Saturday, June 22, 2019

Special Treat: Zenaides Prequel!

After I finished Iffy Magic, I intended to write a prequel covering the notorious rise and fall of Zenaides from respectable Goodwing godmother to wicked fairy. Other stories got in the way and I never got past the first chapter. But . . . for all you loyal Iffy Magic readers, I present the glorious character art by Audrey Bagley, and the rough draft of the beginning to Ace of Jinx: Confessions of a Pernicious Pixie! I hope to finish the story one day . . . .


Rosebud spent the last sixteen years of her life avoiding her birthright to join the prestigious Goodwing rank of fairy godmothers. She has no desire to ever enter the dangerous Mortal Vale after both her parents were murdered there. All that changes when she learns that whoever serves as Princess Elspeth's fairy godmother for ten years will receive a rare Asterix wand.

But Rosebud soon discovers that Elspeth toys with her subjects' lives and is utterly undeserving of her magical services. Yet when she reveals her princess's treachery to her superiors, Rosebud is ordered to overlook her behavior in order to preserve a trade agreement that gives the Goodwing family exclusive rights to a powerful cache of Asterix gems.

When the mysterious Granny Toad offers Rosebud an Ace of Jinx, the calling card of wicked fairies, Rosebud accepts the challenge. Defying orders, Rosebud pairs up with a rakish outlaw, the half-dragon Oriole, and begins secretly marauding as the wicked fairy "Zenaides" in order to disrupt Elspeth's corruption. Too bad her alter ego Zenaides attracts the attention of officers of the Fairy Court, including her fiancé Captain Florian Sorrel. Rosebud must make a choice: to bow to tradition or write her own fairy tale.

Discover the notorious rise and fall of a promising young fairy godmother who sacrifices everything in order to save mortals and monsters deemed unworthy of magic's help!

Sparkle if You Dare
A name carries a fate no blade can cut. Mine? Unfortunately Rosebud.
The secret of that cloying flower was kept hidden from me until I suddenly found myself without parents at the tender age of five. Now, being orphaned in the Faerie Vale is hardly a misfortune when there are plenty of kind forest hags and neighborly bridge trolls willing to adopt stray waifs. But alas, in a tidy twist of luck, I already had family waiting to scoop me up—
Hordes of well-meaning Goodwings.
My mother’s ilk was a special breed of pixie: all of them started with some sort of “Rose” name at birth and ended up a renowned fairy godmother. I told you my name would come back to haunt me! While my kin must’ve been perfectly scandalized when Rosinnia Goodwing broke with tradition to waste her magic exploring the Mortal Vale instead of chaperoning worthy human ventures to a happily ever after, inheriting me seemed to smooth over many ruffled feathers. Great Aunt Rose Damask, the matriarch of the flock, vowed to make me a prim and proper fairy godmother by my sixteenth birthday or toad herself trying.
            It was an admirable goal. But if cousin Rosebay caught me today, I had a suspicious feeling she would hex me into something quite small, likely warty, and very—squashable.           
“Rosebud, darling sprig, won’t you trade acorns with me?” my cousin called.
Her voice fell candy-sweet as ambrosia tarts bursting with honey at the corners, but I knew better then to take the bait. Rosebay glided into the linden grove with hardly a flutter. My own wings hunched tight against my back as I scrunched low inside my tree hollow.
 “Don’t make me wait, I know you’re here,” she said in a sing-song tone. “Come out, come out wherever you are—Sweet. Little. Rosebud.”
            My teeth ground together even though I knew that tiny noise might betray my hiding spot. But I simply hated how she said my name; always thudding her tongue on the “d” so it came out in a “duh.” Our names were so similar, Rosebay, Rosebud; just two syllables, and yet mine had to end in such a ridiculous manner. Why couldn’t my parents have chosen something more grandiose, like “Rosavere”? Sweet little “Rosebud” betrayed an utter lack of imagination! I shook aside the petty injustice of syllables to concentrate on my present predicament: imminent transformation into a green splat.
            Peeking through the screen of heart-shaped leaves, I winced as my cousin’s wings sparkled with impatience as she hovered in the center of the grove. 
“The Aunties will understand why you changed your mind,” Rosebay said. “We both know the golden acorn was never meant to go to you.” Her voice hardened. “Nasty little thief, it’s mine!”
            Liar! I strangled the shout in the back of my throat. I’d earned the golden acorn fair and square by acing the FGT, the official Fairy Godmother Test given only once each summer. The first prize nut squirmed in my left fist, the cap vibrating with highly pressurized praise.
“You are astronomically astounding, absolutely ace-wing!” the nut crooned.
I smothered its swooning in a kerchief, my embarrassment rising. The compliments were far too fair for someone who only yesterday had planned on failing the FGT . . . .  
“Gotcha!” A burst of menacing green light filled the hollow.
I dove through a hail of splinters as my hiding spot fossilized into polished glass. Much too suddenly, I hovered face-to-face with my tormentor. While we were both the same age and shared the heather pink locks and teal eyes of the Goodwing flock, at sixteen my cousin was all curves and sumptuous ringlets while I was uncommonly short even for a pixie and had hair straighter than a ruler.
Rosebay tapped the emerald coregem crowning her wand against her palm. “Don’t make things hard for yourself, cousin—you know I always get what I want.”
Oh yes, I’d become acutely aware of her exalted station from the first day I was dragged back to the Goodwing manor. Rosebay made a great show of fawning and cooing over her wee orphan cousin in the presence of our aunties . . . until we got to the bedroom we shared. The tinkling chime of my mother’s jewel box emptying onto the floor so that Rosebay could pick out the finest trinkets is not a sound I will ever forget.
I refused to surrender the shiny promise of the golden acorn so easily!
“No,” I said. “It’s my turn.”All my life, I’d ducked low to let the rising star of the next generation of Goodwing godmothers claim her fame—but not today.
            “Bothering bluebells!” Rosebay pouted into a lovely little frown that somehow subtracted none of the beauty from her glossy lips. “I’m only trying to help you, cuz.” She held up a silver acorn between her fingers with distaste as if it were a squirming beetle.
            “Why, aren’t you just suitably stelliferous?” the silver nut droned, “Dare I say, of satisfactory splendor, a sufficient cut above standard. Look who’s got all their sparkles squared—”
            “Trade,” Rosebay commanded as she crushed the nut’s snide mutterings in her fist. “Be sensible now; if you don’t trade acorns with me, you’ll have to go the Mortal Vale—that dangerous realm is no place for a scrawny pipkin like you,” she chided. “Why, you might lose your wings on the first day. Do you think the White Gryphon tore your parent’s wings off before he killed them? The beast’s part cat, after all, and they do so like to play with their prey . . . .”
            How. Dare she!
            My hands trembled as the familiar panic at my parents’ death rose inside me, twisting serpent tight in my throat until it was all I could do not to retch. Rosinnia and Hedgthorne were careless nitwings who’d played games with the misbehaved magic of the human realm and lost, but I was nothing like them. The Mortal Vale wouldn’t trick me with its wiles. Resolve hardened inside me as the annoying trembling quit my fingers.
            “Not one word more.” I swung my own wand an inch from Rosebay’s charmingly proportioned button nose and the dull facets of the garnet cabochon lit up with a red warning. “I won the right to both wand and princess, so get out of my way. Don’t make me hex you.”
            It was an idle threat—when it came from well-behaved pixies. But I was done playing nice fairy.
            “You don’t even like humans, what do you want with Princess Elspeth?” Rosebay demanded as she tapped her coregem against mine and dueling sparks sizzled hot and bright.
            “Nothing,” I admitted. “Just the wand that comes with serving her for fifty years.”
“Greedy cheat,” Rosebay said. “You barely even studied your Pixie Pocketbook of Magical Mandates, and you think you can just waltz into Elspeth’s castle and whip her up a fine batch of eternal felicity?” 
“I don’t need an outdated rulebook to tell me how to play godmother,” I retorted.
“Shut your pigweed mouth!” Rosebay hissed. “You disgrace the Goodwing name.” Her calculating teal gaze reflected a puzzled fascination at my sudden stubborn streak, but also something new—fear, perhaps? She didn’t know what I would do next . . . alas, neither did I!
            But as I reached into the pocket of my gossamer shift to grasp the golden acorn, my fingers brushed against the crystal cold spikes of a dragon. I grinned as a crazy idea sparkled into shape. Pulling the dragon figurine out, I balanced the clear glass wyrm on my palm.   
“If I am such a disgrace, then you should have no trouble outracing my dragon to the Faerie Queen’s barge,” I said.
            “You won’t get close enough to count Titania’s toes,” Rosebay said, but her taunt rang hollow. She knew she was about to lose to me—again.
            The final glamour project of the FGT this year had been all too easy: create a dragon strong enough to vanquish one hundred knights in under an hour. It was a standard protective beast for any princess sequestered during a quest to stave off warriors that failed to measure up. Mine ate all the illusion knights thrown into the testing ring in under five minutes because I didn’t bother wasting magic on diamond pavĂ© scales and pretty white fangs, like Rosebay.
            “Soar!” I commanded as I tossed my spell construct into the air and hit the dragon with a single spark. A thunderclap slammed over the linden glade as a storm of leaves tore free and the figurine magnified into a sixty-foot serpent. Its lean body shimmered with translucent scales and undulating crystal ribs, fierce and raw like the wish I made last night on a star in a stone—
The Asterix.                                  
            Over supper crumpets, Great Aunt Rose Damask had announced that whoever won the golden acorn this testing round would also earn the right to an Asterix wand. Nothing special—only a star sapphire capable of funneling a hundred times more magic than the average coregem. With an Asterix wand, I’d never need to fear Rosebay’s threats, or any enchantment or monster on either side of the Vale, ever. And if winning the prize meant serving some grubby human girl for half a century, so be it! I’d spell up Princess Elspeth a happily ever after so obscenely sparklesome that it would make all the other Goodwings eat their pixie dust.
            Swooping high, I settled between the razor head spikes of my dragon. Air screamed through my ears as the serpent shot westwards towards a glittering blue dot in the distance. Queen Titania always resided in the Quartz Dome. Normally, the dome spread its crystal panes over the thirteenth mountain terrace of Carolai, but at the tail end of summer, the Queen still kept court at the Lake of Lappingpearl.
            “I’m warning you, this is your last chance,” Rosebay shouted as her own ruby-scaled monster gnashed its fangs inches from my dragon’s tail.
            “I know,” I said. And I wasn’t going to waste it. Raising my wand into the wind, I funneled opal currents of magic that were floating freely in the rich airs of the Faerie Vale into my coregem. Then I channeled the fat ribbons back into the glamour construct of my dragon. Glass scales vibrated and cracked with the sudden influx of magic, but my spell held—the beast shot forward at breakwing speed.
Rosebay tried to copy me, but it took more than a fancy wand twirl to hold raw magic in check. Her decorative dragon was simply too frail to contain the massive intake and exploded into an artful puff of ruby motes and diamond dust.
 “You won’t last!” Rosebay shouted as she tumbled through the air. “The Mortal Vale will break you, and then that Asterix wand will be m—oofff!”
A mouthful of mud cut off the end of my cousin’s taunt in an ignominious squelch. I probably shouldn’t be quite so pleased that the force of Rosebay’s unraveling spell deposited her into a particularly marshy section of the lake. But I couldn’t resist urging my dragon into a wild loop of victory as the barge of the Faerie Queen shone at the heart of the Lappingpearl barely a wind gust away. Thin panes of quartz overlaid the white birch wood in a lattice of silicate stars, with shoots of amethysts, chrysoberyls and other assorted crystals sprouting in random nosegays of mineral flowers from the planks.
            A pity there was no time for admiration as a sharp twang cut my ears and a wave of black arrows arced up from the barge. Oops. My over-enthusiastic approach did come off as rather…like an attack on her Very Royal Highness. The anti-magic coating on the arrowheads swiftly dispelled my poor dragon in a flash of lightning; oh, and paralyzed me from toe to gossamer wing tip. I spiraled towards the water below in a dizzy flutter. Bother! This was not how I pictured making my triumphant entrance.
            Two arms encircled me from behind and I found myself captured in the firm embrace of Sorrell Blazewright, Captain of the Queen’s Guards. He spun me around to face him and I must admit I basked in his kaleidoscopic beauty for a guilty breath; an autumn pixie, his skin and hair constantly shifted between subtle hues of brown, red, and yellow like a wind-tumbled leaf. Only his eyes remained the steady warm amber of a fall afternoon. Unfortunately, they regarded me now with the bite of winter frost.
            “Approaching Her Majesty on a teratoid-class creature is strictly prohibited,” he barked, and then paused as he took measure of his skinny armful of law-breaking pixie. “Rosebud?”
            “Hello, Sori my—mmm—beloved,” I said, and then instantly regretted my slip of the tongue; now was not the appropriate time to play the sweetheart card. Since my mother ditched Sorrell’s father to marry mine, her marriage contract had skipped a generation and Sorrell and I’d been officially betrothed from the cradle. Neither of us had ever particularly minded this arrangement before, though, as we found each other generally amiable and reliable partners. But I wouldn’t blame Sorrell for changing his mind after today. “Please pardon my lack of manners,” I murmured, cringing as a blush crept through my wings in a pink rush of sparkles.
            “You’re very lucky I only ordered the guards to fire a warning shot,” Sorrell chided as he landed on the barge’s deck and gently set me down.  
Wait, the lightning attack that had nearly incinerated me was just a warning shot? “Quite serendipitous,” I squeaked as my feet prickled with sensation again.
            “Why are you here?” he asked.  
            A pang of regret hit me as I realized that any way I phrased my answer now would be exceedingly awkward. I didn’t have time last night to inform Sorrell about my sudden burning desire to take the Fairy Godmother Test and ditch him for half a century in pursuit of an ultra rare wand. No, no matter how I sliced the truth, that wasn’t the apple’s core; it simply never occurred to me to tell him right away. I pulled the mumbling nut from my pocket.
“I believe I am expected.” I opened my hand to reveal the golden acorn and let it do the talking for me.
            “Accolades abound!” it crooned. “Ahhh! How you astonish and amaze—”
            Sorrell placed his hand over mine and mercifully muted the golden acorn’s praise. “It appears congratulations are in order.” His tone was crisp and betrayed nothing, but he turned wing on me so quickly then that I could only guess at the shock my abrupt announcement had dealt him. “Follow me to Her Majesty’s chambers,” he said.  
            “Don’t be upset—I’ll explain later, I promise,” I whispered as I followed Sorrell past a line of frowning guards in gold and green livery; obviously they hadn’t forgiven me for the little dragon debacle. But I reeled to a sudden stop as Sorrell twisted around and placed a single finger against my lips.
            “Rosebud, I have never asked you to justify your choices to me; our hearts may have been twined at birth, but our lives have always been our own.” His finger glided above my lips, trailing gingerly across my cheek before tucking a wayward strand of hair behind my ear. “Don’t you know that I trust you?”
            “O-of course!” I nodded, wounded by the genuine concern in his voice. Why did I always underestimate Sorrell? His attentiveness put me to shame. Poor handsome captain—I made a terrible betrothal pair!
            But what kind of a fairy godmother would I be? There was only one way to find out. I repressed a wing quiver as Sorrell stopped before two tall silver doors leading into the barge’s inner compartments.
            “When you’re ready, tell me everything,” Sorrel said. His eyes narrowed as he gazed past me over the waters. “There seems to be a mysterious mud blob thrashing among the cattails. I must investigate this menace further.”
            “Be careful, it might bite,” I warned, stifling a snicker as he flitted off deck. Oh, Rosebud was most definitely going to toad me later . . . but for now, the prize, the princess, and the happily ever after was all mine, and I was going to savor every moment.
            Pushing the double doors wide open, I entered with my chin held high—well, as high as my meager four inches and eleven centimeters allowed. I’d never been inside the Quartz Dome of the Faerie Court before, and it took all my will not to stumble to an awestruck-stop and gawp at the wondrous artistry of the mineral magic. Though miniaturized to fit the barge’s smaller dimensions, the dome had crystallized overhead into a series of curved window panes etched with trees replicating the famed groves of Avalon. Citrine jewels in the shape of luscious apples gleamed like daystars on the boughs.
            But beneath these lesser lights glowed the greatest star of all; Queen Titania, the sovereign ruler of the Faerie Vale. Disdaining jewels, only silver braids crowned her head with an intricate plaited tiara. Seated on a lily-shaped throne of white chalcedony, her wings cascaded behind her in a magnificent trail of translucent gossamer. The edges were brittle with age and ragged as fangs, but still glimmered with the purity of dawn mist.
            “Welcome, child,” Titania said in a soft whisper that echoed throughout the dome like a clear bell. “Come! Present the fruit of your labor before me.”
            Technically, it was a nut, but I wasn’t about to disagree with her Queenship. “Yes, Your Majesty,” I replied, dutifully stepping forward. But my pace couldn’t help but slow a little as I saw the pixie standing to the right of the throne—Great Aunt Rose Damask!
              “What a delightful surprise,” she said as her teal eyes fastened onto me, cold and hard as coins. How disappointing the careful twist of her lips betrayed. Clearly, I wasn’t the pixie she was waiting for.
Dear Auntie, I could hardly blame her—no one had ever known what to do with me. Too young to accompany Hedge and Rosinnia on their forays to the Mortal Vale, I’d often been locked inside an enchanted tower for safekeeping. This habit had worked well until my parents’ murder left me slowly starving to death as the tower’s hospitality charms unraveled. But I was not the same dirty runtwing Great Aunt Damask had found shivering in the dark and damp rot!
            Kneeling before the Queen, I raised the golden nut defiantly. “I come to claim the fairy godmother contract with Princess Elspeth Munroe.”
Queen Titania was well into her elderly millennium, and yet as her clouded violet gaze fell on me I instantly felt cut to the quick.
“Claim it you may, Rosebud, Goodwing’s daughter,” she said. “But fulfilling the contract is another test altogether. Are you ready for the greatest challenge our kind has ever known?” Her moon-pale fingers closed in a delicate cage over the acorn. “Mortal happiness . . . it is a game no wand has ever mastered without equal measure of heart and will.”
Hah! A boring game, but chaperoning a mortal girl to a happily ever after of convenient proportions seemed a small price to pay to purchase my own new beginning. “I am a Goodwing,” I responded without hesitation. It was the easiest logical answer and also the one most likely to please Great Aunt Rose Damask. “I am not afraid of my duty.”
Queen Titania paused, and for a second a deadly fear pricked me that she could see right through me, glimpse deep into my heart where my true intent beat, selfish and wild. But then metal crackled as she crushed the golden acorn in her fist.
“Bold words, Fairy Godmother.” Opening her hand, Titania blew a storm of gold glitter at my face. “May you honor them well or burn in their judgment.”
I gasped as I felt the shining dust settle into my pores with her invocation, each mote containing a speck of magic that bound the Munroe Contract to my blood and bone. I was now officially Princess Elspeth’s fairy godmother!
I rose, casting an expectant glance Her Majesty which quickly deteriorated into an awkward wing blush. “Umm . . . where do I claim my new wand?” I asked.
“The Mortal Vale, where else?” Great Aunt Rose Damask murmured as she stepped forward. Curtsying, she steered me out of the Quartz Dome with a soft hand on my shoulder that somehow still rested heavy as iron.
“You’ve always been such a quiet, peaceable child, Rosebud,” she said, never glancing at me once as we flitted off the deck and took wing to the sky. “I underestimated you—you’re allowed to dream, of course. But don’t disrespect our family with a passing breeze of desire. Finish what you start with proper Goodwing flare and dignity.”
The blue of the Lappingpearl rippled in dazzling wavelets below me, each tiny crash of water and foam strengthening my resolve as we sped farther from the Fairy Queen’s barge. “I won’t, Auntie,” I promised. Of course, I knew what she really meant, but she needn’t have worried—for Rosinnia’s shame—my mother’s wild, reckless heart—she never passed that curse to me.