Creatures Stranger Than Dragons

Jason was at first afraid that the three of them would have to take up the ancient art of paranoia, as he and Roland had after meeting Jake for the first time. This fear was pretty much extinguished when Roland reported seeing Keaton at work: "He gave me an unfriendly, knowing look, and then left me alone. For one reason or another, it seems that the remaining cultists aren't out for our blood."

Now that the trail of the Piercers had finally hit a dead end, or so it seemed, there were plenty of other things to investigate. Jason knew that Roland might well be right about the red animals, and that he ought to ask a doctor or a psychologist for a second opinion, but he was reluctant to. His symptoms, if they were symptoms, had no place in the medical canon, so the best any physician could do was agree with Roland, and that (Jason thought) wouldn't be helpful at all. The idea that all these strange things were simply the products of his own mind felt demeaning to him. He wasn't going to believe it until all his other options had been exhausted. Moreover, even if Roland was right, that didn't explain the simple existence of the phoenix. Nor was it easy to believe that Zadoc was entirely responsible for his own vampirism. And so, in Jason's mind, everything pointed to one possibility: the paranormal. Whatever was going on, it wasn't like anything he knew. He tentatively decided that it wasn't like anything most of the human race knew, either.

And so he began a little investigation of his own into the supernatural—or rather, those supernatural phenomena that weren't generally taken for granted, as magic spells and dragons were. Even in a world with those, there were plenty of people who believed in such staples of Terran superstition as UFOs, past lives, and cursed jewels. Jason had no doubt that the vast majority of the stuff was only moonshine in the water. That didn't preclude the possibility that someone, somewhere had accurately described the same mysterious things that he'd encountered.

Jason began his investigation alone. "The paranormal?" asked Roland, glancing over Jason's shoulder to see where he was on the Gyeedian internet. "Jason, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash."

Jason thought for a moment. "When one is bankrupt," he replied, "dumpster-diving is better than sitting on one's hands. So touché."


"Bankrupt of answers."

"Yes," said Roland, with some measure of annoyance in his voice, "I've heard you sing that song before. You can't answer every question, you know."

"I can try." said Jason.

And indeed he did try. Only a day or so into the process, he ran across mention of one Gyeedian Museum of the Paranormal. It looked fun as well as potentially informative; currently, it even had a special exhibition dedicated to "the recent surge in reports of supernatural creatures around the world".

Jason was hesitant to go anywhere alone. Roland was uninterested; Curtis liked the idea, and Jason figured a world-class Imagination mage ought to be as good a bodyguard as any. And so, one fine morning when school wasn't in session, the boys set off for the museum.

It was a pleasant day, a surprisingly warm one for so few weeks after the vernal equinox. The sun's yellow rays shone down cheeringly, casting the spotlight on birds that sang their simple melodies from arboreal stages. There were a lot of birds and trees around Jason now, since he was nearing the museum, and the museum was situated in a small park, a plot of greenery that was full of animal life despite its size. (Well, it wasn't very green at this time of year, but you know what I mean.) There were creatures of brown, yellow, and even blue hues—but not, Jason was glad to see, of red ones. He was almost sure he'd be kidnapped or something during this trip. At least it was off to a good start.

Inside the building, after he'd shelled out a fair amount of interdimensional currency for his and Curtis's admission, Jason found plenty of curiosities. While the place was too modest to feature the grand architecture that Gyeeds's flagship science and art museums were known for, the exhibits themselves were interesting enough. Even Curtis enjoyed them. Here was a book of sheet music that the ghost of a deceased composer had supposedly dictated to a Colloyun salaryman; a few samples of the orchestral pieces contained within emanated from a nearby speaker. Over there was a painting made to match a young girl's description of the time she saw prophetic images on the surface of a lake. And, of course, there was the obligatory scrap of metal from an alien spacecraft.

In the "Creatures Stranger Than Dragons" exhibit, Jason didn't find any phoenixes; there were, however, two mentions of vampires, or beings like them. In one glass case was a scrap of blue cloth with green stripes; a woman had allegedly gotten this from the robe of a tall, dark stranger who carefully avoided sunlight. A sign on one wall gave an account of a man who woke up one morning to find two bloody holes in his neck. Other featured creatures included unicorns, hydrea, fairies, and several beasts with no place at all in Terran mythology, like a hexapodal beaver with two spikes on its forehead and a venomous bite.

Jason and Curtis were on their way out when something finally happened. "It's you!" said a large, heavy-set, older man to Jason.

"Yeah, it's me." said Jason, walking out the door of the museum. He pretended to be unperturbed, but he maneuvered himself so that Curtis was between him and the stranger.

"Can I talk to you, Jason?" said the man, hurrying up to the two of them. "I know we've never met, but I—I need to apologize to you."

<Strange fellow.> Jason thought. "Okay." he said, sitting on the end of a nearby bench and gesturing to Curtis to sit next to him. The prince did so; the man sat beside him. "Would you mind introducing yourself?"

"Cade Uffet, carpenter." Then he seemed to suddenly notice Curtis. "Curtis Debyeamo?"

"That's me!" said Curtis.

"But what is it you feel the need to apologize to me for?" asked Jason.

"Oh." Cade looked back to Jason. "Do you recall Ernest Seadweller's home, and how it was hollowed out of a rock in Moonrush Park?"

Jason raised his eyebrows. That felt like a blast from the past. "Yeah, what about it?"

"I made it." He paused. "I'm a pretty good Will mage, and in earlier days, I used magic to accomplish feats of carpentry that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. I took clients regardless of their characters and motives, and of the legality of the work they commissioned. They—Ernest included—would take me to and from the site blindfolded. So I made a house for Ernest inside that rock, at his request." He sighed.

"Will magic is cool." Curtis remarked. "The problem with Imagination is that you can't control it that well."

"After being jailed for the second time after one of those jobs," Cade continued, "I cleaned up my act. Now I keep finding that the criminals whose jobs I took used my work to help perpetrate their own crimes. If Ernest hadn't had such a well-hidden home in the middle of Gyeeds, maybe he would've been caught earlier. So, I'm sorry."

"Well, uh… thank you." said Jason. He'd wondered about that house, but that mystery had been eclipsed in his mind by all of the bigger mysteries. "I accept your apology."

"I've always wanted to apologize" said Cade "ever since I saw you on television. I've just felt too embarrassed to contact you. It's good to get it off my chest."

"I saw him first on TV, too." said Curtis.

"What brought you to this museum?" asked Jason.

"Oh, I like the paranormal." said Cade. "Even if most of it's hogwash, it's all interesting, and there may even be a little truth to some of it. Or so I think. Why did you come?"

"Well, to tell the truth, I'm doing some detective work. Something sort-of-paranormal happened to me, and I'm looking to see if the same thing happened to anybody else."

"You're seriously looking into it? If that's the case… I owe you, a lot, so maybe this will cover a bit of the debt." He looked around to make sure no one was eavesdropping, then leaned across Curtis and whispered "Have you ever heard of Leela Aranin?"

"Uh… it rings a bell, faintly. I don't remember anything about her."

"She was one of the world's foremost investigators into the paranormal, a Droydanian biology professor. Two years ago, she committed suicide for unknown reasons. Everyone suspected foul play, of course. Except that she didn't really die; she faked her own death and went into hiding, and so far as I know, she's still with us today."

"What makes you think that?" asked Jason.

"I made her hiding-place. She hired me shortly after her ostensible suicide."

"Oh." Jason thought for a moment. "But did you see her?"

Cade nodded. "I was blind on the journey to and from her chosen location, but I spoke to her the rest of the time. I created a large apartment for her in the middle of a frozen wasteland, under ground that was covered at the time by several feet of snow. It was so cold—I think I was near one of the poles of some planet. She's hidden, all right.

"She knew of me because her son, Simon Baria, is a good friend of mine. We were in the same class of Will mages, in a Droydanian school—I used to live there—and although we no longer see each other often, we keep in touch. Anyway, if you have any real interest in the paranormal, you should try to reach Leela. I don't know how, but you could ask Simon." He took out an index card and a pencil and wrote some contact information on it, then handed it to Jason.

"Thanks a lot." said the boy.

"Any time." said Cade, standing up. "Tell him I referred you. And ask me if you need anything else." he added as he walked away. "There's only one Cade Uffet in Gyeeds."

"Ah, good." said Jason to Curtis. "Now we finally have another MacGuffin: Leela Aranin. It was terrible not having any clear wild goose to chase for three whole days there."

"Ah, yes, Leela Aranin." said Roland at dinner that evening. "What Cade said was true, at least up to, if not including, his claim that she's still alive. She was quite a character. Well, I don't trust Droydanians; that's the truth of it."

"It seems worth looking into to me." said Jason. "I'm going to get in touch with this Simon. There's no doubt in my mind that this most recent crazy coincidence has led me in the right direction."

An hour or so later, he wrote an email to the address Cade gave him, explaining that he was "looking into something paranormal" and asking if Cade had told the truth about Leela. The address pointed to a server in Droydania, so you might wonder how Jason's message got there. The answer is that although many verses, like Gyeeds, had their own internets, all these super-networks were connected (through clever use of fiber-optic cables and verseviewing technology) to a super-duper-network, an Internet-with-a-capital-"I", if you will, allowing information to freely flow even across dimensional boundaries.

The next morning, Jason got a reply:

Everything Cade told you is true. I'd be happy to explain more, but it's unsafe to do so over a distance. Please come to my house here in Droydania, and I'll tell you everything you want to know face-to-face. Bring anyone else you wish; I'm always pleased to receive guests.

Jason read the message to Roland and Curtis, then said "It's 'unsafe' to talk about except 'face-to-face'! How thrilling! Yessiree, it's time for another adventure, eh wot, my comrades?"

"Yay!" said Curtis.

"Do you two actually enjoy this nonsense?" said Roland, with a note of pain in his voice.

"Sure." said Curtis.

"I'm trying to." said Jason. "So, can we go?"

"Yes, so long as we can obtain permission from the officials of the Droydanian Empire." said Roland. "They're isolationist, and they'll be especially displeased about a major Gyeedian politician soiling their soil with his smutty Gyeedian feet. Crossing the Schism is no small feat! Worry not, I doubt they'll dare to deny us passage. I'll just say that… mmm… I'm investigating Leela's suicide, possibly in connection with Jake's murder. It'll only take a bit of elbow-grease."