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When it came to sightseeing, nature walks, or even just leaving his air-conditioned apartment for any reason other than to acquire bagged snacks and sodas, Parson had to admit he had pretty much been Hamstard. He was fine with whatever cage he was in, even his dinky dorm room with the Thinkamancers.
But there was something about the Hippiemancers' Glade that struck him as incredibly pleasant and natural. For one thing, their section of the Magic Kingdom got all of the green, normal-looking trees. But it also smelled more like a forest here: earthy and grassy and leafy. There were bird chirps, crickets, frogs. He realized he had only seen a handful of different places in Erfworld, most of which were pretty artificial and odd-looking. This place felt like a state park campground or something.
So while he was no Nature Boy, it made him weirdly happy to be here. He didn't even mind all the snakes.
Janis Atlantis had prepared a giant cauldron of vegetable stew for the Gobwin Knob troops and commanders, and it was just about the best thing Parson had eaten since he was summoned. They hadn't just shown up unannounced; Maggie had Thinkagrammed ahead, and Parson explained that he wanted to march to the Glade precisely because he didn't want a fight. Janis said the Hippiemancers could keep it peaceful, and that she would personally keep Jojo from casting, as she had done to him down in the tunnel.
"What about Carnymancy?" Parson had asked her. "Do you think he could cheat his way out of that?"
"Not against me," was all she'd said.
They all sat in the grass around the gigantic technicolor flower called the "Lovin' Bloom," eating from wooden bowls with utensils that looked hand-carved, and not with the expert twollish fabrication Parson was used to seeing. Janis sat in front of the Bloom's huge pot, between Sizemore (who looked as contented as Parson had seen him since before Spacerock) and Jojo (who was uncharacteristically silent, intent on devouring his stew).
"Did you want to talk now, Jojo?" Parson asked, looking over at the hairy little man in the orange marching band outfit.
The Carnymancer shook his head, barely glancing up over his bowl. "In private, if you don't mind," he said. "As I mentioned, it's a personal matter."
Parson exchanged a meaningful glance with Janis, whose scrunch-mouthed, skeptical expression said, "oh don't let him get away with that, dear."
"I do mind," said Parson. "I want my team with me, and Janis. In fact, we might as well do it right now, right? So you want to know about Lady—"
"Up, up, upp!" barked Jojo, hastily dropping his spoon into his bowl to raise a warning hand. "Please, my friend! Have a care!"
In the end, they negotiated a sunset meeting in a little gazebo, with only Jojo, Parson, Janis and Maggie present. Parson's troops stayed out of hearing range, but within bowshot. Nobody was particularly pleased with the arrangement. Artemis and Downer objected strenuously and required a direct order to leave his side, and Jojo refused to have Maggie there about twelve or fifteen times before he finally relented. So Parson figured it must have amounted to a good compromise.
"Nobody on this side of the portal ever served with her," said Parson, after they'd settled in and gotten down to talking about Lady Sylvia, "but my impression was that Sylvia was, um..." How did you say 'crazy bitch,' politely? "Kind of raw. I mean, in our battles before Spacerock, she was like Wanda's personal attack dog. The enemy would usually put up something nasty in front of Ansom...a squad of knights or a heavy beast unit...and Wanda would just send Sylvia at it to make it not be a problem anymore."
Jojo nodded sadly. It was strange to see him drop the carnival barker routine. He was just sitting there, sedate and introspective, not often making eye contact. Janis held his hand as a precaution against him casting, but she also looked sympathetically toward him.
"She had a kind of smoldering anger," the little man said distantly. "Everyone around her felt the heat. But only the enemy got the full furnace-blast of it. She only was happy in battle, during those bare few moments when she didn't have to restrain her rage."
Parson leaned forward. "I...barely knew her, Jojo. What exactly did you want to know?"
He looked up, searchingly. "I need to know how she croaked."
"Fire, either way," said Jojo thoughtfully. "It shouldn't have been allowed."
Parson tried three or four different ways to parse that statement, none of which made any sense. "What shouldn't? Allowed by who?"
"How did the fire start, I wonder?" asked the Carnymancer, ignoring the questions.
Parson shrugged. "I dunno. Nobody who saw it survived, except for red dwagons and they don't talk. But I mean, she was in command. And, you know...red dwagons."