Disclaimer:

I don't own Xanth, no matter how much I like it. However, Chey and Nova belong to me. All other characters, and the world they inhabit, belong to Peirs Anthony. Have fun!

Chapter 4; A Question of Great Importance

A woman of middle years stood in the hall ahead of them, dressed in a blue dress with her medium brown hair loose about her shoulders. She was pretty enough, but her eyes were light pink, a strange color for eyes.

"Welcome to the Good Magician's Castle. I am Wira, Humfrey's daughter-in-law. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?" The woman made a slight curtsey, and cocked her head ever so slightly.

"I am Chey Centaur, and this is my companion-"

"Nova Centaur." Wira nodded, smiling.

"Ah, yes. The centaurs. Humfrey has an appointment for you in an hour. In the meantime, you can rest and have a bite to eat with the Gorgon." Nova took a step back, startled.

"The Gorgon? But doesn't she turn people to stone just by looking at them?" Wira laughed as she led the way down the hall into the kitchen.

"Not since the Good Magician Humfrey cast a spell on her to make her face invisible." The brown filly was disconcerted, but said nothing. They turned the corner into the roomy and well-lit room, containing a large open fireplace and a big wooden table. At the table, the Gorgon was chopping vegetables, and behind her vegetable soup was boiling in a big pot over the fire. She was a mature woman with somewhat overly-curvy curves, with the snakes that made up her hair writhing this way and that, tongues flickering out at odd intervals. The Gorgon was indeed faceless, but she looked up, seemingly seeing Wira as she came through the door.

"Ah! Wira. What visitors do we have today?" For an answer, Wira merely smiled, and stood aside, allowing the two centaurs to enter. The Gorgon seemed to smile as she saw Chey. "A winged centaur! We don't see many of those around here." Wira looked surprised.

"He has wings?" Chey obligingly lifted his wings a little, allowing Wira to touch them as she reached out. She stroked the grey feathers, smiling. "Beautiful…" She murmured, then she turned to the Gorgon. "I will be back in an hour when Humfrey remembers he has an appointment. Will you take care of them, Gorgon?" The Gorgon nodded graciously, apparently smiling. Wira left, vanishing into the dark staircase to the left of the kitchen. The Gorgon turned, dumping the vegetables into the pot, and served them two bowls of the steaming soup, and a small loaf of bread each. The soup was delicious, and the bread was crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside. Afterward, the Gorgon brought out red, yellow, purple, and blue berries, the sweetest of the pick, for dessert. All in all, it was a delightful meal. After they had eaten, Nova asked a question she hadn't nerve to ask before.

"Why are Wira's eyes pink?" The Gorgon looked as startled as it is possible to do when one has no face.

"Didn't you know? Wira is blind." Nova flushed, feeling very small.

"Oh, I'm sorry." She had walked with confidence through the corridors; the embarrassed filly had never suspected that one so self-assured could be blind. The Gorgon seemed to smile gently as she shook her head.

"Don't be. That girl is more observant than most people that can see." They talked a while more, and the Gorgon inquired what their Questions for the Good Magician were. They each explained their own Questions, but when Nova said she was looking for a way to nullify magic love, she looked somehow troubled.

"Magic love?" With a dark blush, Nova explained her little accident with the pond fed by the love spring and lethe water.

"And now I love him. It is an awkward situation…" Nova struggled to look anywhere but at Chey, knowing that if he met her gaze, she would be irresistibly drawn to kiss him. Unbeknownst to him, that was how she had controlled the main portion of the magic-induced love. She found that if she avoided eye contact with him, she could resist the temptation to summon as many storks as it is possible to in one night. To her own surprise, she had found that morning that even if she met his gaze, she could resist the urging of the emotions inside her as long as he did not prompt her. The love spring must have been diluted somewhat by the lethe water. She had stated as much, but the Gorgon looked doubtful, or she seemed to. It was hard to tell when she didn't have a face. Suddenly, a voice sounded behind them, and Chey and Nova both turned.

"The Good Magician Humfrey will see you now." Wira stood in the doorway, motioning for them to follow her. They thanked the Gorgon for her kindness, and followed Wira into the hall. The two centaurs paused at the bottom of the winding staircase, glancing at each other. Centaurs aren't made to climb stairs. Wira seemed to know what they were thinking, and smiled reassuringly.

"Don't worry. There is an enchantment on the stairs. They will make a ramp for you." Chey stepped forward first, following Wira's lead. Sure enough, the stairs converted magically into a ramp, easier for equine hooves to handle.

"Now, I must warn you, the Good Magician is grumpy, so don't antagonize him." Up, up, up they went, up to a musty, dusty little room cluttered with books and scrolls and tomes. There was a little gnome-like old man hunched over a tome almost as big as he was.

"Father. Chey and Nova Centaur are here to ask their Questions." The gnome lifted his head, glancing at Wira through spectacles perched on his nose.

"Hmm? What do you want?" He did indeed sound grumpy, and he harrumphed through his nose as Wira repeated her announcement. "Oh, yes. Come on, ask your Questions already. I don't have all day." Chey stepped forward first, careful not to tread on any of the Good Magician's books.

"I would like to know where I could find my soul mate." The Good Magician peered at him over his spectacles.

"That wasn't a Question." With a guilty start, Chey realized that this was true. It had been a statement, not a question.

"Could you please tell me where I can find my soul mate?" Humfrey let out a snort that might or might not have been a laugh, and glanced at Nova.

"Go to the Region of Fire." The old man lowered his gaze to the tome in front of him, obviously done with the centaur. Looking troubled, Chey retreated, and Nova stepped forward. She opened her mouth to ask how she could abolish the magic love, and then abruptly changed her mind.

"How can I achieve what my heart most desires?" Humfrey looked up at her, the expression on his face almost… startled. But it was gone again so quickly she wasn't sure if she had ever really seen it.

"That was not the Question you came here to ask." He grumped, flipping through his book. He glanced up at Wira, then at Chey. "The Answer this young centaur seeks is private. Please remove yourselves from the area." Wira bowed respectfully, and herded Chey down the stair/ramp again. The door swung shut behind them, and the Good Magician stared at Nova with eyes that were still sharp, despite his age. "The Answer you seek is the thing very few creatures have asked for. It will be a difficult and arduous journey. Are you sure you wish to go through with it?" Nova hesitated, disconcerted by the seriousness of the Magician's tone, then she nodded, her jaw set. Humfrey sat back with a sigh, and rubbed his temples. Opening his eyes, he lifted a small bottle from the shelf behind him and handed it to her. It was clear, but it sparkled like crystal in the sunlight that shone through the window.

"That potion will nullify the magic of the love spring, but it may not be what you expect." Nova watched as the Good Magician flipped through his book, and when he found the page he was looking for, he squinted, reading. When he sat back, he sighed again, and glared at the brown-coated centaur. "You've messed up all my plans, you know that? Go with Chey Centaur as he travels to the Region of Fire. You will attain what you seek, but the price will be high. I hope you are willing to pay it when the time comes." The door swung open again, squeaking slightly on its hinges. "Now get on out of here. You've wasted enough on my time as it is." Nova bowed gratefully, bending at the waist.

"Thank you Good Magician. I am grateful for what you have done." Humfrey scratched his nose absently, but Nova thought she saw a flicker of a bit of a shadow of a smile tug at his lips before she turned to leave. On one of the ramp's many landings, she stopped, uncorking the little bottle in her hand. In one gulp, she downed the contents, and re-corked it, setting it on a little table alongside the wall. She could feel the magic flowing through her, and then out of her, but something wasn't quite as she had thought. It was like the Good Magician had said; it wasn't what she had expected.

Nova rounded the corner into the hallway, and Wira and Chey were waiting for her. Wira smiled, but her smile was tense, as though she was worried about something.

"You may stay the night with us if you wish." Chey and Nova both agreed to stay the night, and Wira showed them to the cozy stalls located on the ground floor for the equine guests. As Chey headed into his own stall, Wira called to Nova.

"Nova? Could I speak to you?" The centaur filly shrugged, and clip-clopped over to the brown-haired woman.

"What is it, Wira?" The woman was silent for a moment as she ran a hand along the length of her equine back.

"May I…?" The centaur consented, knowing that she probably didn't get the chance to ride very often. With Wira on her back, Nova made her way outside, and crossed the bridge, circling the castle as they talked in the fading light.

"Nova, I must let you know that the Good Magician always has a reason for his answers."

"I know." Answered the filly simply. She trusted that Wira would not lead her wrong, and Humfrey was a Magician, he wouldn't intentionally steer her into disaster.

"But he's never done that before. What is it that your heart most desires?" It was Nova's turn to be silent. She wasn't sure if she could answer that question. When she finally did answer, her voice was slow and hesitant.

"I- I think my heart desires… whatever will make me the happiest. But exactly what that might be… I'm not sure." Wira nodded, thinking.

"The Gorgon told me you fell in a love spring. How are you going to deal with that when you and Chey go your separate ways?" Nova started to protest that she wasn't leaving Chey, so it wouldn't be a problem, but stopped herself. Why would it be a problem anyway if she had already drunk the potion that had rid her of the magic love? Why did she still feel this way? The realization struck her like a thunderbolt, and she stopped in her tracks, startling Wira into an exclamation.

"What's wrong Nova?" Her breathing quickened as the truth filtered through to her stunned mind.

"I still love him." The statement was nearly a whisper, but Wira had good hearing.

"What do you mean?" Hesitantly, Nova started walking again, and told Wira what she had just realized.

"I took the potion to eliminate the magic of the love spring earlier before I came down from the Good Magician's study. The magic left, but I still love Chey." Wira thought for a minute, then spoke, her voice soft.

"I think you would have grown to love Chey, even without the magic. So the love spring didn't create any false feelings within you, it just sped up the growth of the emotions that were already there. And now the magic is gone, but the feeling remains, for it was not the magic that made you fall in love with Chey, it was your own heart." This made sense, and Nova nodded slowly. The sun had fled across the sky while they talked, and it was burning the distant trees as it hastened away from the falling night.

"So there's no way to escape the fact that I love Chey." Somehow, the thought was comforting. As they crossed the bridge, Nova stopped at the entrance, twisting around to face Wira.

"Wira? Could you not mention this to Chey? He might find it… awkward."

"Of course not. It is only you that can tell him the truth, and no other." Nova faced forward again, continuing to the end of the hall.

"Thank you, Wira. Your words comfort me." Wira dismounted, and bade her good night. Nova said the same, and returned to her cozy hay-carpeted stall. There she found a hot meal of cooked oats sprinkled with alfalfa and warm milk mixed with honey (for some reason oats and alfalfa had always appealed to her), and she ate gratefully, making a mental note to thank the Gorgon for her kindness. After finishing her meal, Nova leaned back against her own equine hindquarters, and dozed off, finding it surprisingly comfortable. She only awoke when her knees buckled, forcing her to sleep lying down.

That night, she had a dream. A midnight-black mare stood outside the stall, and stomped a hoof. Suddenly, she was standing on a cliff, with Chey at her side. His wings were battered, dirty, and stained with what looked nastily like blood. But he spread them anyway, smiling back at her in his charming way. "Chey! No!" Nova screamed as loud as she could, but the grey centaur took no notice of her warning. "Don't worry, Nova! I'll be back!" He called cheerfully, and he leaped over the edge of the cliff. She didn't look, but she could tell by the sickening silence that followed that he was gone. How could he have tried to fly with his wings like that?! An overwhelming wave of guilt swept over her. She didn't know how, but it was all her fault. She had caused it! It was all her-

Nova awoke with a gasp, glancing around wildly. Scrambling to her feet with her heart still pounding in her ears, the filly whirled to exit the suddenly claustrophobic-seeming stall. There, in the dust outside the wooden box was the signature moon-mapped hoof-print of a night mare. Checking in on Chey, she found he was still sound asleep, no bad dreams disturbing his sleep. Troubled, Nova returned to her stall, and gradually drifted off again.

PS

Sorry I'm late. I kind of… got distracted. Finals and all that. You know, it's not like I had a choice. Hope you enjoyed the newest installment of my Xanthly Dream!