A cubed copper music box sat atop a workbench surrounded by tools. Tools whose functions were not easily identifiable. Short, thin fingers delicately took hold of the copper contraption and wound it one half revolution. Precisely one half, no more.
Three translucent pear-shaped stones rose from the box.
A soft, peaceful chimed melody started to play, and the stones began to levitate.
Single notes rang out, one after the other.
Vivid pastels pulsed from the stones.
The single chimes were soon joined by a full orchestra of mysterious instruments.
The stones rotated and danced.
Blindal leaned in and focused her large, round white-teal eyes on the stone ballet. Her thin saucerlike ears took in the symphony. She grinned.
BUMPF. BUMPF. BUMPF.
BUMPF. BUMPF. BUMPF.
Blindal turned toward the hallway leading to her red door. She could hear the muffled voice of James, “Oh . . . Blins . . . be a dearie . . . open up . . . we could use . . . “
She cinched the belt of her white terrycloth bathrobe and shuffled her feet to investigate the racket.
Blindal swung open the red door.
There was James, beads of sweat on his forehead and black rings around his eyes. He was being kept upright by Denby in his drecky suit.
Denby's eyes met the bathrobe-wearing Blindal.
Truly . . . unreal . . .
Denby did not know what to expect, but she certainly was not it. Small, but not diminutive. Odd, yet beautifully so. Dark golden caramel skin. Ears like large tea saucers exposed under her black pixie hair. A short pointy nose that led to those oversized round teal eyes.
“You’ve got Wommils, Blins. Lots . . . and lots . . . of Wommils,” James began to fall from Denby’s grasp.
“Oh, dear,” Blindal used herself as a crutch to keep James standing.
Denby and Blindal struggled as they helped James inside.
Denby could hear the peculiar music box symphony and noticed a fragrance in the air. What is that? Lilacs? Honey? With . . . cinnamon?
The bizarre and beautifully scented bouquet nearly erased all memory of the journey through trash and peril, but not quite.
“You . . . really . . . hafta . . . spray for those things,” James sputtered as his feet dragged behind him, “every once . . . and awhile.”
“How many times did the poor man get stung?” Blindal asked.
“I dunno," Denby answered.
"More than . . . twice," James groaned. "Several times . . . more than twice."
“Well, that is not good, is it. Not good at all,” Blindal said as James collapsed inside her main room.
She slapped her hands together, “No worries. I will have him fixed up right as wonder-lilies.”
This was twice now that Denby had found himself walking through strange shimmery doors. He thought he was past being surprised by the unknown. He was wrong.
He looked up. Sunlight was breaking through an octagonal atrium comprised of a mishmash of broken glass all held together with rough copper and splintered wood. Pink watery droplets slid down the shards of glass onto wild leafy vines covered with pods and flowers and berries hanging midair in a plum mist.
Denby found himself in a trance, staring at the gravity-defying botanical garden. “How?” he asked aloud.
Blindal did not hear Denby’s question. She was busy scurrying between workbenches. Workbenches that were stacked meticulously with mechanical gadgets, strange metals, and stones of all shapes and sizes—all of which seemed to serve a unique purpose. Purposes which Denby could not possibly imagine.
The music box symphony continued. It echoed through corridors that ran off in all directions.
Blindal reached her hand through the plum mist. She twisted off a pod and moved to a workbench stacked with glass flasks, pipettes and jars filled with fine powder. Denby had barely passed the one chemistry course he was forced to take. Regardless, he was certain that even if he was an expert in the field, he would not have had the faintest idea what she was up to.
He heard a floosh and a flizzle.
Blindal, liquid-filled pipette in hand, went to James.
“Hold still,” Blindal opened James’ mouth and let three droplets fall from the pipette onto his tongue. Precisely three, no more.
James’ back arched. His arms and legs became stiff, and he collapsed with a whimper.
“Oh, you will be fine. Stop being so dramatic.” She moved to Denby, took hold of his hands, squeezed them and said, “I had assumed that James was up to his usual antics when he contacted me. He does enjoy his pranks. But here you are. You are human, no?”
“You . . . are not,” Denby said quietly.
“No. I am decidedly not,” Blindal winked.
“The people in town . . . they think you're the devil.”
“Oh, they are just afraid of the dark.”
“Fears and superstitions keep them away. Which makes this the perfect place for me.”
“You’ll forgive if I don’t understand.”
“I will forgive, but you will understand more in a moment.”
James writhed on the floor, “Blins! Make it stop!”
“Give it time, sweetie. It will kick in any moment,” Blindal went back to her chemist’s workbench. “Now, something for you, Mister Denby.”
“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa,” Denby objected. “For me? That’s okay, really. I’m good.”
“Mister Denby, you came for answers, did you not?” Blindal reached into the plum mist, picked two berries, only two, and returned to the workbench. “It will not hurt. Rather, the opposite. It will help you . . . understand.”
“Miss Blindal,” Denby pointed to the sun through the ramshackle atrium, “We are well underground . . . ”
“Yes, we are.”
“The sun. How?”
“Purely a facsimile. Was built. Along with everything else that surrounds you. Can’t leave out the sun, now can we? It is a necessity.”
“I was to put one in James’ residence—but in his own words, ‘Some things cannot be properly duplicated. Sometimes you need the real thing.’ He is not wrong.”
“Never wrong,” James slurred. "Well, on occasion. Rare . . . occasions.”
“Is he okay? Thought he couldn't . . . said he couldn't . . . ,” Denby asked.
“Pain is universal and unavoidable, even for James. Death will always elude him, but pain will not. I have given him something to quell the effects of the stings. He will become loopy, but in James’ case, I doubt we will notice a difference.”
“Loopy. Psssshh. Loopy?” James giggled, “She is quite right you know. Her concoctions always instill a little loop.” He made a circle in the air with his finger. Over and Over.
Blindal pulled two stone benches close together and patted the top of one, “Have a seat.”
She handed Denby a glass flask filled with bubbly liquid. A single berry floated on top. Just one.
“Wait,” Denby said.
“This will help unclutter that mind. Open up understanding. You will hear my words without that nagging voice of criticism and judgement that is no doubt muddying things up this very moment. Clarity will come.”
“It’ll be fun,” James added.
Denby looked at the floating berry. Bubbles bounced it about. “Here’s the thing . . . I've . . . I've seen a handful of movies . . . and ya know . . . read some stuff. I think the odds are probably pretty good that right about now I am actually strapped to a bed in a mental hospital . . . and this . . . ," he waved his arm, “ . . . all of this . . . is just a messed-up dream.”
“Denby . . . drink up, my good boy,” James said.
“Either way, I don’t have much to lose, do I?” Denby asked and took the glass.
He drank the bubbles.
He swallowed the berry whole.
Blindal’s home twisted in Denby's mind. The gravity-defying vines wrapped and distorted the room. His pupils expanded. The mechanical gadgets, stones, tools and benches all hovered and spun.
Then everything stopped.
The room instantly snapped back to order.
Denby's pupils contracted and he sat up straight.
His spine tingled.
The stone symphony resumed.
“Now, Denby, are you ready to listen?”
"In the beginning . . . "
"Pssssshh . . . ," James pulled himself from the floor, dusted himself off and attempted to gather his wits. "Blins, must we go back that far?"
"In the beginning . . . " Blindal repeated.
"Apparently we must," James interrupted. "Once upon a time!"
"Jim—" Blindal arched an eyebrow. "In the beginning, Mister Denby, your kind and our kind shared this world."
"I wasn't kickin’ ‘round for the beginning beginning. Did not pull myself from the primordial ooze, as it were,” James added. “Neither did the lovely Blindal, but no one enjoys digging through the past as much as she.”
Blindal continued, "Our two kinds did not merely coexist. We were part of each other’s world in every way."
"Your kind. You," James patted Denby on the head, then grabbed Blindal by the shoulders and shook her, "Our kind. Us." He swung his arms in a giant circle, "One giant happy family. Well, not entirely happy. But together and as happy as we could reasonably be."
"Umm . . . 'kind' . . . what 'kind' are you and Blindal, exactly?" Denby asked.
"We are those who . . . possess traits that humans consider . . . unordinary,” Blindal answered.
"By unordinary, she means unhuman, and by unhuman, I mean that which is . . . a tad bit . . . different. Different in a mostly wonderful way, but different nonetheless."
"You mean . . . magical . . . or . . . or something?" Denby asked.
James answered before Blindal could speak, "Magical? Psssssh . . . magical. Humans always obsessed with the word. A word used when something unexplainable seems oh so neat." James preached, "And all is well and good when they are dazzled by some maroon pulling a quarter from their ear. But as soon as Susie sets the family cat ablaze due to an errant fireball from her 'magical' pinky, it isn't so 'neat' anymore, is it? Then the wonderful word 'magical' gets replaced by other words. Words like . . . 'terrifying' and 'dangersome.'"
"May I continue?" Blindal grew impatient. "Yes, Mister Denby, if you need to use a word to help you understand . . . magical is as good as any."
Denby leaned forward.
"It was this way for thousands of generations," Blindal explained. "Then one day . . . long ago . . . there was a tragedy."
"Tragedies happen. Poppin' up when you least expect 'em. This was nothing new. It was whom this particular tragedy befell . . . that . . . that . . . seemed to be the difference," James said.
"Yes, a man. A human man. Saint Harold of Ipswich," Blindal said.
"Met him a few times. Decent enough fellow. Wasn’t a saint in the beginning, was a fisherman. By the end, he had gone completely mad, of course."
"Harold was not a bad man. He was a loving, caring man with a large loving and caring family. And, yes, a fisherman."
“Not a very good fisherman."
“No. No, he was not. But Harold scraped by, doing his best to provide for his loving and caring family. Each and every day for years, he would go about his fishing," Blindal said.
"But he was lousy at it," James added.
"His catch was becoming less and less. His big loving and caring family began to suffer. Fishing was all Harold knew. Or thought he knew. After days upon months with nothing in his nets, he fell into despair and set off into the nearby hills."
"Because, you know . . . can't be discouraged by empty nets if you leave 'em on the shore. Walkin' away when things get tough always solves your problems. Poor, poor Harold. Such a nit," James judged.
"Jim—please," Blindal snapped. "So, Harold went into the hills, for reasons that have only been speculated upon."
"I could speculate," James sneered.
"There he came upon the nest of a dragon," Blindal tried to continue.
"Wait . . . dragon?" Denby leaned back.
"Giant flying lizards. Breathe fire. My good Denby, you must know of dragons," James answered.
"May I please continue?" Blindal pleaded.
"By all means," James reached into the plum mist, plucked a berry from the vine, tossed it in the air, caught it in his mouth, and mumbled with his mouth full. "If that dragon had been home when ole Harold came wanderin' about, this would be a much shorter story."
"Harold came across the nest. Out of pure foolishness mixed with desperation, he stole the unguarded eggs,” Blindal continued.
"He was gonna sell 'em, or so he thought. Harold must have known as much about dragons as you, my good Denby," James said.
"Or maybe he was just blinded by the suffering of his loving and caring family," Blindal added.
"Dragon eggs are worthless. Horrible aftertaste and tend to attract attention. Attention from mother dragons that are . . . a tad bit upset that some nit stole their soon-to-be baby dragons," James said.
"Harold went to a nearby town with what he thought might be his salvation," Blindal went on.
"You can't even hatch dragon eggs unless you happen to have a giant spare dragon hanging about to sit on the foul things," James said as he continued to pluck berries from the mist. "And then whatcha gonna do with two dragons? Get eaten twice as fast, that’s what.”
"The townspeople chided Harold for his foolishness, and so he began his return to his loving and caring and suffering family. Returning with nothing but the worthless eggs," Blindal explained.
"That family would not be suffering for much longer," James interrupted. "I assume the first thing Harold saw on the way back was smoke. Or maybe he could smell the stench of death in the air?"
"The dragon had returned to its nest, and had gone looking for its missing eggs."
"Ate Harold's family. Dined on the townspeople next. Charred the earth for miles in every direction looking for those blasted eggs."
"Yes. Devoured and destroyed everything,” Blindal added.
"Except the poor fool Harold."
"A dragon? A dragon ate the fisherman's family?" Denby asked.
"Yes, a dragon, and don't forget the poor townspeople," James plucked another berry from the mist.
"Harold hid with those eggs, burrowing himself into the ash. He was stalked for days on end by the dragon," Blindal said. "But eventually, the dragon grew tired and gave up.”
“Gave up the hunt for its eggs. Somehow that nit Harold outlasted a dragon and survived."
"He more than survived—did he not, James?" Blindal asked.
"Harold was not much of a fisherman. But he turned out to be quite the leader of men," James mumbled with his mouth still full of berries. "See, the poor fool Harold was filled with rage and vengeance. Which is a bad combination when mixed with nothing to lose."
Blindal explained, "Harold began a crusade. Over months and years he amassed armies of men whose sole purpose was to slaughter every last living, breathing dragon."
"Human men were more than willing to follow Harold,” James said. “Look, nobody, not even the unordinary, enjoys dragons up close. Very smelly creatures and no one wants to become a charred snack. Some of our kind even joined Harold's legion."
"Harold and his men scoured the earth to destroy every last dragon.”
"And that they did! Every single one,” James paused, “but they didn't stop with the dragons, did they, Blindal?"
"No. No, they did not. When Harold and his armies were done with the dragons, they moved on to . . . other things in the world that they found . . . dangersome," Blindal said. "The magical. The unordinary. Harold and his men brought destruction and terror to our kind.”
"We . . . the unordinary . . . were not about to roll over and let a foolish fisherman and his army of nits just slaughter us one by one," James added. "We fought."
"One of our kind took to the conflict with . . . "
" . . . Latimore. His name is Latimore, and he became . . . a tad bit zealous in his pursuit of Harold," James said. "Unlike the dragon with the stolen eggs, Latimore would not give up his hunt for the poor fool Harold."
"The fighting went on for months upon years. Then one day in the rubble of a ruined town, Harold came across a young girl. A young, powerful . . . unordinary girl . . . named Ophelia. With a wave of her hand she could have laid waste to Harold and his men. And by all means she should have,” Blindal said.
“But she did not,” James added.
“Ophelia begged Harold to stop his crusade against our kind," Blindal said. "How she was able to reason with him is unknown but has been speculated upon."
"I could speculate. And will. The fool fisherman had become exhausted! His fuel tank of vengeance was running on empty, and the young girl reminded him of one of his nineteen daughters. Or however many kids the nit had. All pure speculation, mind you," James said. "Apologies, Blins. Continue."
"Ophelia and Harold sat in the ruins of that town and had a simple conversation," Blindal explained.
"Ya know, just a little chat—a 'what's it gonna take to stop this madness' kind of thing," James added.
Blindal sighed, "For that one moment in the rubble, a vengeful human and a young powerful unordinary girl decided that the fighting must end. But even if Harold had wanted to stop the war, he could not; it had grown out of his control. The hearts of men had become so polluted with rage for the unordinary that only a miracle could put an end to the bloodshed."
"Ha! As it happened to be, the young powerful unordinary girl Ophelia was capable of performing miracles," James said.
"It was then that Ophelia took Harold's hands. With her full heart and his dying vengeance, she performed a powerful miracle that swept across the world,” Blindal stetched her arms outward.
James propped himself on a workbench.
Blindal’s eyes wandered to the plum mist.
“What? What happened next?” Denby asked.
“What did she do?" Denby repeated.
"The young powerful Ophelia, in one miraculous flash, removed all traces of our existence from humankind," Blindal said softly. "Harold and his men were left standing on the battlefield with no idea why they were there or whom they had been fighting. She successfully ended the conflict between humans and the . . . magical . . . the unordinary."
"But," James said, "she was a tad bit hasty in her miracle work. Young and all, either she did not think things through or something went terribly wrong."
"Something did go terribly wrong. She stopped the hostility, but we the unordinary were . . . "
" . . . vanished and banished . . . ," James said.
" . . . cast aside. Separated from the world in the favor of humankind," Blindal said.
"As you yourself have witnessed, my good Denby," James said, "unseen, but still very much alive. And unable to interact with the ‘ordinary’ world in any way."
"Why would she do that? I mean, that sounds like a lousy miracle, right?" Denby asked.
"Her intentions to stop the fighting were pure,” Blindal answered. “The unintended consequences of her actions ended up being far worse for the unordinary than she could have ever realized.”
"So, you guys are . . . like . . . cursed?" Denby asked.
"Cursed, heavens no. Cursed? Pssshh," James hopped down from the workbench. "Actually, cursed isn't a half bad word for it. Sounds so silly though when you say it, Denby. I prefer, ‘forgotten about in a clever way.’”
"So," Denby exhaled slowly and puffed out his cheeks, "because a guy is awful at fishing, he resorts to thievery—excuse me—egg-napping. Which leads to his family being eaten, which leads to war. A war that is stopped by a young witch's curse—I mean—an unordinary girl's . . . umm . . . spell . . . or hex . . . or miracle or something. And that is why no one can see you?"
"Yes," Blindal and James answered in unison.
"That pretty much sums it up," James concluded.
"Okay. Just wanted to make sure I was clear on everything. Was a lovely story. Really was. And whatever was in that berry drink makes me know that Blindal's words were the living, breathing truth. But none of it explains why I—of all people—can see you. Or this ‘grave’ danger I am in. Did I miss something?" Denby asked.
“Yes, Blindal, why can the good boy Denby, of all people, see us?” James asked.
"It is curious. Let’s see if we can sort that out," Blindal moved to a workbench, picked up a large ringlike mechanical apparatus, returned to Denby and instructed, "Hold out your arm, Mister Denby. It will only smart for a moment."
"What . . . what is it going to do?" Denby reached out, and Blindal placed the gadget around his forearm.
"It will help us find out exactly who and what you are," Blindal explained.
The ringed gadget clamped down on Denby, hissed, whirled, then released with a clack.
Denby shook his arm.
Blindal returned to her workbench, "It will take some time to find the answer. Considering I am not certain what I am looking for. The reason why you are such an 'unordinary' human. But I will find it."
"She will, my good Denby. Blindal always does," James said.
"And this . . . grave mortal danger you keep reminding me of?" Denby asked.
"Remember Latimore? The unordinary chap more zealous than an angry dragon?”
“Yes?” Denby answered.
"How do you think he responded to young Ophelia's miracle? Not just being stopped before he could get his hands on the poor fool Harold, but being subjugated and forgotten by humankind?" James asked.
"He was pissed?"
". . . a tad bit . . ."
"Latimore has spent every moment of his endless life trying to find a way to reverse Ophelia's miracle. In doing so, he has become tyrannical," Blindal said.
"A monster," James added.
"Enslaving entire races of the unordinary for his purpose," Blindal clarified. "If he knows of your existence, Mister Denby, and your ability to manipulate both the ordinary and unordinary worlds, he will find you."
"And when he does . . . it will be . . . unpleasant."
"He will experiment, torture and eventually dismantle you."
"All in an attempt to return to your world, to no longer be a second-class being. No longer be pushed aside and forgotten," James said.
"And he will bring his wrath, his vengeance, to the ordinary world."
"Umm . . . that does seem . . . ," Denby shifted, " . . . unpleasant."
"Grave danger. For us all," James warned, once again.
The three sat in silence.
"What . . . what am I supposed to do about it?" Denby asked.
"I am not sure. I am not sure there is anything you can do but return to your life. The ordinary. Hope that Latimore never learns of you. Chances are, he may not," Blindal said.
Denby looked upon Blindal and James as they stood together.
"Yes, return home. Certainly it is the most reasonable and safe thing to do. I myself find no fault in it, my good Denby,” James asserted.
Blindal looked at James.
“Or . . . ,” Blindal’s saucer ears twitched.
“Or?” James asked.
“Or?” Denby asked.
“Or . . . we could take a risk. All of us. Together,” Blindal answered.
“Risk?” Denby worried.
“What kind of risk, my dear Blins?” James asked.
“Risk?” Denby repeated.
“Latimore knows nothing of Mister Denby. Mister Denby barely knows anything of Mister Denby. We could use such an advantage,” Blindal suggested.
“Advantage?” Denby piled on the worry.
James circled Denby and looked at Blindal.
“We could confront Latimore . . . ,” Blindal began.
“Yes! We could confront the undying tyrant!” James cracked.
“Confront?” Denby gulped.
“We could use Denby’s extraordinary gift . . . ," Blindal continued.
“A surprise attack!”
“Surprise?" Denby hiccuped. "Attack?"
“We could end the mad tyrant’s reign over what is left of our kind,” Blindal said.
“Together! You and I! We take on Latimore. We bring peace to what is left of the unordinary forgotten world!" James put his arms around Denby. "Do you know how many stranger Hazels that would impress?"
Denby did not respond.
"All of them," James answered. “All of the stranger Hazels.”
"That's great. Great," Denby muttered. "We could barely survive a sewer full of stingy bugs. You want us to take on some magical mad ruler?"
"The worst tyrant in the history of both the ordinary and unordinary," Blindal added. "But you would not be alone. There are others. Others that can help you."
Denby stood up and began to pace back and forth. He looked into the plum mist, then raised his head to take in the convincing false sun through the ramshackle atrium. His thoughts took him back to his reflection in the mirror of his ordinary bathroom in his average one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of his run-of-the-mill Brooklyn walk-up.
Okay . . . you may be crazy.
This is a strong possibility.
All a hallucination.
He reached into the plum mist. Pink watery droplets formed on his hand, and he quickly pulled it back.
But they say ya can't be crazy if ya think you're crazy.
I've heard that somewhere.
Okay . . . focus . . . this Latimore guy sounds like a real jerk.
. . . and if I can do something about it.
He thought about his carbon-copy commute.
He thought about the Kevins and the endless reports.
He thought about the coffee-stained table under the fluorescent lights.
He thought about Hazel.
And . . . if I can do something . . . for . . .
He stopped pacing.
"Okay," Denby said.
“Okay?” James asked.
“Where do we start?"
Last week Denby spent ten minutes staring at a deli menu trying to decide if he wanted mortadella or corned beef. Today it took him less than sixty seconds to join a crusade to topple an unordinary despot of a forgotten world. He was not sure if his upcoming human resources evaluation would consider that progress or not.
Down a short shadowy hallway, beyond the workbenches and levitating vines of the plum mist, lay another room. A spherical room significantly smaller than the unordinary greenhouse greeting area where Denby heard the fisherman's tale.
The walls were lined with carved wooden tables covered with stacks of flat black medallions, copper cubes, and bundles of metal spheres of all shapes and sizes. A ball of suspended light lowered from the ceiling as Denby, James and Blindal entered.
"Oom. Noorish. Hocks," Blindal whispered, and a worn wooden pedestal, holding a blue-teal orb, rose from the center of the floor.
"What's the plan?" James asked.
There was no answer from Blindal.
Denby looked at James, "You can't be asking me."
Blindal rotated the orb precisely one quarter turn. The orb began to spin and slowly unravel. It unraveled and transformed into a flat, thin metallic sheet. Streams of light traced through the metal.
It's a map . . . of North America, Denby thought.
"The plan is this," Blindal said. "You will find Latimore before he finds you."
"Then Denby delightfully drops a giant ordinary boulder on him," James added.
"What?" Denby asked.
"The finer details may need a little tinkering," James said.
"We will move quickly while we have the element of surprise. Latimore does not know you exist. We must use this to our advantage and strike at his heart. He will not suspect such a bold tactic," Blindal explained.
"An ingenious start to our outing," James said.
"Now, both of you listen. You will be on your way in a moment," Blindal said. "When the miracle—"
"—ah hem . . . might I recommend we start using a different word. Something a little less miraculous? Don't you agree, Denby?" James asked.
"Horrifying fairy-tale doomsday event?" Denby answered.
"Little long, but I like it. Blindal, please continue," James twirled his hand.
"When the miracle occurred, those that survived were forced to relocate to areas uninhabited by humans—lest they be washed up by mankind’s tides," Blindal placed her hand on the metal. The streaming light reconfigured. The shapes now represented the United States—although borderless and with symbols that Denby did not recognize. "Hundreds of years ago, this land was one of many locations to which the unordinary fled."
“Now, of course, it is teeming with the ordinary," James said.
Blindal placed her hand on the metallic map. Blots of red light appeared on areas that Denby knew to be American cities.
"It is extremely dangerous for our kind to venture near large areas of your population," Blindal said. "Unless you are insane or a thrill-seeking immortal."
"Both, Blins," James said. "It can always be both."
"But that makes your cities the perfect hiding spot from Latimore," Blindal continued. "In or near those regions we will find those willing to help us. Help us take on the tyrant."
"All loving friends of mine, I am certain. All more than willing to join our cause," James said.
Blindal glanced oddly at James then returned to her map, "I believe Latimore to be here." She placed her finger on the metal and it flashed, "It cannot be confirmed, but it is my best guess."
"Her best guesses are some of the best guesses you will find," James reassured.
Denby examined the flashing location, "Nevada? Or is that Utah?"
"It is a-ways," James answered.
"The journey will be long. I will direct you," Blindal handed James a necklace with a cubed copper trinket attached. He strung it around his neck.
Blindal returned to the map and placed a finger not far from where they were. "You will find your first ally here, at the location deemed the fountain of youth by the ordinary."
Denby checked the location and asked, “The fountain of youth is in Pennsylvania?”
"Your kind, Denby, has labeled many spots on this earth 'The Fountain of Youth,’" James said. "All hogwash, of course; the real fountain of youth does not even have water—"
"—James. Focus," Blindal interrupted. "The two of you will travel there and find Calista."
"Excusy," James raised his hand like a schoolboy, "Were we not going forward with the 'find noble warriors—defeat evil tyrant' plan?"
"Yes?" Blindal answered.
"Then might it be best to avoid those who will murder us outright?" James asked.
"Who is Calista?" Denby asked.
"A fierce madwoman of the woodlands," James answered.
"Only mad at you, James, and her anger toward Latimore is far greater," Blindal said. "She will join you."
"You've been dipping into your own berries once too often," James said.
"No doubt she will give you a beating first," Blindal said, "but, with the proper push, she will join our effort."
Blindal placed her hand on the map; it spun, re-formed into a sphere and hovered back in place above the wooden pedestal. “Now, you two must go. Travel to the fountain of youth. Convince her. Then contact me immediately.”
James and Denby started down the shadowy hallway.
James stopped, reached into his pocket, pulled out an empty glass flask and shook it, “Oh, Blins darling, I had nearly forgotten. Can you whip me up another batch of luck?”
“You must take greater care," Blindal said. "You know very well, luck is not something created instantly at your whim. It takes time, care and effort.”
"Rightio . . . then we shall go without.”