At best, running on a planet stuck in a space-time continuum warp is challenging, and I’m somebody who’s runs from people for a living. So let’s just say that running on this planet was a bit like trampling through molasses in knee-high grass while wearing high heeled platform shoes. At least I had a head start over the people chasing me, which was something. I think they were rather upset when I tricked Jones into picking up my trapped bag of holding, which promptly exploded in his face.

I ran as fast as I could (not very fast) in this woods and prayed I’d find something useful. If only my luck would hold out just one more time. After you tell yourself that enough times, you believe it and then you start to worry your luck really will run out very soon.

The ground went steadily downhill, and soon enough my luck turned. A log-house in the middle of the clearing appeared inviting to me. If anybody was in there, it wouldn’t matter – they were unlucky enough to be on a frozen world. Seemed like a good enough place to hide and catch my breath for the moment.

At the door I knocked, only to be polite. Bad habits die hard, and I wasn’t trying to break an entering. I let myself in to the strange home, the scent of oil heavy in the air, mixed with the smells of dirty dishes and… fresh baked cookies.

“Come in. What are you waiting for?” A voice from the backroom where the cookies were. Nuts – my luck wasn’t as good as I counted on. Who the hell was this guy? No reason yet to assume he was friendly, treats or otherwise.

I stood at the door silently and and took a look around. Fairly stereotypical cabin in the woods – hand-crafted wood furniture, wood stove in the corner, shelves of musty books, polished plank floor, steep stairs going to the attic. I picked up one of the books on the corner table near the dark stained rocking chair. Uni-creatures and Their Magic. Why did I have to get rid of the bag of holding? Oh right… At least it was to get away, otherwise I’d needed my bag right now to steal this little book. I had a hunch it’d come in handy for what I’ve gotten myself into.

“Are you done contemplating what you’re about to steal?” The stranger poked his head out the door. A rather unimposing figure – shiny bald dome, crooked glasses that sat too low on his crooked nose, red splotches all over his skin. “Or do you wish to be sociable? I am a gracious host, usually, I’ll have you know.”

“Oh, no offense,” I smiled at the grandfatherly guy. “I only wished to borrow a book. And a cup of sugar if you have any.”

“You’re not my neighbor. And you’re not in the habit of borrowing things.”

“Quick study. I’m passing through while being chased by some nice men. Mind if I hide for a moment?” I wiped my bangs away from my sweaty forehead. “Promise not to leave with anything that’s not mine.”

“Deal.” He went back into the backroom – a kitchen, and a fairly modern one at that. I followed him in. A wide array of neat appliances and gadgets littered the granite table top in the middle: blenders, choppers, peelers, shredders, basters, and a little item with a hook on one end and what appeared to be a laser beam on the other. The spotless sink was stainless steel, and next to it was a Ixon Food Radiator 94x, the latest model. A black metal refrigerator took up the entire side wall, and when he opened it steamy cold air came out.

“I take it the nice men you’re running from didn’t start this mess we’re in?” He opened the oven door and took out a tray of cookies, without a glove and apparently without burning his hand either. “Don’t be coy or stupid with me.”

“I take it you’re not from around here, for that matter? Not to sound coy or stupid, but seriously.”

He used a spatula to scoop the cookies onto a plate and offered me one. “Well then, to get to the point… Where is the Baneportal?”

I took a cookie and tore it apart, pretending to consider my words. “You are a straight to point man. I like that.”

“If I wanted to poison you I’d have done so when you entered the cabin. And I prefer it if you were alive at the moment.”

Laughing, I tasted the cookie – minty and moist, with chocolate chips and an aftertaste of… Parsnip. Ugh! I set the cookie on the granite island counter top. Only a handful of creatures could botch something that tasty, and I had a hunch as to what this guy was. “Didn’t take you guys long to figure out what was going on.”

“We keep a close eye on events through-out the universes, at least without our domain.”

I took a seat on one of the bar-stools, crossed my legs, and put my hands on my lap. “Tell you what sport, I’ll help you get the Baneportal back, but I want a finder’s fee.”

“Of course. It is just as well you stole it. We had been in negotiations for too long with the Library.”

“Somebody has to do the dirty work around the universe,” I said. “About finding it, I sort of was hoping your – umm – people might help me out with that. You see, it was previously in a bag of holding.”

The illusion around him shimmered. Instead of a mouth, I saw the hint of a snout. He stuck his face near mine. “Do you have any idea what kind of damage you may have caused?”

“All in a day’s work. And watch where you put your horn. You can put somebody’s eye out.”

He dropped the illusion entirely. In place of the old man, there was now a beautiful white – and ridiculously large – unicorn in the middle of the kitchen. The fridge door opened of its volition, and instead of cold air coming out there were streams of purple haze. “We have a journey to make and I suggest you not test my patience.”

I usually try to haggle with new clients before taking on a task, but in this case I made an exception. “Right then, and I’ll need to tell you a little story on the way.”

The haze cooled my skin when I approached, then until my face went numb with teleportation magic.

To be continued…

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