Where We Are Now
The first thing we had to do was catch the Tralfamosaur. The obvious question, other than “What’s a Tralfamosaur?” was “Why us?” The answer to the first question was that this was a magical beast, created by some long-forgotten wizard when conjuring up weird and exotic creatures had been briefly fashionable. The Tralfamosaur is about the size and weight of an elephant, has a brain no bigger than a Ping-Pong ball, and can outrun a human. More relevant to anyone trying to catch one, Tralfamosaurs aren’t particularly fussy about what they eat. And when they are hungry—which is much of the time—they are even less fussy. A sheep, cow, rubber tire, garden shed, antelope, smallish automobile, or human would go down equally well. In short, the Tralfamosaur is a lot like a Tyrannosaurus rex, but without the sunny disposition.
And we had to capture it. Oh, and the answer to the “Why us?” question was that it was our fault the rotten thing had escaped.
In case you’re new to my life, I’m sixteen, a girl, and an orphan—hey, no biggie; lots of kids don’t have parents here in the Ununited Kingdoms, because so many people have been lost in the endless Troll Wars these past sixty years. With lots of orphans around, there’s plenty of cheap labor. I got lucky. Instead of being sold into the garment, fast food, or hotel industry, I get to spend my six years of indentured servitude at Kazam Mystical Arts Management, a registered House of Enchantment run by the Great Zambini. Kazam does what all Houses of Enchantment used to do: rent out wizards to perform magical feats. The problem is that in the past half century, magic has faded, so we are really down to finding lost shoes, rewiring houses, unblocking drains, and getting cats out of trees. It’s a bit demeaning for the once-mighty sorcerers who work for us, but at least it’s paid work.
At Kazam I found out that magic has not much to do with black cats, cauldrons, wands, pointy hats, and broomsticks. No, those are only in the movies. Real magic is weird and mysterious, a fusion between science and faith. The practical way of looking at it is this: Magic swirls about us like an invisible fog of emotional energy that can be tapped by those skilled in the mystical arts, and then channeled into a concentrated burst of energy from the tips of the index fingers. The technical name for magic is variable electro-gravitational mutable subatomic force, but the usual term is wizidrical energy, or, simply, crackle.
So there I was, assistant to the Great Zambini, learning well and working hard, when Zambini disappeared, quite literally, in a puff of smoke. He didn’t return, or at least not for anything but a few minutes at a time and often in random locations, so I took over the running of the company at age fifteen. Okay, that was a biggie, but I coped and, long story short, I saved dragons from extinction, averted war between the nations of Snodd and Brecon, and helped the power of magic begin to reestablish itself.
And that’s when the trouble really started. King Snodd thought using the power of magic for corporate profit would be a seriously good scam, something we at Kazam weren’t that happy about. Even longer story short, we held a magic contest to decide who controls magic, and after a lot of cheating by the king to try to make us lose, he failed—and we are now a House of Enchantment free from royal meddling and can concentrate on rebuilding magic into a noble craft.
I now manage forty-five barely sane sorcerers at Kazam, only eight of whom have a legal permit to perform magic. If you think wizards are all wise purveyors of the mystical arts and have sparkling wizidrical energy streaming from their fingertips, think again. They are for the most part undisciplined, infantile, argumentative, and infuriating; their magic only works when they really concentrate, which isn’t that often, and misspellings are common. But when it works, a well-spelled feat of magic is the most wondrous thing to behold, like your favorite book, painting, music, and movie all at the same time, with chocolate and a meaningful hug from someone you love thrown in for good measure. So despite everything, it’s a good business in which to work. Besides, there’s rarely a dull moment.
So that’s me. I have an orphaned assistant named Tiger Prawns, I am now Dragon Ambassador to the World, and I have a pet Quarkbeast at least nine times as frightening as the most frightening thing you’ve ever seen.
My name is Jennifer Strange. Welcome to my world.
Now, let’s find that Tralfamosaur.
Those forty-five sorcerers, Tiger, and I all lived in a large, eleven-story, ornate ex-hotel called Zambini Towers. It was in a bad state of repair, and even though we had some spare magic to restore it to glory, we had decided we wouldn’t, other than expanding the Kazam offices after business picked up. There was a certain charm about the faded wallpaper, warped wood, missing windowpanes, and leaky roof. Some argued that the surroundings were peculiarly suitable for the Mystical Arts, others argued that the place was a fetid dump suitable only for demolition, and I sat somewhere between the two.
When the call came in, Perkins and I were in the shabby, wood-paneled lobby.
“There’s a Tralfamosaur loose somewhere between here and Ross,” said Tiger, waving a report forwarded by the police.
“Anyone eaten?” I asked.
“All of two railroad workers and part of a fisherman.” Tiger was twelve and, like me, a foundling. He was stuck at Kazam for four years and after that could apply for citizenship or earn it fighting in the next Troll War, which probably wouldn’t be far off. Troll Wars were like Batman movies: both were repeated at regular intervals, featured expensive hardware, and were broadly predictable. The difference was that during the Troll Wars, humans always lost—and badly. In Troll War IV, eight years ago, sixty thousand troops were lost before General Snood had even finished giving the order to advance. The final death toll was six times higher.
“Three eaten already?” I said. “We need to get Big T back to the zoo before he gets hungry again.”
“How long will that be?” asked Tiger, who was small in stature but big on questions.
I swiftly estimated how much calorific value there was in a railway worker, matched that to what I knew of a Tralfamosaur’s metabolism, and added a rough guess of how much of the fisherman had been consumed. “Three hours,” I said. “Four, tops. Which sorcerers are on duty right now?”
Tiger consulted his clipboard. “Lady Mawgon and the Wizard Moobin.”
“I’ll help out,” said Perkins. He smiled and added, “As long as I’m not eaten.”
I told him I couldn’t really offer many guarantees as far as Tralfamosaurs were concerned. “Still in?” I asked.
“Why not?” he said with a chuckle. “I haven’t been terrified for—ooh—at least a couple of days.”...