GRAHAM 2 PREVIEW
Posted on January 16, 2012
GRAHAM 2 copyright © 2012 Brian Clopper.
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
Graham knew the minute they arrived at the immense main gate to the realm's capital city that his trip to New Asgard would be nothing short of magical. His chaperone for this special trip was none other than Cascade's most popular guardian, The Flying Mummy. Wrapped from head to toe in royal bandages and crowned with his trademark golden asp head accessory, the hero waltzed past the city's royal guards, sending each burly soldier a rigid salute. Graham imitated his idol's gesture, guiding his hand to the tiny ridge of horns that lurked above his eyes and snapping his arm as quick as he could to his hip. He frowned, convinced his salute lacked the proper impact. The guards grinned and returned the salute all the same.
The pair of them stepped through the gate and into the city. Graham glanced at the Flying Mummy and smiled nervously. As brave a face as he had put on about tagging along with his grandfather's close friend when his mother had argued against it, he knew he was entering uncharted territory. He had never been anywhere outside of his remote gargoyle village other than to the troll village only a stone's throw away. Neither destination a place with the degree of hustle and bustle he now saw spread out before him.
Magical creatures of every stripe, shape and hue plowed through the streets with purposeful abandon, weaving through the stifling throng with experience and consideration. Not even on First Flight Day did his village population swell to such size and scope. He feared getting lost, but also nixed the idea of grabbing hold of his hero's hand. He was too old for that. He was Level Six in school and had been an experienced flyer for a year now. He did not want the pharaoh to see him as baby. The Flying Mummy had been a close friend of his grandfather's and they had apparently had several adventures together back when his grandfather had been younger and struck with a serious case of wanderlust.
Graham asked, "Grandfather really did save you from Medusa?"
The mummy's eyes flashed a brighter red. "Indeed, if it wasn't for The Great Gortle, I would've found myself the groom to that foul gorgon. Thanks to him, I was spared from a surely horrifying wedlock."
He still couldn't get used to the lofty title the mummy bestowed upon his grandfather.
The broad thoroughfare was thick with citizens going about their daily errands. He spied a griffin arguing with a street vendor over a leg of meat that looked, to his gargoyle eyes, thoroughly charred. Two firedrakes flew above, their flight paths sticking close to the pointed hat of a wizard who waltzed through the crowd with an air of superiority. If it wasn't for the magician's ridiculous choice in footwear, two bright orange boots far too large for the old man's tiny frame, he might have actually struck fear in the average passerby. As it was, all cleared a path more out of fear of being stomped upon by the boots that seemed to have a mind of their own.
The mummy chuckled as the wizard veered suddenly toward a small dryad who was staring into a store window at a display of freshly cooked brumbleberry pies. The boots trounced about, almost pulverizing the tree spirit much to the wizard's dismay. He tossed an apology at the dryad as the boots shuffled away from her and onto their next target.
The Flying Mummy pointed at the commotion. "Looks like the Wizard Robinson hasn't found the right spell to unhex his footwear. Terrible shame to be at the mercy of a pair of Combat Boots. Poor fellow, at the whim of those single-minded shoes. All they want to do is pick fights and have at the biggest brute in the room. He really should've had that footwear curse lifted by now. Surprised he hasn't swallowed his pride and asked the Wizard Bailey to remove them."
Graham watched the wizard bellow a word of warning to the large orc in his path. The boots seemed to draw a bead on the unruly oversized monster and were determined to give someone a good stomping. Graham highly doubted the orc would bear the brunt of any injury in the tussle. He wondered if the wizard had any defensive spells, but found he was denied seeing the confrontation to its bruised and bloody conclusion as his escort pushed him suddenly to the right. The pharaoh steered Graham toward a narrow side street tucked away between a very fortified looking building and a small bakery. The foot traffic looked much less in the shadows of the small alley.
The pharaoh bent low and whispered, "Stay here. Even on my day off, there are situations that require my attention. I don't think it would do to have the fair Wizard Robinson made into an honorary cobblestone by such a brute, no matter how questionable some of the mage's actions have been of late."
He wedged Graham behind a stack of empty crates and took to the air. Graham watched the hero sweep high above the crowd until he was just above the wizard. The orc had his back to the trouble-seeking boots and looked to be sweet-talking a maiden with two long spiraling horns erupting from her forehead. Graham knew how short-tempered orcs were from reading the series of novels written about The Flying Mummy's legendary adventures. Specifically, Volume Eleven, Of Mystical Sporks and Feisty Orcs. It had been a book he had read numerous times over.
The pair of firedrakes spiraled protectively above their apparent master, unwilling to intervene on his crash course with the orc. They did, however, glare at the airborne pharaoh as he violated their air space. The fierce stare the mummy fired back scattered the wannabe dragons.
The mummy swooped down and grabbed the wizard seconds before the boots were on the orc. He whisked the wizard high in the air, using centrifugal force to keep the hostile footwear from giving him a lethal drop-kick. It was clear the boots felt thwarted. They pin wheeled about. Graham couldn't hear the sky high conversation, but judging by the wizard's scowl, he was none too happy at having anyone come to his rescue.
The mummy arced high and then plummeted to the ground swiftly. He shifted the wizard's body to bear the brunt of the impact, specifically the boots. Their trajectory would put the brutal landing at a relatively open area near the main gate.
The mummy scolded Robinson, "Keep your legs stiff. Let those infernal footies of yours take the blow. It might be enough to – "
The wizard reluctantly complied.
The boots slammed into the cobblestones. The mummy yanked the wizard up as quickly as he could, hoping to lessen the bone-shattering impact. Both the wizard and mummy sprang away from the ground and landed in a heap at Graham's feet.
The wizard pushed his rescuer off and ranted, "How dare you lay your filthy hands on me. I had the situation under control."
The Flying Mummy stood and brushed himself off. "Now, now, Robinson. Simmer down. I was doing you a favor."
Behind the two, a pair of royal guards from the gate raced toward the ruckus.
The wizard wiggled each leg, scrutinizing each boot carefully. Neither boot acted possessed at the moment. Apparently, the mummy's little trick had knocked them silly. Rather than be pleased that he was now in control of his ability to walk, the wizard tore into the mummy. "A favor? Slamming a fragile old man into the ground is what you call a favor? Maybe that how they do it in your savage desert homeland, but back in merry old England – "
The first of the guardsmen arrived, a meaty, apish creature with large compound bug eyes. His head swiveled about, taking in both combatants. "Here, here, what's going on? A disturbance of the peace at the main gate? Have you two lost all sense of manners and respect?" The guard glared at the wizard. "Wizard Robinson, has the city not already cited you twice over your walkabout with those dreaded boots on? Why haven't you rectified the situation? Seems to me any magic cobbler worth their salt could free you from those persnickety shoes. And if not, I know the Wizard Bailey can divorce you from them in a jiff."
The wizard rose to his feet, stomping each boot resolutely, his pride at being once again in charge of his stroll quite evident. Graham wondered just how long the magic boots would stay knocked out.
The other guard, a thin goblin whose loose armor rattled at his wide strides, arrived on the scene. He placed a blue hand on the wizard's shoulder and smiled approvingly at The Flying Mummy. "Come along now, Robinson. Best get you away from any other pedestrians. Your track record with managing those cursed boots of yours isn't spectacular and you know it. As it stands, we can close out this incident with a minimum of paperwork. I don't see anyone who has been injured by your little public stroll. No stepping on any dragon tails this time and that's a good thing."
The guard eyed the wizard's firedrakes who had returned and were snorting derisive clouds of smoke at him. He ignored the feeble attempt at making a scene and addressed the pharaoh, "Many thanks for intervening. We saw what was unfolding from back at the gate, but couldn't get there fast enough. Saved us from wiping up after a possible 8-13. We'll need you to sign off on a few things, routine stuff, but you know that already."
Graham could tell the mummy smiled, despite having the lower half of his face wrapped tight in sacred linens. "Of course, Grimguld, of course."
The Flying Mummy took to one knee as the guards guided the still miffed wizard toward their post at the gate. "Graham, I'll just be a minute." He glanced up at the storefront they found themselves next to. He reached into his belt pouch and slipped two coins into the gargoyle's hand. "Have a look-see inside this fine bakery and buy yourself a nibble or two. I'll be back shortly."
Graham smiled. "What's an 8-13?"
The mummy stood and started walking toward the gate. He looked over his shoulder at the young gargoyle. "Orc on a Rampage. Be glad that didn't transpire. I'd never hear the end of it from your mother if that gruesome display was your first taste of the big city."
Graham weighed the coins playfully and entered the bakery, taken aback instantly by the savory aromas that called the interior atmosphere of the store home.
The sweet smells assaulted him as soon as he entered the shop. While his nose wasn't as bloodhound sharp as his friend Ot, he wasn't as bad off as some gargoyles in his village when it came to sniffing out delicious treats. He always knew when his mother baked brumbleberry pies before his sister and was the first one to the kitchen on those occasions. His adequate sniffer led him to the rack of danishes cooling in a display case by the window. His eyes feasted on the numerous flavors available: Brumbleberry, Cinnamon, Strawberry, Lemon and Lava Beetle. He wondered exactly what type of customer was so daring as to eat a danish containing the highly disagreeable insect, when he was distracted by the wall display of crullers and donuts to his left. Pastries of all types were stacked one atop another in neat little rows. He counted twelve trays of donuts and four trays of crullers. Each tray was dedicated to one mouth-watering flavor after another.
As he approached the tray loaded down with chocolate topped donuts, he overheard the elven cashier at the counter yelling into the back room. She was dainty and wore a green skirt and tunic. The small cap on her blond head did little to hide her long, slender ears. She smiled at Graham as she chewed out the worker in the back, "And make sure you don't overdo it on the sprinkles this time, Hugo. Business isn't exactly so hot we can go overboard on the toppings, all right?"
A deep, throaty voice acknowledged her from behind the closed metal door leading to the back room.
The elf said, "Any treat catching your fancy, kind sir?"
Graham looked around to see the gentleman she was talking to. The shop was empty except for him.
The elf raised her voice. "Hey, shortstuff, you hungry for some of our fine confectionaries or what?"
Graham saw she was talking to him. He looked away from the window of donuts and smiled nervously. "I do intend to make a purchase, miss. Just searching for the right snack. They all look so good."
The elf flashed him a wide smile that felt altogether insincere and disappeared behind the counter to retrieve something. He heard her open a drawer and sift through its contents. "Fine by me, little stony fella. Good to know you gargoyles do more than eat lava and suck on pebbles."
Graham replied, "What? Where'd you hear that? We eat normal things like fruits and vegetables."
"And apparently the fatty snack on occasion, right?" She popped up from behind the counter and deposited a stack of napkins next to the register. She adjusted her hair net and waltzed over to Graham. "Can't say I've ever seen one of you guys in the flesh." She poked at his orange belly. "Your lot is a bit reclusive, aren't they?"
"Hey!" he protested.
She withdrew her slender finger and flashed him an embarrassed look. "Oh, you're soft and squishy. Thought you'd have rock hard abs. Of course, your skin is a little like sandpaper." She plopped her probing finger in her mouth to cool the self-inflicted brush burn on her fingertip.
She turned her back to him and set forth to straighten a rack of breads. "Just grab my attention when you're ready, sweetie? Say wave those cute little adorable wings of yours when you've decided, and I'll be right with you, okay?" She reached to pat his wings.
He twisted away from her so she couldn't grab hold of them. He was furious at having his wings described as cute. He had flown higher than any in his class on his First Flight and over the past year earned the admiration of almost everyone in his village with his impressive flying ability. All except Blord and his band of stooges treated him with respect. He was disappointed in himself for lumping the elf's curiosity in with the foul bully. He looked at the gentle elf. How was she to know he was still a little sensitive about his tiny wings? He had thought with the intense work out he had given them every day since his First Flight they would have grown a little. No such luck. They were just as small and dainty as before. His father called them hummingbird-strong, probably the closest his dad had ever come to a compliment. Graham would take what he could get in that area. He didn't exactly care for his dad comparing him to such an insignificant bird, but he also knew he would never draw comparisons to the eagles and hawks of the world. He'd have to settle for speed and agility over might and size.
"Touchy little guy, aren't you?" She returned to her spot behind the counter, looking wounded.
Graham lied. "Sorry, they're still a little sore from flying all night to get here. This is my first time in New Asgard." He left out the part that he had spent most of the flight on the back of his hero, The Flying Mummy.
"First-timer, huh? Well, make sure you go see the palace. It's a real gem. And you got to get down to the harbor. There's always someone making a scene at The Jolly Merman. It's a little fishy down there, but nothing a big strapping fellow like yourself can't handle."
Graham smiled. Despite getting off on the wrong foot, he liked the elf. She was plucky and headstrong. She reminded him of his sister. "I'll try. Thanks."
The elf smiled. This time it was sincere.
The door to the shop opened and Graham saw two children enter. One was a goblin and the other was a mystery. She had a hood on and it was pulled far down. He could only see her lips and small chin. Her skin was a light green, he could tell that much. She hung her head low and whispered to her companion. The goblin waved at the elf and disappeared behind the large rack of fresh bread with his hooded companion in tow. Both wore ragged, layered clothes that identified them as from a lower caste. Probably street urchins or beggars. Graham wondered if they even had the money to buy a single pastry.
The elf apparently wondered the same. She looked unnerved by the new customers. She made a show of hollering back to Hugo. "Getting pretty busy up here. Got some customers."
"Yeah, well take care of them, Lil. I'm up to my elbows in dough and losing the fight."
Graham saw Lil's face tighten. Hugo had basically announced he was tied up and not available to help.
Graham couldn't see the pair of ne'er-do-wells, but their whispering grew more intense. What Hugo had said pleased them. Graham was getting a bad vibe from them. Was he about to witness a big city crime? Where was his escort? Would the mummy arrive in time to put a stop to whatever misdeed was about to happen?
He looked at the door. As far as he could see, his bandaged escort was nowhere to be seen.
The goblin approached Lil. The elf tensed as the scrawny boy slapped his hand down on the counter. "Fine morning to you, little one."
"A good morning to you, young sir. What can I get you and your companion?"
The goblin leaned against the counter and looked back at the hooded girl. "What did I tell you, sweetie pie? See what a warm welcome we're getting from this fine business. I could tell that was what we were in for the moment I spied this delightful bakery – top-notch service with a smile."
The hooded girl nodded. "You can certainly spot a good one."
The goblin traced his lean index finger lazily on the counter. He didn't look the elf in the eyes until he ended his sentence. "We are in dire need of everything you've got in your till!"
Graham tensed. The goblin's words couldn't be mistaken. He wanted what was in the register. His steely eyes narrowed as he stared down the elf. Graham slipped behind the bread rack. Had the robbers seen him? If they had, they clearly judged him not to be a threat. He again looked outside to see if his escort was returning. The Flying Mummy was still a no show.
Lil stood frozen, overwhelmed at what was unfolding.
The goblin dropped his cool composure and snapped, "The cash box, you cow. Hand it over." He kept his voice low enough so Hugo in the back wouldn't catch wind of what was happening under his nose.
The hooded girl moved closer. Something wasn't right with her. Graham swore he heard hissing coming from under her hood.
The goblin glanced away from his companion. "Looks like she's not going to be any help. Work your magic, sweetie."
The girl dropped her hood and Graham saw her for what she was. A nest of snakes for hair, the scaly skin, the concealed eyes – she was a gorgon, daughter of Medusa. Graham knew the magic was held in the gorgon's eyes. With her back to him, he was in no danger.
Lil, however, had not taken her eyes off the girl. Graham saw the elf had been turned to stone, her tiny body fixed in a frozen cringe.
The goblin slipped around the corner, ignoring the statue next to him. The gorgon returned the hood to her head and joined him. They opened the drawer and removed the cash with experienced hands.
"Jackpot, Cassie. We really hit it big this time. Who'd have thought this little place would be such a gold mine." The goblin stuffed the bills and coins in a shoulder sack. The gorgon did the same. In less than a minute, they had completed their transaction and were heading for the door.
The goblin shouted loud enough for Hugo to hear, "Much obliged. I'll be sure to send my friends a callin' to your fine establishment. Can't say enough about your excellent service. You folks really care." The two thieves raced out the door.
Hugo called back to them. "Thank you, kind sir. Word of mouth is always appreciated."
Graham held his breath a moment longer. They hadn't seen him and they were getting away. His brow furrowed. He needed to act. He stepped out from behind the bread rack and approached the stone elf. He poked at her skin. It was as hard as his grandfather's. He looked out the front window to see the two culprits darting down a far alley. The goblin wore a carefree grin.
He whispered to the elf. 'I'll make this right."
Just then, Hugo chose to grace the front with his presence. With flour still covering his forearms, the immense ogre barged in through the back door. It scraped against the elf, almost knocking her over. Graham reached out and steadied the statue.
Hugo caught sight of him and the open cash drawer. His face drew back into a grimace. His eyes played over Lil and her stony condition. "Gargoyle, what have you done?"
Graham backed away, angling himself toward the front entrance. "It wasn't me, sir. It was a pair of street urchins. They came in and turned her to stone."
Hugo roared. The long hairs on his back stood. Graham knew that ogres were overall gentle creatures unless backed into a corner. Then, their berserker natures took hold and what resulted was never pretty.
"You did this? You turned my darling Lil into stone?" The ogre lunged at Graham. His bulk crashed into the rack of bread. It clattered to the floor, spilling loaves everywhere.
"No, it wasn't me. I'll show you. I know where they went." Graham stumbled out the front door with Hugo emerging right behind him.
The young gargoyle took to the air, his wings a blur. He zoomed high and then arced toward the alley the real thieves had used.
Hugo bellowed, "Stop, thief!" The ogre tripped over a family of gnomes and fell to the cobblestones. His double chins slammed into the hard stone roadway. He waved a fist at Graham." Guards, help me. That little pipsqueak turned Lil into a statue with his freaky gargoyle magic."
Graham wanted to correct the ogre, tell him that gargoyles didn't have any magic, but knew it was not the time or place. He looked over at the rapidly approaching squad of guards. His escort was not among them. He knew if he stopped to explain himself to the guards, the trail would go cold. He needed to go after the goblin and gorgon on his own.
Decisively, he flew into the tight alley, disappearing around a bend in hot pursuit with no inkling what he would do when he caught up with the two young felons.
Flenn knew she shouldn't be snooping around in her brother's room, but she felt justified in her little crime. After all, her father had allowed Graham the privilege of going to New Asgard without her. She fumed, knowing such a trip was wasted on her brother. He'd probably spend the whole time gazing up at his idol and not at all the breathtaking wonder around him. She had studied so much about the city as a Level Three student that she could draw a map of it from memory. Her brother was a homebody. Why did he get the chance to expand his horizons and not her? She was the one who wanted to strike out and see all of Cascade. She thought to her future and what her adult life would be like. She'd leave the gargoyle village, maybe petition to be an ambassador for her people. They were closed off from Cascade. No one represented them in New Asgard, despite being asked to send an emissary by Odin himself on three separate occasions. With her people's laid back nature, it was a wonder they had ever worked up the nerve to leave Earth for Cascade. She was sure many on the council hated the inconvenience of having to pass through a dimensional gate when it was time for them to ascend a church and take their rightful places as guardian statues.
She refocused her effort on finding the scroll. She knew Graham still held onto it, having seen him take it out to the woods at least twice since their grandfather had passed. She had tailed him one night and watched him step through the open gate only to return a few minutes later appearing equal parts sad and overjoyed. With him away, it was her turn to use the spell. If Graham, Mr. Straight-And-Narrow, could break the rules and cross over to Earth then she could too. Their father would be dismissed from his spot on the council if Graham were ever caught. She really wanted to see what drove him to commit such a risky crime. She suspected he was visiting their grandfather in his resting place and was jealous he hadn't invited her to come along. Probably didn't want her to get in trouble.She went through his bookshelf, looking behind each book. She thought she had found it behind the first volume in The Flying Mummy series, but the tiny scroll hidden there was for a spell designed to increase the size of a creature's wings. She recalled when Graham had sent away for the silly spell. It had been an ad in the back of a Flying Mummy comic book that had spurred him to purchase such a spell. She had told him it was a scam, that no magic bought through the mail could help him with his tiny wings, but he hadn't listened.
He had tried the spell in the bathroom every night for two weeks before finally abandoning it. Why had he kept it? She slipped it back in its hiding place and moved onto the closet.
She abandoned her search of his impossibly disorganized closet in less than three minutes, empty-handed and growing nervous. Her parents were due back from their night out in half an hour. If she didn't find the scroll soon, she'd have to call the whole mission a wash. She refused to do that. When would her brother be away from the house overnight ever again? It wasn't like he ever did any sleepovers and she knew he wouldn't suddenly become a world traveler and set out to see the three other major cities in Cascade.
It was now or never. She glanced around the room, wondering where he would hide such a large scroll. Rolled up, it would be awkward to stow away. It suddenly clicked. Storing it rolled up would be too much of a hassle. Unrolled, it could be kept flat and take up much less space. She spied her brother's prized wall hangings. A small poster of The Flying Mummy leading the Eternity Guard in battle against the Zombie King hung over his desk. She thought it too small to cover the scroll, but checked it just the same. She carefully removed the two lower thumbtacks to find a pink school referral slip tucked away. She read over it. Her brother had apparently stood up to Blord in the playground yet again and earned himself another lunch detention. The bottom of the slip was unsigned. She checked the date. Three days ago. He had kept it secret from his parents so he could go on his trip. If he had shown them this, their father would have surely grounded him indefinitely. She frowned, disappointed she hadn't found the referral earlier and used it to her advantage in some way. She slipped it back behind the poster and affixed the tacks in their original holes.
The large poster of The Flying Mummy battling Professor Scarab mounted above Graham's bed was certainly big enough to hide the scroll. She hopped up onto his bed and removed the four thumbtacks along the bottom. She lifted up the bottom half and hit paydirt. The parchment was taped to the wall halfway up. She slipped under the poster, leaving the bulk of it to flap down over her wings, and slowly pried the scroll from the wall. She removed the tape with care, placing the six strips of clear tape on the edge of Graham's desk so they could be reused upon her return. She unfurled the scroll and confirmed it was indeed the teleportation spell needed to open and close the gateway. She raced to her room to retrieve her sandals, a lava beetle lantern and a light jacket.
As she zipped up her jacket, she eyed the living room clock. She had twenty minutes. It would be calling it close. While in her room, she had unlocked her window in case she would need to sneak back in. She quickly wrote a note complaining of a tummy ache and how she was going to bed early. She left it on the kitchen table and hoped they would not bother to check up on her. That might buy her a few minutes. She went out the front door, being careful to lock it. The will-o'-wisp floating about in the porch lantern tsk-tsked her. She squinched up her face and stuck out her tongue at the light pixie. Thank goodness the little creature couldn't talk or it would surely squeal about her absence.
She glanced down the main road leading to the village. It was so rare that her parents took time for themselves, that Flenn knew her mother would squeeze every last second out of the evening, much to her father's dismay. He hated going out in public, a trait he shared with Graham. She frowned, once again peeved that her brother was receiving such an undeserved reward.
She struck out into the forest, swatting to the side the vines and branches that crowded in tight. The path to the summoning stone was more overgrown than before. She kept the scroll tucked safely away in her jacket. No sense trying to read it on the way and risk skewering it with an errant branch or thorny vine.
Behind her a tall, barrel-chested gargoyle stepped out of the shadows and grinned. His black eyes tracked her progress through the thick underbrush. The gargoyle rubbed his hands together, his thoughts flush with cruel intent.
Satisfied Flenn had just enough lead that he wouldn't lose her, Blord stalked into the forest.