Published by Hodder Children's Books
£4.99 each

3: Testing Limits
ISBN 0-340-79654-5

Angel, her friend  Winter and her dotty computer Therapet cat, Twinkle (not to mention her mother, Soho; but that's another story) ,are stuck in a world of bizarre and tacky make-believe, ruled by Queen Tertia, who just loves playing games. But Tertia's games can be deadly—and her ferocious telekinetic power ensures that no one dares disobey her. Now, she has set up a rôle-playing scenario in which she (Evil Sorceress) has imprisoned Angel (Damsel in Distress), and Winter (Handsome Prince) must rescue her—if he can. Trouble is, Angel is in a high tower, tied to a large metal rod that serves as a lightning conductor. And the grandmother of all thunderstorms is just getting started…

Angel shut her eyes tightly and counted the secs following the flash. Four... five... six...
            It wasn’t here yet, but it was definitely getting closer. And worse. The thunder seemed to echo on for mins, and the unsteady lights had dipped alarmingly just now. The rain on the tower roof was like threatening drums, and Winter hadn’t come, and she couldn’t get free, and she was totally and hideously frightened.
            Where was Winter? He was supposed to be the Handsome Prince rushing to the rescue — surely he must get here soon? Unless Tertia’s done something dreadful, and he won’t come at all...
            She strained, yet again, against the cords. They didn’t budge a centi: Tokyo alone knew what they must be made of. If only she had a knife —
            From behind her, something announced, 'Grrr!’
            Angel's eyes opened like saucers as Twinkle trotted into her view. Twinkle stretched, yawned, then blinked at her. 'Hello, Angel.’
            Angel’s heart gave a gigantic leap.'Twinkle! How in the stars did you get in here?’
            'I haven’t been anywhere,’ Twinkle said. 'I’m on guard. I’m the Evil Sorceress’s Magic Cat, and I’ve got to make sure the Damsel doesn’t escape.’ She yawned again. 'I had a lovely sleep.’
            'Twinkle, you’ve got to help me! Chew through the cords!’
            'Why?’ Twinkle wanted to know.
            Another flicker of lightning lit up the window, and the wall lights made an unpleasant electrical noise. 'Because I’ve got to get out!’ Angel told her. 'Twinkle, please!’
            Twinkle went cross-eyed, the way she always did when she was thinking about something more difficult than food. Then: 'Shan’t. It’s Not Allowed.’
            'It is allowed!’ Angel pleaded. 'The Evil Sorceress said so!’
            'I didn’t hear her. I’m on guard. Grrr! This is fun!’
            'It’s going to be anything but fun if lightning hits this tower!’ Angel yelled. 'Lightning’s very, very dangerous, and it’ll hurt!’
            'Won’t,’ said Twinkle. 'It’s pretend.’
            Angel realised that she wouldn’t get anywhere. Twinkle believed this was all a game, and until and unless something nasty actually happened, she couldn’t be made to understand the danger. The only hope was to try another tactic. And with Twinkle, only was one foolproof.
            'Twinkle,’ she said, 'Winter told me a secret.’
            The little cat’s eyes lit up. She loved secrets, even though she was hopeless at keeping them. 'What is it?’ she wanted to know.
            'Well, I shouldn’t tell you really, but when he comes to play the game with us, he’s going to bring some ice-cream.’
            'Ooh!’ said Twinkle. 'Really?’
            'Really. He promised. The only thing is, I’m afraid he might forget.’
            Twinkle looked appalled. 'Forget? He mustn’t forget!’
            'He might, though, unless somebody reminds him. I can’t go and find him, because I’m tied up. But if you chewed the cords...’ She smiled encouragingly.
            Twinkle’s ears flattened against her head, and she hesitated. Then: 'Mustn’t!’
            Oh, flackers, it wasn’t going to work, and there wasn’t time to argue. 'Well, look,’ Angel amended desperately, 'why don’t you go and find him for me?’
            'Not supposed to...’ But Twinkle was wavering now.
            'I know. But what if he forgets the ice-cream?’
            It worked. The thought of missing out on ice-cream was stronger than anything Tertia could command, and Twinkle nodded. 'All right, then. He mustn’t forget, must he? Ice-cream’s important!’
            'Yes, it’s very important. Go on then, hurry! And tell Winter that I’m going to be hit by lightning if he doesn’t rescue me soon!’
            Twinkle purred approvingly. 'That’s a good game! I’ll tell him.’
            She had learned enough about the make-believe castle not to bother trying to open the door. One firm head-butt and a hole appeared in the cardboard. Twinkle vanished.
            The next clap of thunder was a great deal closer.
'I don’t care how much the Handsome Prince wants to start rescuing!’ Tertia shrieked, stamping her foot. 'I’m the Queen, everyone has to do as I say, and I say he rides a horse!’
            'But, Your Majesty, there aren’t any horses,’ a Pretend Soldier whined ingratiatingly. 'Honestly, Your Majesty, we’ve looked everywhere!’
            'Then look again until you find one!’
            The soldier flinched as though someone had punched him, and no one in the Throne Chamber would meet anyone else’s eyes. Soho was in a corner and seemed as if she was trying to dig a hole in the wall and hide in it; the rest just looked blankly into space with fixed smiles on their faces.
            Tertia, purple in the face and breathing like a steam engine, stomped round in a circle and controlled herself with an effort. 'If someone doesn’t bring the Handsome Prince a horse in the next five minutes,’ she said ominously, 'then I am going to do something. And what I do will not be nice. Do you understand?’
            There were murmurs of 'Yes, Your Majesty,’ and 'Absolutely,’ but nobody moved a muscle. On the Throne, where he had been sitting since Tertia told him not to move Or Else, Winter racked his brain for an answer to this newest dilemma. He had an awful feeling that Tertia really wanted to see someone get hurt. If that was so, then the 'game’ had suddenly taken on a new and very unpleasant dimension, and her sudden demand for a horse that didn’t exist was an obvious ploy to slow him down and weight the odds against Angel. 
            Then a little voice called from the doorway, 'Hello, everybody!’
            Twinkle trotted in, tail up like a flagpole. Tertia saw her and tensed 'What are you doing here?I told you to stay with the Damsel!’
            Twinkle blinked happily at her. 'Got a message,’ she said self-importantly, and headed towards Winter. 'Angel says you mustn’t forget the ice-cream. And...’ She concentrated hard. 'Ooh, yes. And she says she’ll get hit by lightning if you don’t rescue her soon.’
            'What?’ Winter sprang to his feet. 'Twinkle, where is she? You’ve got to tell me!’
            'She’s in the — ‘
            'Shut up, you stupid animal!’ Tertia shrieked.
            ' — biggest tower, right at the top, and she’s tied to a — ’
            Twinkle didn’t get any further, for Tertia gave a wordless yell of rage. Herhand came up in a fast, twisting movement, and the little Therapet was hoicked off her feet to hang dangling helplessly somewhere near the ceiling.
            'Ooooh!’ Twinkle wailed, paddling the air. 'Put me down! Pleeeease!’
            'You’re a stupid, brainless, disobedient THING!’ Tertia screamed. 'Disobedience is NOT ALLOWED!’
            Her hand drew back as if to hurl something. An energy force spun Twinkle around; she rotated faster and faster, howling in fright — then she spun away and hurtled across the Throne Chamber. She hit the wall with a jarring impact and crashed to the floor, where she lay motionless.
            Winter was so shocked and horrified that he couldn’t do anything but stare numbly at the pitiful furry heap by the wall. Then one of Twinkle’s paws twitched. She raised her head groggily, staggered to her feet, and said in a small, bewildered voice, 'Hurt me...’
            'Twinkle!’ Winter jumped from the Throne plinth and ran towards her. Tertia shouted, 'Leave the cat alone! Don‘t you dare touch it!’ but fury, and concern for Twinkle, overrode Winter’s fear. That was a mistake. The telekinetic force hit him when he was still three metres from Twinkle, scooping his feet from under him and bowling him over and over until he fetched up hard against the plinth again.
            'I don’t think you heard me properly,’ Tertia hissed savagely, stalking towards him. 'I said, disobedience is NOT ALLOWED.’
            Winter tried to sit up but found he couldn’t. Something invisible was holding him as surely as if he’d been nailed to the floorboards, and the only part of him that would move was his head. He looked up into Tertia’s demented eyes, and what he saw there made him quail.
            Twinkle had stopped half way to him. She was wobbly on her feet but there didn’t seem to be anything broken. She too looked at Tertia.
            'Don’t like this game any more,’ she said unhappily.
            Winter found his voice, though it came out as a croak. 'It isn’t a game, Twinkle. Angel’s in trouble... she needs help...uhh!’ Tertia had launched another surge of energy that slammed his head against the plinth and left him sick and giddy, but he rallied against it. 'Help her, Twinkle! Help Angel!’
            He heard a scuttering of paws, and Tertia whipped round. 'Come back here!’
            A voice squealed 'Shan’t! Pooey!’ and the force controlling Winter relaxed  enough for him to raise his head and see Twinkle bolting like a rabbit out of the door. Tertia’s yell of frustration told him that her attempt to stop the Therapet had failed; and like a bolt from the lightning outside a realisation crashed into Winter’s brain. She couldn't control them both  at the same time!
            At that instant every thought was eclipsed by an almighty crashing and banging from somewhere in the depths of the castle.
            Everyone froze, even Tertia. 'What,’ she said, 'was that?’
            A few people muttered fawning answers that meant nothing at all.Tertia ignored them all. With a jolt that rattled his teeth she cast off her kinetic hold on Winter and strode for the door, bawling, 'Where are my soldiers? Fetch my army AT ONCE!
            Then Winter heard the new noise. At first he couldn’t believe it, but after a sec or two he knew he couldn’t be mistaken. The noise was, indisputably, the clop and clatter of a horse’s hooves. A horse, here? It wasn’t possible —
            It was possible. As Tertia reached the Throne Chamber door, a large shape loomed out of the murky half-light beyond. It was moving so fast that Tertia had no time to yell 'Stop!’, let alone do anything else. She jumped out of the way a bare fraction of a sec before Sometimes, with Suuu Beeen Aaat perched on his back and shouting 'Whoa!’, came barrelling into the room.
            At the sight of the crowd in the Throne Chamber, Sometimes did a double-take and slewed to a chaotic halt that nearly tipped Suuu off into Tertia’s lap. Grabbing his mane and righting herself, she said breathlessly, 'Sorry! He gets over-excited when we make a reality jump.’ She grinned at the assembly. 'Whoo! That’s better. Hi, everyone. Have I missed much?’