore, walked to the fairy bar. The bar was as empty and dilapidated as always in the real world, and as he emerged into the town’s magickal world, the bar was still empty. He had made it clear that no fairy had better even be near the bar today and, amazingly, they had obeyed him. It was now just a waiting game for the Finder to appear.

#

The SUV bumped along the dirt road as Davey sipped on his coffee. The Voker children were content with their bottles of pop and bags of chips. He kept looking at the map, wondering where in hell in the boonies Pennifore could have placed his fishing cabin. BJ sat in the passenger seat and Kit was in the back. Neither of them had said a word to him at all and he found it quite creepy.
“How’s yer chips and soady pop?” he asked. They simply nodded their heads. He was getting more creeped out. “Do you kids even know what the hell is going on here?”
“Sure,” Kit replied after a long period of silence, her voice high-pitched but quite strong.
“Really?”
“Yep,” BJ said, and took a swig of pop.
Davey waited but neither of them said another thing.
“So why don’t you tell me?”
Kit piped up.
“You gotta protect us cause we’s got the magick.”
“Cause the Finder wants to kill us and get our magick,” BJ added.
“The Sherf told you this?” Davey asked with a deep sigh.
“Yep, and our parents,” BJ said.
“Yer parents. Jeez, must be nice. So, I’m to take you to this cabin and just keep y’all inside or what?”
“Yep,” Kit said. “Anyone comes after us, you gotta kill’em.”
“And what if it’s this Finder? How do I kill him?
“Well then ya can’t,” BJ said matter of factly.” Sherf says you’s just a gotta keep him away from us. Sherf’ll think of something.”
“I’m sure he will,” Davey said quite unconvincingly.
The paved road he was following suddenly turned into a very rutty dirt path, which went through some fairly dense brush, and after about a good twenty minute drive, they suddenly came upon a large log cabin situated on the edge of a small lake. It was beautiful and as Davey pulled up in front of it, he tried to focus on the cabin and see if it was real. He concentrated hard but the cabin just stood there, and he was slightly happy that it was in the real world, and not a place in the magickal plane.
He hustled the kids out of the car and found the door key on Pennifore’s keychain. They then entered a shrine of a fisherman. Stuffed fish were mounted on the wall. Pictures of Pennifore with various fish and other anglers littered the living room. And of course, the proverbial fishing vest and hat hung from a clothes hook right behind the front door. All Davey could do was shake his head as the Vokers made a beeline for the couch and fought over the television remote.
Entering the kitchen he reluctantly looked in the fridge, relieved to find that no fish resided inside, and equally relieved to find several bottles of beer, one of which he took. He sat at the kitchen table and leaned back in the chair. He could see the magickal world that existed alongside the real one, but that was only with Eugene’s training. He was sure that he held no magick of his own, and with only a half belief that any of this was happening, wondered how in hell he was going to the protect the two children in his care.

#

Pennifore poured himself a drink from behind the bar then took a seat at one of the tables facing the door. He removed a napkin from the dispenser and placed his drink on it. His mouth was slightly dry and even a swig of beer did nothing to relieve it. He took a piece of gum from his ever-present pack and popped it into his mouth, chewing until his saliva flowed. He then took another swig of beer which he savored together with the gum.
He waited for the Finder arrive, a creature of horrid hunger for magick packed into a human body that looked as ordinary as any human in the real or magickal worlds. A creature that Pennifore was able to keep at bay twelve years ago when he was protecting Davey, only to watch the Finder kill and take the magick from two young girls Pennifore couldn’t protect in time . He contemplated just what he could do this time to protect the Voker children. He had done his best up to this moment, trying to keep their identity quiet in the magickal realm that existed in the small town for as long as his own grandmother could remember to the time when she was but a child. However, the Finder was not only smart, but persistent. How he found the Voker kids was not the issue now. Protecting them was.
He heard the bar door open and looked up to see the familiar face of the tall man who stood there staring at him. He kept calm and looked directly into the Finder’s eyes, staring him down.
“Where are they, Eugene?”
“They’s be where you ain’t gonna find ‘em.”
“You can’t beat me, Eugene. You never could.”
“I know that, for sure, as sure as I know that you can’t beat me, neither.”
The Finder came over and sat down at the table across from Pennifore.
“You’re an old man now, Eugene. Why not just live out your life in comfort and avoid the stress on your heart?”
Pennifore smiled as he popped a piece of gum into his mouth.
“Now I may be an old man in this here a regular world I gotta live in, but in our magick realm, I’m as fit as anyone can be.”
“Enough of this. Where are they?”
“Don’t know who you be talkin’ about.”
“The Voker children. It’s there twelfth birthday and I want them.”
“I bet you do, cause they’s ain’t none else for you to get yer hands on this time. Them’s the only two, and if I keep you from them then you is just gonna wittle away to nothin’ and I’ll never need to see you again.”
“Really?” The Finder stood up and walked over to the bar, leaning back against it. “Is that what you believe?”
“That what my grandma told me.”
“Your grandmother was rather misinformed. The magickal souls I take keep me young and at top magickal peak. Even after twelve years, I’m still quite the same. And if I don’t get the Vokers, then in another five years there are always three more coming of age that I can have. At that point I’ll be a little weaker, a little older, but certainly not dead. And I’ll also be hungrier and I’ll take as many as I can get, before age, after age, it won’t matter then.”
Pennifore looked the Finder up and down. This was the first time he actually ever had a conversation with him, and found it quite annoying.
“I don’t know if they’s another town that exists in the magickal world, but if it does, why don’t you go there instead.”
It was not a question, but a bold-faced statement that he hoped would elicit some information from the Finder. He watched the creature’s face, it’s nose, it’s eyes. Nothing. And then, a very small twitch at the side of the mouth. Pennifore was well skilled at reading people’s faces, a skill he learned at the state police academy those many years ago that served him well in all aspects of his mundane and magickal life.
“This is the only one,” the Finder finally said.
Pennifore stood up and put his hat on his head, straitening it out. He then nodded.
“Then I’ll see you in five years. Y’all have a nice day, now.”
He turned and made his way towards the door, but before he could open it, he heard the rustle of clothing, a sound he was waiting for, and quickly turned with one hand held out. A blast of energy shot from his fingers and slammed into the chest of the Finder just before the creature could get him in its grasp. The force sent the Finder flying backwards to the floor. The creature shot his own blast and hit Pennifore in his other hand.. The pain seared and tingled and made his entire arm shake violently. Another blast flew from the creature and Pennifore jumped out of the way, barely missing being hit.
He tried to use his power to send the Finder to another area of town like he had done with Davey, but it had no effect. The Finder stood up and several blasts exited his fingers and flew towards the door. Two hit Pennifore and he fell to one knee, trying to absorb the energy that rattled his whole being. They fired at each other for several more minutes and both fell exhausted to the ground. Pennifore pulled himself up along the bar, his vision fuzzy, trying to find the creature. He suddenly saw the outline of some dark form in front of him and as he tried to grab hold of it, his head was grasped by two hands and he suddenly felt frozen to the spot.
“I’m not going to spend hours doing this like last time,” the Finder said in his ear. He tried to get away but was unable to make his muscles move sufficiently to do so. “One thing I get from every soul I take is a new power. Being able to hold you here is one. This, is another.”
The Finder put his hand on top of Pennifore’s head and put a thought into it. Where are the Voker’s? Where are the Vokers? Pennifore fought to control his thoughts, but though the Finder equaled his own powers in destruction, Pennifore was no match for this new one. He closed his eyes in shame as the image of the cabin entered his head. The Finder vanished. A moment later, so did Pennifore.

#

Davey simply looked on as the kids watched television. So innocent and seemingly uncaring that some thing was out to kill them. He took another swig of the second beer and wiped his mouth. The scream made him jump. His arm reflexed uncontrollably and the bottle few backwards and smashed against the wall. He grabbed the shotgun and ran quickly towards the tall figure that stood in front of the screaming children. Guess they’re scared now, he thought.
“Don’t move! Don’t move or I’ll fire!” he screamed.
The Finder smiled and reached his arms out towards the kids. Davey fired three shots into its chest. The Finder stopped and looked at Davey for a moment, then waved his hand forward. Davey felt something smash into his own chest and he was pushed backwards into the kitchen. The Finder examined the holes in its body for a moment before lunging at the fleeing children and grabbing them in both hands. He began to lift them off ground, but when the front door flew open, he released them as he was tackled from behind. Kit and BJ both fell on the couch.
“Get the hell out of here! Go! Hide!” Pennifore screamed as he fought to keep the Finder pinned to the ground. But the creature reeled back and shook him off, running after the children. He fired another blast of energy at Pennifore which slammed him against the wall. Just as the creature was about grab the children again, Davey put up his hand and screamed, “No!”
A bright orange blast of light, that scared the life out of Davey left his hand and hit the Finder, which enveloped the creature for a moment, and seemed to take away some of it’s strength. Davey was in shock.
“What the hell? He got the magick!” Pennifore said to himself as he tried to get to his feet.
The light faded from around the Finder, who looked at Davey with pure hatred.
“You, I can kill!” it said, and raised both arms towards him.
The Finder suddenly screamed in agony as its head became a ball of flame. Pennifore, Davey, and the Voker children watched as the entire fairy population of the town flew into the cabin and around the Finder, every one of them blowing dust at it. The Finder’s entire body was now on fire and Pennifore pulled himself up.
“Davey!” he screamed, but the Deputy just sat there. “Davey! Damn it, boy! Davey! Davey!” he screamed.
Davey finally responded and Pennifore put out his arms at the Finder.
“Put out yer arms, boy! Put out yer arms and send the energy. Send it, Davey! Damn it, boy. Do it now. You got the magick in you, boy! You seened it. Now do it!”
Davey reluctantly put out his arms and watched as the energy flew from Pennifore’s fingers and into the Finder. Davey concentrated and watched the Finder try to fight off the hundreds of Fairies blowing their dust and the energy blast of the Sheriff.
“You gotta do it, Deputy!” Kit screamed.
“You gotta protect us, Deputy, it’s yer job!” BJ added.
With all his intent and desire, Davey put every thought and every bit of his being into creating the energy again. And it happened. From his hands came a rapid succession of orange blasts which hit the Finder and wrapped around him. The intensity of the added energy from Davey was too much for the Finder to fight off and after a moment of agonizing desperation, burst into a billion little bits of light and vanished into the ether.
#

Davey took the gum that was offered to him and looked out across the bare field that had just recently been cleared for the autumn harvest. He spotted a small group of deer lying in the grass.
“Perty deer,” he said.
“Where?” Pennifore asked.
“Over there by them sets of trees.”
“I don’t see no deer there.”
“That’s cause ya gotta see, not-”
“I sees ‘em now. Don’t be a smartass just cause you finally got yer more powerful magick and see the magick world a bit sooner than me. You still gotta lotta learnin’ to do, boy.”
Davey simply smiled as the radio crackled.
“Station callin’ Sherf Penfor.”
“Go ahead, Tracy-Jean.”
“Sherf, just got a call bout a disturbance at the fairy bar.”
“Ten-four, Tracy-Jean, we’ll take of it.”
Pennifore squealed the tires as he turned the SUV around and headed back into town.
“I knew them fairies was lyin’ bastards! Change of heart my ass! Helpin’ to kill the Finder as a goodwill gesture to me, my ass!”
He slammed on the brakes as they reached the empty bar and Davey had to run to keep up with the old man. Pennifore stormed in and looked around the dark, empty, dilapidated building, focusing his eyes into the magick realm. As soon as he saw it, his mouth fell open.
“Surprise!”
Davey made his way to the bar as Pennifore looked at the balloons, streamers, and cake that were on display just for him.
“Sherf,” Davey began, “this here’s a real goodwill gesture from the fairies to you.”
“Yes Sheriff,” several of the fairies said. “We’ve changed our ways,” one continued. “We now understand how you felt about us and that we encouraged it. We’re mischievous by nature. We took it too far.”
Pennifore took a beer and piece of cake that were put on the bar for him by Davey.
“Oh, you did, fer sure. Why did you help with the Finder?”
“Well,” a young fairy said as she flitted in front of Pennifore’s face while looking at Davey.
“I talked to them,” Davey said.
You talked to them?” Pennifore asked.
“Yep. Told them that they was behavin’ wrong and that they should change and help you with the Finder. You get more stuff outta people, or fairies, with sugar than you do with vinegar.”
“You do, huh?”
“Yep. Intimidation don’t work, Eugene. Kindness does.”
Davey waved his hand over the cake and the candles suddenly burst into flame and flickered.
“Now don’t you get all high and mighty now cause you got yer magick, boy!” Pennifore said harshly. “Though that magick is quite strong in you.”
Davey blushed as he ate some cake.
“In fact, I think that maybe I should make this a retirement party for myself.”
“Thank, goodness!” one fairy shouted.
“Finally,” another said.
“About time,” a third one said.
“See?” Pennifore said. “See. That’s why I don’t like ‘em!”
Everyone was in shock until Pennifore started to laugh, and they all joined him, knowing that he had also changed his ways with them.
The mayor stood in the doorway watching his two deputies sitting in the dark at the dirty rotting bar, pretending to be drinking and eating and laughing hysterically. He turned and made his way back to his car, shaking his head all the while.
“Stupid school projects!” he said out loud.

--> _______________________________________

Website: http://www.phillipjboucher.com

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Short Story: The Tower of Eletal

This story originally appears on Necrology Shorts (http://www.necrologyshorts.com/the-tower-of-eletal/)


by Phillip J. Boucher
The cleric Calif looked at the wizard Lafair in astonishment and asked again.
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as the tricorns bellow at the sun, it’s there. I have apprentices guarding it right now and a small crowd of townsfolk are starting to gather round.”
“How was it found?”
“It was uncovered only an hour ago after the rubble was removed from the area.”
“The apprentice has been disciplined for yesterday’s catastrophe?”
“Yes, Holy one. He won’t be learning destructive magick again for quite some time.”

Calif nodded his approval and sat back at his desk. He proceeded to use the small torch on his left to light the five candles on the desk, but Lafair waved his hand over them and they instantly burned with bright flames.
“This is a house of worship, not a brothel of manipulation!” Calif said in a tone that put Lafair in his place. He blew out the candles and lit them with the torch. There was a long silence while Lafair waited patiently as Calif said a silent prayer over the Candles of Elements. “Now, this is not a hoax or anything, is it?”
Lafair sat in the chair opposite and leaned forward, fearful that the sound of his words might leave the immediate vicinity of their ears.
“No, your Holiness. It’s authentic. We’ve even consulted the,” he looked around to ensure they were alone, “the Scrolls of Vision, and myth has truly become reality!”
“Reality, at times, wizard, should remain myth.” The cleric thought it over for a moment. “However, the damage is done, I suppose.”
“Simply come see it, Holiness. The Clergy will surely find it a testament to the power of the elements.”
“You mean the power to manipulate the elements.”
“Please, just come see it. I was asked by the High Mage to come and get a cleric. You’re the highest one I have access to. Please. Please come and see the tower.”
Calif inhaled deeply, and slowly let his breath out.
“Yes, fine. I’ll come shortly. Go. Tell the Mage I’ll see the tower as he asks.”
“Thank you, your Holiness.”
Lafair made the sign of elements in the air with his hand and left the temple in haste. Calif waited for several moments before he stood up and reluctantly made his way to the Abby.
At the Abby door, he paid his respects to the element symbols that had been carved around the door’s archway, and the guards, gentle but ugly creatures of a man’s soul and a monster’s body, let him pass. He walked along the long hallway to another door and opened it slowly.
“Come in, Calif,” a booming voice said.
Calif entered and watched as the Abbyor, the top cleric in the order, stood over a pot of boiling water, the fire underneath red and orange with rage, the wood crackling in the dirt container, and the steam rising from the pot giving the air a scent of meat and herbs, stirring the soup. He looked up from the pot with an angry expression.
“I’ve heard about the tower!”
“I’vejust heard. I’ve been requested to see it. What should I do?”
“Declare it a fake.”
“What if it’s not?”
The Abbyor laid the long spoon down on a table and walked over to Calif, who instinctively got on one knee in respect.
“The tower is a myth. The Scrolls are simple stories that only illustrate our pasts, paths, and practices. The Scrolls of Visions are just that; visions. Not things that truly exist.”
“If the tower is real, your Greatness, it may give some credence to the Wizardry and its continued instance that the elements are servants and manipulation is not abhorrence to the natural order of our world.”
“The elements are not servants. They are what everything is made from. They are not our servants. We are their servants. We simply worship their existence, not use them for our gain. We ask for the wind and rain and fire and dirt and spirit to help us live better lives. To provide us what we need. We don’t manipulate them into doing so. We only take what they give us. It’s blasphemy that we even let the Wizardry practice as they do.”
Calif never questioned the Clergy doctrine or beliefs. He simply stated facts. And the fact at the moment was that the tower stood in the middle of the road in front of the wizards’ rectory.
“Go,” the Abbyor said, “and get this over with.”
“As you wish, your Holiness.”

Calif left the Abby and quickly walked over to the rectory, which by now was swarming with townsfolk and wizards in awe of the tower. He, also looked on in awe. Myth truly had become reality. The Tower of Eletal stood tall and imposing, the height, the shape, the images that graced its exterior, all exactly as described in the Scrolls of Vision.

The wizard Lafair, who had begged Calif to come see the tower, approached him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“You see? It’s not a myth, Holiness. It’s real.”
“It can’t be real!” Calif replied and walked over to the makeshift stairs that brought him down into the hole and to the bottom of the tower, with Lafair right behind him. “This must be a trick, an illusion, a wizard’s spell.”
He reached out and touched the tower, its polished exterior warm, smooth, and quite comforting to his hand.
“It exists.”
“Nonsense! You wizards have manipulated the elements to create this imposter of prophesy. It was not buried for eons and discovered by the misspell of an apprentice wizard. You simply created it to justify your magick.”
“Your Holiness, with all due respect to you and the Clergy, we did no such thing. The tip revealed itself when the debris was removed from the apprentice’s blast that blew apart this part of the ground. We simply removed the rest to unveil the structure.”

Calif looked up at the top of the tower and followed it down to the base. It was magnificent and beautiful and a joy to behold. And as real as the robes that adorned his body or the Symbol of Elements that hung from his neck, it was not an illusion or wizard’s trickery. And that was the problem.
“What’s inside?”
“We don’t know. No one’s gone into it yet.” Lafair looked at the door that still stood unopened. “We’re all a bit nervous about what we might find inside.”
“And rightly so,” Calif said calmly, but his heart pounded fast and hard in anticipation of entering. What could lie inside? Could there be nothing? Or could the inside hold the answers to life itself?
Calif lifted the door’s latch and it raised easily, the door opening only a fraction of a hair’s width. The apprentices and townsfolk who crowded around let out oohs and aahs, not daring to move any closer out of fear, but not wanting to move any further back out of curiosity. He continued to open the door, revealing nothing but darkness within.
“I have light,” Lafair said and then lit what Calif believed to be a candle, which shone a soft glow to the interior.

Both entered and Lafair closed the door behind them. Calif looked back at the door latch falling, and was suddenly surprised to see Lafair without a candle, but instead holding a bright ball of light in one hand, created by his magick. He stood there with a look of pure anger on his face, a look not unnoticed by Lafair. Calif, whose service in the Clergy dictated a firm belief in serving the elements for their own purposes, was now on the side of manipulating the elements in his own service. Without fire, there would be no light, and Calif would not be able to see what was inside the tower. He was not pleased, but again the damage was done. After setting his angry gaze on Lafair’s eyes, he turned back and looked around. The entire inside of the tower seemed to be a huge library of books and papers. Except for one wall and the image on it, which caused both men to fall to their knees.

There, as told in the Scrolls of Vision, was the Symbol of Elements above the image of a cleric and wizard. Facing each other, both were waving their hands in the air, and what seemed like a ball of light floated in front of each of them. This was proof that the Clergy and the Wizardry shared the same path, the manipulation of the elements, and the true path of belief. Calif felt fear and rage while Lafair felt pure reverence.
“This is not true. It’s blasphemy!”
“It is true and not blasphemy. It’s a revelation, Calif! We finally have the answer to our questions.”
“This changes everything,” Calif grunted through clenched teeth.
“It changes only the answer. We both can still worship the elements as before, except instead of berating the manipulation of the elements, the Clergy now simply embraces it.”
Calif raised his eyes up and looked the image again. It hadn’t changed and the sweat that had begun too pool on his brow now began to ooze from his entire body. He stood and made his way back to the ladder with Lafair following.
“I must tell the Abbyor about this.”
“And I will tell the Wizardry. There will be much celebration tonight!”
Calif turned his face full of rage.
“Wrong, wizard! There will be NO celebrations at all!”

#

“What?” The Abbyor screamed at the top of his lungs. “How dare you tell me this thing is real? Your spirit will forever be bound to the element of fire for this! That tower is a fake, a mockery, a conjure of magick! It’s not real.”
“But your Holiness, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s a blasphemous reality.”
“You will go back there and you will tell everyone that this thing is a fake, that it doesn’t exist, and that it must be reburied and forgotten about.”
“But that would be a lie, Abbyor. We can’t lie. We must tell the truth, then bury it and deal with the revelation in the light of the day.”
“We are the Clergy and I am the Abbyor. We lie when we need to, to maintain spiritual belief. To keep the Wizardry at bay. To make sure the Wizardry and the people don’t go off on their own paths. The worship of the elements as a servant to them is the only truth and willbe the only truth. We allow the elements to exist as they wish. We must accept all that they bring, good or bad. To manipulate them as our will desires means to incur untold evil when the manipulation gets out of control.”
Strange, Calif thought. In all the years as a cleric he never knew of any evil to come out of the wizards’ practices, even when it did get out of control.
“But the tower-”
“I know about the tower! I know! Every Abbyor has known about it. Which is why it was buried a long time ago and forgotten. Now it’s been revealed. Revealed by a spell gone wrong exposing what should have been a secret forever! I am ordering you to bury the thing and forget about it.”
“The truth must be revealed even if-”
“The truth must be destroyed!”
Calif was aghast at the Abbyor’s words, and equally so with his face, which was red with rage and Calif was afraid the Abbyor might fall over dead.
“Your Holiness, we shouldn’t be afraid of discovering the truth about ourselves and dealing with it in our-”
Without warning Calif flew backwards onto the floor, pushed by the Abbyor who stormed out of the room in haste. He got up and ran after him, afraid that the Abbyor, in his current state of mind, might do something he would regret. And as Calif exited the Abby and spotted the Abbyor running down the street, his fears were realized. Upon arrival at the tower, the Abbyor screamed at the wizards gathered around it.
“Get me a large swinging hammer now. Somebody!”
They stood around and simply looked at him.
“Get a swinging hammer now! Now!”
“But Abbyor, we have no hammer here,” one said.
“Then make me one.” The wizards were shocked. “Don’t stand there you stupid fools. Someone here can make me a swinging hammer and I want it done now!”
One wizard, reluctantly, spoke a spell and in his hand, a large swinging hammer appeared. The Abbyor grabbed it and walked over to the tower, ready to swing it.
“No!” Calif shouted.

The Abbyor stopped for a moment and looked into his eyes. Calif could see all reason gone from the holy man’s spirit. The wizards spoke out, telling the Abbyor not to do anything to the tower, as it would lead to a terrible end. The Abbyor simply looked into the eyes of everyone there, and they knew that to try to stop him would be both a danger to each one of them and a violation of the office of the Clergy.
The hammer made its contact and a small piece of tower flew off near the crowd. Another swing, and another, and more pieces flew off. The Abbyor was in a frenzy.
“It’s not real, you fools! It’s a trick, an illusion, an affront to our ways and beliefs!” Another swing, and another. “It must be destroyed, reburied. It must!”

With a fury of a madman the Abbyor began to lay destruction to the tower, hitting it with all his might, and one blow seemed to knock off a piece in which a soft glow came from the hole left behind. A bright beam of white and purple light violently blasted out of the hole and flew at Calif, enveloping him and causing him to fall to his knees. The light then continued on to each cleric who had gathered to watch, sending them all to their knees.
“See, Calif? See all of you! See the evil of the tower? You’ll all die knowing what danger this tower presents to our Clergy, to our power and our beliefs. This evil thing must be destroyed as it’s destroying you!”

The Abbyor continued to smash at the tower as the light that enveloped Calif and the other clerics slowly vanished. Lafair ran over to Calif and bent over, holding the weakened cleric against him. The entire town’s population, clerics, wizards, and citizens now gathered around the tower, watching the crazed Abbyor and helping the fallen clerics to their feet.
“I can cast a spell to stop him,” Lafair whispered.
“No, Lafair. I understand the tower now. I know what the pictures mean and how the Clergy fit into it all. The wizards have been right all along. The Clergy is wrong.”
He stood up and walked over to the Abbyor.
“The tower is not a danger to us, your Holiness. It’s the source of magick for the wizards, and is the source of spirit for our Clergy.”
“You’re wrong!”
“The Clergy was never above the wizards. We were to work together. The wizards revered and used the elements in their magick to make life physically better for all. The Clergy revered and used the elements for spiritual enlightenment. We worked together, Abbyor, not against each other.”

The rage in the Abbyor’s face seethed and he swung the hammer against the tower with all of his might. But before it connected, it simply vanished from his hands. He stood there in disbelief. Calif handed the hammer to a wizard. The Abbyor scanned the crowd and screamed.
“You’re evil!” he screamed at Calif. “Evil as you use the elements against me! You all are traitors to the Clergy!” He moved around and pointed to his underlings. “You, and you, and you! All of you! This tower, this, this, piece of lie! This utter evilness!”
Calif came over and talked gently to him.
“It’s over.”
Another cleric spoke up.
“Yes Abbyor, the tower is real, the symbols are real. We see it with our own eyes, we felt it with our own bodies, and we understand it in our own minds.”
“The tower is not a lie,” another said.
“The Clergy lied to us,” one more said.
“The Clergy is your God and you will obey what is told to you!” the Abbyor screamed.

Silence fell over the crowd. There was no God that any of them knew, and the use of the word was considered blasphemy according to Clergy doctrine. Calif walked over to the Abbyor and pulled the Symbol of Elements from around the Abbyor’s neck.
“It’s over, Abbyor.”
“How dare you! How dare you touch the Abbyor and take the symbol?”
“I dare on the grounds that the truth about the Clergy and Wizardry is revealed and the Clergy, up to this point, has been nothing but a lie from Abbyor to Abbyor. I’m sorry, Kentami, but you are no longer Abbyor. You may remain in the Clergy, but we all agree that your reign of lies is over. Agreed?”
The throng of Clergy, and some wizards also, nodded their heads in agreement.
“I will not stay in a Clergy that is full of blasphemers and liars!”
“Then you’re free to go about as a citizen. Take care, Kentami, may the elements find you well”
With rage and embarrassment, the former Abbyor stormed off into the crowd. Calif looked at Lafair
“Can the wizards remove the tower from the ground?”
“Yes, we can.”
“Please do so. When done, come see me at the Abby. I have an idea.”

#

The entrance to the town of Eletal where Clergy and Wizardry existed in cooperation and to the benefit of all citizens was comprised of a welcome sign, a donation box for the support of the spiritual and magickal services offered, and a large tower that overlooked the entire city. Accidentally discovered by a wizard’s spell gone wrong and removed from its burial site, the tower housed all the books that not only told the story of how the Clergy and Wizardry began, but the fundamental practices that guided each religion. In addition, the material that made up the tower was discovered to be the source of power that allowed those so chosen to manipulate the elements at will. So it was fitting that it was placed right at the entrance of the city for all those visitors to see.

In the Abby, the assembly office was dark as the men entered. Calif stood over the desk and paused for a moment, then waved his hand over his candle, which suddenly lit with flame. The six other Clergy reluctantly did the same with their candles and the seven sat down amid the now illuminated office. The Clergy still had a very hard time adapting to their new powers. The rest of the audience entered and assembled into the chairs that awaited them.
“As a member of the seven High Clergy I wish to thank you for attending our first meeting,” Calif said, addressing the audience of clerics and wizards.
“The position of Abbyor,” another began, “no longer exists and all decisions regarding the Clergy’s use of elemental manipulation, adherence to the Rules of the Clergy book as found in the tower, and all services provided to the citizens and visitors of this city shall be done by majority vote of this council.”
Another cleric rose and spoke his part.
“To provide us with guidance in our powers of worship and manipulation of the elements, and our service unto the elements, the wizard Lafair has been appointed consulting wizard to the Clergy.”

Lafair bowed and took his seat next to Calif. Another cleric began his explanation of the new role of the Clergy and the powers they now had, powers that they had had before but were suppressed by the Abby and each Abbyor until the powers no longer existed. While he spoke, Calif and Lafair whispered between themselves.
“Thank you, Lafair, for helping me create this new Clergy.”
“No thanks needed, Calif. The tower’s discovery and its depiction of the Clergy using magick, was revealed, the truth was told, and the books were found. Prophecy came true. It took a cleric not blinded by power and control to see that.”
“Still, your help was beneficial.”
“No. Our cooperation between our two religions is beneficial for everyone.”
“So it is, wizard.”
Calif waved his hand and Lafair’s candle lit. He put his hand gently on Lafair’s arm for a moment, and then both men turned their attention to the speaking cleric. Calif feared the elements and the control of them no more.

_______________________________________

Website: http://www.phillipjboucher.com

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This blog may be re-posted both electronically and in print provided it remains unchanged in any way, gives credit to the author and provides a link back to this blog, and also provides a link to the author's website, http://www.phillipjboucher.com

Short Story: Dragonstoen: An Amulet for a Prince

This story originally appears on Necrology Shorts (http://www.necrologyshorts.com/dragonstoen-an-amulet-for-a-prince/)


by Phillip J. Boucher

Addler Berrington jumped down from Nesra’s saddle and knelt on one knee, looking at the tracks in the fresh wet grass, then to the note he held in his hand. His dragon snorted a small plume of smoke and turned its head as the sound of another set of wings whooshed by, watching the Dragos, Rapopella, land near his rider. The small gargoyle-like creature folded up his wings and waddled over to where Addler knelt, looking at the ground alongside him.
“Many men and horses, your Majesty,” Rapopella hissed. “Many renegade Majji and Orbers.”
“Don’t call me that,” Addler replied.
“But you are King, your Majesty,” the Dragos insisted.
“I am only the Queen’s husband. Being married to Alnya does not make me a King.”
Rapopella put his claw to his chest.
“Husband to Queen Alnya Dragonstoen is true King, in my heart.”
He ignored the comment and read the note again. He fingered his lance as his eyes scanned the same line repeatedly: “Bring me the amulet and I will give him back to you. Any attempt at rescue, and your little boy will die.” He wiped away a tear. He felt the pressure of the Dragos‘comforting claw on his shoulder and abruptly stood up. Rapopella was unfazed by Addler’s action. He knew the young man was preoccupied with getting his son back.
“How many in total?”
The Dragos looked at the tracks in the grass. He was silent for several moments as he tilted his head from side to side, sniffing the air and calculating the number of soldiers they would face. Addler took the opportunity to walk back to Nesra and open the dragon’s saddlebag, looking at the contents.
“Thirty-four,” Rapopella said.
“Only thirty-four men?”
“Thirty-four crystals in the saddlebag.”
Rapopella was still looking at the ground. Though the Dragos had lost all of his magick in the Rebirthing of Addler’s son, his wife Alnya, and Nesra the dragon, he still had a Majji’s intuition, in addition to a Dragos’ hearing. The loss of magick from bringing back the dead had no effect on the creature’s other abilities.
“How many men are there?”
“Over two hundred soldiers,” he hissed. “Twenty, thirty Majji. Twenty, thirty Orbers.” He stood up and turned to Addler. “And Prince Cedric Laramy Dragonstoen.”
Addler seethed with rage. Rapopella could sense both the anger and fear deep in the young man’s spirit.
“Where is Alnya?” he said through clenched teeth.
“In the countryside of Tulanpault with Lord Berger. Many Dragos and aligned Majji there. Your son’s mother is well protected. She will not be harmed.”
“Good,” he said with little relief. “Do you have the sack?” Rapopella reached into his waist bag and retrieved the sack, handing it over to him. “It’s in there?”
“As demanded, against many wishes,” Rapopella said.
“Against your and She-en’s wishes, you mean.”
Rapopella simply stared into Addler’s eyes in response, causing the young king to avert his gaze and survey the barren land before them. In the distance, he could barely make out the top spirals of Yelfal castle.
“Let’s go,” Addler said as he mounted the dragon and sat in the saddle. Rapopella extended his wings and quickly took to the air. Addler pulled on Nesra’s reins and the dragon began flapping his wings quickly, the dirt swirling underneath them and his air sacks filling up in his chest. He rose up and Addler snapped the reins. Nesra obeyed and began to follow the Dragos.
#
Borgious Yelfal’s castle was well protected by thick stone walls and a ring of well-armed soldiers. As Nesra lay quietly behind them, Addler and Rapopella peeked over the rocks that hid them from view. They could see that the number of soldiers they would have defeat to enter the castle was far more than they initially thought there would be. It may be best to decrease the number of opponents to increase their chances of entering the castle.
Addler held out his hand and Rapopella handed him the first crystal. He threw it at a group of soldiers, and a reddish light exploded from it as it hit the ground. Clothes turned to flesh, flesh turned to bone, and bone turned to dust. Before their companions realized what had happened, more crystals fell about them as Addler and Rapopella threw as fast as they could. Group by group the soldiers turned into piles of dust.
As the last group of soldiers died, three Majji ran out the castle gate to investigate the explosions. Before they could stop themselves, the last two crystals flew through the air and they winced as they realized their mistake. As one crystal hurled towards two of the Majji, the one who was an Orber quickly faded out, but the other Majji was unable to run away fast enough. The crystal landed and as the red light hit the Majji, she burst into a blinding roar of light and energy, dying in a spectacle of brilliance and thunder that shook the whole castle and, unfortunately, announced their presence to Yelfal. The third Majji quickly created an energy shield around him, which protected him from the last crystal’s deadly light. When the light faded, he stopped generating the shield and looked at the rocks from where the crystals came from. In an instant, he orbed away.
“Bad idea,” Addler said.
“It would now seem,” Rapopella agreed,
As they rose to escape, several buzzing sounds behind them stopped them in mid-stance, Nesra’s fearful roar and the sound of amour clanking indicating that someone had orbed in.
“Majji crystals, Knight Berrington?” a voice behind them said.
“Yelfal,” Rapopella said quietly.
Addler looked at the Dragos.
“Really?” he said with annoyed sarcasm. He watched Rapopella’s deep black eyes move around before the Dragos spoke in a whisper.
“I can kill him before anyone can kill me. You might escape.”
Gently placing his hand on the creature’s scaly arm, Addler shook his head.
“I can’t afford to lose you either, my friend.”
He felt his lance being taken away from him, thankful that the magick in it could not be used against him.
“Having a nice little chat, or did you forget I was here?”
They stood and turned to see Yelfal standing impatiently, an ogre of a man every bit as nasty in looks as he was in demeanor. Several Orbers and soldiers stood around him.
“Where’s my son?” Addler demanded.
“Safe for now, Berrington. Last we met, you were a simple Knight, a Free Lance. Now you are a King I hear! Marrying the Queen of Husanta does not a King make, boy!”
“I’m not a King.”
“But your Majesty-”
“See?” Yelfal chuckled, interrupting Rapopella. “Even your pet says you are a King.”
Rapopella spread his wings and bore his fangs in attack at being called a pet, but was quickly subdued by many swords now pointing only a hair’s width away from him.
“Amusing. Do you have it, King?”
Addler reluctantly handed over the bag. Yelfal looked in the bag and chuckled again. The Dragonstoen amulet, and all of its power, was now his.
“Now give me my son, as agreed,” Addler demanded.
“Take them,” Yelfal said to his soldiers, who surrounded and chained Nesra while others dragged Addler and Rapopella away.
“I paid you!” Addler screamed at the top of his lungs. “I gave you what you wanted. What about my son?”
“Oh, him.” Yelfal smiled broadly. “You did bring the Dragonstoen amulet, and I will give you your son back. But I did say not to try to rescue him or he would die. Didn’t I? I’m a person who keeps my word. So I will give you back your son very soon, however, he will be dead and you’ll be my prisoner forever!”
Addler screamed in the greatest anger and emptiness he had ever felt as they were dragged away by Yelfal’s men. An Orber looked at the amulet that Yelfal was holding in his hand.
“What do you intend to do with that?” he asked.
Yelfal cracked an evil grin as he looked at the Majji Orber.
“Bring down the Dragonstoen family and rule Husanta myself!”
“But the amulet has no power for you, Yelfal. It only works for a Dragonstoen.”
“That’s right. Queen Alnya will use the amulet to do exactly as I say.”
“How?”
“She’ll have no choice. I have her husband, her son, and her Protector. If she wants to see them alive, then she will do as I want. Orb out and try to find where she is being hidden. Deliver my message and bring her back here.”
“Yes, Yelfal.”
As the Majji orbed out and Yelfal preceded back into the castle, two men, who had taken great pains to remain hidden, looked at each other after hearing Yelfal’s plans.
“A few minutes too late. If we had only flown faster, we may have prevented the King’s capture.”
“Dragons can only fly so fast,” Berger said. “Besides, yours is not as young as some as the others.”
“I could have made him go faster,” Kaska replied. “You just happened to be the first one in his saddle. He’s used to me riding him, not you.”
“Used to that weight?” Berger said with a laugh.
“You’re not that light yourself.”
“Ah, Kaska, but you are the Lord of the Knights for Queen Alnya. You must be fit and trim! I’m just a lowly and retired former Lord of the Knights for her grandfather. I’m just an armorer now, so I am allowed to indulge in food and drink a little more than you.”
“Berger, I don’t think that-”
Kaska was interrupted by the sight of the sword that was bearing down upon Berger’s neck. In one swift motion, he thrust his own sword up into the stomach of one of Yelfal’s soldiers, the man’s body falling beside the surprised Berger.
“I think we talk too much, as well,” Berger said, pushing the body of the soldier off his leg. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. Seems like we may have more company soon. We should try to get them out.” Kaska surveyed the number of soldiers Yelfal told to remain outside the castle. He counted fourteen. “Two against fourteen. Good and fair odds. Seven apiece.” Kaska looked around for a moment. “Up for some fun?”
“I always like fun,” Berger said with a smile.
They both crouched low and proceeded through the thick brush to the back of the castle. Once there, they moved forward slightly and Berger’s eyes suddenly stared into the sharp point of a sword. He looked up, and with dozens of soldiers poised with swords towards him and Kaska, let out a sigh. Kaska bumped into the back of him and tried pushing him forward but Berger remained in position.
“Berger, move your rear end, we have-” The boots of a soldier came into view to his left and he froze. “Berger?”
“Yes, Kaska?”
“Those are not your boots, are they?”
“No. These are not your swords, are they?”
“No. How many other people are here?”
“Over four dozen and more.”
“I think we have a problem.”
Just as Kaska spoke, five sets of strong arms grabbed him and Berger and pulled them up and along into the castle.
#
The large hall was filled with Yelfal’s soldiers, most of which were standing behind the five captured rescuers. Addler was gagged and restrained, trying to break the grip of the soldiers who held him. Nesra was tied to metal stakes in the floor, his wings and snout clamped shut, the dragon unable to do anything to protect his rider. Berger, Kaska, and Rapopella stood motionless, knowing that one move would mean the end of the life of Addler’s son, Prince Cedric Laramy Dragonstoen, now sitting in the lap of Yelfal who reposed in a chair, his back to his prisoners.
The air in front of Yelfal soon began to shimmer slightly, and a buzz filled the hall. The shimmer became more solid and within a moment, two renegade Majji Orbers loyal to Yelfal stood there with their arms around the shoulders of the child’s mother, Queen Alnya Dragonstoen. Yelfal stood and handed the Prince to a Majji and walked over to the Queen, looking her up and down, and then setting his gaze upon her eyes.
“Your Majesty. Welcome to my castle. I hope your trip was gentle on your stomach.”
Alnya looked past him to her child, who looked unharmed. She moved her eyes over to Nesra, who was flailing about, unable to break his bonds, and his low dragon guttural growl suppressed by the clamp on his snout. Berger and Kaska nodded their acknowledgment, and Rapopella locked sight with her, the Dragos’s mind still trying to fathom a way to rescue the Prince. She then looked at Addler, who was still trying to break away from the grip of the soldiers, he being even more agitated now that his wife was here. He could see the tears in her eyes and tried to scream, but the gag was too tight.
“Let them go!” she commanded to Yelfal.
“Let them go? Your Majesty, I can’t do that yet. We have to come to some sort of agreement.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the amulet. “Now that I have this,” holding it up for her to see, “I want to rule Husanta.”
“That won’t work for you.”
“I know. I will need to persuade you to command it to work for me. So this might be the incentive you need. Bring me the Dragos!”
Several soldiers prodded Rapopella, and he waddled over to Yelfal.
“You will declare me the rightful ruler of Husanta now, or I will kill the Dragos.”
“I die in service,” Rapopella hissed. “Do not let him rule. I am not important.”
“I will not let you rule my Queendom,” she said after a long moment of silence, tearfully looking at the Dragos.
“One last warning, Dragonstoen, either you give me the power of amulet or the Dragos dies now.”
Alnya stood still, her emotions a tangle of thoughts and anger and fear.
“Kill the Dragos,” he commanded, and a soldier removed his sword and began to swing it. “Wait!” he shouted, and with the soldier lowering the sword, Yelfal took the Prince from the Majji. “Kill the child instead.”
“Wait!” she said softly and the tears flowed like rivers down her cheek.
“No, your Majesty!” Rapopella said, which was echoed by both Berger and Kaska. Addler was screaming through his gag.
“Kill the child,” Yelfal said again.
“No!” she screamed. “I’ll do what you want. You now rule Husanta. Please don’t kill my child,” she begged.
Berger, Kaska, and Rapopella all looked at the ground in defeat. Addler had fallen to his knees and was weeping.
“Let the Knights and the Dragos go,” Yelfal said, “But,” looking at her, “the King and his dragon will remain here to ensure your cooperation, your Majesty.”
She bowed her head and cried as the Prince was handed to her.
“Now your Majesty, command the amulet to work for me.”
She looked at the necklace as it sat in Yelfal’s hand and reluctantly placed her hand over it. She closed her eyes and the crystal started to glow, the amulet’s light growing brighter until it shone like the sun.
“You command it, now,” she said through her tears.
Yelfal slowly put it around his neck and he could instantly feel the power that the necklace had. He grasped the crystal in his hand and closed his eyes.
“I command the destruction of the Majji Order,” he said quietly. The crystal became warm and within a moment, every renegade Majji in the room burst into a bright light and were gone. “No, not my Majji!”
“The amulet only works as you tell it too,” Alnya sobbed.
Yelfal’s face, which had grown even uglier through his anger, slowly relaxed as he contemplated his next command.
“Give me all the power the Order of the Majji control!” he shouted.
A hot flash enveloped his body and he could feel the power build within him. But as the feeling intensified, it felt as if his blood was boiling.
“What’s happening? What is this?”
“You asked for all the power of the Majji,” Alnya replied, her crying having ceased and her face showing only the slightest of a smirk.
“But you did not specify which power you wanted,” a voice said within the shadows of the hallway as the form of the speaker slowly came into view. She-en, one of the Majji Council members and personal liaison to the royal family, stood there staring at Yelfal. “So you will receive the power that is best suited to you. You requested the destruction of the Majji Order, yet only your own exiled Majji were destroyed.”
“And now,” Alnya added, “the power you desire is not what you’re receiving. Your power is one of self-destruction. You don’t control the amulet, Yelfal. I do.”
Yelfal’s face began to show the pain and anguish his body was experiencing. The heat within his muscles and blood was increasing and he started to scream in agony. As his soldiers looked on, Kaska and Berger were in the unnoticed process of releasing Addler and Nesra from their bonds.
“And now,” Alnya stood directly in front of the man, looking up at him, “it’s not any of us who are going to die. Unfortunately,” she held the Prince tightly against her, “It’s you.” Yelfal was screaming now from the pain. “This amulet is a fake, crafted by the Majji just for you.”
“H-h-how…?”
Yelfal tried to talk but his tongue was on fire, literally, as the smoke bellowed out of his mouth. The skin on his arms smoked and began to turn black. As Alnya and She-en made distance from Yelfal, everyone in the room could smell the burning flesh and bone. With all of Yelfal’s soldiers transfixed on the burning man, some now trying to put out the flames, Berger and Kaska gathered Addler, his lance, and Nesra the dragon, while She-en and Rapopella quickly grabbed Alnya and the Prince, and they all made their way to the far end of the room.
“How could you know King would bring amulet?” Rapopella asked both She-en and Alnya.
“My husband is not only a great Knight, but is also a creature of predictability.”
Rapopella nodded as She-en grasped Nesra’s reigns and each of them put a hand on She-en’s body. As she concentrated as hard as she could to generate the magick needed to orb all of them back to the castle in Pillarry, Alnya closed her eyes and made one final command to the false amulet. The rest then saw, before they orbed out and their vision was obscured, Yelfal explode into a shower of flesh and bone that blanketed the room.
Each set of eyes saw the darkness quickly turn to light as they finished orbing into the castle ballroom. Addler ran to Alnya and comforted her, holding Prince Cedric tightly against them both. Nesra bobbed his head up and down in relief, the dragon’s gas sacks expelling a small amount of air that ignited as it passed over his teeth, the minerals on them setting the gas on fire. Kaska slapped Berger on the shoulder, nodded to Alnya, and excused himself from the room. Berger walked over to the royal threesome.
“You two cause more trouble for me and Kaska,” he motioned over to Rapopella and She-en, “and the Dragos and the Majji, than anyone people I have ever known.”
“Sorry,” Alnya said sincerely.
“And that’s not all. You, Addler, taking the amulet. What were you thinking?”
“I just wanted my son back.”
“And almost got everyone killed in the process!”
“I-” Addler began, but lowered his eyes in shame. “I’m sorry, Berger.”
“Sorry? For putting my life in jeopardy? For making Kaska and I come and rescue you? For listening to your wife who knows how you think and act and set up our plan to destroy Yelfal? Sorry, King Addler Berrington Dragonstoen?” Berger walked over and grasped Addler by the shoulders, startling him. Berger pointed his finger directly in Addler’s face. “Don’t you,” then pointing at Alnya, “or you, ever be sorry for anything you do. As Queen of Husanta and her husband the King, you will be the targets of people like Yelfal. And I as your friend, Rapopella and She-en as your protectors, and Kaska as Lord of the Knights, will always be there to faithfully rescue you. And besides,” he continued as he backed off and motioned them to follow him out of the ballroom, “the best part of saving your lives is always afterwards.”
While Addler’s Dragontend took Nesra to the stables, Berger brought them to the dining room and they fell in awe of the feast that awaited them. Kaska stood there, ale in hand held high in toast, and waved in indication that they be seated. The food was brought to them and as they ate, Berger stood to make a toast.
“To the Royal family of Dragonstoen. Pains in our behinds, rulers of the land, and the best friends one could have.”
“Thank you, all.” Addler said.
Alnya rose and raised her mug.
“To all of you, who are the best friends my husband and I could ever have.”
As they drank to her toast, a soldier burst into the dining room hall and approached the table.
“The outer skirts of Lickteen have just repelled an attack by a group of robbers who stated they are heading here to the castle to steal the amulet!”
“That means they’ll be here in about three hours,” Addler said.
“We should prepared the-” Alnya began as she stood up and Addler picked up Prince Cedric from her lap.
Kaska and Berger looked at each other, then over to the couple, then to Rapopella and She-en who looked extremely concerned. Berger motioned for them to sit down.
“Kaska and I will deal with the robbers. Eat now.”
Kaska smiled.
“Fight later,” he said. “Besides, you four can’t worry properly, and Berger and I can’t fight properly, on empty stomachs. Right?”
They silently agreed by returning to their food.
“And your majesty,” Berger said to Anya as he chewed a piece of meat, “this time, please hide the necklace from your husband.”
The table burst out in joyful laughter.

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