With that, the witch, Joan, handed the pistol back to Lizzie, who quickly loaded the bullet into the pistol and gave the gun a try herself. She squeezed the trigger and the gun discharged with a loud band, but immediately afterwards there was a soft clicking sound, as the bullet magically reloaded itself. Lizzie fired twice more with some satisfaction at the weapon’s improvement.
“Let us see that Tigzly threaten me again!” said the girl, and both she and the red haired witch laughed at the thought.
Martial business finished for the nonce, Joan lead Lizzie to the wicker table and chairs where breakfast was whisked into view by the ever present clouds of fairies that shimmered in the morning sun. Crisp white crackers and jams made from multicolored bambam fruits (which she was assured existed nowhere outside this amazing land of Aus) were served with odd but delicious blue-yoked fried eggs and the finest Asian tea.
Joan watched Lizzie eat with a smile. It was obvious to the lovely witch that the girl seated across from her was unused to eating so well. Though Joan now lived as a fairie queen in a magical land, she was familiar with the wider world, and with the effects of crushing poverty on the minds, bodies and morals of young women trapped by circumstance on the streets of large cities like London. That Lizzie had survived and managed to remain strong and optimistic spoke volumes to the witch about the girl’s character.
Lizzie, meanwhile, scanned the nearby shrubberies for any sign of her friend Bobby as she ate all the food laid out before her, but saw nothing.
“Are you looking for your friend?” asked Joan, “I’m sure he’s fine. My fairies would tell me if he were in danger.”
“Thank you,” said Lizzie, “You are most kind. I just know that Bobby will be very upset at having missed a chance to partake of this wonderful breakfast.”
“I will have a bag prepared for you to take to him when you leave,” said Joan.
Lizzie nodded, then, remembering her manners, added, “Thank you.”
Suddenly there was an angry buzzing sound filling the air, as the fairies became agitated and angry. Lizzie noticed the change in mood only an instant after Joan did. A small, slender fairy woman landed on the table between Lizzie and Joan, and bowed low to the Fighting Fairy Woman before exploding in a torrent of high pitched words in a language Lizzie could not understand.
At the fairy’s words, Joan’s expression soured, and she turned so angry that her flushed cheeks nearly matched the vibrant redness of her hair.
“What is it?” asked Lizzie, concerned and no longer hungry.
Joan rose from the wicker table with great deliberation. “Apparently there is a red door hitched outside my castle.”
Lizzie shuddered. Lang Li had found her.
Lizzie followed Joan back through the castle and out the large front door and back to the path of circular stones. In front of the castle was a beautiful garden of colorful and assorted flowers in the middle of which sat a large red door inside a sturdy red frame. The atmosphere absolutely bristled with the energy of millions upon millions of agitated fairies, weapons drawn and wings humming in anticipation. At the sight of the red door Lizzie pulled her pistol and held it in her right hand even as her left hand found comfort upon the handle of her knife.
Joan never lessened her stride, and walked boldly up to the red door as the fairies made way for their queen and protector. Arriving at the door the Fighting Fairy Woman raised her fist and knocked on the red door in a very un-ladylike way, loudly and hard.
“Lang Li!” shouted the witch, “How dare you invade my realm!”
The doorknob began to move, and the wings of the fairies beat faster in response, moving the air and approaching a sound that was somehow almost too high pitched to bear. Lizzie brushed her hair from her eyes and took half a step back as the door opened and Lang Li stepped into the garden of flowers. The haughty oriental held her head high and wore long, flowing red robes. Lizzie noticed that Lang Li was barefoot, with tiny, delicate feet. Atop her head Lang Li wore a tiny tiara that managed to be stunning due to the assortment of black pearls embedded in silvery metal. Beyond Lang Li, through the doorway, Lizzie could see the Skutters, holding swords, ready to charge forth at their mistress’s bidding.
“Invasion?” said Lang Li as innocently as her haughty demeanor would allow, “I do not invade, I visit, as friend.”
“Your filthy Skutters were spotted within my domain, Lang Li,” said Joan, “That’s a clear breach of our agreement.”
“Those Skutters were overzealous in pursuit of prey,” said Lang Li, stepping from the flowerbed and for the first time allowing her eyes to rest on Lizzie, who stood behind Joan, fighting the urge to run away, “All naughty Skutters now properly punished with best heads tossed to fire.”
Lang Li produced a green porcelain bottle from beneath her robes, its cork held in place by red ribbon and black paper embossed with oriental lettering in golden ink. “I bring gift. Nippon sake. Very good.” Lang Li held the bottle out for Joan, who eyed it with a mixture of dread and need.
The barest smile turned the edge of Lang Li’s lips as Joan reached out and took the proffered bottle, a little too quickly. “Thank you,” said Joan, “Your gift is most kind.”
Lang Li nodded and presented a false, tight-lipped smile. “Your gift to me will be equally appreciated, Joan.” Once again Lang Li’s eyes settled on Lizzie, who shuddered under her glare.
Joan picked up on Lang Li’s meaning. “I do not bargain with the lives of children, Lang Li.”
Lang Li looked at the fairies that filled the air and the trees and gardens around them. The droning of the fairy wings was almost overwhelming. “We retire to your lovely back yard and discuss, yes?”
Suddenly Lizzie found her voice. “Discuss what?” said the girl suddenly and with great emotion, “chopping off my head?”
“You talk without respect, girl.” Lang Li responded sharply, “Mind place or suffer consequences.”
“She is a guest in my realm -“ began Joan, before Lang Li cut her off.
“Thousand pardons, Fairy Queen. No disrespect meant I assure you.”
Agitated now by Lang Li’s haughty demeanor and disrespectful attitude, Joan dropped the veneer of politeness and asked, “Why do you want this girl’s head?”
“That my business. My plan,” said Lang Li, “Surely you see signs? Rani’s power grows in south. Witches and sorcerers, more powerful than we, have fallen before her.”
“The Rani is a good woman, Lang Li. She seeks order and peace.”
“For you and your kind, Joan, perhaps. But I deal in darker arts, and Rani no like me and mine.”
As the two witches conversed, Lizzie looked to the red door, and her heart skipped a beat at what she saw. Six Skutters, including the one who had lost her finger-like appendages to Lizzie’s blade, had stepped through the portal and were unintentionally trampling the flower garden as they followed their queen at a respectful distance. But behind the Skutters, Lizzie could see Bobby, sneaking from around the back of the door, and peering into Lang Li’s castle.
Lang Li stopped speaking and followed Lizzie’s gaze to the doorway. Lizzie held her breath but Bobby had already ducked inside the door and was out of sight. Lang Li saw nothing but the Skutters and their clumsy feet destroying the garden.
“Your Skutters are trampling the garden, Lang Li ruining all the fairies’ hard work,” said Lizzie, stepping past the evil Princess and towards the Skutters, who bristled warily at her approach.
Lang Li barely concealed her annoyance at Lizzie’s comment. “I’m sure garden may be repaired, perhaps to lovelier condition.”
Lizzie, her plan formed, knelt at the garden’s edge, inches away from the nearest Skutter. Paying the malevolent two-faced monsters no mind, she tended to a flower with a broken stem.
“Look,” said Lizzie, bidding the nearest Skutter closer, “You killed it.”
“I did not mean to…” said the Skutter, nervously, looking from flower to Lang Li for confirmation of her affront.
As the Skutter lean forward, Lizzie suddenly jumped to her feet, catching the Skutter under the chin with a ferocious right hook and knocking her head off with a loud popping noise. The body of the Skutter crashed into the Skutter behind it, and that Skutter crashed into a third, sending half of Lang Li’s attendants to the ground in a confused tangle of bodies and dislodged heads.
Lizzie wasted no time. As the fairies flew about in a confused maelstrom of buzzing wings and tiny shrieks of fear, outrage and confusion, Lizzie stormed past the Skutters and through the red door, slowing down only enough to grab the handle of the door and slam it shut behind her.
Inside the castle Bobby was seated at an ornate dining table, a napkin tucked into the top of his shirt, and a large half-eaten turkey leg, recently ripped from the roasted turkey at the center of the table, in his tiny fat fist. “Liffy!” said the boy, the food that filled his mouth exploding from his lips in surprise, “whuff’s going on?”
Lizzie said nothing, but gripped the door by the doorknobs on either side of the frame and began dragging it across the rough hewn stone floor towards the roaring fireplace that she had once seen engulf a Skutter’s head. The doorknobs wriggled in her fingers as the Skutters attempted to open it from the other side.
Still Lizzie did not give up. She got the red door over by the fireplace and prepared to push it in to the flames. Approaching the flames caused Lizzie to sweat, and her palms slipped on the doorknobs. Despite her efforts the door began to open, but it was already too late. Lizzie saw something small and quick and buzzing slip through the crack in the door a second before she consigned it to the flames.
The fire took to the door quickly, and Lizzie guessed that the fire must be magical, because it consumed the door almost instantly. Lizzie backed away from the fireplace and waited, but nothing happened. All was quiet in the room, save for the sound of Bobby chomping into the meat of the turkey leg. Lizzie wheeled around and looked at the stupid little boy.
“I’m sorry I came through the door, Lizzie, but I could smell the turkey, and I was hungry.”
“Bobby,” said Lizzie, “You are a genius!”
“Hey!” said the stupid boy, his feelings hurt, “you don’t have to insult me.”
Lizzie laughed and ripped the other turkey leg from the carcass of the turkey. “I was complimenting you, Bobby. I don’t know what Lang Li is up to, or why she wants my head, but we just stole her castle, at least for a little while, and it was you who gave me the idea!” Lizzie bit into the turkey leg with relish. She felt like a pirate queen, after a successful raid.
Bobby smiled. “I guess I do have good ideas after all!”
“Do not become too comfortable, Princess,” said a tiny voice.
Bobby’s eyes went wide, and Lizzie started before laying her eyes on the source of the voice, a tiny, delicate fairy girl with black skin and silver eyes, wings and hair. Lizzie recalled seeing something small and quick and buzzing coming through the door an instant before she consigned it to the flames.
“I’m sorry, little fairy,” said Lizzie, “I did not see you there.”
“I understand, Princess,” replied the fairy, “I am, after all, very small.”
“I am not a Princess,” said Lizzie, “so you may call me Lizzie.”
The fairy nodded at this. She was a very serious fairy, and seldom smiled. “And you may call me Tempest. My Queen sent me to aid you, Lizzie.”
“Aid me how?” asked Lizzie, “”I just want to get back to England.”
“Then I will help you to do that,” said Tempest, “Lang Li is going to be very angry with you because of the trick you just played, and she’ll be here tomorrow morning once she summons a new doorway.”
“Good,” said Lizzie, taking another bite of her turkey leg, “Because when Lang Li gets here, we’re going to trap her.”
Tempest and Bobby both stared at Lizzie as if she had lost her mind, but Lizzie was tired of running. Now it was time to fight back.
To Be Continued!