Prologue from "The Journey of the Nightisans."  This got edited out.

      

           World peace had finally been achieved. 

            As of two seconds ago, the war in faraway Plustonia had ended.  The fifty-year feud between the Hackalot family and the Chopalot family had been settled.  Even the ladies in Foroia had stopped bickering about who would win King Brandon’s heart.

            However, thanks to nineteen-year-old Lucasse Koltz, the world was about to be thrown into turmoil once again.

            So begins the Nightisans’ journey.


Chapter 1 from "The Journey of the Nightisans."  The beginning is the same, but a few things were edited out or changed due to editorial suggestions.


CHAPTER 1--SUILMADA’S TELEVISION EYES

 

 

            “My sister is weird,” Lucasse Koltz frequently told newcomers to his village.  It’s a known fact that most brothers find their younger sisters weird at one point or another.

            Then again, Lucasse’s little sister really was weird.

            For starters, she had blue hair--light blue like the sky.  Nobody in Lucasse’s family had blue hair.  Heck, nobody in the world had blue hair that he knew of. 

            If that wasn’t enough, she dressed a tad on the peculiar size, always wearing a tan pair of Lucasse’s old trousers with an oversized lavender shirt.  She had made herself a hat out of a long strip of lavender cloth that she had wound around and around until it dwarfed her head like a beehive.  At the other end, she wore a pair of wooden sandals, which, incidentally, had gone out of style three and a half centuries ago.  People could hear her coming long before she got there.  It got on Lucasse’s nerves when he wanted to sleep late.  Suilmada would always wake up at the crack of dawn and go stomping around the house in her wooden sandals. 

            That was her name:  Suilmada.  Lucasse’s parents had made it up in one of their attempts to be creative.  They had always done things like that, all in the name of either art or science.  Lucasse’s father was a mad scientist who had always worked on something called the “Theory of Black Holes.”  Unfortunately he had disappeared three years ago while trying to create his own personal black hole.  Lucasse’s mother was an artist.  The last big project she had done before she had died was to paint the whole house blue. 

            “But that’s art,” she had said innocently when Lucasse had asked why.  All the other houses on the block were normal shades of brown; the Koltz household was sky blue.

            That was shortly before Suilmada had been born.  Lucasse had been away for the whole summer visiting his great-uncle Hezekiah and had come home to discover that he now had a little sister with blue hair.  His parents had grinned a mile wide when they let him see her. 

            “But all the other kids’ little sisters have brown or blond hair!” Lucasse had pouted.  He hadn’t even known that his mother was pregnant; that in itself was a shock, but the blue hair topped it off.  “Why do I have to be branded as the kid with the weird blue-haired little sister?!” 

            Lucasse’s complaints fell on deaf ears.  His parents thought she was the greatest thing since cream cheese, and weren’t about to get rid of her.  To top off Suilmada’s oddness, she had also been born deaf--deaf as a doorknob. 

            However, the most peculiar thing about Suilmada concerned her eyes.  Lucasse figured that since she had been born deaf, her eyes had been given something extra-special to make up for it.  He had first noticed it when Suilmada was nine.  (Their father had disappeared just a few days earlier while trying to create a black hole, which left Lucasse the sole provider for his weird blue-haired sister.)  He had found her staring blankly ahead one morning and had waved a hand or two in front of her face, but nothing could snap her out of it.  Then, as he was about to give up and let her continue to act kooky, he noticed a flicker in her eyes. 

            Suilmada’s eyes weren’t blue anymore; they were light brown like the wood on the inside of a house. 

            That was strange even for Suilmada. 

            A picture had begun to form on the surface of her eyes, which reminded Lucasse of the invention called “television” in one of the other dimensions.  Since television didn’t exist in this dimension, Lucasse had never seen one himself, but this was how it had been described to him.  The only difference was that televisions didn’t supposedly connect through people’s younger sisters. 

            Gradually the picture came into focus to show a room shelved full of deadly chemicals.  A table sat in the middle of the room, and at the table sat none other than Lucasse’s nerdy next-door neighbor Clementine performing another one of her science experiments. 

            Clementine was the same age as Lucasse, yet that was about the only similarity between the two.  She was a genius and always claimed she was going to be a mad scientist like Lucasse’s father when she grew up.  She even kind of looked like a mad scientist with her messily braided chestnut brown hair, which she only got inspired to fix when it began falling into her science experiments.

            Her current experiment dealt with a cockroach in a mayonnaise jar.  Clementine was engrossed in dropping chemicals from various bottles onto the cockroach, which ran around the inside of the jar angrily.  Suddenly she shook her head disappointedly and turned away from the experiment to reach for a jar labeled “hydrochloric acid.”  As she turned, her long braid knocked over one of the candles that lit up the basement.  Lucasse could have sworn he saw the cockroach’s eyes bug out as the candle toppled right into its mayonnaise jar.

            Immediately the whole basement went up in flames.  The last thing Lucasse saw before Suilmada’s eyes cleared back to normal was Clementine running for the stairs as fast as she could. 

            As soon as Suilmada was back to her regular weird self again, they noticed the smoke next door.  Lucasse ran outside to investigate with Suilmada following close behind.

            Clementine stood outside her house coughing as she watched it blaze away.  Her father came running down the street from the local weapons store waving his hands at her.

            “My house!” he wailed, clutching at his bald head. 

            Lucasse and Suilmada stood by casually.  Other neighbors were coming now to see the biggest blaze ever in the history of Littletown.   

            “Clementine!  Didn’t I forbid you to do any more experiments in the house?!”  Clementine’s father was red as a tomato as he shook his fist at her.

            “It was an accident!” she said between coughs.  “I swear it didn’t involve fire at all!  I was just trying to shrink a cockroach.”  She held up a sooty book in her right hand.  “At least I was able to save my calculus book.”  Calculus was the latest invention of the century and Clementine its biggest fan.

            Clementine’s father looked like he wanted to strangle her.  Instead, he reached for her beloved calculus book with vengeance in his eyes. 

            Lucasse took a chance and spoke up; maybe what he had seen in Suilmada’s eyes had something to do with what had just happened.

            “It really was an accident, Mr. Heartmaker.  She accidentally knocked a candle over.  I saw it myself.  Suilmada saw it too.”  At least, he assumed she had seen it. 

            Clementine looked over at him in surprise.

            “Is that so?” Mr. Heartmaker replied against the blaze of his house.  “That still doesn’t change the fact that my house is ruined!”  Two bulging blood vessels popped out on his forehead.

            Just then, something in the house exploded.  Fireworks of various color began zooming out in every direction.  One firework shot up Mr. Heartmaker’s pants leg and sent him scurrying down Main Street.

            “I was saving those for my gunpowder experiment,” Clementine said blankly, then jerked to attention.  “Hey, how did you know I knocked over the candle?  My basement doesn’t have any windows.”

            Lucasse explained proudly what he had seen in Suilmada’s “television” eyes. 

            Clementine was so awed by the whole story that she completely forgot about her burning house and instead asked Lucasse if she could study Suilmada. 

            Lucasse said no.  He had the sneaky suspicion that Clementine had a secret crush on him and therefore wasn’t too fond of having her around his house all the time.  Thanks to her nerdiness, none of the other girls in town ever gave him the time of day.

            That had been three years ago.  Now Lucasse was nineteen and Suilmada twelve, yet that was only the beginning of Suilmada’s new ability.  After the explosion at Clementine’s house, she had shown the rock slide that had flattened the town of Pizza, the assassination of King Fernando, and just last week the hijacking of a wagonload of traveling violinists.  Each time, the news eventually reached town confirming the truth about her visions, which just proved to Lucasse exactly how weird his blue-haired little sister really was.

            So, one fine day Lucasse found himself watching yet another scenario in Suilmada’s eyes. 

            The only difference this time was that it would change the course of world history--for the worst.


Chapter 2 from "The Journey of the Nightisans."  A lot of this got edited or or combined with chapter 1 due to editorial suggestions.

CHAPTER 2--CLEMENTINE, MAD SCIENTIST IN TRAINING

             Clementine Heartmaker lived next door to Lucasse Koltz and his sister Suilmada.  Ever since the age of three, when she had been found poring over an algebra book, she had been regarded the town genius.  She often sat pondering the mathematical formula of how the world fit together and marveling at its scientific beauty.  She had learned enough chemistry from Lucasses father, the professional mad scientist, to do her own scientific experiments.  After blowing up the house, her father had forbidden her ever to conduct another experiment as long as she lived, so she had had to resort to doing them in secret late at night in the attic of their newly rebuilt house.  They had to be boring experiments too--like the kind that didnt explode or cause a lot of smelly fumes to go everywhere.  A year later her father had found out about the secret late-night chemistry lab and died a few minutes later in a fit of rage. 

            After that, Clementine had transformed the whole house into a laboratory/library/research center.  To earn money, she sometimes tutored kids in math and science, but mostly all she wanted to do was go on training to be a mad scientist like Lucasses father.  Like all scientists, Clementine Heartmaker kept her eyes peeled for anything rare and unusual to study, but most of all, she wanted to study Suilmada Koltz with the blue hair and the television eyes.

            Speaking of Suilmada, Lucasse had decided it was high time she learned how to tie shoes.  His father had never bothered to take the time to teach her because she refused to wear anything but those old-fashioned wooden sandals.  Even now, Lucasse was using an old shoe of his own as the model to teach her.  So far she had mastered the first knot and loop.  He still hadnt gotten her to wrap the other string around it.

            No, Suilmada!  The other way! Lucasse shouted impatiently.   

            Suilmada moved her mouth back at him in imitation.           

            Look, Suilmada.  Lucasse pointed emphatically to the shoe.  He showed her once again for the umpteenth time how to tie it, then handed it to her.

            She pointed emphatically at the shoe, made the first knot, got past the first loop, and bypassed wrapping the string around it, instead tying it in a knot. 

            Suilmada!  Lucasse pounded the floor with his fist. 

            Suilmada raised her fist to do the same but stopped halfway to the ground as her eyes went blank. 

            Lucasse kicked the shoe to the side and got a good seat right in front of her; maybe today hed get to see a revolution in a faraway land.

            Todays broadcast wasnt a revolution, but it was most definitely a faraway land.  In fact, it looked like the exact opposite of this part of the world.  The picture in Suilmadas eyes had gone from cloudy to clear.  A landscape appeared on the horizon showing a green sky with blue grass that bordered a stream full of purple water.  Lucasse figured Clementine would have given up a whole days worth of calculus to see this backwards world.

            Gradually the picture zoomed in on a tall figure in the field of blue grass.  He resembled the typical dictator; all dictators nowadays wore black capes ever since the top designer from Klamottentown, Sindi Minn, had made it the latest fashion for the dictator of Lichtland.  Since then, all would-be dictators had rushed to buy black capes from Sindi Minn.  This mans black cape didnt have a Sindi Minn label on it, so obviously he was a rebel dictator. 

            Come on, Suilmada!  Turn it around! Lucasse yelled impatiently even though she couldnt hear him.  Show me his face!

            Almost as if he had heard, the rebel dictator turned with an ominous narrowing of his eyes.  Raising his hands to the sky, he seemed to be chanting some sort of spell.        

            Unfortunately, Lucasse couldnt hear a word of it.  Most likely because of her deafness, Suilmada could only broadcast picture, not sound.   

            Suilmadas visions didnt usually turn out to be boring, but ten minutes later, the dictator was still casting.  Lucasse yawned while watching a fly crawl across the wall toward a syrup stain left from breakfast, which was a whole other story in itself.

            All of a sudden, the whole world seemed to explode!  Lucasse and Suilmada were both knocked backwards, bringing Suilmada out of her trance.  (Lucasse had been so busy watching the fly that he had missed the last scene).  Naturally, he ran outside to see what had happened.  Suilmada followed with the contented smile of someone who hasnt the least idea of whats going on but who is happy regardless.

            Then he saw it.  There in the middle of town where the elaborate Fountain of Littletown had once stood, now gaped a smoking hole. 

            The rest of the town had crowded around, and Lucasse was just about to ask what had happened when Clementine saved him the trouble.

            Wow!  A meteorite!  She stood behind him with a delighted smile all over her face.  Knowing her, she would probably spend the rest of the summer analyzing every detail about it.

            A thin trail of smoke floated up from the meteorite crater.

            The mayor fanned the air.  What is this? he demanded.  Clementine, I want answers! 

            Its a meteorite from outer space!  Clementine was only too happy to explain.  Judging from the size of the crater, Id say it hit at a speed of approximately

            Never mind the particulars, Clementine! the mayor said impatiently, waving his hands around.  Why did it fall?

            Clementine raised a finger in lecture mode.  Well, there are many possible explanations.  Scientific evidence shows that literally thousands of meteorites descend upon us every day.  Most get burned up upon entry to the atmosphere of the planet.  The rare thing, however...

            Lucasse stifled a déjà vu yawn that reminded him of science class.  The lady standing next to him actually fell asleep and only came back to her senses after collapsing to the ground.

            ...is that this one didnt burn up completely, which means it mustve been much larger than this to begin with.  By the way, the word meteorite’--

            The mayor was losing patience.  Just tell me why it fell, Clementine!  His face had turned as red as the meteorite.

            Clementine blinked a couple of times.  Oh.  Well, the orbit of our planet and that of the meteorite probably intersected, therefore causing it to enter the atmosphere and crash here.

            The mayor looked cross.  But why in my fountain?!  It took three years to build that fountain!  He then proceeded to tell how many man hours and how much tax money had been spent on it.

            Then Lucasse did something to take the course of history on a detour from its normal route.  In the last few minutes, an elaborate scheme had formed in his mind, all thanks to the latest vision broadcast through Suilmadas television eyes.  If he played his cards just right, this could turn out to be his road to becoming rich and famous…and finally getting a hot date.

            I know what caused it, Lucasse announced proudly, sticking his chest out a tad more than usual.

            Heads turned toward him in unison.

            You do? the mayor said somewhat skeptically.  “What do you know about science?  You flunked chemistry.”

            Yeah, well, I still know what caused it, he answered casually, folding his arms over his chest.  Ive known all along.  And it has nothing to do with chemistry. 

            Clementines eyes lit up.  Was it Suilmada again?

            Lucasse nodded slowly for effect.

            The mayor cast a sideways glance at him.  You mean your little sister had another one of her so-called visions? 

            That was another thing; no one but Clementine had really believed that Suilmada possessed the ability to show things happening in other places.  Then again, Clementine was one of those people who would believe just about anything.

            She sure did, Lucasse said with pride in his voice.  Right before the meteorite fell, she showed why it fell.  The “why” had come to him just a few minutes ago as he saw Suilmada kneeling by the meteorite crater next to Clementine.  Maybe the vision in her eyes had something to do with the meteorite…and a certain ancient prophecy from centuries past.

            The mayor remarked dryly that he would rather put his money on Clementines explanation.

            Clementine had eyes only for Lucasse.  What did Suilmada show you?  He could almost see her scientific brain at work.

            The spotlight was on Lucasse once again.  Well, its like this, he said proudly, speaking more to the crowd than to Clementine.  She showed a sign that our world is on the brink of destruction. 

            A lady standing in the back screamed and fainted.

            That was exactly the response that Lucasse had desired.  Yes, the worlds impending doom is upon us, he clarified once again just in case any more ladies who had missed the chance to faint might want to do so. 

            Three more took him up on the offer.

            Remember the prophecy from a thousand years ago that says a calamity from the sky will signify the end of our world when an evil ruler takes over the planet?  Well, nows the time, and the calamity from the sky is this very meteor!

            The actual words from the prophecy went something like this:  The calamity from the sky...and the ruler from afar...the destruction of all life...  There had been one copy of it on display at the Shrine of Unsuccessful Dictators, but it had burned down four or five centuries ago, so all that remained was what had been passed down by word of mouth.

            This morning I got a glimpse of the ruler from afar--the dictator--in Suilmadas eyes, and...  He paused for emphasis.  ...I even saw him summoning the meteorite right before it fell! 

            The mayor stuck a piece of chewing gum in his mouth.  And that means the end of the world is upon us, he said calmly.  Uh-huh.  Two of the fainted ladies stood up. 

            But wait!  Wait, it doesnt have to end in destruction, Lucasse went on hastily.  Because Ive decided to

            By now almost everyone, including the two remaining fainted ladies, had abandoned Lucasse to return to their daily lives.  Only Clementine, Suilmada, and the mayor remained.

            Hey, come back here! Lucasse shouted, throwing his hands up in the air.

            The mayor turned to leave.  I think Id rather put my faith in Clementines long-winded explanations instead of your daydreams about ancient prophecies, Lucasse.  Everybody knows that legend’s a bunch of baloney.”  By now, the mayor was already headed back to his office.  Besides, how sane can the son of a mad scientist be?

            Lucasse stomped the road causing a cloud of dust to fly around.  Ill show them!  Ill show them all!  He was good and mad and had worked himself up to the point of doing something about it.

            Whatre you going to do? Clementine asked.

            Im going to save the world! Lucasse declared with an angry glare in his eyes.  Ill get rid of that dictator myself!

            Wow!

            If he, Lucasse Koltz, set out to save the world from its impending doom, the townspeople would have to respect him.  They would probably make him the mayor or maybe even declare him king if he did a really super job of it.  On top of that, all the ladies would then find him irresistible.  Hed have his pick of dates instead of having to bemoan the fact that only Clementine had eyes for him.

            That presented a problem; Clementines brain power would come in handy on this rescue mission.

            Lucasse? Clementine began.

            Yes, Clementine? he replied in a syrupy sweet voice. 

            How exactly are you going to save the world?  What all did Suilmada show

            Glad you asked, Clementine! he shouted robustly before she even had a chance to finish.  He described the vision in detail and how the meteorite and dictator had to be those from the ancient prophecy.  And as a law-abiding citizen, its my duty to get rid of the dictator and make our world safe for future generations. 

            “Amazing!” Clementine said and pulled a magnifying glass out of her pocket to examine Suilmadas eyes.  Suilmada grinned and fluttered her eyelashes at Clementine.

            Lucasses good disposition vanished just as quickly as it had been mustered up.  Hey, knock it off, you two!  We havent got time for that!  We need to be saving the world!

            Hmm?  Clementine looked up at him with the magnifying glass still in front of her face. 

            He did his best to ignore it.  Suilmada and I need to leave soon to start our journey.       Clementine looked disappointed.  Suilmadas leaving?

            Well need you to come along too, Clementine, he continued, not mentioning that he only needed her brain power.

            The town genius lowered her magnifying glass and hesitated before she spoke.  Will you let me study Suilmada if I come?

            Yeah, whatever. 

            Lucasse could actually see the scientific excitement sparkling in her eyes; Clementine definitely had the makings of a mad scientist. 

            He turned to go home.  Well meet here again in an hour.  Go pack your things, he called back to her, then smiled to himself.  “Yep, everyone’s going to be sorry they didn’t believe me after I save the world and come back a hero!”  He laughed.  “And then I’ll finally get a hot date from all my fame and fortune!”


Chapter 3 from "The Journey of the Nightisans."  This chapter was almost completely taken out.


CHAPTER 3--LACKING IN THE MAGIC DEPARTMENT

             It was beginning to look like Lucasse was going to have to save the whole world all by himself. 

            “You mean I need a weapon?” Clementine said blankly, her knapsack full of books.  She, Lucasse, and Suilmada had just reconvened beside the meteorite crater to leave on their quest to save the world.

            “What?!” Lucasse exclaimed.  “Of course you do!  There are wild animals out there!  Don’t you know that?!”  For someone with an IQ of 182, sometimes Clementine could be as dense as a pile of bricks.  Lucasse loaned her his pocket knife until they could buy her a better weapon in the next town. 

            Suilmada was just as bad as Clementine.  The moment she had seen Lucasse spend his life’s savings on an iron sword down at the local weapons store, she had run home and latched onto an old badminton racket stored in the attic.  Lucasse had managed to pack the necessities for himself and his sister, but he hadn’t been able to get her to trade her badminton racket for a more practical weapon.  (Incidentally, badminton was the latest sports craze.  Lots of door-to-door salesmen had dropped selling brooms for badminton rackets.  Lucasse had been outside working in the vegetable garden and hadn’t known his sister was buying a badminton racket until the salesman was already walking down the lane counting his money.)

            Only two of the villagers came to see them off--a boy and girl who took lessons from Clementine. 

            “Clementine, do we really have to balance all ten thousand of those chemical equations you gave us?” whined the girl.

            “Yeah, and I’ll die before I get nine thousand algebra problems done,” the boy added.

            Clementine put down the book she was reading.  (She had gotten skilled at reading and walking at the same time back when she was a child.)  “Well, I don’t know how long we’ll be gone.  Lucasse says that saving the world usually takes time.” 

            “Sure does,” Lucasse put in.  “Might take at least a week.”

            “Wish I could save the world,” the boy grumbled under his breath.  “Then I wouldn’t have to do all this homework.”

            “Shut up, Herbert!” yelled the girl.  “There’s no way you could save the world.  You still think pi is round, and everybody knows it’s square!”

            “Pi r squared,” Clementine corrected automatically, then went back to her book.  It was a real page-turner about the connection between calculus and real life.  She had found it last week in the bookstore misplaced in the fiction aisle.  In fact, she was so engrossed in her book that she didn’t even notice when they had left the two kids behind.  She was already to the chapter entitled “The Ratio Test as it Relates to Taxes, or the Limit of Your Patience.”

            So went the party of three down the road:  the amateur swordsman, the town genius, and the badminton warrior.  All was calm and quiet aside from the occasional sound of a bug colliding with a badminton racket. 

            A look of utmost disdain was on Lucasse’s face.  “Suilmada, that is absolutely disgusting.”

            Suilmada whacked another bug with her badminton racket.

            Lucasse dodged to avoid it as it flew onto Clementine’s calculus-relating-to-real-life book.

            Clementine picked it up.  Arthoptera gryllidae,” she mumbled.  “Phylum would be...”  Suddenly she panicked.  “I left my Latin book at home!”

            “Whaddya need a Latin book for anyway?  We’re saving the world, not writing for Biology Weekly.” 

            “I might need to look up the names of these insects and animals we meet.”

            Lucasse gave her a bland stare.  “It’s a cricket.”

            “Oh, sure.  I know their common names but not all their scientific names in Latin.  All organisms are classified according to--” 

            A piece of hair flew loose from Clementine’s braid and into her face.  Looking up to remove it, she saw that she was face to face with a Homo sapiens. 

            “Clementine, you dolt!  That’s a thief!”  Lucasse drew his sword.

            It was indeed a thief.  For some reason, they liked to hang around the forests of Littletown and prey on travelers journeying from Magictown.  Suilmada waved her badminton racket at him threateningly, which didn’t deter the thief from picking their pockets.  Fortunately, Lucasse had stashed his money in his boots.

            “Oh, no!  He took my vial of H-two gas!” Clementine exclaimed suddenly.

            “Forget your precious hydrogen gas!  Just attack him!”  Lucasse swung at the thief with his brand new iron sword.

            Clementine halfheartedly threw the knife Lucasse had let her borrow, missing the thief by a mile. 

            “Don’t throw it!  Gee, Clementine, can’t you do anything?”  He took another swing, but the thief was too quick for him.

            “Nyah nyah-nyah nyah nyah!” taunted the thief, who was smoking a cigarette while triumphantly holding Clementine’s stolen vial of hydrogen gas in the same hand. 

            “Smoking’s bad for you,” Clementine scolded.  “And give me back my hydrogen.”  Then her face went pale, and she made a beeline in the opposite direction.  Suilmada must have picked up on the danger, because she ran as well.

            “Cowards!” Lucasse yelled back at them.

            The thief’s head grew about three sizes when he saw that he had scared off two of his attackers.

            The next few events happened in slow motion.

            Lucasse’s sword hit the vial of hydrogen gas. 

            The vial cracked. 

            The thief’s cigarette fell out of his mouth and down toward the hydrogen.

            Suddenly the slow motion sped up when the thief went up in flames.

            “I told you smoking was bad for you,” Clementine quipped as the thief ran for the nearest stream.

            To Lucasse that sounded like a really bad pun, so he said they’d better be moving on.

            Clementine turned to him with a frown.  “Is it going to be like this the whole time?  All this fighting?”

            Clementine wasn’t going to quit now if Lucasse had anything to do with it.  “Why do you ask, Clementine?” he said cheerfully.

            “Oh, I was just thinking we should stop over in Magictown to hire some mages.”  She opened her book again.  “It might make saving the world a little easier if we had some magic users.”

            Lucasse hadn’t thought of that. 

            “Funny you should mention that, Clementine,” he said gallantly.  “I was just about to suggest it myself.” 


Chapter 4 from "The Journey of the Nightisans."  Mostly extra scenes of Clementine going shopping.

CHAPTER 4--DLEINAD

             His name was Dleinad.  He wore black, and that was his profession--black mage.

            His job was to command the elements of nature to his fingertips; fire, ice, lightning...he could summon them all.  People with this profession were mighty.  They were respected and  feared.  They made good money and even got a Christmas bonus.

            Dleinad worked under the Federal Bureau of International Mages.  Its headquarters was in Magictown and run by a guy named Hoover who hired out mages to those who needed them.  Business had been slow this week.

                                                            *          *          *

            “Clementine, you and Suilmada go buy yourselves some suitable weapons.  I’ll go find some mages to hire.”  Lucasse walked off toward the middle of town.

            They had been in Magictown for exactly forty-five seconds, and already Clementine had seen five people with recessive skin coloring, four with genes denoting attached earlobes, and Ye Olde Book Store to her left.  Naturally, that was her first stop.

            Her eyes lit up the moment she stepped in; the store was wallpapered in books. 

            “Are you okay, miss?” asked the bookstore owner.

            Clementine came back to reality.

            “Oh!  Yes, sir!”  Her eyes focused on a book nearby called Geometry in Nature. 

            “That book’s half off if you want to buy it,” the bookstore owner said.  He yawned and poured himself a cup of coffee.  “We’ve been trying to get rid of it for years.”

            Clementine’s face looked like a child’s on Christmas morning.  “Oh, yes!  I’d love it!”

                                                            *          *          *

            Meanwhile on the other side of town, Lucasse had managed to find the Federal Bureau of International Mages, FBI Mages for short.  He’d had to ask three people before he had found it.  The first was a little old lady who was about as deaf as Suilmada.  The second was a little girl selling mud pies who wouldn’t tell him anything until he agreed to buy a mud pie from her, and even then she had sent him to the wrong street.  Finally, in desperation, Lucasse had gone to the local tourist agency, which just happened to be next door to the FBI Mages. 

            He had thought it would be a lot bigger.

            The FBI Mages was a ratty building no larger than Lucasse’s own house.  The paint was peeling, and more than a few shingles were missing from the roof.  A cardboard sign on the door read, “The Federal Bureau of International Mages” in scrawling handwriting.  

            Lucasse wondered if this really were the right building.

            An explosive ball of fire shot out of the chimney.  Yes, this had to be it.  He knocked.

            Almost immediately, an old man flung the door open.  “Who’re you, and whaddya want?!”

            Lucasse jumped back.  “I’ve come to hire some mages, sir.”

            The old man wiped his forehead.  “Whew!  Good, good!  Come on in!”  He held the door open for Lucasse. 

            Lucasse had to duck down to fit through the doorway. 

            The old man shifted his eyes around the room suspiciously.  “Sorry about that welcome.  I thought you might be another one of those pesky girl scouts trying to sell me more cookies.  I declare!  We get them every single day.”  He threw up his hands.

            Lucasse followed him down some stairs into a basement.

            “Now, you wanted to hire some mages?  You’ve come to the right place!”

                                                            *          *          *

            Clementine made her way out of Ye Olde Book Store.  She now owned books on astrophysics, geometry in nature, and genetics.  She had wanted to buy one about irregular Latin verbs but had run out of money.  She frowned in concentration; there was something else Lucasse had said to do...

            Meanwhile, Suilmada had begun swatting at flies with her badminton racket.

            That was it!  Lucasse had said to buy some weapons.                                                                  *          *          *

            “Achoo!” 

            Someone in the shadows of the FBI Mages had sneezed.  Lucasse assumed it must be one of the mages for hire.

            The old man led him to a chair in front of a desk.  “Sorry about the building.  King Elijin the Second cut our funds, and we had to move here.”

            “Oh, I understand,” Lucasse said in his most professional voice.

            The old man shuffled a bunch of papers around on the desk.  “So, what kind of mages are you looking for?”

            Another sneeze came from the shadows.

            “God bless you!” the old man yelled over his shoulder.

            “Oh, probably a black mage and a white mage.  We’re out to save the world.  Just yesterday an ancient prophecy was fulfilled when a future world dictator summoned a meteor onto my hometown.  It’s only fitting that I go slay him before the situation gets any worse.”

            “Mm-hm.”  The old man didn’t look the least bit impressed.  He grabbed a feather quill and began scribbling something onto a piece of parchment. 

            It wasn’t the reaction Lucasse had expected.  “I said we’re out to save the world,” he repeated, in case the man hadn’t heard him the first time.

            Another sneeze came from the back of the room.  “He heard you,” a voice called. 

            The old man nodded.  “Yes, saving the world is quite common nowadays.  Back in my day, it only happened once in a lifetime, but these younguns nowadays seem to want to do it all the time.”  He handed Lucasse the parchment.  “Would you mind filling out the rest of this for me?  This dadburn arthritis gets my hands every time.”

            Under the word “purpose” the old man had written, “To save the world.”  Under “name,” Lucasse started to write his own name, but the man stopped him. 

            “You’re new to this, ain’t you, boy?”  He grinned, showing a few missing teeth.  “You put the name of your group here, not your own name.”

            Lucasse reddened and strained his brain for a heroic-sounding name.  It would be getting dark outside soon.  “The night descends...” Lucasse thought in one of his attempts to be poetic.

            Under “Name” he wrote in bold, “THE NIGHTISANS.”

            “So you’re the Nightisans, eh?” said the old man, who kept leaning over the edge of the desk to see what Lucasse wrote. 

            Lucasse nodded.  The next part wanted to know the identity of all current party members and their job descriptions.

            “That’s so we’ll know what kind of mages you’ll need,” spoke the old man.

            Lucasse dipped the feather quill in the ink.  “Lucasse Koltz--knight,” he wrote.  If he were the leader of this mission, then in his opinion, he had earned the right to be a knight.

            “You’re a knight?”  The old man sounded skeptical.

            Lucasse thought quick.  Self-made knights weren’t usually respected like the other kind.  “Yeah, it happened a couple of years ago,” he said, hoping they wouldn’t ask any more questions. 

            “By whom were you knighted?” the voice in the background spoke up.  The outline of an individual in a navy overcoat came into sight. 

            “By...ah, the Princess of Tarnica,” Lucasse lied.

            “The Princess of Tarnica?!” exclaimed the old man and the voice in the shadows simultaneously.

            The kingdom of Tarnica lay far to the east.  It had disappeared suddenly three years ago, and no one had ever found out why.  Since no one knew anything about it, Lucasse figured no one could argue his story, so he got his thoughts together in a hurry and spun his tallest tale yet.  “Let’s see...it began when I was a mere lad of sixteen.  I was tending to the crops one day when all of a sudden a bright light appeared in front of me.”

            The old man looked enraptured. 

            “I...fell to the ground suddenly and went into a deep sleep.  I dreamed I was in the Castle Tarnica, and a lovely young maiden approached me and begged for my help.  It was the Princess of Tarnica.  She said the kingdom was in great distress and needed my help to...erm, free it from some kind of curse or something.  She gave me a magical sword and said I should seek to save the kingdom.”  Lucasse thought some more.  “I woke up holding this sword.”  He held up the iron sword he’d bought earlier that day.

            The old man reached out to touch it, then snatched back his hand.  “Oh, I’m not worthy to touch such a sword!”  He dabbed at his eyes with a polka-dot handkerchief.

            After that story, the old man believed anything Lucasse wrote. 

            “I’ll help you with all I’ve got,” the old man said with emotion in his voice.  He motioned to the person lurking in the background.  “I present to you Dleinad Parrski, my only remaining mage.  He’s a black mage, third degree.”

            Dleinad stepped out of the shadows.  He wore a long navy coat over black pants, had short dark hair, and looked like he hadn’t seen the sun in years.

            “Only remaining mage!” Lucasse burst out.  “Where the heck am I supposed to get a white mage?!  Who’s going to heal me if I get maimed before I can save the world?!”

            The old man waved his hand nonchalantly.  “Business has been slow lately, what with this recession and all.  You’ll make out somehow.”  He turned to Dleinad.  “Dleinad, I want you to go with Lucasse here to rescue Tarnica castle and save the world.”

            Dleinad nodded silently.

            “I give you Dleinad for the low, low price of ten silver per month!”

            Lucasse felt proud for getting such a bargain; third degree mages usually ran at least fifty silver a month.  The story about the kingdom of Tarnica had definitely helped.  Lucasse and Dleinad strolled through town with Lucasse leading the way.  Now all they had to do was find Clementine and Suilmada.

            Meanwhile, the old man of the FBI mages chuckled softly as he counted his money.  “Sucker!”

                                                            *          *          *

            Clementine and Suilmada had found the weapons shop, but it looked like the whole town had decided to shop there today.  “Weapons, armor!  Get your bargains here!” yelled the storekeeper from behind the counter.  “Everything half price!”

            The crowd pressed in harder.  Suilmada jumped up and down to see what was going on.

            Suddenly the storekeeper pointed a finger at her.  “Hey, you!  Blue-haired girl!  You are the cutest little blue-haired girl I’ve seen all day.  In fact,” the man said, grinning to show a mouthful of gold teeth, “you’re the only blue-haired girl I’ve seen today!”

            The crowd roared in laughter, and Suilmada brandished her badminton racket suddenly for no apparent reason.

            An awed hush fell over the place; the badminton craze had just come to Magictown. 

            “Aha!” exclaimed the weapons store man.  “How would you like a brand new badminton racket?”  He whipped out a shiny new racket from his stash of weapons.

            Suilmada’s eyes lit up as she reached for it. 

            The weapons store man pulled it back.  “Ah-ah-ah,” he sang.  “First you need money, and today it’s seventy percent off.”

            Clementine’s eyes darted to the price tag.  “87 silver?  But we don’t have that much.  I only have five left after I bought the astrophysics book.” 

            “Astrophysics?!” someone in the crowd yelled out.  “You must be a super brain!”

            The weapons store man smiled showing a mouthful of gold teeth.  “Well, you’ve come to the right place, Miss Super Brain!  We buy, sell, and trade!  You can sell your astrophysics book here and get MONEY!”

            This was the hardest problem Clementine had been faced with in a long time.  All of her books were valuable, especially the one on astrophysics.  She finally decided to cash in one entitled How to Live in the Wilderness for 100 silver.

            Suilmada practiced swinging her new high-quality badminton racket around.  Meanwhile, Clementine’s eyes had spotted something hanging in the back of the store.  It was white, it was cotton, and it was every mad scientist’s dream.

            “Is that a labcoat?” she asked excitedly. 

            “Yes, ma’am!  And today we’re offering it for the low, low price of 20 silver!”  He dangled it in front of her eyes.

            Clementine’s calculator brain went to work again.  She had thirteen silver left from the trade-in and five from the bookstore, which made eighteen and left her two short. 

            The weapons store man made a deal with her.  “I’ve got it!  If you can tell me the square root of 1142, I’ll give it to you for 18 silver.”

            “33.79349,” she replied effortlessly, and the brand new lab coat was hers.  (The clerk checked her answer on his Gateway brand abacus.)

                                                            *          *          *

            So far, two people had congratulated Dleinad on finding a job, five had wished them luck saving the world, and one little girl had even wanted their autographs. 

            “Hey, Dleinad.  So you finally found work, huh?” another black mage snickered as he and Lucasse walked by. 

            Then Lucasse saw Clementine and Suilmada exiting the weapons store.

            “Is he one of the mages you hired, Lucasse?” Clementine asked when she saw Dleinad.

            “Yeah.”  Lucasse explained that Dleinad had been the very last mage available for hire.  “We’re lucky we got him.”

            A bystander red mage slapped his knee in laughter.  “Ha!  That’s a good one!”

            Lucasse ignored him.  “I only wish we could’ve gotten a good white mage.”         

            “Where are we going next, Lucasse?” Clementine asked, following him to the edge of town.  She had already started reading her new astrophysics book.

            Lucasse was trying to think of where to start in his search for the dictator when something else came up.

            “Hey, you!  Hey, wait up, I say!”

            Dleinad stopped.  “Hey, Lucasse.  I think they’re talking to you.”

            Lucasse turned around. 

            A red-haired girl carrying a wooden staff ran toward them.  Her long white robes trimmed in red, the trademark clothes of a white mage, flowed behind her hurriedly.  “Hey, are you the Nightisans?”

            “Sure are,” answered Lucasse, proud that his fame was already spreading.  Here was a female already chasing after him, and he had only just begun his journey.

            “I heard you’re out to save the world and such.”  The girl didn’t smile.  Her eyes were hidden behind dark, round sunglasses.

            “Yes.”  Lucasse gave her his most heroic smile.

            “I’ll join you.  I’m a white mage, sixth degree.  My name’s Saori Minai.” 

            A white cat appeared from behind her long, white robes.  “And I’m Ciaran,” it said.

            Clementine dropped her astrophysics book in surprise.  “A talking cat!  Oh, can I study you, please?”

            “Sure you can,” said the cat.  “What’s your name?  Is that an astrophysics book?”

            “Yes, yes, it is.  I’m Clementine.”

            Lucasse could have sworn the cat smiled.  “Clementine, I think you and I are going to get along great together.”