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Nine Powers Stories


Part One—Poems in the Sky

Dragons are not good or bad. They are witty and cunning. They might want to eat you. But even more they want to shock you. The love to say "Aha!" and make you say "Oh, no!"

Once I had a talk with a dragon. It did not go well. The dragon, Maxijillian, lives in Arlinac Town. Maybe I should say that he lives on Arlinac Town.

The tallest building in Arlinac Town is called the bank. But it is more than a bank. It is the town's temple to Maw Lute. Maw Lute is the Power that loves collecting and music. The bank is really many buildings together. It has a bank. It also has museums, vaults, a small theatre, the merchant guild office, and offices for Lady Noneesa the Red.

Maw Lute makes dragons. So there is a dragon that lives on top of the tallest tower of the bank. He guards the bank that is her temple. He watches Arlinac Town.

People who want to share what they collect can put it on display in a museum at the bank. People who want to keep what they collect very safe can put it in a vault at the bank. People who want to keep their wealth safe use the bank.

One room has walls covered with poetry. One vault has papers on which people have written private thoughts they do not want anyone else to read. I am in charge of those two rooms. Sometimes I copy poems from the walls, and go read them to Maw Lute. I never read the private papers.

My name is Winkton. This is my story.

When I was seven years old I climbed the bank's tallest tower to visit Maxijillian. My hands were bleeding a little when I got to the top of the tower. The climb needed much more time and energy than I planned.

"Happy Birthday," I told the dragon. Then I had to lay down for a few minutes.

"Really?" asked Maxijillian. I had not understood how big he was. He was bigger than my family's house. There was not much room for me on the flat tower roof. He watched me while I rested.

"I came to tell you a poem," I said.

"Tell me," said the dragon.

I stood up and said:

"The Arlinac Town bank has a guard on its tower.
The dragon Maxijillian majestic with power.
Our collections are safe while under his wings.
Some days from below I hear when he sings."

I looked at his face but could not see if he liked the first verse. I kept going:

"Today is his birthday. He deserves a treat.
I cannot make or bring yummy things to eat.
Nor take up a gift tied with ribbon and bow.
Instead with a poem my thanks I'll bestow."

The dragon smiled. "Thank you for the poem. It was a good birthday present. Today is happy." I wanted to smile back. I wanted to tell Maxijillian that I had noticed all by myself that he never got birthday presents, and fixed that. But the dragon's smile was very, very big. It made me nervous. Then the dragon asked, "Do you want me to tell you a poem in exchange?"

"Sure," I said.

His poem was:

"From the tower roof
A boy sees all the town.
A poem in the sky!
His bloody hands are my proof
He has no way to get down."

I took a deep breath. "A tanka poem should not rhyme."

The dragon agreed. "Mistakes were made."

I asked, "Will you please take me down?"

The dragon swished his tail twice. "You could have asked for my help down in exchange for your poem. But you asked for my poem instead."

I stood very still for a minute. The dragon did not move at all.

Finally I said, "Even if you eat me, I am still glad I climbed up here. Giving you my poem was a good thing. I did the right thing, even if you are mean and terrible."

The dragon picked me up and flew away with me in one claw. I saw my parents far below. My father ran and shouted. My mother waved and blew me a kiss, then fell to her knees.

Maxijillian flew to Maw Lute's lair. The trip was not very far but he flew slowly. The front of Arlinac Town touches the sea. Behind the town rises Arlinac Mountain. Maw Lute's current lair is at the top of the mountain.

The lair's entrance is an enormous cave mouth. From there you can look down and see all of Arlinac Town, and far out over the sea. The floor of the cave is flat and made of huge marble tiles. There are comfy chairs. A few elegant yet sturdy wood tables are for showing off artwork.

I saw that most of the tables were empty. People had taken the art. Maw Lute lets them. People can take what they want from her lair. Maw Lute has collections of everything: art, gems, coins, tools, magic. But the nice stuff is far inside, where the lair is dangerous. It is a game. How far inside can you go? What stuff can you take? The dangers are bigger the farther you go. But the stuff is better too. Soon you give up and leave. Maw Lute meets you at the entrance to say congratulations.

Not every visitor leaves. The dangers are real.

Maxijillian set me down and bellowed, "Maw!"

Maw Lute appeared. She looked like a dragon but much bigger, and all red.

Maxijillian said, "You will like this one, for a time."

Maw Lute looked at me. Then she put her nose close and smelled me. I was almost sucked into her nose. I was afraid.

Maw Lute said, "He smells like poetry and potential. He thinks he is smarter than he is. He values many things but does not know why."

Maxijillian said, "He thinks all problems can be solved with caring, cleverness, and courage. I let him see that those create problems."

Maw Lute laughed. "My favorite kind of problem is one that can be solved by creating a nicer problem."

Maxijillian asked, "Do you want him? I am hungry."

Maw Lute said, "He is worth fixing."

Maxijillian flew away. I was alone with Maw Lute.

"The first thing to do," she said, "is to wreck your brain."

Part Two—Values in a Lair

Maw Lute gave me a tour of her lair until I could not stand it any more, and I lay down and cried.

First she showed me rooms with coins, gems, jewelry, and art. Things made of gold and silver. So much wealth! Words cannot say what those rooms are like. There were dozens of the rooms. Maybe hundreds.

"Take a souvenier," said Maw Lute.

I picked up a big gem. "This would feed my family for a year," I said. Was it rude to take it? Or rude to not take it? Then what? My father worked as a court baliff in the Merchants district. I thought of his stories of rich merchants and nobles, thieves and crime lords, always wanting more money. Now it seemed like ants fighting over a crumb when a few feet away was a mountain of bread.

I said, "I miss my parents."

Maw Lute said nothing. She showed me more rooms. These seemed endless. They had other things adults treasured and collected: yummy candies, fancy cakes, pretty shells, old music instruments, historic weapons, odd hats, magic tools, fun puzzles, clever gadgets, hanks of yarn in more colors than really exist, and even greenhouse rooms with plants of every description.

Then she showed me rooms about kid collections: warm cookies, fuzzy blankets, cuddly stuffed animals, fun toys, and long hallway closets with enough dress-up clothes to fill an amphitheatre.

I was not feeling well.

Maw Lute asked, "Did you know that some animals collect stuff too?"

That was when I lay on the floor and cried. I did not know why I cried. We were in a room with many shelves of puppets. There was one puppet I really wanted. But I did not know why I wanted it. I also hated myself for wanting it so much. But I did not know why I felt that way either. My brain hurt.

An adventurer kicked in one door to the room. He was sweaty. He had cuts on his arms. He had a bruise on his head. "Puppets!" he said. "My kids would love these!" Then he saw us at the other side of the room. "Um, hi!" he said. "Am I interrupting something?"

Maw Lute smiled at him. "If you keep going there is a room with magic puppets. One breathes fire."

The adventurer shook his head. "Nope. No way am I going to give my kids a fire-breathing puppet."

There was an awkward pause. Then the adventurer asked, "Any ice cream toppings nearby?"

May Lute pointed to a door. "That way. Past two traps and a monster."

The adventurer sighed. "The ice cream just inside the entrance is terrible. Barely worth eating. But I think I am done." He took three puppets and left the way he had came.

I watched him go. "He could have taken more puppets. He could have sold the others in town."

"True," said Maw Lute. "Some people do that."

I thought a bit. "The puppets made him happy because he could give them away. He did not really want them. And the puppets make you happy because you can give them away. You do not really want them either."

"True," said Maw Lute. "But the ice cream toppings he wanted for himself. That works too."

Maw Lute looked at me. "You need some fresh air." All of a sudden we were at the lair entrance.

My parents were there, sitting on a couch, eating ice cream. "This ice cream is terrible," my father said to my mother.

Part Three—Puzzles in Paintings

When the sky began to get dark I was taken home. I went to my bed and hid under my blanket. I did not want dinner. I slept all night and dreamed of rooms and rooms and rooms of wealth.

In the morning I stayed in bed, hiding under my blanket. My parents came in my room and asked me what is wrong.

"Nothing. Everything. Having stuff. Wanting stuff. Work. Play."

"Come out from there and have some food," said my mother. "It will make you feel better."

I ate some food. It did not make me feel better.

My father took me to the bank. He took me to a small room that had seven paintings on the wall. There were many pillows on the floor. There was a very small table with a vase of flowers and a stick of incense. There was a nice wood box. I could not tell if the room was a museum exhibit or a shrine.

"These seven paintings are a trial," my father told me. He opened the wood box and showed me it was full of art supplies. "I am not sure you are old enough to understand. But if you do, it will help you." He gave me a hug. "I will see you at lunch time." He lit the stick of incense and left me. He had to go to work.

The first painting showed a sister and brother with lots of toys. I could tell from their room and dress that their family had a lot of money. Their toys were stuffed in a closet whose door would not close. They were looking out the window at the yard of the next home. In that yard other kids were playing with a new toy. The sister and brother wanted that new toy, not any of the toys in their closet. A metal plaque under the painting told me its title was We only get what we wanted, not what we want.

"That is not always true," I thought to myself. "After dinner I take out our bag of hard peppermint candies. We each get one. Then my father puts the bag away. I do want more candies. But that does not mean the candy I get each night is wasted."

The second painting showed a king in his war room. He and his war dukes looked at a map on a big table. The prince stood with them. But only one prince. On the wall behind them were large paintings of the king's other sons who had died in battle. This title was Such a heavy doom to always want one more thing.

"That is not always true," I thought to myself. "On Saturdays after lunch we walk to the ice cream shop. That is my second kind dessert. It is more fun and nice than the candy after dinners. It is more rare and a big treat. But I do not enjoy my candy after dinner less because I will get ice cream on the weekend."

The third painting showed a noble lady watching a joust. She was wearing only one glove. Her other glove was tucked into the belt of one of the knights jousting. He was fighting for her. If he won first place she would get a fancy necklace. But the noble lady was not looking at the knight. She was looking at a man and woman hugging while watching the joust. The trees showed the day was brisk, so the man and woman sat cozy with a blanket shared over their shoulders, happy to be warm together. The noble lady had said she wanted the necklace. But she really wanted to be held. She wanted to be cozy with the knight. This title was Wanting a thing is broken since people really want a feeling.

"That is not always true," I thought to myself. "For my fifth birthday I got a set of Pick Up Sticks. I still play that game with my mother and father. It is just a thing, but it helps us share time cozy together near the fire."

The fourth painting showed the inside of a shop and the street out front. Inside the shop an inventor had just built a great wind-up toy. In the street was a tax collector. A man in armor was in the shop arguing with the inventor. She did not have money to pay the tax. The man was going to take the toy instead, and other devices she had made but not yet sold. This title was Wanting is taking, not making.

"That is not always true," I thought to myself. "That lady invented the toy because she wanted to. And if she sold it, that would be buying, not taking. And if she saw someone else had a different kind of wind-up toy, she could make a copy if she wanted, and that would not be taking."

The fifth painting showed a farm family looking at newly cleared land. Each person had an image above his or her head showing what they wanted. The mother wanted to plant peach trees. The father wanted to plant corn. The boy wanted to plant big oak trees for climbing. The girl wanted to plant rows of flowers. This title was Wanting divides us and is lonely.

"That is not always true," I thought to myself. "They just need to talk about what they want. There is plenty of land for sharing."

The sixth painting showed an adventurer in a cavern. Across the middle of the cavern was a pit with no bottom. A thin stone bridge, not much wider than a balance beam, crossed the pit. The adventurer was going across the bridge to get to a chest of gold on the other side. This title was Wanting is a narrow bridge. Be afraid.

"That is not always true," I thought to myself. I thought more about my candies, ice cream, and Pick Up Sticks.

The seventh painting showed a big hand holding the handle of a marionette. Strings hung down from that handle. On the ground were puppets that looked like the people from the other paintings: the brother and sister, the king, the noble lady, the tax collector, the farm family, and the adventurer. They all had bits of string on their head and hands and legs. They had taken turns as the puppet under the handle. Now the strings were empty, except that someone had put a small mirror in that place on the painting. The title was Your wants make you a puppet.

"That is not always true," I thought to myself. I thought more about my candies, ice cream, and Pick Up Sticks.

The incense was making me sleepy. I sat on the pillows. I tried to think more, but fell asleep.

My father woke me and we walked home. He said, "I took the rest of the day off work. What do you want to talk about?"

I said, "Tonight after dinner I want you to take out the bag of candies, and I put them away after we each get one. In fact, can we make it always that way?"

My father said, "It is not good for a grown-up to always take out a treat, and never put it away."

I smiled and said, "How about you put them away on Mondays."

My father said, "You did not draw anything after looking at the seven paintings?"

"I was too tired. But I know their secret. I will make a poem and tell it to Maw Lute tomorrow if the door to Igneous Halls is still near the bank."

Part Four—Unhappily Ever After

So I did.

"The brother and sister wanted what's new
   just like a dragon.
The king had wants that fanned a flame
   just like a dragon.
The noble lady could not say what was true
   just like a dragon.
The tax collector made a claim
   just like a dragon.
The farm family did not share their dreams
   just like a dragon.
The adventurer did not work in a team
   just like a dragon.
The mirror said wanting had a scheme.
   But I'm not a dragon."

Maw Lute said, "That is a clever way to deal with that trial. Thank you for sharing your poem."

"You are welcome."

She looked at me with her giant eyes. Steam drifted from her nose. "Two days ago you saw a puppet and wanted it very much. Do you still want it?"

"No," I lied, thinking about the other time I let a dragon pay me for a poem.

But two weeks later was my eighth birthday, and Maxijillian flew over my house and softly dropped a box with a ribbon onto our roof. In the box was that puppet and a note from Maw Lute.

"Dear Winkton. Happy birthday. Did you know the bank has a room just for poems? Maybe some day you will work there. Did you tell your mom and dad the poem you told me? People sometimes share with each other the art they made in the Shrine of Seven Paintings. You mom and dad still have their paintings. But if they want to keep them private, that is okay too."

That is my story. You saw my poem. May I see what art you made in the Shrine of Seven Paintings?