• "I don't believe this! I just don't believe Gwen would just run off like that!" The young man shook his head, running a hand through his shaggy sand-coloured hair. "I think you're making it up, Cecil, just to get on my nerves." The green three-headed serpent, hiding in the collar of the young mage's shirt, flicked the tongue of its middle head.
    "I never lie, Alexander," the serpent hissed, "You know that better than anyone." Only the middle head spoke now, the other two were silent..but they were watching. That was Cecil's talent. Each of his three heads knew something different; past, present, and future.
    "Maybe, but you certainly criticize more than any familiar I've ever known," Alexander replied. The snake smiled at him, mocking him.
    "It's my job to keep you in line, remember," Cecil remarked, "You're only seventeen. You need to be taught and trained."
    "Says the snake who doesn't teach me anything," Alexander grumbled. Cecil opened his mouth to argue, but then he froze stiff and turned all three heads to the privies behind the eastern castle wall.
    "You want an education, Alexander, then I may have found where Gwen has gone," the snake whispered. "Or perhaps..when.." Alexander stared in confusion at his serpentine familiar.
    "What do you mean 'when'?" he asked, "She didn't fall through a Warp Hole, did she?"
    "See for yourself, mage," Cecil sneered, nodding his heads towards the privies. Alexander wrinkled his nose as he inched towards the privies. The smell was absolutely beastly, and worse than dragon dung, but if Cecil had sensed some magic near here, Alexander supposed it was worth investigating. He pulled his white, scale-patterned scarf over his nose, trying to block out the horrible stench. Upon nearing the privies, he discovered that Cecil was right. There was a force of magic here, and it was the kind of magic that was free and untamed, wild and it was there on its own.
    "A Warp Hole..." Alexander muttered, his words slightly muffled by his scarf. He took a step closer, and Cecil looked at him warily.
    "Are you going through it?" the serpent asked. Alexander nodded.
    "I have to." he answered, "I know the King is in great need of me right now, but with Gwen missing, I can't do anything. And if she has gone through this Warp Hole, then so must I." Cecil shook his heads.
    "Fine, but don't come crawling back to me when it doesn't go your way," He started to slither down Alexander's sleeve, ready to leave, but the mage wouldn't allow it.
    "And where do you think you're going?" he remarked, grabbing his sleeve to keep Cecil from escaping, "As my familiar, you're coming with me, Cecil, whether you like it or not."
    "This is cruel and undignified treatment," the snake grumbled. Alexander smiled behind his scarf, shaking his head.
    "It is not," he teased, "You're just grumpy." Just as he was about to step through the Warp Hole, a voice rang out, calling his name.
    "Mage Cromwell! Sir!" It was Catherine, one of the ladies-in-waiting to the Queen. Alexander stopped and waited until she had come close enough to speak without shouting.
    "What is it?" he asked.
    "The Queen requests your immediate presence, sir," Catherine told him, "She bids you come to her, and no arguments."
    "Tell Her Majesty that I have important business to attend to, and it can't wait," This was the main reason Alexander tended to avoid the Queen. She was always sending him on errands whenever he spoke to her. Whenever she so much as glimpsed him nearby, she had something for him to do.
    "Her Majesty says it's urgent, Mage Cromwell," Catherine looked thoroughly upset now, afraid to disappoint the Queen. Alexander sighed.
    "I suppose I should speak to her in person about this, then, shouldn't I..." he shook his head, and looked at the serpent now poking his heads out of the cuff of the mage's sleeve. "Looks like you got your wish, Cecil," he grumbled, "We're not going as of yet." Cecil smirked at him.
    "Lucky me," he chuckled.
    "Remind me to bleed you dry next time a spell requires serpent blood," Alexander mumbled. Without another word, he followed Catherine towards the Queen's chambers, and they had only just arrived at the doors when Alexander heard the Queen's shrieks.
    "Mage! Mage! Someone get me that mage!" He entered the chamber and bowed to the Queen.
    "You summoned for me, Your Majesty?" he said politely, though his true thoughts were otherwise.
    "What kept you, mage?" she crooned, laying her hand gently on his head. "It's rude to keep royalty waiting."
    "It couldn't be helped, my Queen," Alexander replied, straightening up from his bow, "I have urgent business elsewhere that cannot wait for long."
    "Business?" the Queen asked. "What kind of business?" The young mage had to think fast, to think of some way to get out of this situation without exposing what he really intended to do. A thought struck him, and he gave the Queen an awkward smile, feigning embarrassment at his own words as he spoke.
    "Very..important business in the privies, Your Highness," he lied. He could hear Cecil chuckling in his sleeve. The Queen looked embarrassed to hear those words, but at the same time she seemed sympathetic, as Alexander completed the act by fidgeting slightly and shifting his weight from one foot to the other uncertainly. Cecil chuckled a bit harder at the mage's act, but Alexander ignored him and continued, "I humbly request urgent relief, my Queen, or I fear my organs may burst, and I will be bed-ridden for days on end." He was faking slight panic now, innocent nervousness. The Queen looked mildly disgusted, but she nodded curtly.
    "I suppose, if you must," she reluctantly consented, "but don't dawdle coming back, mage."
    "Of course not, Your Highness," Alexander bowed again and turned on his heel, walking briskly out of the Queen's chambers. Once he was out of sight, he broke into a run, returning to the privies but not to do what he had told the Queen. He took a deep breath to prepare himself for the shift, not daring to slow his pace as he leapt through the Warp Hole. The trip through the Warp Hole took less than a second and Alexander found himself sprawled on his back on some hard surface, staring up at brightly lit square towers surrounding him. He felt a small, slender body shift under his shoulder, and Cecil wriggled his way out through the collar of the young mage's shirt.
    "Beautiful landing, my good sir," the serpent remarked sarcastically. "Masterfully done. I suppose it was your intention to tumble like a boll weevil."
    "Where are we, Cecil?" Alexander asked, ignoring the snake's complaints.
    "Well, you're not in Kansas anymore, buddy. That's for sure." The mage jumped at this new voice, then looked to see a young girl, with dark brown hair, standing over him.