The capital

Bariso led the two of them on into the desert. They walked for a long while, and so had time to think.

Elizabeth was happy. Mostly. Who wouldn't be,just moseying along with a gnome in fairyland? Even if the moseying was actually walking briskly through the desert, said gnome was bad-tempered and irritable, and said fairyland was unfortunately named Blotch.

But on the other hand, Elizabeth was feeling very much alone. Yes, she would meet more people soon. and yes, her best friend was there with her. But she was in a whole nother world and her friend seemed distant and far away and she was lonely and stuck with a grouchy gnome in a dark desert.

Luckily, at this point, Maggie came over to Elizabeth, smiled, and said softly, 

"A bit gloomy here, isn't it?"

Elizabeth nodded. That made it better. Her friend sympathized with her at least, though now she thought about it, Maggie looked very at home here. She did not seem to mind the strange sun or dusty ground.

At last (after much complaining) they reached a strange city. Maggie could not see what was inside, because the gray stone walls reached up very high, masking everything inside. But now Maggie could distinctly hear rushing water, so she assumed it was an oasis. The oasis had sort of popped up in a very odd manner, right in the middle of the world, where neither Maggie nor Elizabeth had really noticed it before. 

Elizabeth spoke, grumpily. "Why couldn't we just have Portaled over here, then?"

"Because," said Bariso impatiently, "Portaling is a very precise art and very difficult and this is the best we can do."

"You can do, you mean." muttered Elizabeth darkly.

Bariso wandered around the stone walls, which seemed to curve around some, as though the whole city was round, until he found a keyhole. There was no door, just a small, bronze, glowing keyhole.

Bariso pulled a key out of his pocket in an important manner. It glinted in the pale sun.

Bariso unlocked the keyhole, and it twisted and expanded, the key falling out. The hole got bigger, big enough that you could stick you hand through, and rounder, too. Eventually it was big enough that Bariso could comfortably walk in, which he did. The girls had to crouch a little.

It was a very strange place.

As I'm sure you suspected, reader, the oasis was round. There were buildings, all built against the huge wall, and they curved with the wall. The buildings had  signs up too, with characters in languages the girls could't read. There were clothes in the windows, of all shapes and sizes and colors. There were strange looking foods that seemed to move. There was one shop window that was shuttered. Another was fogged up with purple mist. And the shops and houses (the houses had many windows, though you couldn't see from the outside in, and the doors were all the exact same shade of grey, though everything else was distinguished with bright colors and odd knobbly shapes sticking out from weird places) went all the way around the rim of the oasis. In the middle was a large, crystal pond. It sparkled in the sun.

All around them people- some of them looking very unusual indeed.

"This" said Bariso grandly, "is our capital. Rome."

And he smiled.

The End

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