|Author's Note: The Scarlet What-Not is the end of a five part
saga that started with All This, and I Can Fly, Too, continued in Talrin's Great Adventure, was dragged out and padded in The Elven Wizard, saved brilliantly in Mercenaries of the Light, and now ended. The title of this last piece was Hollis' idea.
Check the Index of this magazine -- this story does not stand alone.
A tale told by
Andy Hollis and Paul Carmichael,
Who both contributed equally to the ending of this saga.
But Andy did more.
©2000 Andy Hollis & Paul Carmichael -- all rights reserved
Somewhere in a forest in by the great West River, birds chirped, squirrels and rabbits hopped over the uneven ground looking for food, while the river babbled contentedly on.
Seven children popped into the middle of this picture all screaming at the top of their lungs. Birds and squirrels for miles scrambled for cover.
"Let go of me," Erien yelled, pulling his arm free of Scotty's grasp.
"Where are we?" George Hollis asked yelling to make himself heard since he was nominally the father of most of the other boys present, although he now looked about the same age.
"I've never been here before so I don't know," Bobby Elliot answered back, brightly. "Ask Mr. Expert there." The former school teacher, now elf child, pointed at Andy.
"Somewhere in Westlake, Dad," Andy Hollis yelled back. "I've never been here before but I bet old nosey there has."
"It's my sword and you little brats are not stealing it from me," Scotty Freeman, once Lord of Light as well as the ancient Greek god, Eros, announced.
"We don't want it," Allan Hollis said. "Bobby needs it so he can cut off that demon's arm. Right, Ange?"
"Yep, that's my brother, right again. And you had better do a good job of it, too, Robert."
"Don't worry, I have a score to settle with that demon. Just let me at him, and orcs. I get all the orcs, okay?"
"No way," Allan yelled. "I get some. I want to kill some orcs,"
"With the way you kids are yelling, Bobby," George said, "all the orcs for miles and miles will be gone and no one will get any. As I see it, we're lost in a forest in some medieval world where shadow creatures, elves and all sorts of things really exist."
"In other words -- it's home," Paul Carmichael added. "My kind of place."
"Oh, go kiss a wookie, elf boy," Andy said. "You never wanted to play RPG's at home."
"So, I changed -- a lot, and so did you. Deal with it, elf boy."
"As I was saying." George cut back in. "We need to find some sort of town or village and get some idea where we are."
"Uh, Dad," Andy said. "The people here have a thing against elves -- remember? They either think we're demons or they think we'll blight their crops or something. As much as I hate to say it, we need Scotty to be our front man."
"Why me?" Scotty said.
"Because at least you look sort of human," Paul said. "Follow along, will you?"
"The kid is right," Andy added. "Even with these way cool cloaks and things people can see that we aren't -- human, after all."
"Can't we just go and get the sword?" Scotty demanded.
"Some people have no sense of propriety," Andy said. "No, we can't. We aren't taking it from the bad guys or anything like that. We're asking the Duke of Westlake for it, and nicely. We don't threaten to turn him into a toad, unless he really deserves it, okay?"
"Okay," Scotty said. "Where is this Duke of Westlake?"
"Excellent question," George said. "One I have been trying to get answered for a while now. Andy?"
"Gee, Dad, I don't see any sign posts around here, do you? We're in the middle of some woods, and we've scared away all the orcs except for that one," Andy said and pointed at Scotty. "Come on, Crow Two, we can fly up and get some bearings."
"Hey, I want to go. You guys just left me the last time," Allan protested.
"Crow One and Two?" Scotty asked with a grimace. "Did you two, by chance, send me on a wild goose chase a while back?"
"Not us," Paul said. "Why would you want to chase wild geese, anyway? You can get them pre-plucked and cleaned in your local supermarket. Try some today."
The three elves changed to crow and were long gone by the time Scotty stopped sputtering.
"Which way, oh fearless leader?" Paul asked.
"I figure we can circle the woods until we spot a landmark or something. I'm sure we're still in Westlake, so the terrain should look the same from the air."
"Or we could ask at that castle over there," Allan pointed out.
"Yeah, I guess we could do that," Andy added glancing at the castle.
"Man, you guys are something else. Asking directions? You call yourselves men?"
"Nope. We're little kids, and we're lost and a castle that size should have some food they could spare some hungry waifs," Andy answered. "Or we'll blight their crops."
"What is it with you all of a sudden with blighting crops?" Paul demanded as they circled back down to the others. "Blighting crops is nothing to brag about. What are you trying to do? Start your own potato famine?"
"It was supposed to be a joke, never mind," Andy complained as he switched back to elf shape.
"Well?" George asked.
"There's a castle about half a mile that way," Allan said. "We thought we could ask directions and get something to eat there."
"Thanks, Champ," George said to Allan. "I knew I could count on one of my boys to show some sense. Okay, group, we're going to that..."
George trailed off as a sign post appeared a few yards away. "This way to the castle," the sign read with an arrow pointing to the West.
"There," George said and started following the sign.
"Wait, Dad. There's something wrong here. Signs don't just show up like that," Andy pointed out.
A second sign took the place of the first. "Castle Westlake straight ahead. Good food and directions! Elves welcome."
"Well, Mr. Expert?" Bobby demanded. "What's happening here?"
"Whoever is playing Teptab is being real cute here," Andy said looking up. "Come on, Kevin, cut the comedy, will you?"
A third sign appeared. "I don't have to and you can't make me, either."
"You're getting as bad as Paulin," Andy said and jammed his fists onto his hips. "We don't need your help right now, okay? Just let us get on with our mission, or are we supposed to meet a kindly, old wizard that will help us and teach us and turn us to squirrels and things?"
A tall, middle aged man wearing a gray business suit, popped into the clearing. He blinked a couple of times as his suit changed to wizard's robes. The man's hair turned snowy white as his slight goatee spread into a glorious snowy beard.
"Uh oh," Andy said and doubled over laughing.
"Where am I?" the man said picking at his new, black robe complete with moons and stars. He stared for a moment at the long, wooden staff that appeared in his hand. "What are you kids supposed to be? Elves? Don't I know you?" he asked Scotty.
"It's okay, Uncle Jeff," Andy said wiping his eyes on his cloak. "It's us, the majority of the TSAT staff. Remember the last time you were here? Paulin was the elf then, but things change."
"Andy?" Jeff asked with a frown on his face.
"That's me. You remember my twin brother, Allan, and that's Paulin and his twin brother Erien."
"You never mentioned a twin brother," Jeff said.
"I just met him," Paul admitted.
"That one is our Dad, also in elf's clothing, and that's Bobby Elliot, and you remember Scotty?"
Jeff nodded. "Wasn't it your computer that brought me here before? And now?" Jeff demanded. "Why am I here?"
"Beats the heck out of me, but..." Andy said as all the elves turned to stare at him. "What?" he asked with shrug of shoulders. "Okay, it's my fault. I asked for a kindly old wizard, and instead of Bradluc I got Jeff... That won't do at all. What about Jefmar, the magnificent? Marjeff?"
"You mean I can do spells with this?" Jeff asked and waved his staff.
"Yes, but elves can zap and zap good," Andy said. "Don't even think about talking like A'Kumkwat because if you do you will get it."
"Exactly how do kumquats speak?" Jeff demanded.
"No, not that. I mean A'Kuterat or whatever that wizard of yours in Thamatjawhatsis is called. You know, the one that talks like Yoda?"
Jeff sighed. "First you mangle my titles, now my characters? Right now I don't feel like a kindly old wizard that would help you with anything, Andrew. Where are we, and how did we get here?"
"We've never been here before so we don't know," Bobby said.
"But, we were brought here by a strange and mysterious cosmic force known only as The Powers That Be or Teptab for short. Teptab has the habit of taking over computers and arranging things for his own, sick pleasure," Andy explained. "And, since we are in Teptab's clutches, what about your kid? Would he like to be an elf for his birthday?"
"You leave my son out of this, and you, too, Teptab or whatever you are. I prefer to let them make their own decisions regarding subjects like elfhood. Look, Andy, I do have a problem believing in some strange mysterious cosmic force that can bring me through the universes and change me into a wizard. What happened, really?"
A huge sign, written in fiery gold letters, appeared in the air above the circle. "Kindly old wizards that do not believe in mysterious cosmic forces soon wind up with egg on their faces!"
All of the elves, and Scotty dove for cover. "What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded, then looked up as a dozen eggs dropped from the sky to break on his face. Jeff wiped away the gunk and sputtered out, "That was not amusing at all. You just snatched me from my world and dumped me here without so much as a 'by your leave' and now you dump eggs on me?"
The sign now read, "Kindly old wizards need to remember their places and apologize to mysterious cosmic forces before they wind up all wet."
Jeff waved his staff to make a huge umbrella appear over his head. A large bucket of water appeared inches in front of his nose, then tipped over. Jeff shook the water off, then waved his staff again to dry off his robes. "Very funny, Teptab. Very funny indeed. I suppose we could stay here and argue with this -- mysterious cosmic force for days, but shouldn't we be moving along?"
"Way to advance the plot, Uncle Jeff," Paul said. "I'm proud of you. We'll make you a Hollis twin yet. Oh, look." He pointed at the sign post that now read, "...elves and kindly old wizards, welcome." Paul cleared his throat. "Ange, you're writing this bit, aren't you?"
"Nope, I thought you were. If I'm not writing this chapter and you aren't... I don't think I want to know who is. Yep, we'll just follow the signs like good little elves, and kindly old wizards and not ask questions. That's what we'll do. Uh-huh. Uh-huh."
With George in the lead, the party followed the sign's arrow and broke clear of the woods in about fifteen minutes. They found themselves at the top of a wide incline of cleared pastureland that lead down to the castle perhaps half a mile away.
Before they had the chance to march ten yards, the elves turned back at the sound of a horse, ridden hard, coming from the woods. Seconds later, a lone rider, on a white stallion, burst from the edge of the woods. The man wore scarlet clothing from his wide brimmed hat and mask to his boots and cloak.
Standing up on his stirrups, the man called out. "Stand and deliver!"
All six of the elves laughed in his face. Jeff stood, with his staff ready, hoping that his expression didn't look too kindly.
"What do we look like?" Allan demanded. "Pizza delivery boys?"
"In this get up we don't look like the UPS guys," Paul said. "What? Is it Halloween or something?"
"I said, stand and deliver," the rider said in a louder voice.
"Why is that man wearing such funny clothes?" Erien asked and tugged on Andy's cloak.
"No fashion sense at all. Get him, Jeff, turn him into something drab, please."
Jeff waved his staff. "Who are you that would rob a kindly old man, and these -- ahem -- children?"
"What?" the rider demanded. "You're not the Duke's men?"
"Do we look like the Duke's men?" Paul asked. "Does he hire midgets for his army?"
"Not very bright, this Duke," Andy commented. "Maybe we should go down there and teach him basic strategy."
"Blast it all," the man said. "I've wasted enough time with you lot. There's a shipment of gold and jewels coming in for the Duke and I aim to have it." With that, he wheeled his horse around and galloped back into the woods.
Andy snapped his fingers, and the green light obeyed his silent request.
"What was that about?" Allan asked staring at his twin.
"There was a shipment of gold and jewels coming for the duke. If anyone asks, that guy -- you know, the Scarlet Whatnot -- took them. You didn't see a thing."
"Right," Allan said and matched Andy's grin.
"What are you two so happy about?" George asked.
"Nothing, Dad," Allan said. "We're just talking about that Scarlet Whatnot."
"Scarlet Whatnot?" George and Jeff chorused.
"Can you think of something better?" Andy asked.
"No, it fits him, and I won't even point out that he was 'hot to trot'." Jeff continued when the groans finally died down. "There is a village down there. Perhaps we should go ask the locals about the Duke before we go straight in there."
A sign appeared a few feet in front of George. "The Castle is that way. Come on, guys, don't be scaredy-elves."
"We'll go," Andy said. "But since I'm feeling flush right now, we'll go to the pub, get a good lunch, talk to the locals and maybe even get a room for night, okay?"
"Come on, kids," George said quickly. "No use squabbling with that sign post like six year olds. That goes for you, too, Bobby."
"What did I do? I was just minding my own business, and why are you feeling so flush, Ange?"
"I just came into some gold and jewels. Thanks for asking. Shall we go get lunch?"
By the time the elves had marched half way down the slope to the village, a large force of riders galloped from the castle to meet them. George held up his hand to stop the company while Jeff readied his staff.
One rider broke from the formation and approached the elves. "Halt, state your names and your business."
"So who are you?" Andy asked as he stepped forward and crossed his arms over his chest.
"I am Captain Jenkings of the Duke's Own Guard."
"You are not," Andy said as the others laughed. "We have it on the best authority that the Duke has replaced all of you with fighting midgets so you are way too tall to be in the Duke's Guard. Who are you guys, really?"
"Midgets?" the Captain asked looking back at his men. "Old Bloody Geoffrey's replaced us with midgets? Smarmy looking midgets with smarmy voices and ugly little faces and hands?"
"No, Captain," one of the men said. "You're thinking of dwarves. Midgets are the other ones, you know, little people like your basic fairies and elves and things."
"Are not," argued a third soldier.
"Who are you calling little?" Paul demanded.
"I take it that you lot are the replacement midgets the Duke ordered?" Captain Jenkings demanded.
Andy pulled off his hood. "Do we look like midgets, mister? I'd smile when you say that if I were you."
"Come on, Captain. It's just a bunch of bloody kids and an old man with a stick."
"I can see that now, corporal."
"I am not an old man. I am a powerful wizard," Jeff protested.
"Okay, men, kill them all," Captain Jenkings ordered. "Can't have these bloody kids and that wizard going around calling us midgets."
Jeff raised his staff. "Touch any of these bloody kids or me and you will turn into midgets -- uh, unarmed midgets. Back off." He raised his staff, and pointed it at the Captain.
In spite of the flashing lights coming from Jeff's staff, nothing happened to the Captain until Andy whispered, "Green Light, please turn that man into a smarmy midget."
Captain Jenkings shrank in his saddle until he swam in his uniform and armor. "Kill the old man first," he yelled out in his new, squeaky voice. He pulled his head free only to see that all of his men were riding hard in all different directions. "Come back, you bloody cowards. Come back!" The new midget turned to glare at Jeff and the elves. "You'll pay for this, old man."
Scotty stepped forward. "Ride back to your Duke and tell him that the mighty wizard, Jeffmar, has arrived in this pitiful Dukedom. Face him down again, if you dare."
"Just don't look behind the curtain," Andy muttered to no one in particular.
The now tiny guard managed to direct his mount back toward the castle. As most of the elves congratulated Jeff, Paul stared at Andy.
"What was that supposed to mean?"
Andy held a finger to his lips. "Teptab didn't turn our Jeff to a wizard, just an old man with a stick, and some parlor tricks."
"What do we tell him?" Paul whispered looking back the wizard.
"Nothing. Why break his heart, just keep a close watch on him when he tries to do magic or something, okay?"
"What are you two getting so cozy about?" Scotty asked breaking away from the group.
"Nothing that concerns you, Mr. Nosey," Andy answered.
Andy stared at the sign over the village's single public house. "'The Goose and Duck'?" Andy read out loud. "That's not supposed to be here. Hey, Paulin, where was the Goose and Duck supposed to be?"
"How should I know. You're the writer."
"Since when?" George demanded. "We're talking about my son, here, Paul. He's not what you would call a reader let alone a writer."
"Things change, Dad," Andy said quickly. "Teptab's messing around with my geography here, and we could be in serious trouble. There was something about this place..."
"Something that the six of us, Scotty, and that wizard can't handle?" Allan asked.
"No, but I don't like this one little bit."
"Let's not quibble over names, okay? I'm hungry."
"So am I," Erien announced.
Andy glanced around at the tiny cottages with their brightly thatched roofs and the narrow cobblestone streets. There were no pedestrians around, or dogs or kids, and beside the noise coming from the public house it would seen that the village was completely deserted.
In spite of Andy's misgivings, George lead the way inside. The taproom was filled with noise, smoke from the kitchens and a grubby collection of patrons, all male.
"Hey, they said old Bloody Geoffrey was hiring midgets now, and here's his first crew," a man called out between gulps of beer.
Allan jumped up on the table, picked the man up in one hand and held him, legs dangling, over the floor. "You got a problem with midgets, mister?"
"No, no problem," the man said looking down.
Allan pulled off his hood. "Do I look like a midget to you?"
"No, you don't. You look like... You look like some sort of demon is what you look like."
Allan dropped the man back onto his seat. "Next time I'd be more careful about who you call midgets, mister." With that, Allan hopped down from the table and glanced around. "Anyone else want to call us names?"
"Anyone got any orcs?" Bobby asked.
"Will you cool it with the orcs until later?" Paul asked.
People made way as the elves walked up to the bar. After ordering food, and lots of it, they occupied a large table in one corner.
"What did you mean by orcs?" Jeff asked. "They really have orcs here?"
"Excuse me," said a tall, large man wearing gray robes. He set a glass down on the table. "My partner and I were wondering..."
"Do we know you from somewhere?" Paul asked.
"Oh, right, I am Amtarak Smith and my partner, Melgador Jones and I would..."
Andy spun around and glared at the large, fat man, then at the taller man behind him. "And just where have you guys been all this time?"
"We have been here for the last few days," Amtarak explained clearing his throat.
"Before that," Andy said. "You were supposed to meet us at Castle Correlis to save your buddy from the Lord of Light -- him, or it was him until he quit, but you stopped off here for a drink? I really ought to complain to your supervisor about that missed entrance, you know."
"But Correlis is fine, just spoke to him a minute ago," Amtarak said.
"This is an honor," Melgador said to Scotty. "I mean we know the Lord of Shadow, of course, not well, but then no one does."
"Just because I'm not the Lord of Light anymore doesn't mean I won't blast you warlocks into atoms."
"Don't you dare," Andy said. "You're a genuine, honorary demon now like the rest of us, and demons don't hunt warlocks, remember."
"Demons hunt orcs," Bobby said quickly. "Would you gentlemen know where we could find some? Orcs that is."
"What is it with you and orcs, Bobby?" George demanded. "Is that all you can think about?"
"Just about. I don't know, George, once you've killed a few orcs you just can't quit."
Serving boys brought several huge trays and set drinks and large trenchers of bread on the table then ladled a spicy stew into the bread. One boy carved a wheel of cheese into sections as the others went back for the rest of the order.
"Grab your chairs, guys," Andy told the warlocks. "After we eat would you care for a friendly game of poker? I know you're into Whist..."
"Whist?" George demanded. "Amtarak Smith? Of course, I have your book on strategy at home."
"Oh, so you're the one," Melgador said.
"I've been reading about your games for years and years. This is an honor."
"Years and years?" Amtarak said with a smile.
"I'm a bit older than I look. George Hollis. These are my sons, Andy and Allan, my step sons, Paulin and Erien and you know Scotty. Jeff is new."
"What about me?" Bobby asked. "You didn't introduce me. I'm Bobby, the orc hunter."
"I am not new," Jeff said. "I've been a part of this since Andy started sending his manuscripts back home to me."
"But mine are better," Paul said.
"Says who?" Andy demanded with his mouth half full. "This isn't a contest, Carmichael. I like my parts as much as I like yours."
"Boys?" George said quickly.
"What about you, Jeff?" Bobby asked. "Whose parts are better?"
"Well, from a purely editorial perspective, you understand, I think..." Jeff looked down at both Paul and Andy and cleared his throat. "I can usually count on Paul, well, I mean both of them have different talents, I mean this is an excellent stew. Let me go get the recipe."
"Good save," George said. "I would be honored to play Whist with you gentlemen."
"We need a fourth. Andy? Do you play?"
"Dad's never taught me," Andy said with a sad little grin.
"And I never will. Word of warning, gentlemen, never play him for money, you don't stand a chance."
"Dad," Andy protested.
"It's true, and you cheat," Allan said.
"Busted," Andy said and shook his head.
Two guards, dressed in the Duke's livery, barged into the pub and banged swords on their shields for a moment.
"Right, you smarty midgets, His Grace, Duke Geoffrey of Westlake has hereby offered the following reward for the capture of the rogue wizard Marjeff the Mighty also known as Jeffmar the Something-or-other. This evil practitioner of the dark arts is wanted for the unlawful en-dwarfing of a Captain of the Guard and is considered dangerous..."
"I did nothing of the sort, and it's smarmy midget, my good man. Would the two of you care to test my powers? I thought not. Tell the Duke that Jeffmar the -- Jeffmar the... What was it, Ange? These poor excuses for guards made me forget it."
"Senior moment, if you ask me," Andy replied. "Okay, you two smarmy midget want-to-be's, I'm Andy, the elven wizard, and that old guy who likes to blurt everything out without a second thought, is Jeffmar the Magnificent, Class A wizard of the green order, and top of his class at wizard school. You think some Duke is a threat to his power?"
"Well, when you put it that way, the reward is one gold fourlake and we claim it for capturing you, foul sorcerer."
Andy pointed at the men. With a flash of light and gray smoke, the two men vanished leaving two small mice to crawl out of their clothes. "Wrong again, you vermin. It's mine. Come along, Jeff, I think it's time we met this Duke."
"Rats. I wanted to do that," Jeff grumped.
"Next time," Bobby asked, "would you mind turning them into orcs?"
"Okay, but just a couple. Let's..."
Four more guards entered the taproom, and kicked the empty uniforms aside as one cleared his throat.
"Attention, good people of West Village. Attention. His Grace, the Duke of Westlake has been robbed of a shipment of gold and jewels by the masked highwayman known only as the 'Avenger'."
"Ange?" Erien asked. "Does he mean the Scarlet Whatnot we saw before?"
"I think so," Andy said as someone at the bar laughed. A second later everyone, including the guards began laughing.
"What's the matter?" Erien asked.
"That was a good one. Scarlet Whatnot? It fits him, if anything does."
The guard cleared his throat. "Very well, the masked highwayman known as the Avenger and The Scarlet Whatnot. Whatever you want to call the bloody bandit, he stole a huge shipment from the Duke, and guess what, His Grace wants it back.
"To bring the bandit out of hiding, His Grace has declared that you people have one hour to come up with equivalent funds or this village will be burned to the ground. Since we know the Avenging Whatnot will try to prevent this, the Duke's Own Guard will stay here, start the fire and wait to capture the bandit."
"And if the Avenger doesn't show?" a man from the bar called out.
"Then sorry about your luck, and find another village."
"But we've got Jeffmar the Magnificent. Go ahead, Jeff, turn them guards into smarmy midgets," the same man called out.
"Try it, old man, but remember, even smarmy midgets can carry torches and run you through with swords."
Jeff stood up, waved his staff threatening magic, and said. "You are the poorest excuse for guards I have ever seen. You don't go making rude noises at these innocent villagers when you can't even handle some silly bandit..."
The four guards promptly shrank down into four, light green orcs. Andy stood up. "Okay, you little green scum, why do demons hunt orcs?"
The guards squeaked as they examined their new features.
"Because we just do," Bobby said. "Thanks, pal." He drew his sword and took a step forward. "Here, orcs."
"I get two," George said and drew his sword. "You got the last batch, and I want that one and that one."
"Geez. I guess it's true that you really can't kill just one." Jeff shook his head in surprise. "Did I really say that? I've got to get out of this place."
The orcs turned and ran for the entrance. Bobby and George caught them, killed the lot in seconds, and went back to their seats.
"No fair," Allan said. "I get the next batch, and here they are now."
"I say," Melgador cut in. "That did look like fun. Do you want to have a go at this lot, Amtarak?"
"Get them," the bartender cut in. "We haven't had this good a show for years."
"This is getting boring," Paul said. "Do we have to get rid of the Duke's entire army bit by bit? Maybe we should go out, round them all up and get it over with?"
Before the next batch of soldiers could enter the Inn, a young centaur pushed his way through the men, stood in the doorway for a second, then pointed at Paul. "Bored? You're bored?" The 'taur's human half looked about fifteen dressed in a dark blue business coat and white shirt. Everyone else in the taproom, including the two warlocks froze into place.
Andy groaned. "Don't tell me, let me guess. Kayvan?"
"Give the elf boy a cigar. I have a proposition from the boss for you, O' Mighty Elven Wizard, and one that you can't refuse."
"What's going on here?" George demanded. "Do you know this creature, Ange?"
Bobby and Paul began humming the theme from the Godfather.
"Never met him in my life," Andy said. "Okay, horse boy, you have two seconds to spill out who's in that Teptab suit."
"But that would be telling. Sorry, chump, no can do," the centaur replied evenly.
Allan put a hand on his twin's shoulder. "Ange, I know there are things left over from your old life but would you explain that or make it go away?"
"That," Andy said with a glare at the centaur, "is the person responsible for all of this. He's the one that took over Scotty's computer and brought Jeff here the first time and this time for that matter, and don't even think about casting a spell at him, Jeffrey. He's got the most powerful protection in this or any other universe.
"Okay, horsey," Andy said quietly. "You're on. I was scared to death that you were me in that suit, and I know that you aren't old Uncle Bobby either, so I need to figure this out. What sort of proposition did you have in mind?"
"Are you sure you know what you're getting into with this?" Jeff asked. "I do have real power here," Jeff added and pointed his staff at the centaur. A second later, Jeff shrank down into a large, green and yellow toad.
"Any more questions?" Kayvan asked as Jeff picked himself up, regained his staff and then his seat. "I thought not. Mr. Mahr, believe it or not, I am not here to use my incredible powers for evil. I stepped into this story line to help you lot out, and what sort of thanks do I get?"
"We aren't going home are we?" Bobby protested. "There are still orcs to be killed and demons to be skewered."
"I need to get back to my proper age," George said.
"I need to make a mint," Andy commented. "Okay, okay, I need to find a heart while old grumpy over there needs to find a brain. Erien needs a home, Allan is still wondering why he's sticking with me, and Jeff has a family to support, a house to sell and he has to find a place big enough for his family and all of us when we come to visit during the summer. I just love the Adirondacks, you know."
"And I need my sword," Scotty cut in. "I could forgive all those nasty jokes you played on me a few years back if you just tell me where it is. I'll go get it and we can all go home with or without orcs."
"No fair," Bobby said and kicked the floor.
"No fair," Jeff added. "I am not entertaining the lot of you over your summers either."
"Don't worry,"Andy said. "We can all go to my old summer camp and party with you on the weekends. It will work out. Now, to make it work out, what, pray tell, does the boss want us to do?"
"What boss?" Scotty demanded. "I thought you said that he was Teptab?"
"And I am, but even powers that be have to answer to a higher authority, Cupes. How committed are you to this scenario? I mean evil Dukes and Scarlet Whatnots?"
Andy sputtered. "This -- this," he said waiving his arms around the pub, "is my masterpiece. I'm supposed to be here."
"I wouldn't brag about that if I were you," Bobby commented. "He's right about the evil Dukes and Scarlet Whatnots, you know."
"I could wipe out every single orc on this planet with a wave of my magic word processor," Andy countered.
"Sorry, Chief! This is a real masterpiece," Bobby quickly backpedaled.
"Way to get honest feedback, Hollis," Paul said. "He may be committed to this scenario, but I'm not. What do we have to do to get out of it?"
"A show of hands please," Kayvan announced. "How many of you want to end this thing the old fashioned way, and do it the way Andy wants it, or how many want to end this thing the easy way, the way I want to do it? All those for Andy?"
Everyone except Paul raised his hand.
"Yes," Andy said and motioned with his fist a couple of times. "The kid wins again, Sorry, Paulin, but you loooose!"
"Then how do you propose to get out of this, Ange?" George asked.
"We find the Scarlet Whatnot, who sneaks us into the Castle. We grab the sword, skewer the demon, kill an orc or three and go home. Sounds like a plan to me."
"You think?" Kayvan asked, then turned back to Scotty. "Suppose I tell you the sword in the basement of that castle isn't the one you're looking for?"
"I'd say you have a lot of nerve," Scotty answered. "It has to be the right one -- after all this mess it has to be."
"Wrong again, stupid cupid," the centaur said with a wide grin on his face. "The -- uh -- boss and I have the real one, and we know how to get it."
Erien opened his shoulder bag, and pulled out the Great Sword of the Light. "No, I still have it."
"Not that one," both Kayvan and Scotty said together.
"Okay," the elf said and replaced his sword with a shrug. "I was just trying to help."
"We know that," Andy said and patted Erien's shoulder. "Thanks, but let Scotty and the 'taur boy work out the details. That's still a really great sword."
"What do I have to do to get this sword of yours?"
"Does the term Quest strike a familiar note?"
"Yes," Andy said. "Who cares about Scarlet Whatnots and Evil Dukes? Tell the boss I'd make a great director for this epic. Can I read the poem?"
"What poem?" the centaur asked.
"These quests always have a stupid poem with a clue in every line that the questee, that's you, Cupes, has to figure out. I don't care for them myself, but I wouldn't want to break with tradition here."
"Who's the boss?" Allan asked.
"That would be telling," Kayvan said quickly.
"The real question is who that is hiding in the horse suit. This isn't one of those paradoxes of time travel and you're me in there come back to give me a hard time, is it?"
For the first time, the centaur laughed. "Good one, Hollis, but guess again. Someone had to get the command chair, after all, Mr. Steal all the good stuff without giving me a chance."
Paul sputtered, and shook his head. "Don't even look at me like that, Hollis. It's not me in there either. I don't know who you are, and I don't care for that matter, but you aren't going to frame me for this."
"I wasn't looking at you, Carmichael. You don't have the brains to do something like this. Okay, you still have me, but not forever, and then, watch out."
"This quest?" Scotty cut in. "What do I have to do besides find the Sword?"
"Yes, I'd like to hear that, too," Teo said from behind the group. "What do we have to do the get the sword?"
"Fight it out without us," Paul commented. "You've got them now, so can we go home?"
"What about me?" George asked. "I'm your father, not your brother."
"And me?" Jeff asked.
"Don't forget my orcs," Bobby insisted.
"If I can't direct, can I at least write the script? I've had experience with this sort of thing before, you know?" Andy said.
"That's what I'm afraid of. Okay, you elves and wizard, you go home, and you two, front and center. You have a sword to win!"
"Ange," Marian Hollis said and stared from her son to the assembled elves and wizard gathered in the front entrance of the Hollis Hotel. "I know you're rich, and that we have room, but I can't hide six elves and an old man in a wizard's robe for ever."
"I am not that old, I assure you," Jeff added.
"Yes, you are," Andy said. "Look, Jeffrey, that old man in the Spells R Us shop will be moving along sooner or later, and you'd be perfect to fill the vacancy. With loot like this to be had on a regular basis..." Andy said and started retrieving his stores of gold, and jewels from his cloak, "...How committed is Betty to Syracuse? You can buy your own place here -- strike that, make it palace, and live like royalty. The house in Tupper Lake can go, and they are going to run a road through your rental place, so why not? I think your son would look great with pointed ears, and your daughter..."
"You leave the kids out of this. I must admit the thought is tempting, but how do we get my family here?"
"There is Scotty's computer in the Silver Forest just waiting for us, and with Teptab otherwise occupied we could have the run of the place."
"Can this computer of yours return me and Bobby to our normal ages?" George asked.
"Are you nuts?" Bobby asked. "Give this up to be a school teacher again? Not me. I'm an elf now and proud of it."
"We don't even have papers on you let alone birth certificates..." Marian started to say as three sets of documents appeared in her hands.
"Maybe not that occupied," Andy said with a shrug.
"You know, son," Marian said. "If you're looking for real money, Sandy Corbin was kidnaped, and is being held for ransom by some terrorist group trying to get their hands on an angel."
"An angel?" Allan asked. " I know Mr. Corbin can do a lot, but getting an angel here would be something."
"You haven't been watching the news, have you? A bunch of kids from all around the world grew wings..."
"How much is the reward?" Andy asked. "Oh, never mind. Sandy's a friend and we'll do this for half price. Better go let Uncle Steve know that we're on the case."
"We are not," Paul said. "I have a lot of catching up to do, and -- okay okay, I'm in."
Authors' Note: Due to too many business commitments in (shudder) RL, Mr. Carmichael has had to take an extended break from this saga. So, with Paul's permission, Jason Mitchell will help finish this up with his story A Piece of the Miracle, Part Two. And don't forget to watch the movie of the week All This and I Can Fly, coming soon to a magic mirror near you.
Tune in next time, same elf-channel, same elf-zine. And if this isn't enough of a cliffhanger to get you coming back, we don't know what is.