"Rome?" said Maggie, startled. And Maggie wasn't often startled. 

"Like the capital of Italy?" she asked.

"Pfffft, no." said Bariso carelessly.

"Rome- true Rome, our Rome, which is very old indeed- once sent out diplomats to your earth, somewhere in Europe- what did you say- Italy.  Ancient History's not my thing, and it was some thousands of years ago. Anyway, I think a few gnomes went along, possibly Minerva. She was famous, once upon a time, you know. But yes. We liked your people, though obviously they didn't want to come to Blotch. And we had founded a small village, and called it new Rome. Well, the humans kept our language- we stayed there a few hundred years you see- and the next time we came back, they'd dropped the new and kept the Rome! How's that for grateful, I ask you? But they built an empire a little while ago. A few thousand years, I think. Didn't last very long, though, did it? Ah, well. Time flies. Well, follow me."

Bariso walked straight toward the sparkling pond. Now that they were closer, they saw that it was only a few inches deep and that the bottom was covered with tiny shards of mirrors, the biggest as large as a penny. The mirrors were what made the water- if it was water, nothing seemed too certain here- made the water sparkle.

Bariso led them around the pond to the other side of the oasis. The whole thing was about as big as a baseball stadium, so it was quite a ways to go. At last, though, he stopped out side of a door and knocked twice. The house did not look at all remarkable. The stones were a light green, and the roof looked oddly like cotton candy, but other wise it could be  a normal house on Earth.

Someone spoke from behind the door.

"Password?" said a low voice.

"An untouched flame will burn forever." said Bariso. It was obvious that he was annoyed.

"Which is a stupid password, by the way." he added after a moment.

"So it's you, eh, Bariso?" said the voice. "Well, I'm unlocking the door. Hold on."

The door opened, and Bariso shoved the other two inside.

The voice spoke again. "I am Fiamma."
Fiamma was a woman, or at least looked a lot like a woman. She had an elegant face, though the nose was a bit long. She was very tall. Her skin was very pale, and since it was dark in the house, and she was wearing all black, it almost seemed to glow like candlelight. Her clothes were strange. A long flowy skirt and shirt, but then a black shawl and a black veil (which did not cover her face. It was almost as though she was in mourning but still wanted to make a good impression and look stunning) And she did look stunning, no doubt about it. Though what I've described is odd, it was not that that made Elizabeth and Maggie gasp (Bariso merely looked bored.) 

Fiamma's eyes were brown, an ordinary, pretty shade. But her hair, which curled gently around her face like a flapper's bob- her hair was fire.

The End

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