My Exploding Cat

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Leo, NEWLY UPDATED!

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January 20th, 2010 Posted 9:11 am

CHAPTER ONE

Leo had decided that life was nice, but kind of boring. He liked science, math, and many other things that didn’t interest his sisters very much. At all. But Leo liked that, because Nikki never got into his stuff; she said (and Leo had heard this a million times): “I’ve got better things to do.” And Lila, who liked science, (and occasionally got tutored by Leo, usually because Leo wants her to get off his back and not ask a “bajillion questions” about what was in his beakers) knew better than to get into stuff that Leo didn’t say was OK to touch. Maya just left him alone. But even with all the unlimited entertainment of science and the puzzles of the world, even that got boring after a while, especially since his mom freaked out every time he tried to blow stuff up. Then there was only so much you could do with math, even though he’d spent many a rainy day trying to find the largest prime number ever discovered. He had a feeling, though, that something was coming that would change it all. Then he decided he was being stupid.
This is the one word that keeps magic from doing its job: stupid. There are a few people who have the power to use magic but haven’t discovered it because they think that it is stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Lila had been disappearing for weeks, even months at a time, and only a few days at a time was she at home. For some reason, Leo found this normal. But for another reason, whenever Lila stayed over, after she left, Mom and Dad couldn’t remember anything they did while she was here. Hm.
It was a nice fall afternoon, the orange leaves from the Peterson’s oak tree coating the back lawn, the sun out, and a refreshing breeze blowing around. Leo went to sit on the patio and finish reading his book. As he neared the patio, he saw that a plate of cookies was sitting on the table. This did not seem that unusual to Leo; his mother left snacks for him all the time.
“Hey Mom! Thanks for the snack!” Leo yelled. If he didn’t make sure his mom heard this, he’d have to listen to her manners lecture later. His yell went un-responded.
Leo stepped into the house.
“Mom! Thanks for the snack!” He repeated. No use taking chances.
“Mom just left for the dentist’s,” Lila said. “Nikki’s in charge.”
“Weird. Mom never bakes right before an appointment.” Normally, Leo would have been moaning at the idea of Nikki being babysitter, but this was too important. His mom would never do anything like this when she had anything to do that she had to be on time for.
“What? Did she leave you a plate of baked something?”
“Cookies,” Leo responded.
“Don’t eat any,” Lila warned.
“What’ll happen? Will I turn into a faerie?” Leo grinned.
“Whatever. But if you’re part of a prophecy, don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
“Like I’m gonna believe your faerie tale!”
Lila was getting angry and spread her wings to prove it, but Leo was already halfway out the door. She started after him, but decided that he could find out himself what a “faerie tale” was. She sniffed in annoyance and whirled on her heels. Why was she wasting her time? She beat her wings and flew to her room to read the new chapter book she’d gotten from the library.
Leo went out and, just to show Lila, stuffed half the cookies into his mouth, and read his book through to the end – twice. Lila was being even more stupid than I was, Leo thought. And she is, trying that faerie tale thing on me. She probably just wanted my cookies. Little sisters!

CHAPTER TWO

The next day was Monday. The day that most kids went to school refreshed after a weekend. Refreshed and ready and enthusiastic about learning. Uh huh. And Leo led the cheerleaders’ pep squad.
Normally Leo would be among them, but today was different. Today he had a bad cold and he had to stay home because he had a very high temperature. And if he’d had different parents he would be very happy, but his dad worked at a physical therapy center and he was a firm believer in the opinion that physical therapy was the cure for the common cold. In other words, his dad made him get out in the driveway and exercise for an hour a day while he had a cold, which added spring allergies to it all. Which ended in a sneezing fit. Leo spat fire.
“Uggh,” Leo thought, “my mom told me not to eat that spicy salsa. I’ll never hear the end of it if she finds out!” He passed it off as a hallucination, joking about it to himself and started slacking off with the exercise every time he knew his dad wasn’t looking out the window at him.
A few days later Leo was back on his feet and going to school again. By now it was Thursday, and Leo remembered belatedly that on Thursday he was supposed to have a question ready, and an experiment that showed the answer for Science class.
“Oh man! Mr. Indmitbuls is not going to let me get by with the ‘I was sick’ excuse. I should have played sick for another day to get out of this.” Mr. Indmitbuls (pronounced “ind MEET bools”) was from foreign lands, and no one knew where, but somehow his first name was Spakhet (pronounced “Spigot”). His full name was Spakhet E. Indmitbuls. Try saying that out loud.
Anyway, all the kids referred to him as certain forms of pasta, so he got no respect at all. To make up for that he was rather strict when students did not do their work, but the kids still did not take him seriously, because Spakhet Indmitbuls was an old man who had dyed his hair bright red
Am I taking this too far? Sorry. Err… let’s go on to the next chapter.

CHAPTER THREE

Leo was glad that lunch was before Science class so he could think up an excuse. He found himself giving up and bracing himself for the “late paper = lower grade” speech. He sighed, then blew on his chili to cool it down. Exactly the opposite was done. He blew on his chili, spurting a gust of fire. The bowl remained unharmed, amazingly. Leo coughed from the fumes, making more fire and smoke. This time it was enough to set the smoke alarm off, and water poured down from the ceiling, getting him wet and mildly ticked. Someone pulled the fire alarm switch, adding to the noise. All the children were escorted out of the building, and sent home until further notice.
The next day was “further notice”, because they were all sent back to school. Leo was actually glad that they didn’t have to wait, because Friday was Mythology day. Every month, the second Friday was Mythology Day.
And on Mythology day there was no time for science experiments, because Mr. Indmitbuls was too busy ranting about how faeries don’t exist and science backs it up. He thought it was pointless trying to teach nine-year-olds what a mermaid looks like because they “DON”T EXIST! It is POINTLESS teaching you BRATS that MYTHOLOGICAL JUNK!!! After THAT you start believing in Faeries of all things, and I don’t even get PAID WELL for listening to you kids REASON with me and try to make me believe all those STORIES!!!” After that he would lurch off grumbling about aliens on Mars, or Atlantis, but the most common one was that all those old faerie tales brainwashed the tiny idiots into believing that magic frogs really existed.
Here was how it worked:
In Reading there was always a faerie tale, and some fiction text book with all of the mythological creatures, what they looked like healthy and what they eat and all that stuff, which was moderately interesting except that they had to take stupid notes on it.
In English there was an editing page with something having to do with some creature.
In Writing they read a paragraph about some creature and gave a short “Paragraph Report” about it. Which Leo hated.
In Math there were word problems having to do with mythology. Not bad, except for all the girls’ claims that they can draw faeries better than that.
In Spanish they learned how to say “Elf” in fifteen different languages.
And of course, there’s Science, with rambling Spakhet E. Indmitbuls. Leo liked this because watching the old man rant was extremely funny and he didn’t have to learn anything at that time. Leo had always preferred learning things out of books and conducting his own experiments, where you can repeat experiments with slight variations to see what happens with no time limit or grading charts.
He wondered how many Mythology days it would be before the old man’s shouts would weaken him and then he would fall down on the floor, asleep, and go into retirement. He was already 65.

CHAPTER FOUR

The class was already halfway through Reading when something caught Leo’s eye.

Dragons

The common dragon is a fire breathing creature with large wings and a high intelligence, and grows in height normally to five or six feet high, but some are known to grow taller. The dragon’s diet consists of fruit, or anything sweet that they can find. They are scavengers and will not turn down a free meal if offered. Sometimes will eat salad.
The healthy dragon’s temperature is 100-101 degrees Fahrenheit, a very high fever for humans.
Many believe that the dragon has magical purposes in saving other magical creatures and keeping peace.

But Leo stopped reading at the words “sometimes will eat salad”.
“If they’re so intelligent, maybe I can get one to make sense of this fire thing. Right now I’m afraid to sneeze! If I can make a dragon trap then I can make one give me information.”
Oh, so typical of Leo. The miniature scientist. Gotta make a trap for everything. If they’re really avid in the scientific world, they hypothesize whether the trap will work. This kid’s nine years old!

CHAPTER FIVE

Leo stuffed the third napkin down his shirt, folding it to make it unnoticeable. The book said dragons would eat salad, and not turn down a free meal. Leo hated salad. All through dinner, when no one was watching, he would drop salad down his shirt into the napkins.
Later that night, Leo snuck into the basement and found some rope. He retrieved the salad from dinner he had dropped down his shirt. Outside on the patio, he set up a lasso trap with the salad in the middle. He set up a hidden camera in a nearby plant, and went to bed.
Early that morning, he checked his trap. The salad was gone but the trap was still there, empty.
Dang raccoons, Leo thought. He watched the video on the camera anyway. He found that a dragon had come along, looked at the trap and picked up two sticks to use as chopsticks to get to the salad without getting caught. Leo had forgotten that dragons were smart.

CHAPTER SIX

Lila had been acting odd lately. The most Leo saw of her was at mealtimes and she seemed very nervous. She would eat quickly and then excuse herself and mutter that she was going to her room to read. If Leo walked up to her and asked her what was wrong, she’d jump and say, “Nothing,” really fast and, “Erh… I’m gonna go read now.” Then she’d run off to her room, still shaking. She would scurry off to her room, lock the door, and be quiet for about three hours, or until the next mealtime. Leo thought she had never been this worried. Perhaps the cookies really were dangerous, Leo thought. He shrugged off this possibility. He decided to spy on her. This would be easy since she was always in her room. He would spy on her through the crack under her door. Nice, he thought. A way to spy AND eavesdrop at the same time!
For the next few days he lingered around Lila’s door, wearing white to blend with the walls sometimes, and eavesdrop. There was the turning of pages, big pages, not the pages of the small thin chapter books that Lila normally read.
That night Leo ate early so while Lila was eating later, he could sneak into her room and see what the big book was about.
The book said (on the page Lila had book-marked):

Many people witnessed consuming some “magic cookies” were said to go insane.

Oh, that figured, Leo thought to himself. Lila was just extremely terrified that I’d go insane. She should know that’s happened already.
He turned to the front cover. It was a library book. It said FICTION on the little red sticker on the binding. Hmm, he thought. He turned to the copyright page. It said NONFICTION at the bottom of the page. How very confusing, Leo thought to himself. He decided to keep watch on Lila’s behavior, but leave the book alone for now. It seemed stupid to Leo, that Lila believes whatever she reads. Like there’s some stupid enchantment on a bunch of cookies. And why, anyway, would they show up at Leo’s house?!?! Now THAT was dumb.

CHAPTER SEVEN

With three weeks Lila’s behavior did not change. Leo went back to the book for more info. Maybe, just maybe, he might be able to make sense of it. He opened it to the first page and skimmed through it. It described creatures, strange creatures, weirdest of all some sort of elf thing called “chikik”. The author’s name was “Sky”. It didn’t even show a last name!
Suddenly Leo felt the room get darker. There was a sense of panic, not from Leo, but from the spot of darkness moving slowly across the room…
Fear. Not an emotion but rather an emission of one’s mental status: I don’t want to be here. I’m afraid of you and I want to leave now.
It realized Leo was standing there! Leo heard a scritching coming from the book. There was a little yellow sticky note, in Lila’s handwriting, writing itself on the page. It said:Leo watch out!
It charged. Leo was knocked out. The creature decided to try and take this new creature back to its world.

CHAPTER EIGHT

The creature looked. It saw… magic. Fiery magic. It couldn’t see the body on the carpet, but it could see the form, the magic in the shape of a faerie’s body, without the wings…
It dismissed the form as some new faerie. But that didn’t make sense to it. This wasn’t faerie’s magic. It was fiery magic, magic to fight with, not to be used for a faerie’s purposes. It didn’t fit faerie’s purposes.
Everyone knows that all magical creatures can “see” magic, and some think it vitally important, because it may be the only way for a new magic creature to see what species they are.
It was confused. What is this? it asked itself.
Then it actually caught a real glimpse of the fiery magic, and blinding, searing pain made the creature give a shriek and run, as fast as it could, out the window and far, far away.

CHAPTER NINE

Leo awoke in a well-built little cottage, with someone mixing something at the other end of the room.
“Do you drink coffee?” A voice said.
“Nope, sorry.”
“Ah.” The voice was quiet for a minute, then said, “Have you seen any magic yet?”
“I’ve seen something.”
“Oh. Yeah. There was a Shaede in your room. Funny looking room for a guy.”
“That’s Lila’s room! She’s my sister. You wouldn’t believe the faerie tales she tells.”
“Oh, so you haven’t seen magic yet. Ah.”
“So what the heck is a Shaede?”
“They’re evil.”
“Well, I knew that much.”
“Good. That’s all you need to. Avoid them.”
This voice belonged to an old man who looked like he’d stepped right out of a Mad Scientist Monthly magazine. He fixed Leo breakfast, consisting of some orange juice, slightly stale cereal and slightly burnt toast. “So, um, what do you do here, anyway? Do you have a job, or- what?”
“Oh, I used to work in the military. I’m retired now, though.”
“How interesting.” Leo looked around the room, but there was no hint of anything military. No swords hanging from their hilt on the walls, no armor on mannequins, no green bulletproof suits. There were no shields proudly polished and hanging on the walls, only pictures of dragons. Apparently this guy liked dragons.
“No, Leo, I gave all my armor and weapons to the other militants. I don’t need them now.”
Leo was not going to ask, because it would be too nosy, but this man had answered the question.
“And by the way, if I were in a strange place, I wouldn’t think it nosy to ask questions.” The old man grinned. Wait – did Leo ever tell the man his name?

CHAPTER TEN

Well, the old man took him home. The man moved silently, even though there were plenty of leaves and twigs on the ground to step on, and when he got home, he didn’t know exactly how he came – just that the old man led him out of the forest his cottage (which seemed much bigger on the inside) was in, and then… his mind went blank. He ended up at home.     Perhaps the man was a ghost?  That wouldn’t explain the cottage, though. Maybe he was a ghost who could use magic. Maybe he became a ghost fighting in the military and they took his armor when he died and re-used it, or maybe he used to be a magician in the military. That must have been it. Leo had a bit of belief in magic, but not faeries or anything girly like that. No, faeries were dumb. Why would Leo ever believe in faeries?
He didn’t know it, but he was about to find out.
*    *    *
Lila decided that was it. She would take no more of this faerie tale business. In the middle of the next night, she crept silently and magically transported Leo and herself to Faerie Land.
Sweet, girly and innocent blue-eyed, -blonde-haired Lila may seem, but she is deadly.  Looks are deceiving, especially when it comes to faeries. When Lila gets angry (something nobody goes through twice, and for good reason), she turns into the no-nonsense “I’m angry now and you can’t control me, boss me around or make me do anything I don’t want to do. I am in control of this situation. You are not.”, determined (sometimes over-determined) faerie that she is. No longer “sweet little girlie” but instead  “oh my.” And Leo was about to get his hands full.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover. But what they don’t say is how serious this cutesy little saying is. And there’s the other problem: it’s cutesy. And then there’s that bit about how people say it so often that it’s become a cliche  and nobody listens to it.
Lila stopped in her tracks. No, this was too obvious. And a large dragon among small faeries? She’d have to take him somewhere else, because faeries are like cats – in that which they are very protective of their territory. Plus, he would end up believing in faeries, but he would doubt all the other species Lila would tell him about. She sat down on Faerie land’s cloud, wondering why Leo had not woken up yet.
Where could she take him? Hmm. She could take him to Florida, where the mermaids lived. No, there were too many tourists in Florida. Someone would spot him. Same with the California forests, the land of pixies. So that eliminates pixie, faerie and mermaid territory. That leaves… what? Shapee territory? Lila didn’t know where Shapees lived. And it was customary for dragons to see a different species than their own for… what did they call it? Seeing magic…
That left the Chikik’s territory. Surely Maya would have an extra log or something. She could meet up with a guard, and right about now Maya would be studying the Chikik language so she could write in it. Of course! Another magical note was needed.
Maya lay in her cabin, book open, reading the strange symbols of the ancient texts. It was hard not to confuse these symbols with the Greek symbols she used to write in code. (Yes, dear reader, Maya could write in Greek symbols. The Internet is wonderful, isn’t it?) While looking at a Chikian symbol, her studies were interrupted by a little yellow sticky note. It said (in Lila’s handwriting again)
Need passage to your world. Leo fell for the cookies thing. –Lila
Maya sent a night guard to get them.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Leo awoke to the smell of wood. Wood and cut grass. He tried to get up, but he was heavier than normal. And more tired. He could now smell something else. He sneezed, spitting embers again, but put them out quickly with his paw.
Paw?
That was why he was heavier- he found himself to be six feet tall at the shoulder and dragon, not human.
But he was here because of someone either A) close to him or B) magical. He did not consider that it could very well be C) both. He knew that it was at least one of those two, because his allergy medicine was here. And so was a ragweed plant, right next to his bed, which was made of grass. But he found this shelter was an enlarged log, so how could ragweed grow here? Must be magic. After all, if you turned into a six-foot-tall red dragon you’d believe anything, too. But magic doesn’t happen on accident. This was planned.
Lila was feeling rather cocky. She knew her plan had worked. This was because she had hidden behind an oak leaf inside the log.
Leo looked up. Was it just him, or was that leaf radiating light…..? When Leo glanced away, Lila shot a sunbeam over to a window across the room. Leo looked back at Lila’s leaf. No, the sun was just shining on it. Nothing strange about that. But having used most of the magic she had on teleporting, Lila was growing weaker and exhausted. As soon as Leo left, she dropped to the floor. She HAD skipped last night’s rest, after all. Who could blame her for being tired?
Leo found himself in the middle of a large village infested with scurrying elves doing everything from selling fruit to practicing magic and warfare to telling jokes. There was even one sitting on a building’s awning reading a book.  The places people will go for a quiet space…
But that was the thing about the Chikian village. There was no quiet space. (Maya had learned the hard way exactly how loudly the Chikik scream.) Unless you somehow got Maya to order everyone away from a certain space, it would be clustered with Chikik trying to squeeze in and sell something or chat with one another.
Which had obviously just happened.
Maya and Lila loved to embarrass boys. Everyone in Faerie Land was all formal and goody-goody, but embarrassing boys was fun. Maya, of course, had already become the Chikian ruler, and really wasn’t quite sure how she got roped into that, but barely any Chikik would joke around with her. No, the Chikik thought, monarchy was to be respected, not giggled at. They would never joke about “important” jobs like that. Oh no. Whenever Maya was spoken to, the speaker would drop a leaf at her feet, regardless of the fact she was usually watching TV when they did this. There was a perk to it, though; it gave Maya and Lila a subject for jokes.
Lila was enjoying this. She had embarrassed a boy, and it was even better because that boy was her brother. This was Lila’s main source of entertainment. She’d show up in human streets, disguised, and walk up to a boy and use a big word. She’d ramble on about how it was such a beautiful day, and oh, the altostratus clouds in the sky were so beautiful and she hoped that it wouldn’t rain, and how it’s just the perfect temperature and so low humidity… and she wouldn’t buy lemonade from that stand because there was some zymurgy occurring in their drinks…
(Dictionary of Lila: Awning: The little striped-cloth canopy that some stores have. Altostratus: A very high category of cloud. Zymurgy: The process of fermentation. Like, when you’re making wine. In other words, she’s saying that the lemonade has mold in it.)
But she’d let her guard down. She was so entirely engulfed in her own world that she didn’t even notice the big red dragon lumber down the street, trying very hard not to step on anyone.
“Oh, so you’re behind this, aren’t you?” Leo said, picking Lila up carefully by the wings. “Well, that’s shiny, isn’t it?” He said when Lila drew her sword. “Pretty and rather well-kept, but not going to do you much good.”
Lila glared and said, “No, but this will.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

Lila naturally radiated light, but she could also bend sunlight to magnify it using a sort of invisible magic mirror, and she did it now, blinding Leo. This was natural faerie self-defense, and Lila didn’t notice that it was Leo she was battling.
“Hey!”
“Lila, quit it!” Maya to the rescue.
“What? Some of Leo’s FRIENDS have come here, probably to pick him up.”
“Um, that’s Leo!”
Surprised, Lila flew into a nearby tree and turned off the light spell. Lila was one who was so used to things attacking her that, when caught by surprise, can and will attack anything she sees. Sometimes this works and sometimes it becomes…
“…awkward…” Leo said.
Nobody said anything. Even the chittering Chikik had stopped their conversations to join the silence. A pin dropped, and everyone heard it.
“Um, we should just go,” Maya said. The conversations started again, because Maya had broken the ice. “To the dragon forest. Toby told me that you saw the old rambling military guy in his cottage.”
“Who’s Toby?” Leo asked. He looked at Lila.
Maya discreetly jerked a thumb toward a tree.
“We should GO,” Lila said. “We’ll explain on the way.”

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Toby turned out to be a young blue dragon who had not found his place in the world quite yet. According to the elders, each dragon would be involved somehow in a battle and Toby hadn’t yet. Of course, neither had Leo, and it was that oh-so-special time again…
After meeting Toby and the old man again, some random dragon hurried them out of the forest and made them go to Faerie land, because there was serious magic to be done here. The dragons did not recognize Lila, Maya or Leo. To them, the party were simply passers-by. Tourists. The dragons didn’t like tourists. They took too many pictures.
The group didn’t argue. Toby wanted to go with them to Faerie Land, but faeries are territorial and liked other creatures that weren’t faeries as much as the dragons liked photography (or anyone who used it). Photography, as they saw it, was purposeless. You had already seen the place, so why bother to take a picture? Anyone who wanted to see that place could just go there. Duh.  But Toby was needed for his share of magic.
So they left in the tree without a word. Lila cast the spell that kept people and things without wings from falling through the cloud on Maya. She didn’t like doing magic much, but it was occasionally useful.
Well, so hey. The day ended up like a game of Ping-Pong. They immediately ran into Cherry, who was flying in quite a hurry.
“It’s been thirty years! The mermaids and Nykxis tell me that she’s at it again!”
Nobody had any idea what she was talking about, so naturally the party followed. Cherry stood on the edge of the cloud, overlooking the forest below and the riverbank of the Mississippi.
She was silent for a few minutes, then started a spell. It had sort of an echo to it, though Cherry only said the words once
“The crown, the crown
Is being, is being
Passed down, passed down
To Meijing, to Meijing…”
At which point the echoing stopped and everything came alive in an indescribable way; clouds seemed to whirl in the sky, and the sky itself changed color; blue to periwinkle to pink to orange to red to purple to very light pink to yellow and then blue again. The branches of the trees ruffled their leaves, causing them to fall and make a sort of shower. For three seconds it poured. One second the sky was sunny, the next second it was coming down in buckets. Then it stopped as abruptly as it had started. It alternated, every 60 seconds it would be a three-second shower. Then something strange happened – it was during the three-second rain shower – every raindrop turned into ice. Cherry shouted the spell louder, cupping her hands to magnify it, ignoring the hail.
“It matters not in the swampy mire!
The battle between ice and fire
Will always continue, forever more!
Tell what fate will have in store
Tell me EXACTLY what’s happening!
When the crown is passed down to Meijing!”
“Meijing! Meijing! Meijing! Meijing!” echoed the mountains.
In a split second, everything stopped. Everything. The air suddenly became thick with magic. Then it started to hail again.
“NO MORE STORMS!” Cherry screamed, casting her hands up. The storms stopped.
“And no more games. I wish safe travel upon all.”
The air was still thick with magic. Cherry whirled on her heels. “Today,” she said, “is going to be rather interesting. Leave for the dragon forest. Now. Not later. Now.”
She spread her wide red wings and grabbed the points, then jumped. For a few seconds, she seemed to be in free-fall, but then pulled the tips of her wings forward and glided away. The rest muttered, “To each his own. Coulda come with us.” They climbed into the tree and were there in a few minutes.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The dragons stood in a circle. Most were on all fours, but the one who must have been the leader stood on his hind legs and blew fire into an opening in the trees. He wasn’t blowing straight up; the opening was right above the middle of the circle, above a pool of water. The sky went dark and it hailed, then snowed. He was melting the ice and making a pool of water. When it was filled, the sky went a brilliant white-yellow and some mermaid thing with a pixie’s dragonfly wings came out of it, splashing into the pool. Lila saw her scan the crowd, then the creature adopted an expression of shock and humongous eyes. She was shaking in the water, and Lila knew it wasn’t from the cold.
She backed away just a little, then said, “Is she actually…?”
Lila sighed mentally, then displayed the entire Fearless Front act. “Who are you?” she demanded. This usually worked with enemies and people who weren’t enemies but would otherwise be WAY too friendly or be super afraid of her. If it were the latter case, she would do it as not to disappoint them.
“V-Vera, miss. I-I’m a River Nykxi from C-colorad-do…” She shrank with her feminine little voice.
This was what she expected out of Lila. If you met George Washington, you wouldn’t think you’d meet him watching the World Series Football game, would you? You’d think he’d be saying something wise and warlike, but not joking around. Lila had a reputation to protect!
“Yes, of course,” Lila said, even though she’d never even heard of river Nykxies. It was pronounced Nik-see, but Nykxies don’t go for simple spelling. Her chin was in the air. The place fell silent for a minute, then Lila said, “Well?”
The dragons were slightly hesitant. Finally, the leader, a dragon named Aldrich (which meant old, wise ruler in Old English. There were a lot of Old English names among dragons, and names starting with A were particularly popular. They later learned that the old man from the old cottage was named Alcott, which coincidentally meant “from the old cottage”) spoke. “Well, you see, um, every thirty years the next ice spirit in line gets their hands on the Ice Circlet. Then the Nykxies need our help to keep the new queen from freezing the water. This usually means killing her. In fact, it always means killing her. They meet in a different place every time. There’s a secret to killing them that nobody who hasn’t done it doesn’t know. Even I don’t know it.” Aldrich paused thoughtfully. “But you will, later. Until then, travel everywhere. You have limited time to figure this out and find the secret. Nobody is allowed to tell you what it is; it must be figured out by each warrior on his own.”
It was at this point when Cherry dropped through the hole above the pond, landed in the pond and jumped out, shivering; her dress hem was coated with ice but she ignored it nonetheless. “I hit a snowstorm. None of the spells work – the next descendant isn’t named Meijing! The spell sent me some weirdo kid and not the stupid ice spirit! They’ve gotten smart this time!”
“Why does a name matter?” Maya asked.
“It’s the director. If you don’t tell a spying spell who to look for, it’ll give you just anyone that fits the rest of the song. For example, if I didn’t put a name in that spell, it’d give me someone sitting by a fireplace trying to warm their freezing feet.”
“Oh, that line about the neverending battle between two opposite elements which never ends because they are equally powerful and fire will melt ice but the ice will turn to water and just refreeze and it can never really move on its own and douse the fire and both elements only really use the shield, and it’s only every thirty years that someone strikes and then the ice gets melted and it starts all over again? THAT bit?” Leo said.
The dragons just stared.
“Well…” Leo said.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“Ummmmmm… ‘k.”
No one bothered to check who said this. It was what they were all thinking, anyway. Only Maya and Lila even knew what words he said, and even they couldn’t understand him. Chicagoans talk fast, and Leo had just completed a run-on sentence, what? Six lines long? (Ha ha, I bet you went back to check! Made you look! Oh, if you were too lazy, I’ll save you a few sleepless nights. Five lines.)
They stared until Lila, again, had to step in and break the silence.
“If we started life in the late Cretaceous period, then you guys would still be staring when present day came around. What’s the deal?”
“We woke up at 5:00 in the morning and we’re masters at sleeping with our eyes open. We’re not gonna give up a chance to go back to bed.”
“Well, I’m exhausted too, and I’m a master of sleeping with my eyes shut.” Maya rolled a nearby hollow log over, enlarged it just enough to be comfortable, whipped out her Swiss Army knife and whittled a few air holes. Then she cut a door, jumped in, rolled away and started snoring, very loudly and very fake sounding. Because it was fake. Cherry whipped out some high-tech device and scanned as much area as possible. It took a lot of magic, so she started with the areas that the Ice Spirits liked – not Alaska or anything, but certain states like Maine and countries like Italy and England with a lot of water to freeze. They were done with Alaska.
Cherry saved the local areas for last, as, she reasoned, they’d know already if the ice spirits were here. And anyway, she said, it’s not like we live near the Great Salt Lake or something…
Something tugged at Leo’s mind, or maybe two things. The secret, and water…
Beep! Cherry’s machine had done its job. Sort of. There were no ice spirits in the areas she searched… but she’d had to skip half of the Earth because she was out of magic and Lila didn’t know how to operate it.
“You should maybe GO TO BED! Hey, come back here! You think a hotel is going to let a dragon in?” This was Maya’s voice. “Come stay with me. I just had the security dome enlarged to contain more houses.”
“It’s a good offer,” Lila said. “You need rest. We’ll take Toby with us so we can just go in the morning.”

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Leo couldn’t sleep. Where could Meijing – or… whoever… – be? And what about the secret? Oh, sure, Lila could figure this stuff out because Lila was a smartypantsgoodytwoshoes little freakazoid. Little Miss Light had no problems. Never. Even if Leo had light, he would still have problems. Problems, problems, problems… all the time.
Something that Leo couldn’t quite think of just kind of sniggered at him through the thought, the secret, he couldn’t find. Leo subconsciously stuck his tongue out at that thing, then the not-thought fled, but left behind an almost-memory. Great. Along with the problems and everything else came the not-thoughts and the almost-memories. The not-thoughts were annoying, but the almost-memories were downright creepy.
There, in the almost-memory, stood his house. His house, in ice. No, on fire. In an icecube again. No, on fire again. It alternated until Leo shook his mind free of it, but it came creeping back every time Leo closed his eyes, and he knew there was no way that he would ever sleep with this going on. Toby tossed and turned at the other end of the cabin as if similarly plagued. Every time Leo tried to go to sleep, he just got more tired.
Leo gave in. He and Toby got up and traveled to the human house where the neverending battle between ice and fire would continue, although Leo was going there on a hunch, or maybe because the not-thoughts and the almost-memory had told him to. He had no clue why he was going there at the time.
On the doorstep, something struck him. Two things. Maybe even three…
First off, Cherry hadn’t searched here because we didn’t live by the Great Salt Lake or by the ocean. But she’d forgotten about the Mississippi River.
Second, he hadn’t learned to fly yet. He’d have to get that done soon.
And third, didn’t he hear the bathtub running?

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The secret, the secret, the secret… More than one secret, he knew now. Who could say that each dragon who’d fought Meijing didn’t figure out a different secret? They hadn’t told anyone, so what proof shows it was the same one? Leo knew one now.
He knew. He’d wished, almost. He’d known that even if he did have light, he’d have problems. Light, the first thing created in the entire universe. No human could live without light.  Leo, as a scientist, knew they’d die of hypothermia, which was the fancy word for freezing to death.
But there were different kinds of light. The kind Lila had was mostly for sight.
But Leo had a light of his own. Every fire, every flame, any spark found anywhere would have a light of its own. Light, but for keeping warmth and for keeping strength and cooking food.
Light. In a different form.
Almost everything had some kind of light. Even night had the stars.
The leader dragon had said the ice spirits met in a different place every time. But he’d never fought them.
A scream came from the bathroom. Leo investigated and found that Nikki, suddenly a mermaid, had gone too long without water and had to soak in the bathtub. But more than Nikki was in there. The mirror was frozen solid. Nikki put up a water force field by magic, and Not-Meijing froze it. Leo drew in a breath and was just about to melt the spirit when it did – something –
A different place every time? No. Not one, not a singular place.  It took him, everywhere. Around the world in eight seconds. Then – the world froze. Everything stopped.
Stopped. Frozen, everything.
No.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

No. No. No. Leo found some sort of strange comfort in the word. No, no, no. No. Simple. No. Defiant. He liked the sound of it. No.
“No?” said the spirit.
“No.” Leo even said it aloud, ignoring a very confused Nikki. He was putting all his attention on the confused Not-Meijing. “Never return!” He caught the ice spirit off guard and its spell stopped. Everything came alive again, and he’d made it come alive. Just like Cherry.
This would happen again, Leo knew. But for now, this dilemma is…
…melted.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

“Nikki, you’re a mermaid now, so I’m going to take you to Lila because Lila knows everything. It’s raining right now. I’ll teleport you outside Lila’s cabin. No questions. Just crawl in and tell Lila who the heck you are and that I sent you. She’ll teleport you to the mermaids’ place, wherever that is.” Leo tried to use magic to teleport her, but it didn’t work and he gave up, so he had Toby fly her to Lila. He put a wet towel around her to keep her from drying out.
And after they’d left, he teleported himself (which took practice but was easier than trying to do it to Nikki) to his cabin and fell asleep soundly for the first time in days.

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Chapter 20

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July 17th, 2009 Posted 7:19 pm

“Nikki, you’re a mermaid now, so I’m going to take you to Lila because Lila knows everything. It’s raining right now. I’ll teleport you outside Lila’s cabin. No questions. Just crawl in and tell Lila who the heck you are and that I sent you. She’ll teleport you to the mermaids’ place, wherever that is.” Leo tried to use magic to teleport her, but it didn’t work and he gave up, so he had Toby fly her to Lila. He put a wet towel around her to keep her from drying out.

And after they’d left, he teleported himself (which took practice but was easier than trying to do it to Nikki) to his cabin and fell asleep soundly for the first time in days.

The End

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Chapter 19

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July 17th, 2009 Posted 7:15 pm

No. No. No. Leo found some sort of weird comfort in the word. No, no, no. No. Simple. No.

“No?” said the spirit.

“No.” Leo even said it aloud, ignoring a very confused Nikki. He was putting all his attention on the confused Not-Meijing. “Never return!” He caught the ice spirit off guard and its spell stopped. Everything came alive again, and he’d made it come alive. Just like Cherry.

This would happen again, Leo knew. But for now, this dilemma is…

…melted.

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Chapter 18

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July 17th, 2009 Posted 7:13 pm

The secret, the secret, the secret… More than one secret, he knew now. Who could say that each dragon who’d fought Meijing didn’t figure out a different secret? They hadn’t told anyone, so what proof shows it was the sane secret? Leo knew one now.

He knew. He’d wished, almost. He’d known that even if he did have light, he’d have problems. Light, the first thing created in the entire universe. No human could live without light. They’d die of hypothermia.

But there were different kinds of light. The kind Lila had was mostly for sight.

But Leo had a light of his own. Every fire, every flame, any spark found anywhere would have a light of its own. Light, but for keeping warmth and for keeping strength and cooking food.

Light. In a different form.

Almost everything had some kind of light. Even night had the stars.

The leader dragon had said the ice spirits met in a different place every time. But he’d never fought them.

A scream came from the bathroom. Leo investigated and found that Nikki, suddenly a mermaid, had gone too long without water and had to soak in the bathtub. But more than Nikki was in there. The mirror was frozen solid. Nikki put up a water force field by magic, and Not-Meijing froze it. Leo drew in a breath and was just about to melt the spirit when it did – something –

A different place every time? No. Not one, not a singular place.  It took him, everywhere. Around the world in eighty seconds. Then – the world froze. Everything stopped.

Stopped. Frozen, everything.

No.

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Chapter 17

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July 17th, 2009 Posted 6:00 pm

Leo couldn’t sleep. Where could Meijing – or… whoever… – be? And what about the secret? Oh, sure, Lila could figure this stuff out because Lila was a smartypantsgoodytwoshoes little freakazoid. Little Miss Light had no problems. Never. Even if Leo had light, he would still have problems. Problems, problems, problems… all the time.

Something that Leo couldn’t quite think of just kind of sniggered at him through the thought, the secret, he couldn’t find. Leo subconsciously stuck his tongue out at that thing, then the not-thought fled, but left behind an almost-memory. Great. Along with the problems and everything else came the not-thoughts and the almost-memories. The not-thoughts were annoying, but the almost-memories were downright creepy.

There, in the almost-memory, stood his house. His house, in ice. No, on fire. In an icecube again. No, on fire again. It alternated until Leo shook his mind free of it, but it came creeping back every time Leo closed his eyes, and he knew there was no way that he would ever sleep with this going on. Toby tossed and turned at the other end of the cabin as if similarly plagued. Every time Leo tried to go to sleep, he just got more tired.

Leo gave in. He and Toby got up and traveled to the human house where the neverending battle between ice and fire would continue, although Leo was going there on a hunch, or maybe because the not-thoughts had told him to. He had no clue why he was going there at the time.

On the doorstep, something struck him. Two things. Maybe even three…

First off, Cherry hadn’t searched here because we didn’t live by the Great Salt Lake or by the ocean. But she’d forgotten about the Mississippi River.

Second, he hadn’t learned to fly yet. He’d have to get that done soon.

And third, didn’t he hear the bathtub running?

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Chapter 16

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July 14th, 2009 Posted 1:34 pm

“Ummmmmm… ‘k.”

No one bothered to check who said this. It was what they were all thinking, anyway. Only Maya and Lila even knew what words he said, and even they couldn’t understand him. Chicagoans talk fast, and Leo had just completed a run-on sentence, what? Six lines long? (Ha ha, I bet you went back to check! Made you look! Oh, if you were too lazy, I’ll save you a few sleepless nights. Five lines.)

They stared until Lila, again, had to step in and break the silence.

“If we started life in the late Cretaceous period, then you guys would still be staring when present day came around. What’s the deal?”

“We woke up at 5:00 in the morning and we’re masters at sleeping with our eyes open. We’re not gonna give up a chance to go back to bed.”

“Well, I’m exhausted too, and I’m a master of sleeping with my eyes shut.” Maya rolled a nearby hollow log over, enlarged it just enough to be comfortable, whipped out her Swiss Army knife and whittled a few air holes. Then she cut a door, jumped in, rolled away and started snoring, very loudly and very fake sounding. Because it was fake.

Cherry whipped out some high-tech device and scanned as much area as possible. It took a lot of magic, so she started with the areas that the Ice Spirits liked – not Alaska or anything, but certain states like Maine and countries like Italy and England with a lot of water to freeze. They were done with Alaska.

Cherry saved the local areas for last, as, she reasoned, they’d know already if the ice spirits were here. And anyway, it’s not like we live near the Great Salt Lake or something…

Something tugged at Leo’s mind, or maybe two things. The secret, and water…

Beep! Cherry’s machine had done its job. Sort of. There were no ice spirits in the areas she searched… but she’d had to skip half of the Earth because she was out of magic and Lila didn’t know how to operate it.

“You should maybe GO TO BED! Hey, come back here! You think a hotel is going to let a dragon in?” This was Maya’s voice. “Come stay with me. I just had the security dome enlarged to contain more houses.”

“It’s a good offer,” Lila said. “You need rest. We’ll take Toby with us so we can just go in the morning.”

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Chapter 15

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July 12th, 2009 Posted 4:54 pm

The dragons stood in a circle. Most were on all fours, but the one who must have been the leader stood on his hind legs and blew fire into an opening in the trees. He wasn’t blowing straight up; the opening was right above the middle of the circle, above a pool of water. The sky went dark and it hailed, then snowed. He was melting the ice and making a pool of water. When it was filled, the sky went a brilliant white-yellow and some mermaid thing with a pixie’s wings came out of it, splashing into the pool. Lila saw her scan the crowd, then the creature adopted an expression of shock and humongous eyes. She was shaking in the water, and Lila knew it wasn’t from the cold.

She backed away just a little, then said, “Is she actually…?”

Lila sighed mentally, then displayed the entire Fearless Front act. “Who are you?” she demanded. This usually worked with enemies and people who weren’t enemies but would otherwise be WAY too friendly or be super afraid of her. If it were the latter case, she would do it as not to disappoint them.

“V-Vera, miss. I-I’m a River Nykxi from Colorado…” She shrank with her feminine little voice. Hey, this was what she expected out of Lila. If you met George Washington, you wouldn’t think you’d meet him watching the World Series Football game, would you? You’d think he’d be saying something wise and warlike, but not joking around. Lila had a reputation to protect!

“Yes, of course,” Lila said, even though she’d never even heard of river Nykxies. It was pronounced Nik-see, but Nykxies don’t go for simple spelling. Her chin was in the air. The place fell silent for a minute, then Lila said, “Well?”
The dragons were slightly hesitant. Finally, the leader, a dragon named Aldrich (which meant old, wise ruler in Old English. There were a lot of Old English names among dragons, and names starting with A were particularly popular. They later learned that the old man from the old cottage was named Alcott, which coincidentally meant “from the old cottage”) spoke. “Well, you see, um, every thirty years the next ice spirit in line gets their hands on the Ice Circlet. Then the Nykxies need our help to keep the new princess from freezing the water. This usually means killing her. In fact, it always means killing her. They meet in a different place every time. There’s a secret to killing them that nobody who hasn’t done it doesn’t know. Even I don’t know it.” Aldrich paused thoughtfully. “But you will, later. Until then, travel everywhere. You have limited time to figure this out and find the secret. Nobody is allowed to tell you what it is; is must be figured out by the knower.”

It was at this point when Cherry dropped through the hole above the pond, landed in the pond and jumped out, shivering; her dress hem was coated with ice but she ignored it nonetheless. “I hit a snowstorm. None of the spells work – the next descendant isn’t named Meijing! The spell sent me some weirdo kid and not the stupid ice spirit! They’ve gotten smart this time!”

“Why does a name matter?” Maya asked.

“It’s the director. If you don’t tell a spying spell who to look for, it’ll give you just anyone that fits the rest of the song. For example, if I didn’t put a name in that spell, it’d give me someone sitting by a fireplace trying to warm their freezing feet.”

“Oh, that line about the neverending battle between two opposite elements which never ends because they are equally powerful and fire will melt ice but the ice will turn to water and just refreeze, and it can never really move on its own and douse the fire and both elements only really use the shield, and it’s only every thirty years that someone strikes, then the ice gets melted and it starts all over again? THAT bit?” Leo said.

The dragons just stared.

“Well…” Leo said.

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Chapter 14

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July 9th, 2009 Posted 4:57 pm

Toby turned out to be a young blue dragon who had not found his place in the world quite yet. According to the elders, each dragon would be involved somehow in a battle and Toby hadn’t yet. Of course, neither had Leo, and it was that oh-so-special time again…

After meeting Toby and the old man again, some random dragon hurried them out of the forest and made them go to Faerie land, because there was serious magic to be done here. The dragons did not recognize Lila, Maya or Leo. To them, the party were simply passers-by. Tourists. The dragons didn’t like tourists. They took too many pictures.

The group didn’t argue. Toby wanted to go with them to Faerie Land, but faeries are territorial and liked other creatures that weren’t fairies as much as the dragons liked photography (or anyone who used it). Photography, as they saw it, was purposeless. You had already seen the place, so why bother to take a picture? Anyone who wanted to see that place could just go there. Duh. And anyway, Toby was needed for his share of magic.

So they left in the tree without a word. Lila cast the spell that kept people and things without wings from falling through the cloud on Maya. She didn’t like doing magic much, but it was occasionally useful.

Well, so hey. The day ended up like a game of Ping-Pong. They immediately ran into Cherry, who was flying in quite a hurry.

“It’s been thirty years! The mermaids and Nykxis tell me that she’s at it again!”

Nobody had any idea what she was talking about, so naturally the party followed. Cherry stood on the edge of the cloud, overlooking the forest below and the riverbank of the Mississippi.

She was silent for a few minutes, then started a spell. It had sort of an echo to it, though Cherry only said the words once:

“The crown, the crown
Is being, is being
Passed down, passed down
To Meijing, to Meijing…”

At which point the echoing stopped and everything came alive in an indescribable way; clouds seemed to whirl in the sky, and the sky itself changed color; blue to periwinkle to pink to orange to red to purple to very light pink to yellow and then blue again. The branches of the trees ruffled their leaves, causing them to fall and make a sort of shower. For three seconds it poured. One second the sky was sunny, the next second rain was coming down in buckets. Then it stopped as abruptly as it had started. It alternated, every 60 seconds it would be a three-second shower. Then something strange happened – it was during the three-second rain shower – every raindrop turned into ice. Cherry shouted the spell louder, cupping her hands to magnify it, ignoring the hail.

“It matters not in the swampy mire!
The battle between ice and fire
Will always continue, forever more!
Tell what fate will have in store
Tell me EXACTLY what’s happening!
When the crown is passed down to Meijing!”

“Meijing! Meijing! Meijing! Meijing!” echoed the mountains.

In a split second, everything stopped. Everything. The air suddenly became thick with magic. Then it started to hail again.

“NO MORE STORMS!” Cherry screamed, casting her hands up. The storms stopped.

“And no more games. I wish safe travel upon all.”

The air was still thick with magic. Cherry whirled on her heels. “Today,” she said, “is going to be rather interesting. Leave for the dragon forest. Now. Not later. Now.”

She spread her wide red wings and grabbed the points, then jumped. For a few seconds, she seemed to be in free-fall, but then pulled the tips of her wings forward and glided away. The rest muttered, “To each his own. Coulda come with us.” They climbed into the tree and were there in a few minutes.

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Chapter 13

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July 7th, 2009 Posted 7:03 pm

Lila naturally radiated light, but she could also bend sunlight to magnify it using a sort of invisible magic mirror, and she did it now, blinding Leo. This was natural faerie self-defense, and Lila didn’t notice that it was Leo she was battling.

“Hey!”

“Lila, quit it!” Maya to the rescue.

“What? Some of Leo’s FRIENDS have come here, probably to pick him up.”

“Um, that’s Leo!”

Surprised, Lila flew into a nearby tree and turned off the light spell. Lila was one who was so used to things attacking her that, when caught by surprise, can and will attack anything she sees. Sometimes this works and sometimes it becomes…

“…awkward…” Leo said.

Nobody said anything. Even the chittering Chikik had stopped their conversations to join the silence. A pin dropped, and everyone heard it.

“Um, we should just go,” Maya said. The conversations started again, because Maya had broken the ice. “To the dragon forest. Toby told me that you saw the old rambling military guy in his cottage.”

“Who’s Toby?” Leo asked. He looked at Lila.

Maya discreetly jerked a thumb toward a tree.

“We should GO,” Lila said. “We’ll explain on the way.”

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Chapter 12

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July 7th, 2009 Posted 6:30 pm

Leo awoke to the smell of wood. Wood and cut grass. He tried to get up, but he was heavier than normal. And more tired. He could now smell something else. He sneezed, spitting embers again, but put them out quickly with his paw.

Paw?

That was why he was heavier- he found himself to be six feet tall at the shoulder and not human. Dragon, actually.
But he was here because of someone either A) close to him or B) magical. He did not consider that it could very well be C) both. He knew that it was at least one of those two, because his allergy medicine was here. And so was a ragweed plant, right next to his bed, which was made of grass. But he found this shelter was an enlarged log, so how could ragweed grow here? Must be magic. After all, if you turned into a six-foot-tall red dragon you’d believe anything, too.

But magic doesn’t happen on accident. This was planned.

Lila was feeling rather cocky. She knew her plan had worked. This was because she had hidden behind an oak leaf inside the log.

Leo looked up. Was it just him, or was that leaf radiating light…..? When Leo glanced away, Lila shot a sunbeam over to a window across the room. Leo looked back at Lila’s leaf. No, the sun was just shining on it. Nothing strange about that.

But having used most of the magic she had on teleporting, Lila was growing weaker and exhausted. As soon as Leo left, she dropped to the floor. She HAD skipped last night’s rest, after all. Who could blame her for being tired?

Leo found himself in the middle of a large village infested with scurrying elves doing everything from selling fruit to practicing magic and warfare to telling jokes. There was even one sitting on a building’s awning reading a book.  The places people will go for a quiet space…

But that was the thing about the Chikian village. There was no quiet space. (Maya had learned the hard way exactly how high-pitched the Chikik scream.) Unless you somehow got Maya to order everyone away from a certain space, it would be clustered with Chikik trying to squeeze in and sell something or chat with one another.

Which had obviously just happened.

Maya and Lila loved to embarrass boys. Everyone in Faerie Land was all formal and goody-goody, but embarrassing boys was fun. Maya, of course, had already become the Chikian ruler, and really wasn’t quite sure how she got roped into that, but barely any Chikik would joke around with her. No, the Chikik thought, monarchy was to be respected, not giggled at. They would never joke about “important” jobs like that. Oh no. Whenever Maya was spoken to, the speaker would drop a leaf at her feet, regardless of the fact she was usually watching TV when they did this. There was a perk to it, though; it gave Maya and Lila a subject for jokes.

Lila was enjoying this. She had embarrassed a boy, and it was even better because that boy was her brother. This was Lila’s main source of entertainment. She’d show up in human streets, disguised, and walk up to a boy and use a big word. She’d ramble on about how it was such a beautiful day, and oh, the altostratus clouds in the sky were so beautiful and she hoped that it wouldn’t rain, and how it’s just the perfect temperature and so low humidity… and she wouldn’t buy lemonade from that stand because there was some zymurgy occurring in their drinks…

But she’d let her guard down. She was so entirely engulfed in her own world that she didn’t even notice the big red dragon lumber down the street, trying very hard not to step on anyone.

“Oh, so you’re behind this, aren’t you?” Leo said, picking Lila up carefully by the wings. “Well, that’s shiny, isn’t it?” He said when Lila drew her sword. “Pretty and rather well-kept, but not going to do you much good.”

Lila glared and said, “No, but this will.”

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