|This story is part of the Bennett City series. Go here for more information on the setting.|
by Andy Hollis and Jason Mitchell
©2000 Andy Hollis and Jason Mitchell -- all rights reserved
Sandy Corbin tugged at his seat belt, tried to ignore the constant drone of the engines and yanked on his father's sleeve. "Do we really have to do this?"
"Yes, we do," Steve Corbin answered and patted the boy on the shoulder. "I know this is going to be hard, and I know you are going to miserable, but..." Steve stopped as he cell phone rang. He sighed as he answered the call. "Yes?"
"Hi, Uncle Steve, it's Andy," announced a boy's voice. "We just got back from England and heard the news about Sandy. Don't worry, those kidnappers don't stand a chance against me. I'll have him back home in a couple of minutes."
"I understand your concern, kidlet and I appreciate it, too, but you had better leave this to the professionals on the case."
"But that could take days and days, and we aren't going to let Sandy stay there another minute. I bet he's scared as anything. You'll see. I'll have him call you when we get him home."
"You do that," Steve said with a slight sigh, and put away the phone. "That was your friend, Andy Hollis. He's going to save you from the kidnappers in record time."
Sandy cracked a grin at that. "That's Ange, he's great. I wish he would, too. That would show..."
A spark of green light flashed in the middle of the helicopter's compartment. The light expanded to let two small boys, and a gray haired man step into the cabin. The helicopter lurched from the added weight sending all three of the new comers sprawling on the floor.
"Dad, we ran into Santa Claus and his elves," Sandy commented trying not to laugh.
One of the elves looked up, stared at Sandy, then at his father and back again. "That's no fair, Uncle Steve. That's impossible. You couldn't have rescued him before us."
"The three of you appear out of thin air, and you complain about something being impossible? Who are you and how in -- the world did you do that?" Steve demanded.
"It's us, Uncle Steve. Well, me. I'm Andy -- Andy Hollis, your recording star and now elven wizard, and this is my best friend, next to Sandy, Paulin, the elf lord. The old guy there is Jemar, the... the Mighty or Flighty or something like that and we came here to rescue Sandy."
"How do you do, Mr. Corbin," Jeff said and extended his hand. "I have heard a lot about you from the boys here. I'm Jeff Mahr, wizard at large."
"Where are we, by the way?" Paulin asked trying to look out the window.
"We're on our way to a private island to drop Sandy off with the others. If you three hadn't made such an entrance a second ago I would have my doubts about your identities, but this is incredible."
"Can I get a set of ears like that?" Sandy cut in.
"It can be arranged, but what happened to the kidnapers?" Andy asked, disappointed.
"No, it can't," Steve said. "It's bad enough that we have all those kids with wings to worry about, son, but not you with the ears."
"But, Dad," Sandy protested. "As much as I like Robyn I don't want to be an angel, but elves are different. I could pop all over the world like Ange. Wouldn't that be something?"
"No, it wouldn't, and don't even think about it again. Look, Andy..."
"He did it for the money," Paulin said and punched Andy's arm. "He's the kidnaper. This way he gets all that ransom money tax free."
"Oh, bite my big toe, Carmichael. He's got more money than anyone, and he wouldn't even notice a couple million tax free. Ok, Uncle Steve, 'fess up. Why'd you do it?"
"The answer is actually very simple. I told the press that Sandy had been kidnaped to prevent it happening for real. There are enough crazy people in the world desperate enough to try anything to get one of the winged kids, and it would be only a matter of time before they did get Sandy."
"These kids," Jeff asked. "Are they really angels?"
"Hardly. According to the doctors, the changes are a spontaneous mutation and we still have no idea what the kids are mutating into."
As Jeff and the elves settled into seats, a tray bearing five tall glasses floated into the room. "Wanna drink?" Andy asked as he snagged a cola.
"A stiff one," Steve muttered as the tray floated his way. He looked down at his son, "I don't care how useful this is, the answer is still no."
"This is hard to get used to," Jeff said. "I have a son around Sandy's age and I know he will want to get into the magic, too."
"You do?" Sandy asked, incredulous.
"I'm a lot younger than I look, young man, and they are a lot older. Andy was the story editor for our magazine before he turned into a kid, and Paul was a computer salesman before he turned elf. Now, instead of colleagues, I have kids to watch -- or babies to sit, I should say."
Steve shook his head again. "That's it, I quit. Corey offered to turn me into a kid, and I am going to take him up on it. Let someone else straighten this mess out."
"You can't, Uncle Steve. We need adult supervision and Jeff doesn't count. He can't, he's a... a psychologist!"
Paradise Island lived up to it's name with miles of untouched, white sand beaches and a large resort community built into the tropical interior. From the air, the island looked deserted.
"I could live here," Andy said as he watched a group of people run toward the helicopter as it settled onto the landing pad.
"I'm going to, to hide out," Sandy complained.
"It's not the end of the world," Steve said as he stood up.
"Oh yes it is," Sandy snapped back. "If you find this place on the globe I bet it is at the end of the world."
Andy touched a finger to his lips and made the sign of a one. "Chalk another one up to the kid, Uncle Steve."
"Hush, all of you. I'm going out first, to try to explain what happened so don't move an inch until I tell you to. Understood?"
"Okay," the group chorused.
As the pilot opened the door, Steve climbed out of the cabin to be mobbed by the assembled children and adults.
"I'm ready to go," Robyn Hanley managed to say over the sound of the engine and the clamber of voices.
"Go where?" Steve yelled back. "I'm sending Corey home, but that's about it."
"The kidnapers want one of us for Sandy? It's going to be me. You can trade me now to get Sandy back," she said as the helicopter's engine eased to a stop.
"Wow, you'd do that for me?" Sandy said from the doorway. "That's the bravest thing I ever heard, Dad."
"We just got the news," Corey demanded. "What happened?"
"I was rescued by Santa and his elves, and I can prove it," Sandy said with a laugh.
"You'd better drop that Santa bit, and fast, Corbin," Andy said joining Sandy in the doorway. "Can we get off now, Uncle Steve?"
"Okay, everyone," Steve said waving the crowd to silence. "The report, as you can see, was false. I kidnaped Sandy myself, to prevent someone else from doing it, and for his protection, we agreed he would stay here, with you. Andy and his friends just popped in to help and they will be going soon."
"You try and do a guy a favor and what does it get you?" Paul said, and ignored the others as he pushed his way down to the beach.
"Are kids turning into elves now?" Brian Hanley asked staring at Paul's ears.
"Nope, just him," Paul said and pointed back at Andy. "I kind of started out this way."
"Maybe not elves, but other things," Corey said. "Uncle Steve, John Harris called a moment ago to say that they have two confirmed centaurs now as well as three more winged kids. All five are safe, but not by much."
"Good news, but this is getting out of hand. Centaurs?"
"They can go to the Silver Forest," Andy commented. "Already have a few there. Hi, Andy Hollis, here," the elf said as he grabbed Corey's hand and shook it almost hard enough to see that it was attached.
"Right, sorry," Sandy cut it. "Andy and Paulin used to be grownups but are now elves, that's Jeff Mahr who also used to be a grownup but got turned into a wizard. That's Robyn who used to be a boy but now sings, and Corey also used to be a grownup and is now a permanent eight-year-old who grants wishes, and you all know me."
"That's just great for you two," Paulin commented. "You guys fit right in with the age regression and the tg, but what about me?"
"I'll get you on a game show when we get home, how's that?"
"Funny, Hollis. Real funny."
As Sandy introduced the elves around to Robyn's parents and siblings and the other winged kids, Steve called the doctor back.
"Any news?" Jeff asked as the man finished his conversation.
"None besides Corey's. John Harris has a boy and a girl rapidly turning into centaurs and three more winged kids that will be on their way here any minute. Do you have any ideas on what's doing this?"
"No, but they might," Jeff said with a long sigh as two figures appeared in a flash of golden white light. The taller of the two, a brown haired boy, held up a long sword that flashed golden in the morning sunlight.
"Get away from me. How many times do I have to tell you that it's the wrong one, you blithering idiot?" Teo backed away from the smaller boy who now held a long spear.
Scotty Freeman, one time Lord of Light, tossed down the spear. "It doesn't work for me anymore, Teo, it's yours. The Light has to have a Lord but I get the sword, fair is fair."
"Andy, help," Teo called out. He held out the sword to the elf. "Would you explain this?"
Andy shook his head. "Looks like a sword to me, kiddo."
"I'd have to agree with that," Paulin added.
"I know what it is, but this is the sword we won from that friend of yours and it isn't the right one. We want the Great Sword of the Light, not this thing."
"I say that is the right sword," Scotty said. "That clod is holding out on me."
"Oh brother," Andy said as he took the sword from Teo, then picked up the Spear. "Do you guys have to leave very potent magical items just lying around? Here," he said and offered Teo the Spear and Scotty the sword. "Happy now? He's the Lord of Light," Andy explained nodded to Teo, "and he isn't. Well, Mr. I don't know a sword from a butter knife, is that the right one?"
"It has power," Scotty said swinging the weapon. "Where are we and where did all the avians come from?"
"You don't need to talk about them like they weren't here," Andy said. "We were hoping you might know. All of them started out as regular kids but have been changing like that for weeks and weeks now."
"And no one told me?" Scotty demanded and let his own wings unfurl from his shoulders. "I thought I was the only one to ever get a set."
"But what does all this mean, and what-ever happened to the Scarlet What-Not?" Jeff cut in.
"That highwayman back on Fourlakes?" Teo asked. "We helped him reclaim his title, take back the Dukedom from the usurper and all we got was that lousy sword."
"Way to tie up loose ends, Ange," Paul said and patted Andy on the back. "Good job."
"I thought that was too lame to do again, Paul. God, that manuscript is over twenty years old. I was just a dumb kid, then. What did I know?"
"About what you know now, as a dumb kid again. So, the adventure on Fourlakes wound to a close without us, perfect, so what do we do with all these winged kids?"
"It has to be a sign," Scotty said. "Something extraordinary is happening in the world, and these kids are the first ones to feel the effects. Perhaps, the old gods are returning after all."
"Not a chance, Scotty," Paul half yelled. "He already did that one and wrecked a perfectly good mermaid story of mine with his 'the old gods are returning' routine."
"And just whose fault was that? Who left the story half finished and begged me to write the ending? 'Please, Ange, finish the story for me because I can't meet the deadline.'"
"And if you'll remember, I offered you a chance to write your own ending to the story, too," Jeff added.
"Okay, so I have no right to complain. But I like complaining! It's what I do best. Andy knows that."
"Yes, and I absolve you of all blame for the 'Day of the Gods'."
"But at least we're both doing this," Andy finished.
"Not me, I quit," Paul said. "I don't like the way this story is going either. Get someone else."
"But you promised," Andy reminded him. "You can't just leave like that. What do I do? I know," he said and snapped his fingers. "I'll get Jason -- Jason will write anything. He's new and he doesn't know any better."
"Oh, yeah. Pick on the new kid, but leave me out of this," Paul grumbled.
"Is Jason going to show up on this beach with all the rest of us?" Jeff asked. "I'd like to know my writers, after all."
"Someone's gotta stay home and mind the store," Andy said. "Besides, he's got a wife and three kids to worry about so he can't have a vacation on the beach."
"So do I," Jeff commented.
"If you know what's good for you -- you won't say another word about them until we have more controlled circumstances," Andy said. "You know what might be listening and do you want your kids to grow wings?"
"Are you finished nattering on?" Teo asked. "We still have all of these kids to worry about, and if that idiot is right, we will have a lot more to worry about shortly. Something is going on, whether or not it's been done before, we had best find out what it is."
Paul gave Teo a thumbs up. "Way to move the plot along, kiddo. You can tell Hollis is doing this bit. My characters don't stand around jabbering their fool heads off all the time."
"That tears it, Carmichael. I'm trading you in. Hey, Teptab, you want to bring Jason here and get rid of the loudmouth?"
Nothing happened. [Author's Note: As much as I love vacations on the beach someone does have to mind the store back home, and the only children's squabbles I will get involved in are with my own.]
"Rats," Andy said and snapped his fingers. "Is the Light doing this, Teo? Or the Shadow?"
"Not that I can tell," Teo replied. "It seems to be a power I am not familiar with. The selections are not at random, these kids are changing into what they are meant to be, but avians and centaurs? It doesn't make sense to me."
"Ok, Ange," Paul said. "You wrote the world, what's going on?"
"Beats the heck out of me. You were supposed to wield the real magic to battle the Great Enemy, and bring the Light and the Shadow back, but you didn't. The Light and the Shadow are here, not very strong, but strong enough, and the world's population is starting to respond, but not very well. This can't be the work of the Enemy, or even Teptab so I'm stuck, too. Looks like there's only one thing left for us to do..."
"And that is?" Sandy and Paul chorused.
"Follow the yellow brick road. I think it's high time we go see the wizard."
"You mean there's another wizard besides him?" Sandy asked.
"Yes, there is. The SRU wizard back in Bennett City, if he's still there. I bet he'd know."
"You mean the old man in the bathrobe?" Jeff asked. "He's here after all those stories?"
"He was here, but you know how his shop has a habit of moving around. What, did you think I made that interview up?"
"Well, yes, I did. Okay, let's ask him. Do you cast the spell or do I?'
"I will," Scotty volunteered.
Scotty, Teo, the elves and Jeff popped off the beach leaving Sandy, his father and the others alone.
"Now, everyone, I have a question for you," Steve said quickly to the transformed children around him. "If Andy and his companions can find a cure, would you go for it? Get rid of your wings?"
The answer came back an unanimous no.
"I'd like to go back to our place in Virginia," Robyn commented. "I mean this island is nice, Uncle Steve, but it's going to be too small, and soon, and I'd like to live like a normal kid again."
"We'll leave that option open. Corey? Ready to fly?"
"If it's all the same to you, Uncle Steve, I'd rather stay here to see what happens."
The sign on the shop door was straight forward enough. "Shop for sale. Interested parties see proprietor. All others beware of wolf."
Andy opened the door and lead the others inside. He picked his way around half open boxes filled with assorted junk and papers. He found his way back to the counter and tapped on the bell. "Hello?"
"Be right with you," the voice from the back room sounded gruff. After a few minutes, an old man, wearing a ratty bathrobe that just might have been a wizard's robe, pushed his way out into the shop. "Yes?"
"Hey, Mr. Wizard, it's me. We have a slight problem here, and thought you might be the one to fix it."
"Sorry, I'm retired. Didn't you lot see the sign? I'm moving out, going to the beach and taking it easy for a couple of centuries."
"You're giving up the shop?" Paul demanded.
"For now, but isn't that why you're here, Jeff?"
"I had been thinking along those lines, and never mind, I know how you knew my name. I could use a break from the State of New York, and as a wizard, myself, a shop like this would be perfect. My wife and kids could -- how much are you asking?"
"Jeff," Andy said and nudged the wizard with his elbow. "It's save the world first, and talk shop or about shops second. We need to know why all those kids are turning into avians and centaurs and whatever else they are turning into."
"You have no idea, Andrew?"
"No, and you needn't look at me like it's my fault. I took your advice the last time, I started the music company and all that medallion did was bring elf boy over there here, but that's all I did."
"And that was enough. You unleashed a new power into this world, a world where magic works. You brought the real magic back to this world, but made no effort to ensure that the power was controlled. That much force had to have an outlet, and you can see the results. Candy?" the old man asked and passed around a bowl of chocolates.
"Blood sugar, you know," Andy said as Jeff, then Scotty reached for the bowl.
"But you're not diabetic now," Scotty said taking a second piece. "This is great."
"Yes, it is," Jeff added. "Try some, Paul?"
Paul shook his head, and grimaced. "I don't believe you are actually eating that. Candy from this shop from him? Haven't you ever read any of the SRU stories?"
"Of course, but I'm here to buy the shop, not turn into a bimbo."
"That's what you think," Andy said and pointed at Scotty. Scotty frowned as the rest of the company watched his hair, already a bright, copper blond grow down well past his shoulders.
"And what are you staring at, Hollis?"
Andy snapped his fingers. "You, sweetheart. It's no fair. You are such a babe and I won't even reach puberty for another hundred years. But if you can wait so can I."
"What are you talking about?" Scotty demanded in a much higher voice.
"I don't see anything wrong with him," Jeff added and brushed her new, auburn locks from her forehead.
"There is nothing wrong with him, Miss Mahr," the wizard said quickly. "As we were saying, you were interested in purchasing my shop. It could use a woman's touch after all."
Jeff looked around the store and nodded. "It is a mess, my wife and kids would be perfect..." He looked down at his exaggerated chest and slender figure. "Oh, my God. I've been TG'd."
"You know the rules, Jeff," Andy said. "This is an SRU tale after all, someone has to be bimboized. The fact that he got Scotty as well as you is just an added benefit."
"What do you mean he got me?" Scotty asked, then looked down at himself. "I'm not supposed to be a girl." He snapped his fingers and changed back to his male self. "Very funny, old man. Watch it. It's not wise to mess with Greek Gods, you know."
"Would you like a Kewpie doll?" the old man asked sweetly and held one out.
"When do I get to turn back to me?" Jeff interrupted. The old man just smiled. "Andrew, how could you do this to me?"
"Me?" Andy protested. "What did I do? I thought you, of all people, would know better than to fall for the old sweets for the sweet gag, Ms. Mahr. But don't blame me, it's Jason that's writing this bit."
"A convenient excuse, if you ask me," Jeff grumbled. "I have always found Jason to be an excellent writer, who can create a tight plot, with great characters, unlike a certain young elf I could name. Besides a few e-mails, I have hardly spoken with him at all."
"That's how you can tell he's doing this to you. He doesn't know you, like I know you, and if it was me you wouldn't have remembered who you were until you had a few rather interesting experiences as a female, and then you would have remembered at the most inopportune moment. And, on top of that, you would maintain my squeaky-clean 'G' rating. So how do you like them apples, my dear?"
"Excuse me," Teo cut in. "Ange, I know I owe you and your companions a great deal including my life, and my Spear, but can we get on with this? As the new Lord of Light I do need to know what sort of power is loose in this world, and what we can do to control it. You were saying, Wizard?"
"For decades this world has been ruled by the Enemy, that gray power of mediocrity and hopelessness. When Andrew brought back the first glimmer of the real magic, the Enemy was powerless to stop it. But now, without any control, the real magic has spread and is finding outlets randomly. Children are turning into mythological beings, others are finding talents for magic like shape changing or wish granting. The longer this new power is left uncontrolled, the stronger it will become until this world turns into a duplicate of the old fairy lands."
"How do we control it?" Andy asked.
"You need to take the responsibility for this mess, then ask the powers that be."
"Aren't they the ones that gave us this false sword?" Teo asked.
"Okay, I can take the blame for this, and it looks like we need to go back to the Silver Forest."
"The what?" Teo asked with a frown.
"When the old fairy lands broke up, after you went to sleep, most of them vanished, and what remained became the Silver Forest. Our dear pal Teptab operates from the Computer at the Palace of Light, and as much as I hate to say it, I will need to ask for his help."
A large sheet of paper appeared in the air inches from Andy's nose. Fiery gold letters wrote across the page, "Thought you'd never ask, elfie. I'm waiting. Love and kisses, Teptab."
"You go, and we can talk some more when you get back, my dear Ms. Mahr."
"You aren't going to turn me back?" she pouted.
"Will you stop whining?" When she nodded Scotty sighed, and snapped his fingers. Jeff regained his form as an old wizard, and sighed as he pulled on his beard. "Much better. I should have gone with my initial instincts, declined the candy and stuck with my diet."
After a quick call home, Andy lead the way from the wizard's shop to the gate to the Silver Forest. They found Bobby Elliot, Allan Hollis, Erien, and George Hollis waiting for them.
"What's going on?" Allan was the first to speak.
"Time to hit the bricks. We're off to see the wizard -- again. Let's see, six elves, a wizard, and two Lords of Light. We should be..."
With a loud pop, Corey Williams and Robyn Hanley joined the group on the banks of the Potomac River.
"No time to explain, guys, we're going that way," Andy said and pointed. "Troops, form up! Forward march."
"Yes, there is time," Jeff said. "The world isn't going to end in the next few minutes, Andy. I want to know who and what this Teptab of yours is."
"I don't know Jeff," Andy said. "You never bothered to read those chapters I sent to you, so what do you expect?" Andy looked around at the glares from the entire company. "Okay, okay, I can explain. I really don't have any answers for you, though.
"Two thousand years ago, when the old gods left this world to explore the universe, Zeus had a prophesy, okay? He saw the last battle between the Light and the Shadow and even though he had given up the title of Lord of Light, he still didn't want his brother, Hades, the Lord of Shadow to win. How is your uncle these days, by the way, Scotty?"
"I haven't a clue. He may still be the Lord of Shadow somewhere but not around here for the last thousand years."
"Probably selling Multi-level Marketing opportunities on my world, then. No matter. We know the Shadow is still active in this world, Ashtar is still here if nothing else, and on Fourlakes, but no matter how different real life is versus the way I had written it, I think I had the general idea. Zeus came back to Earth to save the life of one Carl Mathews, a New York ad man, and Bobby's best friend."
"I remember Carl saying something about an adventure, but he turned elf years ago and lives in the Silver Forest now."
"I know," Andy continued. "When Zeus came back he found he was too late to save to Carl, and that he had no idea what was what on good old planet Earth after being away for 2000 years. So, he grabbed Bobby, who was supposed to have traded places with me at that point, traveled back a few years in time and together they saved Carl's life by giving him an adventure to remember. Carl was the one that named Bobby as The Powers That Be or Teptab for short.
"That's the way I wrote the story, but in real life, the original Andy didn't want to trade places with Bobby, but with me instead. That story evolved considerably as well, as stories tend to do, and I had turned Andy, the evil twin into Colin the good twin and Bobby was to trade places with a kid named Kevin Robinson, who doesn't seem to exist in this world as Paul Carmichael didn't, but that's another story. And, from what I can tell, Bobby isn't giving up being an elf kid with us to be a high school teacher again."
"Not a chance," Bobby said. "Not when I have all this and I can fly, too."
"So there is no chance that Jack Korman would switch you with another kid now, but that leaves me guessing as to who is Teptab. As well all know, there is one. My first thought was that only person perverse and psycho enough to do it, would be me, and if it isn't me, whoever it is read my book. But it doesn't feel like me or Paul for that matter, although that would have been my next guess. So as I said, I have no idea who Teptab is, but we had better find out."
"Let me get this straight," George cut in. "My son traded placed with you? Who are you if you aren't Andy?"
"It's okay, and a long story, Dad, but I'm not the kid that you started out with eleven years ago, but I'm much better at it than he ever was."
"And just where is he?"
"He took my life, my wife and all of my headaches. As far as I know, he's happy as a clam back on our home world."
"He was robbing banks with his power," Paul added helpfully.
Scotty shook his head. "Not any more. He tried to do a hostile takeover on a few rather shady business ventures and the -- uh -- owners were a little more hostile than he was. Don't worry, Sharon had a huge life insurance policy on him, and she's doing well."
"Figures," Allan said. "But that was him all the way. You know, Dad, Andy's right. He is doing a much better job of being your son and my brother than the old one ever did."
"Forget I even asked," George said. "Okay, men, you heard my son. Form up and forward march!"
Before they could march toward the gate, a small figure emerged from the other side. This one studied the assembled company for a second, then pulled off his cloak.
"What kept you?" Andy asked. "We've been waiting and waiting. Let's see, Celrin you know most of the people here, but..."
"No, I don't. Who are you guys and why was I called here?" Celrin asked.
"I guess this concerns you, too," Scotty said. "We are about to confront the person or the power or whatever that is calling itself Teptab and presumably my father as well. Since I saw you last, I gave up the title of Lord of Light in favor of Teo here. The elves are Andy and Allan Hollis, their dad, George Hollis, Erien, and Bobby Elliot. I was the one responsible for Bobby and George turning elf, the others were either born that way or chose to do it. And, over here, is the wizard, Jeff Mahr. The girl with the gorgeous wings is Robyn Hanley and the blond kid is Corey Williams. Now, can we get on with this?"
"You forgot me," said a boy about Scotty's age. He walked from behind a large rock formation and approached the group.
"And you are?" Andy and Scotty demanded.
"Kevin Robinson," he said simply. "Celrin, there, called me Teptab and I just went with the gag. Hey, Celsy, remember me? I know you do, Cupes. Put her there, Ange, glad to meet you face to face at last."
"I was right," Andy said. "He isn't me. Okay, Mr. Robinson, who are you then?"
"But that would be telling. Shall we go?" Kevin snapped his fingers, and the world spun around a few times before it went blank.
Andy opened his eyes to find himself seated on a large, green, plush chair. One by one, everyone else popped into his or her own chair. The room appeared to be some sort of auditorium or theater.
"Popcorn and cokes all around," Andy called out before Celrin could.
Silver trays floated through the room to pass out the refreshments. The lights dimmed, and Andy nudged Paul. "That's your cue. Do the music, Paulin."
"Oh, right," Paul said as a set of silver pipes appeared in his hand. He started to play until a voice boomed out from the stage.
"If I need background music I will ask for it or provide my own." A large screen unfurled in the middle of the stage, then lit up to show a tall, white haired man, with a curly gray beard. "I am Zeus, one-time king of the gods, and the first Lord of Light."
Celrin stood up, clapping. "Let's hear it for Lord Zeus, gang," he encouraged.
"Hello, father," Scotty said evenly. "You could have let me know you had returned to this world."
"And spoil the surprise? Your mother says 'hello'. Now then, thanks for that rousing ovation, Celrin. I can vaporize those I find less than enthusiastic about this." He smiled as everyone else quickly stood up and cheered.
"As Andy explained, I have been giving Kevin power and lots of it to help this world prepare for the next battle between the Light and the Shadow."
"Excuse me," Teo cut in. "But what was the reason you send Scotty and myself on that quest for the false sword."
"Because you both make such a great pair of wild geese," Zeus answered as the two transformed to large birds. "Any more questions? Any? Okay, turn back, but please, no interruptions for a while. The Great Sword of the Light is perfectly safe where it is, and it is right where it needs to be. Were you going to say something, Erien?"
"No," the boy said quickly.
"Good. Andy, the old man wasn't exactly truthful with you when he told you that you were responsible for unleashing the power of real magic into this world. You did open the way, but that was all you did. Everything else that has happened has been for a reason. Having magic back in full force in this world is not necessarily a bad thing, but things are getting out of hand."
"We don't have to turn back, do we?" Robyn asked.
"No, and in time your forms will be accepted as part of the norm, but until then my advice would be to stay in the haven you have had created for you. When a child grows wings or changes in other respects and it is no longer considered newsworthy, then it will be time for you to come back.
"In addition to that, I can arrange it that your people get an early warning before a child is due to change so that you can reach him before a well-intentioned mob tears him to shreds. Learning to handle the changes after they have happened is your job.
"Now, that problem is settled so on to the next. My unlovely but still talented assistant Kevin will now take the stage. Kevin, it's all on you."
The boy known as Kevin ran into view on the screen. "Good afternoon, Mr. Hollis, your mission today, if you chose to accept it is... autograph my book for me, please?" He held up a hard backed copy of a book. The camera focused in to show the title.
"Celrin's Quest?" Andy asked. "That was published? No one told me."
"On more than one world in the multiverse this book was published, although not on your own. We grabbed a few copies, legally, of course. So you see, Celrin, everything that happened was his idea, not mine. I just followed his guidelines."
"It's okay, Kevin. I don't blame either one of you for that. It's been years and I am a big enough elf not to hold a grudge. But you never did tell anyone who you really are."
"I'm sitting down there in the audience even as we speak. But, that brings us to the next part of our program. Who is Kevin Robinson? Come on. Anyone? Care to guess? Zeus, why don't you tell our lucky winner what the prize will be for anyone who can correctly answer the question of the day."
"Thanks, Kevin, I will. You see, just as the Light and Shadow has a Lord to control and regulate the power, this new power needs one too. We don't have any precedents for this, or fancy spears that need to be fixed, but whoever can guess Kevin's real identity will have the opportunity to become the Lord of Magic. Any takers?"
"Don't look at me," Andy protested. "I don't know."
"But you will feel like such a fool when you find out," Kevin pointed out.
"I know that. I have more than enough power as it is, and I don't want that title, but are you me from the future?"
"Close, but no cigar. Anyone else?"
Erien tugged on Andy's sleeve. "It's Bobby, that's what you said a while ago."
"It isn't Bobby because he never switched with Kevin," Andy whispered back.
"What was that?" Kevin asked from the screen. "Erien? Do you know who I am?"
"It's me," Paul cut in. "I'm just as perverse and psychotic as he is, and I know the book even without the copy."
"Wrong again, elf boy," Kevin said. "Next?"
"George?" Bobby asked. "You're George Hollis."
"Still wrong. Erien?"
"You're Bobby Elliot, but Ange said that was wrong, but I can see who you are."
"He isn't me," Bobby protested. "I didn't switch bodies so he can't be me."
"Andy was the one all hyped about you switching bodies, Bobby. Erien's right. I'm you and you're me. Andy had all the pieces right, but he couldn't make them fit together."
"In what way? You were supposed to switch with Kevin. Did you?"
The boy shrugged. "No, there was no Kevin Robinson to switch with, so we made him up. Lord Zeus picked me because I was Carl's best friend, not because of the body I was in." Kevin shrugged and shifted into elf form. "See? Still Bobby Elliot."
"Suppose I kill you now," Celrin asked giving Bobby a stern glance.
"But Cel, I did save your life, for what it's worth. Look, none of us had a choice in this, and if you do kill me now, I won't be around save your neck so we both die. Then what?"
Bobby stood up. "You -- you are the worst liar I have ever met. You're not me. Cel, I swear it. He's lying to you."
"Hey, who let those orcs in here?" Andy called out. Bobby and Kevin on cue immediately turned and chorused. "Orcs? Where -- where?"
"Sorry, my mistake."
"I see your point," Celrin said watching Kevin blush from his cheeks down. "Okay, I won't kill you now, Bobby Elliot. I will wait, but one day I will ask you about this, and I will hear the truth in your voice or you will die! It's going to be a painful death, too."
"Oh, like I'm scared. Go home, Celrin, and get a grip."
Celrin vanished before he could make a reply.
"Now then," Zeus said. "Erien, you now have control of the new power, use it well."
"But what do I do?"
"Nothing, the power is now under control and you will know how to use it when the time comes."
With that, Erien vanished as well.
"Robyn, the world is still waiting for more of your music, go back, but you will find a few things changed as well. Good luck.
"Corey? It's time for you to return to your Children's Home. Thank you for the services you have performed. Good luck to you, too."
"Can we go home now, too?" Allan asked Andy. "I think we've had enough adventures for a while."
"But what about me?" George asked. "Corey might like life in a Children's Home but I don't want to wind up in the Hollis Home for Wayward Elves. I have a life to return to, you know."
"Is that what you truly wish?"
"Yes -- no. I don't know. I haven't had this much fun in ages, but..." He looked around at the rest of the elves. "Can't let the kids have all the fun from now on, and this is where the action is. Okay, I was wrong. Bobby, kids? Maybe we had better go home."
Allan, Bobby, Scotty and Teo vanished as well, leaving Andy and Jeff.
"I'd be careful if I were you," Kevin said to Andy. "Scotty and Teo are going to become the best of friends."
Andy shrugged. "As long as they stay out of the way, that's fine with me. Okay, Bobby, I feel like a fool. You had me going, and I congratulate you for it. I mean, I have always been way too much of a micro-manager to ever trust a job as important as this to anyone but me, but I'm glad you had the chance..."
On screen, Bobby looked around, grinned and dropped his disguise. "Wrong again, Hollis."
Both Andy and Jeff fell back laughing as Bobby turned into Andy Hollis. On the screen, Andy shook his head. "I know I had sworn off lying to myself, but in this case, I had to. Couldn't let Celrin find out, now, could I?"
"So it was you that brought me, and Aatheus to this world," Jeff said. "I should have known."
"Didn't want you to feel left out, Jeff. Oh, by the way, there is a party of four waiting for you at the Hollis Hotel, and I can't wait to hear the explanation you will be giving them. That is, if they even recognize the new you. It still gets me that Celrin didn't recognize you as Bradluc, the kindly wizard, but that's another story."
"Uh, Andy... and Andy, I'm not sure the worlds of the multiverse are ready for another Bennett City story for a while."
"All right," Andy grumbled. "So, when do I get to be you?"
"Tomorrow," Zeus said. "Both of you go back, now. Rest up, and recharge because..."
"Tomorrow is another day," Andy, Jeff and Andy chorused.
Robyn blinked, happy enough to find herself back on the island. The crowd had vanished but Sandy and his dad were still there, waiting for her.
"What happened?" Steve asked first.
"Things will work out for us, Uncle Steve." She gave a brief run down of everything that she had seen and heard. "And, Zeus did say that in a year or two we will be able to go back. But, for now, we're safe here."
"That is a relief. I know everyone was... Sandy?"
"Sandy?" Robyn half shouted as she watched her friend scratch his back. Sandy kept scratching for a while until he realized that the others were watching.
"Take off your shirt, son, it looks like I need to call Dr. Harris."
"But now I don't have to date outside my species," Robyn added.
"I"m not," Sandy protested as he father examined his back. "Or am I?"
"Wait until your mother hears this. I know she wanted a piece of the miracle, too, but I don't think either one of us expected it so close to home. Are you okay with this?"
Sandy glanced at Robyn and smiled. "Let's break the news to everyone else."