LoadingMagora

MAGORA

THE GALLERY OF WONDERS

Book One

Marc Remus

– CHAPTER ONE – THE FIRE

The line between reality and fantasy has many shapes. It can be thick or thin, colorful or dull, wavy or straight, blurry or sharp. It is always changing.

The smell of burning wood woke Holly from a restless sleep in the attic. She leaped from her crouched position on the dirty mattress to the window above. Something was on fire. Holly flung the window open. Smoke poured in, creating a hazy fog that hung in the dark, dreary room. She coughed, wiping the hair away from her face. The fire was close to Grandpa Nikolas’ house. What if something had happened to him? She ran to the crammed shelves that lined the staircase leading up to the attic room. They were stuffed to the ceiling with cans of paint, rusty lanterns, baskets full of Christmas decorations, and many other useless things. She hoisted one of the paint cans aside and picked up a pair of binoculars. Another cloud of smoke blew into the attic as she rushed back to the window.

Coughing, she frantically waved her hands to scatter the smoke. Holly focused the binoculars on Papplewick Road. She couldn’t see exactly where the fire was, but she noticed that the flames were shooting to the sky from behind the house of Ms. Hubbleworth, a neighbor known for being a nosy busybody. “I need to warn everybody,” Holly said, panicked. She dropped the binoculars into her backpack, grabbed a coat, and hurried down the attic staircase. To her surprise, her foster parents, the Smoralls, hadn’t locked her in as they usually did in the evening. Holly raced down the marble hallway of the Smoralls’ luxurious mansion and dashed into the kitchen. “There’s a fire,” she cried breathlessly. A red-haired girl sat on a chair, munching on a towering stack of chocolate cookies. Though the Smoralls’ daughter Barb was, at age thirteen, only two years older than Holly, she was about twice her weight. Hundreds of freckles covered her flat face, which had a strong resemblance to that of an orangutan. “Mom, the loser is down from the attic,” Barb said.

Ms. Smorall turned away from the counter where she had been kneading dough. She wiped her hands on an oversized apron that hid her thinness. “What are you doing down here?” Ms. Smorall scolded. She dropped the dough onto the kitchen table and moved menacingly toward Holly, finger pointed. “I have not given you permission to leave the attic.” She pulled Holly up by one ear. “I’m sorry,” Holly pleaded. “But there’s a fire. Someone might be in danger.” Ms. Smorall glared at Holly with beady eyes as she pulled her closer. Holly’s face almost touched her foster mother’s crooked nose. “She’s such a loser,” said Barb as she stuffed two cookies into her mouth at the same time. “Guess what her teacher, Mr. MacMillan, said last week?” Ms. Smorall lifted her razor-thin eyebrows and smiled. “What did he say, sweetie?” “Holly painted a line with two circles and tried to pass it off as a flying rabbit and a magical carriage,” Barb said. Ms. Smorall broke out in a hysterical laugh. “A flying rabbit? That’s ridiculous. You have no talent whatsoever when it comes to art.”

“Who has no talent?” asked a red-haired man with the same orangutan features as Barb. He strolled into the kitchen and went to the refrigerator. “H-h-herbert, I didn’t expect you to be home this early,” Ms. Smorall stuttered in a slightly irritated tone. “I got off early today,” Mr. Smorall said as he grabbed a can of soda from the refrigerator. He turned to Barb. “And how is my sweetheart doing?” At that moment, Ms. Smorall pushed Holly out into the hallway. “Don’t you ever dare come down here again, or I will make you clean the whole mansion with a toothbrush,” she whispered harshly before giving Holly another push. Holly stumbled backward as Ms. Smorall let go of her ear. There was no doubt that Ms. Smorall really would make her clean the mansion with a toothbrush. Holly was already forced to do all the chores in the house and Ms. Smorall used every opportunity to humiliate Holly. Holly never understood why. “Up into the attic now,” Ms. Smorall snapped. She slammed the kitchen door shut. Holly rubbed her ear, which hurt where Ms. Smorall had yanked on it. She dashed down the marble hallway to the front door, flung it open, and ran along Piddlehinton Street.

She knew she would be punished for not going back into the attic, but it was much more important to make sure Grandpa Nikolas was all right. A burning smell hung in the air, and she saw the flickering of flames in the distance. Just as she passed Ms. Hubbleworth’s house, a boy around Holly’s age came running around the corner. He swerved around a lamppost, slipped on the wet ground, and crashed headfirst into a puddle of mud. His oval glasses disappeared into the brown goop in front of him. He fished them out, rubbed them on his mud-covered turtleneck, and stared horror-struck at the fire. “Brian,” Holly said, rushing over to him. “Are you okay?” “I’m good,” said Brian. “Did you see? There’s a fire in the building where your grandpa has his art studio.” “I know,” Holly said, her heart beating so fast it felt as if it were about to break through her ribcage. If anything happened to Grandpa Nikolas, she would be left without any family. Even though Holly was not allowed to visit him because of rumors that he was practicing some kind of magical rituals, she still thought about him all the time.

“Come on,” said Brian, wiping the dirt from his turtleneck. “Let’s see what’s going on.” A few moments later, Holly and Brian reached Grandpa Nikolas’ studio. Hundreds of people had gathered in the street, looking up at the flames lightening the dark sky. In the distance, Holly heard the sirens of fire trucks approaching. “Grandpa Nikolas’ studio is up there on the top floor,” Holly said, aghast, as she watched flames shooting out of the upper floor windows. “I have to get him out.” “We can’t go in there,” Brian said, pointing at the crowd of people who had already ran from the burning building. “They all escaped just in time. I’m sure Grandpa Nikolas has already left.” “And if he hasn’t, it wouldn’t be much of a loss,” said a voice behind Holly. She turned around and looked into a wrinkled face with thick pinkish makeup. Perched on top of a beehive of blonde hair was a sunhat with pink frills that matched the pink outfit the woman was wearing. “Hubbleworth.” Holly rolled her eyes and whispered to Brian, “She looks like a plastic flamingo.”

“He’s a madman, just like every painter,” said Ms. Hubbleworth. “No wonder the court decided to take you away from him.” “Grandpa Nikolas is not a madman,” said Holly. “He’s a very creative painter, and they didn’t take me away because he’s crazy, but because someone spread lies about him.” “Stop bugging her,” Brian said. “Everybody knows you hate kids, so why don’t you just ignore us?” “Very right, Mr. Findley. You are nothing but little pests.” “I bet you were the one who spread those rumors about Holly’s grandfather,” Brian said accusingly. “Strange things were taking place at Nikolas O’Flanigan’s studio,” said Ms. Hubbleworth. “I wish they had taken him away from Donkleywood and not just separated him from Holly.” Holly wanted to strangle Ms. Hubbleworth, but forced herself to stay calm. She knew there were a lot of rumors in town about her grandfather, but she had never believed any of them. However, she knew how much Ms. Hubbleworth despised the idea of anything that did not fit into her small world, including magic.

There was no doubt in Holly’s mind that the old lady had something to do with the rumors. Brian pulled Holly away from Ms. Hubbleworth and away from the crowd to a tiny park across from the building. Holly climbed onto one of the benches and took the binoculars out of her backpack. She focused them on the upper floor. “I need to go,” Brian said, heading toward the bushes. “Go where?” “To the bathroom,” he called back. “Really?” Holly asked incredulously. “In the bushes?” As she waited for Brian to return, she scanned the crowd standing in front of the building. She was hoping to find Grandpa Nikolas, but there was no sign of him. Trembling, she lowered the binoculars and turned back to the park. Where was Brian? It couldn’t be taking him this long to do his business. Her eyes had slowly adjusted to the darkness of the park when she spotted Brian hiding behind a bush. He was pointing at a nearby thick oak tree while signaling her to be quiet. Holly focused her binoculars on the tree that was about sixty feet away. Something was moving between its crooked branches. Was it a crow or a cat?

It was too dark to see, and she couldn’t make out the shadowy figure. Holly flipped the binoculars over and cleaned the lenses on her sweater. As she focused again, three pairs of eyes stared right at her. “Crows,” Holly said, unimpressed. At that precise moment, a bright flame shot up from the fire and lit the treetop. For one second, Holly saw clearly. Those were no crows. Her heart turned over. She lost her balance, dropped the binoculars, and fell off the bench. “S-s-seahorses?” Holly stuttered as she lay on the ground. Had she actually seen flying seahorses in the tree? Holly jumped back up on her feet and grabbed the binoculars. Jittery, she focused them. There they were, three seahorses as big as cats, but they weren’t ordinary seahorses. Their leathery tails were spiked with gigantic steel needles, and their bodies were protected by rusted armor. Metal helmets covered their heads and smoke steamed from their snouts. Their independently-moving eyes gazed at Holly as if they could see her from the distance. Holly saw Brian tiptoeing behind the bushes toward the oak tree.

Just as Brian was about to reach the thick trunk, Holly realized that something else was moving in the dark. She focused the binoculars again. Her heart was pounding as she searched the darkness. A short bald man with a pockmarked face and a thin, black moustache was hiding behind the trunk. A thick, fleshy scar ran all around his unnaturally elongated head. A purple cloak with a ruff hung loosely over his velvet pants, which were tucked into his boots. They were oddly curled at the front, just like snail shells. Holly had never seen a costume like that before—except in paintings depicting wizards from medieval times. The man was talking to himself while pointing at the seahorses above him. Brian tiptoed closer to the odd man and hid behind another bush. Another burst of flame flooded the area with bright orange light. Holly’s hands started to shake and she cried out at what she saw next. A creature, about seven feet tall, stood behind the man. It was draped in a black cloak and a hood was pulled over its face. Not an inch of flesh was visible. The image of the Grim Reaper came to Holly’s mind.

Who were these people? Did they have something to do with the fire? Holly saw Brian signaling her to come over. Holly tiptoed to the oak tree, carefully hiding behind the bushes along the way. “Who are they?” she whispered when she reached Brian. “This is so weird,” he said. “I think those people are after the flying seahorses up there.” He pointed at the treetop where the odd creatures still hovered. “Do you think these people have anything to do with the fire?” Holly asked. “Maybe they are arsonists?” Brian shrugged. “Just listen to what they’re saying.” Holly crawled on her hands and knees, moving closer to the base of the oak until she could clearly see the man with the scar. “We’re running out of time,” said the man. “We need to find the Gindar.” The cloaked creature behind the man nodded. What on earth was a Gindar? Holly had never heard the word before. “We have to bring the seahorses back,” said the man. “And we need to get Holly O’Flanigan quickly.” Holly froze as soon as she heard her name. She pressed her hand over her mouth, fearful of letting out a sound.

These people were after her. But why? Why would anybody be after her? She didn’t have anything that was valuable. She hadn’t done anything wrong either, at least as far as she knew. So what would anybody want with her? A scream echoed through the park. Startled, Holly looked back over her shoulder. She knew that voice. Panicked, she crawled back, jumped up, and ran past Brian, completely forgetting her need to be quiet. As she reached the edge of the park, she looked up and saw Grandpa Nikolas standing on the roof of the building. He was surrounded by flames. Holly realized, with a horrible pang in her stomach, he was about to jump to try to escape them. “No, don’t do it!” Holly screamed. “The firefighters will be here soon!” As if to confirm her words, the wail of sirens from the approaching fire trucks grew louder. But they weren’t close enough. Grandpa Nikolas screamed one more time. Then he leaped toward the edge of the roof and, as the crowd shouted from the street below, he jumped.

– CHAPTER TWO – THE MYSTERIOUS BOX

The line can be thick or thin. It all depends how thick you make it. There were years in my childhood when fantasy and reality were the same thing. The line was wafer-thin, almost nonexistent. At other times, fantasy was overshadowed by everyday reality, and the line was so thick it was almost impossible to let fantasy be a part of my life.

Holly spent half of the night staring out at the ceiling, her eyes flooded with tears. Grandpa Nikolas was dead. Holly couldn’t get the horrible picture of her grandfather jumping off the building out of her mind. She knew the panicked look on his face would haunt her for the rest of her life. But even though Grandpa Nikolas was gone, Holly’s life continued. And now she would have to live with the Smoralls forever. She would never find a real home. “Don’t ever forget that you have creativity inside you,” Grandpa Nikolas had said years ago, just before Holly was taken away from him. “You can become a good painter like me.”

But even though Holly wanted to become a great painter, she knew the Smoralls would never allow that. All they saw in her drawings were scribbles. And many students at her school thought so too. Amanda Heavenlock was one of them. She was the prettiest of all the girls in her class and a year older than Holly. Amanda constantly made fun of Holly by calling her the Scribble Queen. True, for most people her drawings didn’t look like anything but that was why Holly wanted to go to Brushdale Art School, a school specializing in the arts. Now all her dreams were shattered. The only person in the family who had supported her dreams was now dead. Holly cried herself to sleep. It was still dark when Holly woke the next morning. She was exhausted. All night long she had dreamed of Grandpa Nikolas. She got up from the mattress and walked down the attic staircase. She crouched down and pushed against the wood on the front of the fourth step to reveal a secret cubbyhole. She squeezed her hand in, sifted through the dust inside the step, and pulled out an old cigar case she had hidden there.

It was made of polished silver and engraved with the name “O’Flanigan.” Holly dusted it off and caressed the case, then gently opened the lid. A few dozen photos were neatly stacked on the red velvet lining. The photo on top showed three people, a friendly-looking man with a short white beard stood to the right. It was Grandpa Nikolas in his sixties. On his right arm was a pretty woman with wiry blonde curls. A Mediterranean-looking man with thick, jet-black eyebrows and a long face stood beside her. Grandpa Nikolas had told Holly that these were her parents. She had never known them because they had died in an accident when she was a baby. Tears rolled down Holly’s cheeks. “I want a family and a home like everybody else,” she whispered, wiping her tears on her sleeves. “Grandpa Nikolas, please come back. You were the only family I had left.” She gently set aside the photos of Grandpa Nikolas and pulled out a few sheets of paper from the box. The sheet on the front read:

How Butterflies Live, Reproduce, and Fly
Research Paper by Holly O’Flanigan
5th Grade Science Project.

It was this final research paper on butterflies that had saved Holly from failing science class and therefore the entire school year. She had already flunked art. Despite her passion for painting, Mr. McMillan had failed her because he didn’t recognize anything Holly drew. And failing two classes would have meant repeating a year. Failing art was bad enough; two classes would have been too much. But the science teacher gave her the chance to write a paper, pass science, and move to sixth grade. Even though the Smoralls had tried to keep Holly from studying by overwhelming her with chores, she had snuck out to the library and was able to finish the paper on time. As Holly placed the photos and the paper back in the box, she heard someone call her name. She went up the stairs and opened the window.Holly smiled. It was her friend, Rufus.

His short red hair and the freckles that went with it almost looked orange in the morning light. As usual, he was dressed in the blue post office uniform he wore while helping out his parents who ran the Donkleywood post office. Rufus’ skinny body barely supported the weight of the heavy woolen coat he was wearing over his outfit. “I am so sorry for what happened to your grandfather,” he said in a fake British accent. Rufus was very intelligent and liked to show it. Over time, he had gotten into the habit of imitating the accent, which he thought made him sound more sophisticated. “Thank you, Rufus,” said Holly, as she watched him pull out a rather large box from underneath the trimmed boxwood bushes. “What do you have there?” Holly asked. “I have a package for you,” Rufus said. “Please lower the basket.” Holly threw down a basket while holding the rope attached to it. Rufus placed the box in the basket and gave her a signal to pull it up. “When I left the post office, I found this on the doorstep,” he said. “It’s quite odd. Nobody had taken it inside to mail. It was just lying there, addressed to you.”

“That’s weird,” said Holly, pulling on the rope until it was taut, then began hauling it up. “Why would someone leave a box for me in front of the post office?” “Whoever sent it to you must have known the Smoralls would not give it to you if it arrived by regular mail,” Rufus said. “I guess you’re right.” Holly leaned back and yanked on the rope as if she were playing tug-of-war. “Jeepers, that’s heavy,” she grumbled. With a clunk, the box landed on the windowsill and dropped to the floor. A lilac envelope was attached to it. “I have to go back to the post office,” Rufus called. “All right,” said Holly. “Thanks, Rufus.” He disappeared between the bushes, and Holly closed the window. “Strange—no sender,” she said to herself, flipping the box upside-down. Holly kneeled on the dirty mattress that Ms. Smorall had gotten from a garbage dump. She placed the box on her pillow and picked up the lilac envelope. It read:

To: Gindar Holly O’Flanigan
13 Piddlehinton Street
Donkleywood

“Gindar?” Holly jumped up from the mattress. Had the scarred man and the cloaked creature sent this box? Holly held the envelope at arm’s length as if it contained a bomb ready to explode. But, curious as she was, she couldn’t resist for long. She opened it. A scribbled note read:

Dear Holly:
Take good care of Tenshi. There are some things in the box you might
need in the future. Be careful! Good luck!

No signature. That was very strange. And who was Tenshi? Holly stuffed the letter in her pocket and opened the box. Inside, she found a leather-bound book, a red feather that split symmetrically into two on the top that looked like conjoined twins, a little jar of white powder, and a gadget with a funnel attached to one side. The book had a coat of arms on its cover. Two eagle-headed lions intertwined with a paintbrush in between them were embossed on the binding. Holly read the medieval lettering on the cover.

Encyclopedia of Magora ~ by Samuel E. Thorvalor.
A complete 80,000-year historical guide.

Holly turned the book around and read the back cover.

This volume includes a special section about creation of Ledesmas
and the battle against S.A. Lokin, Duke of Cuspidor.

“Magora?” Holly mumbled to herself. “What on earth is Magora?” She read the title again and stopped at the number eighty-thousand. This must have been a printing mistake. No place in the world was that old. She flipped through the pages, fascinated by the fine illustrations. Each page contained a summary of a few hundred years that together made up the entire history of a place named Magora. It was not a printing mistake. Magora was an eighty-thousand-year-old land. Puzzled, she set the book aside and read the label on the little jar: “Mind-Splitting Powder—Use With Caution.”

She opened the jar. The smell of moldy mushrooms and rotten eggs filled the air. “Yuck,” she said, wrinkling her nose. She screwed the lid back on tightly, placed the jar on her pillow, and lifted the box with the funnel. She had never seen anything like it. Shaped like an old rotary telephone, it had a funnel instead of a dial. On the opposite side was a hole. An inscription on the bottom read:

Shrink-O-Meter – For professional use only.
Do not use without permission from the High Council.
Instructions:
1. Place object in funnel.
2. Push green button.
3. Move lever upward. Object will shrink.
4. For reversal, push red button.

Holly immediately grabbed a tube of oil paint from a tackle box that Grandpa Nikolas had given her long ago. She placed it in the funnel. Skeptically, she followed the instructions and waited. Nothing happened. “I knew it,” she said, satisfied. “It’s a hoax.”

At that precise moment, the green button flashed. A huge green cloud blew out of the funnel and filled the room with an icy fog. Holly dropped the Shrink-O-Meter on the mattress and leaped behind the wardrobe. “Jeepers, what was that?” she shouted. A gurgling sound came from the funnel. Like a vacuum cleaner, the Shrink-O-Meter sucked in the tube of paint. After a high-pitched microwave-like ding, something small was ejected from the hole. The fog gradually dissipated. Holly tiptoed up to the Shrink-O-Meter. The tube was lying on the mattress, but now it was no larger than a fingernail. Holly rubbed her eyes in disbelief. Had the Shrink-O-Meter actually shrunk the tube? Unconvinced, she put the miniature tube back into the funnel, pushed the red button, and hit the lever. Once again, the Shrink-O-Meter blew out fog, sucked the tube in, and with a ding, the tube dropped back out—this time its original size. “Wow,” Holly said in amazement. Who could have sent her this stuff? She had to show this to Brian and Rufus.”

She began shrinking each of the objects from the box so they would all fit in her backpack and carefully placed them inside. Just as she had finished shrinking the encyclopedia, she heard a tapping. She jumped up from her mattress and stood quietly, listening. The gurgling of the Shrink-O-Meter ceased, and the tapping got louder. It sounded like footsteps, almost as if someone was running through the attic. Holly heard a key turning, followed by a creaking similar to that of an old door hinge. A loud bang echoed, as though a door had been slammed shut. There was a moment of silence. Holly could feel her heart beating like a drum. Suddenly, she heard muffled grunting. Holly ran down the attic staircase to the door that separated the attic from the mansion. She stopped halfway down the stairs when a pounding began accompanying the grunting. Holly scanned the shelves along the staircase that were stuffed with paint cans to find the source of the noise. Then she looked up to the ceiling. Her gaze lingered there. Was that a door in the ceiling above the staircase?

It looked like it had been painted over with the same granite color as the rest of the ceiling and was so well camouflaged that Holly hadn’t ever noticed it before. She scampered back to the top of the staircase and stood on her toes to scan the top of the shelves. She spotted a dust-covered stick with a hook attached to its end and reached out to grab it. She carefully threaded the hook through the metal ring on the ceiling door and pulled with all her might. With a squeak, a staircase unfolded down to Holly’s feet. Her heart beat in time with the muffled grunts above. “It’s pigeons, just pigeons,” she mumbled, trying to convince herself that everything was under control. She took a deep breath and climbed the stairs. The musty smell of mold and dust tickled her nose as she peeked into a secret room. It was filled to the brim with boxes and old furniture. In the center of the room, dimly lit by the sunbeams falling through the attic windows high above the rafters, was a rectangular shape covered with a dirty cloth. The grunting sound seemed to be coming from there.

Holly’s body shook with fear so terribly that she began to feel her legs weakening. She slowly sat on the floor. Common sense was telling her to leave but her curiosity kept her there. “W-w-who’s there?” she stuttered, crawling on all fours toward the sound. Then, plucking up all her courage, she darted forward and whisked off the dirty cloth. The grunting stopped. She saw a massive wooden chest covered with elaborate carvings. The front panel was decorated with an image of an island. The same animals that were embossed in the coat of arms on the encyclopedia soared over the landscape. People with cone-shaped heads strolled among butterflies through the narrow alleys of the town. A gigantic castle towered above all and over that, an embedded silver plate read, “Magora.” “Magora,” she said surprised. “Just like the encyclopedia.” Hammering from inside the chest suddenly interrupted her thoughts. A loud grunt followed and Holly jumped back. Her forgotten fear crawled up into her throat again, and she felt as if two hands were trying to strangle her.

She breathed heavily. Unable to resist her curiosity, she stretched out her right hand, turned the heavy iron key, and leaped back to the folding staircase. She waited there, ready to escape from whatever might come out of the chest. The grunting stopped, followed by seconds of complete silence. Then, the lid of the chest slowly creaked open. Holly gaped with astonishment at two tiny paws covered with fluffy orange fur. Behind the paws, two frightened green eyes appeared. What followed looked like an orange koala with a humanoid face, like that of a child. It had pointy ears and short arms and legs. “H-h-how in the world?” Holly stuttered. “It’s a Nukimai.” Grandpa Nikolas had painted creatures he told her were called Nukimais many times, but Holly had always thought he had made them up. She pinched her arm to see if she was awake, but the Nukimai did not vanish. Instead, it grunted, wiggled its long, pointy ears, and with a thump, bounced to the floor. It curled up into a ball like an armadillo and rolled right to Holly’s feet. Holly laughed when she saw the fuzzy ball. Her fears vanished in an instant.

She leaned down and read, “Tenshi” on its collar. “Wait a minute.” Holly pulled the letter from her pocket and read, “‘Take good care of Tenshi.’” Magora, Tenshi, the letter, the cloaked creature—they must be all connected somehow. But where had this creature come from? Where was this land of Magora? And what role did she play in all of this? “Do you know where Magora is?” Holly asked Tenshi. He wrinkled his silky black muzzle, ruffled his orange fur, and grunted loudly. His bright-green eyes widened as someone shouted from the mansion below. “Holly! We have to tell you something.” “The Smoralls are coming,” Holly gasped. She picked up Tenshi and climbed down the ladder. With a click, she closed the hidden attic door above her and stuffed the little critter under her sweater. “Be quiet now, or we’ll be in big trouble,” Holly admonished. With a loud bang, the door to Holly’s attic room flung open.

– CHAPTER THREE – THE HIDDEN ATTIC

The struggle to balance fantasy and reality is part of learning that the two can’t exist without each other. Reality is fantasy and fantasy is reality. It all depends on the viewpoint. And the line becomes unimportant.

Ms. Smorall and Barb came into the attic and dropped a bucket and a broom at Holly’s feet. “We are headed out to Nikolas’ funeral right now,” said Ms. Smorall. “We have to host a gathering afterward. Then we can meet with the lawyer and collect the inheritance.” “Can’t I come to the funeral?” Holly asked. “Are you kidding?” said Barb. “Who is going to sweep the floors and clean the bathrooms? Do you think they’ll clean themselves?” “By the time we get back, I want everything to be sparkling clean for the gathering, and for you to be back up in the attic,” said Ms. Smorall. “Don’t even think about coming downstairs while the mourners are here. The last thing we need is sniveling child like you.” Holly’s heart sank.

She wouldn’t even be allowed to say goodbye to her grandfather. All day long Holly scrubbed the floors, her eyes overflowing with tears. Her only thoughts were of Grandpa Nikolas and how much she was going to miss him. Not even Tenshi and all the magical objects she had found in the package could cheer her up. Just as she was crawling on her knees along the hallway, polishing every inch of the fine marble floor, a dark, raspy voice echoed through the mansion. It sounded eerie. “Holly, where are you?” Holly jumped up from the floor. Her heart was racing like a bullet train. Where was the voice coming from? She looked around but didn’t see anything. Still, she wondered if maybe it was the cloaked creature she had seen at the fire. Had it followed her here? Shaking, she held her breath and listened. The voice echoed again. “Holly. Holly.” Was someone really calling her name? Holly pressed her hands against her ears and shook her head. The voice stopped and Holly continued polishing the marble. She had probably just imagined it.

In the afternoon, the Smoralls returned and the mourners began to arrive. An unmistakable screechy voice echoed in the hallway. “Ugh, Hubbleworth,” Holly muttered, tiptoeing down the stairs to sneak a peek. Thankfully, Ms. Hubbleworth had realized that pink was too bright and flashy for a funeral. She arrived drenched in purple from head to toe. Unfortunately, the rest of the wardrobe wasn’t much of an improvement. She wore and extremely long violet velvet cloak with black frills over a dark purple dress decorated with lace and pearls. Her blonde beehive was topped with a huge hat with flowers on top of it. From her arm dangled a purple handbag with black dots. “Jeepers,” Holly said, repulsed by the fashion disaster. How could anyone have such a lack of taste? Ms. Hubbleworth crossed the marble hallway to make her appearance in the living room, dragging an endless train of velvet behind her. Holly peeked around the corner into the living room to find it filled with mourners. The atmosphere was stifling.
Rufus was standing by the buffet table.

“Rufus, come here,” Holly whispered. Rufus winked at her and snuck out of the living room. “You won’t believe what has happened,” Holly said. “I have to tell you all about it.” “What is it?” Rufus asked. “You go get Brian,” ordered Holly. “I’ll wait in the billiard room.” Holly ran back to the attic and placed Tenshi inside her backpack, motioning for him to be quiet. Then she went to the billiard room. “What is going on?” asked Brian when he came into the room with Rufus. “Trust me. It’s very important,” Holly said, placing the backpack on the billiard table and untying the top. A grunt came from the bag. Brian looked curiously at the backpack. An orange paw appeared, followed by Tenshi’s big, round eyes. “Holy smokes, what on earth is that?” Brian pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. “It’s a Nukimai,” said Holly. “His name is Tenshi.” “You mean one of those creatures your grandfather used to paint?” Brian asked. “They’re real?” Holly nodded. She told her friends the whole story and even demonstrated the Shrink-O-Meter on the little jar with the smelly powder.

“Wow.” That was all Brian could say after Holly had finished her story. “Do you have any idea who sent you these things?” asked Rufus, eyeing the Encyclopedia of Magora. “They are extraordinary.” “I thought you might be able to give me an answer,” said Holly. “You’re the brainy one.” “At present, we do not have any clues that could lead us to any conclusions,” said Rufus. “We would have to examine the chest again and study these objects in detail.” “Wow,” said Brian, still stunned. “Can you say anything but wow?” asked Holly, while shrinking the encyclopedia to miniature size. “Yes, this is incredible. Wow.” Brian stared at Tenshi with his mouth wide open. “Quiet,” Rufus whispered, putting his finger to his lips. “What was that?” There was a sound coming from the hallway. “I can hear it, too,” Holly said, leaping to the door and pulling it open. A white poodle shot into the room. “Come back, Chi-Chi,” echoed a voice through the hallway. A moment later, a young girl with long blonde hair and big blue eyes appeared in the doorframe. “Amanda? What are you doing here?” Holly asked, annoyed to see the girl she hated the most in school.

“So we meet again, Scribble Queen,” said Amanda, laughing. “What are you doing here?” Holly repeated. “Well—I was—you know—” stammered Amanda. She straightened her elegant black dress. “You were what?” Brian asked. “I had to go to the bathroom,” Amanda said. “But then I heard voices, and so—” “So you just eavesdropped,” Brian interrupted. “Great. Now we’re stuck with her,” Holly said. “You overheard our whole conversation?” Rufus asked. “Of course I heard you, little goofball,” said Amanda. “I would also like to know if there’s anything else in that chest. We really should go up to the attic.” She picked up her poodle and went back into the hallway. Holly ground her teeth. She was so angry she could have dragged Amanda out of the room and locked her in the bathroom. Everything about Amanda repulsed her. She was arrogant, gossipy, and only cared about her looks. Most of all, she was an extremely good painter. That just made matters worse. But Holly realized that locking her up wouldn’t solve the problem.

“Come on,” said Amanda, glancing back over her shoulder. “We’d better find out more about that chest.” Rufus lifted his eyebrows and sighed. “I believe she is trying to imply that she will join us from here on.” “You’re a smart little goofball,” said Amanda. “Maybe there is a magic wand in the chest that can get me a new curling iron.” She grinned at Holly. “By the way, what would Ms. Smorall say if she heard she has an alien orange critter in her house?” “This is considered blackmail,” Rufus said to Holly. “She is saying that if we do not integrate her into our plans, she will take certain measures.” “I know what she’s saying,” said Holly, annoyed at Rufus repeatedly stating the obvious. “Can’t you just say anything simply and plainly for once?” “Come on,” Amanda commanded as she led the group through the hallway. Brian whispered into Holly’s ear, “I’ll gag her.” “Be my guest,” Holly said as she pushed past Amanda and walked up the marble staircase. Once in front of the attic door, Holly stopped. “I need a few minutes,” she said. “This is my room, and I want to clean up a few things before people come in.”

Her real intention was to get to the chest and remove anything important so that Amanda couldn’t get hold of it. “Okay, but hurry up,” Amanda said. Holly went into the attic and closed the door behind her. Once she had pulled down the ladder above the staircase, she climbed up to the hidden room and opened the chest again. Inside were a mahogany case and a neatly-folded piece of canvas. A grunt came from her backpack, and Tenshi bounced out, right into the chest. He grabbed the mahogany case, held it up, and tapped on the lid. Holly flipped it open. Inside was a thin, golden paintbrush with an intricately carved handle, lying on a purple silk cushion. On the underside of the lid was a golden plate with an engraving that read:

The magic brush

Holly took the paintbrush out of the case. Underneath, she found a piece of parchment. It read:

Instructions: 1. Draw three circles in the air. 2. Create the image of a gate in your mind. 3. A gate will open.

“What gate?” Holly asked Tenshi. “And what is this?” She picked up the folded canvas and moved a few boxes aside. She then spread the canvas on the floor. A marvelous painting lay in front of her. A marvelous painting lay in front of her. She was overwhelmed by the details of a bustling medieval town surrounding a towering castle. It showed the same town that had been carved into the chest. Ornate letters above the painting read “Magora.” At the bottom was Nikolas O’Flanigan’s signature. “So that’s what Magora is, a fantasy painting Grandpa Nikolas created,” Holly said. Tenshi grunted as if he had understood what she had said. Holly glanced at the magic brush again and wondered if she should try it. She read the instructions again, waved the brush three times, and focused on an image of a gate she had seen in one of Grandpa Nikolas’ paintings. Bright sparkles shot from the brush onto the canvas. Tenshi rolled behind the oak chest. Holly dropped the brush and stumbled back as a loud humming filled the air. She leaped over a few boxes and hid behind them.

The sparkles hovered a foot above the painting and turned into a veil of mist, which spun like a miniature tornado. The painting disappeared. The floor opened up and bright light burst from it. The humming stopped. A shining lake of lights lay in front of Holly. “What on earth is that?” asked a voice. Holly whirled around. Amanda stood in the doorway, her eyes wide open, pointing at the gate of lights. Brian and Rufus were standing next to her. Before Holly could say a word, Amanda’s poodle sped toward Tenshi, barking ferociously. Amanda held onto the leash, stumbled forward, lost balance, and fell right into the shining lake, making a sound like a large bubble bursting. Suddenly, Amanda and her poodle were gone.