Thursday, January 11, 2018

Flash Fiction #285: Fairy Tale # 2



(Characters from Fairy Tale, #162)

Years ago Ellie fell through a hole from the First World to the Second World. There she found magic and magical creatures.  Indira, the tiger, was the first of the inhabitants she'd met, and talking tiger did give her a bit of a shock.  Paddy the raccoon, who also spoke, had taken her to the village and she found a lovely little place to live.  Ellie grew apples and baked. She learned to weave ... and when the chance came to return to the First World, she had passed the hole by.  Ellie had found her home.

Humans kept falling through into this pretty little place, and of late, some of them didn't seem quite as nice and friendly as the others had been.

"It's an unnatural land," Mr. Grieg all but shouted.  "This ain't right, animals pretending to be human and usurping our place."

"This isn't our place," Ellie said.  She'd grown tired of the tedious, dark-haired man with glaring eyes and a quick temper.  "This is your place. Go find your hole to get home, Mr. Grieg.  You don't belong here."

"Don't you dare talk to me like that, Missy.  You ain't no better than -- ow!"

The man darted back in haste and bent to rub his knee.  Ellie hadn't see Paddy until then.  The raccoon had what appeared to be a walking stick in hand, and he must have tapped it none too lightly on the man's knee.

"I suggest, Grieg, that you go back to your own home," Paddy said, his voice deceptively soft.  "We don't allow such behavior here, you know.  We're civilized."

As much as Mr. Grieg railed about the talking animals, Ellie had noted one thing: he did not talk back to them.

"I do so hate being rude, but that one is a problem," Paddy admitted after the man had scurried out of hearing.

"What are we going to do about him?" Ellie asked.

The raccoon looked up at her and smiled, which was still rather startling, to see all those raccoon teeth.    Some animals had taken to mimicking the human smile as a quick way to reassure others of their friendly intentions.

It was not working so well with the tigers.

"Are you willing to help us deal with this human?" Paddy asked.  "It's not easy for us, you know.  Indira and some of the other larger inhabitants of the village might be able to deal with him, but they do hate to frighten others.  Those of us like raccoons and squirrels -- well, humans can be dangerous."

"Yes, I can see how that would be," she said.  "Do come in and have some cookies and tea," she offered.

"Very kind of you, Ellie," he replied and followed her inside.

Ellie loved her little cottage with its cheerful colors, scattered books, and almost always the scent of something baking.  Her baked goods had become quite popular, and she happily created confections for all sorts of gatherings.

It was a huge step up from the homeless girl who had fallen through the First World into the Second.  She had found the place where she belonged, but others -- like Mr. Grieg -- had not made the transition.  Most of those went hunting for holes that would lead back to the First World and went back.

"I think I know why Mr. Grieg won't go," Ellie said over her second cookie.

"Yes?" Paddy asked sounding hopeful.

"Think about how it must be for him back in the First World.  He's unpleasant, bad-tempered, and no one would stand still for his tirades.  Here, though, people let him have his say and don't turn that same attitude back on him."

"But that would be rude!" Paddy protested.  Then he stopped, nibbled at a cookie, and gave her a nod of understanding.  "I see.  Yes.  He actually gets to be whom he wants to be if he's here.  This is troubling."

Ellie had the feeling she had to find a way to, well, bother Mr. Grieg enough that he simply didn't want to stay here any longer.  Either that or....

"I know that anyone who falls through here should go hunt for a hole to get back home if they really want to go," she said. She sipped her tea and Paddy watched with a tilt of his head.  "Grieg does not belong here.  I think we need to find a hole for him and convince him that he needs to leave."

"But how can we do that?" Paddy asked.

"By being ever so nice," she replied with a smile.

Paddy tracked down a hole back to the First World the next day which just showed how desperate he was to be rid of Mr. Grieg.  By that afternoon Ellie had everything in place.  Grieg had gone for his usual afternoon walk and rant.  Raccoons, bunnies, and squirrels soon joined him, quietly -- and ever so politely -- herding Grieg to the spot.  When he saw the hole and Ellie, though, he protested.

Ellie held out the box full of money.  "I collected this from all the people who have fallen through and don't intend to go back.  There's actually quite a bit -- several thousand dollars.  If you don't take it and go through, I'm just going to toss it into the hole and let someone else find it."

Mr. Grieg came close enough to look into the box.  His fingers even brushed through the money, probably to make certain it was real.  Then he took the box and calmly walked through the hole.  He seemed quite happy, the box tight in his hands.  So she didn't have to shove him or toss the box.

"Well done, well done," Paddy said as the hole disappeared.  He looked happy, though she wished he wouldn't grin so much.

"Time to celebrate," Ellie said.

So they all went to her cottage and had cookies and tea, everyone being extra polite, just as they liked to be.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Flash Fiction # 284: The Further Adventures of Serena and Buffy



Once upon a time, Serena messed up a potion. (Flash Fiction # 109 -- Trouble Brewing)

Actually, she almost always messed up a potion.  However, in this particular case, it hadn't even been her fault.  She'd had a nearly perfect base potion half a year ago ... and then her cat familiar -- Buffy -- had knocked some feathers into the pot and then fell in herself.  The potion flew everywhere, and now Buffy had wings.  So did the table, rug, a few cups, and even Selena.

The problem was the mice.  Selena hadn't mentioned them to her mother right away, but they were kind of apparent within a few days.  And mice breed quickly.  Turned out winged mice make more winged mice.

They also get to be somewhat brave and vindictive with wings.

"Behind you, Buffy!" Serena shouted as she swept in a circle.

Buffy cursed and dived for the water.  Water was not her favorite thing in the world, at least not when it came to being in it, but one glance at the formation of twenty mice had quickly convinced her there was no other choice.  Still snarling both human and cat curses, she folded her wings tight against her body and dived into the sea.

Serena had made a circle and came up behind the mice.  She had noted that while mice were vindictive, they weren't particularly smart and once they had their sights focused on something like a cat.  The cats on the ground had better luck avoiding them since they could slink from spot to spot, but Buffy disdained putting her paws on the ground these days and suffered the attacks as a result.  The mice wanted her taken down.

The only way to take the mice down, other than straight out killing them, was to get close enough to touch them with a new potion that both destroyed the wings and gently dropped them to the ground.  Serena swept up with her arms extended and first herded them inland, and then spread a cloud of dust over them.  Mice began dropping down in twos and threes, though a couple wily ones managed to avoid the potion and flapped away as fast as their little wings could take them.

Serena glided down and landed on the beach beside the sputtering and hissing cat who fought the tide to get to the shore.  Serena took pity on the cat and fetched her out of the water.  Buffy gave a sigh of relief.

"They're getting crafty," Buffy said, her eyes narrowing.  "I never saw the little spots coming with the sun at their backs."

Serena nodded agreement.  "I got all but two of them, though.  I doubt there's more than a dozen left."

"Until next week, when there will be fifty of them," Buffy said.  "A shame cats don't breed as quickly.  I could --"

"Not something I even really want to consider, Buffy."  Serena saw the look on the cat's face, though.  She had to think fast.  "Besides, if you had kittens, you'd be tied to them -- and grounded -- for weeks.  Months."

"That's true.  So how are we going to deal with them instead?  Your mother, and the rest of the villagers, are getting kind of worked up."

Serena nodded.  They had reason to be upset.  Mice were getting into everything.

"What we need is to build a better mousetrap," Serena said.  Then she smiled as she looked at Buffy.  "And I think I know the perfect bait."

"I'm not going to like this, am I?" she said with a sigh.

"Oh, I don't know.  It might be fun for both of us."

Her ears perked up.

It wasn't long before they put the plan into effect.  Serena had diced some apples for dinner when she spied the two little mice in the corner, their wings folded close in hopes she wouldn't notice.  Serena glanced their way and made no sign of having seen them at all.

Her mother, stirring a simple potion by the hearth, had noted them, too.

"How long until Buffy's wing recovers?" her mother asked.

"I don't know.  She twisted when she hit the water."  Serena tried not to grin.  "I hope she recovers quickly.  I need her to help with the mice!"

"Where is she now?"

"Out in the garden resting in the sun."

Serena heard the mice leaving.  It wouldn't be long now.  Serena went up to her room and sat by the window.

The mice took their own good time about doing something.  Sunset was not far off before they began gathering in the trees, tiny wings fluttering in excitement as they tried -- a little too successfully -- to sound like sparrows.

From all Serena could tell, Buffy might truly be asleep this time.  If she messed this one up ... well, they'd both be in even more trouble, Serena supposed.  She tried to imagine what more trouble would look like and decided she didn't want to know.

As though at some signal, the mice in the trees fell silent.

Buffy lifted her head, blinking lazily.  Her tail thumped once, and she laid her head back down --

The mice leapt from the trees and swarmed downward.  Buffy gave a startled cry and leapt upward, fluttering a bit before she fell to the ground.  Drama Queen, Serena thought. With a pitiful meow, the cat darted through the arbor that stood between two high hedges.  The mice formation shifted like an arrow, and they swept through the arbor --

And Serena let the dust fall from the bags hidden among the drooping leaves. 

Startled, wingless mice drifted to the ground.  There had to be over a hundred, and they stood there in shock as Buffy made a slow turn and walked back, her tail high and her eyes bright.

"I suggest," she said softly.  "That you run."

They darted in all directions.  Buffy didn't even bother to follow them.

So they handled that problem.  Now Serena just had to live with an insufferable flying cat who thought she could act.

Sometimes you can't win.

Monday, January 01, 2018

A Last Look at 2017

(I wrote this yesterday but didn't have a chance to post until today.  Welcome to 2018!  Let us hope it is a good year!  One note:  It is no warmer.  This is not a picture from this year, though!)

Welcome to New Year's Eve, 2017.  First off, it is COLD. Seriously cold.   The temp right now is -9f with a -32f wind chill, and that's in the middle of the day.  It is going to drop to -21f temp and who knows what the wind chill will be.  No, not a pleasant New Year's Eve.  I hope people are wise enough to stay home.

My computer is so cold that it's making odd noises.  The office isn't that bad, but right up against the wall -- yeah, it is feeling the cold!

But let's talk about how 2017 went and what I want from 2018.

I started my writing year with Journey of a Thousand Truths on 1/1 and ended it on 4/23.  It's probably the best new novel I wrote this year.  It is novel #103 in my total count and came in at 126,752 words.

On 1/1 I also started the rewrite of Devlin 4 -- Missing Persons.  I'm glad to say that one went well and I finished on 3/19.  This was a shorter work at about 69,780.  I was going to do the next Devlin novel, but I actually need to get another novel in the story universe (but not a Devlin tale) done first because Devlin's team interact with those people in book 5.

On my birthday, 3/8, I began novel #104, Amusing Grace.  This is the sequel of Muse.  It went well for a few hundred words and then died out for some reason.  I restarted it from scratch for the second NaNo novel in November and it went fine that time.  I was done on 11/30 at 50,152.  I like it, but I see some basic things that need to be changed and added. That's fine -- that's the way my first drafts work.

On 3/22 I began the rewrite of the second Raventower and Merriweather novel, War.  This went very well and was done on 5/7.  This one is 135,520 words -- and so much fun!  I really like working with those characters and I do have a third novel getting ready in my little brain for 2018.

On 4/24 I started the rewrite of Circe's Gifts and started posting chapters on Wattpad as well.  That one is 84,880.  It's an older story, but I thought it came out very well.  It is a YA Fantasy with some lovely changeling characters.

And then the rewrite of Tales from Grey Station 9: Season One, a wonderfully fun science fiction project.  That one is one of my longest works at 181,260.  The rewrite went very well.

On 6/20 I began Dusty and Friends, a Flash Fiction serial novella that I posted on my Joyously Prolific blog and on Wattpad.  That one came in at about 28,000 words and is a nice little Young Adult, maybe Pre-teen (though the MC is  teen) story.  Anyway, it was fun to write.

The next one is another rewrite and one that did not work out right.  I began it on 8/1 and finished on 9/4.   Singer & St. Jude 1: The Lost Cause is already published by Double Dragon.  I have the rights back and I wanted to move it up in the overall time line with the rest of the Inner Worlds Council books so it could fit into the overall storyline.  When I was done, though, I realized I hadn't given it enough of a 'future' feel from the original, so I have to go back and redo the world building for that one and try it again, maybe in 2018.

I started the rewrite of Written in the Sand on 9/9 and finished on 12/10 (with a NaNo break in there).  This one went much better!  It's going to be my first publication of 2018, probably on New Years Day.  91,022 words of a desert fantasy story with a really fun set of characters.  I hope people will enjoy it.

Aegyptica Magicae was my first NaNo novel, started 11/1 and ended it on 11/15.  It is #105 of the total novels I've written and a true experiment as a steampunk/fantasy/Egyptian tale.  I have not reread it yet, so I'm not certain which parts of it I got right.  I know it will need more work, but all first drafts do, so that's fine.  I know that at 65,556 it is far too short for what I want.  (I was in the hospital for the three days prior to NaNo and that really threw me off this year. The second NaNo novel was Amusing Grace and my NaNo total was 115,708.)

And finally we have the rewrite of Differential Equations, a contemporary (well, late 1980's) YA mystery that I started on 12/1 and finished on 12/28.  It has formatting still to go through, but after that it will be ready to publish in early 2018.

There were other things I wrote as well like outlines, world building notes for larger universes, and flash fiction for Friday posts (those come to about 52k, including Dusty and Friends).  Also rewriting the 2YN class stuff.  I am also starting to republish updated versions of the 2YN books.  The first one went up last night, replacing the previous version.  I'll get the first five done and the last three as I rewrite the material for posts on Facebook.

My total word count for 2017 is about 1,006,000.  I'm still finishing off a few small things like world building notes and such, but I'll be done soon.

Publications for 2017 were:

3/20 -- Devlin 4 -- Missing Persons
5/7 -- Raventower and Merriweather 2: War
5/22 -- Circe's Gifts
9/8 -- Tales from Grey Station 9

This brings my total number of published novels to 45.  That does not include any of the writing-related stuff like 2YN books, Writing Short, etc.

You can find my publications here:

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/zetteG

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004RS45YS

Personally, not a great year with illness, hospitalization, and all that fun stuff along with everything else.  I am still fighting with that but I've made it to New Years so there is that good news.  There is a lot about 2017 that was just bad for many reasons, some of which I just refuse to face and deal with, but even so ... here we are.

We are having a very cold New Years Eve (low of -21f and that is not the wind chill) so we will stay home, watch shows, enjoy stuff, and hope the weather gets warmer soon.  I plan on this little post being pretty much my last writing of any length for the year.  2018 is seven hours away.  Can I not write that long?  LOL!

I also took 14,581 pictures this year, including about 800 on the trip to the mountains. What a wonderful vacation!



What about 2018?

I have no outlines. This is rare for me, but I planned it this way.  I want to take at least some time to write without anything but the words flowing from me.  My first novel (or at least one of them) is going to be a brand new Devlin novel.  I also have a superhero story (something very new for me!) bouncing around in my brain.  I'll probably start them both on 1/1 and maybe a rewrite of something as well.

My other big plan is to write sequels to many of the works that need them.  I am looking forward to that part as well.  I mentioned the Devlin novel (which will be #10 or #11 in her series, I think), but I also want to write the sequel to Glory (Dreams), Kat Among the Pigeons (Kat Among the Penguins), Raventower and Merriweather #3 (Untitled), Summerfield # 4 (Spring Break) and Tales from Grey Station 9 (Season 2).  I don't know how many I'll get to.  That's a lot of new material for one year.

I spent too much of 2017 worried about sales.  I've decided not to do that this year.  I will write, publish, and hope people enjoy the books and say so to others and post reviews.  That's the only hope an indie writer really has for making sales.  I'm eclectic in my writing so I should have a chance of catching various types of readers.  If not?  Well, I'm still going to be writing and publishing.

I intend to have a good year.  I hope the rest of you do as well.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Flash Fiction # 283 -- Dusty & Friends/28 (End)



"Dusty!  Dusty!"  a little voice shouted at her ear.  "Wake up! They're here!"

Dusty sat up, grabbing at anything she could use as a weapon.  How had the orcs gotten so close?  Where were they?  Where was she?

Blue stood on her pillow leaping up and down.  She looked around in fear --

"Mama!  I can hear mama!"

Well, that woke her from her rest.  Mama.  Big dragon and she would be looking for her lost son.  Dusty threw herself out of bed, almost tangling in the blankets and began looking frantically around.  A knock on the door startled her, but her grandmother's servant, Mistress Paulina rushed into the room with clothing in hand.

"Oh good, you are awake.  We just got a signal --"

"Dragons are coming.  Oh dear.  I don't have time --"

Mistress Paulina was expert at getting people ready for events.  With the help of two other maids, she had Dusty dressed and her hair fixed as quickly as possible.  By then, Blue could see the dragons -- three of them -- in the window.  He jumped so much that Dusty had trouble getting hold of him.  He laughed and giggled and bounced more as they hurried down the stairs and out into the courtyard.

The guards had cleared everything they could out of the way, but Dusty could tell that still didn't leave enough room for the three enormous dragons who were circling lower in the sky.  Fox stood to the right of the door and smiled brightly.  She wanted to grab and hug him but now was not the time.  Dusty had beat grandmother and her guards out to the grand stairs leading into the building, but the Queen arrived only moments later.
"Oh my," the queen said.  "I do hope --"
"Mama!" Blue shouted.
One of the dragons swept out of the formation and straight down at them.  Dusty gasped but hadn't even time to back away before the vast, aqua-colored creature landed with a thump against the courtyard -- she saw stones crack -- and everything trembled.

Blue squealed and leapt from Dusty and to his mother's long snout as the dragon's head came closer.  Dusty bowed her head while Blue talked so fast that even she couldn't follow him, though every time Blue said 'orcs' his mother growled.

Then the larger dragon's head turned and focused unerringly on Dusty.  "Where are the orcs?" she growled, the angry sound sending the ground trembling.

"They're running back for their lairs," Dusty said, fighting to keep her voice steady while she looked into the enormous eyes -- and tried very hard not to see the big teeth.

"You let them go?" she answered, her eyes narrowing.

"I thought it most important to get Blue to safety," Dusty replied.  "I didn't have the ability to fight the orcs --"

"Blue?"  She blinked and then her lips curled back in what was not a smile.  "You have named my son?"

"I -- Just to call him.  Not a real name, of course.  It hardly seemed proper for me to call such a fine creature baby."

Blue, who had settled on her leg, preened.  Dusty saw the mama dragon's eyes turn back to her son and blink.  The anger that had been there a moment before seemed to melt away.

"You did quite well, Princess of the humans.  And may I say you seem quite accomplished in understanding dragons for one so young.  Even those born with the gift are usually not so adept until far later in life, which is a shame for such a short-lived race."

"Thank you, Lady Dragon," she said and hoped that title worked.

The dragon had looked at her son again and gave a little nod.  "Blue is a good name.  We shall keep it."

"Oh, thank you, thank you, mama!  I so wanted a name.  And I will be wiser now!  I'll do much better.  I won't be a problem again!"

"Somehow, I find that rather doubtful."

Dusty smiled, but she was trying not to sniff.  She could tell by the way the older dragon moved that she was preparing to leave and Dusty would not see Blue again.  She had been trying to prepare herself for this moment, but it was all she could do to keep from crying aloud.

Lady Dragon turned her head and gave an unexpected nod to Queen Olivia.  "This one has done well.  I apologize for the misunderstanding about where my young one -- where Blue had gone.  I will send funds to help rebuild and replace livestock."

"That is most generous," Queen Olivia answered and barely concealed her surprise.  Dusty couldn't remember a time when dragons had paid humans for the trouble they created.  This marked a considerable change in their relationship.

"You will not, I hope, mind if we chase the orcs back to their caves?" Lady Dragon asked.

"Not at all."

Both of them grinned, which was a rather odd sight.

"Also, I think it time we have an ambassador," Lady Dragon said and gave a sideways nod to Dusty.

"I thought the same thing," Queen Olivia agreed, and Dusty felt her heart do a double thump.  "We shall give her some training and send her to visit with you -- and Blue -- in a few months if that suits you and her."

"Yes, that will work well," Lady Dragon said, and both of them looked entirely at Dusty this time.

"I would be honored," she said, despite her fear at the idea of such responsibility.  On the other hand, she would see Blue again.

"I think, then, that my granddaughter has found her choosing and her future."

Dusty grinned agreement, watching as Lady Dragon backed away and then lifted into the air with a few flaps of her wings and a lot of magic.  She soon couldn't see Blue as they sailed up so high, but it didn't matter.  In a few months, they would meet again.

And she had the feeling that it was going to be an adventure.






The End

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Flash Fiction # 282 -- Dusty & Friends/27


They pressed in as close to the gate as they could manage while the soldiers fought the orcs.  The orcs had seen her, though.  After that, the power of their yells and the pounding of their feet and hands unsettled the horses, and she couldn't get control of her frightened mount. Fox grabbed her and pulled her off one horse to his, but it was no better.  He got them both down to the ground and with their backs to the gate.  Fox pushed Dusty behind and put himself in front of her --

The gate opened. They both fell inside, Fox landing on her and apologizing as he stood and helped her up.  Then he saw that the orcs had shoved themselves right up to the gate and were trying to get inside while the guards fought to hold them back.  Fox leapt to help them.

"Go Dusty!  Get to the Queen!"

Dusty spun and ran, her heart pounding with fear for those she had left behind.  More soldiers were arriving, though.  She saw Kratis with them, but he didn't notice her, the somewhat ragged girl darting away from the trouble.

Guards stood at the main doors and tried to stop her from going inside the building.

"I'm Destiny!" she shouted in frustration.  "Princess Destiny!  Let me get in.  I have news for my grandmother!"

They looked at her in shock. Then one shoved a door open, and she darted past them.  Servants and even cousins tried to stop her and ask where she'd been.  She had to shake them off, and they probably thought she'd gone mad.

"Blue!" she shouted as she ran.  "Blue!"

Dusty found no sign of him.  She ran, frantic and yelling, her voice going hoarse.  The Queen was in the Great Hall as Dusty had hoped.  She ran past guards.  People began to shout, and the guards caught her.

"No!  Grandma -- I have news about the orcs!"

"Let her go," Master Stuart ordered.  "Princess --"

"He has to be here!  Blue!" 

She thought heard a little voice somewhere above her, but it was soon drowned out in the shouts of the others.  All the people seemed frantic, and they were growing louder.

"Everyone be quiet!" she shouted.

Dusty wasn't certain why they all obeyed her, but everyone fell silent, except for movement -- and a voice --

"Dusty!  Dusty!  I'm here!"

The sound had come from above her, probably along one of the columns that braced the ceiling.  She couldn't see in the shadows though.  "Come to me Blue."

"So many angry people.  Afraid!"

"They won't hurt you.  Come to me.  You can trust me."

"Yes!"

He scurried straight down the column to her right and leapt to her shoulder and then wrapped his little hands around her neck.  She felt almost faint with relief.

"That --" Grandmother began. She left the throne and came to stand before Dusty, her eyes wide.  "That is not a lizard."

"He is a baby blue dragon, Your Highness.  He was stolen by the orcs and his mother will be looking for him."

Silence for a heartbeat or two -- and then the Queen spun to the person standing by Dusty.

"Master Stuart!  To the mages.  Tell them to get a message to the dragons immediately!"

Master Stuart left the room at a run.  Dusty had never seen him run before.  For a moment she could only stare in wonder.  Then she thought she ought to sit down.  Queen Olivia called for chairs, and the two of them sat right there in the middle of the Great Hall. Dusty did her best to tell the story of her adventure while Blue crawled up on her shoulder and surveyed everything.

After a little while, she became aware of the silence, not only in the room but outside the building as well.  The quiet worried her, especially when Master Stuart hurried back into the room, looking a little red-faced and defiantly winded.

"The mages have sent the word, Majesty," he said with a bow to the queen followed by an unexpectedly bright smile.  "And then the mages stood on the walls and told the orcs what they'd done.  It worked better than any other defense we've tried against them.  They are retreating in haste.  I suspect they'll run all the way back to their mountain caves and hope the dragons can't find them if they burrow in deep enough there."

"Now all we can do is wait for the dragons to come to us," Queen Olivia said.  She sounded, rightfully so, worried about that prospect.  "Destiny, you and your friend will have the Green Suite until Blue can go home to his mother.  I think you could both use some rest."

"Yes, thank you," Dusty said.  She could hardly force herself to stand again, and Blue, who must have fallen asleep, tumbled into her arms and curled up again without much notice.  Even Queen Olivia smiled at the sight.

Master Stuart walked with her out of the hall and toward the stairs.  People stared where she passed, and a whisper of words followed her.  There would be some who didn't approve of what she'd done, but that was a part of life at the court.

A few servants had rushed on ahead of them.

"Sir, there was a soldier who helped me, and I want to know if he's all right --"

"This Fox you mentioned?  Don't worry, I'll see to him.  You've had quite an adventure young lady!"

She took the next two steps in silence.  "I always wanted an adventure, you know," she finally said.  "But it was scary, and so much depended on me.  I'd never tried to use my ability with animals like I did."

"And you did well," he said.  They'd reached the door to find a servant who usually served the queen, an honor Dusty had not expected.

She was so tired, though, that she barely remembered sitting down on the bed, just to rest....