The Midwest Wanderer: The Revelations of Oriceran (Midwest Magic Chronicles Book 2)
By Flint Maxwell & Martha Carr
Maria Apple hit the ground hard, landing on her knees.
Sherlock, her Bloodhound, was much too close for comfort.
“Ouch! Fuck, that hurt,” she yelled. Then she opened her eyes and saw just how close she was to Sherlock’s backside. “Ew, gross!”
Geesh, the least you can do is buy me a drink first, Sherlock said, the words telepathically beamed right into Maria’s head and no one else’s.
“Didn’t you just use that joke?”
I dunno. Doesn’t matter. It’s as funny the twentieth time as it was the first!
Maria pulled herself up and dusted the dirt away from her jeans.
Ignatius Apple, formerly Ignatius Mangood, laughed. He was helping Claire off of the ground. Tabby, Maria’s other best friend, was already up, looking around the vast world they’d just portaled to, her eyes wide, her mouth hanging open.
“Yes, the first time going through a portal is often rough on the traveler,” Ignatius said. He looked Claire up and down, concern on his face. “Are you all right, my dear?”
“Besides, my broken coccyx, yeah, I guess, I am,” Claire answered.
Did she just say— Sherlock began, but Maria cut him off.
“Coccyx, Sherlock. It’s her tailbone. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
“Yes, we must all get our minds out of this proverbial gutter,” Ignatius declared. “For we are in a dangerous part of territory.”
For the first time, Maria looked beyond the rest of them, and the reality—or perhaps, unreality—of the situation hit her hard.
She was on another planet. She had just gone through a portal to another planet. A place where wizard and witches and so many other magical creatures and races existed, creatures and races she always thought were make-believe or just another part of her grandfather’s wild imagination.
But it wasn’t.
All of it was true.
Had she any doubt after slaying a humanoid spider, after wielding a magical sword, after blowing up more than a few things with her magic, she didn’t any more doubt, as she looked out among the vast expanse of strange land surrounding her and the rest of her tribe.
They had landed in a clearing of a dense forest. The trees towered over them, taller than any trees Maria had seen in Ohio, but over these trees, looming and somewhat ominous in the night sky, were the peaks of mountains.
“Where are we?” Maria asked.
“We are home,” Ignatius said. He swept his hand out behind him at the other end of the clearing.
“Home? I thought we were here to find a Gnome to tell us more about the world in between.”
Claire said, “Wow.”
Sherlock, meanwhile, was having a blast sniffing around the edges of the clearing. Maria witnessed him lift his leg three times to mark his territory. She was surprised the dog had any urine left. He must’ve had a reserve tank specifically meant for the marking of territories.
“We are, we are!” Ignatius said. “I just wanted you to get a look at Dominion. The place where you came from.”
Maria’s heart thundered in her chest. She couldn’t say why, but she was scared. Home? How crazy this all was, she thought. I’ll never get used to any of this.
“Where is it?” she found herself asking.
“Through the trees,” Ignatius replied. “If the sun was out you’d be able to see it. Well…what’s left of it.” He looked down at the ground, the smile quickly vanishing on his face.
Maria crossed over to him and put her hand on his arm. “It’s okay,” she said. “We will get them back.”
“I know we will,” Gramps said. “I know.”
“This sentimentality is great and all,” Tabby interrupted, “and I don’t mean to be rude, but can we maybe, possibly get out of this forest.”
Gramps smiled warmly. “You must’ve read my mind, Tabitha!”
Claire snickered. “Tabitha.”
“Can it,” Tabby said.
“Come, come,” Gramps said, “I shall be your tour guide today, but be wary, for the closer we get to the Dark Forest, the closer we get to danger.”
Maria tapped the bottom of her sword’s hilt. “I’ve got this.”
Gramps smiled. “Now, Maria, don’t get cocky. You must remain humble.”
“And, Sherlock, leave that poor Raffin alone!” Gramps boomed.
Sherlock jumped at the sound of his voice and turned his head in their direction, his eyes catching a glint of moonlight from one of the two moons.
Two moons, Maria mused. How crazy.
All of it was crazy, though—she had at least accepted that.
“Come over here!” Gramps demanded.
His head down, eyes flickering up, Sherlock trotted over to the rest of them. Maria heard a squeaking come from the spot Sherlock had left quickly followed by a rustling as the Raffin fled into the nearby brush.
“What is a Raffin?” Tabby asked. “Is it…dangerous?”
“Oh, heavens no!” Gramps said. “Well…erm, only if you don’t tickle their bellies or offer them food.”
I certainly wasn’t planning on tickling the little son of a bitch, Sherlock said. More like I was planning on offering him to myself as food.
Maria glared at Sherlock, who flinched away at her death stare. “What did I say about eating things?”
You said don’t eat any Gnomes! A Raffin isn’t a Gnome!
“I said don’t pee on any Gnomes,” Maria answered.
So…I can eat them?
“Hush, now,” Gramps said. “There will be no eating of or peeing on any magical creatures.” He turned matter-of-factly and headed for the opposite side of the clearing.
Maria looked at the back of her grandfather, surprised. It was as if he had read their minds, or at least telepathically eavesdropped on their conversation.
Claire shook her head. “I never thought we’d have to be reminded of that rule.” She gave an exasperated glance in Sherlock’s direction.
“Yeah,” Tabby agreed, “seems like something like that is pretty self-explanatory.”
Maria walked past them, smiling. “With Sherlock, you never know,” she said.
Sherlock looked up at Claire and Tabby and did his best to smile, which was pretty unsettling and looked a lot like he was baring his fangs at them.
Then, they all followed Ignatius into the dense forest beyond.
Maria clutched the music box, which was in her satchel, to her chest, and thought she felt an odd buzzing beneath the canvas material.
They saw the village about five minutes later, though Maria wasn’t sure if five minutes had passed or if it had been five years. Time seemed to work differently on Oriceran, or so she at least thought.
Gramps stopped short on the edge of the forest. Maria stopped behind him, and not long after, the rest of the group had stopped as well.
Gramps brought a hand up to his chest and moaned.
“Gramps?” Maria asked.
He groaned again.
Maria walked next to him and put her arm around his shoulders. “It’s all right,” she said.
But she knew it was far from all right. The village of Dominion, the place Ignatius Mangood had once fought for, was in ruins.
The gates were blackened and weathered by war and age. Buildings stood half-destroyed. The ground scorched. Maria thought she could still smell the fire.
I thought the Arachnids took it over, Sherlock said, startling Maria. He put his head up into the air and sniffed deeply a few times. I don’t smell any of those freaks nearby.
Maria told her Gramps what Sherlock had said.
Gramps nodded. “Typical of them.” He shook his head. “They take over a place, destroy it, and leave it to the weeds when it has served its purpose.”
Maria wasn’t surprised to see Gramps had tears in his eyes.
Claire came up on Maria’s right. “You all right?” she asked Maria.
Maria nodded. It was a lie. Seeing Gramps like that had shaken her. He was always so happy, and now he was broken-hearted. Someone as wonderful as Ignatius Apple didn’t deserve that. Ever.
“Do you want to look around?” she asked Gramps.
“Oh…I don’t know.”
“It might help,” Maria offered, but the thought of seeing the skeletons of the people he had lived amongst and protected crossed her mind.
Gramps suddenly perked up. “You know, you’re right, Maria. It would do me good. And I’ve always wanted you to see the place where you came from.”
“Me, too,” Maria answered. She returned his smile.
“We’re actually going in there,” Tabby said, shuddering.
“I’m with Tab on this one,” Claire said.
Likewise, Sherlock added. Never thought I’d agree with them.
“Oh, it will be fine. The Arachnids are gone and besides, we have Maria Apple on our side,” Gramps said, still smiling.
Maria nodded and patted the hilt of her sheathed sword that hung around her hip.
“I won’t let anyone or anything mess with us,” Maria assured.
Gramps said, “That’s my girl.” Then he muttered something under his breath and sparks began to flicker off his fingers, lighting the dark path ahead of them.
“Great, now all the weird creatures are going to know where we are,” Tabby whispered.
Claire rolled her eyes.
Gramps, who was well ahead of the two girls, looked back and said, “Oh, believe me, they don’t need to see us. The really bad ones can smell us from a mile away!”
Claire, dumbstruck that Gramps had been able to hear them all the way back there, looked at Maria, who just shrugged.
Tabby stopped and looked around. “Was that supposed to make me feel better?” she asked.
They walked on, leaving her behind.
She heard something in the trees behind her, a snapping of twigs, a deep breathing, and something that sounded like a loon, and that was it—she took off after the rest of the group.