May 18, 2014 at 4:55 pm #110
“Whatever you proclaim as your identity here in the material realm is also your drag. You are not your religion. You are not your skin color. You are not your gender, your politics, your career, or your marital status. You are none of the superficial things that this world deems important. The real you is the energy force that created the entire universe!”
― RuPaul , Workin’ It!: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style’
August 11, 2014 at 6:37 am #3419
The base of the beanstalk was deeply rooted into the murky waters of the bog, and so big and entangled that it seemed like a wall to the little raft carrying Irina, Greenie and Mr R, which was also acting as a propeller engine. And the parrot Huhu seemed to have tagged along, although he would sometimes pop in and out of reality without notice.
Thanks to Greenie’s input, they had been able to lift part of the fog, and it seemed the more they looked at the great plant, the more believable and real it became.
“Madam, if I may, I would advise against climbing that plant; it seems deeply infested by some insects. Extrapolating the size of it by the size of its base, I computed we need probably a few days of climbing and we stand less than 0.9% chance making it to the top without it completely crumbling down.”
“By Jove, don’t they have elevators invented yet?”
Mr R was about to make some helpful comment when they heard the big splash.
A big mouldy thing was struggling on the waters not far from them. After checking it wasn’t one of those dangerous tiger slugs they’d encountered earlier, Irina had Mr R manoeuvre the raft closer to the person in distress.
“Stop fighting! You’re scratching me, my hair! My face!”
After hauling the thing over the raft, it became obvious it was not some wild animal, although one part of it was. A mean wet black cat with its claws deep in the other’s hair. The other was a woman, of indiscernible age.
“Mandrake, that’s enough! You get down there!” she said to the cat. Then turning to the others “Apologies, I forgot my manners. My name is Arona, thank you for rescuing us, the terrain was less… dry and mossy than I expected.”August 11, 2014 at 7:49 am #3420
Jube, the P’hope, was quite alarmed by the rate at which the beanstalk seemed to wilt.
The beanstalk was a symbol of his power, as he was the first to believe about it, that the City of Karmalott could be lifted up of the island. At least, that was how the story grew after years of rewrite and belief honing.
He would usually take such news with passion, and use it to his advantage, but this was different.
Something or someone had started to shift and mess the balance of beliefs that he had carefully put in place during his many years in charge.
If any indication, the mass belief organs’ melody was more frequently played out of tune, and he even noticed the strangest birds fly around and in his garden —birds that weren’t supposed to be created in the first place.
One of the biselords greedier than the others, vying for more power would be a rational explanation. Usually that would happen, and be a good cause for public trial and execution by flying them through the beansdoor. For people’s protection of course.
But this case seemed more profound, more serious.
The last report from the team of magi was filled with such unusual unbelievable rubbish, that he wondered if the hairy scent of a revved olution was coming from down below. Now he had allowed the tool called snorkel into mass beliefs, he had a use for some skilled snorkelling spiessassins. He called for Berberus, his turbaned minion with a hook-leg —he’d lost it to a tiger slug, which then paid for it dearly. Berberus being a defrocked magi meant he had training enough to survive the conditions outside the city, and his skills as a master of arms (and legs) would be required.
After Berberus was gone for his undercover mission, Jube wondered if someone had found out yet the lost ruins of the old temple —they were secured and buried deep under a very long time ago and memory of them erased. He shivered at the thought of them being rediscovered.August 11, 2014 at 9:16 am #3421
“What? Teleportation sandpapered granite boxes in an old forgotten temple? You really want to stretch my beliefs to the point of rupture, little one”, Irina looked surprised at Greenie after their little meditative chit-chat.
The angel guy with bad tastes of clothing, who said he was named George, interrupted rudely.
“I think she’s right, it rings a distant bell. I don’t know how I know about it, but somehow getting out of Karmalott altered my memories… But I think it’s true, they were used to travel on and off the island, also to other places. Why they’ve been lost is a mystery… But they should be getting us back up to the City in no time…”
“Or out of the island…” Irina gave a look to Mr R. “Let’s find these precious ruins”.
Thanks to the sabulmantium’s information, Arona had recognized the strange travelling companions of the young girl she was supposed to find. It was no coincidence she’d dropped on that awful bog water so near to the raft. She had actually aimed for it before Mandrake panicked at the sight of the murky waters and got them both in for a swim.
She’d decided to stay with them, and reveal her purpose at an appropriate moment, while trying to keep the stranger’s hands off her butt.August 11, 2014 at 9:39 am #3422
When Berberus arrived at Gazalbion, still wet from his swim down beanstalk through the City’s sewer waterslides, the Great Processor in person came to great him.
“Dear, dear, what have we here. That’s not so often the P’hope sends someone down here with us poor heathen… To what do we owe the pleasure?”
By the look of his office, the Processor was doing well. Small favours had earned him enough belief of his worth, and his office was full of amenities otherwise hard to come by and much more to sustain, down there.
“Would you share with me some hydromel, made from waterbee honey, you’re not mistaken. That should help you get more… comfortable.” He said his last word intently, giving a look at the hook-leg.
Berberus liked to have people guess at why he kept it so visible, while obviously he could have conjured enough belief to alter it himself. It gave him an edge over them. And the hook gave nasty scars too.
“Not drinking on duty.”
“Very well, suit yourself.” the Processor said drinking his voraciously.
“Any strange people coming lately? Out of the ordinary beliefs to contain?”
The other brushed off the question “No, not really… Now, about this promotion our dear friend the P’hope mentioned back in 2020, what do you think… Any chance to get out of this hellhole? Promised Land my butt. What do we get next? Flying whales?”
“You’re not. Answering. My. Question.” Berberus was already losing his patience and started to mentally conjure the many painful ways he could believe this talk would end.
“I have already answered it, and if you have nothing else to share with me, you might as well me back to your sad master.”
The Processor made a movement to get up from his chair, but a swift and precise swipe of the hook-leg anchored him back in it.
The other was looking at him with empty eyes, and the Processor’s mistake was to think he was an idiot that could be sent away easily.
He poured himself another drink, casually answering with a “We’re done. Get out.”
When Berberus got out, it was of his own volition, leaving a trail of blood up to the door.
He had managed to extract one word from the slob before his soul left his body: SansoAugust 11, 2014 at 10:48 am #3423
Cheung Lok heard the news of the Processor’s death along with the others.
He’d been parachuted on the island of Abalone some days ago, he started to lose count. Shortly after being dropped by the airplane, with a platoon of a few others that he had lost since, he started to hallucinate elephants falling from the sky, and had wondered for a brief time about the true nature of the island, and the peril he had more or so willingly thrown himself in.
He had not expected the fancy welcome comity. Some comely ladies in alluring flying gowns leading him towards a promise of a nearby city, only to find himself inside a barren walled city.
He would have escaped by now, but something in the newly arrived prisoners (or settlers as they were called) caught his attention, when they started to mention Sanso. He couldn’t actually believe his luck, which made them disappear for a while, then after he realized he had to be more of a believer, he found himself sent forward in the waiting line, just next to the others in the so-called waiting room. He’d learnt the woman was named Lisa, and countless other useless information about dog herding, hair conditioning and lazy bowel movement, but little more about Sanso.
Panic had started to spread among the small city, as huge boulders of earth started to fall from the skies and crack open on the soft land, toppling parts of the walls encircling Gazalbion. The news of the loss of the Processor led to even more confusion.
Cheung Lok decided it was time to pursue his mission, and extract the information the others had not yet given to him, by force if needed —he was a capable qigong master, who would crush nuts with his butt cheeks as a training, and that was the least of his deadly capacities.
But apparently, the woman named Lisa and her travelling companions had disappeared already.
In the midst of the confusion, it was hard to tell where they could have gone.
That’s when he was reminded of the shifting map, that the map dancer had drawn. He took it out of his front pocket, and unwrapped it cautiously.
The island’s lines were shifting even more erratically than before, but somehow there was a smaller concentration of activity at a location not far from where he guessed he was.
One of the rescued elephants would be good to ride out of this mess he thought, looking for the source of the trumpeting noises.August 11, 2014 at 8:13 pm #3424FloveParticipant
“Sir Ed, be a darling, summarise the messages. I can’t read 257.”
Fuck! I knew that! A wave of something akin to panic swept over her. She took a deep breath.
“Anything else I should know?”
“Management applied a temporary memory block to enable you to complete USB mission without distraction. The block has now been removed and full memory returned. Management are not in favour of the girl returning to 2222 at this stage and strongly suggest that you maximise the learning potentials of the invisibility scenario and determine the method of cloaking being utilised in order to assess the feasibility of, and probabilities for, future successful outcomes of Management objectives.”
Linda sighed. The laughter of a group of young children playing tag in the distance drifted over. For a moment she wished she could deposit the ezapper in the trash can along with the USB stick and just walk away. Far away.
“Plain english, Sir Ed.”August 12, 2014 at 12:51 am #3425
“I’m here to make this all business profitable for the investors”, said Anna Purrna to the Queens when they complained about her manners. “They find you are too sloppy and too young to manage such a venture”, she was punctuating each sentence with her cane. It was an understatement to say that she was not very pleasant to look at.
“We were managing very well without interference from the Network, until now. And we were having fun”, said Cedric. “Now it seems that all the fun has been taken away”, he added on an impulse. He had been the one designated by his peers to be their voice. The two other Queens were nodding just behind in the shadow.
“Oh! You want fun ?”
The three young boys nodded in unison, encouraged by the sweet tone of her voice.
“I’ll give you fun! This is the Cane of Byrna. You know Zelda ? Oh! Maybe you are too young. It’s a video game from when you were not even spermatozoons and eggs. Anyway, adding to its magical powers, it can be used for music”, the dwarf showed her plain metallic cane, a big smile on her crooked face. “57 Push-ups ! Each of you.”
“One! (Bam) Two! (Bam)… And sing with me : BUSINESS IS NOT FOR FUN, BUSINESS IS TO MAKE MONEY ! “
Whenever one of the boys were to miss a push-up, they would receive each a blow on the back with the rod.August 12, 2014 at 1:23 am #3426
“My dear Downson, what brings you?” the P’hope’s voice was unusually cheery. They both never seen eye to eye, and had an honest and enduring dislike of each other, however they always had put on a façade of politeness and silky manners.
“My dear P’hope, I have a confession to make.”
Suddenly, the P’hope’s hawk eye tensed and looked straight and deep into the Chamberlain’s eyes.
“Is something troubling you Downson? Spit it out, it will leave you more time to repent.”
“The King’s missing.”
“What? Are you sure you didn’t just lose him in the tavern or some other place of holy debauchery?”
“I wouldn’t have troubled you without being absolutely certain.”
“This is indeed a grave matter. You know how the King is an important figure for the stability of this City. How long has he been missing?”
“Three days already. I fear he may have gone out of the City. Before leaving he’d mentioned going to the beanstalk.”
“Folly! How could you let that happen!” The P’hope raised from his chair and started to pace around restlessly.
“With that and the beanstalk crumbling down, I cannot help but see some cause and effect, my dear Downson. Of course, it would be heretic to leave the good people in such turmoil without taking swift and firm action. It seems the Divine calls for a change of leadership, my dear Downson.”August 12, 2014 at 1:27 am #3427
After the push-ups, Anna Purrna returned to her office, letting the Queens panting and sweating, certainly wondering how long it would last.
The dwarf had requisitioned the best room and decorated it with pink and blue kitten plates on the wall left of his desk. The desk was positioned so that he would see anyone entering the room. It was something he had learned from Feng Shui, the position of power was when you faced the door and had no window behind. It was important no one could sneak up on you.
Anna Purrna loved pink and blue, and she loved kittens. They were loving you unconditionally and were not as dependent upon you as dogs. And they pooped in their own personal toilets. She put her cane near a decorated hammer and sat at her desk. She sighed.
Dependence was exhausting. She had fought all her life not to be dependent, especially when she realized that, contrary to the other kids, she couldn’t say when I grow up. She would never grow up, and those arrogant kids in the playground would make sure she knew it morally and physically. She wasn’t all that crooked before.
Now, she was driving a Harley.
She took her e-zapper and wrote : “ZR nut reddy 2 face O’Thor ET yeast”.
Writing in code was a habit she had taken when participating in RPGs. She knew it was an attempt to conceal her own expression. But it felt soothing at the time. It also helped her get better characters than dwarves and goblins. They wouldn’t even let her have an orc, saying she was too small for that. With time and perseverance she became an Adept with great powers and cunning intelligence. She was respected and feared. Which led her to work for the Management.
Her instructions were clear. Make them stand for themselves. At least that’s how she interpreted it. She had carte blanche for the means.
From what she had seen until now, Terry was the most promising of the three, but he was still following his mates. Maurana was too attached to the rules and seemliness, and Consuela was far too dependent on her mother. Anna could just provide the environment, they had to find their inner strength on their own and not forget the group.
The e-zapper purred, she had reconfigured it so that it would have a cat personality. It reminded her of her Riga, her previous ginger cat. She died a few years ago and Anna couldn’t resolve herself to get another one. She couldn’t replace her Riga in her heart.
The message read : “Begin phase two ASAP. Meow”.August 12, 2014 at 5:50 am #3428
“But Mother, she is vile and hateful, you wouldn’t believe the things she makes us do, it’s not fun anymore!”
“Well you know what they say, Cedric, if it’s not fun don’t do it. Although,” his mother added, “You are a bit lacking in discipline.”
“That’s like a contradiction in terms! It doesn’t make any sense!”
“Life’s like that” was the rather pointless reply. “When are you coming to visit me?” she started the usual whining. “All your life I’ve been crossing the oceans to come and see you, but you wouldn’t cross a puddle for me, your poor old mum.”
Cedric could feel his stomach knotting.
“But Mum, I can’t leave now, I’d be letting the others down, I can’t leave them here on their own with that prune faced troll.”
“I see,” replied his mother, sniffing pathetically, “I know where I stand. Don’t you bother about your poor old mum, you have fun and don’t worry about me, I’ll manage somehow.”
“I just told you I wasn’t having fun, you…you….” but Cedric couldn’t bring himself to say it. Not to his mother. But he thought it, and his stomach twisted painfully.
Cedric spent the rest of the day trapped in the mental justifying conversation he was having in his head; the energy he was beaming out unwittingly encouraged the dwarf to single him out, adding to his misery.
Cedric was trapped between the rock of his responsibility to his mother, and the hard place of Anna Purrna’s cane.August 12, 2014 at 9:39 am #3429
The elephant’s trampoling had come as a surprise, and came as a shock that was welcome.
For a moment, he was in a dream environment, probably influenced by sea cucumber digestion of his entrails, where a Chinese cat-looking soothsayer was reading him the Yiking. “51, she said, is the AROUSING!”
She purrsued “The shock of unsettling events brings fear and trembling. Move toward a higher truth and all will be well.”
What the heck does that mean he thought, thinking of his arousing French travelling companion.
“Stay still, you rascal, and hear me out: The tendency of human beings is to rely on the strategies of the ego: to desire, plot and strive. When we do this, our spiritual development stops, and the Universe must use shocking events to move us back onto the Path. This sign, young man, indicates an IMMEDIATE need for self-examination, self-correction, and a re-devotion to following the path of the Sage.”
He could spot an elephant riding at him, which seemed a nice way to travel, until he realized the man riding it was none other than Cheung Lok.
As Sanso was ready to make a strategic yet hasty retreat, he noticed another dangerous grim looking man with a hook-leg and a turban was coming at him with a grin that meant business.August 12, 2014 at 9:46 am #3430
Sanso saw a lonely tiger slug, the size of small dog, picked it up, and threw it to the hook-legged man’s face. It landed spot on his nose.August 12, 2014 at 11:54 am #3431
Jeremy’s landing was confusing. He’d been lost in an emptiness —for God’s know how long— where it seemed there was no rule at all. He couldn’t see his body, nor feel it, which was somewhat disturbing for a dancer. He’d tried to speak but there was no mouth to produce sound. He should have been afraid, but there was no body in which to feel fear. Though he could certainly feel the presence of Max. They were kind of merged together, which was a bit confusing as he experienced the desire to lick his fur, stretched his body and curl his tail. The cat seemed content, which also helped Jeremy focus and relax even if there was no body to relax.
Then life sprang to him like a sausage. The association startled him for a moment, it was part of the minute mental and psychological adjustment to this new environment. His sense of hearing came back first. At first he heard round spitting sounds and red voices. Then it sounded more like human voices.
“Can’t you give him a blanket, he’s naked. Maybe your cape Arona”, said a woman’s voice.
“I think I have something in my bag that could suit him”, said a man.
“What don’t you have in your bag.”
When his eyes could see, he saw orange strokes in the sky as if it was burning. He suddenly felt nauseous. Yep, no doubt he had reintegrated his body. He sat up straight, and gagged.
Jeremy couldn’t decide if he was indeed awake or merely dreaming. The girl who had just talked looked quite green, and an angel was getting clothes out of a leather bag while Max was trying to befriend another cat busy talking with a girl in a cape. That’s when he saw the robot and a blond woman with fizzy hair. The name Irina popped into his head.
He tried to calm down with the breathing exercises he’d learned in his yoga class. The ruins of what looked like an ancient Mayan pyramid with Greek columns floating in the sky didn’t help.
“His vitals indicate confusion. Nonetheless, he’s recovering quickly from the transfer, Madam”, said Mr R.August 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm #3432
Laughter bubbled forth despite the mayhem. Sanso found the sight of the slug wrapped around the hook legged ones face outrageously funny; as he paused to gasp for air in between guffaws, he realized he wasn’t the only one laughing. Wiping the tears from his eyes while trying unsuccessfully to stop laughing and focus on the situation, a fellow next to him slapped him on the back, saying “Oh my, that was funny. And richly deserved too, I never liked him. I could tell you a tale or two about him! Lazuli Galore” he said, introducing himself and shaking Sanso’s hand. “Delighted to meet you. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but things have changed, and how rapidly! I had no idea my wishes would be granted so soon. Come on, let’s go get a beer and I’ll explain.”
Lazuli Galore continued his explanations a few minutes later, in the deserted courtyard of a small shabby bar.
“I’ve been fed up with my job for months,” he said, “It was fun at first, and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the excitement ~ shapeshifting, hunting down the settlers and rounding them up, all good stuff and a heap of fun. A lot more fun than working in the processing department, that’s for sure!”
Sanso murmured something vague by way of encouragement, and ordered another beer.
Lazuli continued, “But then I started noticing something. Most of the settlers seemed like nice people, unlike the management of this place ~ that’s management with a small m, by the way ~ take the last batch for example ~ that girl was the bees knees, cor! she was lovely. I don’t mean the old trout with her, the young one I mean. Felt real sorry to round her up, I did. But what could I do? If I hadn’t rounded them up, one of my colleagues would have done. But now, with the walls collapsing, I’d be out of a job anyway soon, so why not seize the day!”
“Hear! Hear!” replied Sanso, clinking his beer glass with Lazuli’s. “We need to talk.”August 12, 2014 at 11:19 pm #3433
Cheung Lok felt himself fall suddenly with nothing to hold on to, when the elephant he was riding suddenly shrank to human size knocking him down to the ground, partly unconscious after the event.
This Sanso, sure is 麻烦 [¹]. I must to start to believe harder in my luck was his thought before he lost consciousness.
On the other side of Sanso, a strange man with a turban was struggling with a bizarre striped dog-sized sea cucumber with teeth. Meanwhile, his target, Sanso seemed to leave back to the encampment’s ruins with… his elephant turned… something else.
That was all he could remember when he woke up a few minutes later and wondered what had happened and how Sanso could have slipped away again.
Noticing how he was tracking a man that seemed to make a point at having no discernible pattern, the realization came in a flash of blinding certainty that Sanso knew probably nothing at all about Irina, and surely didn’t care at all about warning her. In other words, Cheung Lok was on his own, and the painful clarity was soothed in equal measure by the other realization that he could let go of this 王八蛋².
Looking around, he noticed the guy with the turban still struggle with the appetizing stripped sea cucumber.
“Hold steady pal, I’ll ezap that bugger.”
The other who had turned almost purple took a series of short breaths when he was released from the monster. “Thanks mate, those things are my bane.”
“No need to thank me, I’ll deep-fry it for us later. Care to join?”
“Hell why not. Name’s Berberus by the way. And you shouldn’t trust elephants here. It is known.”
“Thanks for the tip, pal. Cheung Lok.”
“You’re going back after Sanso?”
“No, it’s pointless, I just happened to find him on my way to a series of turbulences on the island and couldn’t pass the opportunity, but that one is more slippery than a wet snail during monsoon.”
“What is monsoon?” Berberus asked perplexed by the yellow faced man with the strange accent.
“Don’t you mind that. Shall we go?”
[¹] 麻烦 máfan in Chinese, can be roughly translated as ‘irritating piece of hemp’, meaning being trouble or vexatiou —or some may argue, in this case, unbelievably lucky and difficult to keep track of, in a continuous way or any other way.
[²] 王八蛋 wángbā dàn : “The King’s eighth egg”, a colourful Chinese way of insulting people, meaning roughly “bastard”.August 13, 2014 at 1:44 am #3434FloveParticipant
Sadie soothed herself. It has only been 2 days. Get a grip. Your hair won’t smell yet.
She wondered whether to speak—the longing to confide in someone was almost overwhelming— and she followed Finnley, trying to pluck up courage. Not only would it be breaking protocol to give away any details of her recent mission, more importantly, she did not want to frighten the elderly woman. Instinctively Sadie knew that if there was anyone she could trust it would be Finnley, who had been through so much in her own life and surely, innately perhaps, understood and accepted those things outside the established norm.
it will make sense?
“Maybe you should sit down.”August 13, 2014 at 3:04 am #3435
“You know, you look like a nice guy”, said Lazuli Galore, “Not that I’m of that sort, you know what I mean, I’m not into men and anything.”
“Of course”, said Sanso taking another sip of his beer. He wasn’t sure about what the man was referring to, it didn’t really matter. He had had at least seven beers and the world around him just began to take that characteristic blur, which was kind of nice. The words of the man were like colorful flies buzzing around in an bubbly way.
“You know”, continued his new friend, “they have rooms upstairs, maybe we can visit them. I’ve heard each room were decorated according to different love songs… not that I’m a sissy or anything of the sort, of course.”
“Of course”, said Sanso automatically. “Are we shagging now or when you are finished to talk ?”
Lazuli gaped and stood up. They went upstairs and from the courtyard one could hear “Don’t look me in the eyes” or “I’m not a sissy!” “No you’re not, little slut”.August 13, 2014 at 5:35 am #3436August 13, 2014 at 8:48 am #3438
A man on a donkey making his way through the dust and rubble of the crumbling city elicited no attention, it was a common sight that attracted no attention. Sanso covered his hair and face with a blue shawl, more to keep the acrid cement dust out of his eyes that for purposes of concealment.
The destruction was appalling, but wonderfully symbolic ~ there were buildings still standing like lone sentinels amid the piles of smashed grey blocks and mangled steel girders, but the huge gaps where the great wall had been allowed a view of the rolling plain beyond. The heat shimmered across the golden dry vegetation, silver grey olive trees gnarled haphazardly on the gentle slopes, and far off a milky haze rose above the distant sea.
The donkey picked his way nimbly though the wreckage, scurrying figures clutching babies and assorted items rushed towards the holes in the perimeter wall, where the ragtaggle crowds fanned out as they ran through to the other side, as wild shouts of jubilation ~ as well as plaintive cries for loved ones lost in the chaos ~ ricocheted through the gutted buildings.
The donkey stopped at a site of devastation indistinguishable from all the others, and indicated to Sanso by bucking him off his back that this was the ruined tile factory, and then Lazuli shapeshifted back into his usual human form ~ short but stocky, black haired and brown eyed, with eyebrows that met in the middle ~ for ease of communication.
“Over there, look!” Lazuli pointed to wisps of dust rising from a depression in the rubble.
Shading his eyes from the glare of the sun, Sanso could make out four bent figures searching the debris, pulling out stones and tossing them aside, evidently searching for something.
“Fanella! I have come back for you!” Sanso cried, stumbling and banging his shins as he rushed over to her.
“And I have come for you too!” added Lazuli, following Sanso, and hoping to make a favourable impression on the girl, smitten with her long golden hair, elfin features and slender body.
“About bloody time, Sanso” said Lisa tartly, easing her aching back into an upright position. “You may as make yourself useful, and help Pseu find the tile she’s looking for and then we can get out of this godforsaken hellhole. Jack will be wondering where we are.”August 13, 2014 at 8:58 am #3439
“Finnley, you’re late again” admonished Elizabeth. “And you look tired”.
“It’s complicated” Finnley said. “It’s my other job, it’s hard to explain.”
“Well if you’re too old to hold down two jobs, Finnley, perhaps you should give one of them up.”
“Are you firing me?” asked Finnley in astonishment.
It was Elizabeth’s turn to be astonished. “Certainly not! That’s not what I meant at all!”
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