Categories > Movies > Labyrinth > Labyrinth of Chaos

Never Say Goodbye

by shadowlurker13 0 reviews

in transit...weirdest road trip ever

Category: Labyrinth - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy - Published: 2017-05-23 - 14353 words - Complete

Author’s Note (I cannot believe I have to do this): In light of recent world events, the proper name for the magical communication/tele-transportation, tarot-type cards that many of my main characters carry about with them will henceforth, for the purposes of this fanfic, be deliberately uncapitalized to avoid any possible unintentional (or even subconscious) association with something altogether different that (thankfully) has no bearing on this story whatsoever. Thank you for understanding. Carry on.
Chapter 2 - Never Say Goodbye

Dreams piling onto dreams intersecting with dreams; to Sarah, it seemed as if her mind swam with visions until dawn. Fabulous worlds - wild, alive with color, disjointed yet not frightening. It was oddly peaceful, actually. The menacing presence that was constantly with her, which she now recognized with a certain sense of ambivalence, was far removed, holding back, seemingly content to just let her drift tracklessly for a single night. The only sequence she could remember clearly upon waking was the last - it had been so absurdly girly: she had been relaxing on a bright pink beach at sunset with a cloudless purple sky and an ocean so blue you could cry. All that was missing was a herd of rainbow unicorns galloping along the surf and it would’ve been a Lisa Frank painting. No sooner had the thought occurred to her then she turned with the sound of hooves and saw them coming…

…and then her alarm went off. She groggily whapped it silent and rolled over, muttering incomprehensibly.

And suddenly remembered the night before. And what, in consequence, she had to do today.

Wide awake and without another thought, Sarah leaped out of bed. If there had been any question as to the reality of that peculiar interview she’d had in the small hours of the morning, it was easily confirmed by the presence of large boot indentations in the pile of the carpet where Lord Mandor had walked! His instructions on how she was to leave made her a bit nervous, however: a complete stranger would be living in her place for weeks, months maybe. Even if she couldn’t take her stuff with her, Sarah knew she had some last-minute preparations to make. Her journal went way under the mattress. The incantation in her copy of The Labyrinth was quickly blacked out with permanent marker. She hid a few mementos in the bottom of the closet and a few nominally valuable items - including a pair of real pearl earrings from her mother - went behind a shallow drawer in the vanity; on a whim, she put the music box dancer back on top in the center. There. That was everything she had time to do; there wasn’t time to clean. She hurriedly got ready for the day and, having a feeling that her substitute wouldn’t care for her usual clothes, deliberately wore her most fashionable outfit: a light teal tunic with a pastel floral design on it, with leggings and flats to match. It was an outfit she detested, one purchased for her by her stepmother in the desperate attempt to sneak some ‘normal’ clothing into her wardrobe. She inwardly smiled at the sudden thought of what might be considered normal clothing in Chaos if its ambassador was any barometer.

Sarah thoroughly enjoyed ignoring Karen’s patronizing complements as she drank a quick glass of milk, grabbed a banana, and was out the door. Once she was about a block away from the house, she took her backpack off and double-checked a small zippered inner compartment: her topaz-and-gold brooch glowed faintly but noticeably inside. Sarah was honestly surprised she hadn’t noticed that it had changed beforehand, but there had been a lot going on and she hadn’t really even handled the thing since…then. She shook her head, quickly zipping everything closed and putting the pack back on - she still had to get through school today.

Sarah had always been kind of a loner, preferring to dream on her own than to play with other kids in the real world. She had been befriended by a few eccentric, free-thinking extroverts over the years but her parents’ divorce had been particularly hard on her few relationships. To put it delicately, she had not been a joy to be around. She had retreated back into herself - and pushed everyone else away, desperately needing her solitude once again. She hadn’t really meant to do this; it just sort of happened and almost before she realized it, she was truly alone again. And now that she was leaving, she found herself missing her friends more than ever. But, in all seriousness, it was probably for the best that she wasn’t close to anyone at the moment, she coldly reminded herself: she couldn’t discuss what was really going on with her to a single soul, no matter how badly she wanted to talk about it to someone, anyone. They would all think she was nuts, or worse, tell someone in authority out of concern for her. So she went to her classes and did her lab work in biology, and watched a small, close-knit group of girls to whom she had once belonged from a distance at lunch. She would do her best to patch things up when she got back home, she promised herself.

Last period seemed to just drag by, the clock going slower by the minute, but soon enough it was 2:30. Sarah felt a terrified little thrill at the sound of the ending bell - this was it! She managed to keep her cool, leaving the school property inconspicuously, but once she was a few blocks removed and far less people were around she booked it all the way to the park, nearly losing one of her flats once; she simply wasn’t used to wearing them and they were far from utilitarian. Her heart was pounding in her throat by the time she reached the footbridge and it wasn’t just from the exertion, which she was used to: within moments she would be face-to-face with a complete stranger from a parallel universe who could pass as her identical twin! It was almost too heavy to even contemplate. As she reached the other side past the obstructing greenery she noted somewhat dubiously that only one person wearing a baseball cap was seated on the bench, and they were turned away so that she couldn’t see them properly…but then Mandor came around from the other side of the tree and slightly inclined his head to her in greeting. In spite of the nice weather, he was wearing the tightly-tailored long black suit coat he had been carrying the previous evening; in better light, Sarah could see that the material seemed to be made of a foreign substance, like a cross between silk and some kind of plastic. It was fastened closed all the way up to a mandarin-style collar at the neck, making him look almost like a goth sans makeup, and she quickly understood his chosen waiting place: he was far less visible to the general public back there.

Sarah could barely stand the suspense of anticipation as she crossed the remaining short distance between them; Mandor’s companion had yet to turn around, but he bid her to do so now.

“All right, Shara, you can remove your hat and turn around slowly.”

The girl did as she was bade and Sarah gasped as long, thick, dark-brown locks cascaded down her back and the two girls openly gaped at each other for a moment. It was impossible - it was like looking into a mirror! Sarah’s gut instinct had been right; the girl was definitely fashionable. In fact, she was dressed rather similarly to the outfit Sarah was wearing, only hers was largely pink and completed with leg warmers and Keds sneakers. She even wore a little makeup. The likeness wasn’t completely perfect but it was so close that no one would be able to tell them apart unless they were standing side by side.

“I think we did rather well,” Mandor addressed them both, breaking the ice. “Shara Wilkins, may I present to you Sarah Williams, whose life you have generously agreed to occupy until further notice. Sarah, would you believe that this accomplished young lady was actually in a shadow closer to Amber?”

At this comment, the new girl spoke up, addressing Sarah.

“Okay, I don’t understand half the nonsense your fairy prince here is spouting,” she laughed, “but I’m all for magically getting into a better living situation. I thought I’d taken leave of my senses when this guy showed up out of nowhere right in the middle of my mom’s apartment just like that,” she snapped her fingers, “but he managed to convince me he was real and, well, you don’t get supernatural beings offering to save you from your life every day and I thought, the hell with it! Let’s just see where this goes.”

Sarah decided to test the waters a bit and sat down beside her. “Your life is really that awful?”

Shara rolled her eyes. “I live in a tiny apartment in New Yark with my mom, although that’s a misnomer; she barely ever comes home. She’s a working actress of sorts - it’s only bit parts but it usually pays the bills - but she doesn’t give a shit about anyone except herself and maybe whoever her current boyfriend is. And we’ve had to move so many times because she eventually forgets she has a home and doesn’t pay the rent on time. I’m sick to death of her but I’m being fed, clothed, and sheltered, so I can’t get legal help, and I know some people would kill to live this way but I just hate it! I wish I had a real family, a normal life. I’d be willing to bet you money I don’t have she’ll just think I’m crashing with friends like I’ve done in the past without telling her - she doesn’t ever remember when I do. The stupid bitch won’t even notice I’m actually gone for weeks.”

Sarah nodded, both in sympathy and concurrence; Mandor had certainly nabbed the right girl. “Well, normal is all there is where you’re going. You’ll be sick of it in no time but at least you’ll have a stable life here.”

Mandor spoke up from his concealed spot next to the tree. “I hate to break up this intriguing interview, ladies, but I fear neither of you has the luxury of time at the moment and Sarah and I need to be leaving soon. Speaking of which,” he finally strode over to join them, “Sarah, these should be about your size,” he suddenly handed her a decent-sized parcel wrapped in some sort of paper. “Upon further consideration, I realized that we needed to extend to Shara the decency of you not traveling in her wardrobe, either.”

“Oh, right - I nearly forgot! Come on, Shara; it’s time to pay charades,” Sarah motioned for her to follow and the two of them walked off to the park restroom; thankfully, the place was deserted for the moment. Picking stalls side-by-side, the two girls stripped and Sarah handed Shara her clothes except for the undergarments over the steel divider, then tore into the package that Mandor had provided. Inside, she was surprised to find a long-sleeved dress-blouse of sorts, nice trousers, and durable-looking flat-heeled leather boots with thick socks tucked away inside each, all black.

He’s definitely a goth, she thought as she dawned the costume. But really, once she’d thought about it a little bit, she wasn’t terribly surprised. Welcome to the Dark Side, she ruefully smirked, looking down at herself. Wrapped away in the blouse had been a small purse-sized leather clutch bag that, upon further inspection, seemed to be a decent emergency outdoors overnight kit.

While they finished changing, Sarah regaled Shara with facts about her family, her friends, what subjects she excelled at in school, her hobbies, her dreams - in short, everything this girl would need to know to convincingly live her life. They both emerged from the stalls again and appraised each other briefly. Sarah still couldn’t get over just how much Shara resembled her, and it seemed by Shara’s expression as she stood there staring Sarah up and down, shaking her head, that her own thoughts ran on a parallel track.

Shara looked a bit amused when she met Sarah’s eyes again. “Well, all I can say is I hope you know what you’re doing. Man, that blouse made your hair a really staticky mess, hang on.” She dug through her purse and produced a brush, handing it over, and Sarah proceeded to fix her appearance in the room’s small mirror while Shara wiped off most of her own makeup as best she could.

“I hope I know what I’m doing, too,” Sarah sighed.

“I mean, if you want to run off to fantasy land with Prince Charming, I’m not one to judge; I’ve been introduced to a lot worse. But just the fact alone that this is only a temporary situation means he’s already got the cutoff date in mind. Still, I’d say go for it - life’s too short not to take some exciting risks. Just play it smart; I think he’s a lot older than you are and you can’t let him take advantage of you for nothing. And no matter what he or any other guy might say about this, always use protection.”


“It needed to be said,” Shara stated knowingly, taking back the brush. “You’re literally skipping town for your first fling.”

“It’s not like that at all!” Sarah protested. “He’s just…” And that’s when it suddenly dawned on Sarah that perhaps Mandor had deliberately kept the truth of the situation from Shara for some reason and just let it drop.

“Hey, it’s okay; these things happen. You just take care of you, huh? Tell you what: if you can, try to stay with him for a few years until we’re college-age; it’ll be easier to switch back in a dorm situation. And if you don’t like the classes I’m taking you can always change majors; it’s practically expected at least once. But seriously, though, make the most of wherever-it-is you’re going; have a blast out there. You’ll have to tell me all about it when you get back.”

As they walked back over to the park bench, Mandor could hear Shara reciting back some of the information she’d just been cramming.

“So, I’m Sarah Williams, my birthday is July 17, 1971, my parents are Robert and Linda and Karen’s my step mom and my kid brother is Toby, and I’m currently a friendless dreamer with a passion for fantasy books and the stage.”


“Well, it’s true, I can’t help it that’s your life,” Shara laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it better while you’re gone, get your girlfriend group back together and everything.”

“Just don’t make too drastic of a difference.”

“Oh, alright, I’ll still be a little antisocial on occasion for appearances’ sake, but I plan on enjoying myself while I’m here.”

“Sheesh, I think you actually will. In fact, I think you’ll love Karen; you’re just the kind of daughter she wishes I was!”

Once they reached Mandor, he made Shara turn around, carefully looking over his decoy. It wasn’t as perfect a copy as would’ve made him more comfortable but he supposed she would do just for fooling a human populace, and he nodded at last with a small smile.

“Yes, this should do nicely. Sarah, I hope you remembered to bring your brooch?”

“It’s in an inner compartment of the backpack,” she said, hoisting her bag onto the bench and quickly digging it out; Shara’s eyes went wide when she saw it was glowing. “I don’t know what all it does yet,” Sarah offered weakly. Shara met her eyes and noted the guarded expression.

“Alright, I won’t ask. Just stay safe, okay? Wow, this is so weird, you know I feel like I’m saying goodbye to a twin sister I never knew I had!”

“Yeah, I know! When this is all over we’ll have to spend some time together.”

“I’ll plan on it.”

“Take care of yourself, too. Us, I mean,” Sarah laughed.

“You bet.”

It was rather awkward but after a second the two girls briefly hugged; it simply felt like something that needed to happen - they were closely related in a cosmic sort of way. Once it was over, Sarah sat down, rifled through her backpack one more time, zipped it up and handed it over to Shara. This was it.

“Did Mandor tell you my address?”

“Yeah, I think I remember it.”

“Well, it’s written in my planner just in case. The place isn’t hard to find; it’s a cream-and-white two-story house with a big patio. It’s about halfway down the street; you can’t miss it. Once you’re more familiar with the area you ought to be able to find the short cut I usually take through a couple of yards and a back alley so you don’t have to take the winding road all the way around; that’s pretty easy, too.”

“Alright, then. Well, whenever you’re ready to come home, you know where to find me - or how is that going to work?”

“I don’t really know yet. I guess we’ll figure it out when the time comes.”

“That would probably be wisest,” Mandor interjected. “It isn’t always sound to make tentative plans that far in advance when many factors can change during the interim. Now, if you’re both quite ready… Shara, you had best head out first. Just follow the main streets; they’re nearly all in alphabetical order in this area. And remember - from now on your name is Sarah Williams.” He took her right hand and bowed over it, making the girl blush. “It has been a pleasure working with you, Sarah.” He let her go and she quickly turned, a bit flustered from the courtly attention, and walked away, crossing the bridge.

Seeing the tableau from an outside point of view, it suddenly struck Sarah that Mandor’s poise and carriage were probably entirely an act on some level, one which was often useful in achieving his ends. Or perhaps it was just how he was raised; she wasn’t quite sure. Presently, he sat down on the bench beside her and exhaled as Shara disappeared from view, crossing the street.

“I think, all in all, that went fairly well. She looks sufficiently like you and I believe her to be endowed with the nerve to pull off her side of this escapade.”

Sarah eyed him dubiously. “What on earth did you tell her?”

Mandor caught her look and, knowing immediately what she was referring to, smiled a bit jadedly, relaxing. “Shara is a young woman who believes herself to be worldly and experienced but still has a ludicrously romantic imagination. I told her as little as possible, actually. She concocted that thread entirely on her own and I simply let her believe it. The less she knows about our true operation here the safer we all shall be. We should give her a couple of minutes before leaving.”

“And what is your opinion of me?” Sarah asked him brazenly. Mandor’s eyebrows lifted slightly in surprise but he had to concede the question logically followed and he smiled just a little.

“I see before me a relatively intelligent young woman who has the sense to know that she is neither worldly nor experienced, in possession of an inquiring mind and a healthy imagination, and desirous to learn on all counts to better herself.”

What an answer! Sarah mentally sagged. And suddenly smiled herself. “Did someone teach you how to do that?” She didn’t have to mention what.

“Courtly manner and diplomacy are basic training for any noble,” he stated simply, rising to his feet and offering her a hand up, which Sarah took and stood herself.

I could get used to this, she thought with a small inward smile. To top it all off, he offered her his arm like the perfect gentleman he had been trained to be.

“Shall we walk?”

Sarah took it, blushing slightly; even understanding the pretense of their situation, it was not without effect. Mandor commenced at a leisurely pace, leading them further into the park.

“I have not had the opportunity to ask: is the clothing comfortable? Our last meeting was almost intimately casual, and between the blankets mostly covering you and your loose nightdress I couldn’t rightly see you; I had to guess your size.”

“They’re fine,” Sarah reassured him, “although if you lived on…Shadow Earth as you call it, people would call your taste in clothing Goth.”

“I am not familiar with that term; the meaning doesn’t immediately translate.”

“Dark, morbid - I mean the look works on you, but still…”

The unearthly man smirked, catching her drift. “Point taken, but you must understand that black and white are my heraldic colors - I always wear them. All members of the noble houses of both Chaos and Amber have their own set. And besides,” he glanced down at her form for only a second, “black is fairly becoming on nearly everyone.”

Shameless flattery gets you everywhere, doesn’t it? Sarah thought. She had to admit that in spite of everything she genuinely liked the guy - what of him she knew, anyway - but she’d have to watch herself a bit; an old charmer like this had his dangers. “So… how do we get there from here?”

“Yes, I had been giving that some thought earlier today. Considering that you are Order-born and this will be your first shadow walk, I thought we might try this Amber-style for the first leg of the trip; it will be far less traumatic for you both physically and mentally. In fact, we have already begun.”

Sarah blinked, surprised. “How?”

“During this little stroll I have been consciously shifting the stuff of shadow about us as we move forward - admittedly not a practice I am accustomed to but reasonable for one of my training; I usually extend myself through instead. Either method takes concentration and focus, the ability to believe in what is willed to be and to shut out all the rest. I must confess I had chosen a mundane topic initially because it did not require as much of my mental faculty and the conversation alone kept you from noticing the change as much.” He stopped walking. “Look around you, Sarah. Do you recognize this place?” he asked a little archly, dropping his arm so she would let go.

Sarah did a full 360 degree turn where she stood and when she saw what was behind her, her jaw hit the floor: they were on someone’s manor estate! Gone was the park with its stone benches and bridges and statuary - even the stream was missing! Some of the trees were young and they were still definitely walking on an immense, pristinely-cut lawn, but a large stone mansion loomed in the distance and the road she could see was only gravel! There was something else that seemed off as well but it took some time for it to dawn on her…until she looked straight up. The sky…the sky seemed duller, less blue, almost tending into a grayish periwinkle, but it was definitely mid-afternoon; the sun was still high overhead.

Mandor quietly studied her reaction, watching her take it all in.

“I’ve never seen this place in my life,” she finally said, slowly shaking her head in wonder.

“That’s because we are no longer on Shadow Earth,” Mandor stated gently. “This is the first shadow over, closer to Chaos. And we have countless shadows to go, so I’m borrowing a trick from the current king of Amber if you would be so kind as to follow me,” he said and led her the short distance down to the road. Parked by the side was a brand-new 1986 Camaro convertible - black with white trim, of course, fully automatic, leather interior, good stereo system, the works. After walking to another dimension as if it were nothing more spectacular than a Sunday stroll, Sarah doubted that anything would ever surprise her as much ever again…and had the sinking feeling that she was about to be proven wrong. Mandor opened the passenger-side door for her and she climbed inside, buckling up. Her companion walked around the front, lifted the hood, seemed to check a couple of things, closed it, and got into the driver’s side.

“I am told His Majesty Random Barimen favors a Lamborghini for this stunt, but I have no intention of screaming through shadow in this contraption unless we absolutely must. I can make the changes more quickly at a slightly accelerated rate, however, and the machine will be far more reliable than any pack animal or horse where we are going. This is much more involved than a jaunt from Shadow Earth to Amber; the distance alone is over four times greater. Do you have any questions before we begin? The first few shifts require complete concentration and my interactions with you will be somewhat impaired.”

Sarah thought for a moment. “Is there any way you can show me where we are, like a map?”

Mandor smiled his characteristic patronizing, off-center smile. “The routes are completely arbitrary to time and space as well as to each other; there are countless paths and all are true, granted some are safer than others. The distance involved is purely artificial in a sense and yet it does seem measurable in certain circumstances dependent on the starting and stopping points, rather like figuring for x. But, for the sake of amateur speculation…”

He turned to fully face her in the seat and brought his hands together in front of him. Putting them to his mouth, he seemed to whisper something into them. He then brought them back down and slowly separated them until they were about a foot apart, and as he did so a small number of figures seemed to appear between them in midair and Sarah’s eyes went wide; he met them with a note of amusement.

Such a child, she has much to learn, he reflected a bit soberly. Putting on his best school teacher face, he proceeded. “Now, if the swirling dark spot next to my left hand is the Courts of Chaos and the golden spark of light in my right is Amber, then Shadow Earth would be here,” and the tiny green glow about two inches from the great golden one emitted a brief sparkle, “we are currently here,” - the lavender one right next to it flashed similarly, “the dividing waste where the influences of both Chaos and Amber cancel out is over there,” - a large gray line right in the middle highlighted momentarily, “and - just for your personal reference - the shadow that houses the Labyrinth would be right there.” One last spark occurred, orange as the sunrise, just half an inch to the other side of that ominous dividing line. “So, you see you have already been over halfway to the Courts once.” He brought his hands together and extinguished the whole thing.

“So why couldn’t we just zap over to the world of the Labyrinth, and from there get to the Courts?”

Mandor’s gaze flicked back over. “Because, to put it bluntly, Jareth hates me; he was only nominally happier in his ignorance, and yet he blames me entirely for his current predicament which he entered of his own freewill - no sane person would have ever agreed to those terms. And I want you to have a basic understanding of shadow walking firsthand. Oh, one last thing: if, on the off-chance, we are in a circumstance which necessitates me accelerating this vehicle to full speed, you must both close and cover your eyes, and not open them again until I tell you it is safe to do so. You simply couldn’t handle the view. Just trust me on this one.”

He buckled in, revved the engine and they were off down a winding country lane, leaving a cloud of dust behind them. Apart from the tint of the sky overhead, the landscape still looked relatively like upstate New York out here, maybe some scenic areas of New England, perhaps. It was a gorgeous day, not a cloud in the sky and sunshine-warm. They went over another gentle hill before Sarah began noticing the changes. The forest which practically surrounded them had quite a few blue spruce - very blue - mixed in, and the sky was definitely lavender now; it was streaked with a few light-green cirrus clouds. What Sarah was seeing was largely like trick photography, with different pigments being slowly introduced to the general palate for aesthetic effect. Once all of the deciduous trees were gone, completely replaced with a deep-blue evergreen forest, Mandor suddenly commenced talking once more; Sarah hadn’t dared do anything that could break his concentration.

“If you get hungry or thirsty, there are some provisions in the back seat. They won’t stay good for the whole trip but they should keep for at least several hours. I plan on stopping in at least two shadows to refuel and stretch and you might be able to sight-see a little if you wish before we reach the second stop. From there out, any bastion of civilization will be far less welcoming to such strangers as we. At our current rate, the journey should take at least an entire day, possibly two, and if and when you tire, you may sleep safely right here as you can; there’s a warm blanket right behind you on the floor and the seats tilt back comfortably enough. Once we reach a certain shadow considerably closer to Chaos, I should be able to simply trump us the rest of the way in.”

“Trump? Is that like teleporting?”

Mandor lightly sighed. “And I have yet to explain that, either,” he muttered quietly to himself. Zipping his jacket open partway and reaching into his inner breast pocket with his right hand, he produced what appeared to be a pouch of Tarot cards and passed it to her. “Be very careful with those - I have only the one set. Wait a moment,” he closed the roof and windows of the car as a precaution against them blowing away. “All right, you can open it now, but examine them each very briefly; staring at any of the face-sides for longer than a few seconds will activate them and contact the personage portrayed.”

Sarah swallowed in slight apprehension - just handling the black-and-white leather carrying case alone seemed to bring back the eerie feeling of the Logrus - but she steeled her nerves and lifted the flap open, carefully sliding them out. To her surprise, they were cool to the touch in spite of being carried inside Mandor’s coat where they should have received body heat. Handling them very gingerly by the edges, she took in the masterfully executed miniature oil paintings as fast as she could. The first two were of young men in their mid-twenties who resembled each other enough to be biological brothers. Both had differing shades of black hair and were posed in completely different locales: the elder was inside a dark room, seated with an open book in one hand and some magickal device in the other, while the other was standing in a forest of bones against a savagely bright orange sky, with his large two-handed sword drawn and gleaming with the fire in his eye - only one eye, the other was covered by a patch. The next was an old man with a remarkably penetrating gaze and a mocking lip-smile, out of which the slightest tips of fangs could be seen protruding; he was seated in an ornate chair with his elbows resting on the arms, fingers steepled. Two large goat’s horns projected from his forehead and his skin color was a little too green for comfort. She quickly passed on to the next ones - all unbelievably strange landscapes that were far too colorful, rather like photo negatives. A couple of women followed: a blonde-haired beauty of indeterminate age in a lavish midnight-blue gown, seated on a black-marble bench in a distorted, hallucinatory garden at night. The other was of an almost modern-looking woman with short brown hair who stood comfortably akimbo in a stone hallway, dressed in a tunic and breeches with a foil sword hanging from her belt, looking almost as if she dared the viewer to speak to her.

After all these fantastical images, Sarah thought she knew the kind of thing to expect for the last one. She was dead wrong: it was a portrait of a modern businessman with short dark-brown hair, dressed in an expensive business suit, seated next to a computer at a desk! There was something more human…no…more relatable about him, more familiar. He looked confident but decidedly more relaxed than the other illustrious (and possibly dubious) rogues in Mandor’s private gallery. And then the picture began to deepen three-dimensionally and the man began to stir…and Sarah gasped, swiftly covering the image with her hand and looking away.

Just from listening, Mandor guessed what had just happened in spite of his reasonably clear warning, but decided against lecturing her - she had instinctively done the correct thing to resolve the situation with absolutely no prior training, something impressive in and of itself.

Sarah quickly stuffed the cards back into the pouch and handed them back over to him. Mandor opened the car back up.

“So, how does that trick really work? Is it like a pager?”

“Not exactly. I have been informed that it is rather more like a telephone call upon Shadow Earth, but with two notable differences. The last card you handled had commenced to visually shift?” Sarah nodded, embarrassed. “If you had continued to concentrate on the card, the other party would have seen you and you them, in real life, reflected from wherever they are. You get to talk to the person on the card face-to-face. Of course, a person can choose not to respond to such a call by meditatively emptying their mind if they truly wish to avoid the party on the other end. The other significant difference is that the trumps themselves can act as inter-dimensional doorways - if you link hands with the person on the other side of the trump call, they can literally pull you through to wherever they are and vice versa. Trumps can also be walked into without an external party, but one must be certain of what is on the other side; if there is any kind of problem, it may be difficult to return. Ironically, Merlin tells me that, according to some studies he’s made, your home shadow will have telephones that look rather like our trumps in about thirty years’ time, complete with face-to-face conversation capabilities. The devices will not only exist but eventually be common. If teleportation is ever made a feature and we can conjure a way to carry the signal across the Shadows, I’ll retire my deck,” he smiled a little teasingly, tucking the pouch safely back inside his jacket.

“Do those ever have reception problems? Is that why we can’t just trump directly from here?”

“Sort of. Connections made over great distances can be much harder to sustain. I could technically attempt it, but, historically-speaking, trying to trump to Chaos from this far out in Order has about an 80% failure rate, dropping you somewhere entirely arbitrary between the two. More often than not, the resulting destinations are rather dangerous, sometimes not even habitable for short periods of time. It simply isn’t worth the risk. Once we’re within range, I can do it with pinpoint accuracy.” He thought a moment. “If you had such a set of trumps, who would you put on them? My deck is mostly comprised of relatives.”

It was meant as a friendly question - Sarah knew that - but the true answer stung at her heart, and she looked away out the passenger-side window.

“Nobody,” she said quietly. Upon further reflection, she added, “Maybe you.”

“You flatter me, Earth-child, but you should never make such a decision without knowing the individual in question very well.”

“Well, like I told you, that leaves nobody I know,” she replied a little tersely…and suddenly remembered. “I take that back - Sir Didymus,” she stated definitively, “and Hoggle and Ludo.”

“And who are these?”

“Some friends I made during my journey through…” she trailed off, still a little uncomfortable thinking about it. The imprint of the Logrus she bore shifted slightly in response.

“And what are these friends like?” Mandor lightly pressed, attempting to draw her out.

“Well, Sir Didymus seems to be kind of like a cross between a fox and a terrier, but he can talk and he rides a sheepdog like a horse, saddle and all,” she laughed. “He’s pretty small but he’s a courageous fighter - uses a staff. A little excitable but very trustworthy - they all are. Hoggle’s an old dwarf; sometimes he lacks confidence but he’s actually quite resourceful and clever. I honestly don’t know what Ludo is but my guess would be some kind of yeti. He’s enormous and not very bright but he’s all heart and he has this amazing ability - get this - he can howl and boulders come rolling to him by the hundreds! I would’ve never made it through the Goblin City if it hadn’t been for him.”

Mandor had really only been half-listening, having to concentrate as he was, but upon hearing this description, he actually paused to consider.

“I don’t think your friend is a true yeti,” he suddenly spoke up. “In fact, I’m fairly certain that he’s one of a type of very primitive land elementals. I have heard of such beasts but I have never had the need or opportunity to meet one. Interesting…”

Sarah sighed very quietly. “But I guess it would still be unsafe to put them on trumps because Jareth could find out about it, right?”

“Most probably,” her companion nodded absently, turning left.

The landscape had gone on changing as they talked: the forest of blue-colored spruce trees had grown so tall that they almost blocked out the orange sun…within the next few turns of the road, perspective seemed to change for a moment and the next thing Sarah knew, they were coming out of the mouth of a tunnel and were now driving along a mountain road, an enormous deep-violet range rising all about them. They had to stop briefly to allow a herd of golden-fleeced rams with sharp, spiraled black horns to cross in front of the car, and they were off again. The road led them down into a lush valley where the wind rippled the blue grasses until it looked for all the world like water…and then it was, a creek ran on the left side now and the mountains were beginning to recede, low-hanging pastel clouds hiding the peaks from view, descending. Mandor raised the roof and windows again as they passed through the storm front. Heavy rain pounded the windshield and even with the wipers going at full-speed there was nearly zero-visibility, and yet the Chaos lord did not decrease his pace, making Sarah a bit nervous. She noted, however, that there was a distinct lack of lightning and thunder and almost no wind. The storm was over almost as quickly as it had started, and the sun - still improbably high overhead in spite of how long they’d been driving - was now edging toward a vermilion hue. And the mountains were replaced with a flat plain with almost no vegetation at all; the creek remained but was wider, shallower. There were skyscrapers off in the distance on the right-hand side. The changes were bewildering, but Sarah remained oddly unafraid.

The road ahead looked as if it would remain fairly straight for a while and Mandor had rolled down the windows; the air smelled incredible, like a perfumed version of ozone. Sarah reached into the backseat and brought forward the picnic basket Mandor had stashed back there. Inside were a variety of sandwiches, fresh fruit, and a few small glass bottles of water and different flavors of iced tea. She took out what looked like a Caprese sandwich, a small bunch of red grapes and a lemon tea, putting the basket on the floor at her feet.

“Want anything?”

“Not at the moment, thank you; I will eat at our first stop, but I suppose as long as you have it up here I should probably take a water.”

Sarah dug one out and popped the cap off for him, handing it over. “Would you mind if I asked you some questions?”

“Questions are usually welcome as long as they’re a natural part of friendly conversation; I do not allow myself to be interrogated. And, for the time being, try to keep the topics light; I still have to be able to concentrate somewhat on the shadow-shifting but I should be able to comfortably multitask at this stage.”

Rats. Most of what Sarah had wanted to know was terribly complicated and probably fell into the forbidden interrogation zone. Oh well, here goes nothing…literally. “So…come here often?”

Mandor gave an appreciative laugh. “I have precious little reason to be this far out in what is technically enemy territory. I rarely come to these shadows; there is simply no need.”

“You mean to tell me you can do this,” she pointed out the side window - the skyscrapers had become a desert rock formation, towering thin gray monoliths of erosion, “and you don’t ever travel?! Man, if I could do that and sustain myself, you wouldn’t ever find me at home!”

“You mistake me for one of my younger brothers or a prince of Amber. My itchy feet were well-scratched long ago,” he sardonically smiled. “Most of my interests and ambitions lie much closer to the Courts. One can find practically anything one can imagine off in shadow, but the true game, the real action and drama that affects all the worlds inbetween, is played out at the far polar ends of the spectrum. I was somewhat active in the crowning of the current king but I have been a more peripheral figure for several years now,” he offered evasively. “You might be surprised at just how quiet life has become even in my ancestral family’s Ways - the Ways of Sawall.”

“The Ways? Is that the name of the estate?”

He sighed. “Here you unknowingly ask me something that is more difficult to explain, but I can and will at a later date. Suffice to say that the phrase ‘the Ways of’ is common, and is less of a title and more of a general description of form. It is a mansion, but not in the sense that you would think of.”

“Is that where we’re going?”

“No. I am taking you to my private country house, located slightly away from true Chaos in its own system of shadows. I believe you will be better able to acclimate there and be a bit more comfortable overall for the duration of your stay.”

“And how long might that be?” Sarah asked with a note of trepidation, the meaning and reality of her predicament finally beginning to sink in. “I mean, I’m grateful for all your help and opening your home to me and everything but…seriously, how long?”

Mandor frowned, his gaze flicking to her face for a second, but it read more like concern.

“Comprehensive training in both Logrus work and related magical practices usually consumes decades, but your being human will considerably curtail what you are eligible to learn for practical reasons alone. I will retain you no longer than one Chaosian year; only two months will have passed on Shadow Earth - a span of any longer would expose your accelerated physical maturation in Chaos upon your return home. Beyond a predetermined time limit, I cannot guarantee more until your baseline operational abilities have been determined and it has been confirmed that your journey through the Logrus caused no cerebral damage - an unfortunate but frequent occurrence for those not of full Chaos blood who attempt the trial.”

Sarah blanched. “Are we actually talking about something fatal here?”

Mandor glanced at her with regret. “I would be lying if I denied it has ever happened, but the fact that you appear to be in no physical pain - are you?”

She shook her head emphatically no.

“…and your cognitive functioning still seems within normal range - you are lucid and psychologically and emotionally stable enough to hold easy converse with me. Both of these things are very encouraging signs in my book. Did you experience any more flashbacks earlier today?”

“No, none.”

Mandor nodded. “Then I believe we can safely assume that you made it through relatively unscathed…what is the Earth phrase…’by the skin of your teeth.’ But nevertheless, we will run some easy tests to make absolutely certain before proceeding with your training.”

It was a good thing that Sarah had finished her lunch for the most part because the sudden morbid turn in the conversation had just killed what was left of her appetite, and her change in demeanor did not go unnoticed. The creek had disappeared a while back and the sun was now completely red, tinting everything a Martian sanguine rust as they drove along the bottom of a desert canyon with the windows up - it had gotten too dusty. Mandor had deliberately been trying to choose shadows that nominally hid the drastic shifts he was making in such a short amount of time but this was currently the least of his concerns.

It simply won’t do, he thought: he couldn’t allow his young charge to think such thoughts for long or she might lose her nerve altogether - he had been less able to reassure her than he had expected. He concentrated on widening the narrow dirt path ahead of them into a decent road again and sought a more amiable-looking set of shadows. It appeared they would have to make a slight detour for Sarah’s sake. The ring he had given her had mitigated most of what should have been natural trepidation at her current circumstances, but she needed a pleasant, mundane diversion right now. His alterations weren’t removing them from the correct general course, however; a quick check in the rearview mirror confirmed a small band of sky near the horizon that was a completely different shade - sea green - than the rest of the orangey heavens. The sea…perhaps…

A few sharp turns and they were out of the canyon and Sarah gasped, turning fully to look out the passenger window: they were driving along the coastline of a beautiful golden sea with a black volcanic sand beach, small waves gently lapping at the shore. She suddenly smiled.

“You know, I had a funny dream right before I woke up today, and now it seems even more like a farce. I was down on a beach and everything was in these ridiculous pastel shades and then this herd of really girly-looking unicorns was coming. I’d swear it was supposed to be some kind of a joke.”

Mandor smirked himself. “It very well might’ve been. You dreamed of other landscapes besides?”


He nodded. “That sounds like the Logrus poking a bit of fun at Her shiny-white rival, who holds the greater dominion over your world.”

Sarah suddenly heard a faint sound like thunder but she couldn’t tell what it was and rolled down her window; the air was clear again but in spite of the coloring of this world, there was a definite chill in the briny breeze coming off of that ocean. The sound was coming from directly behind them but it was too hard to see out the rearview window from where she was sitting so she stuck her head out the passenger window instead. When she finally saw what the noise was she openly gaped: a herd of Arabian horses the color of lapis lazuli was pounding along the shore! They quickly came up alongside and raced the Camaro just for fun, their jeweled-colored manes streaked back in the wind. To Sarah’s complete shock, one nearest the driver-side of the car turned to look at them in mid-gallop and addressed them in articulate speech! The Chaosian behind the wheel seemed not to be fazed in the least and answered the horse in his own tongue, ending with a couple clicks of his tongue. The beast nodded as if he understood and gave an odd, high-pitched whinny; the whole herd sped on passed them as the proper road that the car had to take veered away from the beachfront along a gradually climbing ruddy cliff-face, eventually leaving both horses and ocean behind.

Mandor anticipated her question before she even had time to turn around. “Those fine beasts are a very distant cousin of one of the more reliable shadow-mounts to come out of Chaos. These you just saw understand the speech of men, and indeed have their own, but they cannot alter their physical forms to better suit their terrain as their truer brethren can.”

Metamorphosis at will - it was quite a thought, and not one that sat entirely well, either, but Sarah had a feeling that she would see and learn far stranger things long before this journey was over. The landscape was hilly again, but with far less vegetation and even some large cacti. The sun was in improbable neon-pink-shading-into-purple but bright as ever, although it had finally moved down a bit. Sarah noted that the sky was incongruously two distinct shades now, split cleanly in half - ochre in front, a deep turquoise behind them. She felt like Alice in Wonderland.

All we’re missing is the Cheshire Cat perched on one of those Saguaro…

Mandor had been mulling something over, and now the terrain was stable enough to risk it. He suddenly slowed down and pulled over, turning the engine off.

“What’s wrong?” Sarah asked, all concern.

“Nothing; I just had an idea.” He turned to face her. “Would you like to drive for a while? Just a few miles?”

Sarah just stared, incredulous at the question.

“You want me behind the wheel?”

He nodded with a small smile.

“You realize I’ve never driven a car, right? I haven’t even started taking lessons yet!”

“Then there’s no time like the present,” he pressed genially, unfastening his seatbelt and getting out of the vehicle, stretching his legs and pacing off several yards into the brush. Sarah quickly followed suit, heading in the opposite direction with the overnight kit, and, making sure he still wasn’t looking, took a badly-needed pit-stop behind a barrel cactus. Upon her return to the car, she saw Mandor was already in the passenger seat, buckled in and enjoying an iced tea. She opened the driver-side door and sat down behind the wheel with a little thrill, adjusting the seat to her height. The key was already in the ignition and the car was idling. Sarah could now see the gages clearly and well-noted that they only had about a third of a tank of gas left. Closing the door and buckling in, she lowered the gearshift into drive and very slowly edged down on the accelerator, guiding them back onto the road.

It was a bit of a gamble, but one Mandor was willing to make at this stage: it would benefit him greatly in the time to come to give her the illusion of control now - she would begin to relax and trust him naturally. Sarah was going pretty slow - that was to be expected - but he would make her speed up a little soon enough.

“You’re doing fine,” he reassured her, “just get it up to about 30 miles per hour and let up on the accelerator. I’m going to keep the road clear and wide for you, and just this once don’t watch the mirrors; let me worry about what’s behind. Concentrate on the road in front of you,” he instructed.

“So, how does this shadow-trekking work if you aren’t driving?”

“Practically the same as it does when I am. The will and the forward momentum are all that are necessary to travel this way, and it shouldn’t matter in theory which of us is causing the latter. This process still works well via proxy.” Their path had slight variations but it remained relatively straight for quite some time, and Mandor was quiet for a while longer to allow her to get used to controlling the vehicle.

It was one thing going through a journey like this passively and quite another to be an active part of it. True to his word, the road remained large and easy to navigate and in no time Sarah was enjoying the experience, thrilled at the responsiveness of the car, feeling the potential power of the engine - she barely had to touch the accelerator at all for more speed. The landscape was still changing but she didn’t have the freedom to notice as much; the desert was picking up brighter hues overall and going lush again.

At last, Mandor broke the silence. “Do you feel comfortable enough to hold a conversation or should I remain silent?”

“I think it would be alright.”

And with that small approval, Mandor quickly commenced to get his young human talking about herself. It was a rather old and simple trick, really: get someone relaxed and distracted and they usually talked much more freely than they normally would, and nearly everyone enjoyed being their own topic as long as the conversation maintained a pleasant, laidback tone. It still surprised him how few people had ever caught on; he had even done it to all of his brothers at some point or another.

Sarah talked and talked and talked. Every subject was covered well: her family, aspects of her life on Earth, her dreams and fears, her successes. It was nothing short of remarkable how comfortable she was with her current company. Mandor even let his own hand tip occasionally, just often enough to keep the proceedings seeming friendly. He also came from a broken family of sorts, he told her: his father, the Rim Duke Gramble Sawall (‘Rim’ of what, Sarah didn’t ask), had married twice, but untimely death, not divorce, had separated him from his first wife, Mandor’s mother Gride. Both of his biological parents were dead now, but his stepmother Dara was yet living. He had three younger brothers, two half – Despil and Jurt, the two similar-looking young men from the trumps - and one foster - Merlin (he had mentioned that name before), Dara’s oldest child, born out of wedlock before she married, whom he loved better than his flesh-and-blood siblings. There was a considerable age difference between the children of the two wives; Mandor was easily old enough to be Merlin’s father, and was seen by him more like an uncle than a brother. He told Sarah tantalizing tidbits of what growing up in Chaos had been like, along with a few of his earlier exploits. This was obviously a man who had seen much, done much, and been much - too much - born higher than he cared for, actually preferring to live like a minor noble than openly exert the public political power that was rightfully his by birth. Apparently certain Chaos officials never lived to be old; assassination was a little too common for anyone sane to want those positions.

They had been conversing in this fashion for about an hour when Mandor saw the beginning signs of fatigue in Sarah and knew what he had to do. He willed the road over the next small hill to be perfectly straight and the landmarks as boring as he could manage, discreetly readying one of his metal spheres should he have to intervene directly.

Between how long they had already been traveling that day (and Sarah was certain it had been longer than that slow-moving sun would confirm) having to hold her arms up to steer (muscle groups she wasn’t used to using for extended periods of time) and the sudden monotony of the scenery (in spite of the wild coloring), the effect Mandor had been trying for occurred after only three minutes: Sarah’s eyes slowly closed and she nodded at the wheel. He roused her instantly.


“What?! What happened?” she started, coming to.

“You fell asleep,” he said simply. “I’d better take over again. You try and rest.”

She carefully brought the car to a stop and they switched seats again; it had gotten a bit nippy outside but the heater worked well and it was now turned on. Sarah tilted her seat back slightly and tried to relax; as tired as she was, her mind was still going on full-speed. At last, exhaustion overcame her.

Mandor had been carefully observing her, and once he was certain she was finally safely unconscious, he very gradually brought up their speed to about 120mph. He had to try to hellride it to their first civilization stop - they were almost out of gas. He focused with all his might on the goal world - a black desert metropolis - and on they hurtled through dimension after dimension at breakneck pace. The sight alone would’ve driven his human companion out of her mind, but what she couldn’t see or otherwise experience wouldn’t hurt her and he took no chances, using the sphere he had already gotten out to lightly deepen her repose; she could still be woken quickly enough in an emergency. He hardened his will against the lightning-fast impressions that began to assault his peripheral vision: a city of bronze populated by gigantic rats…a visible wind with ghosts singing by the window…a lava eruption that threatened to break the windshield if he stayed but one second longer…green hills that turned out to be a sleeping giant - he stirred…a hailstorm that was over almost before it started…the swirling colors of the true Chaos sky for only a moment, then gone…the ground shook with the heavy footsteps of something monstrous he wouldn’t focus on giving chase…a crystal waterfall in a valley of glass…black-and-white striations across the sky…midnight for a split-second, then a fast dawn with three suns, one in retrograde…a black rockslide that peppered the road ahead with small boulders; unused to the vehicle, Mandor swerved the worst of it but still managed to drive over one that blended into the road and suddenly the car was pulling too hard to the left. Cursing, he forced his way through three more shadows and suddenly had to slam on the breaks with both feet to get stopped before he plowed into the vehicle ahead, the force throwing Sarah forward and almost into the stiffened shoulder belt - his right arm shot out and caught her just before impact!

Sarah awoke instantly with a gasp…and belatedly recognized the classic ‘soccer mom save’ as Mandor lowered his arm again, clicking off the sphere so it wouldn’t further interfere with her consciousness.

“I am sorry about that, but we appear to have just hit traffic,” he stated wryly.

And that’s when Sarah took her first real look around and what she saw was so fantastic she did a double-take: they were surrounded by cars in what appeared to be rush-hour traffic on a paved road with three lanes on each side and businesses lining the way. But the real eye-popper was the drivers - they were all reptilian! Bright yellow-green eyes with vertical-slit pupils stared at them in shock through passenger windows and from the sidewalk. In a vague way they roughly resembled men - they were built upright, wore clothing and black, straight hair grew on their heads after a fashion - but their skin was green-scaled with two bony growths on the sides of the neck, black two-inch claws finishing each finger, noses almost flattened completely into slightly elongated faces with no external ears - just nickel-sized holes where they should be.

“Do try not to gawk, Sarah,” Mandor drolly reprimanded her, taking the attention they were garnering completely in the stride. “They didn’t just appear out of nowhere - we did.”

He managed to nose the car into the turn lane and got off the main drag. Coming across a deserted service-entrance alley, he pulled in and killed the engine. Sarah belatedly noticed that the car had been affected by the shift, too: the black leather was now made of some hide akin to crocodile, and the seats seemed thinner and the interior longer. She remembered what Mandor had said about shadow objects changing as they passed through other shadows but she had never once considered the car. Hopefully it wouldn’t change to the point that it ceased to function.

“Welcome to the first stop,” he said with half a smile, then sighed, dropping it. “We have to spend a little more time here than I’d planned on; I hit something just before we arrived and it appears to have partially damaged the steering apparatus. Fortunately, this is a mechanically-minded shadow and I’ve no doubt we can find a decent garage. However, before I use the last dregs of our gasoline to get us to one, in light of the further necessary repairs, I think we’ll have better luck getting service if we don’t look like aliens to these people.”

Mandor got out of the car, leaving the door open, and Sarah - having absolutely no clue what to expect at this point, began to disembark as well, but he stopped her.

“It’s alright, you don’t have to get out; I just have to be standing to do this.” He bent and met her eyes earnestly. “What you are about to witness is the physical distinction between a native Chaosian and nearly all other creatures of all the other shadows: I can alter my own body at will. I fully understand that seeing this for the first time might frighten you, and I wanted to reassure you beforehand that, regardless of my appearance, it’s still me in here,” he tapped his temple with one finger. “You have nothing to fear from any of my forms.”

And with that he closed his eyes and, standing with his feet slightly spread apart, he rolled his shoulders back in one slow, fluid movement, spreading his chest…and his chest actually spread, growing larger, the muscle tone increasing as he grew proportionally eight inches taller, his limbs lengthening, his nose flattening and spreading, his skin turning to rough scale. His longer, thinner fingers became tipped with the black points as his white hair shaded to black with a distinctive widow’s peak, swept away from his face as his eyebrows and external ears receded to nothing and the neck growths formed. The complete transformation only took about ten seconds. He opened his bright-gold slit-pupiled eyes with an incongruously warm-blooded smile; his teeth were now uniformly flat-edged.

“There,” he said, leaning against the car, looking dead into her eyes. His voice was still recognizable but it had taken on a sandpaper-y, rasping quality. “What do you think? Do I pass?”

What Sarah thought was that what she had just now seen somehow eclipsed all the other events of the entire trip! In spite of how horribly alien such an ability was, she just couldn’t shake how compellingly intimate that had felt, almost like watching someone change clothes; thankfully, his clothing had altered with him.

“I…it’s…it’ll work,” she stammered awkwardly, almost too self-conscious. Sarah practically held her breath as he climbed back into the vehicle, adjusting the driver’s seat down and back to accommodate his increased height, closing the door. His eyes seemed almost unnaturally bright as he watched her mixed reaction to him with mild amusement. Perhaps it was best they were getting this out of the way now; his other standard forms would not be as much of a shock when the time came.

“See? It’s still me,” he said gently. “You will no doubt be relieved to know that I cannot alter your own person one iota,” he stated with a note of dry sarcasm. “I can, however, bespell your appearance temporarily for the same reasons, if you would permit…”

Sarah eyed him. At least he seemed to know what he was doing, even if the prospect did make her a little nervous. “How temporary?”

“One hour - why, is it that hideous?”

Sarah was flustered for a moment… and then realized that he was still smiling; he was teasing her to try to get her to loosen up! She smirked.

“I suppose it’s all right.”

He nodded, holding his long, clawed appendages forward in a receiving stance. “Give me your hands.”

Sarah inhaled and bravely placed her hands into Mandor’s upturned, altered ones, and he lightly clasped them; unlike the backs, the skin of his palms was perfectly smooth. He closed his eyes and began to mutter under his breath in a strange language she had never heard before; from the little she could make out, it made his English sound positively clunky in comparison. After a few seconds, she began to feel a cool tingling on her face, neck, hands, and scalp - not altogether unpleasant but definitely noticeable. A few more seconds and it was over. He opened his eyes and smiled a small knowing lip smile as he opened his hands, revealing hers: they were thin, scaled and clawed just like his! She looked them over thoroughly, astounded, but upon touching the back of the left, she realized that her tactile sensations were unchanged; the ring he had given her looked like it had shrunk to fit - the spell was that powerful. Curious, she pulled up her sleeve - the scales only went halfway up her forearm, ending exactly between the wrist and the elbow. But nothing could prepare her for her initial reaction when she pulled down the visor mirror and saw her face: the illusion was nothing short of stunning. He hadn’t missed a single detail and Sarah found herself smirking at her wildly-altered visage; the effect was just too cool. She suddenly wondered how her brooch had survived so far but decided against getting it out while they were here; the Chaos lord was taking great pains to keep both of them inconspicuous.

“I’m afraid I can’t do anything about your height; you’ll just have to be short,” he commented offhandedly, “but that much ought to suffice to put people at ease. If you’re ready, we should get going.”

He turned the ignition and their trusty Camaro came back to life after one false start; they were definitely running on fumes. Mandor felt the gas give out just as a garage came in sight and he popped the gearshift into neutral, sliding it into the lot. An attendant, dirty with oil and wearing only brown work pants, walked up to the car and Sarah had to force herself not to look at him. Mandor rolled down the window.

“So, whaddayaneed? Besides a couple of us boys to shove you to the nearest refill station - ya almost made it; Drek’s is just another block down,” the mechanic hissed rapidly with a reasonably friendly grin. Sarah silently gasped, keeping her eyes glued to the dashboard: she could understand him!

“I ran over something large and now the vehicle is pulling far too hard to the left,” Mandor replied in his now similar-sounding voice.

The mechanic nodded. “Threw your alignment probably. If you bent the tie-rod it could take us a few days to ship the part in from Valdesh.”

“Is your manager here?”

“Yeh, right in the shop, why?”

“Could you get him for me, please?”

The true reptilian man stopped smiling, recognizing a problematic customer. “He won’t give you no different answer.”

Mandor was unfazed. “Just humor me.”

The mechanic looked a little miffed but he walked off in the direction of the squat brick building back by the garage and stepped inside. The moment the door closed, Sarah yanked Mandor’s jacket sleeve to get his attention, forgetting her apprehension of his new form.

“You never told me I could understand them!” She nearly jumped at the sound of her voice - it mimicked theirs, only higher! And in the same foreign tongue! He genuinely smiled; her reaction had childlike surprise and enthusiasm.

“I built a communication spell into the other one, but it only lasts as long as the masking does.” He produced a long wallet from the inner breast pocket opposite the one he stored his trumps in and got out two foreign-looking crisp bills, each worth 20 terictans. He handed them to Sarah along with a small pocket watch. “I told you we had a little time to waste; you might as well sight-see while you’re here. Chances are good that neither of us will ever see this place again so I would advise you to make the most of it.”

A man Sarah took to be the manager was walking out to meet them. Mandor got out of the car and motioned for Sarah to do likewise; her legs were stiff but it felt good to be on her feet again. The manager strode right up to Mandor, bold as brass.

“Alright, what couldn’t my attendant help you with?”

“First of all, before we start discussing repairs, is there anywhere within comfortable walking-distance that my daughter could go to amuse herself while we wait?”

The guy looked at him a little incredulously. “It’s not gonna be that fast from what Tark tells me, but if you go a block that way,” he pointed and looked left, “you run into a pretty good stretch of shops that could keep a young lady busy for a while,” he finished, looking down at Sarah with a smirk.

“Go on, explore, have fun,” Mandor playfully shooed her away, “meet me back here in precisely forty minutes.”

Sarah smiled at the ruse. “Yes, Father,” she answered demurely and paced away at a decent clip.

“I wish mine was that good,” the manager noted, watching her go. “Now to business: I don’t know how fast you think we can do major repairs around here, and with other vehicles to service, no less. This thing’s a beaut, though,” he observed, finally looking over the car in question, “I ken see why you’d be in a hurry to have it back.”

Mandor caught the man’s eyes and deliberately held them just to get his attention - a simple enough arcane trick but one that never failed to impart an air of authority. He discreetly reproduced his billfold and carefully opened it for the manager to see, fanning its thick contents with this thumb claw before quickly putting it away; the man’s bright-green eyes were now wide as dinner plates.

“I don’t care how much this costs,” he said gravely, “just fix it. Now – even if you have to make a facsimile of the part. And I will watch it being done. This is an emergency.”

The manager had no idea who this guy thought he was but the incentive of a considerable cash bonus was enough impetus to try.

“Yes, sir!” he grinned and Mandor gave a small lip-smile and a nod of acknowledgement as the manager yelled at his ‘gecks’ to stop sunning themselves and get Mandor’s car on the lift. The Chaos lord casually paced in after them, reflecting that in all Order-worlds money was the universal arbitrator.


This is way beyond ‘one small step for man’, Sarah thought as she casually made her way down the long row of independently-owned shops on an alien planet. It simply didn’t feel real, she felt like she was dreaming. Her short nap had taken a considerable edge off of her fatigue, however, and she was perfectly alert. It was warm and very dry here, but not too hot; it was probably in the upper 70s and Sarah was thankful now that her blouse and pants were light even if the boots weren’t. Mandor had been right about her height; she looked like a child compared to these people, with everyone almost a full head taller at least. The fact wasn’t garnering much attention, though. In fact, to Sarah’s amazement, the crowds on the sidewalk now treated her with the general indifference that all society confers upon normalcy. Even what she was wearing wasn’t too far out of the ordinary, although many of the creatures that were probably closer to her age were dressed in much edgier fashions: tight asymmetrical block-print dresses that exposed nearly the entire legs and shoulderless bandeau tops looked common, along with a lot of plate-metal jewelry - sculpted collars, hammered arm cuffs, and heavy-looking bracelets were on one out of every six or seven women she passed. Conversely, the men’s general look appeared rather unspectacular and utilitarian on the whole, although there were certain exceptions, most notably that a small handful appeared to have deliberate geometric scarring on exposed arms or even their faces; whether it was ritual or just aesthetic she couldn’t tell and wasn’t about to ask.

In spite of the relatively exotic populace, the shops were surprisingly mundane: clothing, jewelry, home furnishings, junky knick-knacks, food - the place was almost like an outdoor mall on Earth. Remembering Mandor’s warning, she was a little surprised that he had handed her so much money when chances were whatever she got wouldn’t stay in its current condition, but in the end she decided he had genuinely meant for this to be a short pleasure outing away from him. Still, she wasn’t going to just squander it; she had to get something special to remember this place by.

Of course, not all the businesses were totally ‘normal’ by Earth standards; she quickly passed a day spa that was having a special on full-body peels, using a rather provocative complete female skin-shell in the window as part of the advertisement! She was about to cross the street when she spotted the bookstore.


It was a used mom-and-pop affair - her preferred type of establishment for reading material anyway - and in no time she was digging through the musty shelves feeling right at home. After nearly half-an-hour’s careful deliberation, she chose a history tome and a fiction compellation that had been in the ‘classics’ section. Her selections paid for, she was out the door and on her way back to the garage when on a whim she stopped in a juice bar. The prices were reasonable but she couldn’t even identify half the ingredients on the menu (and some she was certain were some kind of pulverized bugs from the description) but she took a chance with a plain iced sweet cactus juice and was well-rewarded for the risk.

She got back just in time to see the Camaro lowered off the lift and taken for a quick test drive around the block by the manager with Mandor in the passenger seat, watching him like a hawk. Pulling back into the garage parking lot, both parties seemed satisfied and a large quantity of money exchanged hands with smiles all round. After a couple of quick last-minute preparations, they were on their way out of town.

“So, get something frivolous, I trust?” Mandor quipped good-naturedly once they were back on the main road out; the sun was finally setting.

“A couple of books that looked interesting. Will they hold up?” she asked, opening the larger story-one in her lap.

“At least the contents should,” he said, glancing down at them. “What you should’ve been concerned about is whether you would be able to read them later,” he calmly noted. And, sure enough, as soon as Sarah started to feel those spell-tingles again as the illusion he had cast over her wore off just a few minutes later, the lettering all turned to an indecipherable gibberish right before her eyes.

“Oh,” she said, embarrassed at so obvious a blunder. Her voice was back to normal again.

“It’s all right; you’re still new at this. I can make translated copies for you later.”

After a while he pulled over and Sarah looked behind them; the alien metropolis was gone. Mandor stepped out of the vehicle and in moments was himself once more as he sat back down, adjusting the seat back up. In a way, Sarah was relieved to see him back to normal, but an odd thought had been eating at her the whole time they were in Lizard City and now she dared to ask. He had lifted the picnic basket onto the armrests between them and was getting out what she presumed was his dinner; he had been too busy to eat while they were there.


“Yes,” he replied absently, not looking at her.

“Is this your true form?”

He suddenly stopped and glanced up at her, caught off-guard by the question, but soon relaxed again with a fond smirk.

“You ask whether I am a man by nature.”

Sarah flushed, a little embarrassed, and looked away. Amused, Mandor thought for a moment how best to answer her.

“This is one of my true forms,” he finally stated in his normal conversational tone, as if this wasn’t an odd topic at all. She turned back around to face him; his expression was unusually frank. “My other chief form you would recognize as a kind of an apelike creature.”

Primate, Sarah thought. Well, at least that’s something.

Whatever he was, Mandor was currently diving into a turkey club and Sarah’s own hunger prompted her to join him; soon they had both downed two sandwiches each and a fair portion of the fruit. Sarah couldn’t quite put her finger on it but the flavoring of everything was slightly off somehow now. Upon asking, Mandor confirmed her suspicion: their current supplies wouldn’t last much longer.

“Dig all the water bottles out and close up the rest,” he instructed her as they pulled back out onto the road again. After a short dip and a curve around a black hill, a beggar of sorts with a sign on the side of the road came into view. Without a single word, Mandor slowed down and handed him the basket through the window; before the astonished creature could even thank him they were gone. The scene had seemed surreal to Sarah, almost as if Mandor had simply willed a destitute person into existence to benefit from his munificence! Seeing the question in her eyes, he put a finger to the side of his nose.

“Trade secret,” he smiled, “although you may learn it someday.”

With the excitement of civilization behind them and the slowly changing road ahead in the dimming light, Sarah’s fatigue returned with a vengeance and soon she was asleep again; this time, nothing disturbed her rest. Traveling in this fashion had proven a surprising strain for Mandor as well: having to manually shuffle through all the possible variables in sky and landscape to reach combinations close to Chaos was ludicrously cumbersome compared to grabbing a destination and pulling oneself through, but it couldn’t be helped. Even if he had the power to conjure any version of the Black Road from way out here - the highway to Chaos - its use would probably sicken his human companion at the very least. The sun had finally set and he didn’t feel up to another hellride at present to keep chasing it; it was next-to-impossible to shadow-shift without sufficient light and he’d have to pull over soon for the night. He’d retained the black desert but had begun to add rock outcroppings here and there. The sky had been rather difficult to negotiate at first but there was one final thing he wanted to try before turning in. The stars had been visible for some time but, true to Order-form, they were stationary - distant, cold, mind-numbingly predictable. He was tired of Order.

Enough! he thought. Enough of these sterile galaxies, these lifeless stars! Let there be light!

And one single star shot across the sky in the direction of the horizon. He kept the road easy and drove until the entire sky was ablaze like the biggest meteor shower in the world. Mandor got off the pavement and four-wheeled over the flat desert floor until they were a small distance away from the road and turned off the engine. The place seemed totally abandoned - nothing for any life-form to live on out here as far as he could tell - but he took normal precautions. Quietly getting out of the car, he activated two of his spheres and set them in orbit around the vehicle in lieu of a protection circle and got back inside. The night was cool but not outright cold and, glancing benevolently down upon the human girl in his care, he suddenly had an idea. He carefully reached behind her seat and, retrieving the soft, grey Chaosian-made blanket – a standard army article that had saved many a creature’s life by adjusting to and holding a specific temperature according to the exact needs of the body under it - he lightly draped it over her somnolent form up to the neck, then turned the car accessory on momentarily to put the roof back down and tilt both front seats back fully.

“Sarah,” he called her name gently. She stirred.

“What?” she asked groggily, still half-asleep.

“Look up,” he prompted her.

Sarah pried open her eyes - and then opened them wide: the entire night sky was alive with the brightest shooting stars she had ever seen in her entire life! Now fully awake, she noticed that she was reclined all the way and tucked in; Mandor was lying alongside in the driver’s seat with his hands crossed behind his head, gazing heavenward.

“I probably should’ve let you rest but I couldn’t resist showing you this,” he added conspiratorially. “That is no mere meteor shower,” he pointed up, “those are actual stars, part of the stream that runs to Chaos. They point the way home, racing to join their brothers and sisters, dancing for joy in the place of beginning,” he stated serenely.

The sight alone was enough to make Sarah feel small, but once explained it was overwhelmingly moving, almost painfully beautiful to behold. They simply lay there in silence for a while, watching the entire heavens fly by overhead. After a time, Mandor sat up and removed his jacket, draping it over himself as he lay back down.

“Are you comfortable with seeing that as you fall asleep or should I put the roof back up again?”

Sarah turned to face him, smiling. “Leave it down.” And suddenly added, “we are safe out here, right?”

“I secured the perimeter while you were asleep. I think it’s very unlikely that anything’s out here, but if my circle of influence is broken during the night, whatever did it will be frozen in place until I can deal with it at my leisure in the morning. We are perfectly safe,” he reassured her, settling in. “By this time tomorrow, you will be resting securely in my guest apartments.” He could just make out her features in the faint light; her eyes were closed again with a small smile. “Goodnight, Sarah Williams, child of Shadow Earth, adopted daughter of Chaos,” he said quietly.

“G’night, Mandor,” she sleepily murmured back.

Mandor watched his charge for a few moments longer, then turned over and allowed sleep to claim him.
(Incidental music: for the blue horse sequence - Drop Black Sky, Sticks and Shadows, 'Submersible Blink mix'; for the falling stars, Uroboros Choke, Nailed to the Sky, 'Holes in Space'. General shadow-walking - Trash80 'Faces of a Fashion')
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