The Case of the Tree-toothed Hat

Prologue

In a unique world overflowing with beings of most varied shapes, colours, measures, clothes, habits and much more, one could say everything is alarmingly distant and different. But one shouldn't forget that imagination was what gave rise to such a realm. The very imagination that we hold dear for allowing us to envision our greatest dreams or when we long for a place of peace and quiet.

And the latter is what people of the aforementioned world live in every day. No worries, no trouble, just a peaceful place with nobody to cause harm or stir unrest. Of course, they possess spells, have oddities, good heroes and bad slanderers, but this strange space is completely devoid of horrid, overreaching stains that would threaten to destroy it.

There are only small blots, which can be perceived as subtle imperfections in an otherwise happy world. However, without those blots, there wouldn't be a story to read about how a young detective Claire makes a living.

Chapter One

At glance, Claire looked like an ordinary young girl. Indeed she was, a seventeen years old human, which made her unique among the extraordinary. However, Claire didn't excel only at that, for her profession was a rare occurrence. A detective within the farthest reaches of the Kingdom of Murr wasn't something one could stumble upon without having more than a fair share of luck.

It was said that there weren't more than ten of them living within the borders of the Kingdom provided that we don't count one going by the name of Darmieniulus, who fell in love with a mushroom and left his job to be able to spend the rest of his life with it.

The Kingdom was huge. And round. So round that if anybody walked in one direction long enough, they would arrive where they had started.

A person that revelled in this oddity was an angular mister Cubey, a rather small creature whose looks lived up to his name. He was dressed very pompously and everybody adored him. He was the most angular of all the angular beings, after all. He also had the fanciest hat in the entire Kingdom. Of course, nobody was jealous of it as the Kingdom knew nothing like envy or jealousy.

The extravagant hat was different from every other despite looking ordinary and shabby – it had three small teeth on its inside arch. People gossiped whether those teeth had once belonged to the Lymean Dragon. Or even to one of the Zarvoy children – powerful ancient creatures that lived two lives. First as a flower, second as an animal. Either way, it was rumoured to contain vast magical powers. Sometimes it is pleasing to contemplate on things we will never find out, which was a case of Mr. Cubey's hat as well.

Unfortunately, his hat had gone missing, which prompted him to visit Claire in her modest shelter in a house of intergrown trees. The windows were carved out in the stems, one per side, so that a pleasant breeze could enter in all directions.

Claire had her furniture laid out at her own image – a bed against a door, a round table in the centre of the room and an ornamented carpet under it. There was also a small fireplace that never went out. It burnt accordingly with Claire's mood but never too much to damage the wooden foundations of her abode.

The house was surrounded by many trees but there was also a small path, which Mr. Cubey walked on. He arrived at her door and cautiously knocked on it. Magically, they opened themselves, revealing Claire's house before him.

Mr. Cubey strode directly to a table where Claire sat in her blue dress. Combing her long maroon hair, she gestured him to sit down on a chair next to him.

She glanced at Mr. Cubey with her lovely blue eyes and noticed he was nervous.

"What happened?" Claire asked so as to untangle his tied tongue.

"As you can see, I've lost my hat," he answered peevishly.

"Your well-known Three-toothed Hat?" Claire wondered even though it was apparent Mr. Cubey had no other.

"Yes, the very one. I've come to you because I believe you can help me." He was desperate. His large round eyes, which occupied most of his angular face, didn't really hold any hope it would be found again.

„Okay," she answered and gently caressed her hair with her comb, "where did you see it for the last time?"

Mr. Cubey appeared to be in a deep thought as he tried to recall the answer. Finally, his grimace changed to a zealous look that accompanied his words: "As I woke this morning, I put my hat on a chair. You know, I even sleep with it on my head. I left my house to breathe in the fresh air outside, but when I came back the hat was… the hat was… it was… gone!" Suddenly, Mr. Cubey's face was covered in tears.

"It will be okay," Claire said to soothe him and laid her comb aside. "Did something extraordinary happen while you were out for a breath of fresh air?"

Mr. Cubey paused on: "Hmm, no… or wait! When I went out, I felt a strange, ticklish tingle. But that tingle, that wind wasn't just within me. I felt it being everywhere around. To speak the truth, I was quite astonished, but it left as suddenly as it had come. I returned home and… and…" Mr. Cubey didn't finish his sentence. As he imagined what would have followed in his narrative, tears rushed into his eyes.

"Do you have any windows?" Claire asked.

Mr. Cubey dried up his face and answered with a question: "Do you think it could have floated away? It wasn't a strong wind but just a breeze."

"So you have windows."

"What do you mean?" Mr. Cubey didn't understand.

"Maybe somebody mistook it for theirs and seized it when passing by. Or perhaps they tried wizardry and failed, thus transmuting the hat into just an ethereal wish."

"I have two large windows in my house. One is in my bedroom, where I laid down my hat, the other is in the kitchen."

Claire began thinking. The hat had most likely disappeared through a window provided that some wizard apprentice hadn't been trying his craftsmanship and hadn't accidentally damaged Mr. Cubey's hat.

"Where do you live?" Claire asked.

"In a town not far away from here. Fairy City is the name."

"I know. I need to hear the exact location of the house."

"The largest. It is higher than the highest trees surrounding the town. It can't be missed, but not only thanks to its height. It is made of solidified honey."

"Could I take a look there?"

Chapter Two

Fairy City lived exactly up to its name. It was lined with thick trees spreading somewhere far away into a forest spanning across the entire Kingdom. Despite that, there were many routes leading to the city and each of them told the traveller the directions meticulously.

Houses were varied in design yet they were not strong in numbers in spite of the town being large. They were lavishly coloured and vividly shaped. One resembled an overgrown white toadstool with red dots. It was surrounded by mushrooms, making it look like a small mushroom forest. Another was shaped into a children's slipway with jungle gyms of vividly bizarre curves around it.

All those strange abodes with shapes of snail shells, matchboxes, moons, lamps on which small gremlins were jumping crazily, and others were built on their own piece of land, be it grass, pebbles or large stones.

Paths that filled the space between the houses and their respective lands were made of smooth white sand.

Among the high number of fabulous buildings a special one towered over them all. A large yellow house in the centre of the town. It resembled a tin in shape and had two windows. Huge windows. One was located at the top while the other was near the yellowish ground.

Mr. Cubey silently watched while they were closing in. He felt miserable while Claire enjoyed the enchanting environment that Fairy City was. She had special ties to that place - it was rumoured that two dwarves had found her there seventeen years ago.

She didn't know who her parents were, but it didn't weigh upon her. She was enjoying her life and the fact that everyone was a friend.

Eventually, they both came to Mr. Cubey's house. He opened the brownish honey door and revealed the inside of his capacious house. Claire entered and was instantly amazed. It consisted of a single large room, which had a floating crystal in its centre that served as the source of light.

At the bottom of the room was a bedroom. Against gravity, kitchen was located on the ceiling. Windows were placed accordingly within each sub-room.

Bedroom consisted of a bed positioned near the wall opposite the entrance door. The bed was surrounded by bedside tables both on left and right. There were various pieces of furniture as well – showcases, chests of drawers and others, all located tightly along the walls.

In the middle of the bedroom, directly under the crystal was a round table made of, perhaps, honey. There were seven empty glasses on it and it was surrounded by three chairs, all of which except for one were tucked to the table.

"This is the chair where you left your hat?" Claire asked.

"Exactly," Mr. Cubey answered.

"Your window is indeed large and too low as well. It is possible that somebody mistook the hat for theirs and took it."

"Will you be able to find it?" Mr. Cubey asked.

"Certainly, but I need you to help me. Can you tell me anything that could give me a lead?"

Mr. Cubey paused to think. After a moment, he came up with a reply: "Marmions are bizarre. They live next to me in their house that looks like a beehive. They are yellow and rather tall, too. They have wings instead of hands. Maybe that's why they don't like doors and don't have any in their homes. Perhaps that is the reason why they visit me by going through the window. Do you think it could have been them? And why would they have done it? They are friendly."

"They might not have taken it intentionally. Perhaps the wind they caused made the hat float away. Or maybe they needed it and will return it soon. We'll see. I'll pay them a visit and inform you when I'm done. Most of all, don't despair, because I'll find your hat no matter what."

"Thousand thanks to you. I will await your return here. I won't move even a bit."

"You're welcome, I'm just doing my job," Claire answered and headed to the door.

"I really don't know how to repay you," he shouted after her.

"That's okay, it's my job after all," Claire smiled and disappeared with the door closing.

She went to the beehive house Mr. Cubey had described, which was located behind his. She found a narrow entrance which she squeezed in through and saw a floor covered with straw and the ceiling quite low.

Claire stood still for a moment and watched the clever architecture of the Marmions. Soon thereafter, she noticed that the lump of straw at the opposite end of the room started moving. Claire made a step backwards and a small Marmion jumped out of the straw pile at the same time.

It was about one and half a metre tall, thin and its body was a mixture of a human and bird. It had a beak, albeit small and narrow. It didn't have any feathers, just rich yellow skin. Its wings covered its woollen clothes and it had sandals on his feet.

Its face was thin and relatively small, eyes a bit aslope but gushing with a modest countenance.

No wonder these creatures were slim – their small beak disallowed them from eating anything large, so catering must have been a somewhat tiresome procedure.

The Marmion opened its beak and spoke: "Hello."

"Hi," Claire answered warmly.

"What do you want?" the Marmion asked.

"I wonder whether your parents are in."

"Parents? They are upstairs, fast asleep. Do you wish me to tell them something when they wake up?"

"That isn't necessary. Instead, I want to ask you whether you haven't been walking around Mr. Cubey's house lately."

"I fly around every day, sometimes he invites me over for a portion of sugar," the Marmion said and his eyes shined with delight. He definitely loved sugar.

"Do you happen to know that his hat has been lost?" Claire asked.

"Of course I do. I heard him cry when he found out. Immediately after, he set off to visit you. He was in a hurry."

"How do you know he went to visit me?" Claire wondered.

"I was flying around and so I asked."

"Do you know anything about its disappearance?"

"I'm not sure, but when I was flying around as he went out for fresh air, I felt something strange in the air. My friend's parents are wizards and when I described that to her, she said it was a feeling magically oblivious beings experience when a spell is cast nearby."

"So you think somebody might have used a spell to snatch the hat?" Claire asked.

"I don't know. I was interested in that feeling and nothing else."

"Okay. That is all. Thank you for your time. By the way, could you tell me where to find your friend?"

Chapter Three

Parents of the Marmion's friend were welcoming people. They looked somewhat like humans though they differed in many things. They had pointy ears and were significantly smaller than an average human. Their feet were short and had two toes while they had a talon sticking out of their heels. Their legs were fairly long compared to their torso, which was about half a metre tall. Their hands were rich in colours and full of tattoos. Each Marmion had its own distinctive marks. Strangely though not a single one knew what they meant or why they had them.

The father, whose name was Sariza, said he'd go get some tea and disappeared within the depths of his house, meanwhile Claire with Daniira, the mother of the Marmion's friend, sat by the table of the magically lighted room.

"Those feelings are, in most cases, results of an imperfectly cast magic, but why do you want to know?" Daniira enquired.

"Mr. Cubey lost his priceless hat," Claire explained.

"So you think that somebody foiled a spell, thus made his hat disappear?"

"It might be a possibility. Mr. Cubey had the strange feelings as I described."

"Really? Would you, per chance, be able to recall where he had such an experience? I'd like to see that place with my own eyes. We'll have tea later."

"Of course, come, I'll show you," Claire answered and they both left the house.

They made their way to a small path, which they took to get to Mr. Cubey's place.

"Here it is," Claire said as they arrived at the designed place. She pointed to a place where Mr. Cubey might have stood and Daniira immediately stepped there. Then she closed her eyes, spread her arms into the air and lifted her head. Claire watched her, though she didn't know what Daniira was doing.

Daniira and Sariza were good wizards, actually one of the best in town. Although Claire knew how to cast a spell or two because the Sysfyn mages had taught her six years ago, they hadn't shown her anything special. Just the basics. Compared to what Daniira and Sariza were capable of, she was outmatched.

In a moment's time, Daniira breathed out and opened her eyes, her arms falling back down.

"Did you find out anything?" Claire asked.

"I think I know where Mr. Cubey's hat is," Daniira said.

"Really? Where?"

"I'll take you there," Daniira replied and didn't even wait for Claire's answer. She just started walking. Claire followed. They were going along mushroom and candy houses until they came across a building that looked like a large opened tin. It had metal doors, which made a resisting creak as Daniira opened them to reveal a stash of rummage that somebody could find useful from time to time.

A few flies were buzzing around carrying light bulbs that illuminated the entire room. Daniira was looking around for a while until she pointed to a place somewhere within the stash. Claire took a glance in that direction and saw lots of rusted stuff ranging from a hacksaw to a toothbrush so large that she though it had once belonged to an ogre.

However, there was something familiar among the pile of junk. Something big, something black. It was the hat of Mr. Cubey!

Claire cautiously walked to the hat and pulled it out of the pile. When she finally held it before her, a strange tingly feel passed through her body. She shuddered but the feeling had already been gone.

She turned to Daniira: "Thank you. I wonder how you found out it was here."

"Magic. We wizards know the drill… It was misplaced unintentionally by a spell of some sort… so that's… well, there is a little something I think you should be told."

Claire nodded silently.

"These foiled attempts at casting are usually responsible for rather bizarre occurrences. Some of them are harmless yet some are bizarre and can cause damage. Those that are more serious… well there are rumours of beings that serve the king. They call themselves the telepaths and observe all misdemeanours that happen within the kingdom. Not a single one of these happens intentionally, of course, just like foiled spells. But this one… I could feel magic flowing strongly through the place. If the rumours are true, then I think the telepaths will be interested in hearing what happened here. Whatever that spell was…"

"I don't understand," Claire said.

"We wizards possess an unusual ability. Sometimes, when we talk with a person, we sense a crucial moment in their future. But that happens seldom because few people are destined for great events."

"You are trying to say that you sensed such a moment?" Claire wondered.

"I can never be sure whether I'm correct. Unfortunately, no wizard can. What I felt is awaking anxiety and distress within my head. Something terrifying is linked directly to it."

Claire remained silent while Daniira watched her with her eyes overflowing with fright.

"I think that telepaths are watching provided they exist. They are observing closely."

"I take it a bad thing has happened?"

"I can't say for certain."

"But if telepaths are watching…" Claire thought.

"These are my assumptions. You won't get to know more as my memory is a void in that matter. You should bring Mr. Cubey his hat instead."

Claire paused on for a moment. She pondered whether she should continue inquiring, but in the end decided to say thanks and goodbye.

Chapter Four

Claire was on her way to Mr. Cubey, who had been awaiting her return so anxiously he had been tapping his fingers against the table. She was thinking. Why did Daniira mention the telepaths, whose existence wasn't even confirmed? And in connection to a great event? Her detective's intuition was telling her they were real.

Claire entered the house and looked around. She checked the bedroom but saw nobody.

"Up here!" Mr. Cubey shouted with delight. "I see you've found my hat!"

Claire glanced in the direction the voice had come from. She noticed Mr. Cubey was sitting at the ceiling.

"How do I get there?" Claire asked.

"Stay still!" he shouted and Claire did as instructed.

Suddenly, she felt a freeze rising through her body and in a moment she found herself standing upside down on the ceiling. For a while she couldn't get used to the odd feeling that her body was defying gravity, but she eventually stopped thinking about it.

She came to Mr. Cubey and handed him his hat. He immediately grabbed it and happily hugged it.

"At last! I don't even know how I can prove my gratitude to you!" he was taken aback completely. He had an irresistible urge to hold his hat tight. Although he had been without it only for a few hours, he felt like it had been an eternity.

"That's okay. I'm glad that I could help." What Claire said wasn't exactly the truth, though. She would have been happy if it hadn't been for what Daniira had said. What had she meant?

Her task was done, however, so she was free to go home.

She was thinking about Daniira's words on her way through the forest. She just couldn't stop even though she tried hard. Thankfully, her monkey friend Magiloi showed up to put her into spirits. Although he resembled an ape, he held an upright posture, wasn't hairy and his skin was rough and thick. His countenance looked childish most of the time, a trait that had helped to make Claire laugh when they were small kids. As they grew up, they became good friends.

"Good day to you, lady," he said.

"Hey," she laughed. He had always succeeded in setting her off.

"Have you solved the mystery, master detective?" he asked as he was jumping from tree to tree.

"Yes, I have. And what about you, springy?"

"You know, I was jumping around. Nothing less and nothing more. Oh yes and apart from that, I was also bored. But I like mysteries, though I'm no detective… I have no genes for it. Could you tell me about your adventure today?"

"That jumping of yours would make me feel tedious about everything," Claire joked. "But okay. Mr. Cubey paid me a visit today."

"Really? That rich man? What did he want?"

"He lost his hat."

"His precious hat?"

"Exactly. Thanks to Daniira we found it and I returned it to its rightful owner.

"He must have been delighted."

"Yes… but it was odd. Daniira had a vision. She didn't tell me what it was exactly, though." As Claire said, her excitement left her once again and was replaced by anxiety and fear of something unknown.

"What happened?" Magiloi asked when he sensed his friend's sudden change of mood.

"She spoke of strange beings that watch over misfortunes. Supposedly, they work for the king. And that something great is ahead of me."

"You already are doing something magnificent."

Claire smiled for a moment, but then she continued to look distressed. "It's supposed to be different. Or at least I think so."

"Different as in horrible?"

"I don't know."

"I believe it won't be like that. And if so… then it will have a happy ending. I know my best friend, she always emerges victorious."

She loved his optimistic attitude that never vanished.

"But even so… I'm concerned. She sounded very, very convincing… as well as surprised and frightened."

"Take it easy. If she said so, then you'll most likely meet the king. Few people have had such luck."

"Thank you. Hmm, shame it's already the evening. I'll have to go to sleep soon. We should part our ways now – you should go home."

"I see," he said. "You want to be alone. To think about what you've experienced today. But remember, if you need me, I'll be always near!"

With his last words, Magiloi disappeared within the depths of the forest. Claire smiled, but didn't manage to answer as it was too late. She stood motionless, gazing in the direction she had seen him leave. She would have spent an hour if it hadn't turned dark soon thereafter. Instead, she went home.

Chapter Five

After a few days when Claire finally managed to forget about Mr. Cubey's case and things connected to it, she woke from sleep. She had had a nightmare.

She crawled out of her bed and went out of her house. It was the dawn. For a while, she took pleasure in looking at the awaking nature in the morning until she saw somebody flash through the timber.

Claire's senses were on full alert. She was carefully observing her surroundings, waiting for something to happen. Moments had passed and she noticed an unknown being emerging from the shadows. Its identity was carefully hidden within a veil of black dress.

"There is nothing to be afraid of," it spoke.

"Who are you?" Claire asked.

"The king sent me. He demands that you meet with him."

The thing Claire had dreaded came. She recalled what Daniira had said about the telepaths. She realized they had arrived. She was frightened, but she knew that she couldn't allow them to see she was scared.

"Does it have any connection to Mr. Cubey's case?" Claire asked.

"The king sent me to tell you he wants to talk to you. He also prepared a caravan for you. All it takes now is to follow me."

Claire was hesitant. She felt nervous and knew that the being noticed it.

"There is no need to be afraid as I said. The king isn't malevolent. Everyone knows that."

"I'm curious… I'd never have thought that the king himself would ever want to speak with such a lowly person as I am."

"The king is wise. He knows what's best for the kingdom. Believe me when I say that he hasn't got any mischievous intentions. There are no wrongs in the Kingdom of Murr, we both realize that. Come, the king needs your help and will be happy to see you."

"Okay, let's go," Claire said but still had her worries. Big worries. She knew that nothing bad could come her way, but she was also aware of Daniira's vision…

Claire wasn't afraid of the king, not even the telepaths. She was frightened of what horrifying secrets they had to tell her.

Chapter Six

As she sat in the chaise, which looked ordinarily apart from not having wheels, the being assumed the place of a teamster and cheerfully said: "On we ride!"

Claire wondered how the chaise would be able to move when there were no horses or wheels, but her pondering was answered as soon as she felt the chaise slowly gaining speed.

She carefully observed the outside through a window and saw large white wings appear on the sides of the shay. They waved a bit and in an instant Claire found herself lifting off.

Moments after, she looked out again to see they were floating among the clouds. An enchanting view on the forest, Fairy City and even her tiny house opened before her as her eyes glanced down on the surface.

Claire noticed as many wonders of the Kingdom during her trip as she would normally see within year's time – the famous Ay Mountains which from time to time lifted themselves from the ground and interchanged their places with one another; a meeting of fifteen coloured rivers, each with its own distinctive colour after which it took its name and each healing a specific ailment; Garden City, a seemingly endless meadow full of plants – large or small, common or unique and many more. The aforementioned things were ones of many Claire saw.

"Is it comfortable there?" the being asked while Claire observed the Valley of Dreams, which was frequently visited by those maddened into ecstasy.

"Yes, it's marvellous," Claire responded.

"Look over there!" the teamster said and Claire noticed a yellow beam of light shooting out of the shay. It headed for something underneath them and as Claire opened the window and leaned out to watch, she took note of an enormously huge candy gushing with extravagant colours. It was a wonderful sight, yet they moved on and it soon disappeared in the distance.

In a moment's time they carried themselves across an inland sea, which was a sign of getting close to King William's castle. He was a wise man like his predecessor and father Waldemar, both members of the Falcon dynasty.

According to a legend, they had acquired their name when they struck a deal with the Falcons long ago to beat evil, inanimate beings without a name. Those beings had supposedly come from a horror world rumoured to be hell itself. They had been metallic, beeping and snuffling things boxy shaped in appearance. They had been kidnapping the inhabitants of the Kingdom, taking them to their world and never returning. Nobody had known who exactly they had been or who had sent them, but everyone had agreed they hadn't been natural and their creators must have been even more baleful.

For years they had scourged the Kingdom uncontested, growing in numbers, forcing the Kingdom's original inhabitants into hiding. The situation looked dire until on a fateful day, the Falcons had come. Squid-like entities consisting of many body parts bound together by bolts and nuts, they had been able to rebuild their bodies if damaged, claiming they had come from the same place the evil creatures had originated from.

Falcons had proven as the saviours of the Kingdom, banishing the nefarious scourge, but at the same time, they had disappeared as well, leaving nothing but stories of the only evil that the Kingdom had ever encountered to pass on from generation to another.

Claire was still on her way to visit the king when she heard a buzzing sound.

"Something's wrong," the teamster explained.

"What has happened?" Claire enquired.

She didn't have to wait for a reply, though, as she soon saw for herself. Dark clouds emerged out of nowhere, rumbling with thunder and flashing with lightning. Claire watched it in awe at first, but as soon as she sensed their speed had increased, she felt something wasn't right.

A bizarre creature flew out of those clouds, covered in glaring armour painted with blue symbols. It had a backpack which was emitting fire from underneath itself.

"I wish I knew how to do such magic," Claire exclaimed. She was astonished but terrified at the same time.

Apparently, the visitor wasn't alone as the clouds spat out more like him. When they noticed the shay, they started chasing after it, but even though they seemed very quick, the chaise was quicker.

Although the teamster managed to move off the place with dark clouds, they still had six creatures with a mastery over the element of fire flying after them. They were slowly disappearing in the distance until the colour of their flame changed from orange to blue, making them gain speed instantly.

The teamster was unable to flick away. The shay couldn't go any faster. Claire felt overwhelmed with fear and so she bunked up inside the chaise, dragging in the small curtains that it had.

She wanted to close the window she had previously opened, but one of the creatures had already caught up with them and managed to squeeze its hand inside, thus preventing Claire from closing it.

It pulled up the curtains and looked at her. She saw its eyes burn with a bright blue colour through its nearly vision-proof helmet and shook with tremor as she knew it was watching her carefully.

But it didn't frighten her as much as its voice that spoke soon afterwards. "It's… it's human!" the creature shouted confusedly.

Immediately, it tried to squeeze its hand in even more while the shay started shaking madly in a desperate attempt to throw off the invaders.

"Don't allow them to reach you!" the teamster yelled.

Claire hesitated as to what to do, but she recalled a simple spell she had been taught. When the creature pushed in with its torso, Claire closed her eyes with her hand reaching out in front of her. She touched the head of the armoured one, whispered three magical words and silently wished something to happen.

Magic was predominantly about wishes and thoughts. Beings that had no grasp of their thoughts often had problems with wizardry. That wasn't Claire's case, however.

She felt a torching blaze pervade her hand, leaving through it and immolating the invader in an instant. Claire opened her eyes to see that it lost the bluish fire as it plodded and fell out of the window heading aimlessly for the ground.

Claire heard one of the creatures shout but she didn't understand as they were too far. She figured out that one of them was standing atop the chaise and battled with the teamster as the chaise was wobbling like crazy.

It swayed from side to side and for a moment it looked like it was about to fly head over heels to the surface. Meanwhile, the invaders were shouting at each other, trying to communicate over something Claire didn't understand.

"There is a magical whip behind where you are sitting! It can control the chaise! Fly to the king! Hurry! You're just about ten kilometres away! Lower it so you can see where you are!" The teamster shouted in haste.

"But how do I get to the front? Claire asked while she found a lash of rainbow colours under her seat.

"Open the door and you'll see that I've taken care of it!" the teamster yelled.

Claire didn't wait for even a moment and did as she had been told. She saw thin and translucent threads bound into immovable canvas, which could be walked on. Claire made a step forward and felt her foot reach into a silky yet firm solid. She walked across and sat on the teamster's seat.

She noticed one of the creatures observing her while standing on the roof of the shay. It was holding an egg-shaped object of metallic origin in his right hand. As it slowly lifted it to its eyes' height, Claire realized it couldn't have been a sign of anything good.

An idea occurred to her. Her hand reached out and a frosty feeling took hold of her body, hastily gathering in her hand that was surrounded by white freeze. An ice shard left her palm and hit her enemy in its head, shattering its visor and knocking it off the shay.

Claire turned to see what was happening in front of her, where all four invaders flanked the teamster and each grasped a limb to disallow her from shaking madly. Claire wanted to help but it was too late. One aimed its egg-shaped item on the teamster and it emitted a blue beam, freezing the victim effectively.

A small black cloud appeared out of nowhere, engulfing the assailants along with the teamster. But it vanished as quickly as it emerged, leaving no trace of either the invaders or the teamster.

Silence ensued but only for a moment because of dark clouds appearing all around Claire and giving off a roaring sound that reached deeply into Claire's mind, awaking fright in her head.

Claire whipped with her lash to make the shay gain speed again and it obeyed. She knew how to ride such means of transport. Magic did the trick. All she had to do was to wish and imagine. The chaise moved itself accordingly as she viewed it in her mind. She vigilantly observed her surroundings to assure no entity in white and blue armour was near, but thankfully she saw no one.

She could see a castle with a hundred of spires and towers of white stone and with red tops in the distance and the sight of it prompted Claire to whip with her lash once again. Although she didn't see any invaders, she knew they were around even if they weren't near.

The castle was closing in. Just a few kilometres, Claire realized. A dark cloud in front of her spawned three armoured creatures along with a large metallic object that made horrible sounds as it span its airscrew located on its top.

Claire used the lash again to steer away and evade the invaders and the chaise obediently did so. She was dashing for the castle as fast as she could, but there were four enemies chasing after her at the same time.

No matter how quick she was going, the chasers were closing in. She was just two kilometres away from the castle as she madly flung with her lash and the shay changed its direction and rushed directly against the ground with Claire at its helm bound to it by magic.

She hoped she could trick them but she couldn't be sure of her success because she was unable to look behind her without losing control over the chaise. She only saw clusters of beams pass her by at amazing speed and hit the ground, making the grass turn into ash. Soon afterwards a large beam flew by her and hit a tower of the castle, smashing it into pieces instantly.

She saw a courtyard nearing and an old sorcerer, Vitalio, with albino skin and pointy ears dressed in a flamboyant purple robe standing atop one of the castle's most prominent spires.

He saw Claire and her chasers and slowly rubbed his long white beard while mumbling something. Then he waved his hand gently and a large sharp crystal emerged from the sky, consuming the invaders as it touched them, disappearing in the ground as if it was ethereal while spitting the invaders out dead on the ground. Claire saw it flying by and hitting the surface. She realized that it had disposed of her enemies as she could no longer hear the sound made by that metallic object.

She ordered the chaise to slow down and land on the courtyard. She completely forgot she had been trembling with fear while flying down but as everything was still, this feeling overwhelmed her.

Immediately, four royal servants rushed towards her. They were called Maklots, large creatures with four hands and hair reaching down to the ground. They didn't even ask how she was, they just glared in Vitalio's direction as he gazed down from his tower. He waved at them and they turned back to Claire.

Claire was still shaking in tremor, while the Maklots waited as Vitalio fluttered down from the spire on his white wings, revealing that he was no mere sorcerer, but also an angel. Angels were indeed a rare sight in the Kingdom of Murr although not as unique as the only human being that Claire was.

"You're safe. They won't find us for now… I'll make sure of that. King William is waiting but I understand you'll want to rest first. The choice what to do is yours."

Claire didn't answer. She was tired and didn't even know what to say. Vitalio took it the best he could do is to lay her to sleep in one of the castle's chambers.

Chapter Seven

Claire awoke in an exquisitely decorated bed. The sheets elegantly tailored, velvet duvet and golden-like cushions with pictures of animals were but a small portion of luxury in the room. She didn't want to leave the comfort she found in the bed even though she felt fresh and full of energy.

Claire eventually managed to get up and sat on the bed. She yawned and rubbed her eyes as she thought of how it must have felt to look out of such an enormously tall tower like the one she was in.

She wanted to find out but before she could, King William entered her room and with him he brought a being that looked exactly like the teamster. The king, a short robust dwarf in his late fifties, was dressed in an exquisite mantle outlined with snow-white fur with occasional black dots and had a shining golden ornamented crown on his head, confirming his status as a monarch.

The being whispered something into his ear and closed the door behind them. King William went by the fireplace that was opposite the bed and stopped by the window to take in a deep breath of fresh air.

Claire carefully observed him when he turned to her and politely said: "Good day."

"Good day, my lord," she replied with a slight hint of drowsiness, realizing that there still was a trace of her being dozy. She yawned and put on a pair of slippers that was lying next to her bed. As she stood up against the light coming in through the window, clothed in her blue dress she looked like a princess.

"My servants have told me you would understand why you are here," King William said.

"The telepaths?" Claire asked.

"Exactly."

Claire didn't wonder even a bit. As a matter of fact, she had expected it.

"What's happening?"

"As you well know, the magic that was used was harmful," King William said gravely. "And it wasn't an accident."

"What do you mean?" Claire wondered. It couldn't have been because evil wasn't present in the kingdom, or so everyone thought.

"Have you heard the tale of the Kingdom's creation? The tale of the first king?"

"Sure I do."

"Before Falcons vanished from the Kingdom, they told King Aldinor a prophecy. They warned him that the creators of those horrid beings Falcons had beaten would arrive. And that those creators would be thousand times more malevolent than their creations."

"What do they want?" Claire enquired.

"According to the legend, one of the evil creations left us a message telling us of their plans. Their creators are corrupted and mad. They wanted to twist our world into something incomprehensible to us. To gain profit and slaves, to be exact. We don't want to be labourers but we have no means of defence. Our hope is magic, but we are no warriors. You, on the other hand, are a renowned detective. A clever person capable of outwitting anybody and making the impossible happen. A being of extraordinary talent beyond measure. You might as well be the only one who can stand between hell that threatens our very existence and the Kingdom of Murr."

"So the magic that moved Mr. Cubey's hat was the result of… their work?"

"True. It was the foreword of their invasion. The beginning of our demise. Little did we realize, however, that it would come so soon. They are many and are pouring out of their cloud portals just as we speak. We are few and unprepared for war. We are desperate."

"The telepaths didn't predict it?" Claire wondered.

"Although they possess immense magical powers, they are no gods. They can't foresee the future. Even though we knew about the possible threat, we were unable to find even a single person capable of stopping them. That's why I sent my most trusted for you."

"But what should I do?"

"I… honestly, I have no idea," King William admitted.

"So what now?" Claire asked.

"You can leave the castle as we see there is no point in keeping you. But before you go, remember what you saw yesterday. Remember what they did. How evil they really are. Just as we speak, they are committing actions most vile yet we are completely defenceless." King William's face was overrun by despair and hopelessness.

Claire recalled the horrors she had experienced the day before, feeling a chill in her spine with every second of that horrifying event replayed in her head. When she imagined, as King William had said, what those creatures were capable of, she realized the carnage they must have been causing by that time was beyond her imagination.

She promptly reminded herself she was the one who the king had placed the Kingdom's hopes in, and left. She didn't know what to do next despite thinking intensively. She arrived at the courtyard where the three invaders Vitalio had shot down along with their machine were lying. Beings of various origins had already begun gathering around their corpses, observing with interest and fear.

When Claire stepped in to watch what had caught the eye of every onlooker, she was shocked. One of the dead invaders was laying with his helmet metres away from him, thus revealing his face, albeit frozen. To her dismay, it was a human! She turned away, her back facing the horrible scene and her hands covering her face. She took a deep breath as she couldn't believe her own eyes. She felt sick.

She wanted to know, though, whether what she had seen was true. She made a daring turn to confront her fears, but could only confirm the horror. It indeed was a human. She came to the next and took off his helmet – another one.

What was it about? Claire couldn't control her feelings. She felt miserable and hopeless yet completely confused at the same time. She wanted to run and scream but stood frozen.

Perhaps she would have gone mad if it hadn't been for Vitalio, who had been watching her ever since her departure from the castle chambers. In her sorrow, she noticed him walking towards her with a fatherly look on his face.

"This… this isn't right," she cried with her face full of tears. "We… we are the same. Those evil creators… those… they are humans!"

"No need to despair because of illusions," Vitalio elaborated. "You clearly are similar, there is no denying that. But you are by no means the same. Not even in the littlest bit. I reckon there will be many things on your journey that may take your breath away in many unpleasant ways, but you need to overcome them. It is vital that you do so. Like this, for instance. You must realize that they are the very root of evil. Humans. You aren't one of them. They are trying to take away our freedom."

"But how can I live with the knowledge that I belong to this baleful race? Everyone will look down on me and realize that I'm… I'm evil as well. That I belong to hell. That I… that I…" Claire's mind was becoming filled with countless of similes that she believed were appropriate as she viewed herself as an abomination.

"Look around. Do you see anyone pointing a finger at you? Or think of you as an enemy? As an evil? Nobody here does." Vitalio paused for a moment as if he wanted to revel in his picturesque surroundings, then resumed to his conversation with Claire. "There are many wonders in our lovely and innocent world. Everything has always lived in harmony if we don't count interferences from hell itself. And although no bad things have been happening, it doesn't mean that everything has been alright." Vitalio paused once again, leaned to Claire, who had stopped weeping for a moment, and whispered a secret: "This world has only borrowed its innocence. It is supposed to return it in this fateful event. That is what the prophecy says."

"What does it mean?" Claire asked and wiped some tears off while others were slowly streaming down her face.

Vitalio stood back up and continued: "Don't concern yourself with that. You will understand when time is right. And use it against the evil. There is one thing you must realize, however. Creation is a strange thing. You are born as who you are born. No changing that. But that doesn't mean you can differ from the common example.

You don't necessarily have to be like the average human. Take other species, for instance. At glance, Rhogs and Zegs differentiate only in the colour of their tail, but if you get to know them, you will find out they vary greatly.

Indeed you are a human being as you say. But you aren't like them. You don't share their blood. They belong to the hell they came from and you to Murr. You were born here. That is what every inhabitant of the Kingdom knows."

Feeling solace and comfort in Vitalio's words, Claire felt less sad. She realized she wasn't one of them. Of those nefarious creatures. At the same time, she realized why they had been surprised after seeing her back in the chaise. She looked like them. But she wasn't the same. Even they knew she wasn't.

"Thank you… you gave me hope," Claire said with gratitude and tears finally stopped pouring out of her eyes.

"That is okay," Vitalio smiled. "I want to give you a piece of advice before you leave to investigate, however. Although you tend to favour facts over speculation, it is good to believe the myths sometimes – especially when you are at the beginning of a great case. They do for a best lead one could get.

Claire didn't understand his last words but she decided to remember. It was, after all, her only hint. For now, however, she felt hungry so much she had to head back for the castle to make the rumbling in her stomach go away.

Chapter Eight

As if food had enlightened her, she had a clear idea as to what to do. Albeit seemingly impossible to do, she had to prevent humans from entering the world where Kingdom of Murr was located.

She knew the only way to do so was to find someone wielding powerful command over magic. Piece fell into the puzzle as she realized what Vitalio's hint meant. It had something to do with Mr. Cubey's hat. Perhaps that was why the magic had affected it in the first place.

It was rumoured that either Zarvoys or the hat had been instrumental in defeating humans' creations. The power used back then had been considered as insurmountable.

Perhaps the beings capable of helping her weren't as powerful as they had been, but they were still worth seeking out. Zarvoys or the Lymean dragon, for example. The latter concealed its existence from others by hiding in the fabled cavern Clammos supposedly located fifty kilometres to the south of the castle. If the legend was true it still slumbered after the successful salvation of the world.

She was determined to pay Vitalio a visit once more to say thanks and then ask the king for transport to Clammos. The food was delicious, however, and Claire just had to take her time to fully enjoy it.

After she was finished with the food, it was time to depart. Claire stood up and headed out. Along the way, she met a group of very small, laughing critters. She said hello, they did the same and carried on to grin again. What was so funny?

Claire went out to the courtyard and disappeared within the spire where Vitalio resided. She ascended to the top and knocked on his door, which opened themselves and revealed a lavishly decorated, albeit somewhat narrow room.

A single bed with velour sheets, pillow and blankets of green colour on it was located in the corner opposite the door. Next to the bed in the other corner was a table with a chair and on the table was a silver bowl with apples. There were a series of bookshelves with an enormous collection of bizarre books on the left side of the room.

Vitalio was sitting on the wooden chair but as he noticed Claire standing in the door, he arose from his place to greet her.

"Welcome," he said.

"I just wanted to stop by to say thanks," Claire explained.

The old man smiled: "Not at all. We are the ones that should be thankful. For you are a brave soul."

"Surely I'm not the only one," she pondered.

"Perhaps you're right, clever thinking. However, I believe you will be the one to put an end to it, detective."

"Nevertheless, I wanted to thank you. Now, I have to see to my duties. Goodbye." Claire smiled.

"Good luck and good bye," Vitalio responded as she was turning away and leaving.

She visited the king afterwards, who said where she could find a chaise prepared for her. When she reached the place, she noticed it was similar to the previous one she took to get to the castle, if not even same. Her teamster was a strange being, it looked like a gobble of mud. Claire couldn't even identify whether it was she or he.

Nevertheless, it held its lash firmly – or at least had it placed in its insides. Claire sat down in the chaise and although she had her doubts, she remained still. Meanwhile, she could hear a sound of lash whipping in the air and feel the chaise gain speed without causing her any discomfort. She realized she had underestimated that creature of mud.

In a moment's time, they were floating away in the air. Claire's teamster knew his way around very well as she noticed they were moving directly where she wanted. She was wary, however, because she feared that humans could be near.

Although Claire felt the journey was taking too long, she was lucky as they hadn't met any so far. It was as if time was slowed down or at least she thought as much. Thankfully, she was aware of the fact that they were closing in because of all the things she could see on her way.

"Is everything alright?" the teamster asked huskily.

"Yes… only a question. I wanted to ask if you could tell me when we will arrive at our destination."

"Well, as far as I can predict it, I think it shouldn't take more than an hour. We have a plenty of time though." The teamster sounded like a very comfortable person.

However, Claire didn't share its optimism. "I'm afraid of the evil that could appear. I wonder whether you could speed up a little so as not to make my fears come true."

"As you wish," the teamster replied and flung with its lash vigorously.

The chaise picked up some serious speed and although it wasn't really comfortable, Claire felt much safer.

"Here, see?" the teamster soon exclaimed.

He didn't even have to point though he didn't have a way how. Claire knew what he meant. She saw the entrance to Clammos. It was a large arch once lushly decorated but recently falling to decay. A lash could be heard and the chaise began slowing and going down until it landed.

"I'll wait here," the mud said as it watched Claire sidle away.

She carefully crept to the arch, which was already half-collapsed. She stood still for a while and took a deep breath before she went inside, onwards into the dark cave.

She made her first steps into the cavern and clenched a fist. As soon as she opened her hand a small light revealed itself floating above her palm. It was strong enough to guide her around and make her see.

She saw she was in a narrow pathway with a mildewed wooden door partially buried in a bushel of stone. She walked to the door and kicked a few pebbles. She opened it as much as the pile allowed her and felt musty air engulf her. She found herself in a large, seemingly endless room and as she made a few steps forward, she saw an enormous skeleton. It occurred to her that it must have been a dragon's one, which meant that the Lymean dragon was no more and the legend was not quite right.

Seeing as there was nothing else for her to do there, her interest shifted towards Zarvoys. Somewhere in the south, in the far reaches of snow, trees were growing – Zarvoys' first part of their lifecycle. Although Claire would have been much happier if she had met them in their animal form, making such a thing come true was bordering with impossibility. Zarvoys always were enigmatic, lurking in the shadows, hiding themselves from the inhabitants of the Kingdom.

She emerged from the cavern and to her dismay, the shay was in flames with the mud nowhere to be found. Two men armoured in white and blue plate were standing near the scene, as Claire noticed. It was already too late to hide. When they spotted her, they drew their egg-shaped weapons.

Claire breathed in and closed her eyes. Her fists clenched, she wished intensively. She felt a freezing power gathering in her hands, fuelled by her own hate. It grew so strong she couldn't hold it any longer so she released a deadly array of ice shards upon her enemies. They tried to dodge, but one got hit in the head and fell to the ground. Luckily for the other, he managed to evade death and shot at Claire. He missed although it was a close call.

Claire wasn't procrastinating, however, as another ice shard left her hand and split the surviving invader's weapon in half, cutting his hand and disappearing in nearby bushes. The invader screamed in agony as his arm had frozen upon contact with the shard and felt the ice slowly creeping over into his entire body until he was completely motionless.

Where to now? How to get to the snowy reaches?

Just above her head among the white clouds she could sense a flash of lightning followed by an appearance of a black cloud. It immediately dawned upon her that enemies would start pouring out.

She thought of an escape plan. Using a complicated spell that she never excelled in casting. Wise wizards were able to summon a flying carpet, broom or something capable of transporting a person. Claire, on the other hand, never really had been.

This was her chance to make it right. She had to or else she would perish at the hands of the invaders.

She collected her thought. I need a flying carpet, she decided. Now to close my eyes, she said to herself, crossed her arms and put her hands on her shoulders. She viewed a carpet in her mind intensively. She imagined it rising up in front of her. Then she started repeating a specific magical formula: "Sernuis Anumincus."

She felt her hands shake – a mistake. She tried to make it cease as she saw the carpet appear in front of her, but it wasn't completely solid due to her nervousness.

She was aware of her spell falling out of control. The carpet was incomplete. Her muddles led her to abandon it and start again, but her nerves ensured that she failed instantly.

She tried to calm herself down. She opened her eyes and looked around. Something moved in the distant trees, shadows closing in. They were after her.

She promptly realized she had little time left. She closed her eyelids again and tried to rush the process but then she reminded herself that she needed to proceed very meticulously. She took a deep breath and began. Distractive ideas leaving her head, she completely forgot there were enemies drawing near.

She felt a new carpet creating itself in front of her and repeated the chant. The carpet was slowly taking its solid form. It was going well and she was becoming filled with happiness over her initial success. In a second, it was done. Her eyes wide open, she was standing before a carpet with lush and exotic ornaments that she had never dreamt of.

When she heard shots and saw blue beams hurtle around at dazzling speed, she turned around to face her enemies running towards her with guns blazing. There was no time to spare! She quickly jumped on the carpet and wished to fly away.

Although her enemies had backpacks, they weren't churning out flames, so they couldn't follow her. Claire could placidly think of her destination – the snowy reaches in the south.

For the last time, she turned around to see her belief that they didn't have the power of flame was wrong. They were already floating in the air and starting to chase after her.

She moved only about fifty metres away when the group of at least ten members started encircling her carpet. She tried to dodge them before they could trap her, but they shifted accordingly. She steered madly and nearly fell off, yet their enemies followed her swimmingly.

Suddenly, a dark ray emerging from the ground engulfed her enemies, who froze and consequently sank back to the ground. Confused, Claire looked over the carpet to see what had happened. She couldn't notice anything that would be capable of such a deed, but then heard a familiar voice.

"Fly away!" the mud shouted as she saw other humans appear in the distance. "Hurry! I'll handle those bezonians!"

Claire couldn't find where the mud was, but was grateful for its intervention. Had it not been for that, she would have been dead or kidnapped by now.

Unable to thank her saviour properly and aware of the fact that the mud would eventually perish, she dashed away knowing that the only way to show gratitude was to persist in her endeavour and succeed.

Chapter Nine

The route to the south was a peaceful one. Along her way, she had only had to elude two human portals and managed to do so without a conflict.

She flew out of the white clouds that had provided her cover up until then and saw the first traces of snow. She was sure she was closing to her destination and was on a lookout for massive, overreaching trees of richly green colour.

And then she noticed them. In a valley fit between two mountains, many gigantic trees were waving in the wind. They were so green despite the snow near them. It was as if they created an aura around them which disallowed anything white from entering.

It must have been Zarvoys. She ordered her magical carpet to lower down and landed in amidst their small colony soon thereafter. They were enormously large and had tiny hands and faces.

Claire came to one tree and hugged it exactly as was said in a legend. According to it, a tiny being had done so in the times of the invasion of the humans' creations and the trees had woken up to lend power to the Falcons that was instrumental in defeating the evil.

Claire hoped it would work, that they would understand, that they would realize the world was in great need.

She let go of the tree and looked directly into the face it had. Its eyes blinked, awaiting Claire's next move.

"I've come to ask for help. Evil beings from another world invaded ours and intend to take it. King William and his advisors are lost in quandaries. I know you had the power to help save this Kingdom once and I believe you still have it. Please, help us."

The tree's eyes blinked, its face not making any other gestures. It appeared as if Claire's plea went unnoticed because there was silence and nothing more. What was wrong? Had they lost their power?

"Please," Claire begged in desperation.

Yet the tree remained quiet. Every Zarvoy did. They just blinked and slowly waved their branches in the air. Claire soon realized it was pointless. All was lost. Her hope vanished. She couldn't help herself and sat on the ground weeping. She knew she had failed.

As she was sitting there and cried, she noticed a strange feeling slowly creeping over reminded her of something. For a moment, she stopped shedding tears as she started thinking. It didn't take her long to realize it was the same feel she had had when she had first touched Mr. Cubey's hat.

And then it dawned upon her. The legend of Zarvoys told about their mighty stand in the last act of defiance of the invaders that had given the way for the Falcons to arrive and purge the Kingdom of the siege force. They had stood firm before the armies of humanity's creations and prevented them from reaching the king's castle where the remaining refugees of the Kingdom had gathered.

It had been a battle of hope. The last, decisive fight. The invaders had managed to divert the Falcons, who had thought they had been chasing after the remnants of an army they had believed to have defeated. The Falcons had been misled into a different place far away from where the survivors of the Kingdom had mustered in their last hopes as the enemy had still been marauding throughout the country.

One small, yet brave being had realized this horrible mistake and seeing that the Falcons would never have arrived back on time, it had ventured to the Zarvoy's home and asked them to avert the fall of the Kingdom.

They had agreed and gathered around the last refuge, the castle, creating a magical shield that had protected it. They also had foreseen that if they had wanted to remove the invaders from the Kingdom, they had needed to bind an insurmountable magical force into a single item.

In doing so, the Zarvoys had crafted a magical tool rumoured to be a hat – that would have happened to be Mr. Cubey's hat now that Claire identified the feeling. They had given it to the Falcons once they had arrived and when they had used it, they and the invaders had mysteriously vanished.

Mr. Cubey's hat was the key to salvation. She needed to obtain it. She needed to return to Fairy City.

Chapter Ten

She hoped she would find the hat soon enough, but couldn't resist imagining what horrible things could have happened to it already. The only thing she could do was to wait as she was approaching.

With a strengthened resolve, she was flying over vast and various parts of the country. But there was a strange rumble coming out of a place not far away to where she was closing. In fear of having to face enemies she decided to alter her course.

As she was floating, she noticed a black cloud appearing exactly where she was, engulfing her completely. It scared her so much she nearly fell of her carpet. Fortunately, she managed to gather her mind again and rushed out of the cloud, checking what was under her.

She took note of pastures with farmers tending their cattle yet no trace of any humans. When she looked around for the second time, however, it had already changed. She saw a group of them harassing the farmers down there, slaughtering the unfortunate and killing the innocent.

She noticed some of the enemies preparing to set a barn on fire. Afterwards, a family dashed out of a house connected to it, screaming in terror. Claire felt anger taking over her as he watched the infuriating event take place.

She changed her direction and rushed after the attackers. Meanwhile, one of them noticed the family and decided to do away with them. The anger in Claire's mind rose so fast she couldn't control it, letting out a death emitting ray, catching the souls of the attackers, reducing them to dust before they could cause any more harm.

The event she had experienced reminded her of the grave importance her task had. She couldn't allow wasting a moment and so she dashed away in speed, knowing the sooner she would arrive at her destination, the better.

She wasn't even aware of her surroundings because of being deep in thought. Only the realization of a familiar place woke her up from her contemplation. She saw a widely dispersed array of forts surrounding King William's castle. When she faced the direction where the castle was, she felt a tremor reaching her heart – the castle was in flames!

She hoped they were okay, for she couldn't stop. She had to carry on and acquire the hat before a horrid fate could befall it. She wished the carpet would speed up and it obeyed her. She had to lie down and grasp one of its end firmly so as not to fall. Even though it wasn't really safe, she took comfort in the knowledge she was closing to Fairy City very fast.

She flew past one of the forts near the shore before she entered the area above the sea. It didn't take long and the sea was replaced by land. She noticed the enormous candy in ruins and some strange devices all around it along with their human masters. They were making horrifying sounds that could be heard even from a distance and poisoned the air with greyish fumes.

Croakers, they destroy everything good they stumble upon, Claire thought to herself as she went by.

However, it wasn't as exasperating as what she saw when she found herself above Garden City. The flowers were all mowed down, the city in ruins and its inhabitants presumably dead. She noticed many bizarre objects hovering about the place, sucking in all floral life the city had.

Claire was choked with anger. She slowed down her carpet and felt adrenaline crossing through her veins. She couldn't think of anything else but revenge. She wanted that all of them that were below her on the surface would die. She didn't care they were numbering in hundreds.

A chill went through her body, stopping in her fingertips. It burned her fingers before it left them, forming gigantic ice shards that pinned many of the unsuspecting humans to the ground, leaving them dead.

Those who didn't get hit turned their attention to the sky to find out the source of danger. When they noticed Claire on the carpet, they drew their weapons. Claire knew she had no chance against the overwhelming odds that were gathering to battle her, yet she remained and started casting again. As a wizard, she wasn't that good, however. Her victory was unlikely.

As if sent from the heavens, Vitalio's calm voice echoed through her head: "Claire, do you realize what you are doing?"

Claire was possessed by hate, she didn't listen.

"Heed my words. You are attempting to commit a suicide. Stop and escape while there's still time." Vitalio tried to convince her but it looked like it was hopeless. She didn't pay attention to anything he was saying.

Vitalio was a few metres away, standing on the ground. He was invisible but saw what she was doing. Claire wasn't stupid, only blinded a little. He knew she would make it. Just to help her… Just to sacrifice himself…

Claire cast another spell and the ice spears that left her palms cut through her enemies like they were loaves of bread. The humans down there were fully aware of her presence and were trying to shoot her down albeit without much success as Claire did her best to dodge their attacks.

She looked down and noticed one of her shards piercing a moving object humans had brought. It started burning and as the flame rose, she took note of a man standing beside it. He reminded her of somebody, but until she realized who it was, he had already been set aflame. Her entire body shook as she recognized that person – it was Vitalio!

Before she could do anything, the object exploded, consuming Vitalio instantly, leaving no traces of him.

It wasn't until the fire had engulfed everything within its sight when Claire realized her terrible mistake. Due to her irresponsible behaviour, a man of most valour and wisdom had died.

She remained frozen on the carpet as everyone below her retreated out of Garden City to have a better stand against Claire. But she wasn't battling them anymore. She was contemplating on what she had done. She wanted to cry but something inside was telling her she shouldn't. If she stopped, the enemy would win. No, she couldn't let that happen. Vitalio would never have wanted it that way. Yes. For the sake of Vitalio, she had to carry on and right the wrong she had done. There was no time for tears – she needed to continue.

Chapter Eleven

Claire saw the giant house that belonged to Mr. Cubey. Yes, Fairy City was within sight. Her heart was filled with joy as she realized she was getting close. Unfortunately, nearly all the houses had been torn down and destroyed. Only sunken remains stood as flame rose high into the sky with Mr. Cubey's home as the last one still standing, resisting the engulfing blaze that was drawing dangerously near.

She landed near the house and carefully treaded upon the ruined path that led to it with a choking fire slowly creeping up.

Claire opened the door and rushed in to see Mr. Cubey sitting in an armchair that she hadn't seen there before. Strangely though, his hat wasn't sitting atop his head.

"Mr. Cubey!" she exclaimed. "Mr. Cubey! I'm so glad to see you!" She ran to him and noticed his face was overrun with tears.

"They destroyed everything… killed everyone," he said sadly and snivelled.

"What about your hat?" Claire asked.

Mr. Cubey gave her a disapproving look as if he didn't understand her enquiry, believing that everything she could think of at that moment was property. Even though the hat was priceless, it wasn't more expensive than any life, Mr. Cubey thought. Than all the lives that had been lost.

"I understand," Claire explained. "I don't mean to be rude in this darkest hour. I actually bring a message of hope. The hat is the key in defeating them. With its help, we can drive the invaders back!"

It worked. Mr. Cubey was apparently convinced as he rose from the chair and Claire saw something reminiscent of a grin on his face.

"Follow me, my friend," he said deviously, "I hid it to make sure it won't ever get stolen."

He shifted the chair aside and placed himself on its former position. Then, he jumped thrice and made exactly three steps backwards. Claire silently watched.

Suddenly, a set of stairs appeared in front of Mr. Cubey and he descended on them with Claire right behind him, getting into a small corridor with a lit torch hanging on the wall. He took it to guide his way further until they arrived at an enormously huge room with a magically lighted showcase in the middle of it.

Mr. Cubey was shocked at the sight of an empty cushion on which his hat should have been. He only managed to say a few words very feebly: "It's gone… somebody… stole it."

"Are you looking for something, per chance?" a human voice said. It belonged to a short, plump man who emerged from the shadows. His face was so tubby its fat was hanging over the white and blue armour he was dressed in. He didn't have a helmet, though, so his facial features were fully on display for Claire and Mr. Cubey to see and taste disgust upon eye contact. He had short black receding hair, strikingly blue eyes and oval head with evilness flowing out of it into all directions.

He shook the Three-toothed Hat in the air while grinning devilishly.

"Hey, that's mine!" Mr. Cubey objected and reached out with his hand even though he was thirty metres away from it.

"I strongly detest unruly behaviour!" the evil man shouted.

Claire made a step forward but before she could do anything else, the evil man, who held an egg-shaped weapon in his other hand, shot Mr. Cubey, who then fell to the ground motionless.

She was shocked while the human shouted with joy. She crouched and leaned towards Mr. Cubey's dead body to see if there was something she could do to revive him. Unfortunately, it was pointless, which she realized.

"Shame, so close, so much effort… yet it's too late," he said.

"Who are you to do such things," Claire asked with grief in her eyes.

"I'm a representative of a large business corporation. I trade things for them."

"Trade? So right now, you are trading our world? Who gave you the right?"

"Is it wrong to do so?" he asked feloniously. "Look around. Time flows significantly slower than where I come from. This is an everlasting paradise. Right now, as we speak, a huge anchor portal is opening beneath the ground we stand on. Can you feel the earth shaking? It is here. So near. I feel it… you do too."

Claire wanted to shout in anger, but she couldn't. Thousands of thoughts harnessed in her head, battling with each other, wanting to scream. All those dead… all the destroyed places… a part of some greedy man's deal? She wanted to attack, she wanted to dash against that vile man and do away with him.

She ran towards him so quickly he was unable to react and couldn't even brace himself for the hit. Claire punched him in the face and his plump yet frail and unhealthy body was incapable of keeping balance and subsequently tumbled to the ground.

Claire was preparing to jump at him and beat him unconscious, but he hastily spoke so as to make her stop.

"Wait!" he exclaimed.

"Why should I?"

"Because I have something to tell," he said and as Claire hesitated, he stood up, reversing the gun he held, pushing some buttons on it and a large screen appeared in front of him.

"… no… technology will make sure time will be synchronized…" Claire could hear somebody speaking yet was unable to notice anyone or anything apart from a small wooden table in a room with metal walls.

"What is it?" Claire asked.

But the evil man only smiled, expecting that the screen would answer.

And he was right, it did. An old man with receding hair and an unwell-looking face dressed in a black suit and a tie appeared on the screen.

His eyes wandered over the place until they connected with Claire's.

"Is that you… Claire?" he said with his breath taken away. The old man apparently couldn't believe his eyes.

"Who are you?" Claire pondered.

"I am… your father, my child."

"What?" she couldn't believe what she had heard. "That can't be. I don't even know you."

"But you are! Please, you must understand. I am a wealthy man with a considerable power over the world. I own an international corporation that specializes in just about everything. And you are an heir to that fortune."

"No…" Claire couldn't grasp that idea. She didn't even know who that man was and where he was.

"Why not? Listen. When you were born… it was seventy years ago in here. Our technology could have been considered primitive back then, but we succeeded in what you now see. We created a bridge to your world, which was very unstable. The flow of time was a subject to a constant change, reaching a speed as fast as two thousands years per one second here. Still, everything went according to our plan. We sent probes into the place you find yourself in.

To our delight, we found a lively paradise and immediately sent more of them. But then it started becoming awry as the original inhabitants started to attack us. To make things even worse, a rival company of ours wanted to reap the benefits of our work by helping the aboriginals to drive us out, in which they eventually succeeded but thankfully, we managed to ruin them here.

Unsure as to what to do and with bleakly low funding, we knew we had to send in a human being in order to find out how it reacts to the environment. It had to be done in secrecy as there were too many prying eyes, so the panel of shareholders decided to agree on my plan – to send you, a newborn, in. We managed to establish a working portal with the time fuss finally solved. With it being corrected, we found out that our world ages about four times quicker than this paradise where you are.

We carefully observed you, made sure that you survive, but then somebody loosened their lips and our little project ended abruptly, taking you away from me. I protested all I could yet to no avail. And now, after those years we can reunite. I repent for my past mistakes, seventy years of not knowing whether I would ever see my daughter was a harsh punishment.

However, over the years I avenged you, my child. I found out who that betrayer was. I made sure he would never ever separate us again.

And I built my fortune as well. I spent seventy years carefully tailoring this. Today, I can finally reap the harvest I sow back then. I can make amends… Please, my child. Return home."

Even though he looked he was severely ill, Claire could see happiness in his eyes. But it was too much on her. How could she be sure it was her father? And how could he have done all those vile things? Risk his own daughter?

"Your mother would have been proud of you," he continued as he noticed Claire's hesitation. He took out a shabby old picture of a couple. A man looking like Claire's alleged father was holding a hand of a young woman that bore a striking resemblance to Claire. "Had she lived that long to see. She never stopped reminding me of what I had done. She was always against it. What a horrible shame that I hadn't listened to her in the first place."

Claire remained silent. Confusion had already overwhelmed her. She ignored the ground shake as a large gateway was sluggishly emerging underneath.

"Please. My employee who is with you is seeing to the smooth creation of the anchor portal. Once that is done, you can return home. Although your home isn't that picturesque as the place you are in and we have a small… unrest on the planet, I believe you will familiarize yourself."

"No…" she said silently as if she was afraid.

"Yes, Claire," her father insisted. "I beg you to forgive your father. I beg you to return. I beg you to…"

"But you are the one who… who caused so much harm… you are responsible for the death and destruction here… you…" Claire was speechless.

"Yes. But you must realize that there had been much pain before already. I am merely doing my best to create a place where our people could relax in tranquillity… once this war here is over." He made a strong emphasis on the word war, but although it hinted at something, Claire didn't pay any attention to it.

"You must make it stop… the land suffers…" she said with sadness in her voice and indecisiveness storming in her head.

"You know it's not possible," he said and a distant explosion on his side shook the screen.

"Boss, they are shelling the surface," a desperate voice could be heard yet its owner couldn't be seen. "We should relocate!"

"A moment," Claire's father looked into somewhere on his left before turning back to her. "Claire… please. We have little time left. The anchor portal will stay open… the other side is safe!"

"Promise me that you will end the invasion, promise me that…" Claire fell short of words as she was still battling with confusion.

"I can't, my dear. I had invested so much I just can't let it go. Please… Claire, come back."

"No… this can't be true," she resisted. Vitalio had been wrong. She was one of them. She even came from that world, from hell. She was like them. She belonged with them.

"Claire!" her father urged. "I beg you please… return to me."

"Boss, they have been spotted near. We must evacuate now!" A voice interrupted him as the entire room where father was trembled.

"A moment!" her father told somebody off-screen and turned back to Claire for the last time. "Claire… I must go. Please… promise me that you will go through the portal. Promise me that you will return… promise me…" the voice turned silent with a large quake shaking the place on the screen before it turned black.

"Is it clear now?" the evil plump man asked, waking Claire back to her senses. That world she had just witnessed… it was so distant and strange to her. How could she return to hell? How could she have been born in it?

She didn't understand. She didn't want to believe. She belonged to a world where people were slaying each other in the name of profit. A world where money was all that mattered and life was nothing but a commodity.

How could she, one of those evil beings, be a saviour of the Kingdom? According to what her father had said, she was actually a tool that had brought upon the doom!

"The portal will be finished soon," the evil man continued. "You should prepare for departure."

"I… I can't go…" Claire said.

"That's alright," the man replied. "I have my orders. If you're not willing, I have to take you by force. But until the portal appears, we have to wait."

Claire was silent. She didn't resist anything. She just sat, hopeless and disillusioned. For her, all was lost.

Suddenly, she heard a familiar voice. Magiloi.

"Lady Claire, come back to your senses. You have an unrepeatable opportunity to turn the tide of this destruction. If you don't believe in yourself, believe in others in the Kingdom, at least. Don't sacrifice them the same way you were sacrificed. Your heritage is undeniable, but that doesn't make you one of them. You can still deny your roots."

Even though Claire heard it clearly, it didn't convince her completely. Uneasy and sitting in tears, she didn't notice Magiloi engaging the evil man but being shot by him in an instant.

The gunshot finally woke Claire. She wasn't one of them. She belonged to the Kingdom.

How could the human shoot her friend? She gathered from the ground and concentrated her thoughts. Her fingertips began freezing as an ice shard left her hand and flew towards the human, who was unaware of her magical ability.

It hit him in the armour and knocked him down, causing him to drop the Tree-toothed Hat. He tried to face her whilst lying on the ground and as he did so, he shot. Feeling the beam graze her shoulder, she didn't pay attention to it as she was casting.

However, the evil man tried to shoot again as well as to stand up. Claire dodged and summoned an ice shard, which dashed against her enemy, hitting him in his armour but being strong enough to pass through it.

It appeared that his health wasn't really prepared for such a stress and helplessly tried to take a breath as his lungs were failing him. In a desperate attempt to stop Claire from killing him, he pressed a button on his weapon at the same time as Claire readied another volley of shards. An energy shield emerged in front of the devilish man, absorbing the incoming projectiles.

With the protecting barrier in front of him, he finally stood up and gathered his breath. "What will you do now, huh? You insolent brat! Your father… needs you intact. But who will know that I killed you? No. You escaped and the flames consumed you. I did… I did my job."

Claire ran towards the shield with a spell in her mind, touched it and a reddish ray flew out of her hand, trying to dissolve his enemy's protection.

She gritted her teeth as she put all the strength she had into the spell, trying to beat his enemy, who just noticed her vulnerability and shot.

Not turning out as he would expect, upon contact of the beam's power with the shield and the spell a chain reaction emerged and created a shockwave, pushing both aside with a force so tremendous they tumbled to the ground.

Claire immediately stood up while the evil man was just crawling up with his shield fizzling and blinking until disappearing completely.

"Damn," he cursed as he noticed she was drawing near and his cover gone.

Her eyes were burning red. It was the final moment, she realized as she viewed all the people that had sacrificed their lives. The shadowy teamster, the mud, Vitalio and Magiloi. Fairy City, Garden City, the castle and the country. This revenge was for them.

"Wait," he said to avert his demise while the ground started cracking and revealed a yellowish light coming out of the rising rift. "There is something else you should know. The portal is almost ready. You won't be able to come back. If you use the hat… you will only make the portal stronger. That is why we chose this place for the anchor portal. Unlike all the others, it wouldn't be temporary and unstable, but quite the opposite. Because of the hat. Years ago, we created a device that was to be the anchor portal opener, but lost it. Our enemies found it and used it to cast us down and drive us out of this world. That's right. No magic! It was our mistake that allowed your world to prevail! Without it, you are completely hopeless against our might! Please, I beg you. Spare my life. I will explain the hat's usage to you. Please, just don't… don't kill me!"

For a moment, Claire hesitated. She watched the ruptured lines grow along the ground and thought there was another meaning behind his words.

It was a clever ruse, however. With Claire confused, he furtively aimed the gun at her and pulled the trigger. Unfortunately for him, a timid zap of electricity left it and spread into all directions, passing through everything, even Claire. It was weak, though, as she felt a subtle tingle in her body.

"No…" he said in desperation, realizing his plan had failed. "This world… this world… we created this world! It is as vile and corrupt as ours! It is our child after all! You… you must lose your illusions! You must let go of it and join us! This world can perish for all we care! We can create millions of them now that we know how! We can begin anew anywhere! Your effort is pointless!"

Claire didn't heed his words as she knew he was trying to stall the obvious. Notably exhausted, she moved in her daring attempt to finish him off, shooting an ice bolt out of her hands. At the same time, a crack in the earth opened under the evil man. He grasped the collapsing earth with his hand, successfully evading her attack but balancing on the edge of life and death as he drew closer to the unknown. She came to him and looked down to the hole and saw a pulsating, brightly shining yellow orb of great size – it was the portal.

She knew it was only a matter of time until he would fall into it, so she did nothing but watch his hopeless effort to get back. When he finally realized, he lifted his head to Claire, using his voice for the last time: "We will return…"

Then he let go and fell towards the portal, disappearing within the bright light.

Just as the ground began shaking with vigour, she heard strange sounds coming from the outside. She looked to the stairs and saw Vitalio descending on them.

"Vitalio!" she shouted in excitement. "You're alive!"

"I extinguished the fire!" he responded. "But it's not over yet! You need to take the hat!"

Claire scanned the place and noticed the hat and a crack in the ground slowly extending towards it. She ran for it and grasped it just in time before it could disappear within the portal. When she looked into the gigantic orb, she saw reflections of humans and their machines on their world preparing to enter the portal.

"What now?" she asked.

"Step away so you don't fall in, and close your eyes. Believe in yourself! You know what you want! Do it! It will end here!"

Claire understood. She had to do so. She had to prevent the invaders from overtaking the Kingdom. Her father or not, he was evil.

As she stood in front of the portal that was still accreting in strength, a wish stemmed in her head. A wish that the portal would disappear. And all the others as well as everything evil they had brought to the Kingdom. Then she dropped the hat.

In an instant the cracks enlarged and the quake heightened, knocking Claire to her knees. She saw metallic objects ascend from the rift, but before they could emerge completely, the rift started retracting and trapping the devices inside.

The orb was losing its bright colour speedily until a greyish sphere was all that remained, popping like a bubble and leaving no trace of the portal. And then the rift sealed itself completely, the tremor deafened and everything turned silent.

Claire looked around the room for Magiloi or Mr. Cubey, but saw none.

Poor beings must have fallen to the portal, she thought to herself.

With the anchor portal gone, the others all across the world closed, but not before sucking in all the invaders they had spawned. The destroyed country and cities were repaired. The castle stood firm again. Everything returned to its previous state.

Claire felt it. She knew it had happened. She knew she had succeeded.

"I'm proud of you," Vitalio said standing beside her. "You aren't one of them. You belong here with us. Your soul knows it. You did well – no need to shed tears for the evil." Vitalio's voice echoed through her so as to stop her mind filling itself with many confusing thoughts.

Claire was speechless, but she managed to say a single sentence in a whisper: "Thank you."

Vitalio put his hand on her shoulder and she felt a sudden influx of positive energy flowing through her body. All her fears and pains, all her troubles and confusions were erased.

"Not at all, but as I said earlier – we are the ones who should be thankful. So I, representing everyone in the Kingdom, thank you. Your deeds will never be forgotten. You managed to do all that humans wouldn't ever do. To be good at heart. They all chose to go down the path of corruption instead, so let time judge their doings and condemn them for all eternity.

I understand that you found out many painful revelations along your way as well as stories beyond the grasp of our logic. Those should remain forgotten, for they bring sorrow and confusion this world was never designed for…"

His last sentence stuck in Claire's head and although she didn't understand, it made her so puzzled she stopped paying attention to what Vitalio was saying. She couldn't figure out the meaning, but agreed on that it would indeed be best to forget, as some things really weren't meant to be heard by the ears of the Kingdom's inhabitants.

The greatest misdemeanour of humanity – egoism – that had led to their inevitable corruption was a thing that had to be prevented from taking root in the world Claire was in. Grace the ones that hadn't met a human, for they would never become corrupted.

It was luck that humans, who had created the peaceful world, gave it the best. And that was, perhaps, the most important thing no one in Murr should learn, for it would break the beautiful illusion of good beings who believed their world had stemmed from virtue. Virtue, which allowed them to live in peace, forever.

Although the threat had been eliminated, everyone in the Kingdom recuperated and mourned the lost, for their souls couldn't be brought back to life. And as for the heroes of the event that would go on to be known as the Second Invasion, they resumed to their humble occupations, ensuring the restoration of peace and order. But in their hearts, in their minds, they still carried the knowledge of those who had come and gone. Those, who tried to steal an innocent world. Especially Claire, aware of the key role her heritage in the Second Invasion had, remembered.

And such was the tale of the Kingdom of Murr, where the good prevailed against the evil.