Casey stared at the rejection slip. The fourth--or was it fifth?--this week.
'Although your story is well thought out and your characters are delightful, we're sorry to inform you that we are not buying fantasy right now. Good luck with your endeavors.'
Not buying fantasy. No one was buying fantasy. Naturally, fantasy was what Casey wrote. She crumpled up the slip and tossed it into the trash can beside her desk. It hit the top of the mountain of discarded paper and rolled off, landing lightly on the carpet along with a dozen of its cohorts.
The computer screen stared into her face. Wangaia: Takeover
, somewhere around the halfway point of chapter eleven. Useless words, over 50,000 of them would scroll past her if she pressed her PageUp key. 50,000 words, six months of her life, the outpouring of her soul for the past half year. 50,000 words that no one would want to buy because fantasy isn't selling.
She clicked the close button and the word processor screen disappeared, leaving a desktop cluttered with assorted icons in its place. Why even bother writing the rest? No one was going to buy it anyway.
Oh, but it was a good story. She stretched and rose, shuffled over to the counter between the kitchen and the living room, and looked at the stack of bills, reminders, and collection agency notices lying there unopened. They were all good stories. Well thought out and with delightful characters. Characters that lived in her head, breathing and eating and sleeping and doing battle and making love through her days and right on into her dreams at night. Characters no one but she and her email critique group were likely to ever meet.
The phone rang. She glanced at the clock--10 AM right on the nose--before picking it up.
"How'd you know it was me, honey?"
"You call every morning at 10. Who else would it be?"
"You sound down, what's the matter?"
She didn't want to say it, but what kid could lie to their mother and get away with it? So she braced herself for the lecture that was bound to happen and said, "Wangaia got another rejection. It came in this morning's mail."
A deep sigh sounded through the receiver, accompanied by the crackle of electric static. Casey glanced out the back window. The sky was black and foreboding, an image right from the Vatas’ Mountain, the most mysterious realm in Wangaia. The realm which was also a central location of a useless sequel, which was bound to sit 50,000 words undone on her hard disk forever.
"Sweetie, I know how you love to write, but don't you think you were a little premature to quit your secretarial job? Writing full time is something only successful writers can do."
"I am a successful writer." It wasn't quite true, not anymore. She'd sold a romance novel a number of years ago, but it didn't do all that well, and she'd never even seen any royalties. It went out of print quickly, and she hadn't sold anything since but a few short stories.
"Why don't you call your old boss, ask him if he needs someone part time? You have to eat, dear."
The stack of bills on the counter screamed at her. Listen to your mother!
Jim Laffeter would probably hire her back. He was the grandfatherly sort, always watching out for his people. It wasn't really a bad job--just not part of her dream. She knew his business had been growing slowly but steadily, and had heard through the grapevine that they were looking to expand again. They were going to be needing people for the new office that would open right in her own home town. Why were mothers always right?
She swallowed the tear that leaked down the back of her throat. "I . . . I'll give him a call after the storm passes, Mom." Casey wasn't normally a cryer. She just felt so drained, so tired.
Her mother gave her a few comforting words that she half-heard. The crackle of the approaching storm grew louder, and they agreed that they should get off the phone before it came too close. She'd just let go of the receiver when the first bolt struck. It hit close--real close--and the rumble of thunder that followed immediately on its heels shook the house. Hail clattered against the shingles like machine-gun fire. Another lightning bolt streaked through the sky and hit somewhere in the woods behind the house. The crack as it exploded sent electricity zapping through the air around her, and her hair stood on end with the static.
Her whole house was suddenly charged.
The cat raced across the living-room rug, sparks flying off its tawny fur.
Casey giggled. "It's okay, Zimmer," she called after the slender tail that had vanished beneath the old overstuffed chair near her desk, "It's only a storm."
Only a storm. A third crack of lightning hit close, and sparks flew like blue fire around the room. One hit the computer on the desk, and the hard drive rattled and hummed of its own accord.
"Whoa!" Casey raced across the carpet, and the static charge tingled up her legs, through her body, along the back of her neck. As she reached the desk, her word processing program popped up before her. The sequel to Wangaia was staring out at her, at the very place where she'd left off writing.
She reached for the power button. Zimmer darted out from under the chair and clung, frantic, to her leg.
"Hey, what's up with you?" She hauled him into her arms, hugging tight and rubbing her face on his short, cougar-like fur. She waited for his soft Abyssinian purr, but it didn't come. He was trembling. "You're not usually afraid of storms, silly."
Casey shifted the cat to her left arm and once again reached out to switch the computer off.
Zimmer cried out.
Lightning shrieked from the sky.
Her hand contacted the computer.
The world exploded!
* * *
When Casey came to, the first thing she noticed was that she was wet. Soaking wet. What in the world had happened? Had the lightning blasted a hole in her roof? She lay there for a moment, clutching something warm and trembling to her chest. Zimmer--she still had hold of the cat. He shifted slowly--at least he was alive. Oddly enough, the tremble didn't seem to be a tremble after all--he was purring.
Her head hurt miserably. Evidently she also was still alive. Was that going to be a plus, or a minus? She squeezed her eyes tighter shut, afraid of what she would find when she opened them. Feeling out from the pounding in her head, she searched for additional pain--for burns or missing limbs or other dramatic effects that a lightning strike may leave on a person's body. To her surprise, there was nothing--nothing but wet. As it dawned on her that the wet was actually warm, her eyes flew open.
She immediately wished she'd kept them closed.
A man stared down at her, concern lighting the depths of his deep blue eyes. His black hair hung long and straight around high, chiseled cheekbones. Full, firm lips curved up in a slight smile, touching his sun-bronzed face with a hint of relief.
"Ah, you are awake, lass. I had thought I might lose you for a moment there. Are you in pain?"
"Where the hell am I?" Casey shot to a sitting position, clutching Zimmer tightly. Thick, crude woolen blankets fell around her and the chill air hit her soaked clothing and made her shiver.
He chuckled softly. "Safe, now."
Casey looked around. She was surrounded by large stretches of hide on three sides, held up by crude poles freshly hewn from sapling trees. The front of the tent was open, and the rain poured down in flowing gray sheets before it. It hit the ground and streamed away from the tent opening, which told Casey that whoever set this camp had done so on a rise. She tried hard to peer through the pouring rain, to see into the distance, but all she could make out was a darker shadow through the gray that loomed in the distance. Even though it was unclear, its shape was vaguely familiar. Familiar enough to give Casey's stomach a nauseous turn.
Zimmer settled contentedly in her lap, purring and kneeding with his slender paws, as if this was where they had been meant to be all along.
Her strange companion was seated on the ground before her, just at the edge of the pile of blanket-covered-straw that made up Casey's unusual bed. He was dressed in rough-hewn breeches and a pull-over shirt of dingey-white. The stitches that held the material together stood out coarsely, reminding her of a badly-patched stuffed animal. The cloak he wore draped over his broad shoulders, though faded and worn, was made of silk and velvet. Had he stolen it? Casey's searching gaze finally rested on the long, naked dagger in his belt.
"What . . . what place is this?" The words didn't want to come out, and when she finally forced them they sounded cracked and dry.
"You do not know?" His voice was deep and resonant, and his eyes glinted mischievously as he spoke.
She shook her head. "How did I get here?"
"There was a lightning strike, and I heard a scream. I never have been able to resist the sound of a woman in distress." He grinned broadly. "I found you lying beside the stream at the bottom of this hill, where it runs from the meadow into the forest, clutching that animal to you. You were unconscious."
"Well, uh-- I suppose I should thank you." Her head was spinning, but she resisted the urge to shake it to try to clear it. The throbbing headache would never let her get away with that. "So, thank you. But you didn't answer my first question. Where am I?"
He frowned and peered closely into her face. "You have been injured more than you appear to be. This place is called Wangaia-- "
Casey didn't hear the rest. At the sound of the name of her fabricated fantasy world, the spinning in her head overcame her, and Wangaia turned black.
The sounds around her were the same as before, the rain beating against the canvas, the distant rumble of thunder. Distant. The storm was moving away, at least. Warmth radiated toward her from somewhere on her right, and with the heat wafted a spicy aroma. Casey's stomach rumbled, and she once again braved the frightening task of opening her eyes.
Yup, he was still there.
Gareth Dôn--she was certain it was him, after all, hadn't she created him?--bent over the iron cauldron that hung from a spit above a small cookfire. Casey had no doubt it was rabbit stew she smelled, and from the looks of her cat, who sat straight with whiskers quivering alongside the man, it was almost ready to eat. Gareth ladled a small amount onto a scrap of leather on the ground beside him.
"Careful now, small one, 'tis hot." His rich voice was precisely as Casey had always imagined it would be.
"Is there enough of that for me?" Her own voice, however, sounded hoarse and foreign, and her throat was sore.
He spun to face her. "Ah, I see you've finally decided to join us again. I am delighted. Are you in pain, does your head still hurt you?"
Casey reached up and felt her head. Her short strawberry hair was dry, and it caused her to realize that her clothing was as well. How long had she been out? She looked down at herself and jumped in surprise. Her clothing! She was dressed in a coarse gray tunic, girded at the waist with a broad belt that appeared to be made of horsehair. The dress was long, if she stood it would have reached her ankles, and ragged at the bottom. A peasant's frock. What had happened to her jeans and tee shirt?
"Where are my clothes?" She looked up sharply as Gareth Dôn approached, a wooden bowl filled with steaming stew in his hands.
"Why--on your back, young woman." He looked around the tent. "Had you other clothing, a pack, perhaps? I sincerely hoped that you were not robbed before I found you. Rascals abound in these parts. . . . "
"No, no, I guess not," she interrupted and accepted the food from him. "I'm just, well, a bit confused."
"That is understandable." He retrieved a second bowl of stew and returned to sit beside her. "I can find no wound, no bruising, but I think that you may have taken a blow to the head. You slept for several hours, and I was beginning to be concerned that you might not awake, although you seemed to be sleeping comfortably enough."
Casey took a mouthful of the stew. It was delicious. He had laced it with spices that gave it a hot tang which burned ever so slightly on the way down. There were wild roots and greens, and thick chunks of whitish meat. "Rabbit?" she asked, stirring through the bowl to examine the contents.
"Partridge," he answered, frowning slightly. "Are you sure you are not in pain?"
She looked up, brows raised. Rabbit stew was the Wangaia standard, and Gareth Dôn's favorite concoction. "Partridge?"
He nodded and scooped up a heaping mouthful. "Do you dislike partridge?" he muttered through the stew, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"It's . . . it's very good." It was. She took another bite, wondering how the story had managed to take a turn she hadn't written. Her thoughts startled her. How could it possibly feel so normal, so natural, to be sitting here eating stew with Gareth Dôn in a tent beneath a rainstorm? This entire world didn't even exist!
"Gareth. . . " she began, hesitating, looking up at him cautiously.
His spoon halted abruptly just in front of his mouth. He pressed his lips together and scowled, lowering the utensil to his bowl. "How do you know me?"
Should she avoid the question? Beat around the bush? Or just plunge into it? Heck, what did she have to lose?
"I invented you."
"What manner of sorcery has confused your mind? Or are you simply mad?" He scooted backward, just out of her arm's reach, his face a clouded mask of distrust.
Casey took a deep breath. Okay, she'd gone this far. Get it all out at once. "My name is Casey Reese, I'm a writer, and I was about to turn off my computer because--"
Her mouth hung open for a moment. His face was still half in scowl, but one brow was raised in doubtful curiosity. "Um, nevermind, that's not important. But I got hit by lightning. That's the last thing I remember till I woke up here in Wangaia, which I created--I said I was a writer, right?--and which doesn't really even exist." She took another deep breath and watched him, waiting for some sort of reaction.
He nodded. "Mad. That blow to the head must have been harder than I had thought. 'Tis a wonder I can find no bruise."
This wasn't going very well.
"Oookay. Let's try a slightly different approach."
One side of his full mouth curved upward in half an amused smile. The distrust and doubt still shadowed his features, but he seemed more comfortable dealing with madness than the thought of sorcery. Of course he did. Gareth Dôn hated sorcery in any form. It was through evil magic, after all, that Annur Rath had stolen his home and family from him. She would have to be careful. Find out where in the story she had landed, and see if there was any way to find her way back to her own world.
An odd thought sent shivers up and down her spine, and she placed her stew, barely touched, on the damp ground. Her own world. Would she ever get home? And for that matter, did she even want to?
"Are you ill?" He was watching her, the distrust fading, the caution moving aside for a hint of compassion.
God, but he was handsome. Casey sighed, the hopelessness of her situation nearly overwhelming her to tears. She'd always had a bit of a crush on Gareth, from the moment she'd really gotten into the first draft of the first novel. She'd written him as her dream-man, after all. The perfect hero, strong but vulnerable, fierce but tender, spurred on by driving anger and passion that flamed a woman's fantasies. So why not simply forget about her own world, stay here with him, write the story from within. After all, wasn't this the culmination of her dreams?
She swallowed hard. No, her dream was to be a successful writer. And even though she'd failed at that, she didn't belong here. Maybe she didn't belong anywhere.
He rose to his knees, leaned closer to her, and placed a hand, cool and solid, on her forehead. "There is no fever." He raised her chin, looked into her eyes. "Your gaze is steady--I do not believe you have broken your skull. Are you nauseous?"
"Yeah," she replied, forcing a hoarse whisper past the hopeless lump in her throat. "A little. But it's not from my head, it's from my heart."
"I do not understand."
She sighed and gave herself a shake. "It's, it's not important. I was just feeling sorry for myself, as usual."
Gareth looked at her, a soft and strange expression in his eyes. "Yes, I know how that feels. Some have much to be sorry for."
An odd feeling of resolution rose up her spine, and tingled at the back of her neck. Where else was there to go but forward? Here she was, stuck in her own story, and she suddenly had a strange sense of thankfulness that she'd decided to outline this one from start to finish before she began to write. She knew how the story turned out--knew each plot twist along the way. There was no way of knowing if following the story to its conclusion was going to help her get home--but what else could she do?
Zimmer, finished with his long and thorough post-partridge-
stew bath, rose suddenly and trotted to her. He climbed into her lap, placed his paws on her chest, and butted his forehead against her cheek.
She hugged him tight. "You think so, too, eh?"
"What does he think?" Gareth eyed her doubtfully, the certainty of her insanity clear in the glint of his gaze. He spoke softly, almost condescendingly, his head tilted to the side as if he were talking to a child.
Casey couldn't help a chuckle. "He thinks that you're a very good cook, and I guess I'll finish my stew now."
He smiled and reached over to stroke the cat. "I thank him. He's a pleasant companion--would that I had such to travel with me today, as I leave my home and lands."
Casey nearly choked on her stew. Leave? No, no, that wasn't right. She thought back on her story, tried to fit the current scene into the plot. Gareth was camped on the rise overlooking Caer Dôn, that she could see, and that must mean he'd just come from seeing Vatas and was about to try to steal into the castle and abscond with Annur Rath's crystals. What was he talking about, "leave his home and lands"? First the partridge, now this. Something was wrong.
"You, you can't leave Caer Dôn."
He glanced at her suspiciously. "What do you know of my plight? What stories have the peasants hereabouts been telling? I know you are not one of my . . . one of Caer Dôn's people, why have you come to this area?"
She had to think fast. At the moment he just thought she was insane--he seemed to be able to deal with that. If she let too much slip, though, he was liable to get suspicious of magical doings, and that would put him off. It had only been through sheer desparation that he'd agreed to try Vatas's suggestions after she'd forced a confrontation.
Okay, Vatas. Good. He'd been to see her, so she might be able to use that. "I'm a servant of Vatas," she began cautiously, "She sent me to help you."
"Who is Vatas?"
Casey stared. Who's Vatas? Only the mentor figure in this story! Only the one that helps you find the confidence you need to take on the sorceror Annur Rath! What do you mean who's Vatas? "I . . . um. Vatas, the Sorceress? Guardian of Wangaia?"
"I know no such person, and if you are in league with a Sorceress. . . . " His hand went to his dagger and his eyes turned to blazing blue ice.
"You don't know of Vatas?" She kept an eye on the dagger hand, and sank back to her haunches in the blankets and straw. "But everyone in Wangaia knows of Vatas. Most trust her--except of course for you. She was supposed to help you, she gave you three tasks that would help you gain control over the evil Annur Rath." His glare did not warm, but his jaw untensed ever so slightly, and a tiny spark of hope rose in Casey. "You really don't know what I'm talking about, do you? Something is really wrong here."
When he spoke, his precaution was tinged with pity. "You are mad, you truly are. Obviously you have heard of my plight, and now you babble of things nonexistant. Your illness has spared your life, pitiful girl. My plans were to head south, far from this realm. But I know of an asylum--"
"Asylum! I don't need an asylum! I want to help you!"
"How can a madwoman help me?" He seemed almost amused.
If there was no Vatas in this twisted version of Casey's fantasy world, perhaps there were no crystals, either. But she knew that was the first task Gareth was supposed to accomplish, to remove the tool Rath used to channel and magnify his mind-
"I know where Rath keeps a set of crystals. Much of his powers are centered around the control of other peoples' thoughts, right?"
Gareth nodded slightly. "How do you know this?"
"That's not important."
"It is to me." His grip tightened on the dagger's hilt.
Casey rummaged through her brain for something, anything, that would give him reason to believe her. "Have you heard that madmen dream dreams?"
"Everyone knows that. What has it to do with my plight?"
"I . . . I dreamed of you."
He scowled, dark and distrusting, but let go of the dagger. "I will listen, but I will not hesitate to run you through if you give me reason to. What did you see in this dream?"
Well, that was better than nothing. "I saw--" Casey dug back through her story, through the outline she'd followed to write it, prayed that no more of the details had changed too drastically in this version, "I saw you, happy and well-loved, living with your sister and her children in your ancestral home of Caer Dôn."
He nodded. "Go on."
So far so good. "Your servants were content to work for a kind master, the townsfolk around you were treated well by you, and loved their Lord dearly. Because of your family's good name and your benevolence, you'd become one of the most loved and successful landowners in Wangaia."
He gave a grunt of approval, and sat back upon the dirt tent floor to listen, arms crossed over his raised knees.
"Annur Rath's family, though, had squandered and lost most of what they had held in generations past. His grandfather, in particular, was a lewd and greedy man who destroyed the Rath reputation, lost their holdings to gambling and bad judgement, and Caer Rath and its surroundings had fallen into ruin. Caer Rath lay empty these past thirty years, no one knew the whereabouts of the survivors of the family." She watched his face, waited for some sort of signal that she was on target. It was a mask of angry stone. Good enough.
She went on. "Then, a short time ago, a man came into your widowed sister's life. He was tall and handsome, had an air of nobility about him, and she fell instantly in love with him. After two years of grief over the loss of her husband, she was lonely, vulnerable, ready to marry again. You distrusted this man, suspected his true identity, and that he was controlling your sister somehow by dark means."
"Annur Rath is an evil creature, a predator, and he cares not how he kills his meat." The red had risen into Gareth's face, hatred for the man who had destroyed his home and family flashed across his features.
"But you didn't know he'd been working masking spells for a long time before he approached your home. For some reason they worked on all but you--your servants, your stewards, all the townspeople loved him, and they began to see you with disfavor because you spoke against this man. You were accused of wanting to prevent your sister's happiness, of wanting to hoard all the Dôn holdings to yourself and not share them with her or her kin, of the same sort of greed and dark thoughts that had destroyed the Rath family two generations before."
"I was a fool. I waited too long to act. By the time I stood against him physically, tried to put him out, my whole household had been turned against me. I was seized on my way to attack him and thrown bodily out of my own home, by my own guards. He had their minds in his evil grasp."
"And as soon as you were gone?"
"My sister was forced to be his concubine, her children put to work in the scullery, my people bent to slave labour under his taskmaster's whip."
"And now you must find a way to regain your home, to save your family."
He laughed derisively. "Now I must leave these parts, and try to make a meager life for myself elsewhere. My life here is forfeit. Rath has all of the local people watching for me, hunting, with instructions to kill me. I cannot fight against sorcery."
"But no, that's not right. Gareth Dôn wouldn't give up just like that."
"Gareth Dôn knows when the battle is hopeless, girl. There is nothing I can do."
"But there is! The crystals! If you get them, you can destroy them. He'll lose his hold on everyones' minds without his tools. He's not much of a sorceror after all--just a wannabe."
"Wan-na-bee? I do not know this word. Is this some sort of apprentice?"
Casey smiled. "Yeah, something like that. So--the crystals? I know where they are, are you game?"
"Rath seems to think I am game, for he sports with my life as a hunter stalks a trophy stag. He would mount my head and hang it upon his wall likewise, if he had his desires." Gareth's expression darkened with anger and a touch of fear. "How do you know the location of these crystals, or for that matter that they even exist? Did you see this in your dream as well?"
Casey nodded. In a way it was actually true, although the dream had been a waking one. She could see the suspicion in Gareth's mind, however. It colored his face with shadows, and his eyes watched her with no glimmer of trust in their expression. "I know you have no reason to believe me. But isn't it worth taking the chance, if you might be able to get your home and family out of his clutches?"
"Clutches? You speak very strangely, woman. To me, 'clutches' are eggs in a hen's nest. But truly, Annur Rath hovers over what should be mine like a broody hen, snapping at any hand that tries to free one of the eggs from the nest. Unlike a hen, however, Rath's snap is deadly. Would that I could snatch him out by the leg and wring his scrawny neck--then I would pluck him and gut him and toss him into the stewpot." He folded his arms atop his knees and rested his chin on them. His eyes roved over Casey, searching her face, examining her expression, as if hunting for any reason to believe her. He must have seen something, for he finally said, "Where are these crystals?"
Casey couldn't believe she was actually doing this. Under the cloak of darkness, they had slowly approached the back of Caer Dôn, to the point where the stableyard gate stood locked against the night. She felt as if everything was backwards, the story writing her instead of the other way around. So far, the physical details of the castle and its surrounding holdings had given her no surprises--they were all as she had so carefully written them. She held her breath as she sifted through the thick ivy that hung on the fortress-like wall. Despite the fact that she kept telling herself that Gareth makes it through this part of the story unscathed, she felt uneasy and afraid. There was no Vatas--there should have been a Vatas and the stew should have been rabbit. According to her plot outline, Gareth, alone, should find the passageway where Vatas told him it would be located, and no confrontations would occur inside the castle.
Of course, in her original version, when he gets to where the crystals are supposed to be, there are no crystals, too. But Casey had an advantage that even Vatas didn't have in the story. Casey knew where Rath had moved the crystals to.
It was there. Beneath the ivy, four strides from the northwest corner of the stableyard wall. Right where she'd written it.
"Here," she said, and took Gareth's hand in hers. She guided it to the latch. "This is the way in, but I don't have the strength to force the door. It's not bolted, but hasn't been used in centuries."
He snatched his hand back. "How can you possibly know more than I about my own ancestral home?"
"The dream, I told you." She pulled at the ivy until the moonlight shone upon the hidden portal. "Come on, try the latch."
"If this is a trap, I promise that you will die at my blade before I die at theirs."
"Please believe me, it's not a trap!"
"I do not believe you. But I have no choice but to find out for myself."
The ancient metal creaked and groaned under the force of Gareth's strength, but finally the ring turned. The hollow clang of an inner bolt sliding back came from within the wall. Gareth shoved hard, grabbing Casey and dragging her through alongside him.
Firelight glared in her eyes, blinding her. A burly arm was around her throat. She felt cold steel dig through her tunic and press against her ribs just below her left breast.
"Traitorous wench!" Gareth hissed in her ear.
"Ah, Dôn, just the person I've been waiting for!"
The voice was nasal, rodentish, and when Casey's eyes adjusted to the torch glare, she was greeted by the sight of half a dozen guards, swords drawn, and the sneering, drawn and paste-white face of Annur Rath. Just as she'd described him in Wangaia.
"No!" she gurgled past the tight grip of Gareth's stranglehold. "I didn't write it like this!"
* * *
"Gareth, if I had betrayed you to Annur Rath, why would he have thrown me into the dungeon with you?"
The chains rattled as he turned angrily on her. For the moment she was thankful for them, actually--they were probably the only thing keeping him from throttling her.
"I do not know, perhaps to try to win my trust again so that he can deceive me further!"
"You're in a dungeon chained to a wall, for God's sake, why on earth does he have to deceive you further?"
"How am I to know the workings of such an evil mind? Perhaps just to torture me, moment by moment, until he finally puts me to my death! I cared for you, I fed you, I took you into my tent and I followed you trustingly--to what? To this! My end!"
"I swear, I didn't deceive you! I had no idea he'd be on the other side of that doorway. He wasn't even supposed to know there was a doorway there!"
"It seems that the only person who knew about that passage through the wall was you. It is clear that you told him, as you told me. What sum has he paid you for my bounty?"
"Nothing! I am not working for him. Damn, I wish there were a way to make you believe me! What reward could he have offered me that would have been worth this?"
Gareth was silent. His brooding eyes turned toward her for a moment, and then looked quickly away. But she'd seen enough to know they were filled with doubt and confusion.
Casey tried to lean her head back, to give her neck some rest, but the position of her arms prevented it. Her shoulders ached, and her arms had lost all their feeling. Rath's soldiers had chained them, in a seated position, side by side. That, she was thankful for, because the heat of Gareth's body where it pressed against her side was the only thing keeping her from shivering in the dark, dank cold. Gareth's backside was firm against the floor, but Casey dangled slightly, her arms and body just short enough to keep her from reaching the ground. Their hands were bound together with thick iron bracelets, and then chained to a single ring in the wall above them. She was almost relieved that her arms had gone numb, because the metal shackles had cut into her wrists and before the numbness there had been pain. A lot of it. Not something a 20th century writer was exactly accustomed to. She drew her feet toward her and tried once again to take some of the pressure off her arms and shoulders. The shackles on her ankles were chained to a ring in the floor, and there was no way she could bring them in close enough. She let her breath out in a shudder of pain.
The dungeon was damp and moldy, dark but for the torch that burned in the sconce just outside the barred window of the thick, wooden door. She turned to Gareth and realized he had been watching her struggle. His face was a mask of red firelight and black shadows, and she couldn't judge his expression.
"You're bleeding," he said, and his voice was surprisingly soft after the fury of the moment before.
"I don't exactly reach the ground," she replied, trying to hold back the whimper of pain that wanted to accompany her words, "My weight's causing the bracelets to cut me."
"Can you lift yourself, just slightly?"
"I . . . I think so, why?"
"Just do so."
She fought the numbness of her arms and forced them to bend. The effort raised her body up an inch or two. Gareth, whose legs and body were far longer than hers, was able to bend his knee, and he quickly shoved it beneath her.
"There, lower yourself. That should help."
When she did so, she found herself sitting on his thigh, the pain in her back eased, and her position much more comfortable. For the moment. She was pretty certain that wouldn't be the case once the feeling started coming back into her arms, though.
"Why would you do that for someone you believe betrayed you?"
"Because," his breath was warm on the side of her face, "Even if you did betray me, it seems you did so only to be rewarded with your own death. Perhaps I simply have a weakness in me to take pity on the hopeless."
He had turned slightly toward her, and the new position had him much closer than she was comfortable with. His warmth soaked into her, and she fought the thoughts that teased her, the wish that he could put his arms around her. He was a fictional character, for heaven's sake! She was just working on convincing herself that she was simply delerious from fear and confusion, when it struck.
The blood had reached her wrists.
"Oh, God." She shut her eyes tight and fought the urge to faint. The pain ran like fire down her arms, throbbing and pulsing, each beat more furious than the beat before.
"It hurts," she moaned.
"I feared this. It will ease, just be still. It will not go away all together, but it will ease."
"I.... " the word turned into a groan, the pain so great that she could no longer formulate whole thoughts. The fire in her arms made its way to her brain, and she began to black out. Somewhere from a distance she heard her own voice cry out in agony.
"Shhhhh--" his lips pressed against her neck.
The shock of that was worse than the pain. Her breath caught in her throat, she forced herself to cough in order to start breathing again. Her eyes opened, and the room was once again there around her. The fire was still there, but steady, no longer shooting up and down from her mind to her hands and back.
She turned to face him, nose to chin, and stared into his face. "Did you just kiss me?"
"I see it worked."
"You were going into shock--fainting would only have increased the pressure on your wrists as your body sank. I attempted to refocus your attention away from the pain."
"Oh." The disappointment she felt over the coolness of his words was absolutely disgusting.
A sound from the corridor drew their attention toward it. Casey stiffened, listening, trying to identify the noise. Something was scratching on the wood of the door. She stared out the high, barred window--nothing could be seen that would make the sound.
A tawny, furr-covered face appeared. Casey jumped, sending arrows of pain down her arms again.
"Zimmer!" She struggled, fought her chains to go to him.
"Please, sit still," Gareth complained, "You're pinching me."
"Sorry, it's Zimmer! How on earth did he get here?"
"Obviously, he followed us."
"Row?" The cat reached a paw through the bars, clawing toward Casey and Gareth, trying to get to them. He pressed his muzzle against them, tried to force his face through.
"They're not wide enough, kitty," Casey said, worried that he would get himself jammed in the door. What would the guards do if they came back down and found a cat hanging in the doorway? She didn't want to think about it. "You'll never get through."
Zimmer, however, had no concept of too-narrow spaces, and continued to press. With an impossible thrust, his head was through, then one foreleg and shoulder. He reached around, clawing against the wood on the inside of the door. The sound of his hind nails scrabbling against the wood grated on Casey's nerves like nails on a chalkboard.
"Oh, God, he's stuck," she whined.
He was, but only for a moment. The front claws found a hold in the rough, rotting wood of the door. He pulled himself forward, inch by inch, until the other shoulder popped free. Once that was accomplished, it was a simple task to pour the rest of his body, like feline liquid, through the gap. He shook himself, sat and licked at a sore shoulder, and then trotted over to his human friends.
"Prrrrt." He rubbed against Casey's shackled feet, hopped to her shins, and rail-walked the length of her legs to her lap.
Gareth shook his head in wonder. "Would that we were cats! These shackles would not hold us. What other tricks does your little friend know?"
"I didn't know he knew that one!" Casey wished fervently that she could free a hand to stroke her purring companion.
Zimmer sat, content, seemingly oblivious to his mistress's predicament. His eyes were half-closed and he purred loudly, kneeding Casey's thighs for comfort.
"Well, i'nt that cosey."
The gruff voice at the door jolted Casey's attention from the purring cat in her lap. Keys jangled, grated in the lock. It opened with a creak and a groan that spoke of long disuse, and a fat, bearded guard entered. He carried a tray, which he placed on the floor beside Gareth. A second guard, then a third followed him into the cell, each holding pikes at the ready. One stood on each side of the prisoners, the heads of their weapons leveled at Casey's and Gareth's throats.
The bearded man continued to taunt. "All cuddled up in his lap, with your cat an' everything." He paused, his keys in his hand, and scowled till his face turned pink. "How'd that cat get in here?"
Neither Casey nor Gareth spoke.
He shrugged. "M'orders is to free your han's long enough for you to eat. 'E wan's to keep you alive just so's he c'n kill you his'elf." The man snorted with laughter as he clicked the key in the shackle locks.
Casey's arms dropped like lead, spearing her with bursts of flaming pain that made her dizzy all over again. Nausea grabbed her stomach in its grip, and she bent forward to try to stem its flow. She clenched her teeth tight against the wave that nearly overcame her, and against her instinct to cry out with the pain.
Gareth, whose wrists were marked and bruised but not cut, reached forward to help her.
"Nah y'don't!" the guard to his left warned, and thrust the pike against the side of Gareth's neck. "Keep those hands in yer lap till we're out o' here!"
Casey remained leaned forward, Gareth froze in place, and the guards began to back cautiously away.
"Y'think it's a demon or somethin'?" one of them asked as they reached the door.
"What're you talkin' about?"
"Th'cat. I'nt natural. Wasn't here when we locked 'em up."
"Probably jest a cat. We'll tell his Lordship about it, though."
The door banged shut, and the key once again echoed in the lock. The footsteps of the guards disappeared down the hallway.
"Lass, are you all right?" Gareth reached out and began to rub Casey's shoulders, using light, gentle strokes that were ever so careful not to hurt.
She sat up, shuddered with the surge of pain the movement caused. "It's getting better, a little. Thank you, that helps."
Despite the irrational urge to stay in his lap, soaking up his caresses forever, Casey slid to the floor and moved closer to the ankle chains. She bent her knees, pulling her feet beneath her, and with difficulty and no little pain, stood and stretched.
Zimmer and strolled over to examine the contents of the tray. He sniffed at the scant plate of stale bread and moldy cheese, made a pass over what appeared to be mugs of dark beer, and then turned to scratch the floor in a mock-act of burying feces.
"Well, that says much about the quality of our meal." Casey wrinkled her nose in disgust at the sight of the so-called food.
Gareth said nothing, did not even look at the tray. He was watching Casey, sadness in his eyes.
"What?" she asked, when she noticed his gaze.
You did not betray me, did you?"
She shook her head. "I tried to tell you that."
"And now you will die with me, although none of my troubles have whatsoever to do with you."
She frowned, tried to push down the fear that rose within her. "Well, let's not think about that. Let's try to figure out a way out of this mess."
"Casey Reese? Who are you, truthfully? I know now what you are not. You are not a traitor, and I also do not believe, in my heart, that you are truly a madwoman. But what are you? Are you this sorceress, Vestal, that you spoke of in my tent?"
Casey, despite the dire situation, couldn't help a smile at the misuse of the name. "Vatas, not Vestal. Hardly Vestal. But no, I'm not her. She was just another character in my original story."
"Story." He picked up a hunk of the old bread and began to munch on it. "Again, you speak of stories. I remember what you said earlier, but I do not understand."
"Neither do I, Gareth, neither do I." She winced at the thought of eating the stale food, but decided that his course of action might be wisest under the circumstances. No way would she touch that cheese, though. The bread was old and dry, but with a sip of the stale, flat beer she was able to wash it down. She fervently hoped it would stay there.
Once he had eaten, he, too stood. The disuse of his legs made them shaky, and he staggered. Casey reached out and grabbed him around the waist to steady him. His arms slipped around her, and he chuckled softly.
"What's so funny?" She asked, looking up into his dark features, and not letting go.
"Funny? No, lass, nothing is funny. I laugh only at the irony of our position. At any other time, I might actually be enjoying this."
She sighed. "Yeah, being in chains and possibly minutes from death kinda puts a damper on things, doesn't it."
"Never mind." She released him, with no real excuse to hold on now that he had his feet firmly under him. "Who knows how long those guards will give us to eat. Damn. If there were only something--anything--we could do now, fast, while we have the use of our hands."
As cats often will, Zimmer took that moment, with spoiling food fresh in his mistress's stomach, to relieve himself. He chose a spot not far from the tray of food itself, where there was a soft depression in the crumbled stone of the floor. Even he must have assumed his leavings were more pungent than they should be, for when he was done he began to dig energetically in an attempt to cover them. Crushed and rotting stone and dirt flew everywhere, as he formed a shallow hole in the floor.
Casey muttered, "Sorry 'bout that," in apology for her pet's indiscression, and tried not to notice the slightly annoyed look on Gareth's face. Zimmer continued to dig. Scratch, scratch, scratch, clink.
Clink? Both Gareth and Casey turned toward the cat.
Again, scratch, scratch, clink.
"There is something in that hole other than what Zimmer deposited there," Gareth said, and dropped to his knees. He stretched forward, peered into the hole, and wrinkled his nose against the smell. "Yes!" He reached in, braving the chance of finding more than whatever it was that clinked, and came out with a small object.
It was a nail. An old, rusted, crudely fashioned nail which had most likely been a part of the shackles of some prisoner of decades gone by. He stared for a moment at the object in his hand, and then shot his bright blue gaze to Casey's face.
"I do believe I shall get myself a cat." He went immediately to work first on his own anklets. The lock that held them chained closed and together had a keyhole just large enough to allow the entry of the nail. He bent over it, working furiously at the inner mechanism, twisting, prying, prodding, until SNAP. The lock fell open and he was free!
Footsteps sounded down the corridor. The jangling of keys, and rough laughter and jesting approached. Gareth dove for Casey's feet.
He stabbed the nail into the lock.
"Just kill it!" a guard's voice said, tinted with laughter. "Just kill the damn cat! What a wonder our Master Rath is! Why didn't we think of that?"
"'Cuz we're louts, you lout!" The sounds of one soldier thumping another on the back, and then laughter were almost outside the door.
Two of them, it sounded like only two this time.
Gareth frantically worked at Casey's ankle bracelets. The lock wouldn't come undone.
"Damn, hurry!" she whispered.
"It won't work!" He was near panic.
The guard's keys rattled and clanked.
Gareth spun toward the door.
A key clicked against the lock.
He shot Casey a desperate look. "Trust me!" he mouthed in silence.
She nodded, and he dashed, hunkered low, to the doorway. The key rasped, the bolt slid back. The door opened.
Guard number one entered.
Gareth moved like a striking panther!
Before the man knew what hit him, he was on the ground. Gareth had the guard's blade out of it's sheath, and in one swift motion it was sunk to the hilt in the fat of its owner's chest.
"Wha-- Arrrrrr!" Pike raised, the second guard rushed him.
Crouching low, Gareth ducked under the weapon.
Before Casey could react to her terror, both guards had been dispatched.
Gareth snatched the key ring from the dead man's girdle and rushed back to Casey. He fumbled at her shackles, and they snapped open.
"Come! We must away from here swiftly, before the third guard should choose to return and sound the alarm!"
He'd grabbed her hand and tried to drag her toward the door. Casey was frozen in place, staring white-faced at her first real look at death. She'd written it into her action fantasy stories half-a-hundred times, but that did not prepare her for the reality.
"Oh, jeez--" she whimpered, and her knees went weak.
"Lass, there is no time for squeamishness now!" Gareth scolded. He swooped down to snatch up Zimmer as they rushed by the cat. Casey was being literally dragged forward against the inability of her own legs to move.
Once past the doorway, it was like a barrier had broken. Casey began to run, putting behind her the image of the two dead men lying on the dungeon floor. They'd run down one corridor, turned, and headed up another when she asked, "Where are we going?"
"Why, out! There is a back entrance to the lower levels, just down--"
Casey put on the brakes. The force of her rather large companion hitting the end of her reach nearly yanked her arms from their already stretched and pain-filled socket and tears sprang to her eyes. "No!"
"No!?" He turned and stared at her. "No!? What do you mean, 'No'?"
"The crystals! We're inside--we have a chance to find the crystals and free your holdings from Rath's influences!" She turned, started back toward the heart of the castle. "Come on!"
Gareth pulled her up short. "Lass, my holdings are lost, my family stolen from me forever. Rath has already won this battle."
"No, how can you give up?"
"I have no choice! You see that he knows, he sees, what we do--he was at the gate to meet us when we tried to steal into the palace. How can I win against sorcery?"
"I don't know. But we have to try! I know where the crystals are--they're in a small, hidden alcove in his bedroom."
"You mean my bedroom. I know the alcove, I kept important records there."
A shout rang from the direction of the cell. The third guard must have discovered his companions' bodies.
"We have to hurry. Once he sounds the alarm, will Rath come to the dungeon to investigate?"
Gareth scowled, glared down the corridor toward the sound of the shouting guard. "Yes, I would imagine so."
"Then come on, up the side hall and the stairway at the back of the castle! We can get to the alcove before Rath traces us, and be out of here with the crystals in no time." She started down a small corridor to their left, dragging him behind her.
"How do you know about the back stairway?"
"I told you. I wrote it!"
The stairs were narrow and dark, lit only by a torch in the corridor at the bottom and another whose light flickered from somewhere above. Casey raced up them with far too little caution. Halfway there, she stumbled in the darkness, and her knees cracked audibly against the stone of the steps.
"Damn!" She rose, rubbing them and fighting back the tears that stung her eyes. "Now I have knees to match my shoulders." Her soreness only slowed her slightly, and in a moment she and Gareth were peering cautiously into a deserted hallway. Another stairway could be seen at the end of the corridor, and it was to that they headed at a quick but silent pace.
On the second story, Gareth turned left, toward a large, solid oaken door. He grabbed the latch and tried to turn it, but it was locked tight.
Grinning, he reached beneath the girdle that bound his tunic tight around him, and pulled out a set of keys. "There is an advantage to breaking into your own home." The first key he selected fit effortlessly into the lock, and within a moment they were in the room.
Casey limped directly to the heavy tapestries that covered the back wall of the large, elaborate chamber and pulled them aside. Behind was a large panel, quite like the others that made up the walls of the room, but which was receded just a fraction of an inch further. She pressed the moulding on the side of the panel, and it slid to one side, revealing a cleverly hidden latch. She pulled at the latch, and the panel slid open. As it moved aside it revealed a set of shelves. Casey's hand automatically went for the one where the crystals should be. She stopped short, staring. Her breath caught for a moment and then whooshed out in a startled gasp.
There on the shelf was a ink-jet printed stack of computer paper. The title on the front read Wangaia: Takeover
Impossible. She flipped through the pages, whose edges were ragged and torn. There among the printer ink, were pen-scrawled changes, crossouts, additions, all in an unfamiliar hand. A tin of black ink and a quill pen lay on the shelf beside the manuscript. She turned quickly to the section about the door beneath the ivy, and sure enough, someone had scribbled in the part about Gareth and Casey (Casey! How did they know about her?!” being met by the guards. Back a few pages, to the scene at the tent . . . and there before it was a handwritten scene of Gareth discovering the woman’s unconscious form beside the stream. She looked back at the title page, and saw that her own name was circled in ink, the date on the manuscript circled as well.
“Brrrt.” Zimmer scrambled from his place in Gareth’s arms to the shelf, and rubbed his lips against the well of ink, and then head-butted Casey in the arm.
“What is it?” Gareth asked, hoarse-voiced and apprehensive.
She showed the stack of papers to him. “See? My story.”
“Story.” His face turned ghost white and he swallowed loudly. “Yes, your story.”
“I don’t know how he got it, I don’t know how....” She stared at the manuscript again, pointed to the inked in changes. “This is how he’s done it, though, all the things that have gone wrong. See, he’s rewriting the story.”
He shook his head. “I do not understand.”
“I know, neither do I. It’s totally impossible.”
Faint shouts from below, and the clanging of an alarm bell startled Casey out of her shock. She grabbed up the pages, the closed tin of ink, and the pen. “Let’s get out of here!” She started for the door.
“No, wait!” Gareth headed her off and pulled the door shut. He locked it from the inside and tucked the keys back into his girdle. “This way.” In a far corner of the room, he pulled back the tapestries and revealed another recessed panel. A similar latch to the one Casey had used opened a hatch at floor level, just large enough for them to crawl through. Zimmer darted through the opening ahead of them, Gareth shoved Casey before him, and after he was through he closed the hangings and hatch behind them.
Casey stumbled through total darkness down a steep flight of stone steps. She had known the escape route was there--Gareth had used it in the first novel to escape raiding invaders from the Northlands. She struggled to remember if she’d written it into this story at all--did Annur Rath know about it?
“Gareth, wait. I need some light.” She stopped short, and he stumbled into the back of her. His quick arms around her were the only thing that kept her from plummeting down the stairs.
“I have a feeling we wouldn’t be going down these stairs unless Rath had written it into the story himself.”
Silence descended. Then the sound of hands on stone, as Gareth searched the walls for a torch sconce.
“Here, wait one moment.” The spark of flint flashed in the blackness and a moment later the dark gave way to yellow, flickering firelight.
Casey sat on the steps.
“We haven’t much time.”
“I know,” she said as she flipped frantically through the pages. “Here, I was right.” There on the page were crossed out paragraphs, and a scene written in ink that had Casey and Gareth doing precisely what they were doing. And at the end of the scene, Rath was once again waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Casey read a few choice segments aloud.
“So we’ve fallen into his trap again.” Gareth stared in anger at the cluttered pages.
Casey uncovered the ink and dipped the pen. With broad strokes she scratched out the words at the bottom of the scene. Then she wrote:
Annur and his men stood, waiting, at the base of the secret stairwell. Suddenly, from above, came the sound of shouting guards.
“Here! They are back here!”
“Damn!” Rath swore. He’d been tricked! Dôn and the girl hadn’t taken the hidden escape route after all! “Don’t just stand here, you fools!” he screeched at the guards and gave the man behind him a shove. “Back down the corridor! They are making for the rear exit!”
In a confused clamour of clattering weapons, Rath and his party raced up the corridor.
Soon, there was silence at the bottom of the secret stairs. A moment later, the escapees appeared in the opening, and raced swiftly through the shadows behind the great hall, across the courtyard, and through the hidden doorway into the safety of the forest.
* * *
“Oh, God, I hate revisions!” Casey stared at the mess Rath had made of her manuscript. He’d written chapters, including pages of agonizing detail describing Gareth’s grisly death at his hands. She’d been scribbling and scratching out with the ink pen, and had managed to rewrite them to the point that they were again in Gareth’s tent on the mountainside overlooking Caer Dôn. But there was too much, much too much. The nib of the pen scraped the bottom of the ink well. “Nearly empty, damn! I’ll never get all this fixed!”
“You had best hurry, Casey.”
She glared at Gareth. “It took six months to get this far on this book. How can I undo chapters of Rath’s writing--which is atrocious, by the way!--in a matter of--”
On the slope below them, torches glowed. Casey rushed to the opening of the tent, and the faint tinkle of harness drifted up the hill to her, accompanied by the distant, muffled shouts of men.
“Oh, great! How did he--?” She went back to the manuscript, flipped ahead a page and found it. The men on the way to the tent--in Rath’s version, it had been to search for damning evidence, so that he could justify the torture and death of Gareth Dôn to anyone who questioned it. Thanks to Casey’s alterations, he would find them in the tent instead. Why hadn’t she continued with the scene she’d altered? Why hadn’t she written Rath into some sort of inescapable trap?
Back to the opening. They were definitely coming closer. The torches glared brighter, the voices louder. The jingle of the harness now rant out a Clang-clang-Clang-clang two-beat rhythm of trotting hooves.
“Hurry!” Gareth, his blue eyes blazing with fear and anger, nudged her back toward the manuscript. “I do not know how you did this, witch. Nor do I like the sorcery you employ. But it is obviously the only way to save our hides at this point!”
“There’s not enough time!” She frantically scraped at the ink well, drawing up just a drop into the nib of the quill. “Or enough ink!”
“You’re out of ink!?” Gareth grabbed the well and stared into it.
“I’m sorry, I should have put in an order for more!” She snapped. “You wouldn’t have any laying around here, would you?”
“I am afraid that ink was not one of the supplies I thought to pack when I was fleeing Caer Dôn for my life!”
The harness noises grew louder by the moment, and the drone of voices could clearly be heard.
“Casey, what will we do?” Gareth moved to the tent opening again.
“Someone’s there!” The shout came from below. “I saw a shadow in the tent door!”
The lantern light had given them away. The sounds came faster now, cries of attack and clanging weapons.
She stared at the nearly empty pen. “I don’t have enough! I can get maybe one sentence--”
One sentence. One sentence with a pen, anyway.
“They’re coming closer! I might be able to hold them off for a moment, but I will surely die in the process!”
“It’s taken care of,” Casey said almost calmly, and began to write:
And then, the magic of the universe came to their aid. In the tent with a flash of light appeared Casey’s computer, fully powered by the starlight!
“Aaaagh!” Gareth shouted and rushed toward the object that had flashed into being, his sword raised high.
“No!” She darted between her hero and his savior. “I did that--stop!”
He stared at her. “What is it?”
Casey knelt before the monitor. It was there, just as she’d expected--her altered manuscript. She backtracked to a point before Rath had begun the changes, which showed in strike-out and red letters. Where, where? There! She placed the cursor at the point in the manuscript just before where Gareth would have gone to see Vatas. Holding down the Shift key, she paged all the way to the end of the text. Over two chapters were highlighted.
The sound of horse’s hooves and shouting soldiers was nearly on top of them.
Casey jumped to her feet, threw her arms around Gareth’s neck, and kissed him soundly on the mouth.
“Brace yourself, handsome. You’re about to go into reverse. But I promise you, this story will have a happy ending -- if it’s the last thing I do.”
Reluctantly, she peeled away from him and returned to the keyboard. “And it just might be.”
She hit Delete
Casey glanced at the brand new grandfather clock, with it’s sun and moon face and gold trim, as the phone rang. A quarter to ten. Couldn’t be Mom. She picked up the beeping electronic handset and said a cheerful, “Hello?”
“Hi, Casey, it’s Angela!”
“Hi, Ange. To what do I owe the honor this early on a Monday morning?”
“Did you read the Times yesterday?”
“No, you know me. My only link to the outside world is the Internet.”
“Well, listen to the book review.” Angela’s voice took on a practiced over-the-phone-promotion-expert tone as she read.
“'Casey Reese’s Wangaia: Takeover, sequel to her best-selling Wangaia, wears well the badge of quality borne by its predecessor. Reese has the uncanny, almost magical, ability to take characters and make them leap off the pages, taking on a life of their own, in a way that few writers can accomplish. She draws you into the story from the first page onward, until you almost believe you’re standing on the hillside overlooking Caer Dôn with Gareth, breathless with fear as he battles his enemy Annur Rath, and melting in his arms when he finally wraps them around the sorceress Vatas in the book’s highly satisfying conclusion. Kudos to Ms. Reese: her readers wait with bated breath for book three!'
“Talk about your glowing reviews! Case, I don’t know what possessed you to revamp Wangaia
and ask me to send out the rewrite instead of the original, but you certainly called it. ”
Casey smiled and rubbed the old, healed scars on her wrist. “Let’s just say that inspiration struck.”
Zimmer meowed loudly and leaped into her lap, as a distant rumble announced an approaching storm.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 12.04.2010
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