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Book 5: Sun & Air / Son & Heir

By MultiMapper
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Chapter 20 - Ancient Artistry

"What are we doing?" Paul quietly asked his father as they stepped out of the office.

"Watch and listen. Once you've witnessed this, I'll answer any questions that you still have." D said as they walked with Miss Night away from her office and onto the midway.

"What are we looking for?" G asked, appearing to be perfectly at home in his 'dark clown' persona.

"Watch the entryway, where we came in." D said as he pointed with his free hand.

Lex noticed that people all over the carnival had stopped what they were doing and had their attention focused on the main carnival entrance.

The horizon seemed to blur in a gust of wind and burnt-orange haze. What had been a barren forest had seemingly transformed into an equally barren desert. Some dry sparse weeds and gnarled stunted trees surrounded the entryway, leading off into an arid sandy twilight of infinite nothing.

"What happened to the forest? Is the train still there?" Paul asked D seriously.

"The train is still right where we left it, however we are no longer in the same realm that it is." D said carefully.

"So we're stuck here?" Paul asked to confirm.

"No. Not at all. There are several methods for us to return to the train or to the Earth realm, any of which are easily accomplished. The only thing I would warn you against is leaving the carnival by way of the road in front of us. Not only will that take you fully into another realm, but there is every likelihood that once you stepped through, the doorway would close behind you and you would be stranded there." D said seriously.

"Where?" Lex asked curiously.

"You'll have to ask Miss Night about that. This realm isn't one that I'm familiar with." D said frankly.

"Please call me Sanguine." Miss Night said to D warmly, then turned her attention to Lex and explained, "The carnival dimension is in the process of merging with the Oasis of Castor, in the third realm of Tinea."

Before Lex could ask exactly what that meant, the hall of mirrors suddenly transformed from a free-standing building to a large colorful tent.

"We're not just opening a door to that place, the carnival is merging into their reality, almost like one of G's sorcery overlays." Paul cautiously deduced from the evidence at hand.

"Exactly, except that it's not an illusion, remind you of anything?" D asked with a grin.

"They did a changey on the entire carnival?" Lex asked in amazement.

"But, like with Mr. Sticks, the adaptation makes the people of the carnival realm actually become part of whatever realm they're visiting." Paul said speculatively.

"Not entirely and not permanently." Sanguine said firmly.

"Another of the ancient magics grants everyone in the carnival the ability to speak and understand the language of the realm that we're visiting." D added seriously.

"The magic only lasts for as long as the realms are merged." Sanguine continued, then further explained, "When the realms separate, most will be sorted to the realm which has the greater claim on them. Those equally claimed by both realms will be drawn by both and their disposition will need to be adjudicated. One person may struggle to end up in the realm of his choice while another may ultimately end up having their wish fulfilled with little to no effort on their part. And while I am sometimes called upon to intervene in such matters, I actually have very little to do with the outcome. Ultimately, the realms decide."

"This sounds like one of those things where, after visiting here, someone spends the rest of their life trying to find the carnival again so that they can reclaim their long-lost love." Paul said melodramatically.

"How tragically romantic. However, while that could happen, love is only one of the many incentives that this place has to offer to make a person desperate to return... or want to stay forever." Sanguine said frankly.

"Let me guess. Things like greed? Wrath?... Pride, maybe?" Paul asked knowingly.

"Ah, the classics. You have good instincts." Sanguine said with a smile, then quietly added, "If you ever feel like getting away from it all, I might be able to find a position for someone with your vision."

"Rule number one. You don't get to recruit my kids." D said firmly, but with enough of a smile to indicate that he wasn't really angry.

"From what I've heard, two of your sons have already declined generous offers from us." Sanguine said informatively.

"Do I need to take my sons back home to protect them?" D asked cautiously.

"No. of course not. It wasn't personal against you or your children. Those were enchantments built into the attractions; they were automatic. I was simply letting Paul know that I appreciate his perspective and that I think he has a mindset that would do well here." Sanguine explained while keeping watch on the blowing sand outside the carnival entrance.

"Thank you?" Paul said uncertainly.

D seemed to be both relieved and amused at Paul's reaction.

"Ah! Here it comes. Hold on." Sanguine said as she appeared to be getting shorter.

"What's happening?" Lucky asked anxiously as not only the buildings but also the people began to transform.

The carousel that he and his Uncle D had ridden earlier had transformed into a significantly shorter, although slightly more elaborate affair where the horses were no longer horses, but something more serpentine, with several wings and many sharp teeth on display.

"Uncle D? Is it safe for us to be here?" Lucky asked anxiously as he moved closer to D's side.

"Yes. It's fine. Just be sure to pay careful attention to what's going on around you and be ready to step out of the way if need be." D warned him.

"Sanguine, are you alright?" Lex asked with concern.

"I'm fine. This is my way of adapting to the realm, I change to resemble one of their natives." Sanguine gently explained.

"Are we going to change like that too?" Lucky asked anxiously.

"I will." D said simply as the boys noticed that the beginning of his change was already underway.

"But if you didn't have Mr. Sticks, you wouldn't be changing now." Paul asked speculatively.

"Correct." D said simply, looking strangely dignified for someone with gray skin and long ears.

"Everyone who arrives with the carnival will be able to speak the native language. But only those bound to the Carnival realm will be adapted. Guests from outside both realms will remain themselves and will most likely end up being some of the more curious attractions for our visitors." Sanguine said seriously.

"But what are you changing into?" Paul asked curiously.

"The people are called The Huell. They are said to be the offspring of donkeys and goblins, although I suspect that that's a story people came up with to explain their appearance. I seriously doubt that there's a word of truth in it." Sanguine finished with a smile.

"Donkey goblins?" G asked dubiously.

"I think Sanguine's right. I have a hard time believing that any... well, many Goblins had intimate relations with donkeys." D said uncomfortably, then qualified, "Or, at least not enough to populate an oasis."

"I personally believe that The Huell are goblins who, over time, have adapted to living and doing hard labor in the harsh desert climate. But I suppose they might just as easily be the result of some witch's curse." Sanguine said frankly.

The blowing sand outside the carnival finally seemed to ease a little and beyond the stunted, gnarled trees was a village made up of many free-standing stone buildings as well as some relatively large tents.

"Considering your unusual appearance, the guests from the oasis will probably assume that you are members of the carnival. If you'd like, you can choose to play along and help entertain our guests. Who knows? It might make for an interesting diversion for you."

"Can we?" Lucky asked D beside him and was surprised to find that D was now shorter than he was.

"Yes. Of course." D immediately responded.

"Lex, do you want to?" Lucky asked excitedly.

"Do I want to, what?" Lex asked hesitantly.

Rather than answer verbally, Lucky enacted his 'changey', then smoothly transitioned from his humanoid form to his Pegasus centaur form.

"Oh, that." Lex said with surprise, then stammered, "Yeah. Give me a second."

Doing much as Lucky had done, Lex did his changey, then smoothly transformed into his unicorn centaur form.

"You wanna ride up here with me?" Lex asked down to Zephyr.

After a moment to consider, the green and black horse monster slowly took to the air leaving a faint trail of ocean spray in his wake.

As the others watched, Zephyr eventually came to rest on Lex's shoulder and somehow wordlessly gave the impression of being the one in charge of their partnership.

"Do you want to ride on my back, Zah Zah?" Lucky asked hopefully.

After looking at him with her too-human eyes for a moment, Zah Zah jumped from a standstill and landed effortlessly on Lucky's horseback. After a moment to assess her situation, she curled up and put her head down, seeming in that move to declare her disinterest in the whole affair.

"Isn't that unusual? What type of creature is it?" Sanguine asked curiously as she moved to get a better look at Zah Zah.

Lex had to fight not to say something snarky to the donkey-goblin woman asking that question.

"Her name is Zah Zah. When I started making her, she was supposed to be a cat... well, a cat demon, like Ginh Zah, who's a real cat demon. But every time I'd recast the spell to make her, I'd make changes to make her better until she wasn't much like Ginh Zah at all anymore." Lucky said seriously.

"What a beautiful story. So Zsa Zsa ended up being herself." Sanguine said with a smile of delight.

"Yeah. I guess so. But I'm still trying to figure out how to make it so that she can be happy." Lucky regretfully admitted.

"Why do you think that she isn't?" Sanguine asked curiously.

"Because she isn't nice. Sometimes she'll attack people for no reason or just because she's in a bad mood." Lucky said anxiously.

"When you put it that way, it sounds like half the people I deal with on a daily basis." D said honestly.

"There are such people in the world." Sanguine confirmed.

"Is that them?" Paul asked as a group of four short, stout creatures tentatively entered through the front gate.

Each of them had the same gray coloring and long donkey-like ears that Sanguine and D had recently adopted.

"Yes. Undoubtedly, the first of many. Now the evening can really begin." Sanguine said happily before stepping away from D's group to welcome the newcomers personally.

* * * * *

"Are you feeling a little conspicuous, being human-looking like that?" G asked Paul curiously.

"A little." Paul admitted.

"No one will mind if you want to go full demon. I went full clown, and no one batted an eye." G said honestly.

"Well, I don't feel like I need to put on a show and pretend to be something that I'm not. But at the same time, I guess you could look at this like dressing up to go out." Paul said speculatively.

"Boys, I hadn't anticipated the merging with another realm so soon. I assumed that we'd have more time." D said frankly, then cautiously continued, "It looks like it might be a few minutes before things really get started here. So this might be the best time for us to swing by the fortune-teller's booth so that we can visit with M's family and introduce all of you before things get too crazy."

"Are they going to be mad at us for what happened to Mom?" G asked anxiously.

"I doubt it." D assured his son, then continued on to explain, "If there's anyone who will understand, it'll be them."

"Why? Did they go through something like that?" G asked dubiously.

"No. But due to their gifts, they are capable of witnessing everything that happened from a hundred different points of view. Even if they regret the outcome, I'm confident that they'll agree that all involved took the most reasonable action available to them at the time." D said as he motioned to one of the paths that branched off from the midway.

"How much do you think they already know about us?" G asked anxiously.

"Probably not as much as you'd expect. Even though they have legitimate clairvoyant abilities, they're held in check by very short attention spans and a tendency to become obsessed with innocuous details that are only tangentially related to their investigation." D explained, then motioned toward a particular booth, which was open for business.

"They fall down rabbit holes?" Paul guessed.

"They could teach Alice a few things." D said bluntly.

* * * * *

"Mr. Sticks? You're looking well. Where is the boss?" A donkey-goblin woman in stereotypical gypsy garb asked delightedly when she saw the little stick man walking into her tent.

"I'm here, Nola. I brought my sons to meet you." D said as he followed Mr. Sticks inside.

Paul entered next and had to duck more than a little to keep from hitting his head on the low ceiling of the tent. After looking around to assess his situation, he immediately transformed back to his waking form.

"Sons? The last I heard, you and Emaline had only stopped fighting long enough to make one baby." Nola said teasingly.

G was the next to enter. Although his head nearly touched the ceiling, changing his appearance wouldn't affect his height so he remained his clownish self.

"We didn't fight all that much. And besides, M and I enjoyed two beautiful blissful years of marriage and had a wonderful son together. That can be counted as something of a success." D said frankly.

"I thought you two were married for six years." Nola said cautiously.

"Seven. The last five years weren't what you would call 'beautiful' or 'blissful'." D said frankly, then after a moment of consideration, he added, "They sucked."

As soon as Lex and Lucky passed through the doorway, they realized that their centaur forms were not only too tall, but also too big in general and took up far too much of the limited space in the tent.

With no more than a glance at each other, they both changed into their smallest forms, Lex's being his 'Cousin Lex' form.

"Before we get lost in reminiscing, let me introduce the boys: Paul, G, Lex, and Lucky."

A short gray stout woman dressed in much jewelry and many veils said in a heavily accented voice, "Fortune favors the bold... and here you are."

"Hello, Tyne. It's good to see you." D said warmly.

"I'm glad Gwayne was finally able to traverse the void. Hello, dear, I'm your grandmother. You can call me Grandma Tyne, if you like." The donkey-eared woman said tentatively, unable to interpret G's expression.

Part of the reason for that was that G was stunned into silence and didn't appear to be wearing any particular expression at all.

Before the silence could become too uncomfortable, Grandma Tyne finally continued, "And this is your Great Aunt Nola."

"It's nice to meet you. To be honest, I didn't even know I had a good Aunt, much less a 'Great' one." G muttered absently as his clown makeup adjusted from being blank to a teasing smirk.

"And if you hadn't been able to cross the void, you never would have known." Grandma Tyne said warmly, happy to see that, on some level, G was processing his situation.

"I understand that I couldn't come here before, but I don't know why you couldn't at least tell me." G said, mostly to his father.

Before D could answer, Nola gently explained, "Because nothing is as uniquely poisonous as regret."

D nodded his agreement, then said, "If it were one absent relative, I probably would have told you. But letting you know that you have an entire branch of your family that you can't have contact with could only ever bring bitterness and resentment into your life."

"I still feel like you lied to me." G said frankly.

"I did." D said simply, then explained, "I had a choice to make, so I made it. I was just trying to do my best to make your life as happy and secure as I could."

"Parents will sometimes do that." Paul added supportively.

"Be wary, if you focus too much on regrets from the past, you can miss out on what you have here and now." Grandma Tyne told G gently.

"Of course, if you're determined to focus on the past anyway, you could consider sharing it with us. Now that you're here, we would love to hear all about your life." Nola said warmly.

"I have a feeling that Dad has some plans for us tonight. But we'll probably be able to talk more later." G said uncertainly.

"Yes. I think we'd all really like that..." Grandma Tyne trailed off with a secretive grin trying to break through.

At the pause, Nola hurried to add, "Although I don't know of any significant alignment of the stars, there must be some unique confluence of something to bring you and your family here at this particular time."

"Really? What else is going on?" D asked cautiously.

"Something unprecedented. Let's just say that if you're wanting to introduce your sons to their family, today you're going to have an opportunity that you would not have had yesterday."

"I still don't get it." D said frankly.

"Have you or Emaline ever told Gwayne about his uncle?"

"Grief is here?" D asked with surprise.

"He arrived just before you and is in the process of unpacking." Nola said frankly.

"Do you think it'd be alright if we went to see him now?" D asked cautiously.

"I'm certain that he'd be hurt to the core if you didn't. You can come back here and we can have a good visit once you've caught up with him." Nola immediately answered, then thought to add, "But do try to keep in mind that he's very protective of his sister and loves her very much."

"Did you hear that, boys? No bad-talking Emaline while we're visiting with your uncle." D said firmly.

"Does that mean that we were allowed to before?" G asked confusedly.

"No. But now, if you slip up and say something cruel, you could hurt someone who is very dear to me." D said frankly.

"Before we go, let me see if I've got this straight." Paul said in prelude, then tentatively asked, "You're about to introduce us to an uncle that none of us has ever even heard of before, who is G's mom's brother, who you care a lot about, and his name is Grief? Is that right?"

After a moment to consider, D finally said, "Yes. Except that his name is really Johnathan, everyone just calls him Grief."

"Why is that?" G cautiously asked.

"I don't know, Gwayne. Maybe because sometimes people don't grow into their given names." D said with a smile, then ushered the boys out of the fortune teller's booth.

* * * * *

"We aren't supposed to be here, are we?" Lex cautiously asked in the claustrophobic dimly lit walkway between tents.

"Regular carnival goers aren't supposed to be here, but we're family. If Grief is unpacking, our best bet is to catch up with him at his tent." D said frankly.

"If you haven't seen him in years, how do you know which tent is his?" G asked curiously.

"Things here tend to stay the same over an expanse of time." D said simply, then explained, "But if he's not where I expect him to be, then we'll start looking around for signs of someone moving in."

"Do you think I should change before I meet him?" G asked anxiously.

"It would probably be better if you didn't." D said seriously as he emerged from the narrow passage.

As each of the boys stepped out from between the tents, they were amazed by the humble little community that had formed within the hidden cracks and crevices of the carnival attractions.

"It's like a world inside a world." Lex said in amazement as he tentatively looked around.

"Built on top of another world besides." Paul added in an equal awestruck voice.

D walked up to a tent and called out, "Grief? Are you home? You've got visitors."

"Who in all of creation would visit me?" A male voice asked in return.

"Think of everyone you'd expect to run into here. I'm the next person after that." D said with amusement.

"D? Is that you? How are you? How's Emaline? Is she here with you?" A man started asking before emerging from the tent.

When he did finally emerge, the first thing Paul noticed was that Grief's profile immediately reminded him of G. At a glance, Grief looked exactly the way he expected G to look in ten or fifteen years. The family resemblance was striking.

As Grief came more into the light, the next thing that was evident was the black and white face paint that he wore. The makeup around his eyes was shaped to convey sadness and a black teardrop stood alone in a field of white on his cheek.

When Grief stood, he revealed the comically ill-fitting three-piece suit that he was wearing, circa 1900.

"You're my uncle?" G asked in wide-eyed amazement.

"Gwayne? Is that you?" Grief asked uncertainly, then before G could answer, he hurriedly amended, "No. It can't be. You can't be this old already."

"Do you know me?" G asked with the beginning of excitement welling within him.

"I've heard stories. I suppose that things never worked out so that we could be in the same place at the same time before."

"Nobody ever told me that I had an uncle or that he was a clown." G happily chattered.

"We didn't know where he was, what he was doing, or if he'd be coming back. We didn't want to get you excited about having a relative that you might never be able to meet." D said frankly.

"Yeah. I get it. Besides, if I knew he was a clown, I probably would have been a pain-in-the-ass asking all kinds of questions and always bugging you about it, wanting to go track him down and stuff." G easily admitted.

"If you're Gwayne, then who are these others? You're the only one that I've heard of before." Grief said honestly.

G looked to his father, but only received a nod of encouragement.

"The demon spider on my shoulder is named Mah Zah. She's not a pet, just a travelling companion. I can tell you more about her later." G said as he glanced toward his shoulder.

"Can't wait." Grief said hesitantly.

"Next is my adopted brother Paul. Dad married his mom, Beth." G said as he indicated the rather ordinary looking boy beside him.

"I had heard that you had divorced, but little else." Grief said quietly to D.

"We can talk more about that later." D assured him.

Grief slightly nodded, then turned his attention to Paul and said, "It's nice to meet you. I hope that our clowning around won't be too troublesome for you." Grief said sincerely.

"Being around G has gotten me used to it. But if I start feeling left out, I'll just raise a little hell." Paul said with an easy grin.

"Yes he will." G laughed, then continued, "The tiny dragon demon on his shoulder is Ginh Zah."

The briefest spark of a fireball ignited as Ginh Zah's contribution to the conversation.

"Spiders and dragons... nice." Grief said with a smile of appreciation.

"Next is our cousin Lucky." G said as he indicated the younger boy.

"Kyla's son." D quietly added.

"Are you my uncle too? Like Uncle D?" Lucky asked curiously.

"I suppose I can be." Grief said without hesitation, then explained, "Most of our family is family by choice. I don't think being related by blood makes any of us closer than we are otherwise."

"Most people who join the carnival family are from outside, with no blood ties to anyone in any world." D explained to the boys.

"What type of creature is this that you're holding? Another demon?" Grief asked Lucky curiously.

"Zah Zah's more like a copy of a demon." Paul said carefully.

"Or the reimagining of a demon." Lex interjected.

"Yeah. I made her." Lucky proudly declared.

"You made your own demon?" Grief asked dubiously.

"It sounds a little crazy when you say it like that." G cautiously admitted.

"Is there a way to say it that doesn't sound crazy?" Grief asked curiously.

After a moment to consider, G finally said, "No. Not really."

Grief spared Zah Zah a long, uncertain look, obviously not knowing how he felt about the pseudo-demon.

"And this is Lex, our..." G hurried to say, but fell short of explaining their relationship.

"G is my son by birth, Paul is my son by marriage and Lucky has status as my son by virtue of our blood relationship. Lex is my son by 'other', more magical, means." D said carefully.

"Well, no matter how it happened, from the look of him, I wouldn't be surprised to find that he's related to me and Em, too." Grief said frankly.

"How I look is an illusion." Lex said as he became taller and took on G's usual appearance.

"How... I mean, you said that he's made from magic... he looks like me... like when I was his age." Grief rambled.

"He's an air elemental who has taken the form of my son." D said simply.

"Yours and Em's?" Grief asked to be sure.

"He looks like me, how I really look." G said frankly as he let his clown form fade away to reveal his waking self underneath.

Grief looked back and forth between the two identical boys and seemed to be at a loss for words.

The little horse-like creature on Lex's shoulder reared up on his hind legs in challenge, daring Grief to say an unkind word toward his chosen companion.

"Hold on. The air elemental has a water elemental watching over him?" Grief asked hesitantly.

"They kinda watch out for each other, but yeah." Paul said quietly.

"But I always thought that Kelpies were evil creatures that would poison you and try to eat your soul." Grief said honestly.

"Do anything to hurt Lex and I bet you'll find out just how true that is." Paul said seriously.

"I wouldn't ever want to do anything to hurt him. He's family." Grief declared, then looked around as he continued, "You all are."

"Do you need any help moving in?" D asked as he looked around.

"No. I travel light. I was just putting a few things away. It's nothing that can't wait for later. We've already arrived at the oasis, so I need to get ready to perform. I've got to earn my keep. Nobody rides for free." Grief said seriously.

"Since you're not three feet tall with donkey ears, I'm guessing that you're not counted as part of this realm yet." Paul said speculatively.

"I am and I'm not. I kind of took a leave of absence. The realm will decide when I've earned my way back in." Grief said simply, then ducked back into his tent.

"When we get back out to the midway, you should all change back to your 'performance' forms. Not only will it help you to fit in here better, but I think that you'll probably have the most fun." D said seriously.

"You don't have a performance form, do you?" G asked curiously.

"None worth mentioning. Mr. Sticks and I will be content to stay off to the side and let you have the stage for an evening. If any of you run into difficulties or have questions, we'll be nearby to help you out." D said warmly.

"Should we go ahead and change now?" Lucky asked curiously.

"Wait until we're away from these tents. I have a feeling that you'll navigate your way between them better if you're smaller." D said frankly.

"I'm ready. Let's go." Grief said as he stepped out of his tent carrying a top hat and an umbrella hooked over his arm.

"Uncle Grief, I've always been a clown but I've never really been a clown. I mean, I was born with it and I've been going mostly by instinct. But I'm not sure if I'm doing it right." G admitted anxiously.

"Instinct is the best way to start out. I'm sure you're exactly where you need to be. But when we get out there, you can show me what you've got and I'll let you know if I have any suggestions for you to further develop your own style."

* * * * *

When the group emerged from between the tents, the change was remarkable. What had been a creepy, mostly empty carnival had transformed into a joyous bustling madhouse of people enjoying the attractions.

As soon as the family were free from the confined passageway, Lucky and Lex immediately transformed into their centaur forms.

The reactions of the nearby Huell was amazement and delight at the spectacle of the bizarre beings suddenly in their midst.

Paul was initially resistant to the idea of putting himself on display, but by the time they reached the midway, he had decided to go against his reserved nature and let loose a little of the 'showman' which he usually held in reserve for Friday afternoons.

D and Mr. Sticks resisted the urge to tell the boys where to go first and allowed them the freedom to explore.

As soon as G and Grief were among the Huell, they began interacting with them, mostly with the adults and older children. While Grief's humor was more physical, with plenty of stumbling, bumbling pratfalls, G's was more magical, with showy little 'tricks' to fascinate and amaze.

Even though G was adept at sorcery and could create gigantic elaborate scenes, in this circumstance, he delighted his audience with clouds of brightly colored buzzing insects, armies of tiny, clicky little pastel-colored crabs, and various assorted eeping furry little rodents to skitter and romp amongst his admiring audience.

Lex and Zephyr had taken it upon themselves to offer horsey rides to some of their more ardent fans. At any given time, it was difficult to say whether it was the unicorn centaur or miniature kelpie that the riders were more fascinated by.

Lucky had an audience of Huell children gathered around him to watch him weave magical forms out of Wizard Light strings and strands. The scribbled white snowmen were an immediate favorite. Every so often one of the children would look over at Zah Zah, who was curled on Lucky's back, and realize that she was made out of the same magical materials that Lucky was drawing with.

Paul's fans kept more of a respectful distance, but were no less engaged with the dangerous creature that was in some cases over three times their heights.

While Lucky's magical playing had been focused on fantasy manipulations of Wizard's Lights, Paul's was more generalized. He made plumes of flame, which was enough to impress some people. When he twisted them into little gurgling fountains of water, he drew the interest of some of those who were more familiar with magical principles.

In the end, Paul's audience didn't appear to be as enthusiastic as some of the others, but they were undoubtedly impressed by what they were seeing.

"I hope this will end up being a fond memory for all of them." D said down to his companion.

Mr. Sticks' lack of reaction was taken as agreement to the sentiment.

* * * * *

G heard the nearby crowd beginning to 'ooh' and 'aah' over some new delight.

As he looked at what had caught their attention, he was surprised to see six instances of Grief, all moving in perfect unison, performing some sort of comical dance routine.

G intellectually knew that the illusionary manipulation that Grief was using was a simple one, a reflection multiplication. It required little magic and next to no crafting. Be that as it may, the way in which Grief was using the reflection spell was nothing short of brilliant.

The presentation was enthralling.

While G knew that he could do far more complicated and magically demanding illusions than what Grief was presenting, he was surprised to realize that it didn't matter in the least. Grief beat him hands down in creating a performance that people would want to see and eventually look back upon fondly. It wasn't a competent casting, it was artistry.

* * * * *

"Things seem to be going well." Sanguine said as she sidled up beside D.

"I think that we could call this excursion a success, based solely on the amount of fun that Lucky is having." D said with a tender smile at the winged centaur boy.

"This works out very well. I've been wanting to get some more wholesome activities for the families who visit us." Sanguine said frankly.

"You don't plan on entrapping whole families here, do you?" D asked cautiously.

"No. Of course not. Those capable of making a choice, will still make a choice. Those not, will at least get an evening of entertainment to remember, hopefully fondly." Sanguine said reasonably.

"From the look of it, you've got the entertainment side of things handled." D said with a smile at Lucky.

"Did he really create the demon cat all by himself?" Sanguine asked curiously.

"As I understand it, he had a little inspiration and basic instruction from his brothers, but after that he did the rest on his own." D said frankly.

"So you didn't give him a little special something to help him along, did you?" Sanguine asked as she glanced at Mr. Sticks.

"I demonstrated a few rudimentary animation spells for him, but they weren't much more than marionette puppetry. Certainly nothing that could be mistaken for sentience." D explained.

"What an awe-inspiring talent for a child to discover; to be able to create an independent being purely out of his own imagination. The implications are staggering." Sanguine said seriously.

"This could go wrong in so many ways. I have a feeling that I'm going to be walking a tightrope between allowing him freedom and being protective of him pretty much from now on." D said frankly.

"I think there are quite a few responsible people who have to walk a tightrope like that. Although, I admit, yours may have consequences more extreme than many." Sanguine said speculatively.

"Tell me, Sanguine, in your travels, have you heard of something called 'The Children of the Sun'?" D asked cautiously.

"The first witches? I heard a little about them when I was a child, but I never put much stock in any of it." Sanguine said distantly as she watched how her guests were enjoying their visit.

"I didn't grow up with those stories at all and I was just trying to get a sense of who or what they're supposed to be." D said frankly.

"I seem to recall having been told stories about them, but that was a very long time ago. I don't actually recall what type of creatures they were even purported to have been. I suppose, being as young as I was, that I imagined them being of my own people. As I recall, the gist of the tale was your typical, run of the mill, origin story. It was just some silly thing to explain where witches came from." Sanguine said casually.

"That aligns with what I've been hearing. It sounds like 'The Children of the Sun' could be the progenitors of witches, potentially having the power of all witches." D said speculatively.

"Theoretically yes, but, as I'm sure you know, nothing like that goes unchecked. If such a creature were released into your realm, before long there would be a counter-force to constrain it." Sanguine said confidently.

D slowly nodded as Sanguine seemed to notice something going on with a group of visitors.

"Excuse me." Sanguine quickly muttered before dashing away.

D pondered what had been said for a long moment, then turned to his companion and asked, "What do you think about it?"

Mr. Sticks faced D for a moment, then slowly turned away to face Lucky, who was joyfully playing with some of the younger Huell children.

D began to slowly nod, then said, "I can't help but think that there must be a reason for him to be here."

Mr. Sticks turned his non-face toward D and waited.

"You might be right. We may be dealing with the reverse, a force that runs in opposition to reason."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Grief was quite the interesting relative, wasn't he?

It is interesting to see the boys being able to literally be themselves, without having to hold onto a "normal" form.

Here they can stretch their legs, and any other part of their beings to totally new levels. They can reach in or out of themselves and open new possibilities that no one even considered possible before now.

The boys, and maybe even the adults, can make decisions that they had never even considered before, given the properties of the realm or realms they are now, at least for the moment, inhabiting.

Let's hope they can all accomplish something meaningful and even important.

It seems that magic is alive and well here. In whatever shape, size or form it occupies, it is going to be interesting and hopefully, fun!

I am betting that something important is about to happen, and I am thinking it will be quite a surprise to just about everyone involved.

My feelings come, in part, from having read many other stories over the years, and certainly those of MM always have people who grow and improve as the stories move on.

MM does not allow things to drag on for no reason. I am sure that any event or appearance of anyone or anything will, at some point, become an important asset to the continuation of the story. Mark my words.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher