For some odd reason, Holly wasn’t very surprised when she found herself clinging to the back of a rampaging rhino for dear life on a Tuesday. There was just something about Tuesdays.
All the zoo-goers were running around screaming. Or, at least the adults were. Holly felt sorry for them, somewhere under her feeling of ‘Holy bananas I’m riding a rhino oh my God oh my God.’ The kids were all either laughing like maniacs, standing there like idiots with their mouths open, or bursting into spazz dances of terror. It was amusing.
The rhino, which Holly had named Rick Riordan the Raged Rampaging Rhino (Tiddlywinks for short), roared. It sounded like a freight train. A very angry, rhinoceros-y freight train. Holly wasn’t entirely sure it was a real rhino. Tiddlywinks may very well have been a monster in the disguise of a rhino.
“Should’ve listened to Sharon and bought that book on magical beasts,” Holly grumbled to herself. “Then I’d know if this stupid thing was real or not.”
Apparently, Tiddlywinks did not appreciate being called ‘stupid’. It came to a sudden, screeching halt, bucking its rear end into the air. Holly was too busy thinking about what books she should read to find out more about magical creatures when she got home and didn’t notice herself go flying into the air. Only when she reached the height of her arch and was upside down did Holly realize that she was no longer clinging to Tiddlywinks’s armored back. The next realization was that she was flying. Holly just had time to think ‘Look Ma, no hands!’ before she went crashing into the icy water of the penguin enclosure.
Anyone who has ever gone flying face first into the pool in a penguin enclosure knows that it feels rather like belly-flopping onto concrete. Very cold, wet concrete. But as most people had probably not ever done such a thing and didn’t know what it felt like, Holly considered herself to be special, as only a couple unlucky souls in all of history had probably been doomed to share her fate. In fact, she might have even been the only one.
“I’m the Chosen One!” Holly shouted, but the fact that she was still underwater made her ridiculous claim sound only like a bunch of bubbly gurgling. Realizing her mistake, Holly used the water to guide herself to the surface. Her head broke the surface, and she gulped at the air ravenously. Holly let the water push her to the edge of the pool, as her hair was plastered all over her face and made seeing rather difficult. If she just tried to swim, she’d probably end up drowning.
Holly dragged herself onto the dry, rocky, blessedly solid ground. Tiddlywinks was still causing anarchy, but that could wait until Holly had caught her breath. After she had regained feeling in her limbs, Holly moved her hands around ridiculously in the air. The water evaporated from her clothes and hair, leaving her contently dry. She didn’t need to move her hands like that, but it was fun nonetheless.
Her hand suddenly flew to her face, and she successfully punched herself in her nose. Sometimes, she wondered if her IQ really was 208. Maybe there had been a smudge on the result paper and Holly’s IQ was only actually 8. Sharon always said that whenever Holly managed to get her foot stuck in the leaf blower. But then again, Sharon was the one who had run screaming around their house with a butcher knife, trying to kill a fruit fly. Holly’s aunt was strange. But punching herself had revealed that, yes, Holly was wearing contacts and had left her glasses at home – she hadn’t lost them.
A penguin walked over and pecked Holly’s head. Holly twitched and glared at the penguin. “Go away. I’m not a fish.”
“Raaahhhh! Stop pecking me!” Holly flailed back and forth, waving her limbs around like she was having a seizure. After a few minutes of spazzing, Holly flopped back onto the ground and looked triumphantly at the penguin.
It pecked her again.
“You,” Holly hissed, “are one persistent penguin.”
Holly pushed herself to her feet and started looking for a way out of the penguin enclosure. The persistent penguin followed her around, occasionally pecking her hand. Holly found a latter, then looked at the penguin and sighed.
“Oh alright.” She picked it up, tucked it under one arm and scampered up the latter. She jumped the little fence around the enclosure and walked off whistling, as though screaming people, random penguins, angry rhinos named Tiddlywinks were part of her everyday life.
The ground in front of her exploded.
Holly screamed and fell over as a large chunk of concrete hit her head. She felt the blood run down her already bruised face, dripping onto her shirt. When the loud, offending noises and flying bits of road seemed to have come to an end, Holly warily pried her eyes open. The sky was very blue.
She dragged herself to into a sitting position and held the penguin – which was somehow completely unharmed – in front of her. “You okay?”
The penguin nodded, which was rather creepy.
There were footsteps – not running footsteps, just footsteps. They were coming towards Holly, but quite honestly, contemplating the nodding of her penguin was far more interesting than looking up at the person approaching. She was probably going to get killed like that someday.
“Are you alright?”
The person talked funny, like all the people here in Australia. Holly looked up and gazed at the person blankly. It was a young man, probably around twenty five years in age. He needed a shave, had brown hair, bright green eyes, and a long brown jacket. He looked completely normal.
Then again, he was holding a gun and was the only person besides Holly who wasn’t having a heart attack right now.
“Are you a mage too?” she asked. Holly already knew the answer, but she figured asking was politer.
The man smiled. “Yes, I am.”
Holly nodded. “Cool. I’m an Elemental. I don’t think you are. Not sure why. Call it a women’s intuition. You exploded the road.”
“Of course I did. It was awesome, for one thing, and there’s a rhino running loose for another.”
“What?” The man looked confused.
“The rhino is named Tiddlywinks,” Holly said, standing up. “Well, that’s short for Rick Riordan the Raged Rampaging Rhino.”
“The zoo named a rhino Tiddlywinks.” The man shook his head. “What is the world coming to?”
“No, I named the rhinoceros. What’s your name? Mine is Holly Quill. I’ve been referring to you as ‘the man’ in my head, and it’s getting rather troublesome. I want to know your name.”
The man looked at her skeptically. “How do I know you aren’t trying to kill me? Hell, it may well have been you who set ‘Tiddlywinks’ free.”
Holly rolled her eyes. “I risked brain damage by the road you exploded to protect this annoying penguin, and I’ve just gone for a rodeo ride on the rhino that landed me in a pool of water. No, I won’t kill you.”
“So we’re on the same side here.”
“And if I just walk away?”
“I’ll follow you around, singing in horrid Spanish.”
“You’re not leaving me with any choice, are you?”
“That’s not how I operate.”
“Damn.” The man shook his head and held out his hand. “Israel Elysium.”
Holly shook Israel’s hand. “Holly Quill.”
“I know that already.”
“And now you know it again.”
Tiddlywinks roared, surprisingly close. Holly jumped in the air and screamed, still somehow clinging to her
penguin. Israel just whirled around. The rhino roared again, probably mad at being ignored, and charged.
Israel obviously had more sense than Holly did. He realized that shooting the horn of a rhino would probably have little to no effect, and that it would take some time for a charging rhinoceros to change course. He sprinted around the giant hole in the road, well out of Tiddlywinks’s way. Holly, however, stood there gaping at the rhino and did what most people would have considered to be the stupidest thing in the world – she closed her eyes and held the penguin in front of her for protection.
Surprisingly, the rhino skidded to a halt. Israel’s jaw dropped. The rhino seemed to the staring at the penguin and shaking in fear. Holly opened her eyes, wondering why she hadn’t been impaled yet.
“…Tiddlywinks is scared of my penguin,” she whispered in awe. She slowly circled around the rhino. It turned with her, keeping its eyes trained on the penguin. When Holly advanced, it backed up. In her peripheral vision, Holly noticed Israel waving his arms back and forth crazily and mouthing something at her. Unfortunately, he was too far away for her to see what he was trying to communicate.
‘What?’ she mouthed back.
Israel spazzed some more, mouthing the same thing to her. She still didn’t get it, never halting her advance on the rhino. Holly didn’t have to wait long to find out, though, as just then Tiddlywinks fell in the hole in the ground with a loud crash.
Holly blinked in surprise. “Oh.”
Israel walked over, dragging his hand down his face in a comical manner. “I was trying to tell you to watch out for the hole.”
“Well, we caught it, didn’t we?”
They peered over the edge of the hole. Tiddlywinks was unharmed, though it did look rather angry to be in a hole.
Holly looked up and noticed some people in uniforms hesitantly approaching them. “Uh oh. Zoo keepers. They’ll deal with Tiddlywinks. Time to scram, Israel.” She wrapped her arms more firmly around her penguin as they walked away.
Israel frowned. “Are you going to put the penguin back?”
“No. It’s my penguin now.”
“The rhino was scared of your penguin.”
“That it was.”
Holly snorted. “That’s like asking ‘What the hell is a Hufflepuff?’ There is no answer.”
“Was the rhino a real rhino? I thought it might be a monster.”
“No, Tiddlywinks wasn’t magic. It was just a really pissed off rhino.”
“Cool. By the way, why did you blow up the road?”
“Because I was…” Israel’s face fell. “Oh crap.”
“What?” Holly asked.
“I was chasing a serial killer.”
“Ah.” Holly nodded like this happened every day. “And now he got away?”
“I do believe so.”
“Then let’s go find him!”
“…You want to spend your Tuesday chasing a serial killer?” Israel asked incredulously.
“I don’t exactly have a social life,” Holly replied.
“Do you need parental permission?”
Holly shook her head. “My parents are in Alaska. I’m here with my aunt. She won’t really care. I’ll call her, but all she’ll say is something along the lines of ‘Don’t die.’”
srael nodded. “Alright then.” An explosion sounded from somewhere past the zoo gate, accompanied by a large dust cloud.
“Was that your serial killer?” Holly asked.
“Probably,” Israel said. “Go put the penguin somewhere, then we can go.”
“No way. Harry Potter is coming with us.”
“You named the penguin.”
“You named it Harry Potter.”
“That’s the best you could come up with?”
“We should probably go get the serial killer now, shouldn’t we?”
“Is that all you can say right now?”