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    The memories of the strange vision had faded away. Only the feeling of awe was lingering in his heart.

    Fox was walking in the forest near Margoritt’s cottage. The smell of humid soil was everywhere. Despite it being mostly decomposing leaves and insects, Fox found it quite pleasant. It carried within it childhood memories of running outside after the rain whild Master Gibbon was trying to teach him cleanliness. It had been a game for many years to roll into the mud and play with the malleable forest ground to make shapes of foxes and other animals to make a public to Gibbon’s teachings.

    Fox had been walking around listening to the sucking sound made by his steps to help him focus back on reality. He was trying to catch sunlight patches with his bare feet, the sensations were cold and exquisite. The noise of the heavy rain had been replaced by the random dripping of the drops falling from the canopy as the trees were letting go of the excess of water they received.

    It was not long before he found Gorrash. The dwarf was back in his statue state, he was face down, deep in the mud. Fox crouched down and gripped his friend where he could. He tried to release him from the ground but the mud was stronger, sucking, full of water.

    “You can leave him there and wait the soil to dry. You can’t fight with water”, said Margorrit. “And I think that when it’s dry, we’ll have a nice half-mold to make a copy of your friend.”

    Fox laughed. “You have so many strange ideas”, he told the old woman.

    “Well, it has been my strength and my weakness, I have two hands and a strong mind, and they have always functioned together. I only think properly when I use my hands. And my thoughts always lead me to make use of my hands.”

    Fox looked at Margoritt’s wrinkled hands, they were a bit deformed by arthritis but he could feel the experience they contained.

    “Breakfast’s ready”, she said. “I’ve made some honey cookies with what was left of the the flour. And Glynis has prepared some interesting juices. I like her, she has a gift with colours.”

    They left the dwarf to dry in the sun and walked back to the house where the others had already put everything on the table. Fox looked at everyone for a moment, maybe to take in that moment of grace and unlikely reunion of so many different people. He stopped at Rukshan who had a look of concern on his face. Then he started when Eleri talked right behind him. He hadn’t hear her come.

    “I think I lost him”, she said. “What’s for breakfast? I’m always starving after shrooms.”


    Finnley, go and tell Roberto to bring the ladder. I can’t possibly climb up through that trap door with those rickety steps, I want a proper ladder. And proper gardener to hold it steady. I wouldn’t trust any of you lot,” she said, glaring at them each in turn.

    Finnley made a rude sign behind Elizabeth’s back, and clumped back down the stairs. Increasingly heated bickering between Liz and the Inspector ensued. Godfrey wandered off down the hallway tutting and shaking his head, and then darted into a spare bedroom and fell sound asleep on the bed.

    Expecting a tongue lashing from Liz for being so long, Finnley was surprised that nobody noticed her return. She cleared her throat a few times trying to get their attention.

    “Go and get yourself a spoonful of honey and stop making that ghastly croaking noise, Finnley!”

    “The thing is, Liz,” replied the maid, “He’s gone.”


    Exasperated, Finnley’s voice rose to an alarming falsetto. “The gardener! Roberto! He’s gone, and what’s more, he’s taken the sack with him!”

    “Do get a grip, Finnley, he’s probably just taking the rubbish out. Now then, Walter, if you think I’ve forgiven you for that day when you….he’s taken what? What did you say?”

    Elizabeth blanched, waving her arms around wildly as if she was drowning.

    “I know a good gardener who’s looking for a job,” the Inspector said helpfully.

    “You utter fool!” Elizabeth rounded on him. “My babies have been stolen and you talk about gardening! Never mind that German, or whatever it was you said you’re doing here, go and catch that thief!”

    Raising an eyebrow, Finnley wondered if this was just another fiasco, or was it really a cleverly engineered plot?


    It had been three days. Fox wasn’t sure of what to do next. The witch was gone, the manor was empty, and she wasn’t coming back. For a moment he felt like the small fox he was before his master found him, feeling abandoned by his mother. She had been killed after hiding him from the hunters. But he didn’t know it at the time. Fox sighed. How was he supposed to find the lost piece of soul now? It was easier when he was in his animal form, he wouldn’t think so much about what to do next, he would just be doing, anything that fit the moment. But his master had warned him not to revert back to his animal form, that he was not yet free. Fox wasn’t sure if it was true, but he trusted his master, and despite the strong desire to turn back, each moment he was making the decision to keep his human form.

    There was another who was not yet free, Fox thought. He looked at the cold stone face of his new friend. They had talked every night since his arrival and as usual they hadn’t seen the daylight coming. This time, Gorrash had been frozen laughing, and Fox thought it was the liveliest statue he had ever seen. They had gotten along quite easily, especially after Fox had given the dwarf some medicine to help with the nausea after his incursion underground. Afterward, Gorrash had been an endless source of questions about the world. Fox thought the dwarf was an interesting character. He looked old with his long beard and the wrinkles around his eyes, but he had not been around very long. Grey during the day, he was very colourful once the daylight had gone; he wore red hat and pants, green jacket, and brown crakows and belt. His voice had the sound of a grinding stone, with a hint of melancholy as he talked about his maker. But for the moment, despite his expressive outburst, he was cast in silence.

    Fox shook himself and decided it was time to make some plans about where to go next. He would try to catch up with the witch, he might be able to find her before she went to far away from the forest. The woman looked old and she couldn’t have gone far, especially as she seemed to avoid human contact, she wouldn’t have found a carriage. Fox remembered his master warning him about hope, that it was one of the cause of suffering in the world. Nonetheless, roaming randomly into the enchanted forest could take him years to find the lost piece of soul. Hope or no hope, he had spent enough time waiting in his life. He had a quest now.

    Fox wouldn’t have admitted aloud, but his new friendship brought in some complication. Fox had tried to lift him, but despite its rather small size the statue was quite heavy. He would have to find something to carry it during the day as they couldn’t just walk at night time.
    Fox looked at the garden for a moment, the frozen pond, the yellow grass, some old abandoned furniture. Then he looked at the closed door of the house, and wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before. There might be something useful inside. And if the witch was gone, she wouldn’t mind, would she?

    Fox used a pair of pins to open the door. The smell of herbs, spices and a few other things he didn’t want to know about, brushed past his nose as he entered the dark house.


    The garden was becoming too small for Gorrash. With time, the familiarity had settled down in his heart and he knew very well each and every stone or blade of grass there was to know. With familiarity, boredom was not very far. Gorrash threw a small pebble in the pond, he was becoming restless and his new and most probably short friendship with Rainbow had triggered a seed in his heart, the desire to know more about the world.

    Before he’d met the creature, Gorrash could remember the pain and sadness present in the heart of his maker. He had thought that was all he needed to know about the world, that mankind was not to be trusted. And he had avoided any contact with that dragon lady, lest she would hurt him. He knew that all came from his maker, although he had no real access to the actual memories, only to their effects.

    Gorrash threw another pebble into the pond, it made a splashing sound which dissolved into the silence. He imagined the sound was like the waves at the surface of the pond, going endlessly outward into the world. He imagined himself on top of those waves, carried away into the world. A shiver ran through his body, which felt more like an earthquake than anything else, stone bodies are not so flexible after all. He looked at the soft glowing light near the bush where Rainbow was hiding. The memory of joy and love he had experienced when they hunted together gave his current sadness a sharp edge, biting into his heart mercilessly. He thought there was nothing to be done, Rainbow would leave and he would be alone again.

    His hand reached in his pocket where he found the phial of black potion he had kept after Rainbow refused it. He shook it a few times. Each time he looked at it, Gorrash would see some strange twirls, curls and stars in the liquid that seemed made of light. He wondered what it was. What kind of liquid was so dark to the point of being luminous sometimes ? The twirls were fascinating, leading his attention to the curls ending in an explosion of little stars. Had the witch captured the night sky into that bottle?

    Following the changes into the liquid was strangely soothing his pain. Gorrash was feeling sleepy and it was a very enjoyable feeling. Feelings were quite new to him and he was quite fascinated by them and how they changed his experience of the world. The phial first seemed to pulse back and forth into his hand, then the movement got out and began to spread into his body which began to move back and forth, carried along with this sensual lullaby. Gorrash wondered if it would go further, beyond his body into the world. But as the thought was born, the feeling was gone and he was suddenly back into the night. A chill went down his spine. It was the first time. The joy triggered his sadness again.

    The dwarf looked at the dark phial. Maybe it could help ease his pain. He opened it, curious and afraid. What if it was poison? said a voice of memory. Gorrash dismissed it as the scent of Jasmine reached his nose. His maker was fond of Jasmine tea, and he was surprised at the fondness that rose in his heart. But still no images, it was merely voices and feelings. Sometimes it was frustrating to only have bits and never the whole picture, and full of exasperation, Gorrash gulped in the dark substance.

    He waited.

    Nothing was happening. He could still hear the cooing of Rainbow, infatuated with it eggs, he could hear the scratches of the shrews, the flight of the insects. That’s when Gorrash noticed something was different as he was beginning to hear the sharp cries of the bats above. He tried to move his arm to look at the phial, but his body was so heavy. He had never felt so heavy in his short conscious life, even as the light of the Sun hardened his body, it was not that heavy.

    The soil seemed to give way under his increasing weight, the surface tension unable to resist. He continued to sink into the ground, down the roots of the trees, through the tunnels of a brown moles quite surprised to see him there, surrounded by rocks and more soil, some little creatures’ bones, and down he went carried into hell by the weight of his pain.

    After some time, his butt met a flat white surface, cold as ice, making him jump back onto his feet. The weird heaviness that a moment before froze his body was gone. He looked around, he was in a huge cave and he was not alone. There was an old woman seated crosslegged on a donkey skin. Gorrash knew it was a donkey because it still had its head, and it was smiling. The old woman had hair the colour of the clouds before a storm in summer, It was full of knots and of lightning streaks twirling and curling around her head. Her attention was all on the threads she had in her hands. Gorrash counted six threads. But she was doing nothing with them. She was very still and the dwarf wondered if she was dead or asleep.

    What do you want? asked the donkey head in a loud bray.

    It startled the dwarf but it didn’t seem to bother the old lady who was still entranced and focused on her threads.

    Nothing, said Gorrash who couldn’t think of anything he would want.

    Nonsense, brayed the donkey, laughing so hard that the skin was shaking under the old lady. Everyone wants something. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want something.

    Gorrash thought about what he could want, what he had been wanting that night. He remembered his desire to get out of the garden.

    And there you are, brayed the donkey head, that’s a start. What do you want then?

    Getting out of the garden?

    Noooo! That’s a consequence of a deeper desire, but that’s not what you want.

    I have never thought about desires before, said Gorrash. It’s pretty new to me. I just came to life a few weeks ago during a full moon.

    The donkey head tilted slightly on its right. No excuses, it spat, If you’re awake, then you have a desire in your heart that wants to be fulfilled. What do you want? Take your time, but not too long. The universe is always on the move and you may miss the train, or the bus, or the caravan…

    As the donkey went on making a list of means of transportation, Gorrash looked hesitantly at the old lady. She was still focused on her six threads she had not moved since he had arrived there.

    Who is she? he asked to the donkey.

    _She’s known by many names and has many titles. She’s Kumihimo Weaver of Braids, Ahina Maker of Songs, Gadong Brewer of Stews…

    Ok! said Gorrash, not wanting the donkey go on again into his list enumeration pattern. What is she doing?

    She’s waiting.

    And, what is she waiting for?

    She’s waiting for the seventh thread, brayed the donkey head. I’m also waiting for the thread, it whined loudly. She won’t leave my back until she’s finished her braid. The head started to cry, making the dwarf feel uncomfortable. Suddenly it stopped and asked And, who are you?

    The question resonated in the cave and in his ears, taking Gorrash by surprise. He had no answer to that question. He had just woken up a few weeks ago in that garden near the forest, with random memories of a maker he had not known, and he had no clue what he desired most. Maybe if he could access more memories and know more about his maker that would help him know what he wanted.

    Good! brayed the donkey, We are making some progress here. Now if you’d be so kind as to give her a nose hair, she could have her last thread and she could tell you where to find your maker.

    Hope rose in Gorrash’s heart. Really?

    Certainly, brayed the head with a hint of impatience.

    But wouldn’t a nose hair be too short for her braid? asked the dwarf. All the other threads seemed quite long to him.

    Don’t waste my time with such triviality. Pull it out!

    Gorrash doubted it would work but he grabbed a nose hair between his thumb and index and began to pull. He was surprised as he didn’t feel the pain he expected but instead the hair kept being pulled out. He felt annoyed and maybe ashamed that it was quite long and he had not been aware of it. He took out maybe several meters long before a sudden pain signalled the end of the operation. Ouch!

    hee haw, laughed the donkey head.

    The pain brought out the memory of a man, white hair, the face all wrinkled, a long nose and a thin mouth. He was wearing a blouse tightened at his waist by a tool belt. He was looking at a block of stone wondering what to make out of it, and a few tears were rolling down his cheeks. Gorrash knew very well that sadness, it was the sadness inside of him. Many statues surrounded the man in what looked like a small atelier. There were animals, gods, heads, hands, and objects. The vision shifted to outside the house, and he saw trees and bushes different than the ones he was used to in the garden where he woke up. Gorrash felt a strange feeling in his heart. A deep longing for home.

    Now you have what you came here for. Give the old lady her thread, urged the donkey. She’s like those old machines, you have to put a coin to get your coffee.

    Gorrash had no idea what the donkey was talking about. He was still under the spell of the vision. As soon as he handed the hair to the woman, she began to move. She took the hair and combined it to the other threads, she was moving the threads too swiftly for his eyes to follow, braiding them in odd patterns that he felt attracted to.

    Time for you to go, said the donkey.

    I’d like to stay a bit longer. What she’s doing is fascinating.

    Oh! I’m sure, brayed the donkey, But you have seen enough of it already. And someone is waiting for you.

    The dwarf felt lighter. And he struggled as he began levitating. What!? His body accelerated up through the earth, through the layers of bones and rocks, through the hard soil and the softer soil of years past. He saw the brown mole again and the familiar roots of the trees of the garden in the enchanted forest.

    Gorrash took a deep breath as he reintegrated his stone body. He wobbled, trying to catch his ground. He felt like throwing up after such an accelerated trip. His knees touched the ground and he heard a noise of broken glass as he dropped the phial.

    “Are you alright?” asked a man’s voice. Gorrash forced his head up as a second wave of nausea attempted to get out. A man in a dark orange coat was looking down at him with genuine worry on his face.

    “I’m good,” said the dwarf. “But who are you?”

    “My name is Fox. What’s yours?”


    “More bones?” asked Yorath, smiling, as Eleri caught up with him on the forest path.

    “I ask you, why is it,” she asked, leaning against a tree to catch her breath, “Why is it that we collect bones to make a complete one, but never go back to the same place for bones?”

    Yorath paused and turned, raising an eyebrow.

    “Never mind, don’t answer that, that’s not what I’m getting at ~ not now anyway ~ I just remembered something, Yorath.”

    He waited expectantly for her to continue, but she didn’t reply. He mouth had dropped open as she gazed vacantly into the middle distance, slightly cross eyed and wonder struck.

    “You were saying?” he prompted gently.

    Her attention returned and she grabbed his arm and pointed down towards the lowlands. “Look! Down there,” she said, giving his elbow a shake. “It was down there when I was a child and it was that one day in spring and I saw it. I know I did. They all said I read the story first and then imagined it, but it was the other way round.” Noticing her friends unspoken suggestion that she slow down and clarify, Eleri paused and took a few deep breaths.

    “I’d sort of half forgotten about it,” Eleri laughed. “But suddenly it all makes sense. There is a legend,” she explained, “that on one day of the year in spring all the things that were turned to stone to hide them came to life, just for the day. One of my earliest memories, we were out for a picnic in the hills on the other side of the valley and everyone had fallen asleep on rugs on the grass, and I wandered off. I was four years old, maybe five. You know when you see a rock that looks like a face, or a tree that looks like an animal or a person? Well on this one day of the year, according to the legend, they all come back to life ~ even the clouds that look like whales and birds. And it’s true, you see, Yorath. Because I’ve seen it.”

    “I’ve heard of it, and the tree that guards it all comes to life, did you see her?”

    “Yes. And she said something to me, but I don’t remember what the words were. I knew she said something, but I didn’t know what.”


    Kumihimo was rummaging through the content of a wooden chest at the back of the cave. According to the smell it had spent too much time in the dark and humid environment. She might have to do some spring cleaning one day. But the chest was now too heavy for her to carry. I need an apprentice for this, she thought not knowing if if was a wish or a regret.

    In that chest, she had her many tools of the thread. Some were made of bones and she had carved them herself under the direction of her spirit guides. Each one had a specific purpose, either to catch, to extract, to guide, or to dissipate, and many more usages that even she had forgotten after so many years spent in that place.

    She had accumulated so many things in that chest. Fortunately she liked miniature, and most of her creations were seldom bigger than her little finger. However that made it difficult to keep things in order and finding something was often a real challenge. So she sang lullabies to lure the object she was looking for out of their sanctuary.

    Victory! she exulted in the ancient tongue, which would translate also as ‘I have done all that is necessary to harvest the benefits of the next crop’. Kumihimo liked simple things and she liked when one word could signify a very complex meaning. Under an old donkey skin that she often used to camouflage herself when she was going down in the valley, she had found the loom she had been looking for.

    The loom was made from the right shoulder blade of a bear. It was one of the first objects she had carved when she arrived in the vicinity. It had a yellowish patina and felt very smooth in her hands. Its shape was octagonal and each side had seven notches under which were three rows of symbols, some of the ink was gone after so many years, but she could still feel the groove where she had carved them. She smiled at the fond memories and at the dear friend who allowed her to take his bone when he died of old age.
    In the centre of the loom was a heart with a circular hole in it. It was where the braid would emerge.

    Holding the precious object, Kumihimo could feel all the braids she had already made and all the potential braids that waited to come into existence. She felt warmth bloom in her heart at the task at hand.

    Each notch corresponded at the same time to a time of the year, to a direction on earth and in the sky, and some rather obscure references to many other phenomenon and concepts. The weaving depended on very complex rules that she had discovered from experience. Actually the meaning weaved itself into the braid through a subtle interaction between her and Spirit. That way she didn’t have to bother about what to do or what notch to use as it would all unfold during the weaving.

    She stood up and walked outside. The day was still young and she had a lot to do. The weaving ceremony was an act of spontaneity, but it required some preparation. She put the loom on a round rock to dry in the Sun and went to examine the hanging threads. She had to choose carefully.


    Yorath led the way down the forest path. Eleri followed, feeling no urge to rush, despite the sense of urgency. Rather, she felt a sense of urgency to linger, perhaps even to sit awhile on a rock beneath an old oak tree, to stop the pell mell rush of thoughts and suppositions and just sit, staring blankly, listening to the forest sounds and sniffing the mushroomy mulch beneath her feet.

    The compulsion to be alone increased. Unable to ignore it any longer, Eleri told Yorath that she would catch him up, she needed to go behind a bush for a moment, knowing quite well that there was no need for the excuse, but still, she didn’t feel like explaining. Talking, even thinking, had become tiring, exhausting even. She needed to sit, just sit.

    She watched his retreating back and breathed a sigh of relief when his form disappeared from view. Much as she loved her dear old friend, the absence of other humans was like a breath of air to the drowning. The rustlings of the living forest, the dappling shadows and busy missions of the insects was a different kind of busyness, far from still and never silent, not always slow or sedate, not even serene or pleasant always, but there was a restful coherence to the movements of the living forest.

    Leaning back into the tree trunk, her foot dislodged a rotten log from its resting place among the leaves ~ crisp and crunchy on the top, damp and decomposing beneath the surface ~ revealing the long slim ivory of bone contrasting sharply with the shades of brown.

    Bones. Eleri paused before leaning over to touch it gently at first, then gently smooth away the composting detritus covering it.

    Bones. She held it, feeling the hard dry texture peculiar to bones, loving the white colour which was more than white, a richer white than white, not bleached of colour, but full of the colours of white, and holding all of the colours of the story of it.

    The story of the bone, the bones. She knelt, carefully brushing the leaves aside. Bones never rested alone, she knew that. Close by she knew she would find more. She knew she would take them home with her, although she knew not why. Just that she always did. A smile flitted across her face as she recalled the horse bones she’d found once ~ an entire, perfect skeleton of a horse. What she wouldn’t have given to take the whole thing home with her, but it was impossible. Perfectly assembled, picked clean and sun bleached, resplendent in the morning sun, it was a thing of unimaginable beauty that morning, reclining on the hilltop. So she took as much of the spine as she could carry, and later wished she’d taken the skull instead. And never really wondered why she didn’t go back for more.

    But that was the thing with bones. You don’t go back. You take what you want, what you can carry, and leave the rest. But Eleri had to admit that she didn’t know why this was so.


    When Rukshan awoke, all was quiet.
    The little cottage felt completely empty, even with the presence of Emma.
    He propped himself up, feeling hungry for the first time in many days.
    The light outside was pale, everything seemed covered in a dense white fog.

    There was a little note on the table.
    “In case you decide to wake up while we are out, don’t be alarmed, I have taken Tak outside gather some wood —the kid was growing too restless inside, and even though my legs are not as strong as they used to, I will enjoy a little walk as well. Help yourself to the cheese. M~”

    The fire had died in the chimney, so he started to clean the cinders and prepare some small wood for a little warmth.

    The feeling of unrooted emptiness lingered around. Maybe it was just the fog. He would enjoy it a little longer while it lasted, before all thoughts of duties and things to do would catch up with him.


    Gibbon stretched his long arm and touched Fox’s forehead. The hand was warm and soothing. Fox felt his heartbeat slow down, and as his thoughts dissolved into nothingness the rain gradually stopped. Soon there were spots of sunlight coming through the naked branches of the trees.

    What did I tell you? asked Gibbon. His white beard shaking like the one of a Easter sage. He cupped his mouth like apes do and touched his chest where the heart was. Have you forgotten what I taught you?

    Fox whined but said nothing. There was nothing to be said while his master was talking.

    Go into your heart and quiet that nonsensical quest of yours. You know you need the human form to do that. When you’re in your fox form, your senses are easily fooled and caught by all the traps of Dam Sarah.

    Fox knew very well the story of Dam Sarah, the Goddess of Illusion. He knew that in order to be free he had to use the form of a human, not only because they had duller senses, but also for other reasons that his fox self couldn’t very well comprehend. He had to be in his human form to make sense of all those gibbonish talks.

    He focused on his breath, lulled by his master’s voice. It was like the whisper of the forest, whispering endlessly about ancient forgotten wisdom that only the soul could fathom. And soon the aromas of the nature around him seemed to fade away. Fox knew it was only because his sense of smell was changing closer to that of a human.

    The only thing that could be an obstacle at first was the cold air. Fox really didn’t like being cold, and humans didn’t have much fur to protect them against it. But once the change had taken, the cold was helpful to anchor you into the present state of humanity. Fox caught it with all his heart to help him finish the transformation. It was strange to use the very trap that you wanted to flee.
    He felt his spirit suddenly clear and empty as the bright blue sky above the forest. His previous wandering around, following the smells seemed quite silly. He had been influenced by that burning smell and got gradually caught into reverting back to his fox self for longer than he dared to admit to himself. His anxiety and constant wondering about it was the trap of Dam Sarah for the humans.

    —Good, said Gibbon. But don’t forget that burning smell.
    Gibbon had also took on the shape of a fully clothed human. Still his presence was unmistakably powerful and natural. He blew a warm breath on Fox’s puzzled face, which helped a lot with the shivers, and dropped some clothes at his pupil’s naked feet. Fox would have to ask his master how to bring your clothes into the transformation.
    —Now, get dressed, Gibbon said. We don’t want you to catch cold. I have something to tell you.

    Fox put on his clothes before the warmth of his master’s breath wore off. The familiarity of the fabric on his skin was another way to get deeper into the human form. The form is like a fishnet, keeping you tight into your reality. You can use it, or be used by it, he remembered now.


    Fox crept stealthily behind a pile of jars. The woman he had been following since he had woken up had acted strangely. As they were approaching the outdoor market of the Gwloerch’s district, she had gradually become stooped. If he hadn’t seen her leaving the house straight and lively under her veil, he could have believed she was as old as she played it now. This picked his curiosity even more. He wondered about her reasons to hide her true self to the world.

    People at the market seemed to know her, and she even had her spot ready for her when she arrived. She sat on one of two wooden chairs beside a small circular table. Fox observed how people interacted with her. They seemed to respect her and show some kind of deference. But he also could feel a hint of fear in the smell they gave off. No one talked to her though.

    The young crone didn’t need to drum up business. Her presence seemed to be enough. Not long after they arrived, a woman came and whispered something to the young crone. The veiled woman didn’t say a word, took a small pouch from her basket and gave it to the woman in exchange for coins. She was swiftly replaced by another, and another.

    Fox began to relax. His stomach growled. He suddenly became acutely aware he was in a market full of food. The most unnerving one was the chicken. Their cackles were as powerful to him as the song of the siren. He tried to contain himself. But the lack of excitement and the cold were too much.

    He looked at the queue of customers waiting for the young crone’s remedies and advices. He could have a good meal and return before she had given all of treasures from her basket. He decided his watch had lasted long enough, he needed to get some exercise.

    Lead by his hunger, he sneaked out from behind the jars. It was easy to get unnoticed in a market full of people. But still he had to be careful. Which was not so easy as his stomach seemed to have overrun his attention.

    The chickens were easy to find. They were parked in a small pen. Fox counted eighteen hens, three cocks, plus their chicks. That would certainly be his chance. He would have to be quick and go against the wind, not to let the birds catch his scent. His hunger and the proximity of the fowl were making him lose all sense of precaution. All he could see were the white feathers of the hens, white was his favourite colour at that moment. All he could hear was gentle cackle intimating him to get closer. All he could smell was game.

    Fox was close enough. He waited just a bit longer, drooling at the anticipation of the meal. He made his mind on a particularly juicy chicken and prepared to jump. He never knew if he had been spotted before or after he plunged into the pen. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was he missed his prey.

    Nonetheless, his sudden incursion into the market set off a mayhem among humans and birds alike. People were shouting ‘FOX! FOX !’. Chickens were running in all directions, flapping their wings and trying to take off, forgetting they couldn’t, but it was enough to let them out of the pen. Feathers were flying around. All this agitation making Fox even more excited and reckless. He avoided being caught several times with the help of the birds flying in the way of the humans.

    Eventually, Fox managed to get a small orange one, his least favourite color. It was time to clear off. But wherever he turned, there were legs blocking his path. His prey struggling in his mouth wasn’t helping. He began to panic, the humans were closing in on him.

    Let the bird go and I’ll help you, said a voice in his head. Fox blinked, startled by the strange feeling. He froze a moment, which almost had him caught. He saw an escape route under a table and ran all he could.

    Let the bird go, said the voice again. This time it was compelling and Fox released his prey.

    Now come under my veil, said the voice. A face appeared, in his mind. She had scales and two little horns on her forehead. Fox knew where he had to go.


    Preparing the pages for the arrival of the Elders had taken him the best of the last two days. The younglings were rather immature and in need of training in the complex rituals and protocols. Most had come from good families, so they did possess the principles well enough. However, they often carried about them an indistinct arrogance that would be sure to irritate the Elders. Rukshan himself wasn’t good at being humble, but over the years had learned to dull his colours, and focus on his own centre.

    He had hardly any time to think about the dreams, the book or the trees, although at times he could feel almost carried away, as though a swift and clear wind had swiped his head light, suddenly relieved from any burdening thought, almost ready to fly or disappear. Those moment rarely lasted, and quite frankly were a little unsettling.

    And there was still his repressed memories about what he had discovered hidden under the Clock’s hatch. He wanted to believe there was nothing to worry about that, that the silent ghosts were part of the original design, but his intuition was fiercely against it.
    In fact, his guts were telling him the same things as when he’d found out the pocket from his coat he’d just mended was originally wrongly attached inside the lining, (creating the rip at that exact spot, as if to catch his attention). Although he would usually have happily ignored it, this time he couldn’t let go, and felt almost forced to redo it, first unpick the seams he’d just sewn, then to finally detach the pocket from the inner lining and redo the mending —another indication that the living force that breathed through all wouldn’t let him eschew troubles this time.


    Rukshan didn’t know when the book first appeared. His room wasn’t large, and he always took great effort to keep it organised and uncluttered. Well, it was hardly effort at all, more like a well ingrained habit.

    Thinking about it, the book could have been put there by a visitor, that was the most evident explanation. But undoubtedly the nosy concierge wouldn’t have missed such opportunity to mention it when he’d come back from the Clock, even at the late hours of the day he’d come back lately.

    Considering, his latest exploration of the basement of the Clock below the hatch had not been extremely enlightening nor completely in vain, if only for realising the fact that he was in dire need of more expert help. The Clock was old as the Town, and after generations of crafters jealously guarding of their secrets, the knowledge of its magic had been watered down to the bare necessities. And without proper care and maintenance, last incident could well reoccur at any time.
    For now, he had to stop worry, it wouldn’t do his body any good, only manage to let his real age catch up with his now youthful appearance. He knew just the right way for him to get back to his centered balance.

    Sipping his favourite brew of hot tulsi leaves tea, he sat cross-legged, carefully in the brown floor chair with the golden thread embroideries, and observed the large black book placed at an angle on the end table.

    The tea was already giving off its soothing effects, and glinting, he could see the book almost vibrate.

    The thought came back to him. The book was a memory, a memory that he’d brought back from a dream of last night. How peculiar, he thought. He’d heard about such magical powers that the Fays possessed, travelling between pocket dimensions, but it was almost part of the lore of old, nobody had witnessed such things —in human memory, at least.

    Now he was curious to open the book. He probably would have to hurry before it starts to fade and vanish. He was glad for the tea, it was the perfect brew to avoid any excitement that would hasten the fading process.


    With the return of the City Pasha announced yesterday night, Rukshan Soliman was finding himself in a pickle.
    He had arrived early at the Palace one block left from the City Clock Tower, knowing full well he had some chance to find the Pasha in better mood before he starts to catch up with all the problems from his entourage.

    The meeting wasn’t as unpleasant as he had expected. He had listened patiently to all that he already knew, and went back in silence to the Tower to oversee the last of the repairs.
    The clock was still behind 1 minute and fifty seven seconds, but most of the mannequins were operating as normal.

    The boockoockoo of the enchanted Silver Jute resounded gravely. He was going to be late for his 10:30 New City Mandala project meeting.


    In reply to: Scrying the Word Cloud


    hello dead bloody hands
    line indeed somehow great threads
    talking catch matter virtual gone
    longer job characters wondering
    getting dido head


    Glynis likes to light candles before dark. She has a trail of candles leading from the kitchen to her small bedroom down the hallway. She made the candles herself by extracting the wax from the bayberries which grow with wild abandon on the bushes in front of the house. The candles burn cleanly and have a beautiful scent which helps her drift to sleep at night.

    Glynis is in the portion of the house which was once the servants’ quarters. Part of the main house was destroyed in a fire many years ago and seemingly abandoned for good. There are acres of garden, once beautifully manicured, now overgrown and vibrant with life.

    She is not sure how long she will stay here and lately has felt a restless pull to move on. Where? She is not sure. So for now, she practices her magic arts and knows she has much to learn.

    Glynis is about to retire for the evening when something catches her attention. A flicker of light at the window. When she looks again there is nothing there. But something else is amiss; she can sense it.

    “Oh, what is this? Eleven jars of potion? Darnit! I’m sure I made a clean dozen!”


    “Oh. how ridiculous!” exclaimed Elizabeth, throwing a transcript at Godfrey.

    Deftly catching the paper being tossed in the whirlwind of a forceful exhalation of Liz’s cigarette smoke, he raised an eyebrow but remained silent.

    “She had a dream, you see,” continued Liz. “A dream about a writer and her maid. She mentioned it to me because she had one of those funny feelings it was about me, and when she told me, well the first thing I thought about was, well, you know….”

    But Godfrey wasn’t listening, he was winking at Finnley who was reading over his shoulder. The maid stifled a giggle.

    “So then I said to her,” Elizabeth explained, “‘I wonder what she’s been up to, left to her own devices?” and then she asked him all about it, and that’s what he said. Thrown me for a loop, I must say.”


    E: (chuckling) Left to her own devices, she generates considerable intensity in extremes.

    A: is this a character that has become a focus?

    E: Reverse.

    A: So it’s a focus that has become a character…. is there any information on the focus itself that I could offer her to play with that?

    E: The focus is a past focus, but a recent past focus…a past focus in the timeframework of the 1940s…

    A: in the Americas?

    E: This focus travels, but I would express is based in Britain.

    A: That makes sense.

    E: And in actuality is involved with early computers…with large cables. LARGE cables…

    A: [babble babble ohh ahh blah blah] …and she is female?

    E: Yes.


    Corrie’s findings from elsewhere:

    “Mike wasn’t as courageous as his former self, the Baron. That new name had a cowardly undertone which wasn’t as enticing to craze and bravery as “The Baron”.

    The idea of the looming limbo which had swallowed the man whole, and having to care for a little girl who surely shouldn’t be out there on her own at such an early hour of the day spelt in unequivocal letters “T-R-O-U-B-B-L-E” — ah, and that he was barely literate wasn’t an improvement on the character either.

    Mike didn’t want to think to much. He could remember a past, maybe even a future, and be bound by them. As well, he probably had a family, and the mere though of it would be enough to conjure up a boring wife named Tina, and six or seven… he had to stop now. Self introspection wasn’t good for him, he would get lost in it in quicker and surer ways than if he’d run into that Limbo.

    “Let me tell you something… Prune?… Prune is it?”
    “I stop you right there, mister, we don’t have time for the “shouldn’t be here on your own” talk, there is a man to catch, and maybe more where he hides.”

    “Little girl, this is not my battle, I know a lost cause when I see one. You look exhausted, and I told my wife I would be back with her bloody croissants before she wakes up. You can’t imagine the dragon she becomes if she doesn’t get her croissants and coffee when she wakes up. My pick-up is over there, I can offer you a lift.”

    Prune made a frown and a annoyed pout. At her age, she surely should know better than pout. The thought of the dragon-wife made her smile though, she sounded just like Mater when she was out of vegemite and toasts.

    Prune started to have a sense of when characters appearing in her life were just plot devices conjured out of thin air. Mike had potential, but somehow had just folded back into a self-imposed routine, and had become just a part of the story background. She’d better let him go until just finds a real character. She could start by doing a stake-out next to the strange glowing building near the frontier.

    “It’s OK mister, you go back to your wife, I’ll wait a little longer at the border. Something tells me this story just got started.”


    Aunt Idle was craving for sweets again. She tip toed in the kitchen, she didn’t want to hear another lecture from Mater. It only took time from her indulging in her attachments. Her new yogiguru Togurt had told the flockus group that they had to indulge more. And she was determined to do so.
    The kitchen was empty. A draft of cold air brushed her neck, or was it her neck brushing against the tiny molecules of R. She cackled inwardly, which almost made her choke on her breath. That was surely a strange experience, choking on something without substance. A first for her, if you know what I mean.

    The shelves were closed with simple locks. She snorted. Mater would need more than that to put a stop to Idle’s cravings. She had watched a video on Wootube recently about how to unlock a lock. She would need pins. She rummaged through her dreadlocks, she was sure she had forgotten one or two in there when she began to forge the dreads. Very practicle for smuggling things.

    It took her longer than she had thought, only increasing her craving for sweets.
    There was only one jar. Certainly honey. Idle took the jar and turned it to see the sticker. It was written Termite Honey, Becky’s Farm in Mater’s ornate writing. Idle opened the jar. Essence of sweetness reached her nose and made her drool. She plunged her fingers into the white thick substance.”


    “But wait! What is this?

    Her greedy fingers had located something unexpected; something dense and uncompromising was lurking in her precious nectar. Carefully, she explored the edges of the object with her finger tips and then tugged. The object obligingly emerged, a gooey gelatinous blob.

    Dido sponged off the honey allowing it to plunk on to the table top. It did not occur to her to clean it up. Indeed, she felt a wave of defiant pleasure.

    The ants will love that, although I guess Mater won’t be so thrilled. Fussy old bat.
    She licked her fingers then transferred her attention back to the job at hand. After a moment of indecision whilst her slightly disordered mind flicked through various possibilities, she managed to identify the object as a small plastic package secured with tape. Excited, and her ravenous hunger cravings temporarily stilled in the thrill of the moment, she began to pick at the edges of the tape.

    Cocooned Inside the plastic was a piece of paper folded multiple times. Released from its plicature, the wrinkled and dog-eared paper revealed the following type written words:

    food self herself next face write water truth religious behind mince salt words soon yourself hope nature keep wrong wonder noticed.”


    ““What a load of rubbish!” Idle exclaimed, disappointed that it wasn’t a more poetic message. She screwed up the scrap of crumpled paper, rolled it in the honey on the table, and threw it at the ceiling. It stuck, in the same way that cooked spaghetti sticks to the ceiling when you throw it to see if it’s done. She refocused on the honey and her hunger for sweetness, and sank her fingers back into the jar.”


    “The paper fell from the ceiling on to Dido’s head. She was too busy stuffing herself full of honey to notice. In fact it was days before anyone noticed.”


    “The honeyed ball of words had dislodged numerous strands of dried spaghetti, which nestled amongst Aunt Idle’s dreadlocks rather attractively, with the paper ball looking like a little hair bun.”


    ““Oh my god …. gross!“ cackled the cautacious Cackler.”


    ““Right, that does it! I’m moving the whole family back to the right story!” said Aunt Idle, invigorated and emboldened with the sweet energy of the honey. “Bloody cackling nonsense!””


    Corrie’s findings from elsewhere:

    “On the empty road, Quentin realized there was something different in the air.
    A crispness, something delicate and elusive, yet clear and precious.
    A tiny dot of red light was peeking through the horizon line.

    It was funny, how he had tried to elude his fate, slip through the night into the oblivion and the limbo of lost characters, trying so hard to not be a character of a new story he barely understood his role in.

    But his efforts had been thwarted, he was already at least a secondary character. So he’d better be aware, pretend owl watching could become dangerously enticing.”


    ““There hath he lain for ages,” Mater read the strip of paper, “And will lie Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep..” Buggered if I know what that’s supposed to mean, she muttered, continuing to read the daily oracle clue: “Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; Then once by man and angels to be seen, In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die…..”

    Mater had become increasingly irritated as the morning limped on, with no sign of Prune. Nobody had seen her since just before 3:00am when Idle got up for the loo and saw her skulking in the hallway. Didn’t occur to the silly fool to wonder at the time why the girl was fully dressed at that hour though.

    The oracle sounded ominous. Mater wondered if it was anything to do with the limbo of lost characters. She quickly said 22 Hail Saint Floverly prayers, and settled down to wait. If Prune had accidentally wandered into the lost characters limbo, battening upon seaworms would be the least of their problems.”


    “You should have thought about it before sending me for a spying mission, you daft tart” Prune was rehearsing in her head all the banter she would surely shower Aunt Idle with, thinking about how Mater would be railing if she noticed she was gone unattended for so long.
    Mater could get a heart attack, bless her frail condition. Dido would surely get caned for this. Or canned, and pickled, of they could find enough vinegar (and big enough a jar).

    In actuality, she wasn’t mad at Dido. She may even have voluntarily misconstrued her garbled words to use them as an excuse to slip out of the house under false pretense. Likely Dido wouldn’t be able to tell either way.

    Seeing the weird Quentin character mumbling and struggling with his paranoia, she wouldn’t stay with him too long. Plus, he was straying dangerously into the dreamtime limbo, and even at her age, she was knowing full well how unwise it would be to continue with all the pointers urging to turn back or chose any other direction but the one he adamantly insisted to go towards, seeing the growing unease on the young girl’s face.

    “Get lost or cackle all you might, as all lost is hoped.” were her words when she parted ways with the strange man. She would have sworn she was quoting one of Mater’s renown one-liners.

    With some chance, she would be back unnoticed for breakfast.”


    Prune turned to look back at Quentin as she made her way home. He’d have been better off waiting for a new chapter in the refugee story, instead of blundering into that limbo with that daft smile on his face. What a silly monkey, she thought, scratching under her arms and making chimpanzee noises at the retreating figure. Look at him, scampering along gazing up into the treetops, instead of watching his step.

    A deep barking laugh behind her made her freeze, with her arms akimbo like teapot handles. Slowly she turned around, wondering why she hadn’t noticed anyone else on the track a moment before.

    “Who are you?” she asked bluntly. “I’m Prune, and he’s Quentin,” she pointed to the disappearing man, “And he’s on the run. There’s a reward for his capture, but I can’t catch him on my own.” Prune almost cackled and hid the smirk behind her forearm, pretending to wipe her nose on it. She wondered where the lies came from, sometimes. It wasn’t like she planned them ~ well, sometimes she did ~ but often they just came tumbling out. It wasn’t a complete lie, anyway: there was no reward, but he could be detained for deserting his new story, if anyone cared to report it.

    The man previously known as the Baron introduced himself as Mike O’Drooly. “I’m a story refugee,” he admitted.

    “Bloody hell, not another one,” replied Prune. Then she had an idea. “If you help me capture Quentin, you’ll get a much better character in the new story.”

    “I’ve nothing left to lose, child. And no idea what my story will be or what role I will play.” Perhaps it’s already started, he wondered.

    “Come on, then! If we don’t catch him quick we might all end up without a story.”


    Disappointed at the lack of interesting activity in Iceland, Hilda made a snap decision to catch the first flight to Liverpool. The news of the mysterious plague doctor roaming the streets of Chester had piqued her curiosity.

    Was it an omen or just some fool in a fancy dress costume? Maybe it was a time traveler. If so, it would be worth investigating further.


    Back at her desk after a crash course at zumba with the Chinese team, Connie was sorting her e-mails (meaning sending them to trash). Nothing fancy, nothing catchy, nothing to grab her attention span for more than a minute.

    The noise of the open space was making her feel drowsy. Maybe a coffee would help her wake up, or maybe if something could happen to stir the pot. Connie deleted a few more e-mails to show the others that she was a busy reporter before leaving her desk.
    Passing by the desks of her colleagues, Connie looked surreptitiously at their computer screens and saw that everyone was playing the busy game. It was sad to recognize that good news (meaning bad news) were hard to come by nowadays.

    In times like these, she had to resist the tentation to create her own news, it was not that kind of press. But still toying with the idea and making up some outrageous stories with her team was a way to make time fly away more quickly. Once, Hilda had even reused one of the titles for a real stories that sadly happened shortly after she had made it up.
    Rumour had it that Hilda’s great grand mother was a gypsy and could do palm reading. The gran even used palm tree leaves to do her reading when there was nobody, you just had to cut the leave in the shape of the person you wanted to read the future and she would tell you all about them. She was good.
    “It runs in the family,” Hilda had said. “It’s helpful to be at the right place at the right time.” And for sure she was the most prolific reporter of the agency.
    Connie sure would have used some of Hilda’s medium inner sight to know when something would happen.

    She made herself a cappuccino and with the milk drew the face of Al Pacino. Many years at a press agency and you learn a few tricks to impress your friends.
    She heard the slow and uneven pace of sweet old Sophie behind her. She sighed, she didn’t want to have to answer another of her dumb questions about the future. If Hilda could read bits of the future, Sophie was always thirsty about it. Maybe that’s why Hilda was more often in the field and not so often at her desk.

    Connie turned and almost dropped her cappuccino as the old lady handed her a Fedex envelop.
    “Sorry,” said sweet old Sophie, “That just arrived for you. I wonder what it is.”
    “I’m sure you do,” muttered Connie.
    “It’s from Santa Claus,” said the old lady with a conniving smile.
    Connie looked at the old lady, with a forced smile. Was insanity a cause to get rid of one of your employee ? She took the package with one hand. Heavier than she had expected. When she saw the address, she couldn’t believe it was real. The sender’s and city’s names were certainly fake. Jesus Carpenter, Santa Claus, AZ
    Sophie was still there, looking at Connie with a big smile.
    “What are you waiting for ?” the reporter asked.
    “Aren’t you opening it?”

    Connie considered opening the package, but the avidity on the old face was making her uncomfortable. “Nope,” she said. With her cappuccino and the package she went back to her desk. Sweet Sophie was still looking at her with that greedy smile on her face. Connie shivered and shook her head. It was obvious, the old tramp was mad.
    She touched the package, trying to guess what was inside. As no convincing guess presented itself in her mind, she stripped it open. There was an iPhone 5 SE with 64Gb memory in it, two plane tickets for Keflavik in Iceland, and a note.
    ‘If you want a good story prepare your suitcase. Bring Sweet Sophie with you. We’ll contact you once you are there.’

    Connie thought of a joke. She checked the package and no matter how many times she looked it was still her name. She looked toward the cafeteria and she shuddered. Sweet Sophie was still looking at Connie with that strange smile, as if she knew. Or as if she had sent the package herself, the reporter thought.
    “Someone knows where Hilda is ? I need to talk to Hilda.”

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