The Fall of Castle Whitespire

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Quentin's right hand gripped Penny's left one so hard he feared breaking the bones, but the young Magician had more to worry about as the floor fell out from under their feet. Frantically pumping the air with his legs, he screamed while the wind blew his shirt over his face, obscuring his vision. A cool mist coated his skin as he fell through the clouds and Quentin knew the hard ground was inevitably somewhere below, approaching faster with each second. When his feet hit the surface and plunged through, Quentin thought the earth itself had swallowed them until his continued screams resulted in a lung full of salt water.

Suddenly, the urge for survival was greater than his need for answers. Thrashing his arms and legs, Quentin clawed his way back up to the top and took a deep breath. His classmate Penny was also treading water a few feet away, but the third member of their party was missing.

"Where's Julia?" Quentin turned his head, scouring the calm sea for his childhood friend.

As if on cue, Julia's head broke the surface and she gulped in air between coughs. "What the hell, Penny? I thought you'd been practicing."

"Even master Travelers make mistakes," the young man grimaced, wiping water out of his eyes. Looking to his right, he thrust his chin toward the shoreline. "What's a hundred feet here or there? At least you didn't end up in the middle of the Nameless Mountains."

"Will you two stop?" Quentin splashed. "Don't forget why we're here. Now come on."

He led them toward shore when halfway there, something flew overhead.

"Holy shit, what is that?" Penny asked as the winged creature's shadow passed over them, tilting his head up for a better view. "A freaking unicorn?"

"Unicorns don't fly, numbnuts," Quentin answered without slowing as two more white horses appeared. After circling, all three landed on the soft sand, giving Quentin a better look. "Plus they don't have horns."

Julia giggled. "Numbnuts," she repeated the insult before enunciating. "Nuuuuumb-nuuuuts."

Penny laughed. "Okay, genius. Then what are they?"

Quentin's feet touched the bottom and he walked up the beach. "White horses with wings? Clearly they're Pegasi."

"Pegasi?" Julia wrung out her long, brown hair as she also left the water.

Quentin turned toward her. "Sure. One would be a Pegasus, but since there are three, we need to use the plural."

Julia crossed her arms. "Which would be Pegasuses."

"Right, because cactuses is a thing." Quentin rolled his eyes and mimicked her scornful pose. "Sorry, but you're wrong on this one. It's Pegasi."

"Okay, smart guy." Julia tilted her head. "What about one octopus and two octopuses, huh?"

He threw up his hands. "That's the most ridiculous—"

"Guys! What the hell are we doing?" Penny ran out of the surf, stepping between the two before rubbing his forehead. "We're grad students with magical abilities and the best we can come up with is numbnuts and Pegasi?" He bit his lip and held his breath before bursting out laughing.

"He's right, Q. This isn't us. What's going on?" Julia covered her mouth to keep from giggling.

Quentin also fought the urge to join in and squeezed his eyes shut. "We're in Fillory." He looked up, recalling what he'd read about the fantastical place in – what he once thought were – fairytale books. "The air here is different."

"Different?" Penny asked, smoothing out the front of his vest. "Different how?"

"The air is laced with opiates. Nothing to panic over and we'll get used to it soon, but it's making us a bit loopy." Quentin let out the giggle he'd been holding in. After clearing his throat, he continued. "Sorry. I – we – need to focus. Have either of you ever ridden a horse before?"

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