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Faun And Games Part 27

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He would have bitten his tongue, but it was too late for that. So he told the truth. "Because I already care too much for you, in your present shape, and that just makes it worse."

She stared at him in astonishment. Then she looked thoughtful. "I will try to be more careful."

He held the can in front of him. "I invoke you."

Nothing happened. But that was the way it was supposed to be. He put the can away, and they started down the hill.

At the edge of the forest they came to their first line. They halted just short of it. The thing was green, and marked the ground without actually cutting into it, in the manner of a shadow. It crossed rocks and trees the same way. It wasn't visible in the air, but its dark green line showed against the leaves and branches above it, indicating that it was a vertical plane. "Do you think it's safe to cross it?" Forrest asked.



"With the concealment of the blanket, it should be. But maybe we should move carefully, and not talk much, when we cross."

"I agree. I'll go first."

"Why?"

"Because if it is dangerous, I don't want you hurt."

"But the quest is yours. I should be protecting you, not you me."

Her logic was good, but it wasn't enough. The thought of her in danger because of him was not to be suffered. "Please Imbri let me go first."

"You idiot!" she cried.

That startled him. "What?"

"Did it ever occur to you that I might feel the same way about you?"

He considered. "No."

"I know I'm just a day mare, but I have feelings too. I don't want you to be hurt any more than you want me to be hurt. And what would I do if I didn't see you safely through this quest?"

She was right. "I apologize, Imbri. Suppose we take turns trying the dangerous things?"

"All right. I apologize too. I shouldn't have blamed you for caring for me." She stepped forward and crossed the line.

Nothing happened. Apparently it was dangerous in itself, or the blanket of obscurity was protecting them. Forrest stepped across. There was no sensation. It was just a marking, not an actual barrier.

Forrest breathed a sigh of relief. "I think we'll have to cross several more lines, but it seems to be safe."

Imbri nodded, and they continued toward the castle. They did cross other lines, each a different color, without trouble. He wasn't sure whether this was because of the obscurity spell, or the enchanted path, or because the lines weren't actually dangerous. He didn't like the idea of wasting magic, but he didn't like unnecessary risk either. Until they understood exactly what was happening here, they had to be careful.

The path led through the great orchard, where pie trees and shoe trees and many other types were cultivated. It pa.s.sed a cemetery with a sign saying BEWARE OF ZOMBIES. It led up to a deep moat where an old moat monster eyed them warily. In short, things were completely ordinary, near the castle. Even the monster was familiar: "h.e.l.lo, Souffle!" Imbri called.

"But this monster is too old to be that one," Forrest said.

"You forget we have come far west, into the To," she reminded him. "Folk are older here." She went up to pat the monster on the nose.

But Souffle s.h.i.+ed away, not recognizing her.

"You're in the wrong form," Forrest murmured.

"Oh, yes." She faced the monster. "In my natural form I look like this." She fuzzed out and a.s.sumed her mare form. It wasn't dense, but it was clear enough to see.

Souffle's eyes brightened. Now he recognized the day mare. He lowered his head as she returned to girl form, and this time suffered himself to be patted on the nose. "I have only enough ma.s.s to be this form," she explained. "Besides, I'm traveling with Forrest Faun, so it's easier to be two footed. But I'm still Mare Imbri."

They crossed the moat and came to the castle entrance. A woman came to meet them at the gate. Something was...o...b..ting her head. "Princess Ida" Imbri cried.

"Do we know each other?" the princess inquired politely.

"I'm Mare Imbrium, in human form because that's all the ma.s.s I have.

This is Forrest Faun. We met a few days ago, in Xanth."

Forrest nodded as he was introduced. But he wondered, because this woman was older than the one they had met before.

"I'm sorry, but I don't remember. About what age was I then?"

"Twenty eight, I think-the same as Princess Ivy."

"That explains it, then; that is in our blanked year. Until that pa.s.ses, we won't know what happened therein."

"Blanked year?" Forrest asked.

"Remember Ogle Ogre," Imbri murmured.

Now he understood. The year surrounding their "present" existence in Xanth.

"What year is it now?" Imbri asked.

"We are forty now. Twelve years after that."

That explained why she looked older. But there was also something odd about her moon. "When we met you, your moon was round," Forrest said.

Princess Ida smiled. "Of course. My present existence here is a derivative of that reality, so my moon differs." She angled her head so that the moon swung into full view. "This is Pyramid."

Now he saw that the moon was not round, but triangular. Or at least had a triangular outline. It seemed to have four sides, each triangular. It rotated around three, while the fourth faced down, becoming the base of the figure.

Forrest found this a bit hard to a.s.similate. "Is-is it also a world in its own right? The way Ptero is?"

"Of course. Though we don't know what is on it. No one has been there.

But we suspect that the ideas that never were are there."

"That makes sense," Forrest agreed.

"And what brings you folk of Xanth to our realm?" Ida inquired politely.

"We seldom if ever have visitors from there."

"Forrest has a quest to find a faun for a neighboring tree," Imbri explained.

"Oh, you will have to go farther To for that; the faun territory is there.

"But meanwhile I'm on a mission for the Good Magician," Forrest said. "I have to advise Princesses Dawn & Eve, to help them save the human territory from marginalization."

"Oh, that's wonderful! We were so afraid that help would not come. Now I'm hopeful that it will be all right."

"But I hardly know what to do."

"The Good Magician would not have sent you unless he were sure you could do the job. Our situation is verging on desperate. There are so few of us left."

"So few?" Imbri asked.

"Come, you must meet King Ivy. She will help explain."

"King who?"

"King Ivy. She had to take over when King Dor was lost. Right this way."

"But what of King Dolph?" Imbri asked.

"Oh, he's not until later. But he's lost too."

"Lost?"

"There are only six of us here now. Ah, here we are."

They had arrived at the throne room. Sure enough, a woman of forty sat on the throne. She rose to come to them as they entered.

"King Ivy, this is Forrest Faun, and Mare Imbrium, from Xanth," Princess Ida said. "They are here to enable Dawn & Eve to handle the margins."

"What a relief!" King Ivy said. "Come, we must have a banquet."

"But is this the time for that?" Forrest asked. "I mean, if the situation is serious-"

"We can talk best then," Princess Ida explained. "Everyone gets together for a banquet."

Soon they were at the banquet hall. The other members of the castle arrived and were introduced: Consort Grey, a handsome man just beyond forty, Princess Electra, who was 872 or 38 depending on whether chronological or normal living time was counted, and her daughters Dawn & Eve, who were a buxom eighteen. Dawn had flame-red hair, green eyes, and wore bright clothes. Eve had jet black hair and eyes, and wore dark clothing. Both were startlingly beautiful.

"When I met you two, a few days ago, you were six years old" Forrest said, bemused.

"Yes, that's our blank year," Dawn agreed.

"So we don't remember you," Eve said. "But we're sure you're an interesting person."

"Girls, don't be too forward," their mother Electra warned them.

"Oh, pooh!" Dawn said. "He's a faun."

"It's impossible for us to embarra.s.s him," Eve agreed.

Then they both leaned forward over the table, so that their decolletages fell open, flas.h.i.+ng four impressive hemispheres. And for the second time in his life Forrest blushed.

"Girls!" Electra exclaimed indignantly.

"See?" Dawn asked her sister as they straightened up. "I told you it was possible to embarra.s.s a faun."

"You win," Eve agreed. "But we probably couldn't do it again."

"You won't!" Electra cried before they could do it again. "You'll have to excuse my impetuous children."

The two girls shrugged in unison, looking halfway smug. Forrest found himself becoming a trifle nervous about having to advise them. While he was trying to show them what to do, what would they be showing him? It would have been easier to work with the two six year olds, whose naughtiness would have been more limited.

The banquet was good, with slices of b.u.t.tered breadfruit and chipped potatoes, and pitchers of drink. Forrest spied one whose label seemed to say Boot Rear, so he poured himself a mug of that, as he liked forest products. He took a sip, and it was very good. But Dawn, sitting across from him, looked alarmed. "You're drinking Toot Rear?"

Ooops-had he taken the wrong drink? He had seen only the latter part of the label. The last thing he wanted was to embarra.s.s himself at the King's banquet! But then he saw that the pitcher did say Boot, not Toot. Both girls, seeing his face, burst out laughing. They had fooled him.

Electra glared at them, and the two subsided. This was surely going to be a long a.s.signment.

"How can we help you perform your Service?" King Ivy inquired as they proceeded to dessert.

"I admit that I have no idea how I should proceed," Forrest said. "I don't think I have any qualifications."

"Oh, you are surely qualified," Consort Grey said. "The Good Magician always knows. You just have to discover how you are qualified.

"But I don't even know anything about human women, let alone princesses.

How can I presume to advise them?"

"Your authority derives from that of the Good Magician," Ivy said. "The twins may pout-" As she spoke, Dawn & Eve pouted prettily. "But they know the mission is quite serious, and will do their best. They know that this is the only way to save their father, Prince Dolph." And at that the twins were abruptly serious.

"Can you tell me just what the situation is? We pa.s.sed a number of lines as we approached the castle, but don't know what they mean."

The King sighed. "They mean that the human sector of Ptero is being marginalized. Some hostile force is laying siege to us, and has already limited us to the immediate region of the castle, so that we can't range through our lives and become young or old as we choose. This means that I am stuck at age forty, which is definitely not comfortable for a woman, and so is my sister Ida. But that's the least of it. All the human beings of this territory have been lost to the margins, so that only the six of us you see here remain. Soon all of us will be gone, if you are not able to guide the twins successfully."

"All are gone?" Imbri asked, appalled.

"All," Ivy said firmly. "At first we sent folk out to try to deal with it, but none of them returned. Even Magicians and Sorceresses were lost. Our daughters Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm are gone, and my grandparents Magician Trent and Sorceress Iris, and Grey's parents Magician Murphy and Sorceress Vadne. They went out and got caught by the margins."

"The margins," Forrest repeated. "Those are the lines?"

"Yes. They appear suddenly, and whatever is caught within them is lost.

Sometimes we can see their forms faintly within their enclosures, but we can't reach them."

"You can't cross the lines?" Forrest asked.

"We can't cross. They are like gla.s.s walls, impenetrable."

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About Faun And Games Part 27 novel

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