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Saturday, October 29, 2011

No Good Deed…

(This short story was originally published in August 2011 for the Fantastic Fables book giveaway contest at  
©2011 Edward Lazellari

Lelani did not think the street looked right. The houses were too small and the blue sky looked like a matt painting used in stage plays; everything felt claustrophobic. She consulted her teacher’s notes and things were just off -- really off. There was no mention of any yellow brick road in his texts.
“Lost?” asked a woman’s voice behind her.
Lelani spun around and laid eyes on the strangest women she’d ever seen. She looked as though she stepped out of a children's storybook, plump with a greenish hue -- too tall for any of the houses in this town -- in a black and blue robe. She wore white socks with black circular stripes and ruby-colored shoes, a red cone-shaped hat with a large brim, and held a long gnarled walking stick. Her eyes were a deep black. Lelani sensed great power in this woman.
“Actually, yes,” said Lelani, cautiously. "How can you tell?"
“You are too tall and swarthy to be from this village,” said the woman. “And far too beautiful. Nineteen?” the woman guessed.
"Seventeen." Lelani said. Her people matured faster than most, though she couldn't fathom why age mattered. Lost was lost. The woman stared at her intensely; maybe she’d never met someone as tall as Lelani... or seen red hair. Or, maybe she saw more? “Lelani Stormbringer," the girl said, trying to diffuse the tension. "Of the Blue Forest, in Aandor.”
“Never heard of it,” the woman snapped, and continued to eye her suspiciously.
“It’s not…” Lelani was unsure how much she should divulge. Some people were not ready to hear that they existed in a multiverse, and that there were other planes of existence. "I'm from another place... not here." That sounded incredibly dumb, she thought after it had left her mouth. Lelani tried to think of a better way to explain it.
“Transdimensional traveler?” asked the woman.
“Yes,” the girl admitted, gratefully. “But not very experienced. I’m not where I’m supposed to be.”
The woman relaxed and smiled. “I thought the wizard had sent you to throw a flying-monkey wrench in my negotiations, ” she said.
Lelani was, in fact, on a mission for a wizard, but was sure the woman referred to someone other than Magnus. “Negotiations?” Lelani asked.
“With the Lollipop guild.”
“Never heard of them.”
“A greedy, misogynistic group of little fuc…” She caught herself, and let out a deep breath. “I apologize. How rude... I rule the Eastern Province of Oz. My friends call me Ness.”
Lelani bowed before her. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, your majesty.”
“Well, I too am glad to make the acquaintance of a fellow sorceress; especially one so polite. There are others around these parts, but the one up north is an uppity snob, and my sister out west is an envious bitch.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, your highness.” Lelani couldn’t help but notice no one in the village came out to greet them. She was sure they were being watched... a drape fluttered in one window, a bush rustled elsewhere. Strange, if this was their queen.
“You don’t know the half of it child,” Ness continued. “The Lollipop guild controls sugar manufacturing in Oz. Sugar is the main staple of our diet; we make it from corn. But there’s a shortage in Quadling Country, and they’re paying top rates, so the guild has diverted a large portion our supply south for bigger profits. Munchkinlanders blame me for the shortages. The guild is trying to squeeze me out. And that ungrateful group of hussies in the Lullaby League is no help. You’d think enchanted axes grew on trees,” she grumbled under her breath.
Lelani, not sure what Ness was referring to said only, “That’s unfortunate.”
Ness put on a sinister smile. “Unfortunate for them!" she said. "They have appealed to the Wizard of Oz for aid -- a pretentious charlatan with no real authority outside of his precious city. But I’ve discovered something interesting. He’s not really from these parts, nor is he all that great or powerful." Ness sidled close to Lelani. The woman's breath smelled of onions and liver. "I'll deal with the guild on my terms. And if that wizard takes even a step out of that emerald turd he cowers in…” she sliced her index finger across her neck, “curtains for him.”
“Ah,” Lelani said, growing uncomfortable. In her experience, most monarchs were crazy. This one seemed extra-specially so. In Aandor, many rulers have been at odds with their wizard. But in Aandor, wizards held no political posts... none ruled kingdoms. Power did strange things to people. Mostly, it made them paranoid.
Lelani recalled Ness’ reaction upon her arrival. “If this wizard’s false, why were you concerned when you thought I was his agent?”
Ness reclaimed some of that grave seriousness she greeted Lelani with a moment ago. “Because of the prophecy,” she said. “A young girl will come to Oz and kill its… queens.” Ness gave Lelani a scrutinizing glare.
“I’m here by accident,” Lelani said, quickly. “I do not intend to kill anyone.”
Ness’ laugh was more of a cackle -- a high-pitched staccato barrage that reminded Lelani of the wicked crones at the northern edge of the Blue forest that cooked stray children for dinner. This was no queen.
“Oh dearie,” Ness cackled. “The girl I need to kill is much younger. And… she's human.”
So the witch could truly see her.
Lelani pulled out an ornate brass compact. She opened it, and a large light map of the multiverse projected in the air before them. The map was filled with measurements, meridians, and other imaginary lines than men drew to help them make sense of the world. “I’m from this dimension,” she said. “I am trying to get here,” she pointed at her destination.
Ness studied the map. "You're here," she said, pointing to a spot with her cane.
It was far short of Lelani's destination. She hadn't even crossed the Prime Meridian, which demarcated the universes of magic from science. “Can you help me?” she asked Ness.
“Why should I help you?” the witch responded.
Without missing a beat, Lelani said, “Because the witch in the north is a snob, your sister out west is a bitch, and you are at odds with the wizard living in the middle." She threw the old woman a sardonic smile.  "You don’t get along with other magic users, Ness; especially powerful ones. But, perhaps I assume too much… how do you get along with the witch in the south, exactly?”
Ness eyed the girl and rubbed her chin with a plump finger. “I see your point,” she said.
“You don’t really want me here, and I just want to get on my way. Think of the karmic plus a good deed would bestow on you before dealing with the guild.”
Ness cackled at the girl's moxie. “Agreed,” she said. “You focus on navigation. I shall open the portal by tapping into the lay line that runs through Oz."
“Here? Now?" Lelani said incredulously.
"Of course. I have people to see and wizards to fry," Ness said. "Best that you were gone as soon as possible."
“Opening a vortex between worlds is dangerous," Lelani argued. "It will disrupt weather patterns and create intense storms. It could endanger this village. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather try this in one of those corn fields outside of town?” Lelani asked. "There’s no telling what can happen. Out there, the worst case scenario is we kill a scarecrow."
“Forget the village. They're done for anyway. By the time I’m through with the guild, they’ll feel like a building landed on them. Look, do you want to go or not? I haven't got all day."
Lelani nodded in assent, but was sad for the Munchkinlanders. She couldn't fight every injustice in the multiverse. She had her own destiny to fulfill.
"I shall anchor your entrance on this spot until the link between worlds is established and secured,” Ness said. The witch raised her gnarled cane over her head and stirred the air chanting in the language of Oz. “Ozma, Kozma, Wizma, Hahloo.” The wind kicked and the sky grew thick and dark. A funnel opened in the clouds.
“You have my gratitude,” Lelani said through her long whipping hair.
“Go child!”
Lelani knew Ness was not a good ruler, but secretly wished the woman luck. She hoped that the universe would see fit to grant the Munchkinlanders mercy, and Ness some wisdom. The force of the vortex in the cloud lifted Lelani toward the sky. She entered the funnel. A dark grey wind swirled around her -- all color had been drained from the world. The dark matter between the universes surrounded her, the crackling energy intense. This was not a realm that liked to be breached, but the Witch of the East wrenched apart the mortar of creation for Lelani to reclaim her journey. Lelani spotted the track she must take to her destination and employed propulsion by means of her compact. She looked down to see Ness and the window to Oz getting smaller. Suddenly, a large shadow loomed above her. Lelani barely had time to move out of the way before the object whooshed past her with tremendous speed on the tip of an angry cyclone. Behind her, the object blocked the window to Oz. Lelani could no longer see Ness, but the deed was done --- Lelani was on her way.
The hole behind her closed and suction from the vacuum dissipated. She was between realities now and on her way to find the Prince’s guardians. Her last thought as she navigated the interdimensional ether was about the object that passed her.
Was that a house?

Edward Lazellari is the author of the fantasy novels Awakenings and The Lost Prince from Tor Books, part of the Guardian of Aandor series. These books are available at: 

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