*For the previous chapters, please go here. These are posted first draft, as the brain dictates to the fingers which are remarkably stupid. Also there will be inconsistencies because until September or so, the timing on these is wonky, and I’ll forget stuff between posts. Eventually it will be cleaned up and fixed just before page is made secret/taken down and the book is published. At that time I will take lists of typos or volunteers to proof read. For now, it’s written in a hurry, usually an hour before it goes up. And, let me remind you, it’s free – SAH*
Al didn’t remember ever being so scared, although the time that Aaron had hidden the other-world-captured baby dragon in her embroidery box, and it had come exploding out, blowing fire and setting the curtains in Mama’s drawing room on fire had come close. But that had been okay, because Al had cast an illusion of curtains, and by the time Mama found out it was just an illusion, the boys had already disappeared.
No illusion was going to save her now.
She ducked behind Lord Michael stuttering like Geoff on a bad day, “W-W-What is that?”
Lord Michael pushed her back, even as he stood in front of her. “It’s an automated barber-hair cutter. I built it. It didn’t work. Or it worked very well. I ran from it. My footman took it down with a shot to the magic-box.”
Al had a second to wonder at the confusion. If the machine had been destroyed, why was it here? And also, what kind of a crazy person built this machine — bristling with knives, scissors, and indeterminate pokey things — and think that it would be a good idea to give it one’s head — or face — for trimming?
The next second she realized several things. The first was that Lord Michael’s entire plan seemed to consist of standing in front of her. As though those huge scissors couldn’t cut their way through him and into her. Second, they really didn’t have any firearms. And third… She stood back and let fly with a fireball at the thing’s magic box, or as it was known, its head.
For just a second, she had hope, as the magic ball hit and sizzled, but then it disappeared.
Lord Michael spread his arms, as though to protect her better, and also possibly to stop her doing something stupid. “Don’t do that,” he screamed. “It eats magic and gets stronger. I tried it before.”
“Well, anything you didn’t try?” she said, stepping back as he pushed her, and retreated. She could only retreat so far, though, or she’d be in the place where they had come through, which was now solidly closed with a huge boulder.
Helpful. She remembered what she’d done with the dragonette. She’d taken the coat tree and bonked it over the head, to Aaron’s screams that she had killed the poor wee beast. She hadn’t. It had been knocked unconscious, though, long enough for Aaron to take it to the cellar, which was made of stone and had nothing it could flame, until it had learned better manners. Which it had. It had disappeared when the boys did, and even as Al looked around for any stray coat trees that might have appeared in the magical path for her convenience, she hoped the poor brute was all right. It wasn’t a bad sort, even if Aaron called him Fifi.
As expected there were no coat trees. And then, after what seemed like a frantic eternity, Al realized she didn’t need a coat tree. She needed a tree. Or at any rate, a very large tree branch. And behold, there were fallen tree branches just off the path.
She lay down on the road, so she could stretch her arms, and get hold of the biggest one.
Michael seemed to only realize what she was doing as she grabbed hold of the branch and pulled it back. “What are you doing?” He said, as she managed to bring the branch up — staggering around as the weight was almost too much for her — and then “Oh,” as he understood.
At least he got out of her way, which meant she could stagger towards the now very near machine, and let the branch drop.
There was a sound like whirring and leaves and pieces of tree flew, as it whittled its way up the branch towards her, and then Michael dropped a branch even bigger than hers atop the creature.
Knives and blades whirled, and then it stopped, suddenly. The magic flashed around the magic box. Al realized with a shock that it was trying to cut through both branches and had stuck. “Let’s drop them and run!” she yelled, her voice coming out squeaky and strained.
“No,” Michael said, as if she’d suggested he kill his pet. “You do it, and run ahead. Go. I will follow.”
She dropped the branch and lifted the bag she’d dropped, and ran, giving the machine as wide a berth as she could. not that she was in the slightest bit afraid — no, she was massively afraid — but because she knew there was absolutely no point arguing with a boy when he got that kind of tone in his voice. It reminded her of when William was trying to compose the music that would enthrall wolves. He couldn’t do it. No one could. But there was no point telling him that until he’d spent a year trying and failing.
She turned once she was past it, to see what Michael was doing. And was actually shocked by what he did. He got behind the thing, when all its scissors and blades were pointing the other way, and reached for something. The glow of magic died around the magic box, and the blades dropped, causing the branches to bounce off the road.
“A bottle or container, quickly!” he said.
And that too was like a boy all over. Being thrifty and careful, Al drank the water from one of the bottles, before bringing it over. Michael was taking something like a long glowing string from inside the machine’s magic box. He spooled it into the bottle.
“I thought you said the machine you built had been destroyed?”
“It was. One thing I remember reading… well, in a novel,” he finished spooling the glowing thread into the bottle and corked it, then asked, “Do we have a bag?”
“Sure, but it’s full of of food. And no, I’m not dumping all the food.”
He made a sound of exasperation, but then removed his jacket and tied it in a way to form a rough sack. He put the bottle into it, and then started putting pieces of the machine into it. “Anyway, in that novel it showed someone walking a magical path, and their mistakes would come back to haunt them. This was one of my mistakes.”
“But you think it exists? I mean you’re keeping the pieces.”
“I think they’ll remain as long as we’re on the path. And I can use them to make things and get us out of trouble. I wont’ take the shell, because it’s really large and heavy, but we might want to choose the blades and take them.”
It took a long time, but when they were done, Michael had a jacket full of pieces and each of them had a sword-length knife strapped by their side with strips that Al cut from her skirt.
She was trying to think of mistakes she had made that might come back to haunt her when ahead she saw a flash of green and then a flash of yellow.
“Fifi,” she said with a sinking feeling.