Serafyr Halfdrake, the mightiest warrior in all of Hypnosia, was walking down one of the numerous hallways of the Castle of Anonymous. His mind was rapt in contemplating how he might rid himself of the latest pestilence to bother his heroic existence.
This plague was known as the "Royal Birthday," or "Booze Fest" to the commoners. Serafyr had never understood the need for such frivolous things as birthday parties. Especially the kind of birthday parties that lasted a full week and on an annual basis nearly bankrupted the kingdom’s celebration budget.
Serafyr suppressed a growl as he passed an alcove currently inhabited by a choir of elven children singing an ill-fitting lamentation for some ancient fallen hero.
"O, Brilhimmerl, fair-haired one!
The choir sang on, sounding very much like a flock of dying geese as they bemoaned the devastation that had come to pass on Brilhimmerl's noble elven nose.
Serafyr shook his head as he rounded a corner, his scaly red tail snapping irritably beneath his long cape. This was utterly ridiculous.
Princess Simiel Buduar, Hypnosia’s ruler, had come to the conclusion that stuffing a choir into every possible bit of available space in the Castle would be a good way to raise a celebratory mood. It had done nothing to make Serafyr feel more festive. The fact that several of the choirs specialized exclusively in songs that were not meant to raise spirits did not help the matter at all.
Serafyr was about to begin an internal rant when something deep within him stirred. Something was amiss. The semi-reptilian warrior ran down the hallway and flung aside the doors leading to Simiel's dressing room.
"What the... Serafyr, learn to knock!" Simiel spun around, holding a dressing gown over her scantily clad, flawless body.
"I beg your pardon, Princess, but my heroic instincts alerted me to a grave peril."
"Why, in the Void, is it that your so-called heroic instincts always flare up when I'm changing my clothes?" Simiel stepped down from a low podium she used while inspecting her reflection in the huge mirrors covering the room's walls.
"I would not know, beloved. But you have no need for concern, for there is nothing in your naked form which would hold any surprises to me."
"You saw those pictures in Gossipy Wench, didn’t you?" Simiel rolled her eyes. "I guess there's no beach private enough to keep the paparazzi away."
"What pictures? I have never beheld your body in its full glory..."
"Oh, my gods…" Simiel slapped her hand against her mouth.
"But I am more than knowledgeable of the fair gender's physical aspects. I have carefully studied the mosaics in the royal pool."
"I can imagine you have," Simiel muttered through her hand. "On a less bawdy note, did you read the internal memo I sent you?"
"I do not read memos!" Serafyr crossed his arms. "No true hero ever read memos."
Simiel sighed. "You really should start doing that, maybe then you'd be more up-to-date with what's going on."
"Is that not what the heralds are for?"
"When my dad ruled, yeah. Anyway, I sent you and Azaril a memo to tell you guys to get me a present for my birthday."
Serafyr's brow shot up towards his blazing red hair. "Ah, a present... Of course... I would have acquired one for you even without being told to do so."
"You didn't do that last year. This time I'm making sure you get me something. The media was all over it. 'The princess' top warrior forgets her birthday.' Stuff like that doesn't look good in approval ratings."
"I see your gist, beautiful one. I shall hasten forth and retrieve the most spectacular gift the world has ever seen!"
"Good. Don't forget to take Azaril along on this 'quest' of yours."
Serafyr froze in the middle of a heroic pose. "Are you quite sure? I fear he may not be able to handle a quest of this magnitude."
"You’re getting the present with Azaril. My guess is he's pestering the chef. Get going."
"As you wish." Serafyr bowed and exited the dressing room.
Taking long, dynamic strides, Serafyr marched down to the Castle's main kitchen. The room was abuzz with activity as chefs and cooks worked frantically to prepare all the traditional dishes eaten during the Royal Birthday. Serafyr navigated his way through various stations to where Head Chef Colsetros was working on the highlight of the feast, the cake.
Colsetros was standing on a ladder, mixing ingredients into a large bowl. When he heard Serafyr clearing his throat, he looked down.
“My lord, what brings you here? If it's about the steak, I didn't—”
Serafyr raised his hand. “No worries, though I did note that the griffin meat was somewhat stale. I came here to find the whereabouts of Azaril.”
“He's over there, licking frosting off the spoons. It's surprising how much we're saving in the cleaning department thanks to him.”
Serafyr curled his lip at the thought of eating utensils licked by Azaril and walked in the direction Colsetros had pointed out. Sure enough, sitting amidst pillars of dirty plates and bowls was the familiar green form of the Court Wizard. Azaril's face was hidden behind a spoon as big as his head, and his robes were bedecked with splotches of white and pink.
Serafyr let out an exasperated sigh as he regarded Azaril. “What you are doing is a disgrace to the proud heritage of your ancestors.”
Azaril, descendant of the Lamentamagicka family, lowered the spoon and smiled. “Hi, Serafyr! What are you doing here?”
“Simiel has bestowed a quest upon us.”
“Oh, you're talking about the memo?" Azaril waved his hand and a stack of glossy papers appeared. "I got us some catalogues.”
Serafyr took the catalogues and leafed through them. “We cannot find a present for Simiel from these.”
“Why? Everyone else uses them.”
“Precisely.” Serafyr tossed the catalogues away. “If we are to find a truly magnificent gift, we cannot rely on the methods used by laymen. Come, Azaril, let us set out on the quest for the ultimate gift!”
“Can't it wait?” Azaril squeaked. “I'm not done with all the yummy frosting yet.”
“Your desire for a sugar rush must wait; now is not the time for selfish thoughts.”
“Aw, Serafyr...” Azaril stared up at the warrior, his huge eyes pleading.
“I am immune to your acts of compelling cuteness. You shall not endanger our quest.” Serafyr grabbed Azaril by his arm and dragged the whiny adolescent out of the kitchen.
Serafyr soon found his way to the royal living room. Once there, he released his hold of Azaril and proceeded to sit down on the couch.
Azaril dusted off his robes and glared at Serafyr. “If you don't want to find the present from the catalogues, where do you suggest we'll find it?”
“We must use the means utilized by heroes and wizards since the dawn of time. We shall use our intuition to guide us.”
“My intuition says to use the catalogues or the royal shopping assistant.”
“Nay!” Serafyr said. “Those are the ways of today; they do not befit my heroic status.”
“Well, I could always scry for it.”
Serafyr hesitated to respond. Years of endless catastrophes had proved that Azaril's powers were very unpredictable. The danger was not lessened by the fact that Azaril was said to be the strongest member of his legendary, magically endowed family. The thought of what could transpire, should Azaril attempt to scry for anything, was unnerving.
But the facts were irrefutable: Serafyr had no talent when it came to purchasing presents to young, modern, female rulers, though he would never confess that out loud. Even with all the risks that allowing Azaril to use his powers entailed, it was the only way the two of them could successfully complete their quest before the day of celebration arrived.
“Very well, Azaril, you may scry for the present’s location. But I warn you, if anything explodes, or is otherwise damaged, I shall be placing full blame on you.”
Azaril chuckled. “Come on, what could go wrong?”
“From what I’ve heard, the last time you scried, you ended up unleashing an ancient monster upon some poor distant village. Luckily, I was in the region and dispatched the dreadful beast.”
“The Pendulum was just acting up.” Azaril reached within his voluminous sleeve and pulled out an ominously glowing pendulum made of a dark red gem.
“By the Fire Pits of Draakoa! That is the fabled Pendulum of Pandemonium!”
“Yep.” Azaril smiled proudly. “Uncle Ezramil gave it to me when I graduated from wizard school.”
“You never graduated from wizard school. They did not even allow you to attend for fear of you destroying the campus.”
Azaril shrugged. “Well, that just means I graduated automatically. Uncle said no one has ever done that before. I’m special.”
“Special indeed. How are you planning on using the Pendulum of Pandemonium to locate Simiel’s destined gift?”
Azaril reached inside his sleeve again and produced a map of Hypnosia. The tiny wizard laid the map on the floor and stepped in the middle of it, standing on top of Anonymous.
“The Pendulum is supposed to react somehow when it’s above the right spot.” Azaril spread his hands. “Pendulumus inquisitore! Presentamus locatore!”
Immediately the pendulum shook and pulled Azaril down, its tip sliced directly through Anonymous. Azaril got up and tore the vibrating device off the map.
“Okay, we’ve got it narrowed down to the city. Good thing I just picked up the latest tourist map.”
Azaril kicked the torn map of Hypnosia away and replaced it with a detailed map of the kingdom’s capital. The spell was uttered anew and the pendulum swung above the map. Serafyr followed its circular movements until he felt an odd dizziness overcome him. While Serafyr shook his head to clear away the dazed mess of images, a metallic click sounded from the map.
“I’ve got it,” Azaril said. “According to the Pendulum, we’ll find Simiel’s gift at the Pay’Em Mall.”
“The Pay’Em? But that temple of overprized consumerism is on the other side of the city. How are we supposed to journey through the traffic jam?”
“We’ll take the royal coach.”
Serafyr rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Azaril, the fine residents of the city are about to disperse for their lunch hour. The streets will be filled with people in search of an appropriate eatery to satisfy their hunger. No, we will not be using the carriage. We shall summon a beast worthy to transport us on our journey to the mall.”
Azaril sighed and dispensed of his map, waving it in the air until it disappeared in a puff of lavender-scented smoke. He then deposited the pendulum within the folds of his robes.
“I guess I should get the dragon-flare out.”
“You suppose correctly. Now, onward to the balcony!”
Serafyr and Azaril walked through the Castle to its front, where a large balcony faced the main gates and the front courtyard. On the way onto the balcony, Serafyr wrapped a fur-lined winter coat beneath his cape. It had been snowing for the last two weeks, and the balcony’s surface was covered by a foot of white powder.
Azaril squealed in childish delight and dove into the snow. Meanwhile, Serafyr blew smoke out of his nostrils; the snow felt terrible against his tail. He found no merriment in the cold, wet stuff and the draconian flu it gave him.
Once Azaril had made a small path to the parapet he revealed an orb of light which he the threw up to the sky. The light burned brightly for a moment then faded away.
Soon, the shape of an enormous flying creature appeared on the horizon. The creature flew to the Castle's front courtyard, its golden scales shimmering in the sunlight. Goldershelingreshbootdadrhel, or Goldy The Dragon, sat on her hind legs so that her head was well above the balcony and stared down at Serafyr and Azaril.
"What is it now?" Goldy's mental voice boomed inside Serafyr’s head.
"Oh Brightscaled One, we need your assistance!" Serafyr declared.
Goldy sighed. "You need a ride, don't you?"
"Well, yes. That is the core of our request."
Goldy's eyes narrowed as she glared at them. "You know... I'm getting tired of people treating me like I'm some sort of fancy talking horse!"
"But we have never—"
"Ever wonder why there aren't any dragonriders left? Because we finally grew some spines, and we're not going to cart a bunch of bipeds with big swords around no more! I'm going on strike. You can get your rides from some other mythic beast."
”Aha! I knew it,” Azaril said as Goldy swept her massive wings and flew away. "And you said the dragonriders got wiped out by a mysterious curse.”
”Mysterious curse, dragon pride, they are in essence the same thing.” Serafyr lowered his hands to his hips. “I fear she may have gotten to the mead.”
Azaril shook his head. ”There’s not enough alcohol in all the taverns, inns, bars, clubs, and pubs in Anonymous to get someone as big as Goldy drunk.”
”In any case, we are now faced with a mighty dilemma of having to deal with the luncheontime traffic.”
”I still don’t believe it can be that bad.”
”Oh, if only I possessed your naivety...” Serafyr leaned over the parapet and signalled for the guards standing below. ”Prepare the royal carriage!”
Soon a customised clarence drawn by four unicorns was waiting for Serafyr and Azaril on the front courtyard of the Castle. The driver stepped down from his seat and opened the door for the warrior and the wizard while one of the royal gardeners, now employed as a royal snowshoveler, hurried to ensure that the duo’s coattails remained dry.
Once both passengers were inside, the carriage left the Castle and headed over the Bridge of Posh that separated the Castle’s grounds from the rest of Anonymous.
Almost at once, the carriage became stuck in the midst of the lunchtime traffic chaos. A cacophony of horns honking, horses whinnying, and people shouting obscenities at each other sounded from all around. The din penetrated the walls of the carriage and made Serafyr wish his hearing was less than perfect.
“Perhaps we should have taken some guards along to clear the roads,” Serafyr muttered.
“I know that Simiel does it, but the two of us don’t need an envoy when we’re going to the mall.”
Serafyr sighed and turned to look out the window. The Castle looked even more unreal than usual when it was covered from top to bottom in flashing, colourful lights. Serafyr had not been able to sleep well since the Castle’s staff had decorated the outside and inside of the regal abode with the accursed, seizure-inducing lights. Those combined with the choirs’ endless crooning had him consuming copious amounts of headache remedies.
“Boy, people sure are angry. You’d think they’d be happy with the big celebration coming and all.”
Serafyr’s eyes shifted to Azaril. “The common herd have been besieged by holiday-stress.”
“I guess you’re not affected by it?” Azaril asked with an almost cunning smile on his face.
“Of course not! What would become of the kingdom if I, Lord Serafyr Halfdrake of Draakoa, Grand-Mogul Fighter of The Order of The Unreasonably Majestic Palace Elite Bodyguard-Knights, Wielder of the Sword of Might, Right-hand Half-breed and Royal Heroic Warrior to Her Majesty Princess Simiel Buduar of Hypnosia, rescuer of damsels, slayer of—”
The carriage jolted as it came to a sudden stop, and Serafyr found his face embedded in the padded backseat of the cabin.
“We’re there!” Azaril chirped and jumped down from his seat.
Serafyr stepped out of the carriage and looked at the driver. “Wait for us here.”
“But, my lord, one cannot park a vehicle in this spot,” the driver replied.
“If the city guards or parking attendants arrive, merely tell them that this is a matter of royal importance. If we do not acquire the proper gift for her, Simiel may just reinstate the death penalty. And if that occurs, I shall insure that you are the first one on the wrong end of the axe.”
“Come on, Serafyr, let’s go!”
Serafyr followed Azaril into the buzzing crowd. Serafyr’s legs were practically pressed against his tiny companion's back; he would not be losing the wizard. The gods only knew what would happen should they become separated. Serafyr had always disliked crowds, whether they were just ordinary citizens going about their business or an angry mob planning to lynch him.
Cheerful music echoed throughout the mall as Serafyr and Azaril entered, having elbowed their way through the throng. Hypnosia’s flags hung from the ceiling, and most storefronts were lined with sparkly garlands.
Serafyr surveyed the presumably festive milieu. “How shall we ever discover Simiel’s gift before closing time? There are far too many boutiques for us to search through.”
Azaril dug the Pendulum of Pandemonium out of his robes. “This thing’s led us this far, I’ll just have it point us in the right direction. Pendulumus directore! Shoppus googleore!”
The pendulum glowed, and its head shot out of Azaril’s hands, dragging the wizard along. Azaril pulled back at the pendulum as if it was a misbehaving dog, but the pendulum had far more strength than he. Finally, Serafyr stepped in and lifted Azaril off the floor, using his free hand to hold the wild pendulum at bay.
“Thanks, Serafyr.” Azaril positioned himself more comfortably in Serafyr’s arms. “I think the Pendulum’s set on maximum power.”
Serafyr sighed, managing a good-natured smile. “No need for gratitude, Azaril. I am merely taking precautions that neither of us run afoul of any other shopper, let alone gain injuries during this quest.”
“Okay. All you have to do is go where the Pendulum points.”
“So it shall be. Onward!”
Serafyr carried Azaril across the Buy’Alle Boulevard, beyond Ye Olde Square, where a small orchestra was providing background music for the shoppers, and up to the second floor. All the while, the Pendulum of Pandemonium kept pointing forward and vibrating in a way that Serafyr found somehow inappropriate.
“By the way.” Azaril looked up at Serafyr. “Did you invite your parents over for the big party?”
Serafyr’s eye twitched. “Well... I thought it would be a far more sensible idea for mother and father to spend the holiday at home in Draakoa. At their advanced age, it is not very wise to have too much provocation in their life.”
“You're probably right about that. When you’re a thousand years old, some of Simiel’s new customs might seem... What’s that word?”
”Lacking in grace, unseemly, improper, indecorous, unbecoming, wrong?”
Serafyr turned his eyes heavenward. After all the woes the Royal Birthday had already caused him, he did not want to listen to his parents' ravings about how he did not possess enough ambition. In the name of the gods, he was the highest ranking warrior in the land! And his mission in life was to rid the world of Imaginaarium of evil. How much more ambition did he need to please his lifegivers?
As Serafyr was contemplating his parental relationship, the pendulum went limp.
“There, that’s the place we‘ve been looking for,” Azaril said, pointing at a ramshackle storefront some way away.
“The Real World Charity Trade Store?” Serafyr read, letting Azaril down. “I have never heard of such a store.”
“I have. They create a dimensional space portal, go to the Real World, and bring back things from there.”
“I do not see what that has to do with charity; to me, it sounds more like interdimensional theft.”
“Don’t you know the Real World's basically drowning in useless things? This way the people there won’t have so much stuff to throw away.”
“I suppose it makes some kind of obscure sense.”
Serafyr surveyed the shelves and tables in the store as they entered. Surely, he had never laid eyes on such a strange assortment of things, and he had seen quite a few oddities during his life.
An elf maiden with long blond hair stepped out of the shop’s backroom and greeted Serafyr and Azaril with a kind smile. “Hello. Can I be of any assistance?”
“Yes, you may, fair maiden. We are on a quest to find a gift—”
“Let me guess, it’s for the Booze Fest?”
While the Royal Birthday was originally meant to solely celebrate the current ruler of Hypnosia, Queen Yemma the Developer had decreed that the day should be a national birthday. Ever since Yemma’s creative suggestion, everyone had purchased Royal Birthday gifts for their loved ones. One of the reasons behind the mall being so crowded was that people were in a hurry to buy presents.
“Yeah.” Azaril nodded. “Our friend is hard to shop for, but we had a feeling we would find something unique for her in here.”
“Well, you’re correct about that,” the elf said. “If there’s any store in the land where one can get unique things, it’s this one.”
Serafyr, having grown weary of the merchant’s airy voice, one which oozed with idealism, picked up a package and examined it.
The elf stepped beside him. “Ah, that is a traditional Real World dish. Not really suitable for a present, but great for an exotic dinner.”
“What is ‘Instant Pasta’?” Serafyr raised an eyebrow.
“Basically a pile of slimy things that taste of processed cheese and stale mushrooms.”
Azaril craned his neck to get a look at the package. “We should have Colsetros make some of that one day.”
“Perhaps. We shall have to send someone over for it.” Serafyr looked to the elf. “What could you recommend for us?”
“Hmm... We do have some welcoming mats.”
“What are those?”
“Small mats that have ’Welcome’ written on them. We have them in several Real World languages.”
“They have more than one living language in that world?” Serafyr’s eyes widened.
The elf chuckled as she fluttered about the store. “Yes, hundreds of them. Can you imagine? And they don’t even have different races, just many kinds of humans.”
Serafyr shook his head. “It is a bizarre world indeed. But this epiphany brings us no closer to finding Simiel‘s gift.”
“Simiel?” the elf asked. “Princess Simiel?”
“Then you...” She pointed at Serafyr and then at Azaril, who was circling around a device labelled ‘Fax Machine’. “And he... Oh my gods! I apologise for not recognising you right away, my lord.”
“It is quite alright.” Serafyr waved his hand dismissively. “Just tell us what we should give Simiel.”
“Of course. In fact, I’ve just thought of the perfect thing.“ The elf went behind the checkout counter. “It was just delivered here last night. Here it is!”
Serafyr and Azaril approached the counter where there now stood a red statue of an obese, elderly man with a white beard. The statue's face had plump, pink cheeks and a wide smile upon it. Its hands held a bulging sack and a gilded bell. All of the statue's clothes, except for the leather boots, were red and lined with white fur.
“By the Supreme Salamander, what is that?”
“It’s an idol, worshipped in many parts of the Real World during a seasonal festival. They call it a ‘Santa Claus’.”
“Sandy Claws?” Azaril tilted his head to one side.
“No, Santa Claus. Apparently he’s some kind of demigod afflicted with massive generosity. During the festival, which the Real Worlders call ‘Christmas,’ Santa Claus visits their houses, particularly ones with children, and brings them gifts.”
“Why in the name of sanity would a demigod do such a thing?”
The elf shrugged. “The humans bribe him with cookies and alcoholic beverages.”
Serafyr nodded. “That would get most gods into a generous mood.”
Azaril studied the appearance of the portly idol. “I don’t know why, but I really like him. I think Simiel would like him, too.”
Serafyr rubbed his jaw. The statue did have a quaint charm to it, even though it looked much like a dwarf. Simiel would most definitely find it unique, non-offensive, and even exotic, so she could not fault him and Azaril for not putting any thought into her gift.
“I agree with you, Azaril. It would seem our perilous quest has been brought to a successful conclusion. Wrap it up, my good merchant, we are buying this idol.”
The elf quickly stored the statue inside a box and wrapped it up with paper bearing the royal celebratory crest of Hypnosia. She handed the package over to Azaril while Serafyr gave her a hefty sum of golden coins.
Serafyr sighed in relief as he and Azaril traced their steps back to Pay’Em’s main entrance and to where the carriage was waiting for them. Now he could finally relax, as much as the blinking lights behind his bedroom windows permitted. He settled down to the rocking of the carriage. Who knows, he might even learn to enjoy the Royal Birthday, other than just the excessive eating.
The carriage rolled across the Bridge of Posh and entered the Castle’s courtyard. It halted before the main entrance, and Serafyr stepped out. He was already halfway up the stairs leading to the door when he realized that Azaril had yet to dismount from the carriage.
“Why do you linger, Azaril? We must go and place our gift in the gift-pile.”
“I just remembered... We forgot to buy a card.”
Doves resting on nearby windowsills fluttered away in panic as Serafyr’s cry of sheer heroic angst echoed across the courtyard.
Stories and artwork Copyright 2009 by Mette Pesonen. Copying in whole or in part is prohibited. However, you may link to this page.
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