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“Every time something passes through my portals, I use up mana,” Tafel said to the crowd of dragons staring down at her. “I can open the portal there, but there’s no way I can transport seven dragons.”

“Then you can go there yourself and bring them back,” Nova said. “I have to take time getting acquainted with my grandchildren anyway.” He smiled at the annoying trio, and they glanced at each other before smiling back.

“I’m your grandchild too,” Alora said and sat herself next to the annoying trio, pushing them partly out of the way. “I’m Alora.”

“Ah, Alora,” Nova said and rubbed his chin. “Your grandma’s told me a lot about you.”

“What about us?” Eldest asked. “What did she tell you about us.”

Nova chuckled. “I know that you’re Eldest, you’re Bonnie, and you’re Youngest.”

The annoying trio widened their eyes, staring at their grandpa as if they had seen a ghost. “You got it right!” Bonnie said. “No one’s ever been able to tell us apart before. How did you know?”

Nova raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that obvious? Eldest looks like he’s the oldest; Youngest looks like he’s the youngest; and that just leaves you who’s in the middle, Bonnie.”

The annoying trio exchanged glances again before rushing towards Nova at the same time. They plopped down in front of him, close enough to touch his front paws, and stared up at him with sparkling eyes. Youngest opened his mouth. “You’re the best, Grandpa.”

“You’re the best grandpa too,” Eldest said.

“You’re the best best grandpa,” Bonnie said.

Alora rolled her eyes. “That doesn’t even make any sense,” she said.

“Yes, it does,” Bonnie said and wrinkled her snout at her sister. She looked up at Nova. “Right, Grandpa? It makes sense, right?”

Nova chuckled and patted Bonnie’s head. “It does, it does. I’m the best best grandpa.”

Bonnie turned around and stuck her tongue out at Alora. “See?”

Alora snorted and lumbered over to Tafel and Vur. “Make the portal bigger,” she said. “I’m going too.”

“You don’t want to fawn over your grandfather?” Alice asked, raising an eyebrow. “If you leave now, there’s no way you can become his favorite.”

“I only have to be Grandma’s favorite,” Alora said, keeping her back towards Nova and the trio. “She’s the one who makes the cookies.”

“People are worth more than the cookies they can make,” Alice said.

Mr. Skelly’s eyes widened, and he grabbed Alice’s shoulder. “What? That’s news to me.”

Alice brushed his hand away and rolled her eyes. “Anyways,” she said, fixing her gaze onto Alora, “if you want to make a good first impression with your grandfather, then the best way is to stay with him now instead of running away; otherwise, that trio is going to take up the most space in his heart.”

Mr. Skelly frowned. “Do you have some repressed feelings that you aren’t sharing with me?” he asked, leaning over so that his empty eye sockets were taking up most of Alice’s view. “Aren’t you an only child? Who robbed your parents’ affection from you?”

Alice placed her finger on Mr. Skelly’s forehead and pushed his skull away. “It wasn’t my parents. My grandfather raised this lion cub, and he liked it a lot more than me.”

“Your grandfather raised lions?” Tafel asked, looking away from her glowing staff.

“I don’t want to hear that tone of voice coming from you,” Alice said. “You have no right to question the sanity of raising lions.”

“That’s a fair point,” Tafel said and chewed on her lower lip. She raised her staff and knocked the butt of it against the ground. “Portal’s ready.” A portal appeared in front of her, large enough to accommodate a dragon.

“How come you had to make calculations for this portal but not the one before?” Alora asked, gesturing towards the ripped edge of space.

“I’m rationing my mana,” Tafel said. “There’s a ratio between the size of the mass passing through a portal and the amount of mana it takes. If I’m unsure, then I can make an extremely large portal, but I’ll have used excess mana that goes to waste. Calculations let me make the margin of error as small as possible so that I don’t have to waste as much.”

“Oh,” Alora said. “I see. How much mana does it take to transport a dragon?”

“A lot.”

Alora furrowed her brow. “Does … it take more mana to transport me compared to the average dragon?”

Tafel scratched her head. “Well, I haven’t transported that many dragons, you see….”

“She’s trying to be polite, but we all know you’re fat, Alora,” Eldest called out from his safe spot next to his grandpa.

“Fight me!” Alora glared at her younger brother and bared her teeth at him.

“You see, Grandpa? She’s so aggressive!” Eldest said, looking up at Nova with watery eyes.

Alora snorted and tromped through the portal. Tafel glanced at Vur before looking behind him at Mr. Skelly and Alice. “Shall we head off?”

“You two can go,” Alice said. “The dragon that was chasing Lindyss seemed pretty angry, and unlike you two, Nate and I aren’t dragonproof. If we get trampled on, we’ll die.”

“Again,” Mr. Skelly added.

“I’m not dragonproof either,” Tafel said, a wrinkle appearing on her forehead.

“Yeah, but it’s your grandmother-in-law that you’re fetching,” Alice said. She waved at Tafel. “Bye now. You should get going before the portal closes.”

Tafel rolled her eyes. “You have no sense of adventure.” She grabbed Vur’s hand and stood up. “Let’s go.”

“It’s not that I don’t have a sense of adventure,” Alice said, cupping one hand over her mouth as Tafel walked towards the portal. “It’s just that my sense of self-preservation outweighs it.”

Tafel raised one hand into the air before disappearing into the portal. A moment later, it winked out of existence. Mr. Skelly raised an eyebrow, his skull contorting as his eye socket widened a little. “If you had a sense of self-preservation, you wouldn’t have agreed to be a part of their party in the first place.”

Alice shrugged. “They don’t do dangerous things all the time. It just so happens that I know my limits. I just wish I was a little stronger, so I could accompany them around more.”

“Really!?” a muffled voice shouted from the bag hanging on Alice’s waist. “No takebacks! I grant your wish! I’m free!” Laughter rang out of the bag, followed by a fit of spluttering and coughing. “Freedom! I hope you enjoy your little bit of added strength!”

Alice and Mr. Skelly stared at the leather bag. Alice swallowed and opened it. The jar inside was empty save for a weird mixture of liquid. “…Do you think he corrupted my wish?”

Mr. Skelly scratched his skull. “Well, your outer appearance hasn’t changed. Maybe we can ask Mervin sometime in the future.”

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Virlyce

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