This is the 7th chapter in the Fly Pig Tales collection, a fantasy story collection about a mystical tavern in a fantasy world. The stories in the series are connected and beginning your reading in Chapter 1 will improve your experience.
The shaking grew more violent, sending plates and silverware falling to the floor. For a moment, it grew so intense it seemed as though the tavern would be shaken apart, but after a few moments the tremors slowed.
“I have an idea! How about you deal with our dwarf friend before birds start nesting in his branches, and I’ll deal with the shaking,” Nemo shouted, pulling a stethoscope from some hidden pocket in his coat and plugging it into his ears. “First I need to figure out where the problem is.”
“Can I use my wand or does it have to stay plugged into the Flying Pig?” Ambrosia shouted as the turbulence yet again.
“It should be ok. The Pig has thaumatic capacitors. They should keep her going while the wand is unplugged. Don’t keep it out too long or we’ll run out of juice to keep the place running,” the elf shouted as the room began to roar from the convulsions. The elf ran frantically from place to place holding the end of the stethoscope to the walls, floors, counters, and every other surface, listening for a moment, then moving on to the next spot. Every so often, he had to dodge the pixies, who were running around like mad cleaning up the mess made by the quaking in the tavern. They had just gotten their new jobs as waitresses and didn’t want to risk losing them the first day because they let the place be in shambles.
Ambrosia stood beneath the wand, hanging high above her on the wall. Reaching, she discovered that the wand hung inches from her grasp.
“Just sit tight, Dwalin. I’ll be right there,” the ex-godmother called over her shoulder as she jumped up and down reaching in vain for the wand. Finally, she stopped and asked in the sweetest voice she could muster: “Honey, do you think you could help me out here?”
“Of course, dear,” the minotaur replied, struggling to hide his amusement at his wife’s shortfall. Reaching up, he plucked the wand from the wall gingerly. The oversized wand nearly disappeared between the minotaur’s pointer finger and thumb. “Here you go darling,” Argos’ voice rumbled, simultaneously menacing and affectionate.
Taking the wand from her husband, the ex-godmother turned to the dwarf. “Ok, If this is magical in nature, something caused it. I don’t think anything in the Flying Pig would do this to you. What did you eat in The North Woods? That place is full of loose magic and danger since the time when the 12 Kingdoms were cut off from the Mountain King. Who knows what sort of thing you got into out there.”
“Well, whatever you’re going to do, can you do it quickly? My jaw is getting stiff and I’m pretty sure my bottom is stuck to your stool,” the dwarf urged. The dwarf’s features were getting stiff and facial expressions were no longer possible, but worry came through in his tone. The poor dwarf had gone from being chased by giant spiders to transforming into a tree in a matter of minutes.
“Ok, let’s do this!” the ex-godmother shouted, raising her wand over her head while simultaneously screwing her face up in intense concentration. The dwarf clenched his eyes closed and waited for the blast of magic that was sure to come next, but when none came, he cautiously opened one eye and peered at the scene before him. Ambrosia stood statue-still, her wand cocked back and her face a mask of intense concentration.
“Oh no! Nemo, I think the tree thing is spreading. The godmother has it now,” the dwarf did his best to shout through nearly frozen jaws.
“Ex-godmother!” Ambrosia corrected, snapping from her frozen state. “And I’m not turning into a tree. I’m just not sure what to do. This is some pretty strange magic and probably far more powerful than your run of the mill curse. I am not exactly sure what to do about it. Breaking other people’s spells isn’t as easy as breaking a plate or a promise. There’s an art to it. If I do it wrong, I could turn the whole tavern into a tree, and not the kind where elves set up cookie shops. It’d be a thorny monster of a tree.” Ambrosia stared at the dwarf-tree, biting her lip and considering the problem. Her concentration was momentarily broken when a particularly violent bout of shaking sent her sprawling to the floor.
“Sorry about that,” Nemo shouted from across the room. “I’ve about got it figured out.”
Argos scooped his wife up and set her on her feet again. Ambrosia spared a glance at the elf, who was kicking one of the doors in the dining room repeatedly. Turning back to Dwalin, she noticed that apples had begun growing in his branches.
“Hey look. He’s an apple tree. Maybe if you can’t fix it we can use him as a source of apples for desserts,” the minotaur remarked dryly, only half joking.
“I’m right here and I can hear you,” the dwarf hissed. “I don’t want to be a part of your apple pies. Now stop distracting your wife. She needs to fix me”
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like apple pies?” the minotaur teased. Despite the shaking and the transformation happening in front of him, the minotaur seemed completely unfazed. “I’ll tell you what, Ambrosia spent years changing things into other things as a godmother. Now that she is an ex-godmother, there’s no reason she can’t change stuff again. If she can make a pumpkin into a carriage or mice into horses, she can definitely make your apple pie into pecan pie or whatever it is you dwarves eat.”
“Pumpkins into carriages…” Ambrosia said thoughtfully.
“What kind of pie isn’t the issue,” Dwalin replied in as close to a shout as he could manage while his mouth filled with sap in place of the saliva he was used to. “The point is that you shouldn’t be cutting pieces of me off and making them into desserts. It’d be like you serving my hair or my fingernails. Just ‘cause it grows off of me, doesn’t make it food.”
“Apples are definitely food—,” the minotaur began before Ambrosia cut him off.
“Stop bickering, you two. I think I have an idea. I don’t have enough time to figure out the original curse, but I don’t need to. I can just cast a spell over top of the original,” the ex-godmother explained.
“You! Minotaur! Can you please come over here and help me?! Now!,” the elf shouted from the next room, where he was busy struggling to tear the planks from the door frame.
“Do you really need me to? I’m kinda having fun over here talking to this dwarf,” the minotaur called over his shoulder.
“Well, that depends if you want to die painfully when The Pig explodes and send pieces of us flying in all directions,” Nemo shouted over the roar of The Flying Pig tearing itself apart.
“I guess if you put it like that,” Argos mumbled as he turned from the dwarf. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back,” he called over his shoulder mischievously.
“I’m a tree! Where am I going?” the dwarf wailed. Ambrosia smiled at her husband’s joke before turning her attention to Dwalin.
“Ok, I’m not sure this is going to work, but we’re going to try it anyway. I don’t think I have time to do anything else. The most common spell in godmother training is changing things, like the pumpkin to the carriage,” she explained.
“I don’t want to be a carriage,” the dwarf cried. “Or a pumpkin for that matter. That bull-headed man of yours would probably turn me into a pie.”
“No. I’m not turning you into any of that stuff. I’m turning you into a dwarf,” Ambrosia explained.
“But I’m already a dwarf,” Dwalin replied.
“No,” the ex-godmother replied. “You are a dwarf-tree creature. It should be different enough to work, at least enough to give me some time to figure out what’s happening.”
“Wait! Wait! What if—” the dwarf began, before being cut off by a blast of magic from Ambrosia’s wand. Sparkles swirled around Dwalin as he began to glow and contort as the godmother magic began a tug of war with the tree curse. Leaves, previously lush and green, turned brown and fell to the floor rapidly before being replaced by rapidly budding replacement leaves. Apples grew in the blink of an eye, before rotting on the branch and splattering to the floor, only to be replaced by a flower and fresh apples moments later. The cycle repeated itself over and over as the conflicting spells wrestled for dominance.
“Oops,” Ambrosia breathed. “This may have been a mistake.” She watched as the dwarf’s roots tunneled into the floor and the magic crackled with green electricity. “Well, in for a penny,” she sighed before casting another transformation spell.
This time the magic slowed the transformation noticeably. The dwarf’s face had all but completely disappeared into the tree bark, leaving only a knot where his nose had been and a hollow beneath. Now, it slowly emerged and the unfortunate traveler began to look more like a wood-carved statue of a dwarf wearing an odd hat made of tree branches.
“That’s more like it,” Ambrosia remarked. Winding up to cast a third round of transformation magic, she rethought her decision and opted to wait. She’d never had to force a transformation before and wasn’t sure what would happen if she kept casting the same spell over and over. Maybe it’d work this time. Besides, the dwarf was beginning to move a bit, though his movements were wooden.
The sound of splintering wood accompanied another round of shaking that sent everything that wasn’t nailed down tumbling and rolling. The pixies dodged and ducked through the jumble of furniture, trying desperately to clean. It would’ve been comical, if not for the fact that they were all going to die in some sort of magical explosion. Ambrosia glanced at Nemo and Argos, who were in the process of tearing the wall apart. The minotaur was straining to tear the door from its hinges, with one foot braced against the wall for support. Nemo had produced a ball of gray yarn from his oversized coat and was carefully tying one end to an exposed nail where the door jam used to be. Argos’ muscles bulged and strained as the wood gave by inches, cracks resonated through the room marking is progress at destroying the door.
The ex-godmother returned her attention to Dwalin, who seemed to have reached the midway point between tree and dwarf. The spells tugging for control over which way the transformation progressed seemed to have evened out, with neither strong enough to make any further progress. It appeared as though she’d have to cast a third spell after all if she was going to stop the transformation from taking place. Then she could start figuring out what caused the whole mess to begin with and break the curse. The biggest problem with godmother magic is that it is temporary. Godmothers could perform some of the most powerful magic in the Kingdoms, but their spells generally wore off at midnight. She began to wonder when midnight happened in the middle nowhere, but figured she at least had a bit of time to sort it out. The magic might even hold out a little longer than normal, since she had cast the transformation spell so many times.
“I’m gonna need your wand,” Nemo interrupted Ambrosia’s train of thought. He had stumbled up next to her through the restaurant’s convulsions, which were now causing the floor to ripple and bend.
“Well, you’re going to have to wait a minute. I need to fix this dwarf first,” Ambrosia shot back, in a tone she hadn’t assumed since she had quit the godmothers. The pressure of the situation was beginning to wear on her and she realized now that she was far happier with her husband in the tavern than she had been in a long time.
“Your wand isn’t going to fix him if we’re all dead. That dwarf-tree will be toothpicks in a few seconds if I don’t stop this in the next minute or two,” the elf snapped back. Ambrosia stared at the strange elf, realizing that they had been just fine until he started messing with The Flying Pig. Sure he had helped them, but he also may have killed them. She wondered if that evened it out or not.
“For the record, I don’t want to be part of apple pies, but also toothpicks sounds bad. Can we find a middle ground?” Dwalin whined.
“To summarize: 2 minutes until a big magical boom spreads our various bits everywhere in this nowhere. Or you can hand me that wand for a few minutes,” Nemo explained, sarcasm dripping from his words.
“Fine, but give it right back,” the ex-godmother conceded after a few moments of fighting with her stubborn streak trying to figure out how to not lose in this situation. She handed over the wand and crossed her arms in nervous frustration.
Nemo, still carrying the ball of yarn with one end tied to the nail on the door frame, wrapped the yarn around the wand a dozen times. The string was gray with sparkling flecks of silver spread throughout. As he wrapped, the silver flecks began to glow.
“Ah, see,” Nemo shouted, his self-satisfaction showing through. “I thought so.”
“Thought what? What’s going on?” Ambrosia asked.
“The Pig is overloaded. We have to let out some of the excess improbability magic or bad things are going to happen,” the elf explained. “Here, take this back. But please don’t use it. I really am not sure what would happen.” Shoving the wand into the ex-godmother’s hands, he rushed back to the door unwinding yarn all the way.
Ambrosia held the wand away from her body, nervous because the silver flecks in the yarn now radiated an intense light. The hair on her arms stood on end from the power in the unusual string that crackled outward. Whatever was making the yarn glow was potent.
“Did you get that door open Argos?” the elf shouted. As if on cue, the door gave a final crunch and ripped from its hinges, sending the minotaur sprawling backward. On the other side, a swirling vortex of colors danced. Ambrosia thought hard back to her days in school, knowing she had an idea what was going on but not being able to put a finger on the specific idea from theoretical magical mechanics class. It seemed silly to her at the time. She was training to be a godmother. You didn’t need that nonsense to turn an old turnip into a pair of glass slippers.
“It’s a chaos vortex!” she finally shouted, pulling the answer from some dusty corner of her brain where late-night studying materials were tucked away, like junk stuffed in a closet.
“Right you are!” the elf sang out. “Take a good look, cause it’s either going to be the last thing you ever see or this’ll work, and it’ll be gone in a moment.” The dwarf unrolled several dozen feet of slack from the ball of yarn, allowing it to pile up at his feet. The glow from the silver flecks burned around his feet, casting crazy shadows on the walls behind the elf and giving his face a sinister look from being lit underneath. Satisfied that he had enough yarn, he cocked his arm back in an exaggerated motion and hurled the ball of yarn through the open doorway. The string that trailed behind it, around the wand and to the nail, flashed and seared before disintegrating into dust that fluttered to the floor. The shaking in the room stopped suddenly. What had been a jumble of noise and shaking was now still. Where the chaos vortex had been, there was only the nowhere that had been outside of the Flying Pig before it became an escape for travelers.
“That was exciting now, wasn’t it? Who’s hungry? Could go for one of those meat sandwiches you make. Also some fried potatoes with that sauce,” Nemo said as he turned from the door and began setting a table and chairs upright again.
“Are you joking?” the ex-godmother gasped. “We nearly died!”
“We didn’t though, did we?” the elf replied.
“What just happened?” the minotaur asked getting up from the floor and tossing the shattered remains of a door into the corner.
“I am not completely sure, but I think you tossed that hunter fellow out a different door than he came in. The improbability magic involved in bringing the hunter fellow into The Flying Pig was fine. The machinery I installed was designed to handle it. When he left through a different door, it was really improbable. The odds of someone leaving normal space to go nowhere, then be transported somewhere else entirely are astronomical. It overloaded The Pig. There was so much improbability magic built up, it began to tear the place apart. Once I drained it out, it was fine. We’ll need to make sure no one else does that. Also I can build a failsafe just in case. On the plus side, we didn’t die. And the look on that hunter’s face was priceless, too. Since we didn’t die, it was all worth it to see his reaction.”
“Since we didn’t die it was worth it???” the ex-godmother shouted incredulously. “Are you serious?”
“What? I don’t understand. Did you want us to be blown to pieces?” the dwarf replied.
“No, of course not. I just—” Ambrosia began to explain, when she was interrupted by Dawlin.
“Hey guys. I think the magic stopped and I’m not a dwarf. Well, not completely. Maybe we should do another round of spell casting or something.” Ambrosia returned her attention to the dwarf-tree and considered the mixed up creature sitting at the counter.
“It seems like you’re not really changing at all. You’re about halfway in the middle. The rapid transformation doesn’t seem to be taking place anymore,” Nemo remarked. Having crossed the room, he was now eyeing Dwalin closely.
“Is it safe to take the yarn off my wand? I can cast another transformation spell, or maybe we should just focus on undoing the curse while we have him stable. My spell will wear off eventually and we’ll have to deal with it then anyway,” Ambrosia remarked as she unwound the yarn, not waiting for the elf to answer.
“It’s not yarn. Well, not ordinary yarn anyway. It’s yarn from a nursing home knitting basket. Nothing in the 12 Kingdoms is more predictable than grandma knitting. I modified it with a special magical conductor so it can transfer improbability magic from one place to another. That’s how I fixed the overload. And yes, you can take it off,” Nemo replied.
“Grandma yarn?” Ambrosia stared at him, not sure if he was serious or not. “What kind of lunatic are you? I’ve never heard anything more ridiculous in my life.”
“Yes. It’s pretty improbable that something like that would actually work,” the elf replied, winking.
“You’re insane,” the ex-godmother replied. “Though I guess it did actually work. Now get out of the way before I cast this transformation spell on you instead of him.” The elf stood back, grinning in self satisfaction. Ambrosia wound up and cast the spell to transform the dwarf, but the sparkling stream of magic bounced off. Little streamers of magic spread harmlessly around the room. One rivulet struck one of the pixies, who instantly grew a dwarf beard. The remainder of the pixies scattered, hiding behind upturn tables and chairs.
“Uh. That’ll wear off in a few hours. Sorry. I don’t understand what happened. I’ve cast this spell thousands of times and I’ve never seen the magic bounce off before,” Ambrosia gasped. “I’ve been doing this for hundreds of years and nothing like this has ever happened.”
“It seems like a pretty improbable thing to happen,” Nemo remarked thoughtfully. Crouching down the elf examined where the dwarf-tree’s roots had pierced the floorboards. He poked them a few times before putting his stethoscope back on and listening to roots, the dwarf, and the stool he was sitting on. “It seems like our friend is part of the Flying Pig now. His roots connected him to the magical machinery while it was overloaded and when I unloaded the system he got stuck. It’s a little like when you get your coat caught in a door. You aren’t going anywhere until you open the door again. I’m afraid, my friend, that you aren’t going anywhere. The wrestling match between the spells is stopped because it got tangled in the overload and got caught when I sent the excess magic into the vortex. Nothing is going to make it start again short of overloading the place with improbability magic again, and I’m all out of yarn. Also, if we do that again it’s pretty likely I won’t be able to stop it.”
“Wait, so I’m stuck here forever?” Dwalin whined. “I don’t want to be a tree, and I don’t want to sit in this tavern for the rest of my life, and I definitely can’t pay my tab if I have to run one up for the rest of my life.”
“We could always have Argos cut you down and send you back outside,” the elf replied. The minotaur grinned a mischievous grin at the elf. “Of course, I’m not sure what the spells would do when you got out there. You might just become a tree completely. ”
“I’ll get my axe,” the minotaur teased, turning away for Dwalin and stepping toward the kitchen.
“NOO!!! No one is cutting me down,” the dwarf shouted through stiff lips.
“He’s just teasing you,” the ex-godmother interjected. “Knock it off, sweetheart. I don’t think Dwalin is in the mood.” The minotaur nodded sheepishly and stood behind his wife.
“Look on the bright side. The food here really is good and you can trade apples for your meals,” Nemo remarked. “Also, when you leave you’re going right back into the woods at about the point in time you left. You didn’t seem to want to go back there when you came in.”
The dwarf searched for a response, some sort of argument or complaint, but came up empty. Finally, after a few minutes he replied: “I guess I am gonna be a permanent fixture here. But we’re gonna need to discuss this apple thing. Mrs. Ex-Godmother, can I start a tab?”
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