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Age of Bronze

Dorothy and the Mushroom Queen
By Janet Deschman
Excerpt from Oz-story #2

Chapter 1 - A Strange Sight

Everyone in the Emerald City had long ago grown tired of hearing the Glass Cat extoll the beauty of her glass body, her emerald eyes, her ruby heart, and the way her pink brains whirled delicately within her transparent head. Now the only time anyone in the Emerald City paid attention to the Glass Cat was when she returned from one of her frequent journeys of exploration. On these occasions a small group would gather in a sitting room of Ozma's Royal Palace to hear of the Glass Cat's latest discoveries.

Among the remaining listeners this evening was Dorothy Gale. Dorothy had long ago been made a princess of Oz and now lived in the Royal Palace. Her many adventures and strange experiences both in and out of the Land of Oz had gained the girl a reputation as something of an explorer herself. Dorothy didn't mind the Glass Cat's vanity much, but Toto, Dorothy's little black dog who now lay on her lap, couldn't stand to listen to the Glass Cat for long. Toto had deliberately gone to sleep. He gave a sudden snore.

The Glass Cat glanced witheringly at the dog, who slept on, oblivious. The Glass Cat continued. "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it was just last night that I came upon one of the strangest sights I have ever seen. I was traveling through a forest in the southern portion of the Munchkin Country on my way back to the Emerald City. I have been in that forest many times and never experienced anything particularly remarkable, so I admit that even I was surprised to hear a low moaning chant nearby. My curiosity was aroused at once, so I cautiously headed in the direction of the eerie sound. On glass paws I threaded my way among the trees -- no creature of flesh and blood could have been so silent -- until I arrived at a small clearing lit by the rays of the full moon. I crept close to the edge of the clearing, but remained carefully concealed behind a tuft of long grass at the base of a tree. Within the clearing several figures moved slowly in a strange dance. As they danced they chanted gloomily which is what had attracted my attention.

"I've never before seen anything like those dancers. There were five of them. They were vaguely human in shape, each with a head, two arms, and two legs, but their movements were fluid as if there were no bones in their bodies. Their skin was pale, a sort of faded gray, not really any color at all, though that may just have been an effect of the moonlight. Their faces were nearly featureless -- just slits for the eyes and mouth. Four were hairless, but one who was taller than the rest had stringy wisps hanging limply from its head.

"The tall one seemed to be the leader. The others followed the leader's movements around the circle of the dance and repeated the leader's chanting. I think their dance was some kind of ritual connected with the moon because they waved their arms at the moon and bowed to it every so often.

"Before I could decide whether to make my presence known or not, an owl hooted somewhere off in the forest. Immediately the dancers froze as if in alarm. The leader made an urgent signal and they all shuffled into the forest across the clearing from me.

"I was curious to see where they would go, so I darted across the clearing and trailed them as closely as I dared. One of the superiorities of being glass is that I'm nearly invisible at night, but I made sure to stay well behind them. The ease with which they navigated through the dark forest told me that they could see well in darkness, almost as well as I. They marched right up to a rocky outcropping that rose above the trees. As I watched, an opening appeared near the base of the outcropping. The leader crawled into the opening and the others followed. As the last one disappeared into the opening I sprang forward, but before I could reach the opening, a tangle of vines covered it. I clawed at the vines, but they would not yield. The vines were woven together so tightly and their roots were anchored so firmly that they formed an impenetrable barrier. I could follow the creatures no further, so I resumed my journey to the Emerald City and arrived late this morning, seeing nothing more of consequence."

"How strange!" said Dorothy. "I wish you had been able to follow those creatures. I'd like to know what and who they are."

Tik-tok, the copper clockwork man, whose patience made him one of the Glass Cat's best listeners, spoke up. "Why don't you go and see them, Dor-o-thy? Since they are in Oz, they are its cit-i-zens. You are a Prin-cess of Oz; you could bring them am-bas-sa-dor-i-al greet-ings from the ru-ler of Oz, Oz-ma. Then you would have a rea-son to meet them and find out all a-bout them."

"That's an excellent idea, Tik-tok," said Dorothy. "I shall arrange it with Ozma in the morning." Dorothy turned to the Glass Cat. "You'll come along to show me where you found the opening in the rock, won't you?"

"I don't see why I should," said the Glass Cat. "The vine barrier is impenetrable, and if I could not discover a way in, I don't see how you can."

"I'm sure the Wizard's magic can do the trick," said Dorothy. "I'll consult him in the morning, too."

The Glass Cat narrowed her eyes. "Magic," she said, "hmpf! If you're going to use magic, then you won't need help from me."

Dorothy knew that the best way to handle the Glass Cat was to flatter her. "But I couldn't leave you here," Dorothy said to the Glass Cat. "Only you were observant enough to discover these unknown beings. And you certainly showed great cleverness in following them to see where they went."

The Glass Cat stretched her body contentedly before the glowing embers. "How true," she murmured.

"It's not your fault you could not follow them farther," continued Dorothy. "But once they see what an amazing and lovely creature you are, I am sure they will welcome you with pleasure."

"It would be a shame to prevent them from gazing upon my delightful form," said the Glass Cat. "As long as I'm going back to grant them this favor, you might as well come along, Dorothy."


Chapter 2 - Descent into Darkness

Drawn by the live wooden Sawhorse, Ozma's Red Wagon carried the three of them: Dorothy, the Glass Cat, and Flicker. Flicker was a little man just six inches high formed completely of candle wax. His hair was a constantly burning flame. He had once been a normal man, but a witch had turned him into a candle. Flicker had remained a candle for so long that when the witch's spell was at last overcome he had retained aspects of his former state: a wax body and flaming hair.

Dorothy had invited Flicker to come along for -- besides the fact that she enjoyed his company -- his hair might prove useful. If they found only darkness beyond the vine-covered opening in the rock, Flicker's hair would provide light. If danger threatened, Flicker's hair might provide protection. The Glass Cat scorned these precautions, for her emerald eyes could see in darkness and, as far as any one knew, her glass body was unbreakable. But Dorothy, although she lived in a magical fairyland, was mortal and could suffer harm. Flicker had no patience for the Glass Cat, but he adored Dorothy and had agreed at once to accompany her on this trip.

The Red Wagon reached the forest on the morning of the second day. At the edge of the forest Dorothy, Flicker, and the Glass Cat left the Sawhorse and the Red Wagon, for the trees of the forest grew too closely together for the Wagon to pass. The Glass Cat took the lead. Dorothy and Flicker followed her through the sweet-smelling forest.

Flicker had to take care that his hair did not set fire to any of the branches or leaves he walked beneath. But he was used to having hair of fire; it had become second nature to him to avoid getting too near inflammable objects.

The Glass Cat led them deeper into the forest. Among the trees huge boulders overgrown with ivy had thrust themselves through the surface of the earth. The ground began to slope gradually uphill. Neither Flicker nor the Glass Cat ever ate or grew tired, but just before noon they stopped to let Dorothy rest and eat some lunch from the food she had stored in her backpack.

As Dorothy peeled an orange Flicker said, "It's too bad, Dorothy, that you're not as small as I am. Then Bungle, here, could carry you on her back."

The Glass Cat looked at Flicker disdainfully. "What a ridiculous idea! I have too much self-respect for that."

Flicker grinned. "Too much self-respect? Well, now, maybe I can help you unload some of it." He sprang at the Glass Cat as if to land on her back.

With a startled yowl the Glass Cat leaped away. The spun glass hair of her tail stood out as stiff as the bristles on a new toothbrush. Flicker tumbled to the ground, giggling. The Glass Cat turned her back to recover her composure.

"Flicker," said Dorothy, "the Glass Cat has been kind enough to lead us this far, so you mustn't tease her. Besides, Ozma has declared us an official diplomatic embassy and we must get along with each other."

"Oh, all right," sighed Flicker. He stood.

"I'm ready to go," Dorothy said to the Glass Cat. "Lead on."

Without a word the Glass Cat stalked off through the forest. Flicker, doing his best to stifle his snickers, followed with Dorothy.

The Glass Cat guided them to the small grassy clearing where she had observed the strange dance. In the bright light of day they saw nothing unusual about the clearing, no clue to who or what the creatures were, no trace that they had ever been there. They plunged into the shadowy forest again.

Soon they reached a rocky outcropping that towered above them. Here was the highest point of the forest. The Glass Cat led them along the outcrop to a rock face covered with leafy vines. She casually brushed her tail against a dense growth of vines. "Here it is," she announced.

Dorothy squatted and peered at the vines. At first sight they looked no different from the other vines growing on the rock. She bent some leaves aside and studied the vines more closely. The long gray-green tendrils were woven together like threads on an immense loom. So tightly were they woven that no space was left between one vine and the next. Dorothy poked at the vines, but they did not yield. She picked at them with her fingernails, but could not separate one out. She pulled at leaves that grew from the vines, but only succeeded in ripping the leaves from their stems.

Dorothy examined the edges of the woven area. The individual vines spread out and were lost in the general overgrowth on the rock face. Dorothy traced the outline of the woven area. It was roughly circular and rose from the ground to her waist level. She tried to pry her fingers beneath the vines where the weaving began, but the vines clung stubbornly to the rock.

The Glass Cat sat nearby, a slight smirk on her face. "I told you," she said. "You'll never open it by yourself."

Flicker strode toward the vines. "I can open 'em!" he said. He bent his head close to the vines so that his flame hair touched them. Dorothy expected the vines to blacken and curl away from the flame, but Flicker's hair had no effect. He gave up.

"It's obvious that this door of vines is the result of some kind of magic," said Dorothy. "Otherwise they would burn. The only way to overcome their magic is with stronger magic."

From her backpack Dorothy pulled a leather case. The case contained a number of magical implements supplied by the Wizard of Oz. She carefully searched through its contents, finally withdrawing a small box. From the box she took a simple, dull-gray ring. Dorothy slipped the ring onto the first finger of her right hand and showed her companions. "The Wizard says that this ring can open any kind of door, no matter how strongly locked. All I do is touch the ring to the door and say the proper magic words."

Dorothy packed up the case. As she replaced it into the backpack she found her second-best silver coronet. She pulled out the coronet and put it onto her head. "After all, this is an official mission," she said. "Since I'm in my capacity as Princess of Oz, I should look like it."

Dorothy slipped the backpack over her shoulders again. She pressed the hand that wore the ring to the woven vines and said:

"That which blocks my forward motion,
I command you now to open,
Open, open, open, open,
Open, open unto me."

Dorothy drew her hand away from the vines. They remained unchanged.

"Hmf!" said the Glass Cat. "So much for magic."

"I hope I said the correct number of 'opens,' " said Dorothy. "There should have been seven."

"Look!" said Flicker. "Something's happening!"

The vines quivered. Then they began to unweave, slowly at first, as if reluctant to comply with the magic of the ring, but gaining speed until, with a final whipping and curling of vines, a low opening in the rock face lay revealed.

Dorothy peered inside. A stone tunnel led into blackness. The tunnel's floor was flat, its roof arched. The stone looked smooth and without blemish.

"It's awfully dark in there," said Dorothy.

"That's why I came along," said Flicker. "Stand aside -- I'll go first to light the way."

The Glass Cat approached the opening. "Not so fast," she said. "If anyone is to go first I should, since I was the one to discover the mysterious beings."

"That's a silly reason," said Flicker.

"Silly?" retorted the Glass Cat. "I wouldn't talk about silly if I were you. Your head is wax through and through, while my head is full of marvelous pink brains."

"Please," said Dorothy, "this is no time to argue. The Glass Cat shall go first, because we should approach these unknown people cautiously and she is least conspicuous. Flicker will be next to light the way, and I will come last. I'll have to crawl on my hands and knees unless the ceiling gets higher further on, so don't go too fast."

The Glass Cat walked past Flicker with a smirk and entered the tunnel, her plumelike tail held high. Flicker stuck out his tongue at the Glass Cat as soon as her back was turned. Then he winked at Dorothy and walked through the opening in the rock. Dorothy followed on hands and knees.

The stone floor of the tunnel was cold to the touch, but its smooth surface was easy to travel over. The light of Flicker's hair revealed walls as smooth as the floor. The air inside the tunnel was still, but seemed fresh. It felt cooler than the sun-dappled atmosphere of the forest, but the wake of Flicker's hair kept Dorothy warm.

They had proceeded perhaps thirty feet when Dorothy heard a rustling behind her. Flicker and the Glass Cat heard it too.

"Look!" cried Flicker, pointing back toward the opening.

Dorothy was larger than her companions and could not turn around as quickly in the cramped tunnel. But she managed to look behind just in time to see the light from the entrance disappear as the vines wove themselves back into place.


Continued in Oz-story #2
Copyright © 1996 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

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