Sandy took a sip of water and sighed in happiness at the wind rushing past her face. Once in a while a droplet of slime hit her in the face, which was gross, but the giant snail spinning around the axle through the center of its shell pulled them along as fast as a car. It was a hundred times better than having to slog through the sugar desert on foot, even though bounding around with superstrength was awesome and snail slime was disgusting.
Matrissin smacked her on the thigh. "Stop wool-gatherin' and keep yer eyes open, blondie! We're gettin' near the edge, so any kinda bushwhackers could be lyin' in wait!" Neither Sandy nor Mel had seen anything more dangerous than a sandworm that was miles away, but the old lady was getting more and more nervous the closer they got to civilization. She'd obviously been out in the desert way too long, even if she said it was only a week from the butterscotch mines to Sugardock.
If Sandy had to live in a world where butterscotch was something people mined, she'd probably go crazy too! But Matrissin's wizard friend would get their bed fixed up so they could go home, hopefully without wanting more than to ogle Sandy's tight jeans or Mel's tight shirt the way the old lady did.
The road went up a ridge, and from the the top Sandy could see across a broad valley to where the world ended. At the edge was a blotch of shadow under a swirl of cloud just like the one over an anime witch's house, with a little bit of brightness where the end of the Lemonade River's canyon let her see through to the clear air beyond the shaded region. She bounced in her seat with excitement. "Is that it? Sugardock?"
"Yep, that's it. Mebbe another hour."
"Already?" Mel slithered up from the wagon bed to lean over the back of the seat, making Sandy and Matrissin both take their eyes off the road. The kind of Indian-looking orange blouse Matrissin had given Mel clung to her sweaty skin, showing the outline of her bra enough to remind Sandy of yesterday, before the shirt. She could feel herself blushing again, and quickly looked away. Good thing the snail was smart enough to follow the road! "Maybe we can finish this quest today!"
Matrissin grunted skeptically, and looked back at the road. "Don't go countin' yer stars before they fall. I said Ambrose might could help ya."
"I know, I know. But the best case has to happen sometime right?" Mel put one hand on Sandy's shoulder for balance as the wagon went over a bumpy stretch of road, and left it there, warm and solid.
As they got closer to the edge, they could see that it was more of a rim, a wall of rock candy as tall as an office building and running away to each side out of sight, keeping the sugary desert from flowing off the edge. On top of it, under the low and kind of spooky clouds, was a collection of crooked dark spires that Matrissin said was the city itself. Finally, when they were only a couple of miles from the wall, they started seeing other people. Mostly they were driving wagons or carts, pulled by giant snails or animated clay statues or anything except horses, but some were riding and once a line of twenty or thirty people shackled together like a chain jogged past, followed by a buck-toothed man with a whip riding on a giant black beetle. That made this new world a lot less exciting, suddenly. She and Mel were outsiders with no one except a shady butterscotch smuggler to vouch for them, just the kind of people likely to end up as slaves. That would suck. She looked over at Mel, who was still leaning over the back of the seat and jiggling slightly with every bump in the road. Being hot young slave girls would suck even more. Suck, ha ha.
Then a streak of color whizzed around her head and stopped right in front of her nose. A girl no taller than the length of her hand hovered there on dragonfly wings, striking a vampy pose in a neon orange miniskirt and bandeau. Sandy goggled at the... "OMG FAIRY!" she squeaked. The fairy gave her a wink of one big orange eye, and then turned to flutter her lashes and shimmy her hips at Mel, who was staring wide-eyed and then blushing.
"Don't pay the little bug no mind," said Matrissin. "Half the time their flirtin' don't mean nothin', and the other half ya wake up with yer purse plucked bare as their cooch."
Sandy was trying to picture how sex with a fairy could work, and feeling more than just her face heat up, when the fairy flipped Matrissin the finger and puked up what seemed like half a cup of glitter onto Sandy's shirt, which immediately tried to strip itself off over her head. She shrieked in startlement and a bit of flashback to yesterday's fall when the wind had tried to do the same thing, and wrestled her shirt back down just in time to see the fairy stick her tongue out and zip away.
"Disney has lied to us," Mel said over Matrissin's crazed cackling, which made Sandy giggle too. "Can we wash this stuff off?" Mel splashed a little water onto the sparklestain, and it rained upward, taking some of the sparkly with it. "Good thing she only puked on your stomach, or this would get embarrassing," she added as she washed the rest of the antigravity sparkles off and turned a big patch of cloth completely transparent. It did only show her belly and the very bottom of her bra, though, so Sandy tried to ignore Matrissin's sideways glances. Mel was showing way more skin anyway, and not complaining. Maybe she knew how hot she looked.
The air was hazy enough that the shade of the clouds over the city was visible like a wall of twilight, and when they crossed that line the air was suddenly cool enough to give Sandy goosebumps. People going the other way were throwing off coats and shading their eyes as they headed into the squinty brightness, except the ones that got distracted checking out her and Mel. It didn't seem like they had anything no one here had, but no one she saw was exactly human: they all had at least long pointy ears or long pointy noses, and a lot of them had feathers for hair or mechanical legs or were wolves below the waist. They really were in a fantasy world!
Matrissin steered the wagon off the main road, into a cluster of warehouses, and the snail stopped spinning with a bump and started oozing along. It still went about walking speed, so pretty soon they pulled up outside one of the smaller and sketchier buildings. A man in shorts and muscle shirt came out, walking on grey metal bird legs like Matrissin's. He also had a segmented brass elephant trunk instead of a nose, which hung down to his chin until he lifted it in greeting, revealing a pretty nice smile. He had the muscles for the shirt, too, and looked only about college age, but the metal parts were too weird. "Ïa, Matrissin! Finally wised up enough to not go into the empty lands by yourself?" He looked Sandy and Mel both over carefully, half checking them out and half suspicious.
"Don't give me yer airs or yer lip, young Brasenase! An' mind yer manners with these gals, or they'll tie yer legs in a knot!" Sandy couldn't tell if she was really smacking him down or just teasing, but he didn't seem too upset. "I gave them a lift here to see Ambrose, is all. I don't need any bright young things to help me get around just yet!" She turned to Sandy and Mel. "Ya got the notes I gave ya?" When Sandy fished them out of her back pocket and waved them, Matrissin nodded. "I'm gonna be here a while, dickerin' with Brasenase an' his crew. You gals might as well get movin'. Stair's over thataway. Good luck!" She gestured toward a diagonal crack on the wall looming a block or two away.
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