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06 November 2018 @ 08:34 am

Epic and Arwen exchanged glances. “Should we adults go along?”

That got a raspberry from a girl who was probably around sixteen. “You’re only nineteen, Arwen. At least Epic’s over twenty.”

“I’m twenty-one punk. And since I see my sisters following the pied pipers, I’m going too.” Apparently their group hadn’t gotten far enough along to order anything, but the other people were paying up and following Irwun.

Zodiac slapped down money and collected a bagful of who knows what, and trotted to catch up with them. Ryol trailed a bit uncertainly and found Zodiac walking beside her. “Don’t look so worried. They’re pranksters, not rapists or whatever . . . Whoa! There’s more of you?”

Ryol followed his gaze. The rest of the girls were leaving the school.

“Ryol? What’s going on?” Voyr looked back and forth at the horde.

“We’re going to explore the Maze, c’mon!” Oooo, shoes with heels! This could be funny!

Zodiac grinned, and speaking softly, “Is that nice?”

Ryol grinned back. Unfortunately when the paving turned into doubled tire tracks, packed dirt through the unmown grass, the girls in good shoes stopped and only six of them kept going. Well, and all the boys, of course, turning off into a meadow and leaping through a white whirlpool and out of sight.

“I hate not being able to see what’s on the other side.” Lala whispered.

Ryol nodded. “Yeah.”

Foyh sniffed. “Oh, it’s just a little foggy.”

“It’s a lot foggy.” Gior stopped. “Those stupid boys are in the way . . . that’s better.” She jumped through.

Ryol swapped glances with Lala, swallowed, walked up to the whirlpool, and jumped.

Spun, stretched, compacted and stepped out onto another double tire track. She staggered a couple of meters and looked back. Lala leaped gracefully out of the whirlpool, tripped and fell flat. Zodiac stepped out nonchalantly and reached down to give her a hand.

Lala blushed as she accepted the help and scrambled up. “Sorry, I didn’t think about the ground being rough over . . . here?”

Reminded, Ryol looked around at the third world she’s ever been on. Another grassy meadow, surrounded by trees, but with spectacular tall mountains on three sides.

“Wow. We don’t have anything like that in Montevideo.”

Zodiac frowned at here. “Doesn’t Montevideo mean mountain view or something like that?”

“It’s more of a hill . . . no one’s quite sure what the video part actually meant back when the area was first explored by Europeans.” Ryol shrugged. “I see a mountain, or something deo, or, who knows.”

“Huh. Well, a couple of millennia later it sounds prettier than ‘Rip World’ ‘Prairie Coast,’ or,” He shot a quick grin at them, “‘Granite Peak.’”

He chuckled at their double glares and pointed. “There are two corridors they each go about fifty miles to two different gates. See, they can pop the corridors quick, if someone’s chasing them. Then through the next gate, and corridor . . .”

“And pop that one? Wow.” Lala had brightened and now she looked around . . . “What’s the best way to go?”

“My favorite place had a forest fire eight years ago . . . It’s recovering slowly, but it’s a great place for a picnic.” He hoisted his bag of pastries. “Unfortunately it’s where my family is camping out. But let’s go there anyway.”

Six gates and corridors later they were standing on the shore of a big lake. Mountains all around, and a broad sandy beach.

Back from the beach, the ground was crisscrossed by charred tree trunks, young pines bright green against the blackened ground.

“That must have been some fire!” Ryol looked back through the last corridor. It was all new growth there, too!

“What started it?” Lala reached out and touched a fallen trunk nearly as tall as she was.

“Yeah, I kind of wish I’d seen it! We were attacked by some Arbolian priests. I got knocked out by a stun spells, and apparently they were throwing fireballs and slice . . . well, I came to a couple hours later and we were four gates away, and collapsing the corridors behind us.” He looked around. “I was pretty upset, the next time we came through.”

They nodded, and followed him down to the water’s edge and along the shore.

They skirted the boys, taking their shoes off to test the water. Ryol caught Arno’s yelp about freezing . . .

Zodiac snickered. “It’s snow melt. On the hottest summer days it’s wonderfully brisk.” He paused at a large splash. Followed by more. “They’ve started throwing each other in. They’re all going to regret it.

Ryol spotted the wagons parked in the shade, the four five horses staked out to graze. Campfires just getting lit.

Zodiac strolled up to the closest fire and raise the bag he was carrying. “Two dozen donuts. Better hide them if you don’t want the frozen boys to scarf them all.”

Ryol blinked as she spotted the young woman beside a table by the fire.

“This is my Aunt Macaw. Best camp cook in the Multiverse.”

The woman snorted and took the bag. “I see you’ve met my nephew, the worst cook in the Multiverse. Grab the biggest pot and fetch some water. I suspect those boys are going to want something hot to drink in a moment. Old Gods know how we’ll feed them.”

Ryol giggled. “Oh, we’ll have to go back for dinner. Our . . . biofather will no doubt expect us to sleep in the beds he’s providing.”

Macaw’s brow wrinkled. “Bio . . . sorry, I thought you felt like a standard With Wizard combination.”

Zodiac laughed. “Remember when Xen Wolfson went and spied on the Oners? And he seduced all these High Oner wives and disgraced their husbands?”

Macaw stepped closer and looked Ryol and then Lala up and down. “Huh. Never thought about babies, which is stupid of me. Well! They’d be half a year older than Panther.”

Zodiac blinked, eyed Rael. “You’re fourteen? All of you?” He looked over his shoulder. “Excuse me a minute.”

He trotted back to the kid pack and put his lips to Irwun’s ear, as if whispering, then slid around the pack another boy . . . who looked just like Irwun.

Royal looked at Macaw. “Irwun has a twin?”

“Alin. Yep. Those boys drive there poor mother crazy swapping places.”

Back in the pack, Irwun had eased away from Gior, who was glaring at Zodiac.

Then the rest of the boys came up from the lake, dripping and shivering.

A tall woman intercepted them. “Wring out your shirts over there so you don’t make mud here and come have some tea.”

“That’s my sister Crimson, my other sister, Walnut’s around somewhere. Alin and Irwun’s mother isn’t along on this trip.” Macaw sighed. “We sort of . . . got ourselves disinvited to the Winter Solstice ceremony. Well, we figured we could just have our own.”

Ryol helped serve mugs of steaming tea to shivering scrawny boys. “Is that the ceremony on Mount Frost, or . . .”

“Old Gods, no! Brrrr! In the Winter we go to the hotsprings.”

“I figured . . . Master Xen said something about a corridor to some hotsprings. In the mountains.”

Crimson’s eyebrows rose, then dropped. She sent a scathing glare toward her sisters. “Some people have made it impossible for us to ask any favors of Xen.”

Macaw tossed a glare right back. “I was curious! I didn’t think how he’d take it!”

“And Q made us pay for it.” Walnut walked past, hands full of loaded shish kabob skewers.

Ryol eyed Crimson. “What did they do?”

“After you lot almost killed him—again—they snuck into his bed while he was in that healing coma thing they do. So, of course, the first time he touched one of the babies, he realized they’d raped him. And Q transformed them into these amazingly ugly rabbit things and it didn’t wear off for a month.” /// check///

Walnut yelled back, “It was not rape, he was quite happy to . . .” She glanced at the kids and shut up.

“Yeah, while he was probably dreaming of that scrawny assassin he’s fixated on!” Crimson yelled back. She glanced apologetically at Ryol. “They were too young for any of the guys to actually go all the way with. The head witch, Answer, is perfectly capable of killing any man who diddles an underage witch. So they snuck.”

“It’s not like he hasn’t deliberately had dozens of children!” Macaw called from the far side of the campsite.

Ryol rubbed her forehead. “So what did this Answer do to Master Xen?”

“Nothing. She knew who was at fault, and didn’t even say anything about Q’s spell, a year later.” Crimson shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Three witches don’t make a Pyramid. Now let’s see if your multitude of brothers are warm enough to send back to their, your, father.”


“So those wooden forts are based on a bunch of vids about your pioneering age in North America?” Arno was sitting between the two purple haired boys.

“Earth’s North America. Our World is Exile Two. Arrival-Arbolia is Exile Four and Comet Fall is Exile Five.”

Arno eased his feet back from the fire. “So there are two more Exile Worlds out there? Cool! I wonder what they’re like?”

Chris Puma grinned, He was the youngest of group at thirteen. Joel Taxus was already fifteen.

“Probably about like you guys and Arrival. You guys got hit harder by the comets and didn’t have much petroleum. We had oil, and we didn’t get hit by comets, so we only had to industrialize once.”

Arno sniffed. “We’re Oners. All we got from Comet Fall are the genes.”

“All?” Epic—the college student—sniffed. “Xen Wolfson is probably the most powerful magic user in the Multiverse. Half the embassies here, well, on Embassy, are probably trying to figure out how to recruit you guys.”

“As if we’d be interested.” Yrno sneered. “What could they possibly offer us? The One World is the most technically advanced civilization in the Multiverse.”

Irwun grinned. “Ever been to the Moon? I have, on British Empire. They’ve got a Mars base now too. Not open to tourists yet.”

Arno nodded. “Connected back to their Earth with dimensional corridors. But those are made by Fallen, not by themselves.”

Jay shrugged. “We’ve sent rockets. There’s just nothing there worth the effort, when you’ve got gate tech and can find multiple worlds with untapped resources and breathable air.”

That got nods all around.

Arno grabbed his socks—damp, but warm and started pulling them on. At least he’d gotten his shoes off before he’d been tossed in the freezing lake. And only one guy had needed to be rescued. The rest of them had swum enough to know to just put their feet down and wade back to shore.

Utry was going to be teased about his floundering panic in about a meter of water for years.

And a good thing it was that shallow, the way he tried to climb all over us as we hauled him to shore.

His obnoxious sister walked past and thumped him on the head. “I think we ought to head home before it gets any darker.”

Arno grabbed his shoes and slid them on. “Yeah. It’s not like they can feed a couple dozen kids that dropped by. We’ll have to pack food along, if we go exploring out here.”

Yrno snorted. “Boring. This place is boring. The women are either our sisters or younger than we are.”

Arno spotted Ryol and the other girls heading for the corridor. Dropped his voice. “What do you want to bet they get lost?”

The group broke up, laughing and they straggled “homeward” in a disorganized group.

It should be easy enough to find Embassy from this direction. The gates are spaced out with corridors inbetween, so we just have to pop through a corridor, then through the gate to the next world . . . ///1

Where the girls were looking around in dismay at three corridors.