Chapter 16

Richard woke to the strange, disgusting feeling of Jip licking his face. The dog's rancid breath washed over Richard's face, and he sputtered and coughed in response.

"You up there, Master?" Jip asked.

"Yeah, but if your breath didn't wake me up, I don't know what would have," Richard remarked, raising himself up from the ground, frowning disgustedly.

Jip crossed his eyes in confusion. "My breath smells that awfully?" he wondered aloud, breathing on his paw and taking a sniff. He made a straining sound in his throat, opening his eyes wide as dinner plates. "Oh dear Sparky above…" Jip's eyes rolled to the back of his head dramatically, and he fell onto his back.

Chuckling at Jip's reaction, Richard scratched the dog's belly to bring him back. "Quit that, Jip," he said. "We should get moving."

"Quite, and good morning, my boy," Sir Hugo greeted. "I don't suppose you would like to enjoy some breakfast?" He gestured towards a grand feast laid out for a king! Several different platters and courses covered the grass, like at the Pagemaster's table. A sweetly proud-looking Chloe sat nearby, chomping on some cereal and strawberries.

"Chloe?" Richard said, in awe of the feast. "You made all this."

"No, Jip coughed it up. Of course, I did," Chloe answered with a giggle. "Imagining all this to life woke me up, but this breakfast is incredible, if I do say so myself." She emphasized her words by chomping down on another strawberry. "Well, go ahead. Eat your fill, both of you."

When Richard and Jip had both filled up on Chloe's mind-made breakfast, Sir Hugo pushed aside the branches of the trees, and they stepped out into the sun. Richard liked the sun now- it seemed to promise a good day for the group.

Immediately, Jip made himself useful by putting his nose to the ground. Chloe kept herself beside the dog, occasionally petting his fur as a reward. He shook with laughter when Chloe scratched and petted, panting like, well, like a happy dog.

"I know we're only minutes into this day, but I think it's gonna be a good one," Jip remarked cheerily. "The larks are on the wing and the sun shining."

Chloe was not usually one to gossip or tell secrets, but she leaned down to Jip's ear. "The only thing that would make it better would be if Peaseblossom and the fairies were here," she said. "Seems that Sir Hugo fancies her."

Jip gasped dramatically, then chuckled. "Sir Hugo, of all people, fancying a fairy? That's something you don't hear about all the time. He's such a hardened warrior, and yet he has his eyes on those fairies. Ha, ha. Well, between you and me, I wouldn't be able to withstand those fairies for much longer than I can stand fleas. Their Shakespearian chatter is enough to make a cat bark!"

Chloe giggled with Jip, and scratched his ears, and the dog panted so happily that even Chloe had to smile.

Sir Hugo, who was walking beside Richard, flicked his eyes to the sweetness going on between Jip and Chloe. "I fancy our lady has found a good friend," he stated. "My goodness, that dog could make friends with a hardened criminal and he could become a little boy again with one of Jip's licks." He shook his head and half-smiled.

"Guess that's why he was supposed to help us," Richard said, half to himself.

"It's true," Sir Hugo said. "He is a good soul. See how he is tending to the lady. It's as though they've been friends from birth."

Richard had to admit, the bond that had formed between Jip and Chloe was a deep one. Jip had said so himself that he would do everything to protect Chloe, and judging from how she laughed as she scratched his ears, she seemed to feel the same way about the jolly dog. Somehow, Richard wanted to remind Chloe that he was still behind her and that it was not all up to Jip to keep her safe. After all, a dog could only do so much- sniffing and barking were a few things, but he could not wield a sword against evil…

As if on cue, Richard jumped out of his boots when he heard Jip growling, low and menacingly.

"Jip?" Chloe asked, stopping dead in her tracks.

"There's someone…" He sniffed again. "No, there's…there's more than someone…there's…there's…here, there…everywhere…a whole bunch of people!"

"Where are they?" Sir Hugo asked, preparing to unsheathe his sword.

Jip didn't answer; he only shivered in fear. Finally, he said, "I don't know where they are. They're coming, though. Pretty close now…"

"Get your weapon ready, boy," Sir Hugo warned Richard. "This might be pretty awful."

Now, the only noise all around them was Jip's sniffing, and the scratching of his fearful paws against the ground. It was quiet long enough that Richard gave Jip a doubtful glance, as though his sniffing had finally failed them.

"Jip?" he asked nervously.

Then there came a great crashing and tumbling in the nearby bushes as squads of soldiers rolled out from the bushes. The moment they appeared, some of them started to spray a red sort of light from their hands. Sir Hugo held up his sword and deflected the light as he pulled Richard to the ground for safety.

"Milady, Jip, get down! Fight back, do something!" Sir Hugo shouted as the mysterious attackers fought on.

Without thinking, Chloe raised her hands and using her imagination, she created little lightning bolts that flew from her fingertips, which deflected the red magic the attackers were making. She followed that up with a circle of fire encircling the attackers like a pig pen. Her efforts were in vain, however, and the enemies just made it disappear into thin air.

"Her powers are strong, but they can't match us!" Chloe heard them whisper. This only made her more determined than ever to get rid of these low-life foes.

"Chloe, come here! Let's go!" Richard shouted at her.

"No! They have to get out of here!" Chloe answered him. "They're villains and they have to be stopped where they are!"

Jip jumped up beside Chloe as the attackers finished destroying her fire circle. "I'll assist you," he said. "A good detective dog never runs away from danger!"

"And neither should we!" Chloe shouted to Richard, fixing him with a firm glare.

For a moment, Richard was taken aback. Chloe's determined glare was like seeing fangs on a giraffe- something that was new and frightening. Richard was caught in a tangled trap, whether or not he should follow Sir Hugo, or get up and fight with Chloe. He would hate to be the reason something might happen…

Richard was jolted from his thoughts again when the attackers let loose a giant ball of red magic. He saw Chloe leap out of the way, but suddenly, all he could see was a disintegrating shower of fireworks and a frightened Jip jumping away. His golden fur was fluttering wildly as he jumped. He landed flat on his stomach, with an oomph!, and scrambled to his feet.

"Jip!" Richard exclaimed. A jolt in his heartbeat surprised him at the sight of just Jip. "But, where's Chloe?"

Jip barked suddenly, and both Richard and Sir Hugo turned their glances to the villains behind the fireworks. Each of them had sneers on their faces.

"Incompetent boy," one of them sneered. "Surprised you didn't come and fight back like your fair lady friend. Correct me if I'm wrong but, I believe that the one pretty lady we have here is the Proverb…"

"No!" Sir Hugo said to himself, tensing his body in fear.

"…of the Imagination?"

Sir Hugo shut his eyes and turned his gaze away, as though embarrassed. He didn't turn back for a few seconds, and so Richard decided it was all up to him.

"Okay, guys, um, do you think we can come to a peaceful agreement here? You know…something we can trade for Chloe?"

"Chloe?" another of the attackers said, turning to Chloe. He ran his hands up and down her arms, as though trying to make them warm; Chloe tensed up and slit her eyes in disgust. "What a lovely name for a sorceress."

Jip stepped up and sniffed the attackers, growling low. "Ahem, who said anything about this girl being a sorceress?" he asked. "Does she look like a sorceress to you?" Jip cringed and ducked his head into his mane of fur; he instantly regretted asking the question.

The attackers looked back at Chloe, looking her over while she kept very still and tried to suppress her growing urge to blast her captors with magic again.

"A blind man could see the magic in this lady," the first attacker answered Jip. "Look at how she just…radiates magic. You can feel it!"

At his touch, Chloe finally wrenched her arm away. "If you could please not touch me like that!" she said firmly.

"Or, I promise, you'll regret it!" Richard said, unsheathing his sword.

The attackers were quiet for several seconds, before Richard decided to make his move. He was met with a billowing cloud of red sparkles and lasers that threw him backwards. He heard a whimper as Jip and Sir Hugo reacted to his fall.

"Indeed, that's what you think," the attackers said. "Your silly weapons can't protect your lady from our powers. We know who she is."

Jip jumped up beside Richard, snarling. He barked twice before he spoke. "If you chaps were smart, you would let go of the girl. I'm warning you, she can pack a punch when she needs to."

"You'd best listen to the dog, gentlemen," Sir Hugo said, although his disgusted emphasis on gentlemen was pretty clear.

"Oh? Why?" the captors wondered aloud.

Chloe grinned before she imagined the hands touching her to be scorching hot, and the ground underneath her to buckle violently. A hissing and rumbling sounded when the captors started to shout, and jumped back from the buckling ground. Chloe added to her "punch" by imagining a floating ring of fire and wind to blow her captors back. The power spread far enough that even Richard, Jip, and Sir Hugo were blown back by her spell.

"That is why!" Chloe declared, laughing in triumph.

The captors pretended to be stunned for a moment, before they fired another round on Chloe.

"That is why you should not toy around with us, young pretty lady," they said.

Chloe imagined a continuous line of magical blasts one after the other, and her captors fired at her some more. Clouds of blue and red and yellow and all other colors mixed together blasted here and there, like colorful cannonball smoke. Sir Hugo and Richard threw themselves into the brawl, although Richard had been slightly hesitant to do so. Jip barked and growled, pouncing on the attackers, biting down until he could taste blood. Fur flew and blades swung as the battling raged. Richard was tense inside as he tried to prevent the attackers from kidnapping Chloe. He found it hard though, to keep fighting and also look out for his friend; and even harder to succeed because he kept getting knocked down by the captors' magic.

Richard fought hard like the warrior he should be, but he was tiring, and fighting blade against magic was too difficult a task. Even Sir Hugo and Jip weren't faring so well, though they were talented fighters. He watched as they fell to the spells the captors cast with their magic.

Richard didn't understand. Chloe was powerful, so why wasn't her magic killing the captors off quickly? Maybe she was tiring too, but Richard had never seen that in her. Her determination had always been all that she needed to stay strong. But then again, watching how the attackers fought as one against one powerful Proverb, Richard found that maybe he could doubt Chloe's capacity for determination alone.

He needed to do something, but just using his sword wouldn't do him any good, and his arm was feeling like watery jelly. Richard wrapped his brain around what he could do, but his brain seemed to have turned off in that instant…

…and in that moment, he was met with a heart-stopping horror when he saw Chloe's fiery hair fly over her face and to the ground when one of the attackers slapped her clear across her face. She stumbled to the ground, and they surrounded her, as if they were vultures circling a dead mouse.

"No!" Richard shouted on impulse. And no was right! No! No way was he going to let them take her! Not now!

Suddenly, Richard's mind came back to life, and it filled with an echoing sound of book titles that rattled like thunder through him; no matter what, the titles ran through his mind like an everlasting tape. He was remembering the Pagemaster's advice all too well, and he knew that now was a good time to harness the books' content to save Chloe.

Before he even knew it, Richard was calling out, "Sleeping Beauty, the forest of thorns," all at the same time pointing into a copy of the book that had come from out of nowhere.

As quickly as he had called out the words, Richard felt a surge of energy flow through his body, and suddenly, there came a tearing sound from beneath the ground. Out from beneath the trees, a great forest of prickly thorns shot upward, blackening the land around them with the sharp branches and razor-sharp thorns that tore at the land around them. And aside from the tearing sounds the thorns made as they grew, all was silent. Even Jip's barking and the sword slashing had stopped.

But when Richard glanced at the very edge of the thorn forest, there was no sign of the attackers, or Chloe.

She was gone.

Richard's heart nearly stopped when he realized how late he had been in saving Chloe. He had been so caught up in what was happening inside his mysterious mind that he just couldn't save her in time.

In anger, Richard kicked the ground and let out a yell! He just could not believe it! The Proverb of the Imagination was supposed to be protected, and all he had done- instead of being a good guardian to Chloe- was let her get kidnapped. Who knew what the villains would do with her!

"Chloe!" Richard shouted in anger and disbelief.

"Calm down, boy, hush up!" Sir Hugo urged, pulling Richard back.

And suddenly, without any explainable reason, Richard was quiet, as he had just realized what he saw before him. The forest of thorns, which had come from out of a book, was plain as the nose on his face. But…how did they get there? All that had happened was that he called for a certain book and the object he was looking for had just…come…

Richard's realization was astounding, but he refused to believe it.

"Sir Hugo," he began, "did you…?" He gestured at the forest of thorns.

Sir Hugo only shook his head, a shocked but amazed expression on his face.

Richard turned to Jip, but he only shook his head, his eyes wide open with the same shock as Sir Hugo.

Now, it finally dawned on Richard. And he suddenly felt so much bigger…and yet so smaller…

The Third Proverb was found.

And that Proverb was here…in his place.

TO BE CONTINUED…