"Not my daughter! It's the dragons that need to be saved."

This book is dedicated to the memory of Betsy Boyes (1958-2009)
who understood loyalty and love to furred family.


The Quarry: flight to Zoar

"Alchemy! Why did I choose bloody Alchemy?" Squigs screamed.

But, in the neverness between worlds, there is no sound.

Coming out of the blue-black of limbo, strange forms drifted vaguely into his view.

Then his long, narrow, size 14 feet felt something below them.

Squishy. Nasty.

Distant vision cleared first. A cloudless, copper-tinted bowl of sky. A Ziggurat. Several more distant Ziggurats.

Then came the smell. Air which was thick and humid, heavy with incense, and sulfuretted hydrogen.

And then sound. A woman's voice at sudden full volume. ". . . ou bloody clumsy offspring of a Mongol giraffe, get your skinny backside the hell out of my way, before I slit you from ass to earhole!"

Finally, there was close vision. He was being confronted by a short, incandescently angry, red-haired girl driving a boat-like cart drawn by . . . by hippopotami!

He looked down at his feet. Yes. Even when arriving in an alien universe, there were some universal constants in his life. He was standing in something soft, oozy and malodorous. To prove this universal constant absolutely true. . . . The girl yelled, "Move your scrawny body, before I remove your brainless head, and then move your body for you, as two separate bits!"

Situation normal.

The hippopotamus in front of him opened its mouth. Wide. A gargantuan belch of mildly fermented lucerne erupted over him.

As the cavernous, huge-tushed mouth gaped, Squigs did the most ordinary thing he'd done all day. He'd escaped certain death by violent or arcane means at least three times in the last hour. Squigs had actually been on the run for a week, displaying almost preternatural cunning and superb skill in evasion. He'd also lost a fair amount of blood, and he was losing more quite rapidly. Now it was time to behave in the way most people would, for a change.

This new and alien world wavered and blurred.

Squigs felt himself crumple and fall apart like a very tall card-house, all spindly knees and elbows.

Back inside an unobtrusive Oxford building, Danny Murriambene (Personal Assistant and Chief Executive Officer to Mr. Carpaccio) looked cautiously out from behind the marble bust of Doctor Malleus Plumbeous (1532-1603), Founder.

Over the years, various explosions, stinks and strange noises in the area had apparently always been conveniently scapegoated on student practical jokes. With any luck this racket would be blamed on the usual suspects.

Danny straightened up. The excellent quality and cut of the tailored grey suit he was wearing failed to hide the fact that Danny was a man nature had designed to be a rugby forward. Or a pit-prop. His stolid black face had an unhealthy grayish pallor to it right now.

Some of that could possibly be from the fumes. An evil ooze of greenish-blue smoke was spilling slowly down the stairs.

Danny turned to the other three surviving smartly-attired Carpaccio Corporation account executives. "Reckon we're going to have to go in there."

Senior Accounts Manager (collections and repayments) Smooth Mario O'Hogan nodded. Cleared his throat uneasily. "Yeah. The monster's gone." He looked at the scattered bloody remains of Junior Executive Vincent De Scali (contracts).

The two of them cautiously made their way up the stairs to where the six inch thick steel door had been torn off its hinges.

The two men picked their way through the broken glassware, torn shelves and shattered containers on the floor of the Alchemists storeroom. On the buckled heavy flagstones quicksilver mingled uneasily with preserved gryphon-liver and Atlantean tomb-dust. They stepped around seething pools and over spillikins of needle-sharp foot-long pieces of raw ormandine.

At the very end of the room the two men found what they had been looking for. There wasn't much of him left. Smooth Mario holstered his Glock. Picked the hand up with some trepidation. "I guess dat we've finally done it," he said with relief and not a little distaste.

Danny nodded. He'd been involved in various Carpaccio Corporation liquidations for nearly twenty years now. But this one, chasing down little Dons in gowns . . . As Smooth Mario said:real dons don't wear gowns and funny hats. He was a stickler for tradition, was Mario. Danny pulled a plastic bag from the wreckage. Emptied the jewelry-grade diamonds out of it, onto the floor. "Here, put it in the bag and let's get outa here."

Two minutes later the executives were three floors down, heading for the wholly unremarkable front door of the Department of Alchemistic Research.

Danny pulled the cheroot out of his mouth. He scowled at it, tossed it down and ground it under his heel. The adverts were quite right. Smoking can be bad for your health.

If it hadn't been for the smell of tobacco, they might have caught a whiff of brimstone, back when they'd got involved in this business.

It was too late now.

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