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Sometimes A Great Potion
Chapter 1

           His Spirit Sword clanking against his thigh and his golden locks with brown roots draping his heroic bronze
shoulder pads, Fabio Antilus Xalander strode into the Palace Business Support office with a cheery, “Good Morning,
wage slaves.”
           Myron, the Chief Wage Slave, adjusted his shackles as he came to the order counter.
           “Hello, Fax. We don’t often see you. You working for a living now?”
           “Horrors! Don’t be insulting.” Fabio Antilus pulled a parchment from his tunic and unrolled it on the faux wood-grained countertop. “I need fifty copies of this immediately.”
           “OK, come back tomorrow afternoon.”
           “Not soon enough,” Fax replied. “Gotta have them by three o’clock today.”
           “To make fifty copies by then, I’d have to pull monks off of other copying jobs. The boss would whip me with a cat-o-six-or-seven-tails. Maybe nine. No thanks.”
           “Use some of your pustulant postulants. It doesn’t have to be illuminated, just legible. But get it done by three.”
           “Cost you extra.”
           “How much, total?”
           “Oh, six Quackmas.”
           Fax reached into the pouch on his belt and pulled out a rare and valuable (on the black market) platypus bill.
           “That’s a pretty big bill,” said Myron. “Don’t you have anything smaller?”
           “Finish by three,” said Fax, “and you can keep the change.”
           “Alright.” Myron picked up the parchment and quickly proofread it. “But not a minute before.”
Fax turned and strode manfully out the door, his silver lamé kilt swishing across his kneecaps. He crossed the courtyard as quickly as possible without attracting attention. Once inside the Dragonitory, he pushed open the door to stall number 16.
           “Horst! Wake up!” He gave the sleeping dragon a nudge with his foot. “Get your saddle and harness on. We have work to do.”
           “I haven’t had breakfast yet.” Horst’s muted voice came from somewhere under the pile of hay pulled over his head. “Bring me a couple of sheep, will you? Over easy.”
           “I don’t do room service.” Fax lifted the woven harness off the nail on the wall and tossed it to the dragon.
           “Sheesh!” the dragon said. “Not even some orange juice and a small Continental breakfast?”
           “Sorry. All out of short Frenchmen,” Fax said. “We’ll stop at a fly-through window and buy a Flappy Meal.”
           “At least give me a minute to brush my fangs,” Horst said. “I always have dragon’s breath in the morning.”
           “Later. This is time-dependant. Now hurry up, or I’ll beat you like a rented unicorn.”
           Horst knew better, of course. When the Electro-Magnetic War destroyed modern civilization a century ago, it also heated the Lower Caves of central Europe enough to hatch the relatively few long-dormant dragon eggs that were still fertile. As one of the survivors, Horst could have his pick of Masters. Nothing said he had to hang around with a ne’er-do-well. In fact, laws passed by the Democratic Party of the World protected endangered species from exploitation. However, there was something about Fax and his picaresque exploits that always amused Horst. So he stayed. And flew on command.
           Fax cinched the straps under the dragon’s belly and climbed into the saddle. Horst stepped onto the takeoff ramp attached to the open window as Fax shouted “Giddyup, ol’ Horst. Hi-yo, argentum. Aloft!”
           “Where to?” Horst said, flapping his great wings. “The Pleasure Faire at Novatium?”
           “Sounds good. But after you cross the hills, and we’re out of sight, turn and head for the Partonian Mountain Range.”
           “Change course to a heading of two-six-niner?” Horst said. “OK, I copy five by five.”
           “And hurry,” Fax shouted over the rushing airstream.
           “Roger that, boss. Full throttle. Running on all six wings. Claws to the metal. I feel the need--The need for speed.”
           “Could we please dispense with the fighter jet banter,” Fax said and resolved to stop letting Horst watch old twentieth-century movies with him on the crank-operated Moviola.
           “Roger that. Preparing to maintain radio silence. On my mark. Three, two,…”
           “Just shut up and fly,” Fax said.
           “Over and out,” said Horst. “Sheesh!”


           Horst lowered his landing claws and drifted downwards through a low-lying cloud. “On glide path. On course,” he said to his rider. “Touch down in approximately two minutes.”
           “Land on the big rock near the cave entrance,” Fax said. “I hope she didn’t run out to the store or someplace.”
           “She’s in there. I can smell human witches a block away,” Horst said. “I think it’s all those herbs. Now please sit up straight and stow any carry-on items beneath the saddle until we come to a full and complete stop at the landing pad.”
           “Provided you do come to a complete stop. I still remember that trip to the S.S. Therillia.”
           “That was not pilot error! There was a minor 1-point-6 earthquake just as I tried to grab the landing arrest cable.”
           “An earthquake at sea?” Fax said.
           “It happens.” Horst folded four of his wings and glided onto the top of the great flat rock, his claws scraping to a stop.            “We hope you enjoyed your flight today. We know you have a choice of dragons and….”
           “Maintain radio silence,” Fax ordered as he slid from the saddle. “I’ll be back soon. Provided I get out alive.”
           Approaching the cave, Fax watched the swirling mist curtain obscuring the entrance. It first turned blood red, then became a raging wall of flame. The flames turned into fiery claws, grabbing at his cloak as he drew nearer. Suddenly a horrible Carradine-ish face appeared, blood dripping from its mouth and oozing from its eyes.
           “Prepare to meet thy doom,” a deep Wellesian voice proclaimed. “You are but one step from dying the Ten Thousand Deaths of Endless Agony. Beware! Bewaaaaare!”
           Fax took a deep breath and extended his arms, his fingers grasping the awful and awesome face before him. He ripped the fearful visage asunder like cotton-wool, then stepped through the mist and into the cave.
           Regal, majestic, and awe-inspiring, the Sorceress stood at the altar, her stately, though slightly Rubenesque, body turned away from him. Atop the altar was a small fire made of oak branches gathered at midnight from the north side of a hill. A black iron cauldron hung above the flames, its contents boiling.
           The muscles of her magnificent arms rippled as she sprinkled a handful of white flakes into the bubbling brew. In the firelight, her skin gleamed like burnished gold. Her auburn hair flowed across her ivory shoulders and down her smooth naked back, covering a few freckles and one small mole. Her waist and legs were clad only in low-cut harem trousers of the sheerest white silk. Her only other garment was a bra made of brass strips coiled like great hooded cobras around the exquisite fullness of her relatively flawless breasts.
           “Gee, Babes, can’t you afford some new drapes?” Fax said. “That entry way is so last century it wouldn’t even scare a Disney fan. So, how’ve you been, kiddo?”
           Hearing a mere mortal’s voice, the Sorceress spun around, resplendent in all her majestic glory, her eyes blazing with unrestrained fury. Seeing him, she threw her arms across her chest and uttered a witch’s curse.
           “Dammit, Fax! Don’t you know enough to knock before you walk into a girl’s boudoir when she’s making breakfast. Wait there while I get out of these pajamas and put on something decent.” She scampered around a tall rock and into her bed chamber. “And don’t you dare follow me.”
           Fax stepped closer to the tall rock so she could hear him while she dressed.
           “Listen, Lil, I have a rush job for you.”
           “My correct name is The Eternal Sorceress Lilith, if you please.”
           “It was Sadie Rose all the way through elementary school. You didn’t latch onto the Lilith stuff until eighth grade.”
           “Would you like me to turn you into a newt again?” she said from inside her quartz-encrusted walk-in closet.
           “I got better,” Fax replied.
           “This time you won’t. I’ve mastered the spell now.”
           “OK, OK. The Eternal Sorceress Lilith it is. With capital letters. Whatever you say. But I need your skills.”
           “Wait until I get my black lipstick on,” she said.
           “Forget the lipstick. You won’t even have to leave home. I just need a little potion, that’s all.”
           The Eternal Sorceress Lilith poked her head around the stone, ratting her hair as she talked.
           “Oh, I get it. Another love-lasts-longer potion, right? Who’s the lucky damsel this time? ” she said sarcastically.
“And if it’s the Princess, I’ll turn you into a fuchsia aardvark. I swear to goddess I will. That girl is only seventeen.”
           “It’s nothing like that, I promise,” Fax said. “Just something like an invisibility potion. But I need it today.”
           “No way.” She ducked back into her bedroom. “Invisibility requires tongue of Andean toad, plus mermaid scales. I can order the parts, but they won’t be here until Tuesday.”
           “Not actual invisibility. Just something similar,” Fax said. “A potion that makes people not hear me. It doesn’t matter if they see me. But I have to have it by five o’clock.”
           “A deafness drug. No problem,” she said, returning from her dressing room. She was now clad in a loose, ankle-length, black robe with matching black pointed hat. In her hand was a broom.
           “Actually,” said Fax, “I liked the pajamas better. Why don’t you…?”
           “In your dreams, big shot. Now talk business, or climb back in the jester car and go back to the circus you came from.”
           “Don’t be so touchy. To be honest, the robe is kind of sexy. But lose the hat. Too retro.”
           “It was great-grandma’s,” the Eternal Sorceress said. “Don’t worry, I never wear it when I go out.”
           “Go out on...uh...the broom?” Fax said.
           “That’s just to sweep up the oatmeal flakes you made me spill when you barged in. Unless you’re volunteering to help.” She willed the broom to float towards Fax. He didn’t move.
           “Ha! I thought not.” She willed the broom back into her hands and began sweeping the floor in front of the altar. “So what is it this time, another real estate scam?”
           “Honest, witch woman, I really thought that deed to the Carpathian Mountains was legit.” Fax made his face go all sincere and guileless. “Who would have thought gypsies can’t be trusted?”
           Having seen his “believe-me” face on numerous occasions before, Lilith didn’t bother looking up from her sweeping.
           “Do you want a full stone-deaf-as-an-old-coot potion?” she said. “Or just the rock-concert-hearing-protection juice?”
           “The full thing. Total deafness of the victim for at least one hour,” he grinned.
           “What’s it worth to you? And get rid of the silly grin. I hate people who grin when they talk.”
           “How about...two Quackmas?” He didn’t grin.
           “I have no use for the riches of petty mortals.” She paused and arched an eyebrow. “But I would like to take a spin on that dragon of yours. Is he parked outside?”
v“Sorry, pretty hag. No riders. He’s a one-seater sports model. I’d get a ticket.”
           “No, I mean by myself,” she said. “I know how to steer.”
           “Listen, lady, that leather-bird is registered to me.” Fax said. “If I allowed someone else to ride him, the Department of Reptilian Vehicles would yank my pink slip.”
           “It looks terrible on you anyway,” she said.
           “Tell you what, Babes. The next night both moon fragments are full, I’ll take you on a romantic dinner flight to what’s left of Spain .”
           “We already took that one, creep. Remember?”
           “I still have the scars.”
           “You still deserve them.”
           “And lovely they are, too. A fond, tender memory of...”
           “Plawff! You didn’t even remember which girl I was. Come on, just one short flight. Solo.”
           “Sorry, Babes, no can do.”
           “Aw, yer mother wears combat sandals,”
           “Mom died with her boots on.”
           “On the coffee table, probably.” The Eternal Sorceress pouted out her lower lip, but only because she knew it made her look cute and hard to refuse. “Your father eats toads.”
           “That would explain the halitosis. Now how much for the potion?”
            “Bring me,” her emerald eyes blazed with an unholy passion,            “Bring me...The Golden Ring of the Enchanted Rhine Maidens!”
           “Fair enough,” Fax turned to leave. “The Castle Gift Shoppe has some. If they’re on sale, I’ll bring you two. See you at five o’clock.”
           Passing again through the curtain of fire, Fax saw that Horst was in the resting crouch position.
           “Wake up, lizard! Time to go,” Fax said. “Up, big fellow!”
           “Lemme alone,” the dragon mumbled. “I’m ovulating.”
           “Lay eggs on your own time,” Fax leapt into the saddle. “Aloft, noble beast! We must fly. Up and Away! Onward, ever onward! To the clouds and beyond! Excelsior!”
           Horst pushed himself wearily to his feet.
           “Listen, boss,” he said. “How’s this? I won’t do any more Top Gun lines if you don’t do the Conan shtick. Is it a deal?”
           “Not Conan. Saturday serials from the Republic Pictures era.”
           “Whatever,” Horst said. “Fasten your seat belt.”
           As they gently lifted off, the Eternal Sorceress watched from behind the flame veil and decided it was time to give her ex-boyfriend a lesson in humility. For his own good, naturally.