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  • #5593
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Was trying to get a basic timeline in place for future reference:

    • (1935) Birth of Mater
    • (1958) Mater marries her childhood sweetheart (ref)
    • (1965) Birth of Fred
    • (1970) Birth of Aunt Idle
    • (1978) April 12th, Mater’s husband dies
    • (1998) Birth of Devan
    • (2000) Birth of the twins Coriander & Clove
    • (2008) Birth of Prune
    • (2014) Start of Prune’s journal about the Inn (she’s 6 at the time – ref)
    • (2017) visit of Arona, Albie, Maeve, Hilda, Sanso etc. to the Inn
    • (2020) The year of the Great Fires (ref). Mater is 85. Idle is 50. The twins are 20. Prune is 12.
    • (2027) First settlers on Mars; Prune’s left for a boarding school to pursue her dreams

    Fast forward 15 years later

    • (2035) Idle receives news from the twins (now aged 35) & waterlark adventures.
      Mater is alive and kicking at 100.

    Fast forward a little more

    • (2049) Prune arrives with a commercial flight on Mars, having won a place through a reality show.
      Mater is deceased. She would have been 114.
      Little after, the Mars mission is revealed to be an elaborately constructed mass illusion, and the program is terminated via an alien invasion simulation; like the other survivors from the program, she returns to Australia but cannot reveal the details of the program.
    #4867

    In reply to: The Stories So Near

    EricEric
    Keymaster

    As it happens…

    POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])

    Maeve and Shawn-Paul have left the Inn in Australia to travel to Tikfijikoo. What they are still doing there is anybody’s guess. Might have do with dolls, and rolling with it.

    In Canada, Lucinda has enrolled in a creative fiction course, and is doing progress… of sorts.

    Granola managed to escape the red crystal she was trapped in, after it cracked enough due to the pull of her friends’ memories.

    FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])

    The Inn is back to its normal routine, after the bout of flu & collective black-out.

    Connie and Hilda have come out of the mines.

    The others, we don’t know.

    DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)

    In the Doline, Arona has reunited with Vincentius, but is not ready for a family life of commitments.

    NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)

    Sharon, Gloria and Mavis, are undergoing some cool fun in the cryochambers for beauty treatments.

    Ms Bossy & Ricardo are speechless. Literally.

    LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)

    There’s always something happening. Listing it is not the problem, but keeping track is.

    DRAGONHEARTWOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)

    Rukshan is in the doldrums of the land of Giants’, an unexplored parallel dimension.
    Gorrash has started to crystallize back to life, but nobody noticed yet.

    Cackletown & the reSurgence (Bea, Ed Steam & Surge team, etc.)

    Ed is back to the Cackletown dimension after some reconnaissance job on the whole dolls story interference. Might have spooked Maeve a little, but given the lack of anything surgey, have sort of closed this case and gone back to HQ.

    #4790
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Vincentius?” Arona was surprised to see him back in the cave; she looked at Leörmn with a doubtful raised eyebrow.
    “Don’t look at me like that, dear”, the dragon replied “he found his own way back to you.”
    “It was all thanks to YikesyVincentius said.

    Albie was confused as ever.

    Albie! Where have you been!” His mother Freda (or was it Lottie?) was howling from the top of the stone staircase overlooking the crystalline blue pool with its shore of diamantine sands. “Come right here immediately! That dragon and these foreign interlopers ain’t no fit and proper company!”

    Meanwhile, Daisy the beetle was also seriously admonishing (H)Ugo the gecko for his past disappearance. Of course, it was all lost in plics and plocs of glükenitch drops in the water.

    #4781

    In reply to: The Stories So Near

    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Newest developments

    POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])

    Maeve and Shawn-Paul are travelling separately to the Australian bush, and end up together at the Flying Fish Inn where they discover they’ve been given the same coupons. Maeve is suspicious of a mysterious man following her.
    Maeve has an exchange with Arona, and sketches her and the cat for her collection of ideas for new dolls. They discover that Arona has the key from her doll.
    Little is said of what happened after Maeve’s Uncle Fergus appears in dramatic fashion.
    After the collective black-out, all bets are off as to the next steps.

    In Canada, Jerk is killing time at the mall, and Lucinda is possibly taking care of Fabio who might be distressed as he’s peeing the doormat regularly.

    Granola after hopping between threads and realities, detected a psychic blast from the Doctor and while trying to investigate, ended up trapped in a tiny red crystal at the Doctor’s lair.

    FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])

    After the dramatic arrival of Fergus and the guests, some flirting of Sanso and Idle, Mater’s fashion show, Prune has decided to get back to school after an indigestion of medicinal lizard.

    Some of the guests, namely Connie and Hilda have gone to explore the mines. Possibly with Devan and Bert in tow.

    Fergus has mysteriously disappeared after the black-out.

    DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)

    Arona, Ugo, Albie and Mandrake have left the Australian Inn, after a dramatic chase by unknown assailants, possibly the magpies sent by the Doctor. They reappear in the Doline, in Leörmn’s pool, having managed to get the magpies off their trail.

    NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)

    The Doctor has managed a psychic event of dramatic proportions. He’s noticed a glowing red crystal that seems to have interfered with his machine. He’s starting to study it, and unravel its secrets.

    Sharon, Gloria and Mavis, the dynamic trio is planning their escape from the nursing home. The psychic blast seems to have alerted Gloria somehow as to the fate of Granola (B), as she somehow guess it’s linked to the Doctor’s experiments (beauty treatments). They plan to go there to investigate (after a fashion).

    LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)

    Finnley has disappeared, Liz and Godfrey are to fend for themselves.

    DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)

    Muriel has left the cottage, and our friends are preparing their travel to the Land of Giant, while some tales are told.
    Glynnis is teaching bits to a birds’ choir.

    #4776
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    When Albie woke up, it was shaking all around, as if the ground was quaking under him. It took him a moment to realize he was at the back of the jeep, and the jeep was careening on the dirt road, with none other than Mandrake at the wheel.

    “Don’t stare at him like this, kid, and make yourself useful!” Arona shouted in the action, taking a Jiborium Emporium pellet gun while pushing a bag of ammo at him.

    WHAT?!”

    “I’m not sure you realized, but we’re being chased!”

    The sound of a bullet flew by, missing the car window only thanks to an agile quarter turn of the wheel by Mandrake, followed by a sudden acceleration back onto the road.

    “Who’s chasing us!!?” Albie was confused.

    “Unclear!” Arona shouted, aiming at the black and white corvette behind them, with Ugo the gecko trying to keep stuck onto her head despite the shaking.

    She fired three shots of her magical Owl Pellets, reloading after each one.

    “We’re going to be short of ammo, Mandrake! How far?!”

    “I DON’T KNOW” the cat meowed, braking to avoid running over a loitering marsupial.

    HOW FAR Mandrake!?” Arona said, taking three new shots, managing to hit a headlight and the windshield.

    “You have no idea how difficult it is to find a body of water in this place, do you?! We missed the turn to the waterhole about 30 miles ago, at this speed!”

    “Better not to risk it, not enough water depth! We need the river.”

    “Todd River should be around that cliff there,” he pointed. But the road ends… heEEere!!”

    “GO FOR IT!”

    :fleuron: ** S PLASH ** :fleuron:

    The other car had braked just before the cliff, while the jeep was sinking slowly into the river which was carrying them near the shore.

    “Quick Mandrake! The pearl!”

    All Albie could see next was the swirl of pouring light mixed into the water vortex.

    He held his breath as tight as possible, for as… long… as… possible.

    GASP!

    “Mmm, that was entertaining. But it ruined my dinner.”

    The dragon was there, looking at the three of them drenched near its pool. They were back at the Doline.

    #4773
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Albie, wake up, sweetie!”

    “He doesn’t seem to have been hit as hard as the others, yet, he doesn’t look very bright…” Mandrake said to Arona, with a hint of concern behind the usual snark.

    “It’ll take him a day or two to recover. This was a psychic attack the scale of which I haven’t seen before.” Arona was assessing the situation. Luckily for her, the old protective spells woven in the cloak that she’d used to make her hijab had protected her from it. Sanso seemed to have been hit more, although the effects varied and honestly, it was always a bit difficult to be a fair judge of his sanity or lack thereof.

    “Strange things happen around these keys.” Mandrake said pointing at the key that Arona was wearing around her neck. “Are you sure you still want to run around places finding the others? Especially after what Fergus said about them?”

    “I never knew you to pussy out like that” she said with a smile “where’s your sense of adventure?”

    “The point is, I wouldn’t know where to start. It was all supposed to be a simple recon mission, wasn’t it? But that energy surge… Something else entirely; maybe we should leave it to Ed Steam and his team.”

    Mandrake stretched lazily, and continued “I wouldn’t feel bad about them, seems they got the hang of living in a ghost town, they don’t need all the action to feel good. Might end up wake up the underground monsters, if you let them.”

    Arona sighed “You still have a few of these pearls left, do you? Then let’s give Albie a day or two to recuperate, and we’ll bring him back to the Doline.”

    “Oh, that’s smart. From the Doline’s vortex, it’ll be much easier to pick up the energy signature of the other keys, check if they haven’t been moved.”

    “Better pray that they haven’t been moved, or found.”

    #4747

    In reply to: The Stories So Near

    EricEric
    Keymaster

    WHERE ARE THEY ALL NOW ? 🗻

    a.k.a. the map thread, and because everything happens now anyway.

    POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])

    🌀 [map link] – KELOWNA, B.C., CANADA

    It looks like our group of friends live in Canada, Kelowna.

    Kelowna is a city on Okanagan Lake in the Okanagan Valley in the southern interior of British Columbia, Canada. The name Kelowna derives from an Okanagan language term for “grizzly bear”. The city’s motto: “Fruitful in Unity”

    Interestingly, Leörmn the dragon from the Doline may have visited from time to time : Ogopogo / Oggie / Naitaka

    FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])

    Though very off the beaten track, the Flying Fish Inn may be located near a location that was a clue left as a prank by Corrie & Clove on the social media to lure conspiracy theorists to the Inn.
    🔑 ///digger.unusually.playfully

    It seems to link to a place near documented old abandoned mines.

    🌀 [map link]  – SOME PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF AUSTRALIA, OFF ARLTUNGA ROAD

    DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)

    This one is a tricky geographical conundrum, since the Doline is a multi-dimensional hub. It connects multiple realities and places though bodies of water, with the cave structure (the Doline) at its center, a world on its own right, where talking animals and unusual creatures are not uncommon.

    It has shown to connect places in the Bayou in Louisiana, where Albie & Mandrake went to see the witch, as well as the coastal area of Australia, where they emerged next in their search for Arona.

    At the center of the Doline is a mysterious dragon named Leörmn, purveyor of precious traveling pearls and impossible riddles. We thus may infer possible intersection points in our dimension, such as 🔑 ///mysterious.dragon.riddle a little North of Hawaii, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

    However, the inside of the Doline would look rather like Phong Nha-Ke Bang gigantic cave in Vietnam.

    NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)

    It is not very clear where our favourite investigative team is located. They are likely to be near an urban area with a well-connected international airport, given their propensity for impromptu traveling, such as in Iceland and Australia.

    For all we know, they could be settled in Germany: 🔑 ///newspapers.gone.crazy
    or Denmark 🔑 ///publish.odds.news

    As for the Doctor, we strongly suspect his current hideout to be also revealed when searching from his signature beautification prescription that has made him famous in connoisseur circles: 🔑 ///beauty.treatment.shot at the frontier of Sweden and Finland.

    LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)

    We don’t really know where the story happens; for that, one would need to dive into Liz’s turbulent past, and that would confound the most sane individual, starting with keeping count of her past husbands.

    As a self-made powerful best-selling writer, we could guess she would take herself to be the JK Rowling of the Unplotted Booker Prize, and thus would be a well-traveled British uptart, sorry upstart, with a fondness for mansions with character and gardeners with toned glutes. Of course, one would need the staff.

    DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)

    This story happens in another completely different dimension, but it can be interesting to explore some of its unusual geography.

    The World revolved around a central axis, and different worlds stacked one upon the other, with the central axis like an elevator.

    We know of

    • the World of Humans, where most of the story takes place
    • the world of Gods, above it, which has been sealed off, and where most Gods disappeared in the old ages
    • Under these two, the world of Giants exists, still to be explored.

    At the intersection of the central axis of the world and the human world, radiates the Heartwood, a mystical forest powered by the Gem of Creation which has been here since the Dawn of Times, and is a intricate maze, and a dimension in itself. It had grown around itself different woods and glades and forests, with various level of magical properties meant to repel intruders or lesser than Godlike beings.

    The Fae dimension is a particular dimension which exists parallel to the Human World, accessible only to Elder Faes, and where the race originated, and is now mostly deserted, as Faes’ magic waning with the encroachment of humans into the Forest, most have chosen to live in the Forests and try and protect them.

    #4744

    In reply to: The Stories So Near

    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Newer developments

    POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])

    Granola is popping in and out of the stories, exploring interacting more physically with her friends through Tiku, a bush lady focus of hers.
    Luckily (not so coincidentally) Maeve and Shawn-Paul were given coupons to travel from their rural Canada town to the middle of Australia. Maeve is suspicious of being followed by a strange man, and tags along with Shawn-Paul to keep a cover of a young couple. Maeve is trying to find the key to the doll that she made in her secret mission for Uncle Fergus, which has suddenly reappeared at her friend Lucinda’s place. She’ll probably is going to have to check on the other dolls that she made as well.
    Jerk continues to administrate some forum where among other things, special dolls are found and exchanged, and he moderates some strange messages.
    Lucinda is enjoying Fabio’s company, Maeve’s dog, that she has in her care while Maeve is travelling.

    FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])

    The mysteries of the Flying Fish Inn seem to unravel slowly, like Idle’s wits.
    Long time family member are being drawn inexplicably, such as Prune and brother Devan. The local bush lady Tiku is helping Finly with the catering, although Finly would rather do everything by herself. The totemic Fish was revealed to be a talisman placed here against bad luck – “for all the good it did” (Mater).
    Bert, thought to be an old flame of Mater, who’s acted for the longest time as gardener, handyman and the likes, is revealed to be the father of Prune, Devan, Coriander and Clove’s mother. Mater knew of course and kept him around. He was trained in codes during his time with the military, and has a stash of potentially dangerous books. He may be the key to the mystery of the underground tunnels leading to the mines, and hidden chests of gold. Devan is onto a mystery that a guy on a motorbike (thought to be Uncle Fergus of Maeve’s story) told him about.

    DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)

    Mandrake & Albie after a trip in the bayou, and looking for the dragon Leormn’s pearls and the sabulmantium, have finally found Arona after they have emerged from the interdimentional water network from the Doline, to the coast of Australia in our reality, where cats don’t usually talk.
    Albie is expecting a quest, while the others are just following Arona’s lead, as she is in possession of a mysterious key with 3 words engraved.
    After some traveling in hot air balloon, and with a local jeep, they have arrived at a local Inn in the bush, with a rather peculiar family of owners, and quite colorful roster of guests. That’s not even counting the all-you-can-eat lizard meat buffet. What joy.

    NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)

    Ms Bossy is looking to uncover the Doctor’s surely nefarious plans while her newspaper business isn’t doing so well. She’s got some help from Ricardo the intern. They have found out that the elderly temp worker who’s fascinated by the future, Sophie (aka Sweet Sophie) had been the first subject of the Doctor’s experiments. Sophie has been trying to uncover clues in the dreams, but it’s just likely she is still a sleeper agent of the Doctor.
    Despite all common sense and SMS threats, Hilda & Connie have gone in Australia to chase a trail (from a flimsy tip-off from Superjerk that may have gone to Lucinda to her friend journalist). They are in touch with Lucinda, and post their updates on social media, flirting with the risk of being uncovered and having trouble come at their door.
    Sha, Glo and Mavis are considering reaching out for a vacation of the nursing home to get new free beauty treatments.
    In his secret lair, the Doctor is reviving his team of brazen teafing operatives: the magpies.

    LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)

    Not much happened as usual, mostly an entertaining night with Inspector Melon who is quizzing Liz’ about her last novel about mysterious messages hidden in dolls with secret keys, which may be her best novel yet…

    DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)

    Before Rukshan goes to the underworld land of Giants, he’s going to the cottage to gather some of his team of friends, Fox, Ollie etc. Glynis is taking care of Tak during Margoritt’s winter time in the city. Margoritt’s sister, Muriel is an uninvited and unpleasant guest at the cottage.
    Tak is making friends with a young girl who may have special powers (Nesy).
    The biggest mystery now is… is the loo going to get fixed in time?

    #4707
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    An unexpected shaman tart witch was looking and had spotted them coming from afar.

    Head Shaman Tart Witch, if you please.” She muttered in her breath, happy to break the fourth wall and all.

    The sun was already high and the air was sizzling ready to burst out like buttered pop corn.

    “A rather lame metaphor. You’ve done better.”

    The Head Shtart Witch, as we will call her later for brevity’s sake, was as tart as a sour lemon dipped in vinegar, and prone to talking to spirits, when not cackling in tittering fits of laughter, as shamans are wont to do.
    She was surprisingly in tune with the narrator’s voice this late in the day, considering it wasn’t her first bottle of… medicine she ingested today.

    “Voices are rather quiet, yes. I was expecting a bit more… quantity if you know what I mean.”

    The narrator had absolutely no idea of what she meant, not discontent with the quantity per se.

    Three in quantity, they came, looking for her. A girl, visibly in charge, although a bit hard to tell either, buried into the baggy hood and all.

    “The star-studded stockings under the striped red and white trousers were a bit of a give-away though… she was a she, and a bossy pants to boot.” the Head Schwtich replied.

    “And don’t take advantage to maim my full name… Jeeze, they’re so lazy these days. Can’t even spell right.”

    Ignoring the rude comments, the narrator continued.
    Then, a man, a bit namby-pamby with the gait of a devil-may-care goat at that.
    And a boy, on the threshold of manhood, with lots of red hair and freckles he could have put the bush on fire.

    “You have forgotten the gecko… and the cat.”

    The cat wasn’t forgotten of course, but was it technically a cat, with the talking and all? Poor thing had ill-fitted boots (probably a clearance sale from the Jiborium’s), so that it wouldn’t burn its pads on the red hot trail. It seemed stubborn enough to refuse being carried, although not confident enough about the surrounding life in the bush to stop checking every minute for all that crawled and crept around.

    “That’s why they’re here. The protective charms. That, and the jeep of course.”

    The Twitch seemed to know everything so the narrator felt it would probably best to let her finish the comment.

    “Oh, don’t you start. That passive aggressive attitude isn’t going to get your story done, is it. And it’s not like I’m going to follow them in their dangerous and futile quest. It’s your job, better get to it.”

    Indeed, she was only just a sour, old, decrepit…
    “You stop that!”

    :fleuron:

    “Is that her hut?” Albie pointed at the horizon.
    “Yes, I think we’re there.” Arona looked at the compass she’d put around Albie’s neck. “Yes, that’s it.”

    Sanso yawned and stretched lazily “I hope they have a hot shower now, I feel so dirty.”

    Arona chose to ignore Sanso and let him gesticulate. They’d only walked for less than 15 minutes, and the perspective of few more hours of driving with him breathing down her neck started to give her murderous thoughts.

    She turned to the team. “Listen, whatever happens, don’t make rude remarks, even if she seems a bit… unhinged.”

    “Are you talking about the crazy lady with the chameleon on her head, who talks to herself and looks like she hadn’t got a bath in a century?”

    “That’s what I meant Sanso.” Arona rolled her eyes in a secret signature move she owned the secret of. “Listen, it would be better for everyone if you’d stay here and stop talking until we get the keys to the jeep, alright.”

    Luckily for all of them, a little sage smudging and a bakchich in kind sealed the deal with the HEAD Shaman Tart Witch, and less than an hour later, with the mountain at their back, they were all barreling at breakneck speed down the lone road towards the Old Mine Town.

    That’s where the Inn was, now starting to crawl with unexpected guests and long lost family members.

    #4700
    FloveFlove
    Participant

    Sunblock, Albie? asked Arona “You’ve got pale skin like me and the sun will fry you in second. “
    “Thank you so much, Mila … “
    “Just call me Arona.” She smiled kindly at the boy. “Okay are we all set?”

    #4699
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Albie was hurt by Arona’s mockery, but tried to put a brave face. Derailing of the quest was expected, and he had to prove his bravery.
    He had started to realize people outside the Doline had a different way of speaking —very vulgar, his Ma, Freda would say; and they weren’t even nobility, so he couldn’t know for sure what was proper or not. Maybe it was all make believe. In any case, he found the new style rather daring… and exciting.

    He had spotted a large sign with a tourist map on it, and ran to check it while Arona and Sanso were engaged in jubilant jousts of jest.

    When he came back, he had to raise his voice to be heard.

    HRRMEMN! Mil… I mean… Friends! Arona is right, it’s going to be a long trek, and the road doesn’t get any better than this.” He pointed at the lone road in the middle of the sandy reddish expanse traveled by deceptive winds.
    “How long?” Sanso asked apprehensively.
    “By my count, maybe 7 days of walk due East of the place, and that’s if we keep walking during most of the day.”
    “Don’t be daft, boy!” Mandrake interjected. “It’s not like Arona not to have a plan.”
    The following silence was astounding, so he added, his meowing voice thinning as he spoke… “like an e-scooter from Jiborium Emporium? maybe?”

    Sensing the growing doubts, Arona spake. “Milords, do not despair.” Then she burst into a hooting laughter.
    “You are enjoying this, don’t you?” Mandrake said, miffed at her debonair.

    “You’ve become all so strung up now, haven’t you?”
    “Well, it’s not like it’s the friendliest place on Earth, is it? I think I spotted 3 scorpions and one fat brown viper not moments ago, and they didn’t look all too happy with their new neighbours.”
    “…”
    “Us!”
    “Ah, but I told you, we need to go to the local shaman for protection and safe passage first. There at her camp, we’ll get a rental jeep with a GPS. From there, to reach the Inn, it shouldn’t take us more than 10h… and 21min drive. Más o menos, amigos.

    She winked at Albie “is it enough a plan for you, young man?”.

    #4677
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    There were strong wind currents when they passed above land, drafts of warm air competing with each other, and it took some skill to land the Jiborium Air Express without any damage.

    Albie was impressed as he observed Arona swinging between cordages, pushing the levers for added hot air, or throwing away some ballast to adjust their elevation.

    “It’s incredible the distance we can travel without refueling,” he mused aloud. As if Australia’s coasts weren’t huge enough, their travel inland seemed to have stretched for days. Sanso had been seasick most of the time, and at first Arona thought his retching was just emotion sickness, but it was only motion after all.

    “The secret is in the lard, boy. It burns longer.” Sanso said, before reaching for a bucket.
    He resumed. “Arona could have taken a Zeppelin you know, the Emporium always used to have few spares, they’re so much more comfortable, and still quite affordable.”

    “Guess your comfort wasn’t the priority, nor were you expected, were you?” Mandrake was in a somber mood, well, somberer than usual.
    “Mmh, someone’s sprightly today! Guess it doesn’t have anything to do with Ugo the gecko, does it?”

    The bickering continued a while longer after all the landing was done, and the balloon was folded back in a neat package.

    Mandrake! are you coming, or do you prefer to argument to death under the sun?”
    “Of course I’m coming.” The cat stretched and jumped on his feet, with Albie in tow.

    “Before we venture further in Mutitjulu land, we’ll need to seek permission from the local shaman.” Arona said.
    Noticing the boy, she asked “Aren’t your parents going to be concerned, you seem a little far from home!”

    “We can still send them a postcard?” he answered tentatively. “It’ll be like a quest, a rite of passage for me. After that, I’ll be a man in my village!”

    “Well, when you have had enough, let me know. I think most bodies of water are connected to the Doline, I can just send a magical trace with the last pearls to guide you home.”

    “That is kind and generous, Milady. Thank you.”

    “So what is our quest?” Sanso seemed to creep out of the shadows where he was lurking.

    “I don’t know about you Sir,” Albie jumped, “but mine is clear now. I am at Milady’s… and Milord’s (he added for Mandrake) service.”

    “Well, that won’t surely get us run in circles now.” Mandrake sniggered. He turned to Arona who was already ready to trek in the rocks and sand. “What about you? Has your quest anything to do with that key you got?”

    #4656
    FloveFlove
    Participant

    “What’s that?” shouted Albie, pointing to a small blemish on the clear blue sky. “It’s getting bigger!”

    “Goodness me, I do believe it is a hot air balloon. And it is falling our way. Quickly, Boy, we must make preparations or our inflatable zodiac will be deluged. I bought it from Mr Jiboriums’s emporium, so it isn’t the best quality but it was a very fair price.”

    “Yes! preparations!” said Albie.

    He looked around uncertainly. “What preparations did you have in mind?”

    “At this point in proceedings, I suggest we put on these inflatable life jackets, also a bargain from Mr Jiboriums’s emporium, and prepare to tally ho!”

    “Look, it is slowing down!”

    “Thank the Felines for that! Water is not really my forte,” said Mandrake.

    When the balloon was only meters away, a small person could be seen on board, excitedly waving a tea towel in the air.

    “Do you think they are in trouble?” asked Albie.

    Mandrake! Mandrake! It’s me!”

    “They know you! How do they know you?”

    “Give me a moment, boy,” said Mandrake, hiding his face behind a paw and making loud sniffing noises. “I just need a moment … “

    Mandrake, it’s me, Arona!” shouted the person. “But I don’t know how to get out of this thing.”

    #4652
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Despite the underground currents, following the trail of blue glow from the glukenitches’ droppings was easy; far less subtle than old fashioned glow worms starmap reading…
    Mandrake was alerted to a sudden drop when the trail started to disappear abruptly, indicating the strong possibility of a chute of some kind.
    He only managed to catch Albie’s pants before he fell right in, and pulled both of them back to the shore. He had to be sure.

    “Good thing, that slimey dragon managed to power back the sabulmantium, we may get a hint of where we’re headed to.”
    “There’s no other way than the waterfall, is there Mr Mandrake?”
    “Shht. Let me concentrate, this thing is sensitive.”

    Under the paws of the cat, the sand inside the clear sphere started to move in shapes and describe a living story.

    “Mmm. Seems he wasn’t joking, never seen this thing behave so strangely before.”
    “What is this?”
    “It looks like something that I have seen a long time ago, but that wasn’t in this dimension… I guess we won’t know for sure until we get there. Ready boy for the dive of your life?”

    Albie didn’t have time to answer, as the cat wasn’t waiting for him.

    :fleuron2:
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    The fall seemed to last forever. But then a light appeared, and they started to float up, up, up.

    When they emerged, they were clearly out of swamp waters. Salty water was all they could see for miles around.

    “A blessing you had an inflatable zodiac in your purse, Sir.” the boy said to the cat once they were up on the boat, waiting for a sign as to where next.

    “Whales! Whales!” the boy shouted excitedly, pointing to the shapes moving under their boat.

    “Ah, finally, someone with some wits about that can tell us some valuable information.”
    It didn’t take long to Mandrake to grab the attention of one of the belugas and engage the conversation; it didn’t seem particularly long to Albie, but it seemed like a lot was exchanged.

    “We’re on the Gold Coast of Australia” Mandrake said. “That dimension is a bit tricky for my species, humans here take us for lazy playthings and don’t really understand us, so I may have to rely on you for some of the talking, boy.”
    “For sure, Mr Mandrake. Did you get any news as to where Ms Arona might be?”
    “Might be. That whale started to babble thing about granola cookies and dolls. I have no idea what she meant, she might have been popped in by some alien force. Luckily whales are used to manage multiple personalities well, so I managed to get the rest of the navigational hints once she got her channels back in order.”
    “So where to now?”
    “Starboard, son, starboard!”

    #4637
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Before Mandrake jumped in the cold stream, he heard the dragon say “There, she’s here again. I can feel a steady pulse, at least once a day!”

    “Quantity over audacity… Pray she keeps the pace and we’ll get this over quick” Mandrake handed the nearly empty bottle of Nhum to Albie who was fitted with a spare scuba diving gear, ready to take on a journey to find in which story Arona was… pulsing.

    #4629
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Leörmn smiled a long smile.

    “What? Are you going to look at me stupidly and wait to say some mysterious nonsense? We haven’t got time for that.” Mandrake was clearly not impressed by the large scaleless pale dragon, with the green frills around the crest, reclining on the side of the pool, and still looking a few heads taller than him and Albie combined.

    “Of course not. Let me charge that for you.” With one flick of his long fingers, the dragon zapped the sabulmantium that was in the magical carry-all-you-can pouch the cat had at his belt.

    “Oh WAIT! Damn it, you ol’ reptile, you mind where you aim!” The zapping had gone a little too close.

    Leörmn smiled again, “Now, you wanted to know were she hides.” His smile disappeared. “I’m afraid there isn’t much I can do, she seems hidden from me too. But there is a chance. I’ve picked up her energy signature not so long ago. She’s in a different dimension, but never long at one place. For some reason, it’s like she’s entangled herself with other lives and get lost at times.”

    “Can you lead me to the place?”

    “Place & time, my friend. Yes, I believe I can. The Doline underground water tunnels can lead you to many places and times. I’ve drawn a path for you. Just take your scuba, and follow the glukenitch lights at the bottom.”

    Albie looked amazed and excited at the opportunity.

    The cat grunted in his whiskers “Don’t get excited lad. What he means is glukenitch poos.”

    #4612
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Albie looked at the cat with a puzzled look. “What did the Witch mean when she said Arona was hiding in yarn from the past?”

    Mandrake yawned and moved his paw swiftly on his left ear. “You haven’t paid close attention to the rhyme, have you?”

    Deep in the maze of threads of past
    She hides and fails to cast
    A spell to help her float and ghast
    Moribund characters trapped there last

    Albie found the roaring voice of the black cat smooth like a roll of pebbles in a cataract, and felt mesmerized by the words so much he couldn’t focus his attention.

    “Sounds like she’s trying to help ghosts or something?”

    Mandrake shrugged “… or something.”

    He took one of the few pearls left, and started to work a vortex to go where it began. His earliest memory of her. Something to do with that cunning and crafty dragon… Clues were hiding in that moment he was sure. At the very least, the dragon would help power back the sabulmantium for the tracking spell…

    #4608
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    “That’s three pearls you gave her, for very little information in return” Albie said to the cat once they were out of the lair. “Seriously, the bag lady gave me chills even in that hot damp weather.”

    “Don’t insult the Voodoo witch, boy” the cat meowed, it’s not safe while the vines are listening. “And her piece of information combined with the tracking spell recipe was valuable enough… once we get closer to her location.”

    “Who is this Arona by the way, that you are willing to give the witch precious pearls and your claws for her?”

    “She’d been many things, boy. An Enchantress, an Adventuress, a Master of the Arts,… and most of all, a good friend.”

    “You suspect she’s in trouble, don’t you?”

    The cat looked at the boy and squinted its eyes. “You are sharper than you let on. Now come on, we have some way to go, and with only a few pearls I managed to keep, we’ll be running out of portals before you know it.”

    #4607
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    The Voodoo witch’s lair was surprisingly well furnished, nestled underground, accessed through a staircase hidden beneath the bema of a derelict church.

    The decor wouldn’t have been to Arona’s tastes, Mandrake thought, but he wasn’t one to judge human likes. There were baroque displays of gaudy drapes, golden chains hanging from the walls, shrines dripping in red ointments with grotesque painted figures, and the usual paraphernalia one would expect in a Voodoo Witch’s lair. To a cat’s eye, all looked actually quite comfy.

    The setting had made an impression on the boy, and Albie was standing like a statue mesmerized by the shadows on the walls cast by the waving candles’ flames.

    “Have you brought ‘em my boy?” the rich voice of the priestess asked from the cabriolet armchair arranged under an extravagant canopy.

    Mandrake pushed the boy aside, and dangled the bag of pearls in front of her.
    “They’re yours as soon as you fulfill your end of our deal.”

    #4598
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Following the Cat inside the underground streams, Albie emerged in a large pond in the middle of a swamp.
    The Cat shook himself off the water, and slid off the scuba diving suit. He picked a pair of bright yellow gum boots hidden behind a jumble of crawling vines, and put the scuba diving suit and the little pouch full of pearls inside a bundle.
    Only then did he seem to notice the young out-of-breath boy gaping at the scene.

    “Are you coming or what?” meowed the Cat authoritatively. “I ain’t got all night. And she sure won’t like waiting.”

    The Cat then drew a magical symbol in the mud with his baton, spat a hairball in offering, and scratching the boy’s arm, drew a few drops of blood.

    A swirling portal opened in the bayou, leading to the abode of She, Mistress of the Cat Who Swims Underwater.

    With a kick of the Cat’s yellow boots in his bum, the boy went flying in, followed by the tittering Cat.

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