The Passion Fire of Oz, Part 1: Shadows Under Oz
Mike Conway
Chapter 1
Reaper in Oz

Black ink surrounded Ozma on all sides as she tried to move around. She didn't know where she was in the tepid blackness, and she certainly wasn't used to sensory deprivation. Coolness chilled her skin.

“Hello?” she called out. “Where am I?”

No one answered the floating princess of Oz. Definitely not a place she liked being.

In fact, this was a position she'd long feared, ever since she was a girl, and even when she was a boy. No, this was not the way she wanted to be.

Being alone was a place of pure hell for her.

“Where am I?” she repeated. “If anyone can answer me, if there is someone somewhere in this darkness...”

“There is,” came the reply.

“Good,” she sighed with relief. “I'd rather not be alone anywhere. In fact, the only place I'm alone usually is in my chambers...”

“Yes,” returned the voice, which sounded like it was rising from a pit of ice, “and to some extent, that is where you are, but yet, you are away from there.”

“I don't like riddles,” she said, frowning. “Who are you, and where am I?” She took a step forward, to her surprise. She didn't think that she could step and float at the same time.

“Do you truly wish to see my face, Princess Ozma?”

“I do,” she replied.

Chills swept over her as the stranger stepped out of the darkness. Black robes swirled about him, and he brandished a scythe which was decorated with long-forgotten runes and carrying a visibly sharp edge. He let it fall to his side and he picked up a bony hand to pull back the hood, revealing a face that sent Ozma in to a place of anger and revulsion. A face devoid of skin and bearing an eternal smile.

“I have heard of you,” she said. “In fact, Glinda has had much to say about you.”

“Really. Do tell,” he invited.

“You are death himself. The reaper of souls.”

The reaper bowed. “At your service.” Ozma noticed that the Reaper's mouth didn't move, but his voice emanated from within the skull.

“I doubt that,” Ozma retorted. “In fact, any soul alive exists only to serve in keeping you employed.”

“It's a living, as the living tend to say,” Ozma could tell that, had he any skin on his face, he would be smiling.

“I don't like your job. I take great pride in the fact that my home is a place where you don't need to visit.”

“That isn't a good thing, you know,” the Reaper replied. “By having this enchantment on the land of Oz, you have caused a shift in the order of things, a condition which is against Nature itself.”

“You'll have to take that up with my mother.” Tears were now forming at her eyes.

“This place is a refuge,” Ozma continued, “to preserve the finest beauty in nature. That was my mother's desire.” She began to see red as the conversation continued.

“Your mother, Lurline, Queen of Fae.” The Reaper chuckled. “While she is wise in many things, she is also known for some of her greater mistakes. I can understand her feelings, though.”

“Can you now?” Ozma scrubbed the tears from her eyes.

“But you see, I can't denied forever. Oz does not exist in a place that can exclude dearth. Eventually, the end must come.”

“It won't come as long as I sit upon Oz's throne.” Ozma's tears were gone now, replaced with stern determination.

“Don't be too sure of yourself. To all, I come eventually.”

“Wait,” she said, cold realization dawning on her. “Am I dead?”

“No, this time you aren't,” the Reaper said. “This time, you are merely being given a warning.”

“But people aren't supposed to see you.”

“Normally not,” the Reaper growled, “But normally, people are supposed to live a limited lifespan.” He approached the princess, who tried to back away.

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Loud enough to jolt him from his sleep, Fastidious the guardian nearly fell from his bed as a new visitor entered his home. He looked up at the beastly shadow standing before him. Fastidious narrowed his eyes, trying to see what it actually was, but it seemed to have no form, just shadow.

“Who...?” Before he could eke out the remainder of his question, the shadow was fast upon him, and its hand was upon his throat.

“Do shut up,” it hissed in a low growl. “I am not in the mood for pleas of mercy.”

“So you mean to do me harm,” Fastidious replied.

“Oh yes,” the shadow grinned. “Harm to you and everyone else in this land, and beyond.”

“Well,you can't kill me,” he replied, struggling against the shadow's grip. “In Oz, no one can die, even if you get them to the point where they would normally be killed.”

“Don't underestimate me.” It narrowed its eyes and glared at the little bearded man. “Oz is an abomination of nature and, for that matter, so am I. And two abominations of nature can cancel each other out.”

“Would you care to test that?” the creature continued, flicking a black tongue over its pointed teeth. “It's not like you're in a position to resist.”

Defiance sprung from the sudden fear that filled Fastidious's heart. He pulled and pulled at the shadow's hand until he finally broke free. Run, his mind told him, and run he did. The shadow shrieked, “Go ahead! Make it a sport! It has been a long time since I have hunted!”

And it had also been a long time since Fastidious had ran. Most of the time, his duties guarding the Passion Fire, the center of all willpower and love, merely required him to be sedentary.

Of course, there were enough caves below this part of Oz that he could have gotten at least some exercise, he realized, and now he curse himself for not taking advantage of it.

He darted down a tunnel on his left that normally only he knew about.

The shadow began its hunt. “Where are you, little man?” it called out. “Wherever you go, I'll find you.”

Ah, psychological warfare. Fastidious had see plenty of that before he took up the position of guardian. He didn't expect to see it used on him

Not that it affected him in the least. Oh, no.

He rounded several more corners, before he finally emerged in the familiar forest below the surface.

Now to find a place to lay low.

Down a path that he'd used dozens of times before, he pushed past the many fronds of green surrounding him. These plants were big, larger than most leaves on the surface could boast. Maybe he could hide behind the waterfall.

“You don't do a very good job of masking your scent or your tracks, guardian,” came the shadow's voice from behind him, Well,now was the moment of truth, to see if he could get away with is life intact.

He stopped and turned for a moment and saw the pursuer emerging from the secret tunnel. Well, he thought, so much for that. Maybe I can find or build a new one later.

He looked back in the directing he was originally going, and saw that the waterfall was too far off to get to. He looked around and saw a bush, bearing the biggest leaves of all the foliage around him.

He dove in, being as quiet as he could be.

Through the leaves, he watched the creature stalk towards him, its eyes darting this way and that.

He tried to keep from shivering, but his body wouldn't let him calm down.

And then, it was standing right beside him. If only he could just keep calm.

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“Open your eyes, Ozma,” the Reaper requested. She did, and the tears began to flow freely. “I understand how you feel. No one likes to see ones they love, or anyone else for that matter, perish.” He held his arms open. “Even I don't like my job sometimes. I have taken children that were merely days old, and I have even wept for them. But then, I have also taken men, deep into their old age who have lived a full life, whom I could, in good conscience, take from this mortal coil, and I celebrate them.”

“Why can't you be happy that all these people in my country can live full lives for as long as they want?” Ozma was shaking now. “Why do you even need to consider us?”

“Because Death is a part of life, my dear.” He folded his arms in, still clutching the scythe, which Ozma eyed. “Besides, do you really believe that your land contains no death?”

“Of course, I am certain of it,” she replied.

“Know this, even since you have taken your throne, I have visited Oz.” His voice dipped to a drone now. “Creatures get eaten. They get burned to death, fall to accident and are consumed. Many times, people in Oz have met fates that have prevented them from living.”

“And mark me, Princess Ozma,” he went on, “I will be making more frequent stops here.”

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Pleading wasn't working, but Dorothy kept trying. “Ozma, wake up!” She grabbed the little ruler's shoulders and shook her. “Ozma, you're only dreaming.” Ozma continued to moan and cry in her sleep, panicking the Kansas farmgirl-turned-princess. “You're only...” She brought her hand down in a slap across Ozma's cheek “...dreaming!”

She suddenly pulled her hands back. She hadn't meant to really slap her best friend, but what else was there? This was not good. Even with that slap, Ozma wasn't waking up.

“Ozma, please,” she cried softly.

Perhaps, she reasoned, if shaking and slapping wasn't working, maybe comfort would help. She climbed under the covers with Ozma and pulled her close to her. Ozma thrashed slightly with her moaning , but it wasn't hard for Dorothy to wrap her arms around her and pull her tight against her.

“Ozma, if there is any part of you that can hear me, please fight back against whatever is making you like this,” She whispered into her ear. “It's only a dream. Please believe me.”

Without warning, Ozma suddenly thrashed about, as though fighting someone.

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Claws fell upon the leaves and branches around Fastidious's head. He could feel the cold radiating off them as they passed by his head. He was filled with sudden terror and he burst from the foliage and took off running .

“I knew you were there, guardian!” With a swiftness Fastidious had never known, the shadow followed in his wake. He kept going, but he knew there was no way to get away from this unearthly beast.

Not that that was going to stop him. He'd never been known to give up.

In less time than he had to continue thinking that, the shadow's claws gripped Fastidious's neck and squeezed.

“Gotcha!” it whispered in a voice that was now coming from depths that were deeper than the caves they were in now. “Of course, you realize that now I'm going to have to kill you.”

“Are you sure?” the guardian gasped as the shadow turned him around. “Perhaps I could be a slave or some form of amusement.”

“You really love to the idea of continuing to exist, don't you?”

“I do.”

“It's too bad, then, that I'll not be able to grant you your wish.” It squeezed harder.

“Plead all you want,” the shadow continued, “for I'll be glad to listen to anything your yellow, cowardly mouth might wish to say. Understand of course, that you would have time before your dead body feels my fury laid upon it.”

“At least,” Fastidious gasped, “At least tell me what you want to do, and why?”

“It is simple,” the shadow replied, loosening his grip to give Fastidious some additional time to hear. “I am serving the will of my master, the lord of despair. The time is right to begin his reign, after many centuries of optimism and dreams. Now is the time to begin the reign of darkness.”

“However,” it said, drawing out his words, “it is harder while the flames of passion burn inside of people. Passion for life, for work, for love, for everything, so I am here to begin his reign. The Passion Fire must die before he can begin his invasion.”

“No, please don't!” Fastidious struggled against its grip, but this time without success.

“Don't struggle. I let you go last time. You won't be so lucky this time.”

“Please don't take away our zest for life. Does our happiness not matter?”

The shadow’s fearsome smile widened.

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“Your claims are good, Reaper,” Ozma said, her eyebrows furrowed. “But what else do you have to show me? I have ruled in such a way as to outlaw blood being spilled and lives crumbling from loss of those they love. This is not going to change any time soon.”

“I admire your optimism, Princess, but I fear that you are a bit naive in your viewpoint.” He put a hand on Ozma's shoulder, and she pulled back, fear in her eyes. “Don't worry, it's not my touch that brings death, for death occurs naturally. I just take them to where they need to go.”

“Where they go?” Ozma's mouth fell open. “Where is there to go? Death is the end!”

“Such as terrible belief, and quite depressing. Oh, no, there must be someplace for people to go. Energy doesn't just disappear, and energy is what makes up people.”

“I suppose if there is someplace...” Ozma started.

“This isn't the time to discuss metaphysics,” the Reaper interrupted. “I want to you know what is in store for your Land of Oz.”

“I don't want to know.”

“And you won't remember too much upon waking. Now observe.”

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Fire erupted around Dorothy now, and she found herself standing next to her friend. “Ozma?” she gasped, and Ozma turned to face her. Dorothy had never seen that look on the little ruler's face before, frozen in fear. “Ozma, where...?” and she was cut short by a sword thrust between then. Both turned and they saw warriors in dark armor advancing upon the plains surrounding the emerald City. Reality and dream merged and Dorothy could feel now with her own body all that was happening.

“No, Reaper, please stop this!” Ozma screamed. Dorothy looked around.

“Who are you talking to?” she asked.

“Don't you see him?” Dorothy looked. No, she didn't.

Around the two girls, the battle spread. They both saw warriors converging on the armored figures, warriors who became animals and began to take the dark soldiers apart.

Blood began to spill on both sides. Animal and warrior bled. Weapons flashed and steel cut and claws slashed and teeth tore.

“No!” Ozma screamed. “This will not happen! This will never happen!”

Dorothy heard the reply. “This will happen. This and more, princess. Consider yourself warned.”

Ozma's eyes widened with terror. “No...”

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“Please, no,” begged Fastidious.

Fangs neared the guardian's face, closer and closer. “When I am done, the Passion Fire will die, and love will disappear from the lives of all in Oz, and even spread to the human world, what you call the great outside world.” The shadow's claws raked open Fastidious's shirt. “And I know that I could keep you alive, but you would find some way to inconvenience me, and I can't have that.” With that, the shadow's claws pierced Fastidious's chest.

Fastidious spat up blood. “You'll never succeed. This is a place of high magic, and even you...”

“Oh, you think I am at a disadvantage?” The shadow expanded its body, and other faces sprouted in the growing form. “No, I am not alone, and I have the advantage. I am one in many, and I am legion, and the legion that I am will conquer this land for my master. So,” it grinned again. “Any last words?”

“Yeah,” the dying guardian replied. “You talk too much,” and he spat blood in the monster's face and died.

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Shrieking louder than either had ever screamed, Dorothy and Ozma both sat up. They were both soaked, sweat pouring down their faces and bodies.

Ozma looked at Dorothy and, shocked to see her there, screamed again, which in turn brought out another scream in Dorothy.

Finally, they were able to calm down enough to compose themselves, although they still breathed incredibly hard.

Ozma tried orienting herself. Where was she? This wasn't her bedroom in the Emerald City palace, so where...? After a moment of thought, she remembered: She was in the city of the Skeezers, following the end of the war between them and the Flatheads, and they had been rescued from the Skeezer city, which sunk beneath the surrounding lake, by Glinda the Good. They were safe now, but the dream she just started from...

“Ozma? Are you okay?”

“Dorothy,” Ozma said between gasps, “what... what are you doing here?”

“You were screaming,” Dorothy explained. “I tried to wake you up, but you wouldn't. I tried to cuddle with you to make it better, but then...”

“That would explain why you suddenly appeared.”

“Who were you talking to?” the Kansas princess asked. “I couldn't see him.”

“That was...” Ozma frowned. She couldn't remember. “That was.... I don 't know. I'm sure it'll come back to me, but...”

“That was pretty fierce, though,” Dorothy said, “Whatever brought it on?”

“This is true. Perhaps,” Ozma reasoned, “it was something I ate last night.”

“Must have been rotten,” Dorothy said.

Fear still stirred in Ozma as she swung her feet around and stood up. She was still tired, and felt like clouds were filling her skull.

“I don't like this, Dorothy,” she said as she went over to her wardrobe. “I think the dream was trying to tell me something, like there is a grim future for us.”

“I think it was just a dream,” replied Dorothy as she got up. “Honestly, I don't believe that dreams have that much power, they just need to be dreamed and then forgotten. Or,” she said thoughtfully, “remembered fondly if they're nice.”

“Nothing wring with keeping nice images.” Ozma took off the borrowed night gown and put her dress on. “But something inside me tells me that, this time, I should bear its warning in mind.”

Dorothy stretched, “You know what, Ozma? If you do remember, you should write it down. That's what Uncle Henry always told me. Think of something, write it down. You do have a pencil, don't you?”

“I have my wand, remember? I can have a pencil if I need it.”

“And paper, too, no doubt.” Dorothy smiled. “I'll see you at breakfast. Maybe you can get dressed like this, all sweaty, but I need a bath.”

Chapter 2
The Stranded Fairy

Dust was common in the Land of Oz these days. While Ozma and Dorothy and all of their friends finished their activities in the Skeezers' domed city, Oz had been undergoing a drought. The hot sun bearing down on the people of Oz was unrelenting, and, since the water was a little more scarce, it was a dry heat.

Not that this really bothered the people of Oz. They'd been through quite a lot over the years, and this was just another spell that would soon go away.

However, nobody complained when storm clouds gathered overhead and let loose the torrents of rain that they'd held inside. Today was a particularly heavy rain, and soaked the better parts of the Winkie and Gillikin countries. The ground soaked it up quite readily, and people even set out barrels and bowls and anything else that could hold water so that they could collect it, in case there was another length between storms.

Of course, it couldn't last forever, and soon the clouds parted to make way for the real show: The Rainbow, decorating the sky in all his glory. And he wasn't alone in celebrating the damp world below.

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Light, in the worlds of the fairies, could be solid sometimes, especially in the case of the Rainbow. This was good, because he never liked to travel alone, choosing to take his daughters with him. His daughters were as light as air, really, so that made carrying them easier. They did, however make themselves lighter still by dancing about while he moved from place to place, moving their bodies and throwing their long hair around.

The Rainbow's daughters were sky fairies, like their father below their feet. There were eight of them, all wearing translucent dresses that looked like they were made of cobweb, and long golden tresses fell to their waist. It was easy to tell who was who, for the tips of their hair were different colors, one color per girl.

Except for one: Polychrome's hair wasn't tipped with color. It was light gold, and her dress, unlike the white fabric of her sisters, was all the colors together in vertical stripes. Sometimes, she even wore a cap on top of her head, which she was doing today. Why not? She felt like it.

Dancing was Polychrome's favorite thing to do. It was her life. She danced with her sisters on the top of the rainbow, and they also liked to play games and sometimes even would sit and chatter on about the gossip going on in the cloud castles where they lived.

The gossip didn't interest Polly as much as it did her sisters. She didn't really care what people did as long as they were happy. This was her philosophy on life. She didn't like the thought of it being more complicated.

Sooner or later, they would all catch sight of the Rain King's clouds ahead, and then they would gather at the Rainbow's edge and watch with rapt attention. They loved watching the lighting and the ever changing forms of the black clouds.

Once the Rain King moved on, it was time for the Rainbow to make his appearance. Once the Rainbow was fully stopped, then girls would slide, walk, or dance down the colors of their father and land on the earth. There, they began to dance and play on the grass.

They didn't really like the stiff, dry grass below their bare feet this time, but they made due. It was still fun.

“Earth is fun, I know,” said the Rainbow as he kept Polychrome behind. “But I must warn you, the Rain King hasn't been traveling much. If I leave and you're not on me, I won't know it until I'm back home, and I may not be back for some time. Please return to me with the rest of your sisters this time.”

“Daddy, I'll be fine.” Polly giggled at him. His warning was valid, since she had a habit of dancing off the Rainbow, losing track of everything else and then getting left behind. However, she'd always been fortunate enough to find friends where she had landed.

“You'll always be fine, yes,” The Rainbow pouted with his voice, “but there is always that one time where you might not be. Please be careful.”

“I promise.” She went right up to the side of the Rainbow and places a kiss in the blue region. “I'll see you soon.”

“I certainly hope so.”

At that, Polly danced off to play with the rest of her sisters. She was happy to be on Earth again. The cloud kingdoms were fine, but these vacations were heaven to her. And what awaited her this time?

Weightless, or so it seemed to anybody that might be watching, were the ladies of the Rainbow. Their feet seemed to not quite touch the ground.

“Hey, look over here!”

The girls crowded around their red-tipped sister, who was looking at a patch of flowers. “What is it?” one of them asked.

“Well,” she replied, “I know it's a flower, but I've never seen this type before.”

“We're in Oz” Polly told her. “I recognize it since I've been here so often. This place has flowers and other kinds of plants that you won't find anywhere else.”

“Yes, you would be familiar with Oz more than us,” her blue-tipped sister replied. “You keep getting lost when you're not supposed to.”

“Be nice,” Polly laughed. “I don't make fun of you about your faults, do I?”

“I suppose not,” Blue responded. “But still...”

“But nothing! There's more to be seen around here.” Polly danced off, but soon she stopped, and her eyes widened. “Oh my stars!”

“What is it?” The girls replied, running to her.

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He smiled to himself, watching them. This was another fairy, but not quite like them. This one was excited at seeing the beautiful girls prancing before him. His name was Na'iya.

He tried to keep himself hidden from them, and he seemed, at least to himself, to be doing a pretty good job of it. Not one of them noticed him behind the shrubbery at all.

He moved a little bit to get comfortable and to keep up with the moving girls. He wasn't about to lose sight of them. Maybe one of them might like him, he reasoned.

His breath caught in his throat when he was Polychrome. She was easily the most beautiful in the bunch. He didn't know who she was, however. This will need to be remedied, he thought. Maybe I can catch her alone.

“Oh my Stars!” Polly screamed, snapping him from his thoughts. He watched her run away and take her sisters with her. “Uh-oh,” he said to himself. He couldn't just run into the clearing; that would give away his position. What to do?

He ran behind the bushes to see if he could get a better angle of them. Nope, not here. He moved on. Here, neither. He cursed softly to himself. Where were they?

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Pleasant sighs came from the girls as the looked at the deer. “How pretty,” said one of them. “Cute!” said another. Polychrome stepped forward and threw her arms around the doe, which the girls liked, so they did the same.

“Um, hello, girls,” the deer said to them.

“It talks!” said Green.

“Well, of course I talk,” retorted the deer. “Why wouldn't I?”

The girls backed away from the animal and stared.

“I'm not complaining about the affection,” she told the fairies, “but I don't really know you.”

“Oh, a new friend!” Polly clapped her hands. “Yay! Well, Ms. Deer, I am Polychrome and these are my sisters Red, Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. We're the daughters of the Rainbow.”

“The Rainbow, you say?” The deer look surprised at that. “What brings you here?”

“Our father,” Indigo replied, playing with a braid in her hair. “He always takes us along on his outings.”

“Well, I'm pleased to meet you.” The deer gave a slight bow.

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Timing, timing, Na'iya thought as he scaled a tree that he found that offered a perfect view of the ladies. I have to time this just right. At least, I think so. He looked down at the scene. No, in spite of his experience being a flirt, the number of girls below was intimidating him. She didn't like being shy like this, but he'd rather be able to talk to Polly one-on-one.

The girls continued to talk to the deer. He tapped his bare foot on the branch and frowned. Come on, just a few minutes...

But the girls never parted ways. This was getting frustrating for him. Maybe he should just jump over to another tree and drop down right into the middle of all of them. Heck, maybe even drop down onto the deer. He wasn't that heavy, since he was a sky fairy himself.

Nah, that was just rude. No, he decided, he would wait this out.

Still, though, the golden-haired one in the rainbow slip was beautiful. He'd hate to miss this chance.

The girls soon started to spread out in different direction. Yes! he thought, moving to follow Polly.

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“Look, Daddy's leaving,” said Orange as the Rainbow started to fade. They all took off running to him. “Don't leave yet, Daddy! We still want to go along.”

“Hop aboard!” The Rainbow said. “The clouds are starting to disperse, so we'll be going home soon.”

“Yay!” the girls cheered.

The girls, one by one, started getting on and running to the top. They never needed to worry about falling off. They didn't know how, but they knew their dad protected them from stumbling over the edge.

It was hard for him to really notice, even with all his years doing this, how many pairs of feet were running on top of him. The girls were so light that he couldn't tell. He'd just have to trust them.

Unfortunately, no one noticed the one girl who was missing from the bunch.

“Girls, hang on!” The Rainbow started to move. From the highest point on the Rainbow, they could see the ground moving below. From the ground, however, The Rainbow's movement went unseen. Rather, people only perceived it as fading out. But that was an illusion, since the Rainbow was merely pursuing the clouds as they went away from him.

“Wait!” Red pointed over the edge. “Polychrome's still down there!”

“Polly?” Violet yelled down. “Polly! Come back here! We're leaving!”

The problem here was twofold: Neither the Rainbow nor Polly could hear what the girls were yelling. The Rainbow was too involved in his journey, and from on the ground, no one could ever hear what was being said on The Rainbow's back. The sound just didn't carry.

“Well, she's lost again,” Blue said. Green nodded.

“Hopefully, she won't be left too long this time,” Red said, “but I heard Daddy say that we weren't going to travel much in the near future.” The girls all frowned.

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“Spirits make up the rain,” Polychrome told the deer, who had asked her where rain came from. “To get ready, the Rain King dumps his pot into the clouds, which scatter across the world to take the rain here and there and everywhere.” More animals were gathering around her to listen. “But the water is special water. They have rain spirits inside, millions of them. The clouds are how the rain spirits travel in groups, and when they get in the clouds, they spread out and get ready to go diving to the earth.”

“Does it hurt when they get to the earth?” asked a bunny. “I would think that crashing down from such a height would be painful.”

“Oh, no,” Polychrome replied. “See, they're made up of water, and when they splash, they get up again and leap for the sky to go back to the clouds.”

“But if they get back up, why does the ground stay wet?” Asked a ferret.

“Well, the rain fairies leave a large part of themselves on the ground. That's how they get light enough to jump back to the clouds. And then, over time, they regrow the water.\''”

“Have you ever met any of the rain fairies?” inquired a bear cub.

“Oh, no. Rain fairies are the common folk of the sky kindred. I'm a princess, and the royalty and the commoners don't mingle.”

Curious critters continued to gather around Polychrome as she told her stories.

A tortoise asked “Why don't you ever talk to each other? It seems that since you're all fairies, you'd all be able to get along.”

“I know,” Polly sighed, “but that's the way things are. I never really liked it myself, especially since coming here to Earth, I've been around both common people and princesses and queens. I've even met the Great Jinjin, Tititihoochoo.”

A fawn wrinkled its nose. “Who's that?”

“He's also called The Private Citizen, and he rules over all the fairies that control nature.”

“This all sounds like a load of hogwash,” replied a horse.

“Hey, watch it!” said a pig to the horse.

“No offense meant,” said the horse.

Polly giggled at the animals. “Still, I don't see why we can't associate with the other cloud people. I'd like to meet one, myself. I bet they're nice.”

A crow suddenly spoke up. “Now, if that's how rain happens, what about thunder and lightning?”

“Angry fairies,” Polychrome giggled. “There are fairies, hundreds of them, that dance in the clouds, but all of the air currents in the wind blow their hair about, and it builds up an electric charge. Eventually, they get fed up enough that they have to shake it off, so they collect it and give to a girl named Electra, who stores it. She's a servant of Erma, the Lady of Light. When it's Electra's turn to light up the earth, she gathers the electricity up and uses it to light the Earth.”

“And here,” replied the crow, “I thought it was because clouds rubbed together.”

Polychrome laughed again. “Well, that's just silly! How could clouds produce electricity by rubbing together?”

“But,” Polly continued, “the fairy girls that charge up lightning are partially angry because they still hold some current in their hair, and they shock anyone they come into contact with. So they can't spend a lot of time around people that aren't their type of fairy.”

“That sounds so sad,” observed a lamb, “and lonely.”

“I suppose it is,” sighed the fairy girl. “But, by and by, I guess that since they have each other, they'll be all right.”

“What about Thunder?”

“Thunder?” Polly smiled. “Well, thunder just happens when the air cools off after lightning super heats it.”

The animals didn't like that explanation. The bear cub said, “That's boring.”

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Dropping to a lower branch, the boy fairy caught himself from falling. Not now, he thought. The animals are still keeping her company. A stiff wind almost send him off the branch, but he held tight.

Come on now, he prayed, leave the girl alone. He didn't understand why he felt so shy. He'd been able to flirt with women in social situations before. Why would this be any different? Was there something about her that would just make her special, so he had to be alone?

Not that he ever trusted his intuition. More often than not, it got him into trouble, like with that witch when her husband found out. He was amazed that he ever escaped.

But what was it about her? Seriously, what was it?

Heck with it, he thought. Time to take action.

“Oh, no!” the girl screamed. As he leaped from the branch with practiced skill, she ran away. He landed and watched her go. Was she... crying?

“Who are you?” asked the lamb. “Can you tell us more stories?”

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“Breezes come from when the clouds rush by, and they leave a wind in their wake. If you're quiet,” Polly put a finger to her lips, “you can sometimes hear naughty stories being told.” She then pointed behind her. “And The Rainbow...” she pointed behind her and looked, and saw the empty place where her father had once been.

“What?” asked a bluebird. “Where does the the rainbow come from?”

“Daddy?” A tear rolled down her cheek as she jumped up. “Oh, no!” Leaping over some smaller animals, Polychrome rushed away, trying to see if she was too late to get back on.

She got to the spot where he'd been. No sign of him. No sign of her sisters. Gone.

She had a brief thought, wondering why none of her sisters ever got stuck with her. At least then, she'd have some company.

“Daddy, can you hear me?” she called. She knew he couldn't, but she felt anything was worth trying.

Numb, she stumbled over to a tree, pressed a hand to it, and started crying. She collapsed to her knees, then turned and rested her back against it and cried.

And the air was starting to feel colder again.

Chapter 3
Party in the Skeezer City

Machines filled the workroom of the former Queen of the Skeezers, Coo-ee-oh. Glinda the Good and the Adepts searched through all the components of the machines that made the city rise and fall, and tried to find any hidden manuals or spell books. There had to be more to Coo-ee-oh's magic than just powders and magic words.

“I don't understand,” said the golden-haired Aurah. “I'm certain there must be something around here. All this knowledge can't just be contained in one person's head.”

“I agree,” Glinda replied. “That would be such a terrible waste, if we couldn't find it, and was lost when she was transformed into a goose.”

The silver-haired Aujah found a book called History of the Krumbic Tradition. “Glinda...” She beckoned the Quadling Queen over. “Do you think that this would help?”

Glinda took the book from her and browsed through the pages. “Fascinating. Looking at this, there might not be any truth to Coo-ee-oh's claim that she was the only one. In fact,” she turned a page, “There seems to be practitioners in the great outside world as well as in the fairy countries.”

“That would be bad,” said Aurah, brushing aside her brown hair. “Are we going to have to go and find them?”

Glinda thought for a moment, then finally said, “No. Our main interest is keeping Oz safe, and we're going to continue to focus on that.”

She looked through the book further, and saw all manner of magic-powered devices, from devices to toast bread to human-shaped carriages to fully-armed battle fortresses. She idly wondered how much more there was to the city than just raising and lowering it.

Her head shot up as Audah yelped and jumped back for a rapidly-opening hole in the wall. Metal creaked and groaned as the wall opened into a room filled with books. Once the wall was stilled, Glinda and Audah stepped in to look.

Glinda's eyes settled onto an open book laying on a desk. She saw design schematics and magic incantations. She gasped softly to herself, and closed the book to look at the cover. This was indeed the book she was looking for.

“Take whatever you can find,” she told the Adepts as the other two entered. “I want to learn everything there is to know about this form of magic.”

“Would it be all right if we split the task of learning between the four of us?” asked Aujah. “It might work better that way.”

Glinda considered it, then agreed, and they started to gather any and all literature they could find.

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Breakfast held no joy for Ozma as she stared at her eggs and toast. She was still dazed from the restless sheep and was even shaking slightly. If she ever had a dream like that again, it would be too soon.

“Ozma, are you going to eat that?” Dorothy asked. Ozma quickly looked up at her.

“Oh, yes.” She picked up a fork and began poking at the breakfast on her plate.

“Princess,” said Queen Aurex, “Will you be okay for our celebration? I'd hate to put you out.”

“No, I'm fine,” Ozma said as she scooped up some hash browns and began eating. “I just didn't have a very good night.”

“You're not joking!” Dorothy crunched on a piece of toast. “I don't know what that was, but it was no fun.”

“What happened?” asked Aurex.

Ozma and Dorothy explained the strange dream, and what happened to Dorothy.

“That is most uncanny,” the queen finally said. “Still, why don't you take the morning to explore our city. At least this time, it'll be under more hospitable circumstances.”

“Thank you,” Ozma said. Only yesterday, Ozma and Dorothy had been prisoners of the former queen of the city, being held in their room and forced to watch the city sink beneath the surface of the lake, and having no way out. The city was certainly more hospitable with Lady-turned-Queen Aurex, who had treated them like gold since they'd arrived.

“Perhaps you and Princess Dorothy could take in a show or go shopping,” Aurex suggested.

“Shopping?” Ozma was perplexed. “What is shopping? I've never heard of it. Walking would clear my head, and theater would certainly cheer me up, but shopping?”

“Oh, I hear it's fun, Ozma!” Dorothy clapped her hands in excitement. “It's what the rich people do, or the well-to-do ones, at least, in big cities like Wichita, Denver or Boston. They don't need to always buy goods to just get by like me and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, but they could take their time and buy luxuries, even stuff from from across the ocean! Why, there was this one man in South Dakota who opened a store....”

“You said, 'to buy,' Dorothy.” Ozma frowned slightly. “We don't use money in Oz, remember? I outlawed it.”

“Outlawed...?” Aurex put her hand to her mouth. “But we use money here. We have for as long as we've known.”

“You'll need to give it up then,” Ozma said.

“Well, I suppose, but that would be a radical shift in our thinking. Are you sure we can't...”

“We can discuss it later, if you like.” Ozma replied. “Trust me, you'll be better for it.”

Aurex looked dubious.

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Smiling to herself, Ozma looked at the open and bright city that stood before her. While she had been visiting all this time, she hadn't taken the time to really look, as she'd had her mind on the Skeezer-Flathead war that was happening, as well as her worry over the sunken city.

Now that the crisis was passed, she decided that she could take some time to explore.

“Oh, look, Ozma!” The Kansas girl tugged on her friend's sleeve. “There's a place that's showing a musical revue. And there's another place that's...”

“Dorothy,” Ozma interrupted. “We have some time before the festival starts. We can go from place to place. We just need to pick one.”

“Well,” Dorothy thought, then pointed. “How about that one?”

The store they went into was filled with masks of all kinds. Some were grand, and some were hideous. There were even a few that looked like Flatheads, only gross caricatures of them.

“Sir,” Ozma asked the store owner. “Why would you sell a mask that makes fun of someone in such a hurtful way?”

“Hey,” the shopkeeper said with a grin, “they've always been the enemy, and they sell pretty well as a result.”

After taking a quick look around, they left the shop. Ozma was clearly offended at the man. Dorothy directed to her to a theater, where they took in a show called “Horn, Beak & Hand.” As they production went on, Ozma found herself relaxing. Perhaps Dorothy had been right, and this was just what she needed.

This was a very exciting comedy, the likes of which she'd never seen before. It involved a unicorn, a parakeet and their human caretaker. The human seemed to be down on his luck, as well as lacking in intelligence. Yet, Ozma liked him, and found his jokes and mannerisms delightful.

The experience was also new to Ozma. In her years as a boy, he'd never been to a theater, and as the ruler of Oz, she had always had people come to her to put on shows. Taking herself was something she now decided she wanted to do more often.

“Really?” Dorothy's eyes were wide with joy. “Wow, now we can do more than just sit around that stuffy ol' throne room all day. Why, I bet the theaters in the Emerald City would love to have you visit them!”

“I'm sure they would, Dorothy.” She smiled as they left. “And change is good, I believe.”

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“Buy it or leave,” the storekeeper told Glinda. “It's yours, as with anything in this store, if you got the coin.”

“But you don't understand! I don't have money. No one in this whole country uses it.” Glinda was fuming at this point. “But I need it for my work.”

“Well, I'm sorry, but we require money, and we don't extend credit.” He leaned over the counter. “Come back when you're... mmm... richer!” He dropped emphasis on the last word.

“Glinda?” Ozma walked into the store behind her. Glinda dropped the necklace she'd been looking at on the counter.

“Keep your junk to yourself then,” she spat. “I assure you, if you require payment, then it can't be worth much!”

“Wha...?” the shopkeeper sputtered. “That makes no sense!”

“What's going on, Glinda?” Dorothy asked.,

“Well, I just need the gem in that necklace there for some magic work, but he's hesitant to sell it to me. Then again, I have nothing to give the man.”

“Hey, I don't discriminate! Anyone with the right amount of coins is welcome here. Until then, no loitering.”

The three ladies left the store, Glinda shaking her fists at her sides. “I'm sure you'll be making that change here, my princess?”

“Aurex was surprised when I suggested it, actually,” Ozma told her. “In fact, she almost looked like she was about to panic.”

“Any change of habit is scary,” Glinda said. “Even so, I think they'll thank you in the end.\''”

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Streamers filled the lavish hall, along with many other decorations, from garlands to pictures, to the big banner that said “Thank you, Ozma and Glinda” stretched in the middle of the domed ceiling. Already people were beginning to pile in, ready to party in style. Those that had invitations were no doubt happy to enter and not see Coo-ee-oh sitting on the throne, but rather, the lovely Aurex.

Ozma, Dorothy and Glinda had never seen anything like it, even with Glinda's hundreds of years of life behind her. Glinda always enjoyed new experiences, and while she had always seen patterns emerge in styles, individual tastes and creativity always made for an interesting variety.

“Amazing,” Dorthy breathed. “I think we'll have a splendid time here.”

“I agree,” Ozma said, the matter having been decided. “It seems we got here just in time, too, because here comes Aurex to give her speech.”

As Aurex took the stage, a hush fell in the room.

“Stand where you are, and take a deep breath.” Aurex told the people. “Yes, breathe that air, for that blessing of fresh air is the breath of freedom! As I stand here before you, I say that we have have been under the yoke of oppression for too long, both from the former queen, whose name we'll not speak again, as well as the oppression of war, which we now know has been ended.”

“Of course, the cause of the war was always between the rulers of the two peoples, and never with the peoples themselves. We've never, as citizens, held the Flatheads in low regard...” Ozma smirked at that. She wondered if the mask maker was here to hear that. “...but our queen and their dictator were the ones that would have us fight each other.”

“But now, that is no longer the case, and, thanks to our new ruler, whom I answer to, Princess Ozma of Oz, and her friend Glinda the Good, who freed us from our underwater prison, we can now lives lives of peace and happiness. Never again will the cloud of violence or slavery float over us.”

“Ozma and Glinda and to all those who helped you, we offer our thanks.”

With that, the hall filled with applause.

Following the speech, most of the people left the floor for refreshments, to talk, or to do other things. Some stayed and got into the mood when the live band took the stage.

Jazz was still mostly new to people in America, but it was even newer in Oz. Dorothy knew the music, and went out on the dance floor to do a little bit of impromptu dancing. Ozma watched the girl with wonder. She certainly had more energy than anyone she knew. But having talked to Aunt Em quite a few times, she knew that Dorothy had always been that way, even when she was a little girl.

They say that time changes people, Ozma observed, but it seemed to have been lost on Dorothy.

“Come on, Ozma! Have fun!”

Fun? Ozma knew how to have fun. At least, she thought she did. She did play with Dorothy when there wasn't a line outside the throne room door full of people that couldn't be bothered to talk out their own problems amongst themselves. Sure, they played tag with Betsy and Trot, and even Button Bright and Ojo.

Dance, on the other hand, was an entirely new animal to her. Perhaps this was a pastime she should learn once they were home. The city nobles seemed to do it flawlessly.

Which meant they were doing something the Princess of Oz couldn't. That didn't sit well with Ozma.

Smiling as the music slowed, she walked out to the dance floor and took Dorothy's hand. “We're friends, right?” she asked Dorothy, who nodded. “Good.” She drew Dorothy close to her and put her hands at the girl's waist. Her hidden motivation was to show herself that she could do this.

Dorothy put her arms around Ozma's neck and they swayed to the music. Dorothy smiled at her friend. It was now that Ozma first looked at her. Really looked at her.

Dorothy, physically speaking, was the same age as Ozma, about 15. She had a growing body which stopped aging when she was here, and she looked at Dorothy every day. But now, she noticed the high cheekbones, the thin upper lip and full bottom one. The slight crow's feet on the sides of her eyes from all the laughing she did.

She also noticed how Dorothy's body felt against her, so soft despite the years on the farm. The feeling of her closeness made Ozma's face hot. What was she feeling? This was a new sensation.

“Ozma? Are you all right?” Dorothy asked.

“Oh, uh...”

“Swing your pretty friend this way, Princess Ozma!” said a male voice. Ozma looked and saw the new Skeezer Prime Minister, Ervic. “I've been trying to attract a dance partner. May I have yours?”

Ozma recognized this. The nobles who danced in her court called it “cutting in.” But she didn't want to let him cut in, even though it was the polite thing to do. Still, she should lead by example.

“Certainly, Ervic,” she replied and stepped back. Ervic put a hand at Dorothy's waist and took her other hand and held it out. Dorothy reluctantly followed him in her first box waltz.

Oh, you're good, Ozma thought. Take my Dorothy away from me like that. If I wasn't a nice princess...

“Princess Ozma!” Ozma turned and saw Aurex beckoning to her. She looked at Dorothy again, then back to Aurex. Maybe this was time for rulers to be together, she reasoned.

She strode across the room, holding her head high. She knew she was a princess. There was no denying it. So she made sure she acted the part.

Upon reaching the throne, she took the seat next to Aurex that had been provided for her.

“You look a little put upon.” Aurex observed.

Sadly, Ozma plopped down in the seat and put her elbow firmly on the arm and rested her chin on her hand.

“You could say that.” She watched Dorothy and Ervic dancing together. Dorothy was laughing with him, and getting on quite well. Ozma frowned. What, is this going to be Dorothy's lover? Might was well be, for as well as they're getting along.

“Jealous much?”

Ozma raised her head at Aurex's question. “What?”

“I saw how you reacted to Ervic cutting in, and I can see how you're reacting now.” Aurex patted Ozma's free hand. “It's all right. I know the feeling. ‘’ ”

“I'm not jealous,” Ozma returned. “But I was having fun, and that... that boy stepped in. Who does he think he is, anyway?” Ozma looked at Aurex. “I mean, she's my best friend! If I had her first, then I should be able to dance with her until the song ended.”

“Come think of it, that is a pretty long song...” Ozma noted with a sigh.

“Don't worry about it, she'll be fine. You'll be together again soon. For now, might I ask you something?”

“Certainly,” Ozma said, welcoming the change of topic. “What do you want to know?”

“Money, as you know, has been our primary means of acquiring possessions,” Aurex said. “We, long ago, gave up barter in favor of currency, but now you say, under your rule, we need to give it up. I don't understand how we can, and when I make that announcement, I know the emotions it'll raise.”

“I felt from when I was a little boy...” Ozma started.

“A boy?” Aurex shot back, eyes wide. “But you're a girl.”

“Um...” Yeah, she'd forgotten about that. Not everyone knew the story of how she was turned into a boy as a baby, then raised as a boy, then turned back into a girl when she was older. “I'll explain later. But from the time I was a youth, I noticed that money bought not only possessions, but also good will, and when you didn't have it, people regarded you ill. I still remember hearing a boatman telling me, when I said I didn't have money, that,\'' and here, she imitated a man's voice, ‘he'd 'not break his back to help me.’ '”

“When I became queen, I outlawed currency. I hated it. Yes, there was a period of adjustment from the people, but then they found that worth was not in what they collected from each other, but in the work that they did and the happiness it brought others.”

“But certainly there must be some way of trade or common currency?” Aurex asked . “After all, gold...”

“You can't eat gold,” Ozma smiled. “In the end, we've learned that the earth provides for everyone, and we can all provide for each other in our own ways, and gratitude is often more rewarding than coin or paper. True wealth comes in the people we make happy.”

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“Boredom does not suit you, Reera,” a parrot told Reera the Red, the Yookoohoo sorceress who had helped the Skeezers by restoring the Thee Adepts to their normal forms. “You lack the familiar zeal that you have when you talk to us, and we can't relate to this new mood.”

“And, having spoken to humans once again, I find it hard to relate to you.” Reera shot back. “Perhaps I'll take an animal form again and then I'll be able to, but for now...”

“Are you sure,” she asked the parrot, “that I can't turn you into a human? It would help so much.”

“Never,” replied the parrot. “In all the time I've been with you, I've been many things, but never human, and I'd like not to start the habit.” Reera sighed. She turned to a squirrel.

“Oh, no,” the squirrel said. “You asked the parrot several times, the snake three times, and rest of your companions once. And I'm with them. I'd rather stick to living in the animal kingdom than the human one.”

“And what is so wrong with being human?” she screamed.

“Nothing,” said the squirrel, “if that is natural to you. You always go back to that form eventually, no matter how often you take an animal form. But that would never be natural to me.”

“You are all hypocrites!” Reera plopped down in her favorite chair. “What, I can be your forms, but you can't be bothered to take mine? Phooey!”

“Leave then!” hissed the snake as he crawled across her lap. “If you wish the company of people, human people, then go and be among them, and have fun with them. Maybe then you can come back to us and enjoy our company once it is out of your system.”

“Perhaps you are right.” Reera stood directly up, sending the serpent tumbling to the floor. “Oh, sorry about that.”

“I'll forgive your epiphany,” the snake replied as it slithered away.

“Good. I am in agreement!” Reera immediately began packing a few supplies in a belt with both visible and hidden pouches. “I'll leave at once!”

“But the sun is starting to set!” replied a kitten. “Are you certain it's not too late?”

“Nonsense. A city like the Skeezers' city never sleeps.” She put the belt about her waist. “I'm sure there is something going on there, and then I'll find more people to talk to. Maybe I'll even run into the Adepts and the Skeezer who had me restore them. That would be something, wouldn't it?”

“Good luck!” called her friends as she opened the door and strode into the night. “Don't forget to write!”

Chapter 4
Polychrome and Na'iya

Tears poured down Polychrome's cheeks, threatening in their numbers to stop Oz's drought if she carried on long enough. She felt so stupid. Last time should have been the last time she got lost. She thought she learned her lesson, but no. Now she was stuck here again, and who knew how long her father would be gone this time?

She pressed her eyes and huddled into a ball, drawing her knees up to her chest. How could I be so foolish? She thought. As soon as the raindrops lightened up like they did, I should have been running for Daddy, like I always do.

Well, maybe not always. She sighed, her breath shaking as it left her. As much as she loved Oz, she didn't want to be trapped again. But she knew that sooner or later she'd be able to cheer up and find her friends. Perhaps they'd be out adventuring again, and she'd just run into them and have wonderful times with them again.

The tears stopped coming finally. Yes, finding her friends would be a good thing. Their friendship and their adventures always helped her feel warm. Sure, not as warm as it was closer to the sun like in the clouds, but it was better than when she just sat around moping.

She stayed still and controlled her breathing. Yes, she was going to find Dorothy or someone else. Maybe the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow? She smiled. She wouldn't mind seeing the Woodman again. She liked him. He was a true....

“Beautiful girls like you shouldn't cry like that,” said a voice in front of her. A boy's voice. Button Bright? She took her hands from her eyes. No, this was not Button Bright. “Stop crying, lovely lady, and sing. I'm sure your voice would thank you for that.”

Polly stood and regarded him. He was a handsome one. His skin was deeply tanned, slightly reddish, and his shiny black hair fell to his waist, where he wore brown trousers, and he also wore beads about his neck. He was barefoot like she was, and bare-chested. He wore a headband of yellow and orange and brown and he even decorated his hair with beads. He certainly seemed like an earthy person.

“Look me over all you want,” he said, “Perhaps that'll make you happy.”

“Are you for real?” she asked.

“I wish I had a mist cake for every time a woman asked me that after trying those lines on her,” he laughed. “But yes, I am, as I stand before you!”

“Oh, okay.” Polychrome smiled and sniffed. “My name is Polychrome.”

“That's a colorful name,” responded the boy. “I am Na'iya.”

“Pretty name, Na'iya,” Polychrome returned. “I think that I'm glad you came by. I could use the company.” She liked his smile, too. He was pretty, and she'd never met someone with skin and hair as dark as his.

His face was different than people like her or Dorothy or Ozma. His jaw was strong and his nose hooked slightly. It enhanced the rest of his face. She liked it.

She also noticed, as she looked more now, that he was well muscled, but still quite slender, much like the deer she had just spoken with.

At this, she noticed that he, too, was looking her over. She was certainly warm now, as she began to flush red in the face.

“Don't be embarrassed,” Na'iya said. “It's okay to be beautiful. Trust me. I am, too. It's a nice burden to have.”

“A burden?” she chuckled. “You seem to carry it well.”

At that, Na'iya replied by closing his eyes and taking a light bow.

“Perhaps we should go, then?” he asked. “After all, the sun will be going down soon, and while the humans don't have a problem with Oz's night air, I find it to be chillier than I like.”

“I agree! Let us be off.” She extended her hand to him.

Feeling his hand slip into hers gave her a greater sense of security as they began to walk. Now she didn't feel so alone. Dorothy and her always held hands when they traveled, and she'd even held the Tin Woodman's when she wandered with him. Of course, she also talked with her companions when they traveled. What should she talk about with this handsome stranger? Should she talk about the sky? The Rainbow?

Her bad habits?

No, perhaps that might be left unsaid at this time. She didn't need to be reminded of her folly so soon after it happened. Perhaps putting some distance between that event and her would be wise.

Na'iya's hand was certainly confirming the strength in the rest of him that was visible. Since he wore no shirt, there was nothing left to the imagination there. He looked like he could be a powerhouse.

Then she looked up from his chest into his deep brown eyes. Wow, she thought. Never saw eyes like that. She pressed her lips shut and thought about that for a moment. Na'iya stopped.

“Your eyes are lovely, sweet Polychrome,” Na'iya said, “but perhaps you need to watch where you're going?” He nodded downward. She'd almost stepped on a snake.

“Oh!” She hopped over the snake. “I'm sorry.”

“Forget about it!” replied the snake and slithered off.

Laughing again, they set off and faced forward, only occasionally looking at each other. The silence was almost deafening, if not for the bird calls and the sounds of other life around them. But Polychrome had always been the social type, and this was killing her. But what to say? For once, she was at a loss for words.

“Where are you from?” Na'iya asked, providing the start that she needed. “You don't look like any Ozian I've met.”

“No, I'm...” she thought for a moment, “not from around here.” She looked at the sky. “I'm from a long way away.”

“So what are you doing here?”

“I'm lost.” She looked at him. “I wouldn't be wandering around otherwise. This was just supposed to be a stopover.”

“A stopover? From where? Oz is surrounded by the desert, which turns people who walk it into sand.”

Oh yes, she thought. The desert. She'd forgotten about the desert. And she didn't have a sand skiff or any other readily apparent mode of transport visible. She also didn't have wings like other fairies.

“Look, I'll tell you laster. Just for now,” she said, “I'm a wanderer.”

“Very well.” He smiled at her. “As for me, I've been stuck here for years after wandering, myself.”

“Oh? Where are you from?”

“The sky.”

Polychrome stopped.

“Stuck here while doing my job, no less!” he said, stopping as well and releasing her hand. “I fell from the sky, one of the rain fairies. I was supposed to just drop off my extra mass and leap back, but I was distracted. And the clouds left me.”

“A rain fairy?” Polly gasped. “Wow, I'd always heard stories of you, but I never thought I'd meet one.”

“And an honest one,” he said. “Normally, people don't believe me, for some reason. And this, in a country with the kind of things it has.”

“But,” Polly giggled, “I think most people do not travel and see the kinds of things we've seen.”

“I suppose you are right.” He grinned.

“But there were clouds just here,” the girl fairy pointed out. “It rained quite a bit.”

“Yes,” Na'iya explained, “and when I saw them in the distance, I ran, but was here too late, for by the time I arrived, the Rainbow with his daughters was already here.”

He knew about the Rainbow's daughters. Polly wondered if he'd figure her out in time. For now, though, she kept quiet.

“And I couldn't drop my mass to run. I'd blow away before I got here.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh well.”

Suddenly his face fell.

Noticing his change of attitude, Polly tried to ask “What's wrong?” but before he could get the words out of her mouth, he was a blur of motion, quickly grabbing a stick, and then shoving her. “What...?”

She fell to the ground, then looked up and saw something falling towards her. She screamed and heard buzzing.

And then Na'iya swung his stick and knocked the buzzing mass away from her. It flew into the distance and bounced twice on the ground.

“Na'iya?” Polly rose to her knees. “What was...?”

“That was a wasp nest,” he replied, discarding his stick. “Even here, being under one when it falls can be very detrimental.”

“I can imagine, I guess.” She put her hand out and Na'iya took it and helped her up. “But you didn't have to be so rough.”

“Well, it was an emergency. In such a situation, you just act, you don't think.” He looked her over. “Are you all right?”

“I'm fine,” she replied, “if a little shocked.”

“Don't worry. You'll be okay.”

“She shall,” screamed a matronly woman's voice from behind him, “But you, on the other hand, shall pay for your act of violence!”

Na'iya slowly tuned. Behind him was the wasp swarm, and their queen was up front and looking very cross.

“Understand, please, your majesty,” Na'iya said, after a long pause. “I only meant to protect my friend here. You can see that such a beautiful face would have been marred by the reactions of your soldiers. Please accept my apologies.”

“What were you even doing underneath my tree in the first place?” demanded the queen. “I claimed it, and it is not for such as yourselves to be trespassing beneath.”

“I understand your feelings, your majesty,” Na'iya replied, “but we didn't know this was your tree, and so we couldn't know not to pass under it.”

“I suppose you are right. Perhaps I shall commission a sign once our nest is restored.” She narrowed her eyes at the rain fairy. “Of course, we'll have to find out why it was cut down. Perhaps you might know something of it?”

“Cut down? Why no, of course not.” Na'iya shook his head. “And what motivation would I have to molest your nest, especially the nest that I didn't even see until it had been falling.”

“You speak logic,” the queen said. “Perhaps you are telling the truth. But then, maybe you are bring a little too logical. Why should I believe your logic?”

“Because you have never seen me before, nor have I seen you. Given that we've never experienced each other, how can I have wrongful intent?”

Indignant at the logic of that statement, the queen gave a loud harrumph. “That comment is also logical. However, I do not like logic, and would rather have had something for my soldiers to sting. Nonetheless, I shall stay their stingers and leave you alone.”

“But know this, humans, come near my tree again, and not see it and knock it down and then deny it with logic, and I shall have many unkind things done to you.”

Na'iya looked at Polly, who shrugged. “Can't argue with that logic, either, your Majesty.”

“Enough with the logic!” The queen turned to her people, her tiny head turning red. “Back to the swarm. There will be no further violence today.” Na'iya and Polychrome could have sworn they heard a collective “Aww...” as they flew away.

The pair watched them go, then finally looked at each other, smiles coming.

Then they fell to the ground laughing.

“What kind of comment was that?” Polly shrieked.

“I don't know!” Na'iya laughed. “But I couldn't argue with that!”

After enjoying a good hearty laugh, the pair finally stopped and looked at each other.

“So, where are you from?” Na'iya asked. “Please tell me.”

“All right,” she agreed. “I'm from the sky, like you.” Na'iya grinned. “Yes, I know. You're a smart one. I'm the youngest daughter of the Rainbow.”

Fear suddenly crossed Na'iya's face. The Rainbow's daughter? THE Rainbow's daughter? He suppressed an instinct to run, but rather, looked at Polychrome with reverence. He never thought he'd be sitting before the daughter of the Rainbow.

“What's the matter?” Polly asked.

“I... I just saved a member of the nobility of the sky!” he gasped.

“Well, yes, and that noble really appreciated it.” She smiled warmly at him. “And now that the danger has passed, we can move on.” She put her hand out again. This time, he only stood.

“I cannot,” he replied. “I'm not worthy to touch the hand of the Rainbow's daughter.”

“Oh, don't be silly,” Polychrome replied. “I'm the same as any girl. Now please help me up.”

He paused for a moment, looking at her, and finally, he took her hand, and she stood.

“There, that wasn't so bad, was it?” She asked.

“No, I suppose not,” he gulped. “You... certainly have the soft hand of a noble.”

“Stop with the 'noble' thing, Na'iya! I'm Polychrome. Why are you so skittish now that I've told you this?”

“Laws, Princess,” Na'iya explained. “The social structure of the cloud kingdoms and the laws that have been put in place frown on nobles and commoners interacting.”

“Oh, that's silly,” Polly replied. “There are no such laws. And nobody has certainly ever told me that we couldn't talk to members of your caste.”

“No one told you?” He looked aghast. “Well, of course no one told you. We're the ones that are required to know the law! If we don't, it means exile or death.”

“I don't understand this!” Polly shot back. “Why would there be those kind of laws? People are people, after all, and I've been amongst all kind of people during my travels.”

“Well, apparently, we're held to a higher standard than you,” Na'iya said. “Regardless, perhaps we should keep our distance.”

“Nonsense!” Polly stepped forward and grabbed his hand. “I may be above your station, but you are my companion, and we are equals in this journey.”

Na'iya froze and stood completely still, looking at her in the eyes.

“I won't get in trouble for this?”

“I'll see to it!” Polly smiled big at him.

“Good.” At that, they started walking. But all wasn't well in Na'iya's mind.

Heart aching, Na'iya replayed the phrase that Polychrome had just spoken. “I may be above your station.” Yes, she was above his station, and he had already been falling for her. He kept his eyes averted from her while they walked, since he didn't want her to see him conflicted.

That phrase had reminded him of something from his past, shortly after landing in Oz. He had met a traveling band, and had met an older woman who claimed to know the future. She had told him many things that thrilled him, that she would have known nothing about. Yes, she knew her stuff.

But then came the time to tell him his future. His excitement had left him as she had spoken these words:

“A day shall come when you meet and fall in love with someone above your station. She will be of golden hair and slight of form, and she will die because of you.”

He had asked for more information, but that was all she had.

Now here was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen in all of creation, and he knew how he had felt when he first saw her, but now, hearing that ugly phrase she'd said.

But they were in Oz, he reasoned. How could he cause her to die in a land enchanted to not allow anyone to die? No, this prophecy shall not pass, he decided. Never at all.

Silence quickly fell over the forest, and Na'iya felt the rise in power around him. It was like static that raised the hair on his arms, but it was an evil static. He didn't like how this felt. Nothing this dark should exist, at least he thought so.

“Polly,” he said at last, “We may need to run.”

“Run?” she asked. “Whatever for? Things seem okay.”

“They're not okay, I promise you.” He replied. “In fact, things are about to get nasty, I think.”

“You think correctly, fairy,” a voice from deep within an unseen pit replied. The two stopped and a force, a shadow, stepped out in front of them. Polychrome took a step back.

“I know of things like you,” Na'iya said. “You come from the darker corners of the great abyss, where the rain never touches.”

“You would be correct,” said the shadow. “And soon, this land shall know our touch.”

“Na'iya, what is he talking about?” Polly asked, trembling.

“Oh, don't worry, pretty sky princess,” the shadow said., “I'm not planning on hurting you.”

“You're not? Oh!” She smiled. “That's good at least.”

“No, I intend to merely kill you.” The smile disappeared form her face at that.

“That's not good,” she replied. “That's not good at all.” Na'iya took her to the side, facing away from the creature.

“Together,” Na'iya whispered to Polychrome, “We can defeat this creature. He's pure shadow. You're the Rainbow's daughter; do you have any magic?” Polychrome nodded. “Good. Then here's what we do: You use some form of light magic on him, and I'll take him put with my speed.”

“You do seem to be pretty quick on your feet,” Polly observed.

“I am.”

“Talk amongst yourselves all you want,” the shadow told them, “but nothing you have can beat me.”

“Polly, now!”

Polychrome reached into her dress and pulled out a crystal that she kept hidden. It flashed and colors shot forth from it. “Focus it on the creature!” Na'iya yelled. With an act of will, she did so, bathing it in the spectrum.

Na'iya saw the creature's form start to shrink, so he ran and delivered a fast set of punches to its face and body. It fell back and tried to regain its footing, but the light had quickly taken its toll.

“You'll pay for this!” it screamed.

“No money in this land,” Na'iya said, then delivered a punch to its face. The shadow dispersed around his fist.

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After sitting to rest following the encounter, the two talked about their next move.

“Find a direction that we can go in,” Polly said, “and we'll go in it.” She saw the look on his face. “We don't really know where we are, do we? So let's go and find a place at random. Once there, we can ask for directions.”

“I see your point,” Na'iya said. “But once we find that random place, where do we go after that?”

“Simple,” Polly replied, like it was the most natural thing. “We go to the Emerald City and stay with Ozma and Dorothy.”

“Ozma and Dorothy are friends of yours? Wow, you have connections.”

“That's what a life of wandering gets you,” the rainbow fairy said with a grin. “And they are such good friends. I bet they'd love you.”

“I certainly hope so.” He sighed.

“What's the matter?”

Na'iya looked at her evenly. “I suppose this land doesn't have the same kind of laws that are in the sky kingdoms, where castes are separated?”

“Heavens, no!” Polly laughed. “Why, Ozma mingles with her subjects frequently. They adore her for that. I'm surprised you didn't know that, wandering around Oz for this long.”

“Yes, that's true, I suppose. But that's good.” Na'iya smiled. “Well, as long as we're together, we might as well be off.”

Polychrome smiled. “That's logical!” Na'iya laughed. Polly closed her eyes. She then pointed outward, turned two complete circles, then stopped. “We go that way.”

Chapter 5
The Loneliness of Reera the Red

People gathered even more tightly in the ballroom, both Skeezers and Glinda's rescue party pressed against each other. Ozma sat next to Aurex at the throne, and watched the people. In particular, she watched her friend talking to that fellow that cut in on them. Ozma really been enjoying that dance, why did he have to end it?

Sure, he was the one that basically saved the city, and now he was the Prime Minister, but she was still mad at him.

But the one thing that she couldn't figure out was, what was the feeling she was getting when he was dancing with Dorothy? She'd never felt that way before. Never looked at Dorothy and saw her like that. And she certainly never wanted to be that close like that.

Sure, whenever they'd gotten together when she was visiting from Kansas, they'd hug and kiss. After all, they were best friends. Best friends do that, right?

Then she realized that Dorothy had never done that with Betsy or Trot. Neither had Ozma. They were as good of friends of Dorothy as she was, right?

Now she was questioning. She wanted to be close to her friend, even closer than before, but she didn't know how that was supposed to work.

And, as much as she'd like to explore that feeling, she couldn't, because Dorothy looked positively enamored of that boy!

She sighed again.

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“Yesterday was amazing,” Dorothy said as she picked up some celery sticks from the refreshment table. “My friend Ozma and I heard all about what you did on the surface while the rest of us were trapped down here.” She touched her celery stick into a bowl of dip.

“It wasn't much, really,” Ervic replied. “I've never been one for doing the big things. I just serve where ever I can.”

“I understand.” Dorothy smiled. “But you did manage to find the Adepts and get them changed back into their natural forms. How did you do that? Do you do magic?”

“No, not really,” he said. “Really, I couldn't have done it without the help of...” He stopped himself suddenly. Dorothy blinked.

“The help of...?” She offered, trying to help.

“Actually, I can't say. I made a promise.”

“That's no fun,” Dorothy said. “But I suppose I understand. A promise is a promise, right?”

“Right!”

Dorothy and Ervic stood at the table, mostly looking at each other after that. They did talk about the odd thing that came to mind, and ate some of the food, but mostly looked at each other.

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Frowning, Reera stopped in the door of the ball room. How her eyes managed to find Ervic of all people first she'd never know, but there he was. Talking to... who was that exactly? A twinge of jealousy surfaced and she glared. She didn't know why, but now, after feeling the need for company, she felt angry that she had it, and it was all his fault.

If it weren't for him, she'd still be alone in her cottage, chatting away with her animals and being perfectly content. But first he showed up, and then he tricked her into transforming the Adepts, so that was more company. And in the brief time she spent chatting with the four of them, she had gotten used to it. It was a comfortable feeling that she had forgotten she'd ever had, and now that feeling was gone, and she couldn't handle it.

She tried to shake off the feelings. She had never expected to see Ervic ever again, much less see him with this girl. Heck, she never expected any of this.

And then he leaned in and gave Dorothy a quick peck on the lips. Dorothy's face lit up with surprise and a bit of a smile.

Reera's face became as red as her hair. Now, more than ever, she lived up to her name. She quickly walked over to the refreshment table.

“Hello, Mr. Intruder,” she said to him. “Remember me?”

“Oh, hello, Reera!” Ervic said, once he saw who was addressing him. “Dorothy, this is...”

“Promises!” she shot at him.

“Oh, you're the helper that he won't tell me about!” Dorothy exclaimed. She stuck out her hand. “I'm pleased to meet you.”

“The feeling is not mutual!” she yelled. “As for you,” she pointed at the Skeezer, “why did you have to come into my home, make yourself welcome, give me the company of others, and make me feel the way you did?”

“Oh, you're together, then,” Dorothy said.

“Hardly!” Reera screamed.

“Yelling doesn't solve anything!” Ervic screamed above Reera's shrieks. She was stomping her foot and getting ever closer to the couple.

“I never asked you to come into my house! You could have knocked and I'd have turned you away and we'd both be content!”

“But if it weren't for you,” Ervic snapped back, “The Adepts wouldn't have been transformed back and our city would still be underwater!”

“And it took trickery for that act of charity,” she shot back. Then she stopped. People were looking at her. She turned back to Ervic and narrowed her eyes. “You promised. You'd keep it quiet and tell no one, and now everybody within earshot knows.”

Dorothy offered, “But that's wonderful that you helped Ervic. You deserve to be...”

“Shut it, girl!” Reera yelled. “Are you going to be taken in by his trickery, too? He's a true salesman, that's for certain. And you should try and be sure you're ready for what you're being sold!”

“Look, Reera,” Ervic said. “Can we take this elsewhere? This isn't the time.”

“Why? No time like the present!” She didn't budge.

“Noisy people,” said one of the band members. “Hey, guys, this disruption by the banshee over there is killing my mood. Wanna get some food?” Everyone agreed that eating would be a fine way to pass the time while the happy couple hashed out their problems. Of course, they weren't going to do that at the refreshment table, where all the drama was occurring. They just got up and went right for the kitchen.

“Wait, where are you going?” Dorothy broke off and ran for them. “We still need music.”

“Hon,” said the trumpet player, “those folks over there are louder than our instruments. We'll get started again when it's all done. ‘’ ”

“But couldn't you play something soothing?” the girl pleaded. “Music does affect moods.”

“When you're that angry,” the bassist pointed to Reera, “the only way music will effect the mood is to annoy and raise the temper even further. Trust me, we're doing you a favor.” At that, they left.

“Poo!” Dorothy huffed and looked around. Maybe Ozma or... Wait! Reera was supposed to be a magician? Maybe Glinda or the Adepts could do something. Dorothy ran from the room.

“Red Reera, Stop!” Reera stopped yelling and turned. The Adepts descended onto the scene. The blond-haired one, Audah, stood before her while the other two took a place on either side of Ervic. “Reera, please calm down. It does no good to yell or threaten or...” Audah was silenced by a slap to the face.

“Do be quiet!” Reera snapped. “You three should still be fishes. Why did you ever have to enter my life? Aren't there any other Yookoohoos in all of Oz? I know I can't be the only one. In fact, I can think of four off the top of my head.”

Audah held her cheek, staring at Reera. “You... you slapped me.”

“Be glad I don't go further. I still have my powers, you know.”

“Trust me,” the Adept replied. “You won't need to. I'm going to send you a message you'll never forget!” And then she slapped Reera hard enough to make her head spin, and it would have had it not been attached.

“You bitch!” Reera went for her belt.

“Please, please,” Ozma cried, now entering the fray. “There's no need for fighting!”

“Rational thinking and discourse is not the way this can be done now,” Reera told the Princess of Oz. “It's too late and will be ineffective in every sense of the word!”

“I disagree... Reera is it?”

“It is, queen of flowers,” Reera replied coldly.

“Queen of... Oh yes,” Ozma realized. “The poppies on my crown. Anyways...”

“Anyways,” Reera interrupted. “I was fine at my home, all by myself, and then these three counsel him,” she pointed to Ervic, “to intrude upon my property. Unfortunately, after everything was done, we became quite jovial, and now I can't live without human contact, it seems.”

“What's wrong with that?” Ozma asked.

“Everything!” Reera shouted, arms waving. “I never wanted to be social! I never wanted to have to rely on human contact to be happy, but now it's become an addiction.”

“And your first night among people is to scream and shout and cause discontent with the people you're among? Trust me,” Ozma said, “you'll not be hurting for alone time after this.”

Reera paused, then stood straight up. “Um, I see.”

“Question for you,” Ozma said, then motioned for the Yookoohoo to come closer. She whispered in Reera's ear. Dorothy, Ervic and the Adepts watched on, wondering what was being said.

Reera's face changed as Ozma continued to whisper to her. First, it went neutral. Then she grimaced. After that, sad, and she covered her mouth. Finally, tears flowed. Then she straightened up.

“You're right, of course.” She said to Ozma. “How could I have been so foolish?” She looked at Audah, who was no longer holding her cherry-colored cheek, but was rubbing it.

“Look,” Reera said the Adept, “I'm sorry I slapped you. Can you forgive me?”

“Only if you promise never to do that again,” Audah smiled.

“That much is settled, then.” Reera smiled back at her. “And you... ‘she pointed past Audah.’ You sir, Ervic, still intruded into my life. But here I am, and here I shall stay for now. And... ‘she paused,’ I'm sorry to you as well. ‘’ ”

“I forgive you,” he replied, “And I am grateful that I didn't have to feel the force of that slap.”

“Finally got things settled, eh?” The Adepts looked behind themselves, then stepped back. Reera, Ozma and Ervic also turned. Glinda approached Reera and stood before her, towering slightly above the Yookoohoo. “I thought at first that I might have to offer my help in the matter, but I see that Ozma has done her own brand of magic and delivered instead.”

“She did,” Reera replied. Then the looked at Glinda carefully. “I feel as though I should know you. Do I?”

“We've never met, but I am known all over Oz,” Glinda extended her hand. “I am Glinda, the sorceress of the South, and adviser to Princess Ozma, ruler of Oz, who is the one who whispered to you.”

Reera took Glinda's hand. “Are you serious?” she said. “The ruler of Oz is standing right next to me?” Glinda nodded. Reera let go of Glinda's hand and gave a respectful bow. “A pleasure. I've always wondering who was in charge now. And thank you for your wisdom.”

“My pleasure,” Ozma returned, then said, “can we continue on with the party? I much prefer quality entertainment and fun to this.” The gathered guests seemed to agree, and they started turning away from the scene.

“Anonymity was the promise you made to me in exchange for my work,” Reera said to the Adepts and Ervic. “I did your transformations for the price of secrecy, and now everyone knows the work I do. I feel like I shall never be left alone now.”

“We didn't tell anybody,” the brunette Adept said. “You're the one that gave it away by raising a fuss by coming in here and making a scene.”

“But,” Ervic replied, eager to avoid another confrontation, “No one knows where you live, and frankly, I don't remember how to get there, so I can't tell anybody who might want your help.”

“And,” continued Aujah, the white-haired Adept, “we are supposed to be at Flathead Mountain tomorrow, and we'll have too much to do to give out your personal information. Trust us, we really did want to keep that secret.”

“Yes,” Glinda replied, crossing her arms, “and a good job they did of it, too. They didn't even tell me, and I'm the one person who should know everything.”

“You really didn't tell her?” The Adepts shook their heads. She sighed. “Very well. I thank you for your discretion. I don't want to be known for my work.”

“Well, you are known for it now, at least among the people that are gathered here.” Glinda noted.

Blushing, Reera approached Audah and said, “Please, forget the awful things I said.” She found herself blushing in the attempt to talk. “When you were at my house, I really enjoyed your company, and I certainly hope that we can continue our good will.”

Audah smiled back. “I think we can manage that.”

“Wonderful!” Ozma clapped her hands. “Now the celebration can continue.” She turned to address the band, which was still out. She didn't know they had left. “Where's the band? We need music.”

“Um, they left,” Dorothy told her. “You see, the arguing was distracting the musicians from playing their instruments, so they took a break and went to get something to eat.” Ozma cast a look at Reera.

“Hey,” Reera said, holding up her hands, “I already said I was sorry. It's on them now.”

Ozma sighed. “Dorothy, since you talked to them before, do you think you could again?”

“I believe so, Ozma,” Dorothy replied and ran off to do so.

“If anyone needs me,” Ozma said as she looked at Glinda, “I'll be sitting next to the queen.”

Clapping her hands, Queen Aurex announced that the party was back in motion. She requested a drink for her and Ozma.

“I'm glad our beneficiary was able to come to her senses,” she said to Ozma. “I fear that had it continued, there would have been a battle of magic in my court, and that's good for no one.”

“I can agree with you on that,” Ozma replied. “I've seen magical battles. They can certainly get ugly.”

“Fortunately, the two that slapped each other seem to be getting on quite well.” Ozma looked at Reera and Audah and realized that Aurex was right. Reera was caressing Audah's stinging cheek, which was losing the red color that it had gotten. “In fact, they're getting on quite well.”

“What do you mean?” Ozma asked her.

“Call me old-fashioned, if you like,” Aurex explained, “but it seems like there is a little flame forming between them. I dare say they'll be quite... close.” She looked at Ozma. “Much like you and your friend.”

“Dorothy? Well, yes, we're close, for sure.”

“I noticed that closeness when we met at first, but, if I'm not mistaken, there's something else.” She leaned in. “In fact, the subtext is so thick between you two, you could cut it with a knife.”

Ozma's eyes widened.

“Dance with me,” Reera told Audah. “I would consider it a great compliment if you would.” She hoped that Audah noticed the flirt.

“But Dorothy hasn't returned with the musicians,” Audah replied.

“Dance with me, anyway.” Reera returned. Audah could see that the sorceress wasn't going to take “no” for an answer. “They'll come back, but for now, I want to.”

Audah smiled softly and blushed, then took Reera's hands. Reera stroked them with her thumbs, then lifted them to her neck. She then put her hands at Audah's waist and led the blond lady on a simple, side-to-side dance.

They didn't have to wait long, as Dorothy finally showed up with them. “Oh, thank you for coming back! It'll be better. You'll see!”

“I hope so,” said the bassist, and they took up their instruments again. A couple of the musicians pointed out the two ladies already in motion on the dance floor, and set to playing a romantic ballad.

Dorothy smiled, and then looked. Her mouth suddenly closed and her eyes widened. She had not expected to see Reera and Audah dancing.

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Soon, all the ladies had gathered 'round together by Aurex's throne. The band played a jig and people danced eagerly to it. The Scarecrow and Scraps, the Patchwork Girl were tumbling over each other in their attempts. The Tin Woodman led Trot, trying to teach her some of his moves, and the Frogman just bounced to the music's beat.

Thankful for Reera's help, Aurex offered the Yookoohoo a place to stay in the city, even if was for a short time. “I appreciate the charity, your majesty,” Reera said, “but it's not my place here. Besides, I'm curious about the Emerald City, and I have heard much about it, but have never seen it.”

“I hear its beauty dwarfs my own home,” Aurex said. “I understand, though. But don't hesitate to come back again. Your magic helped a great deal by giving the Adepts back to us.”

“A simple thank you would suffice from everyone,” Reera said. “All this mushy stuff is really starting to get to me. You're all welcome, and I wish you happiness. But please don't make me suffer your gratitude any more than I need.” Her smile showed that she was indeed joking.

“But let it be known, Reera,” Ozma cautioned, “That there are strict laws in place regarding the practice of magic. I don't let everybody do it.”

“I hope you realize, then, that I have never used it in the cause of harm. I have always kept both it and myself to myself. I hope you'll consider letting me continue the practice, since it's a big part of who I am.”

“That's a big thing to consider,” the princess replied.

“Think on it at least, Princess Ozma,” Reera said. “My magic is as much a part of me as my arm or my nose. It would be a terrible disservice to rob me of it.” Reera was sincere, Ozma realized, but she still wasn't sure. She had kept magic illegal for a reason, but now magic was the cause of her salvation.

“I don't know what to do,” Ozma finally replied. “But you did give generously, even if it came by way of trickery, and magic this day has been to our benefit.” She sighed. “Per your request, Reera, I'll think on it. I need time to mull it over, and to consult with Glinda over this.”

“Fair enough.” At that, Reera pulled something from her belt and then touched Ozma's poppies. Ozma felt a tingling around her head and saw everyone gasp in wonder.

“What?” she asked. “What's happening?”

“Ozma, you should see yourself,” Dorothy replied. She reached for a tray sitting next to the throne, took the drinks off it, and held it up before Ozma to see.

Reera has turned Ozma's trademarked red poppies into blue roses.

Chapter 6
The Tweet-Tweets

Silently, the strange little man followed Polychrome and Na'iya. Ha carried a slate board, on which we started to write something, and then erased it before he could finish. He wore a purple suit, and the chalk with which he wrote was also purple. Like most people in the Gillikin country, he really liked the color purple. Even the bird perched atop his head was purple. Yes, it was purple all over.

He knew that at one time, it had been a blue bird, but over time, its coloring had changed. He thought maybe it was just reflecting the preferences of its owner.

But now, he finally knew what to say. He wrote it out, and then touched a jewel on the lower right. The words disappeared and the bird atop his head sang out.

Polychrome and Na'iya stopped and looked around. “Did you hear something?” Polly asked.

“I did,” Na'iya confirmed. “That was probably the loudest bird I've ever heard in my life.”

“Oh, do excuse me,” said someone behind them. They turned and saw the little man with the bird on his head.

“Research goes well, but my friend says that I come across as a stalker. Oh well.” Upon writing that, he touched the jewel again, and the writing vanished and the bird sang.

“What did that mean?” Polly had seen writing, as he had wandered between them.

“She wants to know what I'm writing. But I'm really too shy to say anything. I'll just let them walk on.” And again he followed the same steps.

“What on earth are you doing?” Polychrome asked.

“Never mind,” Na'iya said, “he doesn't seem to really notice that we're here. Come on.”

The pair walked on and out of the forest. Before them was a village. A sign read “The Tweet-Tweets.”

“Tweet-tweets?” Polly read. “Is that...?”

Once again, the bird sang out as the man walked by. This time, Polly caught a glimpse of the vanishing text: “Dat ass.”

“What?!”

“Polly, don't mind him.” Na'iya repeated. “Let's just see if we can find a place to get some refreshment and rest.”

“All right.” She frowned visibly. It was nice that he thought she was attractive, but that was rather crude.

Plain and unassuming, the village of the Tweet-Tweets was purple. Every house and every porch and shop was just a plain purple. No contrasting colors or anything. If fact, the place was quite boring. There weren't that many people in the streets. However, in front of each house was a sign with a bird perched upon it.

Polly noticed that words would occasionally appear on the signs and the bird sang to announce it. Then it vanished, only to be replaced by more words.

“How odd.” She observed.

“Yes, it is. Then again, Oz is noted for strange.”

The two walked down the street. A bird chirped to a sign that read “Is it true? Are there strangers in town?”

Another one read “Wow, she's hawt.”

A third said, “Who's the guy? I hope he's not her boyfriend. I'd like a piece of that.”

“Na'iya,” she said, “I have the feeling that these people are saying more rude things about me.”

“Just ignore them,” he said. “Do you see an inn anywhere?”

“Not one,” she replied.

The road went right into the town center with no obtrusive landmarks of any kind.

Chills crept up and down Polly's spine. “This is so unusual, Na'iya,” she told him. “Nobody's talking to each other. No questions, no answers, no conversation.”

A sign announced, “I just heard the lady say that we don't talk. That's not true. We're completely social! Isn't this social?”

Polly frowned. “No, it most certainly is not.”

“It seems to me,” Na'iya said, “that this is some form of diary writing that acts as conversation, or doubles as it.”

“@marcus Don't worry about the mundanes. There stupid.”

Na'iya frowned this time. “Well, nuts, that's a fine how-do-you-do. And that's the wrong form of 'they're!'”

“I think we should leave.” Polly said. “I don't think I'm going to like it here.”

“Maybe you're right.” Na'iya paused a moment to look around. Then he went up to the window of a house and looked in.

A man was sitting at a desk. He seemed to notice Na'iya, but took no action, other than to write. Outside, the bird sage. “OMG, he's looking right at me!”

“Stranger danger!” he continued to write and post. “The mundanes are invading!”

“@tillybubl Stop complaining. They'll go away.”

Polychrome looked into another one of the houses. She noticed a giant chalkboard dominating the side of one wall, and words kept appearing on it. When there were too many sentences, they would vanish and more would appear. The bird outside chirped. “The babe is outside. I wonder if she'd come inside and...” Polly stopped reading at that point.

“I don't see why these people can't just go outside and talk to each other.” She said to Na'iya as they met in the street again.

“How is this being social?” he asked. “Hey, I see something up there!” Together, holding hands, they walked up to the town square.

On the way, they read more of the signs. Some were insightful, some random, and some were explicit in ways Polychrome never thought possible. If she ever thought to talk that way, her father would leave her on the ground forever.

Na'iya was also getting red in the face, more about what people were saying about Polychrome than anything.

“Writing and more writing,” Polychrome sighed. “Did you notice a huge mess in the houses? I've noticed no less than three people say they were cleaning up, but then weren't lifting a finger to do anything. And when the person saw me, he got scared. ‘’ ”

“He'd have to actually talk to you in order to have a conversation. Maybe he's scared of making that leap.”

“I think that they've completely given up on actual talking.”

“@picwo wants to follow you @polychrome”

“How did he know my name?” Polly frowned deeply. “No, you can't follow me! If you do, I'll scream!”

“@polychrome noob”

Polly stood for a moment, fuming. “Na'iya... I swear...”

“Don't do it.” He replied. “These people seem to be good enough at that.”

“They do, huh?” She started walking again. “And I sure don't like the references to my anatomy. It's not like they're going to see it, that's for sure!”

Na'iya smiled at that.

Centrally located, the town square (a circle, really) stood in the middle of the unimaginatively laid-out town. Polychrome and Na'iya entered this part of town and saw, standing in the middle of the square, a large patio, with a billboard-sized chalkboard. Sentences appeared and disappeared with startling speed. The two found reading it to be an overload to their eyes. Several birds sat upon the patio and were continuously chirping.

“This is chaos,” Na'iya said. “How do they live like this? How can anybody even read this? It's like everybody's writing on this.”

“I'm not even trying, anymore,” Polly sighed. “Let's get...”

At that moment, one of the little men ran up to them with a large camera. He had a name tag which read “Twit” . He set the camera down and flashed a picture of them, then ran off.

“What...?” Polly was lost for words tis time. However, the explanation came within a minutes.

The picture that had been taken appeared on the giant board. The pair looked completely shocked in the picture, and below it, a word had been added: DERP.

Animals ran by Polly, the first welcome sight she'd seen her whole time here. She watched them go into a dilapidated house and hide within. She didn't like the look of the house, and felt the desire to try and get the critters out.

“Na'iya, I have to go do something, really quick.” She then went over to the house.

“Be careful in there, Polly,” Na'iya advised. She nodded and went in. “Call me if you need anything.”

As she entered, the first thing she saw was a squirrel pop its head up. “Hi there,” she said, smiling wide. It squeaked a little and then ran off into the street. Hmm. Not very social, that one.

She took a few more steps inside and then looked around. Maybe the creatures already left? She leaned against a support beam, which suddenly gave away and fell. Polychrome screamed as the ceiling fell on top of her.

“Polychrome?” Na'iya was at the doorway, but he couldn't see anything for all the smoke and debris in the way. “Polychrome, are you there?”

Na'iya! “She cried out from within.” I'm okay! “She coughed a bit.” I'm fine, just... I think I'm trapped! “”

Reports of the collapsing roof filled the slate boards outside, and observers started gathering around and writing. “My friend needs help,” he said to them. They nodded their heads and wrote some more.

“Wow, the roof collapsed. I wonder if teh babe is all right.”

“Pancake!”

“Teh dood is asking people for help, but nobody's helping. LoL”

“You people are crazy! Can anyone help me get her out?” Na'iya looked around and saw no one offering any kind of assistance at all.

He finally ducked into the house and tried to fan away the dust with is hands. “Polychrome!”

“Right here, Na'iya!” He finally saw her. A beam pinned her down. “Is anyone else coming in?”

“No, they're too busy talking about this to no one.”

“That's sad.” Polly started trying to push on the heavy beam. Na'iya tried to help, but between the two of them, it worked to no avail. They kept trying, but all they got for it was hot and sweaty and mouths filled with dust.

“I presume,” Na'iya said, “that the last thing we'll see those people write is our obituaries.” He then saw her thinking and then mouthing words. “What are you doing?”

“Blasting it could work, although that could cause more damage,” Polly was saying to herself. “And shrinking it could work. Hmm.” She looked up at Na'iya. “I'm sorry, I'm pondering what magic I could use to get this thing off of me.”

“Yes, that's the last resort here,” he agreed. “We don't seem to have any other options.”

Polly nodded and then, with great difficulty, reached into her dress and lifted out the crystal that she wore around her neck. Na'iya finally saw it for the first time. It was a smooth cabochon, but inside, it had a triangular prism.

She held it up to a beam of light that had opened in the ceiling during the collapse. She focused the dispersed light onto the beam and started to chant something that Na'iya couldn't understand. “You should leave, Na'iya.”

“Leave?” he replied. “But you...”

“I'll be fine. Leave or you might be hurt.” Na'iya hesitated, but then finally did as he was told.

Once he was outside, Polly finished her incantation, and the crystal flared to life, and the rainbow segments bit into the beam, first smoldering it, then chipping away at it, and then finally, it shattered.

“Help me, Na'iya!” She finally called out. Na'iya went in and saw nothing but debris laying on her now. Polly herself looked dazed but okay, and lacking the leverage to lift herself. He picked up and brushed off the remains of the beam, and helped her to her feet. “Stupid no good indifferent and just plain RUDE!”

“What are you talking about?” Na'iya asked her.

“Those people out there couldn't even put down those slates of theirs to come help me?” Polychrome was yelling now. “They just stood there and talked about it? I'm going to do something about it.” She stomped outside, where she saw the Tweet-Tweets that had gathered were now dispersing.

“Welp, the chick's all right.” Read one sign.

“No funeral today.” Read another. A third one read “I was hoping to see a body. Oh well, maybe another day.”

“You are all crazy!” she shouted. “Come on, Na'iya. We're going to find the local government and file a complaint.”

She took his hand and stomped off. She followed whatever confusing signs were posted and finally found city hall. It wasn't very impressive to her. It seemed like most of the other houses but had the sign reading “City Hall” added.

“Changes are needed here,” she cried as she entered the house, “and they are needed now!” The person behind the front counter scribbled on her own slate. “Look, I need to file a complaint here,” she told the woman. “You have no idea what I've just been through.” She leaned over and saw what she was writing now.

“@mayorbyrd Someone here to see you”

“Oh, come on!” She shouted. The bird on the woman's desk chirped away, and she made a gesture to go in. Polly and Na'iya did so.

Polly didn't even give the mayor room to speak before she started on her ordeal, how she got out of it, and the fact that no one had helped her. “I think you should do something about it.”

The mayor nodded before picking up his slate and scribbling on it. On the chalkboard in the wall, she saw his message. “Really people? A girl gets trapped and no one helps? For shame.”

“That's it?” she asked, her voice a light squeak. He said nothing. “Na'iya,” she said in as calm a voice as she could, “Come on. We're leaving.” She walked as slowly and calmly as she could, still trembling from anger, out of the building. Once outside, she stood shaking.

Giggling, some kids ran up to Polly and handed her a book. She read the cover: “140 characters: What to tweet with the Tweet-Tweets.” She puzzled over the book, and the opened it. The letters on the pages sprang to life, and jumped off of the page and ran away.

“What... what...” she stammered. “How did...?”

“Those were the characters in the book!” one of the kids told her. “140 of them!” Polychrome dropped the book, then went back inside.

“Look, Polychrome, I don't think that we need to be involved here any more. We can just go.”

“No, we can't! I have something to say, and I have to say it now.” She walked past the lady at the front counter and right back into the mayor's office. He was, as usual, writing on his slate board and sending his thoughts to the rest of the town.

“Look, mayor,” she said, as calm as she could, “it doesn't have to be this way. You can lead these people to be better. I'm sure they must have all kinds of potential.” He didn't look up. “In fact, I think that this could be a great town, but... Are you listening?”

“Deaf is more like it,” Na'iya said. “Not really, just deaf to your concerns. And, dare I say it, useless.” The mayor flinched, and the scribbled some more. “Polly, look at these people. They don't relate, they don't do anything. Their culture, such as it is, has become stagnant.”

“You're right,” Polly agreed. “But this is...” Finally, she reached over the mayor's desk and grabbed his slate. He looked up at her, shocked. “What are you...?”

Immediately, she began to write, doing what she saw the people doing. “Everyone, you have to stop living this way. You're not even living at all. You are only half living. Your intelligence has diminished and your social skills are atrocious. And when I was trapped, how come nobody helped me? I could have died, and then what? Or worse!”

“Go outside. See the sun and the sky. Open your mouths and talk to people. Look at them and love them. But most of all, be useful!” She had to keep sending several times, because of all the words, but she got the message out, and then threw the slate onto the desk.

“Choke on it!” she declared and stomped out for the last time.

Chapter 7
Signs of the Dying Passion Fire

Lye Ten Opp was a rare breed in the Emerald City. She was part of the class of the socialites, the ones who stayed in the throne room during court, the nobles, the people who were high society. But although she was quite feminine, she also walked with purpose. No dainty steps for her.

Befitting her station, Lye wore a multi-layered green dress with jacket, and a lace jabot on her neck to complement it. She herself was slender and dark-skinned, befitting her Gillikin ancestry, with waist-length black and blond hair tied into a ponytail.

By this morning, Princess Ozma has been gone for a few days, and court was a mess. She wondered why the Princess even went out at all, when there were people who would be just as willing and able to do the tasks for her.

People, for instance, like her.

Lye wasn't the type of person to just sip fairy wine and gossip all day. Sure, she liked being in the upper tier of society, but that didn't mean that she just sat around. In fact, she got bored easily. More than once, she'd gone off and had some kind of adventure.

She wanted to be able to do something for Ozma herself at some point, but the help always arrived in the form of the Tin Woodman or the Scarecrow or Dorothy. But did Ozma ever think to ask her? Oh, no.

Perhaps, once the princess got back from the Skeezer and Flathead situation, Lye could offer herself up for some work. Adventure at last, and for a purpose!

“Friend, buddy, companion,” she said to the palace chef as she entered the kitchen. “I fear I am overcome with hunger. I need one of your innovations and fast.”

“Ah, Ms. Opp, you flatter me, but innovation comes at the price of time and effort,” The chef said, smiling and waving his wooden spoon at her.

“Bah, so you say,” she replied. “I happen to know first hand that you are a culinary miracle worker. Surely, you must have something for me.”

“Surely,” the chef replied, “you must have skipped breakfast again.”

“Breakfast is for the weak.” She looked down at the prep table. “When you finally have lunch, you appreciate it all the more.”

“You do have a point, although some would be more than happy to chide you in your choices.”

“Feh,” she replied, “I have been chided on my life's choices for as long as I've been alive, and I'm sure there will be no shortage of scoldings as time continues to go on.”

“Well then, given that, perhaps you shall tickle my ears with your opinion.” He dipped a finger in the sauce he was preparing, and offered it to her. She took it onto her own finger and tasted.

“My friend, you have outdone yourself again,” she said. “I've never tasted anything like this. So, what kind of dish is this?”

“Perhaps you should like a tour of it?”

“Never a simple explanation,” Lye said and stuck her tongue out at him. “All right, go ahead.”

“Rice is the bedrock of this meal,” The chef explained, waving at one plate. “It is a fine and healthy thing, filling but without leaving you tired and groggy, like most breads and other starchy foods.” Lye nodded as she listened. “And that sauce you tried, that is a sweet and sour sauce with a special ingredient. No other cook in all the land of Oz has it, and lastly,” he pulled a towel off of a pile of veggies, “yes, all that!”

“Surely I'll not have room for supper with this much food.”

The chef looked surprised. “It is my job to ensure that you are stuffed to the gills. If by the time you are done eating, you are not holding your stomach and moaning about overconsumption, I have not done my job.”

“You always do your job quite well. Princess Ozma herself has said that she wouldn't trade you for all the tea in the Quadling country.”

“That is very good. For tea cannot make a pot roast as I can!”

“Perhaps you should make a side dish?” Lye teased.

“What more do you want?” He pointed at her. “I tell you, you are a fine one to talk, with the short time you spent as my apprentice.”

“They didn't get too sick,” she replied.

“Heh heh, good times. Now next....”

Dropping his spoon, the chef reached for his sifter. “Now here, is my real secret to this dish. You see, you... you...” He stood frozen for a moment, rapidly seeming to forget what he was saying. “Ah, you know what? I'm feeling lazy today.” He looked at Lye. “Go find a nice restaurant.”

“Find a nice... No!” Lye grabbed the chef by his lapels. “This is what you do. You don't do lazy.”

“Lazy! I'm feeling lazy.” He pushed her hands off. “And when Ozma comes back, tell her to fix her own dinner. I'm done.” With that, he left, and without even picking up after himself.

“This is not good,” Lye mused to herself. “A palace without a chef is like... well... a palace without a chef. Never been good with similes.” Lye picked up the food, prepared a dish for herself with what had been completed, and put the rest in the refrigerator and pantry to avoid spoilage, then left the kitchen.

“How odd that the chef would just suddenly quit like that,” she said. “I've never seen that before. I must ponder this at once!”

Lye went to her room and grabbed her green top hat, which matched her dress with the black lace fringe, and also had a pair of goggles strapped to the base. “There. Now I can properly ponder.”

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Pleading and begging, Dorothy tried to get the band from leaving again. “But they love you out there!” she said. “And in all fairness, you promised to finish this out.”

“Look, lady, they can't pay us enough to continue this job,” the cellist told her.

“Really?” She asked. “Does that mean you can do it without pay?” That got them. Without a moment to spare, they all put their instruments down and headed for the door.

“But there are people that still want to dance. And romance! Don't you understand that you're getting in the way of... of...” Dorothy sighed as the door slammed behind them.

“That didn't look like it went well.” Ozma observed.

“Perhaps someone has a phonograph?” Dorothy asked.

It turned out that someone did and lent it to the service of the party. They put on a record that contained a good variety of music and the people began to dance again.

“Dorothy,” Ozma asked softly, “May I have another dance?”

“Certainly, Ozma.” Dorothy offered her friend her hand, and they walked out onto the dance floor.

Alone with Dorothy at last, for Ervic had other matters to attend to, Ozma held Dorothy close. She nodded to Audah and Reera dancing another slow dance. Audah's head was on Reera's shoulder as they swayed back and forth together. “They're cute, aren't they?” she said. Dorothy nodded. Ozma tried to think how to offer that as a suggestion for her.

Still, even if she didn't, Ozma was having a good time dancing with her friend. Dorothy smiled the whole time, and Ozma smiled back. She slowly moved her head forward, bringing herself closer and closer to Dorothy's mouth.

And then the song changed to a lively jazz piece. “Oh, Ozma! I love this!” Dorothy backed away and started doing a fast dance. “Isn't this great?”

“Great, yes,” Ozma replied without much enthusiasm at all. “Dorothy, I need to go sit down.”

“You've been sitting all night! Come on!”

Ozma tried to do the dance moves that Dorothy was doing, but had trouble getting into them. She wondered if Dorothy was just making up those moves. She found out later that she was. Still, she worked on it.

“Fatal attraction,” Glinda said to the Wizard, who was sitting beside her, indicating Ozma. “I've see this far too often in my long lifespan. A one-sided mass of feelings, where one is trying and the other is missing the point.”

“I see,” the Wizard said. “So you believe that Ozma has feelings for Dorothy?”

“I have no doubt.” Glinda smiled. “I literally saw the shift in Ozma's feelings earlier this evening. They danced just to have fun, but then Ozma's face changed, and when Ervic cut in, her reaction proved it to me.”

“Glinda, I have to ask,” The Wizard shifted in his chair. “Two women, like Reera and Audah there, is that kind of relationship... how to say this... normal, for lack of a better word?”

“Normal?” Glinda looked at him. “Oh, no, it's not normal. But here in the fairylands, unlike in America, it's not frowned upon, either. Love, after all, is love.”

“I might have to make an effort to wrap my mind around that.” He replied. “Still, they do seem to make a cute couple. Dorothy and Ozma, too.”

“Yes, I thought so, too. Reera and Audah's attraction seems to be two-sided. I worry for Ozma though.”

Abruptly, the record started winding down, then faltered as it began to skip, then slowed to a rapid halt. The owner went to wind the phonograph, but no matter what, it wouldn't respond.

There was a loud grumbling coming from the dancers, and finally, when nothing worked to get the music going, the floor started to clear.

“Well, it was fun while it lasted, didn't it Ozma?” Dorothy asked. Ozma smiled back at her.

“Actually, it was kind of fun, once I got into it.” She took Dorothy's hand and led her to the throne.

“This has not best the best afternoon, has it?” Queen Aurex asked. “Still, I'd say the celebration was a success, in spite of everything else.”

“I agree.” Ozma looked back at Dorothy and then back to Aurex. “Perhaps we should break for the night. We have an early-morning travel and a long journey back.”

“This much is true. But I'll be glad to see you off tomorrow.” She rose from her throne, and then smiled. Ozma and Dorothy turned.

Reera and Audah were still slow dancing.

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Laughter brought Lye out of her reverie. Walking through the streets of the Emerald City, she saw a couple holding hands and laughing. She cracked a rare smile. They looked genuinely in love. Lye liked that. While she never really saw herself in a romantic entanglement, she enjoyed seeing that kind of happiness in others.

After a few moments, they became silent. They looked at each other in confusion, then dropped their hands to their sides, and both let out an audible sigh.

Strange, thought Lye. I can't be sure, but that's an odd coincidence that they just stopped doing what they were doing, just like the chef.

“Why are we together, again?” Lye heard the woman asked.

“I think it was... That's a good question. Why ARE we together?” came his reply.

“If we don't know why we're supposed to be together, then why are we?”

“I don't know,” he said. “but just being with each other seemed to be enough before. Guess we should call it quits then?”

That was enough for Lye. “Oh, no you don't!” she hurried over to them. “Listen to you!”

Eyes were now on her. “Look, I overheard what you two were saying to each other just now, but only a minute before that, you were laughing. Holding hands. That was coming from your heart. That doesn't change. Speak to her,” she said, looking at him. “Tell her how you feel.”

He looked at his lover, opened his mouth and... closed it again.

“Oh, come now,” Lye said, “Don't give me that. I refuse to accept silence.”

“What do you want me to say?” he demanded. “I feel nothing.”

“And I feel the same way,” the girl replied. “Do you have anything better to do than bother us?”

“Better to do?” Lye furrowed her eyebrows. “There is no higher call than love, nor any great activity more noble than preserving it. No, I have nothing better to do.”

The pair looked at each other.

“Look,” Lye offered, “why do you not try one more kiss. Just a kiss. See what that does.”

“Lady, look,...” the man started.

“Uh-uh, kiss her.” Lye was obviously not going to give up.

So they did. They moved in closer. Their lips touched. They held it, and softened in each other's arms. Lye grinned.

Then they stopped. “Nope,” he said. “Nothing.”

“Same here.”

Lye tried to think of something else, but it was too late. They walked away, leaving Lye alone and frowning.

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Years wore on Old Clem, the farmer, and he just didn't want to do it anymore. He got back to his house and joined the two sky fairies in the shade, sat down, and took off his straw hat. The fairies had found his farm, and he and his wife had allowed them to rest there for the moment. They'd watched him with interest as he worked in the field.

Now that he'd sat down, though, he told Polychrome he was too weak to do it.

“But not five minutes ago,” she said, “you were tilling that field like it was no effort. You seem very good at your job.”

“He is good at his job,” a cow told her. “He ain't got no excuses. He's just wantin' to take a nap again.”

“No, you ol' so and so,” the farmer replied,. “I've taken plenty of naps. Jus' right now I don't want to do anything.”

“Very strange,” Na'iya said. “Perhaps you're sick.”

“Now if I was sick,” he told Na'iya, “then I'd be sick! But I ain't sick.”

“Apparently not motivated,” Na'iya finished.

The farmer's wife, who was named Carol, came out to check on him. “Clem, you sittin' around again?”

“Dammit, woman, leave me alone!” This was said at the top of his lungs. He said a few other choice things before shutting up and looking away.

She stepped back a pace. “Clem, you ain't never talked to me like that before. What's wrong?”

“He's not motivated,” Polly replied. “But something feels wrong about that. Magically wrong.” She walked up to the seated farmer and looked at him. “Yes, definitely magic.”

“Can you help him?” Carol asked. Without replying, Polly drew her crystal out and removed it from her neck.

“Crystal, crystal, deep and bright, please restore this farmer's might,” Polychrome said, holding the crystal up to the sun. The rays spun through the crystal and onto the farmer.

“Dang, but if that ain't bright,” he said.

Bathed in light, she said, “Good farmer, you obviously love your work. You wouldn't be doing it if you didn't.”

“Yeah, you got that right.” He confirmed. “I just don't love it anymore.”

“Trust me, after I do this, you will again.” She opened her eyes all the way, and they started to glow. The rainbows flew from the crystal again, swirled around Polychrome and struck the man in the chest. His body glowed bright and filled with the colors.

“What are you doing to him?” the wife asked, holding up a hand. “Please don't hurt him.”

Na'iya went over to her. “Trust her. She's a great magic user.”

Polly said something else, once again in the language of ancient fairy sorcery. But even though they didn't understand it, it still had its effect. The light flared, and then it was gone.

“Well, Mr. Farmer,” Polychrome asked. “How do you feel?”

“Feel?” he replied slowly. “Why... I feel like...” He stood up. “Why, I feel like I could plow another two fields today. What was I thinking?\''”

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“I have to tell you, people have been acting funny lately,” the farmer told the fairies once they'd sat down to dinner that evening. “In fact, they've been doing much the same as I did. The guy that brings my seeds? Stopped loading my cart. And then it happened twice more. I'm not sure if there's any pattern to this, but judging by the way your magic worked on me, it seems like some kind of darkness is settling 'round here.”

“You would appear to be right,” Polly said. “I don't understand how someone can just stop loving something all of a sudden.”

“Clem, I just remembered, the same thing happened at the neighbors' down the road. They just stopped talking to each other.”

The farmer looked at his wife. “If that's the kind of thing that's happening, then I hope it never happens to us.” He smiled at her and took her hand. “I don't know what I'd do without you.”

Despite the setting sun, those words seemed to brighten the place up. Polly and Na'iya smiled at each other.

“So, where you two staying tonight.?” Clem asked.

“Actually,” Na'iya replied, “We don't have a place to stay.”

“Nonsense. You have my barn. Hon, go get some blankets for them.” Before Na'iya could voice his objection, the farmer continued. “I do insist.”

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Together, the fairies snuggled under the blankets. It wasn't an intimacy thing, and they agreed on that. But they knew that two bodies make it warmer.

“That was kind of a scary thing, what happened to the farmer, huh?” Polychrome asked.

“Yes. I didn't like that.”

Polly looked at him. “Do you think it was related to what we saw in the Tweet-Tweet's village? It seemed to be so similar. After all, they certainly didn't want to do anything.”

“No,” Na'iya said, thinking. “It seems to me that they were this way for a long time before this. It takes awhile to build up a society with those kind of attitudes and traditions. But that shadow thing we fought, though, might be linked to it.”

“I suppose you're right on both counts.” She sighed, then shivered. “Um, Na'iya? Could you come closer? I think I need a little more warmth.”

“I was hoping you'd ask that,” he said and slid over. She rolled onto her side and he put his arm around her.

“Yes, that's better.” She pressed into him. “Definitely warmer.”

Na'iya held her close. He liked how she felt. And he fell asleep to the scent of her hair.

Polly had nice dreams about him that night.

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Smiling, Ozma pulled the covers up to Dorothy's shoulders. “I know you might be reluctant to, but please stay in your bed tonight. You don't need to worry.”

“You can't blame me,” Dorothy returned. “I do worry about you. You're my best friend.”

“I know. But I feel that this time, I'll be okay.”

“Give me a hug, Ozma, and then you can go.”

Ozma leaned over and wrapped her arms around Dorothy, covers and all. “How's that?”

“Good. Now I can have good dreams.” She flashed Ozma a smile of her own. “And hopefully, it means you can have good dreams of your own.”

“I sure hope so,” Ozma said back. “Another night like that again, I think I'd go mad.”

“I don't care what you say. If I hear you screaming again, I'm coming for you, and I'll cross whatever hell you're in to get to you, just like I did before.”

“I don't know what I'd do without you, Dorothy,” Ozma said.

“I do, but it's not really practical to think about. Now go to bed.”

“Yes, your majesty!” Ozma teased and stood up. They both laughed. “See you in the morning.”

“Good night, Ozma.”

With that, Ozma left, but she shivered at the thought of going to sleep. Something was wrong like nothing she's ever known, and she could feel it deep within her being. Worst of all, she didn't know how she was going to fix it.

To be continued...