Robots - By Rosy 

   Ellim, our 11:11BS service bot finally brought me my morning coffee. We are a people of tea drinkers but I remain a morning coffee person. And despite popular belief I am not cranky if it's late or not there at all. I'm just not, and irrespective of Rover's belief that I do, in fact, get cranky when I'm coffee deprived, I am not cranky now, having waited half an hour past my coffee time, an unusual thing for Ellim. I knew he was reading me so I remained noncommittal, having pleasant thoughts. The coffee was damn good and that helped.

   The 11:11 series of service bots have various designations appended to their series number to identify their dominant function. Ellim's BS signifies Ballistic Sensory, meaning he has enhanced ESP abilities. He can read minds, which may seem disconcerting until you realize that the entire crew, except me and perhaps Steddy, can read minds. The idea in the service bots was to create machines that knew your every need before you knew them. They have other useful mind things too. I'll have to inquire as to Steddy's abilities.

   Just then Steddy passed by and spoke without stopping, "I don't think I have that ESP thing Captain."

   Steddy is our other robot. From the 11:11007 Adventure/Detective series, pronounced eleven eleven aught aught seven, or when he's being suave, eleven eleven double aught seven. Steddy is also a Herobot, who, since he's brand new, studies the Hero business under Brak and Jant, two professional heroes on our crew.

   Rover comes in and sits at the Navigator's station. "Morning Captain," he calls over to me. Being the Navigator, he keeps quite a lot of maps and scrolls at his station, piled up so he can't really see where we're going. Difficult to even see him sometimes.

   "Hey Rover," I answered, frowning to see Ellim handing him a steaming hot cuppa tea. 

   "Where are we going today?" we both asked simultaneously.

   "Really Captain," Rover continued, "you need to tell me. You're the Captain, right?" I nodded. I am the Captain. "So where are we going?" he repeated.

   I felt inadequate, like I hadn't studied or something.

   "How about them Corkers?" Steddy suggested behind me. I squinted at Rover.

   "Yeah, how about them Corkers?" I demanded.

   Rover's eyes went round. "Didn't expect that," he murmured. Then he turned to Brak. "Brak, find someway to get to the Corkers."

   "Sure Rover. Maybe I'll just . . ."

   "Hold on," Rover interrupted. He checked a couple maps, unrolled a scroll and measured with calipers. Finally he announced, "Here's the coordinates Brak."

    "Hey thanks," Brak chirped. "This'll probably work better than what I was gonna do."

   "I know," Rover growled.

   The Corkers refer to a group of exotic islands in the wide and balmy circumnavigation of the Great Yudonke River at the Equator. Their full name is the Little Lost Corkers and they contain the finest ocean-like resorts on Yudonke and maybe the universe. After a short while we came to a landing. I'm always the most worried at these times when we arrive somewhere because despite having a stated goal, we rarely get there, more usually arriving at some unknown destination. I never really imagined actually going to the Corkers, although I wouldn't have minded, rather I expected the extreme opposite.

   Much to my surprise we landed safely in the Little Lost Corkers and had a wonderful time.

An Octopus Named Kraken - By Rosy 

   She gazed out from atop her tower, her nesting spot that allows a complete three hundred and sixty degree view, if you walked around her spacious room, opening drapes and peering out windows all they way around. She watches and has set comfortable chairs at each of the four directions to help enable her watching although it should be said, watching is not her main work. Not even close. What she does is write. She creates images and episodes that are visible through words. Word art, you could say.

    Through her windows, when ideas may linger, she watches the world, its changes, its seasons and its people, who, although somewhat distant, her abode being atop a three-story building which she owns and rents through an agent, are still fairly clear to see and curious to watch. She recognizes some as her tenants although they wouldn't know her, just her agent. Still, she recognizes them by their coming and going. She has a private elevator that they're probably unaware of, so they wouldn't place her as a neighbor. She likes this anonymity.

   Besides writing and watching, her passion is to cook. Her weight problem began perhaps as a function of loneliness, a coping tool for imagining that her life would end alone. Now she's sensible about food and exercise and is slowly returning to her ideal weight, because she's not alone. The love of her life appeared a few years back and now he lives on the top floor, just below her nest.

   He's actually a sasquatch and was glad to find not only a comfortable burrow that's well out of sight but a wife to be by his side as he gets older. He spends a lot of time on the lawn-covered deck around her tower that's only visible to someone flying overhead. He lies in the sun without fear of being seen, something he's curiously concerned about.

   She has also hosted a pteranodon with the help of her husband. Curious times in a curious world indeed. She remembers Tonker the pteranodon with affection and their amazing adventures on the Great Yudonke River. Captain Rosy Rivitir commanding the magical All-Vehicle Rivitir.

   Brak Hero, the pilot, brings the Rivitir in for a smooth landing, as always. Jant Hero, Brak's sister, is watching the radar.

   "Something big up ahead," Jant cautioned.

   "Hmm, I don't see anything," Brak replied, peering intently ahead. Then suddenly a big kraken like creature rose up out of the water and blocked their way. "Okay, I see it now," Brak reported. "Uh, Captain?" 

   "I'll see if I can wake her," Steddy said as he walked over to my door.

   Steddy is one of two robots on the crew, the first being our 11:11BS service bot who we call Ellim. The BS is Ballistic Sensory meaning Ellim can read minds. The other is Steddy, or Stedfast Troo, an 11:11007 (pronounced eleven eleven double aught seven) detective robot with a programmable hero function.

   I'm awake, of course. Any disturbance with the Rivitir I'm instantly aware. I opened the door just as Steddy was preparing to knock.

    "Looks like a kraken," I stated, taking in the situation at a glance. "Good work stopping the Rivitir Brak."

   "Uh, yes, ma'am," he replied, staring ahead at the kraken.

   "Why don't you pull us over to shore and we'll camp here," I told him. "Looks like a nice enough spot and I'm not in any mood to mess around with a kraken."

   "Yes, ma'am," he repeated, clearly relieved.

   It was a good spot and we set up a nice camp. I hoped the kraken would move on during the night. We enjoyed camping on the banks of the Great Yudonke, and did so whenever we could.

   The kraken watched us with a petulant look and after a while settled back into the water. Apparently awaiting his next victim. I wondered what he wanted from the people he stopped. He never said anything to us.

   That night we had a big fire and roasted marshmallows. It was a fine evening and we began star gazing as the fire died down. It is curious that Yudonke's sky is very similar to earth's. Exactly the same was how Rover, our navigator, described it. Rover was once a detective who had worked with Inspector Gee and Sgt Goat, well known detectives in Elvenstead. People were quicker to believe Rover and, doubting my own recollection, we all agreed; identical night skies. Steddy, being a robot, had no trouble being awake and on guard at night since he never slept, something we had to take turns doing before, and guard-duty was never a popular post. I didn't think about the kraken until the next morning. I could see he was still lurking in the water, watching and waiting. I walked down to the water's edge.

   "Hey Kraken!" I yelled.

   There were ripples in the water as it rose up to look at me. "What you want, elf?" it asked.

   "No kraken, that's my question. What do you want?"

   "I asked first."

   "Okay. I want passage forward on the river to continue our journey," I stated. I paused as we eyed each other. "So what do you want?" I repeated.

   It looked at me with wary skepticism. "What do you mean, what do I want?" it demanded.

   "You must want something or you'd let us pass," I said, in a stern voice, much like my Captain's voice wherein everyone jumps to obey.       

   "Want?" it asked.

   "Yes, so that we can pass. You know, I give you something and you give me something," I smiled.

   "Nah, that ent right," it snarled, giving me a disbelieving look. "I don want nothing."

   "Then why are you blocking the river?" I asked. Some of the captains from other stalled boats were there and they wanted to know too.

   "'Cause it's fun," the monster murmured, giving us a cursory dismissal.

   Flummoxed, I returned to our camp, as did the other captains to theirs. After reporting everything to the crew we decided to pack up and return to the Rivitir. Unlike the other boats stalled here we could easily fly over the kraken but I was loath to do so. I didn't like flying away and leaving them to their predicament.

   "Crew," I said, "these people here, stalled by the kraken, need our help to continue. I'm sure there's upstream traffic on its other side looking to get through as well. Any ideas?" 

   "We could take turns confronting the kraken near to shore so that someone could slip by on its other side. I don't think it can block the entire river at once," Brak offered. 

   "Hmm, yes, good idea, Brak," I said, nodding encouragement.

   "Those tentacles are awful long," Rover commented. "Looked like it could possibly span the river, but I'm not sure."

   "Does sound risky," Jant agreed. "How about we offer it something more fun?"

   "Hmm, now that's an interesting notion," I said. "But unless any of you do, I have no idea what krakens like."

   "They like blocking things," Rover stated.

   "That's certainly true, but I don't see how we can use that," I answered.

   "I think there might be some negativity in the kraken's thinking," Jant said, "so that means it's not totally happy."

   "Hmm, yeah I think maybe you're right, Jant," I said, nodding agreement. "So what do you think would make it happy?"   

   "A mate," she replied with a smile.

   "Two of them could totally block the river with ease," Rover noted.

   "But I don't think that'd be what they'd opt to do," Jant replied. "They'd have each other. At least to start."

   "Later on they'd totally block the river?" Rover asked.

   "I, uh, well, I guess they could," Jant admitted.

   "Gosh, it looks like we don't have any options," I said, feeling discouraged.

   {You haven't asked me.}

   "Zingellawabix," I said, out loud.

   "You hearing him?" Rover asked.

   I was the only one who could hear him. He's a magic wand that's older than our solar system and somehow we connected in the fight against evil, or what he calls the anti-life. 

   "Yeah," I answered Rover, "he says I should ask him about the kraken." I closed my eyes and concentrated.

   {Zingellawabix?}

   {Yes Rosy, I've been waiting.}

   {What is your idea?}

   {Remember my powers, to bind and to shrink, especially to shrink. I can make the kraken small, as small as an octopus, smaller if need be.}

   "Zingellawabix can make the kraken small," I told the crew.  "But I want to confront the kraken first."

   I returned to the water's edge, followed by the crew. "Hey Kraken!" I yelled. 

   There were ripples and the giant form of the kraken rose from the water. "What you want, elf?"

   "Listen here, kraken. If you don't move out of the way I'll use a magic wand and shrink you down to the size of an octopus," I stood heroically, serving a just cause. Some of the other captain's were watching with the crew.

   The Kraken's eyes went round, then its mouth went round. "Oooooh," it said. "You can do that?"

   I thought it might be mocking me so I stood taller, "Yes, kraken. I can do that." I was firm in my solid Captain's voice.

   For a long moment it looked at me. Then it smiled wide. "You can make me normal? Make me so I'm not a monster anymore but just like any other octopus? Huh? You can do that?"   

   "Yes," I said. I didn't expect this.

   "Well then do it!" it shrieked. "Oh my oh golly yes do it! Make me normal like the others!"

   Zingellawabix heard, through me, and began the shrinking. For dramatic effect I raised my arms and made magical gestures. In just a flash a regular sized octopus sat in the water where the kraken had been. It smiled a huge smile at me. "Oh thank you, thank you! I am so thrilled to finally fit in. Now I can go to octopus school and become important!" It blew a kiss at me and yelled, "I will love you forever!" then it swam away. The crew and the other captains began applauding. Then the captains ran off to their various ships and boats.

   I was really glad it ended well for the kraken and smiled, gazing at the now unobstructed river. Already boats were resuming their journeys. Several of the captains saluted me as they passed. I smiled and waved, before returning to the Rivitir with the crew.

   Later I sat in the bridge with Brak watching the sunset. We each have incredibly comfortable chairs here, chairs that will turn and tilt and lean back and on and on, so we're comfortably watching. Ellim keeps us supplied with whatever we think of before we can think of it, but, despite the amazing panorama of a Yudonke sunset,  I am dozing . . .

   She gazed out her window at the darkening skies, imagining them to be Yudonke skies. Her sasquatch husband who'd been gardening in the grassy area around the tower, came in and sat on the sofa. He smiled at her and asked, "A story?"

   She grinned and nodded. "Yes, it's about a kraken."

  "Tell me," he said. 

Fringe Walker - Rosy 

I walk the fringes, the edges where few others will go.

It's because they're poorly paved, crumbling in spots, and rarely well lit.

The fringes and edges that is, because we know

the others are usually well lit, like candles in the dark of space;

I am, I am, I am, over and over again, stumbling in a darkling race,

with fierce determination, amazing grace and a fire that singes, 

and burns without leaving a trace.

Which is why I walk the fringes.

While you were sleeping - By Rosy 

In the time of golden glows and peaceful repose,

when the nights grow ever longer

there's a joyful song that flows and goes

to the heart of gladness, gratitude and wonder. 

 

There we perceive and ponder our fates

good begets good and bad begets bad.

All to remember; energy pulses and radiates,

expanding, rebounding, three times it draws back.

Does goodness then arrive or is there lack?

Upward - By Rosy 

Time is an essence, space a conclusion that something, there's something that we've waited for.

Imagine a world as you already have, then dwell there in person, becoming a new way of loving and being.

See there, the world you've made, feel the way you fit in.

The way that you dream it, the way that you fill it, this is what gives it its form.

The hunter has gathered enough factory made mass, and the great river flows to the sea,

past the shore.

Imagine the difference from here to there, a morning song yearning,

perhaps something more.

The Most Wonderful Thing - By Rosy 

   It's a cloudy day and there's been some house cleaning going on. Gee, but it's swell to be done! Whew! So, what's left? The Most Wonderful Thing is what's left. Uh-huh, and what would that be? A place, person, animal, plant, thing?

   This, then, is our quest and our vehicle is the AV Rivitir. I'm Captain Rosy and my crew is, Rover, Brak and Jant. Mission: Find the Most Wonderful Thing.

   Captain's log, Alfendate: Saturn's Day, October 21, 2023; 2:10 pm.

   I must report that what is going on in the human world today is not at all wonderful. Difficult to find even some good, with two wars going on, both pointing their fingers accusingly at all westerners, whose veracity in doing so is somewhat iffy given the honest histories of all involved, which are usually little known, sometimes a state secret, and always favoring the conquerors, the survivors, which means there are no innocents, none at all. Pointing a finger always leaves the others pointed back at the accuser. Why accuse at all? Is live and let live really so awful?   

   How about nationally? Well, the humans around here have a documented liar, con-man, insurrectionist, traitor, cheater and worse, currently on trial facing numerous very serious indictments, who is also running for president, yet who, inexplicably, remains that party's favorite candidate, while the relatively sane other party can only find an old, albeit capable, man. Many of the voters avoid interaction on every level due to the increasingly volatile and depressing polity presented to them.

   A Russian lady, Elena Gold, described the mentality of a lost nation, her nation, and in doing so she described many, many Americans whose minds are lost to the enormity of the evil they face, which is quite similar to what Russians face today, vis-a-vis their war. I quote, "Simply because of money and the desire to live problem free "outside of politics," people cease to be humane."

   A lot of people in this country share this mindset, enough to make a difference. Naked aggression, fear, greed and loathing have all been unleashed and are bent on taking over, forcibly, if need be, just to achieve some sort of pyrrhic victory over their own failures, mindlessly destroying everything in the process. Okay then, what is The Most Wonderful Thing in this setting?

   Hmmmm.

   Pain free? Guaranteed security? Long life?

   Perhaps all three with one or the other dominant at any given time. Close to impossible to achieve in the human world of course, unless you're evil rich which may in fact be the worst fate of all. In any case, for us, that leaves just the Fae, or the realms of inter-dimensional magic unleashed by imagination. What do I think of then as the most wonderful thing? Who has all three plus location? Why it's Spike, of course. Rover's mentor and the seemingly immortal bulldog caretaker of Lillow's Farm, itself an ancient site of many harrowing and heroic adventures and probably the most magical place in all of Elvenstead. Spike was there through it all and none the worse for wear, probably better.

   It has been rumored that the secret of Spike's immortality may lie in his relationship to the farm. Both he and the farm are intricately connected and both are, for us mortals anyway, immortal. Could one be so, without the other? At this time it's mere conjecture, as Spike rarely leaves the farm and then only for short trips, but this connection, this mutual need of one for the other, remains a commonly held belief. So, I guess this bulldog is the most wonderful thing, right now.   

   I've heard that back in the day Spike loved a sophisticated French dog, a well-trimmed poodle named Sweet Loretta. At that time Spike pretty much ran the domestic scene at Glad Manor, the farm's center and home to the four founding witches. He especially kept charge of the grounds around the manor. 

   On the southwest corner of the manor's grounds is a place called Ishmael's Wall. It's a short but stout wall that made a perfect backdrop for Spike and his friends to howl at the moon, and especially the full moon. While offering some noise protection for the manor behind, the howl could be heard for kilometers downstream of that wall, so to speak.

   Spike liked to bring Sweet Loretta to the howl to show off his howling prowess, and it is this very scene that Rover remembered as among his first, if not his actual first, remembrance of puppyhood. He remembers standing there staring at the full moon and hearing the howls of the other more experienced dogs around him, beginning low, one or two, growling before letting loose a howl then slowly building until the entire pack is reared back and howling full on. He remembers his surprise at hearing his own voice joining them, stretching to the moon, a young puppy howl surrounded by his own people, his pack, Spike and Sweet Loretta, all howling at the moon.   

Monsters - By Rosy 

- 1 -

   When Rover and Spike get together, they run like dogs, like they used to run when they were puppies, hundreds of years ago. Bounding and leaping, having a barking, tail-waggin' good time. They'll run back and forth across the meadow or into the woods or into Probable Creek or wherever the winds may take them, loving every moment. Their joy is palpable and everyone moves about wearing a silly smile.

   The Rivitir is here for her maintenance call, keeping updated and charged, while we, the crew, take a couple days off. Brak and Jant catch a waggal to Elvenstead to visit their family home and of course the Heroes Я Us Collective where they learned their amazing hero stuff. Rover and Spike have goings on of their own, no doubt, and I am off to see the witches at Witchhaven in Shady Glen, not too far from the meadow where the Rivitir's docking station is at. The meadow is the old heart of Lillow's Farm and Witchhaven is the new.

   The witches know I always stop in when the Rivitir's docked and Jant sent them a message on one of her devices so they'll be expecting me. I set out with happiness and joy, taking the trail past Holly's Altar in the ancient old-growth Thagwood Forest, going up a long gradual incline then spiraling down into Shady Glen, an ancient faerie settlement that has since become an important elvish center. Witchhaven is just to the north of Shady Glen. As I approached, Nelly came running out to meet me.

   "Rosy! So glad to see you!" she chirped, holding her arms out. We hugged as I told her how great it was to see her and how great it was to be here at Witchhaven.

   She pulled back, holding my upper arms, and with a sympathetic look told me, "Hey, yeah about that. Well, we're all set up to have an adventure in the west, lots to explore there you know, but we especially need to check out the reports we've been getting of a new portal forming there."     

   "It'll be the biggest portal we've ever faced," Aggy said as she walked out to greet me. "And we thought, well, . . ."

   "We thought," Nelly finished, "being how you're an adventurer and all, that rather than leave you in an empty manor house for your stay, we'd invite you along."

   "Gosh yes!" I replied. I was delighted, as I do seem to crave adventure.

   "Good then, let's be on our way," Aggy said, leading us west. Nelly and I were joined by Lagretta and Tenner who'd come running out of the manor as soon as we'd begun. They wore big smiles and greeted me with joy.

   "You know what's going on, don'tcha?" Lagretta asked as we entered Thagwood, continuing west.

   "No, just that there's a portal and a likely adventure," I answered with a smile.

   She nodded. "Well, it's got to do with a portal alright, only this portal is huge."

   "It's the biggest and most dangerous portal we've ever faced," Aggy repeated over her shoulder.

   "That's right," Tenner agreed behind us. We proceeded silently as the forest grew thicker, darker, with shadows, long shadows that writhed and snapped. We were at the back side of the Glamoury Wall and walked easily through.

   The Glamoury Wall shows terrifying images of dinosaurs, dragons, snakes and crocodiles that once infested the Swamp of Doom to the south of us. No one knows for sure what all lives there now, but these old images remain terrifying and still serves to keep unwary travelers going around rather than through the farm. Faeries particularly like the isolation but the elves here like it too, so the wall is maintained. That's one of the duties of the witches, as maintainers and caretakers. We stopped when we were well away from the spectacle and looked back. Wow. The images are truly terrifying. We continued west into the wilderness.

   "So this here portal," Lagretta continued, " is the biggest portal any of us have ever seen."

   "And we don't know what to do about it," Nelly said.

   "It could be, probably is, extremely dangerous," Aggy put in.

   "So we're uh, we're going to have look at it. See what needs doing," Lagretta said with a smile. 

   It wasn't long before we got a look at it. First there was a glow, like a warm cover over the event. Then came the piercing blue and silver sparks of a breached event horizon and finally the portal itself. Looming higher as we neared, it seemed ominous and portentous. Easily twenty meters high and fifteen wide. Its innards looked like an endless brown tunnel that seemed to writhe rhythmically, like a slow wave in the ocean, big and momentous, yet seeming so gentle when unopposed. A lolling rhythm that was compelling. Commanding . . .

   "Don't stare at it," Aggy yelped, breaking my concentration. I blinked and looked around. The portal had nearly hypnotized me. Now it looked like the gaping maw of a long, long snake, poisonous and hypnotic. I backed up.

   We stood looking at this monster portal for a long moment. "Well, we gotta see what's in there if we ever hope to shut this thing down," Aggy said as she began walking toward the portal's wide open mouth.

   I gaped in wide-eyed horror and took another step back. Then I gaped again as Nelly, Tenner and Lagretta followed her in. With a sense of dread, I followed too.

 

 - 2 -

   Once across the threshold everything was the same as we'd seen from outside except it was much smaller and the fluidity was gone. We were in a long brown, solid and firm hallway that was still pretty large. Then I noticed a door, quite a ways along, that was new.  Aggy and the witches were already going toward it. I ran to catch up and was the last to step through the door into the meadow.

   I could see Rover and Spike watching us with fierce, determined expressions, then I noticed that some of the goats had gone into attack mode with their heads down, all aimed at us. Some of the birds were flying overhead dropping things, like we were . . .

   "Somehow they see us as an enemy!" Aggy yelled.

   "How can this be?" Tenner demanded. "We are at the heart of the farm; how can we be the enemy?"

   I could see defensive strategies, some of which I helped to devise, going into play. "We needa get outta here fast!" I yelped, running toward the forest. Understanding my urgency the witches quickly followed. 

   We ran until we were out of sight then we hid. After a time, when we felt for sure that we weren't being followed, I led them to a place I knew up in Thagwood Forest where, on a rocky hillside and at a particular spot, you could see the meadow. It was a distant view that Rover and I had discovered years ago while hiking these woods, something we both loved to do.

   Looking down at the meadow I could see more defensive strategies being employed. Rover was overseeing the work when Spike came rushing over and told him something. Then they both turned and looked right at us. We ducked but I suspect they saw us. What made them look up here?     

   "Something's happening," I said, unsure of what I was trying to say, "and I'm not sure what exactly but well . . . do you think the portal's still here? You know, where we found it over in the western wilderness?"

   "Hmmm, I think I see what you're saying," Aggy said, nodding.

   Tenner and Nelly looked at us curiously but Lagretta nodded too. "Go through in a reverse direction and maybe undo what going through did to us," she said, looking at Aggy.

   "Yeah, that's it, Lagretta," Aggy responded. She looked at me. "Is that what you were thinking?"

   "Yeah, I mean I didn't have it as clearly as I you put it, but yeah, I agree. We needa go back through the portal."

   We immediately began the trek to the portal. We all seemed to feel a sense of urgency although none of us could say why. When we got there, we could see Rover standing out front, but as soon as he saw us, he took off running in the other direction. I wanted to give chase and box his ears, the cheeky mutt and for a brief moment I felt enraged.

   "C'mon, let's go," Aggy said, pulling me along. "we needa get through this thing before those double dratted defenders come after us." She seemed pretty angry and the others cast angry gazes at where Rover had run off to. 

   We re-entered the portal and found another door on the opposite side of where the first had been and stepped into the meadow just as Rover returned with Spike.

   Rover ran up to me. "Oh, here you are at last! Am I ever glad to see you, Ma'am!" he barked.

   "I'm glad to see you too Rover! And Spike!"

   "Yes, Captain, Aggy, you all," Spike said, with a serious expression. "You're just in time, in fact, because we just saw some trolls a little while ago."

   "There was orcs, too," Rover added.

   "Trolls and orcs, so we been preparing without you guys," Spike said, looking important.

   "From what I've seen," Aggy said with a smile, "you guys have done a first rate job."

   "I agree, " I said, smiling at Rover.

   "So where do you figure the attack's going to come from?" Rover asked, looking anxiously toward the west where the portal lay.

   "Oh, you don't have to worry about that," Aggy said with a smile. "We just got back from a secret mission that has completely resolved your, er, our troll problem."

   Rover and Spike both gave her looks of doubt.

   "We wondered where you was at," Spike said, "but I don't think you understand, you didn't see these guys. They were monsters!"

   "Yeah!" Rover added.

   "And monsters don't just go away," Spike finished.

      With a resigned shrug I explained to them what had happened, how the portal had made us look like monsters, until we backtracked through the portal. "So I think we'll be okay as long as we guard that portal and keep other people from doing what we did," I finished.

   "And that's just what we'll do," Lagretta said with a look of determination.

   "Meanwhile we'll be looking for ways to block it permanently," Aggy added.

   Rover and I returned to the Rivitir which was ready to go and found Brak and Jant already back. They'd had a great time at the Heroes Я Us get-together and they were both recharged and rarin' to go. When we told them of our adventure Jant looked at me with wide eyes.

   "Jeez Captain, I just can't imagine you or any of the witches somehow becoming the enemy."

   "Yeah, that must have been awful," Brak said.

   "We didn't recognize them at all," Rover said, "not even a hint that I could tell."

   They looked at me with a mildly sad awe that I found unnerving.

  "Well, things will be fine now," I said, assuming my Captain position. "Take us somewhere, Rover," I ordered before averting my gaze. I was nonplussed, remembering that while I was a monster I had relished, for the smallest moment, just before re-entering the portal, the thought of springing on those weak meadow defenders in full warrior regalia. Rover, Spike and all. It had been a thankfully small but intense rush of berserker rage, that in remembrance scared me. 

Igor, the Dancing Queen - By Rosy 

1)

   We have landed near a mighty mountain that's so tall its peak is capped with perpetual snow even in this late summer heat. Brak has landed us in a beautiful mountain meadow on the mighty mountain's lower side that is loaded with flowers of every color. We were smelling the flower scents wafting in the air and marveling at the grassy meadow, complete with a bubbling brook, when a local Gnome Of Police, known as GOP, arrived. I don't know how those GOP gnomes travel but he just seemed to appear, with no apparent vehicle, certainly no flashing lights.

   He held his GOP badge up and pointed at it with his other hand, “Look here, see?” He looked over at Jant who was by the Rivitir. “You too, come see,” he ordered. “Look at it!” he barked as we stood there looking at his badge. It was very shiny, silver with a gold background and gold GOP lettering, nicely fitted in a smart black wallet that was folded behind, held high in the gnome's hand as he ordered us to look at his badge, making sure we each got to see it close up. “Look at it!” he commanded each time. When we all saw it at least a couple times he looked at the Rivitir. “Anyone inside?”

   “No sir,” I replied, hoping for a quick, peaceful resolution. “We're all here. I'm the Captain of that vessel, which is called the All-Vehicle Rivitir by the way.”

   “Them's your crew?” he asked, nodding at the others.

   “That's right. That one is Rover, our navigator, next is Brak, our ace pilot and that one by the Rivitir is Jant, our communications specialist.”

   He was polishing his badge with a handkerchief from his pocket. “That so,” he huffed. “So, are you criminals?”

   “No sir, we are not,” I answered firmly. “We're peaceful adventurers.”

   “Hmmm,” he murmured, admiring his badge. “So, what'd you think of my badge?”     

   “Huh? I mean, er, well I thought it was impressive,” I replied.

   “It is impressive,” he agreed, then looking at Rover, “And you?”

   Rover grinned and wagging his tail said, “Woof-woof!” I'd heard that line before and couldn't help but scowl.

   “Hmmm,” the gnome said, also scowling.

   I decided to mediate. “Rover is saying wonderful, wonderful in dog language,” I explained. It did sound plausible.

   Now the gnome was scowling at me. “It is wonderful,” he agreed, while still scowling. He looked at Brak. “What'd you think?”

   “I thought it was fabulous!” Brak told him enthusiastically.

   “It is fabulous,” the gnome said, nodding his head. He looked enquiringly at Jant.

   “Oh! Well I thought it was okay,” she said.

   “Okay?” the gnome snapped, “Okay?” Jant was backing up. “Well I didn't shine it for you!” the gnome screamed, then marched away in a huff.

   “Now that was weird,” I said, shaking my head when he was gone. “Reminded me of something, but I don't know what.” 

   “The Lizard Queen is having a ball!” a squeaky voice behind me chirped. I turned and there was a white rabbit watching me, but as quickly as I turned, it took off, bounding across the meadow.

   “I'm beginning to think there's more to this meadow than appearances would suggest,” I said, watching the rabbit disappear into the shrubs.

   “This whole place is weird,” Jant said, scowling and also watching the spot where the rabbit disappeared. 

   A squirrel sitting on a branch of a nearby tree spoke up, “It wasn't weird until you got here.”

   “Huh?” I said, “What'ya mean by that?” 

   “Just what I said. We was all normal, then you come along and now this.” He pointed to a figure approaching across the meadow. Even far away we could tell instantly that it was a camel.

   “Yes, that is weird,” I conceded, “but I don't see what it has to do with us.”

   “You need to visit the Lizard Queen,” he chirped, then he scurried up the tree and disappeared into the branches.

 

2)

   “Jant, stay with the Rivitir. Rover and Brak, come with me,” I said, starting to walk across the meadow, following the faint trail the rabbit had left. “I think there's a mystery here that we've stumbled upon and whether or not we're needed for its solving, it's still likely the reason for our being here. I suspect this Lizard Queen has the answers.” I looked back at the far distant camel but it was just plodding along, seemingly unconcerned with our actions. In the bushes I discovered a small path and we began following it. After a pretty long time we stopped to rest and consider. Where did the path lead to? Why were we following it? It seemed to be getting better though, a little wider and apparently more well traveled as we progressed, although we haven't seen another being so far. 

   “I think we're in Mish,” Rover said, looking around.

   I looked again at the mountain. “How can you tell?” I asked, “I mean I thought this was the far northeast of Elvenstead, you know, where the super tall mountains are at.”

   “Hmmm, yeah, okay I can see that,” he said, looking again at the mountain. “So this is either Elvenstead or Mish,” he stated, as if that settled it. But it certainly did not settle it since Elvenstead and Mish are on opposite sides of the continent, thousands of kilometers apart.

   “You can't get any more precise than that, navigator?” I asked, emphasizing navigator.

   “Well, it's not Joten,” he replied, looking into the forest.

   Before I could say more, and I did have more to say, a gnome, partially hidden in the trees but clearly watching us, began to sing.

   “Here, here the Queen is here, where do you think you're going? Here, here the Queen is here, everyone is waiting, all anticipating, here, here get over here!”

   The last few words of his song were accompanied by stamps of his foot. And despite gnomes normally wearing placid expressions, this fellow was grinning wide. We turned and headed cross country toward him but as we approached, he started fading and when we arrived there was nothing left but a big grin floating in the air. Brak reached up to touch it but as soon as he did, it popped, like a balloon, leaving nothing, not even shreds like a balloon would do. Further, this small glade was empty of gnomes, queens, or anybody. No one at all to question. 

   “I think we can all agree,” I stated, “that this place is really weird.” Brak nodded, looking around. Somehow it reminded me of something, but I couldn't recall what.

   “Captain!” Rover barked, “this could be the wilderness north of Joten.” He'd unrolled one of his maps and was studying it, comparing it to the landscape around us.

   “Wilderness?” I asked, somewhat more nonplussed. 

   “Something's coming,” Brak interrupted, cocking his head, and looking back in the direction that I'm pretty sure we'd come from. We all stayed silent, listening. Then we could hear, in the distance, the sound of a large animal following the forest path we'd been on. We crouched in the shrubbery, watching. The animal was slow, plodding along, clomp, clomp, clomp. Then we saw it, unmistakable in the distance, a camel. It stopped at the exact point where we'd left the trail at the behest of the gnome and turned its head to look right at us. Then it began walking toward us, slowly following the course we had come on. I was completely taken aback. Should we run? The camel seemed calm, just plodding along, slowly coming toward us, crashing through bushes we'd crashed through, following our exact trail, and not trying to sneak up. Sooner than you would think, it was here.

 

3)

   It looked at me. “Captain Rivitir, I presume?”

   “Oh! Uh, well, yes, that's right. And who may I ask, are you?”

   “I'm Sedgewick. The Queen sent me to take you to her.” He looked around. “I see the forest gnomes have been playing with you. You're quite a ways off course.”

   “We are?” I asked. “I mean, we didn't exactly have a course. No plan at all really, so how could we be off course?”

   “Yes, precisely my point,” he said, looking down his nose at Rover. “Now, if you'll just follow me, I'll take you to the Queen, the wonderful Queen of Snozz.” Then he turned and began walking back the way we had come. Everything seemed reminiscent of something else but I couldn't place it.

   “Is she the Lizard Queen?” I asked.

   Sedgewick snorted, “Idle gossip spread by ignorant peasants!” he hissed, “Just like the tricksters you first met up with. No ma'am, she's a genuine gnome, just like me, for sure.”

   I wondered if I should tell Sedgewick that he was really a camel but thought better of it. Besides, I was still miffed at being tricked, over and over, so I accepted his explanation. Soon, I was embarrassed as we passed the Rivitir going the other direction, clearly backtracking, but Rover seemed unconcerned, grinning his grin as he trotted along. 

   Jant waved at us and Brak called over, “We went the wrong way!” She gave us a thumbs up, as we followed Sedgewick across the meadow.

   At the top of the meadow, where Sedgewick had first appeared there was another path. A well-maintained path that was much wider and paved with some sort of brick that was painted yellow. It was pretty smooth and traveling was easy. We passed a corn field with luscious ears of ripe core hanging from the stalks. Rover grabbed one in his mouth and walked along with it, seeming quite pleased. I paid him no mind, just Rover being Rover.     

   Suddenly a loud voice yelled, “Stop! Stop thief!” We stopped, genuinely shocked but Sedgewick continued plodding along.

   “Don't listen to him, but do leave the corn,” he told us without glancing back. Rover dropped the corn but kept looking back as we walked. When we came to a rise, I could see who was yelling. It was a scarecrow, stuck on a pole! He kept pointing at us as he yelled his accusations. I blinked, thinking it could be the wind moving his arm, pointing it at us, but the voice was real enough.

   Then, every so often as we continued on, the voice would shriek, “Thief!” or “Burglar!” and each time the wind would obligingly lift its arm. I took it as mere taunting though, as there was really nothing anybody could do. Sedgewick plodded on and we followed. He was quite reticent, offering few words and answering questions with short ambiguous phrases.

   We had come a long ways and I was about to ask for a break when we rounded a corner and there was a magnificent green city, emerald green, almost faceted. We stared in amazement. Sedgewick plodded on. The city's gates opened for us as we neared and we followed a broad boulevard up its center, toward an amazing green glass castle, whose wide doors opened for us to a spacious hallway leading to a brilliant green glass throne where sat a stunning regal figure, at least three meters tall, her face somehow shrouded.

   Sedgewick stopped. “Here they are Queen, ma'am. The gnomes tricked 'em to going the wrong way so it took awhile, but here they are, just like you ordered.” There was no response. He looked at me, and said, “Well, nice a meetcha.” To which he turned and walked away. I watched him go in stunned silence, then I looked up at the figure on the throne but it seemed just an immobile giant with a grim visage, its staring eyes piercing the veil like laser beams. We three stood watching it, waiting for something to happen.

 

4)

   It was difficult to see the figure's face for some reason. Shadows or something, so I called out, “Hello! Can you hear me?”

   A booming, amplified voice answered slowly, enunciating each word clearly, “Yes, I, can, hear, you.” There seemed to be an odd echo somewhere. Then the figure began emitting sparks and flashes while strange lights began flashing. It repeated, much louder this time and it stamped its scepter down making a thump for the first word. “YES, Dammit, I, can hear you!.”

   The echo was louder too and I looked over at a curtained alcove where it seemed to have come from. I walked over. There appeared to be someone behind the curtain, but I was thinking, Oh no! This cannot be true! Emerald city? A yellow brick road? A wonderful Queen being run from behind a curtain? This was too much.

   The curtains fluttered a little and something peeked out. “PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE CURTAINS!” the Queen image shrieked, “I COMMAND YOU TO COME BACK, STAY AWAY FROM THE CURTAINS!” The voice was almost screeching as I pulled the curtains aside. “IGNORE THE LIZARD BEHIND THE CURTAIN!” a little round lizard lady with white hair yelled into a microphone. Then she turned and looked at me with a guilty, yet angry expression. “You looked behind the curtain, didn't you? You just hadda look behind the curtain, something I explicitly told you not to do. But you just went and did it.”   

   “What's this all about?” I asked. I couldn't believe how this whole experience seemed to be mimicking another famous experience. Could this be the Lizard Queen? I was steaming up. Brak and Rover joined us wearing angry looks. I continued, “I'm getting sick and tired of all this running in circles and all the weird goings on and,” I stopped when the old lady held her hand up to stop.

   “I guess I got a little carried away,” she admitted, “it's just that normally all these lights and that amplified voice really impresses the gnomes. They do whatever I want and, well, they can be a bother if you let them.” I nodded. We knew. “So I thought that'd impress you all too, and that you'd listen, then perhaps I could, you know, as Queen, maybe give you a certain command, that maybe I could,”

   “A certain command?” I interrupted.

   “Well, yes.” She paused, looking around. Then she whispered, “Do you see any gnomes anywhere?” We all looked around carefully but didn't see any gnomes. Then, still whispering, she continued,  “I could order you, well request really, I could make a royal request that you take a certain little old lizard lady, who is clearly not the Queen, mind you, back with you, back to the real world.” She looked contemptuous. “You cannot believe these gnomes! Always pulling pranks but too stupid to run their own government, so what do they do? They kidnap me, the Lizard Queen, to do it for them. But they're powerful and must never know I'm escaping! They must believe their Queen remains here as I, er, the little old lady, leaves.” She looked furtively around.

   “I see,” I muttered, understanding a little more now. “Yes, of course, I'm sure we can do that,” I said, looking at Rover and Brak.

   “Yeah, we can do it,” Rover said as Brak nodded agreement.

   She smiled at us, murmuring, “Thank you,” as she pulled the curtain back into place. Through the curtain she whispered, “Go back and talk with the Queen. The gnomes will be here soon.” 

 

5)

   We returned to the throne. Then the Queen's amplified voice, much less strident now, began speaking, “I have sent for the Ministers of This, That and Poddunk too, so that I can tell them of this, and of that, and about our discussion too.”

   I was pretty sure I knew what she'd said and nodded. “Okay, Queen, uh, oh, by the way, what's your name?”

   She stuck her head around the curtain, whispering loudly, “I'm Igor, the Lizard Queen, but known hereabouts as the wonderful Queen of Snozz.”

   “Igor?” I asked, dumbfounded yet again.

   “Yeah, you gotta problem with that?”

   “No!” I said quickly, “No problem at all. Its a fine name, a uh, a queenly name.”

   “Sure is,” she agreed, “I come from a long line of Lizard Queens, all named Igor.”

   Just then the door opened, and she disappeared behind the curtain. A gnome stepped in and announced, “The Ministers of This, That and Poddunk are here, yer Queenship, ma'am.”

   We stood humbly before the throne as three officiously solemn looking gnomes marched in, wearing long robes of various colors and elaborate headpieces.

   “Listen Ministers,” the Queen began, “these here elves have agreed to take another lizard, a lizard spy in fact, that was recently caught here by some secret police that you don't know about, nothing to do with me of course, but this other nefarious lizard was caught right here by these brave police, maybe trying to steal my luxury job, maybe stuff from you and we gotta deport her back to lizard land.” These gnomes seemed to know that their Queen was a lizard. “So let 'em go,” she finished.

   The gnomes looked suspiciously at us, and more so when Igor came out, carrying a suitcase. “To a gnome, all lizards look alike,” she explained, as we calmly walked out and began down the boulevard. I could see gnomes watching but no one tried to stop us.

   Walking down the boulevard, and for a while down the road, Igor would loudly proclaim, “I coulda snuck up and took that Queen job easy! And lots of other stuff too!” or “I'd be a lot better Queen than what you got!” So that the gnomes would think that Igor was still back there, being Queen like always.

   We hurried to the Rivitir where Brak got us outta there Hypergosh fast. Back in Elvenstead we dropped Igor off in Bakeoven, her high desert demesne where her people welcomed her joyously with music and dancing for days. Yaaaay! They sang, the Lizard Queen is back! Igor is certainly happier and much more believable as a dancing Lizard Queen than she is as the wonderful Queen of Snozz, that's for sure.  

Hold On To Something That Makes You Feel Alright - By Rosy 

Part 1

   Brak brings the Rivitir down to a bumpy landing. I don't notice because I'm asleep or in the throes of a gigantic lethargy when I'm not. I didn't care where we landed except that it be peaceful. I have been so excited about visiting the Little Lost Corkers for so long and have been so thwarted in this desire for even longer that I am rendered indifferent. Land anywhere Rover tells you, I tell them, although I seriously doubt that Rover knows, but you know, whatever, go ahead and land wherever he says, I say.

   I'm Capt. Rosy of the All-Vehicle Rivitir. Brak is our ace pilot, Jant runs the radar and Rover looks at maps. These then are the voyages of the AV Rivitir.   

   I was awakened by the front door opening. When you're the captain of a spaceship, which is a hermetically sealed environment, you stay conscious of the door. If it opens, you know it. Even when you're away, usually. So when our front door opened, I was awake. I stood and crossed my luxurious suite in a single bound. Throwing the door open I yelled, "What's happening?" but got no response.

   Ellim rolled up and offered me some tea. Ellim is our 11:11BS service bot.

   "Thanks, Ellim," I said, looking around. "So, where is everyone?"

   "Out, Captain," he replied, without moving.

   I take a sip of the tea, which is excellent, and continued, "Out where, Ellim?"

   "To the beach, Captain. My orders were to not disturb you."

   "Beach?" I asked with wide eyes.

   "Yes Ma'am. It's really quite marvelous. It's called Paradise Beach, said to be the finest beach in all the Corkers."

   "The Corkers?" I repeated in amazement. I walked over and gazed out the window, with Ellim following.

   "Yes," he continued, "the beautiful city you see over there is Wataspot, the finest city in all the Corkers." He seemed somehow to be beaming with pride. He pointed back. "Behind us is the beach. We're parked in a shady picnic area, configured as a caravan camper. We got a week reserved."

   "Oh, golly this is swell!" I whooped. I rushed back to my Captain's Suite to change into beachwear and grab a towel. My excitement was high. From what I'd seen of Paradise Beach through the front window this place was well named. Ellim handed me the big umbrella that I like to use on the beach and I was starting for the door when it suddenly swung open and a frantic Rover, Brak and Jant came rushing in, slamming the door behind them. Brak ran to the driver's seat and started the engine, while Rover peered intently out the window.

   Jant ran to the radar. "Captain," she said as she ran past, "I'm glad you're up." She began pushing buttons and turning switches. "Hmmm," she murmured, gazing at the screen.

   "What's going on?" I yelled, peering out the window beside Rover. This was kind of freaky.

   "The Corkers are being invaded," he told me as Brak took us to the air.

   "Invaded? What? Who's invading?"

   "The Umpalumpians," he said as we flew away from Paradise Beach and the Little Lost Corkers. "It's a tribe of renegade mushrooms. They used to be okay in the dark but now, all of a sudden, they want sunlight. Lots and lots of sunlight like you would find on the equator, and places like the Little Lost Corker Islands." 

   "That sounds horrible!" I yelped. I looked outside at the war machines becoming visible on the horizon. "You're telling me these mushrooms are going to war for . . . what again?"

   "Sunlight! Their dastardly king demanded sunlight just out of the blue, and that's got them all riled up," Brak answered.

   "Sunlight?"

   "Yeah, sunlight," Rover muttered.

   "So now there's war," Brak continued. "The Umpalumpian invasion fleet is on the horizon and since the Corkers have never needed a military, they stand defenseless."

   "Jeepers! So these mushroom people are demanding sunlight? What do we do?" I asked. It's important for the Captain to know what's going on.

   "Get out of the way until we know what's happening," Brak replied, quite sensibly steering the Rivitir away from the war zone.

   "Dang! That invasion fleet is managing to hide their force. I'm just getting a small signal. Like it's just one ship," Jant said, looking up from her radar screen with a worried expression.

   I went over and looked at the screen. "Wow, how'd those mushrooms get the power to hide like that?" I asked, looking out at the massive invasion force that now, apparently, also has the power to electronically hide their movements.

   "They're not true mushrooms is what I heard," Rover answered, "rather they're related to humans in some sort of dark, twisted way, rather like Grimn-Leapers." He looked out at the approaching armada, now becoming more visible, and grimaced. "Their curiously shaped heads make them look like mushrooms and their choice of dark places to live make them seem like mushrooms except now they want, or demand, sunlight. They mean to occupy the lands with the most sunlight."

   "The Little Lost Corkers," Jant said, tonelessly.

   Rover nodded then continued, "They appear to have been quite industrious in their hidden caverns, creating this massive force." He gestured at the approaching battle fleet, now way below us. It was huge with hundreds of battle ships and support boats. Brak took the Rivitir up higher to observe. The boats seemed packed with mushrooms, until they moved, then you could see that they were humanoid creatures. 

   As we watched, the Corker Islands all surrendered. The Corkers knew nothing of war and bowed down to the professionals, waving white flags everywhere. No one wanted to mess with this business. The Umpalumpa mushroom people took control.     

   I was angry, of course, and took it personally. After virtual eons of trying to get here, to these fabled Corker Islands, to, well, Paradise Beach, which I actually saw in real life, through a window I was that close, before it was all snatched away by villainous mushrooms intent on conquering. And for what? Sunshine. Sunshine, which is available in huge quantities throughout the tropics, all shining down on this big ol' ocean-sized lake, Bigwata, that encompassed the earth . . . I stopped.

   "In all of this huge ocean lake are the Little Lost Corkers the only land?" I asked Rover.

   "Well, there's that island with Skipper and that lot," Rover replied as he pulled out a map. I remembered. Alleged castaways of a three hour tour gone bad. "Ah, here it is," he said, unrolling the map on the floor. There was a broad strip of blue with five brown blobs representing islands. I bent over and read the names.

   "East Cork, Fobble, Zonk, Cork and Bobble. Hmmm. Where's the castaway island?"

   "It's in uncharted waters Captain," Rover said, scowling at the map and pointing to a penciled in X.

   "So there's no other islands?" 

   "I can't say. No one can as most of Bigwata's northern and southern sections are uncharted."   

   I stared in disbelief. "So conquering the Corkers makes sense if you want guaranteed sunshine," I murmured with wide eyes. 

   "But why would mushrooms want sunshine?" Brak asked.

   "That is the question," Rover answered, nodding. "Normally mushrooms like dark or shady areas. Why are they after direct sunlight?"

   "I think we need to investigate this," I said. 

   The next morning we landed on a remote road on the far side of Fobble then, configuring the Rivitir as a caravan, we drove into Wataspot, hoping to return to our space in the park. We had a week reserved so there should be no problem.

    When we got to the park there was a closed gate in front and two curious people standing guard. They had large oval shaped heads that, when they're wearing the traditional brown dome hat, made them look like mushrooms. Their clothes were brown and they tended toward pole like figures. At even a short distance, if their arms are at their sides and they hold still, they look just like mushrooms. I was stunned and tried not to stare. We stopped in front of the gate and one of the mushrooms came up to the driver's window.

   "Whatya want?" he demanded as soon as Brak rolled the window down.

   "We're camping here and went for a drive," Brak explained as he showed them the permit. "Is something wrong?"

   "They's new management," the mushroom shrieked. "Pay again!"

   Keeping our calm we paid again for another week. We didn't want to rile any feathers or raise suspicions. When we got to our spot, we gathered in the front to peer out the window. There were militant looking mushrooms marching about in small groups, occasional elves here and there, whether islanders or visitors we couldn't tell, and little else. There was no traffic in the lanes that I could see.

   "Where's all the military equipment?" I asked. I looked over at Paradise Beach which was deserted. "And the boats?" I looked at the crew with wide eyes. "Yesterday we saw hundreds of ships full of soldiers heading this way and today there's just some soldiers and nothing else?"

   "Maybe they took off as soon as they got control," Rover suggested. "Maybe to take the other islands."

   "I dunno," I said, shaking my head. "We all saw that invasion force. It was huge, bigger than we thought possible, easily enough to overwhelm all the islands at once with troops left over. Now there's no sign of that, just a few subdued elves and maybe a couple dozen militant mushrooms marching around trying to look scary." 

   "Scared me," Rover murmured.

   "Yeah, well, okay they are scary. They got that. So where's all the rest?"

   "Another thing," Rover added. "Did you notice how the mushrooms keep to the shade?"

   I did now. All of them that I could see, were definitely avoiding the sun.

   "There's something untoward going on here, something big and scary," I said, feeling a shiver of apprehension.

   Brak and Rover decided to take a walk into town. Wataspot is said to be the most luxurious vacation city in all of Yudonke.

   "I want to go," I said. I couldn't believe that I was actually here on Fobble and haven't even stepped foot on the ground, much less marveled at the sights.

   "Yeah, okay," Rover agreed. 

   Jant is staying to keep an eye on things and we have the Rivitir's innards set up just like inside a traditional caravan so any investigation should come up as just another common vacationing group.

   Wearing typical tourist clothing Rover led the way as Brak and I followed. We had just arrived at the lane when, from out of the shadows, we were accosted by a group of five militant mushrooms.       

   "Halt!" one of the mushrooms yelled at us. We stopped. "What are you doing?" he barked. I could tell he was a leader because he had a gold bar on his hat and he was doing the talking.

   Since I'm our leader, the Captain in fact, I spoke up. "Well sir, we were just taking a walk, sight-seeing, you know? We're tourists here and we hadn't heard anything about you guys." 

   "We are the new masters," he replied in a stentorian voice. "We are Umpalumpa! And everything belongs to us! All of it!"

   "Gosh, that seems a bit much," I replied.

   "You will bow down to the supreme commander." He turned to the others, the ones who didn't have a gold bar, although one did have a silver bar, and screeched, "Bring them!" Then he turned and walked away, right into the shade. We followed, surrounded by four angry Umpalumpian militant mushrooms who seemed relieved to be in shade again. 

   They took us to a luxury hotel where, in the main lobby, a royal court had been set up. They'd put one of the lobby couches on a table or something then draped the whole thing in brown sheets. The window shades were pulled and it was quite dim in the room. Sitting on the chair, well above everyone else, was a wizened old mushroom man with a large oval head and a crown like the dome hats the others wore only fancier, who was presumably the king, or supreme commander.

   "Here's you some tourists to mess with, oh great leader," the gold bar mushroom announced, bowing low.   

   There were other Umpalumpians in the room besides the guards, like a court perhaps, and they began to chant softly; "Humba bumba, hooey wooey, habba habba Gumba! Humba bumba, hooey wooey, habba, habba Gumba! Humba bumba, hooey wooey, habba, habba Gumba! . . ." and on and on like that. The supreme leader stared straight ahead, seemingly unaffected by what was going on except he was tapping a foot in time to the chanting. Suddenly he stood and began a sort of weird singalong to the chanting, marching back and forth in front of his throne, pounding his chest.

   "I'm de boss, I'm de master, I is supreme! I'm de blaster, yes, I'm de su, su, supreme leader! I'm de boss, I'm de master, I'ma su, su, supreme master blaster, I de boss, I decider what is righter, I de leader I is Num! Mer! One!"

   The chanting stopped and Gumba stood with his arms spread, grinning wide as the Umpalumpians in the room broke into applause and cheering. Then he resumed sitting on his throne. The throne did look like a fine piece of hotel furniture. Must have come from the presidential suite. Then I wondered why the boss here wasn't in the presidential suite? 

   "Okay then," Gumba said authoritatively. "What we got here?"

   "We got us some touristers yer worship," gold bar answered, grinning proudly.

   "Is that so?" He looked at us. "You come to worship me?"

   "No Gumba, we came to swim. Why're we here?" Rover growled. 

   "You can't swim here you dummy!" Gumba shrieked. He didn't seem aware of the fact that the hotel's swimming pool was attached to the lobby behind him as well as there being a massive ocean-sized lake with a beach behind us.

   "Why not?" Rover asked.   

   "Cuz, I didn't say you could!" Gumba snapped, petulantly. 

   Rover growled low in his throat and, wearing a fierce expression, barked, "Well say we can! Now!"

   Everyone agreed instantly including Gumba who jerked back with a surprised look. "Okay, go swimming," he sputtered in a small voice. He looked at the guards and the court. "Iss okay. They can go swimmin'. I said. Go! Go!" He was brushing us away with his hands. 

   We turned and strode out, returning to the Rivitir where Jant informed us that two more 'authorized' park rangers had come knocking, demanding the fees to park there. They both angrily denied the authenticity of the receipts we already had, claiming looters were operating and we should be more careful. Following our No Waves policy, Jant paid them, being careful to get another receipt each time.

   "Well, this place has sure gotten weird," I said, shaking my head.

   "I'll say," Rover agreed. "One thing's for sure, though, Gumba isn't behind it all. I think those mushrooms were lied to and coerced into invading. They don't know what to do next, except to grab as much as they can before . . ."

   "Before what?" I asked.   

   Rover looked at me somberly, "That's the question then, isn't it?"

   "The Umpalumpians were all dressed in drab brown clothing which we might be mistaking for uniforms," Brak observed.

   "Not real military?" Rover questioned with raised eyebrows.

   When I thought about it nothing, except for the gold and silver bars and the leader's ostentatious hat, there was nothing suggesting military at all. Something was really off here. There should be troops everywhere based on what we saw of the invasion. What we saw, I repeated, remembering that horrifying vision, but as I recalled, we didn't really hear anything.

   I looked at the crew. "Do you guys remember when we first went to Lillow's Farm, how Spike took us through the Glamoury Wall? Remember how big and how scary it was?"

   "Yeah, I do," Rover said with a thoughtful expression.

   "I remember how silly I felt when we found out it was all just magical illusion," Jant said. "Just illusion, the whole scary thing. Imagine."

   I nodded. "I think the invasion was mostly glamoury, like the Glamoury Wall back on the farm, big and scary, but in the end just illusion."

   "And the Umpalumpians were the small part that was real," Rover said, nodding, "so that the islanders would have actual invaders to surrender to, actual foreign people to deal with."

   "Yeah, that sounds right," Brak asserted. "From what I saw I don't think the Umpalumpians could hold out if the people resisted,"

   "No, I don't think they could," I agreed. "But the illusion was strong enough that the people wouldn't resist. But I don't think the Umpalumpians are the main problem. Given time their ruse will collapse and society will step in to resume its natural order, unless that is, whoever conjured that glamoury invasion, whoever is presumably the master mind, well, unless they step in. Because that's where the real power is located."

   "Who could it be?" Rover asked. "And what do they want?"

   "I doubt the Umpalumpians would know," I replied. "So for now it looks like all we can do is wait and see what happens."

   "Meanwhile," Brak said with a big grin, "we needa go swimming."

   "It's what we came for, eh Rover?" I said with a smile.

   "That's right," he replied, "and I got us permission, so let's go!"

 

Next: Part 2 The real bad guy, probably.

Piffle - By Rosy 

   Piffle is a creative force that has existed in Elvenstead for hundreds and hundreds of years. It started as a vocal group of elves, faeries, apes and more, with witches drumming accompaniment while the local fauna hummed and buzzed and barked in time. A piffle concert was a wonder to behold and more so to attend.

   That tradition has endured to this very day, evolving into an ultra-modern boogie-woogy band with electric guitars and speakers and lots of strange devices.

   Elven Pretsal, is their famous hound-dog crooner, Gladiola Night is a yodeler who plays boogie bass, Jingle Stargazer plays drums, and Erk Clapper plays rock and roll guitar. Together they are Piffle.

   Here is Piffle with Elven singing their greatest hit, Them Hound-Dog Blues.

Wale I'ma just a hound-dog, a howlin' all the time,

I like to do my roamin', I like to do my rhyme.

Oh, woof woof, wooo! woof woof, wooo!

I was born in a doghouse, learned to bark and bay.

No one ever said, hey good dog, I never been that way.

Oh, woof woof, wooo! Woofa, barka, way -yay!

Never tried that way of seeing things, never thought about that look

when things went cattywampus twas always by my book.

Woof, woof, wooo! Woof, woof, wooo!

   I'ma Hound-dog, and my puppies are too!

   My human done left me, I'ma hound-dog blue!

   Wooo wooo wooo woofa woofa woo!

Wooo wooo wooo woofa woofa woo-hoo!

Wale I'ma just a hound-dog, a howlin' all the time,

I like to do my roamin', I like to do my rhyme.

Oh, woof woof, wooo!  woof woof, wooo!

Wale I'ma just a hound-dog, awoof awoof wooo!

I'm a howlin all the time, awoof awoof wooo!

Hound-dog, hound-dog awooo hooo hooo-oo!

   The crowd cheers and cheers, trying to get closer, trying to touch the stars, until finally an amplified voice announces, "Elven has left the building."