Those last few days have been hectic. But we finally arrived. I can’t believe we survived all those police controls and those christian mobs, and I didn’t know Kady was a adept at car borrowing.
I forgot my journal because it was on the computer and I didn’t take the computer. So I don’t know how to contact you, Whale, other than using the old method: with a pen and a sheet of paper. Max gave me this piece of wrapping in which Kady had put the chocolate. He said he can still reuse it later with the writing. He’s nice, although he doesn’t look like it. I think I like him.
However, the whole thing is not like I expected. Oh sure, the pistil itself is quite impressive: that lone and long stem coming out of that canyon and surrounded by those mountains in the distance. I’m talking about the camp. It’s like a refugee camp, and all of them avid to be able to go in somehow. I’m not sure what they expect. Kady hasn’t been in a sharing mood lately, and I haven’t asked that many questions. But she told Max we had to discuss before we go in tomorrow. So I’m feeling nervous about what I’ll learn tonight.
I’ve been told once: ask and you will receive. What am I supposed to know now? What am I supposed to do? Maybe that’s not the right question because I just got my voice telling me that I’m not supposed to know or do anything. Maybe supposed is not the right word. I’m too tired and excited at the same time to figure it out, but you get the gist I’m sure.
I didn’t have any more dreams. I’ve been watching the drawings in that book religiously every night of that trip before I go to sleep. Although I’m not truly sincere when I say that I didn’t have any more dreams. I had at least one that I recall. It was like some news about a parallel self, one that got the virus. I dreamt about that other me before, he couldn’t breath and it hurt. I had wondered if he had died because I didn’t have any more dreams about him, until last night. He seemed ok, he had recovered quite well considering the difficulties. He was at a gathering with other people at some kind of Lebanese buffet. I’m not too fond of the spicy merguez sausages, I prefer the hummus.
Max is calling, diner is ready. He’s made lasagna, apparently he makes the the best lasagna in the whole camp. I’m not sure when will be the next time I contact you so far Whale.
It wasn’t such a bad day, thought Olliver, and it might even be a good day. The birds are singing, we saw a boar and a few deers already. Animals are getting back and they don’t seem to fear the humans so much.
Rukshan was walking first and Fox was following him with a heavy backpack. Tak and Nesy were mostly playing around and marvelling at everything their path crossed. Olliver envied their innocence, the innocence he had lost not so long ago.
Except the animals and the two guards they had to hide from, the day had mostly been uneventful and Olliver’s mind was wandering off into the mountain where he could feel useful and strong. He felt strangely blissed and suddenly had the impulse to walk toward a patch of yellow flowers.
“STOP! Pay attention where you walk,” said Rukshan. “Come back to your left two feet and walk straight. I told you to follow my every steps.”
“Okay, uncle Ruk!” said Olliver a bit ashamed to have been caught not paying attention.
“I don’t understand,” said the Fae. “Glynis’s potion doesn’t seem to work for you. The aetherical tentacles around the traps don’t seem to detect us but only you, and you also seem susceptible to their power to attract you. It’s not the first time I had to warn you.”
The Fae could see the etherical traps and especially the free flowing tentacles or the tension lines attached to trees, stones, wooden posts, anything that would cross a trail at different heights. With the potions they should be impervious to detection and affections by the traps. Olliver hadn’t thought that far. He had thought that by following them he could manage not to be caught. Right now, he feared more Rukshan’s piercing eyes than the traps. He looked at Fox involuntarily.
“It’s my fault,” said Fox looking a bit contrite. Sweat was pearling on his face. “It’s becoming too dangerous for Olli so I must confess something.” He put his heavy bag on the floor and opened it and a dwarf’s head peered timidly out.
“By the fat belly of the giants! What made you do such a stupid thing?”
“You didn’t think at all!” said the Fae. “The potions were not just for the fun of drinking something pungent and bitter with the taste and texture of yak wool.”
“Leave me out of this teleportation stuff!” said Gorrash.
“What an idea! But I already thought of that my little friend. You two are going to to back.”
“No we’re not! If you make us go back we’ll follow you from a distance.”
“Oh You, I’m sure it’s your idea,” started Rukshan.
“No, it’s mine,” said Olliver. “Uncle Fox had almost convinced Gorrash it was better to stay, but I couldn’t let him be stay behind after just being reborn. You said it once, we don’t leave our friends behind.”
“I’m sure it was under another set of circumstances,” countered the Fae.
“Anyway you see the traps, I can follow your instructions. And if there is any fever problem I can teleport Gorrash back to the cottage.”
“I do not totally agree with you but I see you have learned to make an argumentation.”
Fox felt the Fae relax. “Agreed, you come with us to the Great Lakes to meet the Graetaceans and you’ll follow what I tell you to do from now on. I’ll treat you as a responsible adult.”
“Yay! We’ll meet the Graetaceans!” said Nesy.
“Olli and Gorrash will stay with us,” said Tak jumping around his friends with such a broad smile. Rukshan thought he was growing too soft on them all, with the new generation growing he started to feel his own age.
Sense rolled case diary himself
Distance says travelling nearly happens
Lots wanted ignoring suddenly mass
Slammed search rukshan messages locking
Dusty careful liked floating ailill
Vision jasper habit became lavatory
Thick fair landed olli gold
Love enjoying mavis shape lived
Anxiety doubts army gecko
Life around the woods had changed in a strange way since the appearance of the beaver fever. It was called after some theory from where it came from. Some said patient zero was a trapper far off in the woods who caught an infected beaver and sold its fur to the market. The fur then contaminated the coat maker and then the clients who tried on that coat, hence leading to contamination nests in the entire realm. The beaver fever took time to incubate, so when people first noticed the trapper wasn’t coming back, it was too late.
That’s not such a bad thing to live a little recluse in the woods, thought Eleri. She usually was restless and lately had been wandering off into town and into the countryside looking for things to paint with her tar black pigment. It is a new phase of experimentation, she had said to Glynis who had been wondering if she could include more variety to her palette. I’m looking to capture the contrasting soul of what I’m painting.
Don’t you mean contrasted? asked Glynis.
Do I? Whatever, I’m experimenting.
Glynis knew better than to argue with Eleri, and Eleri knew better than trying to make words fit the world. It was better to make the world fit her words. How could you explain that to someone? So she assumed people understood.
With the curfew, though, it had first become harder. Then she had found a way by painting her own garments tar black and to complete her attire, she had asked Fox. He had also found a hobby and with a sharp knife and a log he could make you a mask so vivid to look alike anything you asked. Eleri had asked him for a crow and had painted it tar black. She looked like those doctors during the plague a few centuries back and dressed like that people certainly respected the safety distance promulgated by Leroway’s decree.
That man seemed hard to get rid off, especially in time such as those. Eleri suspected that Leroway was not the man she knew and once courted her. She needed to get close to investigate. Her new attire, if it might not help with the investigation at least would help embolden her and stave off boredom.
What was I thinking. That all will be good and all, and forever after.
Lord, sometimes I miss that bloated boat, and its ordeal felt like an old familiar pain that distance makes bearable in retrospect.
A week back into life, and all goes to hell. Good thing I’m not a trader, looking at the stock market would make you want to jump from a tall building.
Since all is in chaos, I’ve been noticing them more. The synchronicities. Seems like the voices have found other ways to reach at me. Talks of forest and trees, arcane words spoken in different contexts.
If only I weren’t paying attention. But then there are the dreams. Last ones have been insane. And not just those after a heavy meal, you know. The kind that gets you more tired when you wake up, as if you’ve spend the whole night piling up mountains upon mountains.
I’d rather just pop a pill and see the elephants dance from branch to branch, if you see what I mean. But the voices wouldn’t let me go. Now they are egging me on to do something I don’t want to do.
A book opened at random, summarizes it all: “Our heart is anxious about being sent here.“
Next line is a tease: “Gathering the resources of all under heaven as in a storehouse.”
But when did I sign up to be the bloody storehouse manager?
Coming from the computer world that makes it a pun of sort. I’m overloaded with whales nowadays. They’re everywhere. Are you involved? Or were they around all along? I must say I never paid too much attention to whales before. Now it’s a sticker on the asphalt when I get out of the metro to my daily rendez-vous with myself at the café. Or an advertisement of a winking whale on a bus side for a whale cruise near Canada. Or a friend this morning who called me to tell his dream: A Ballistic Whale shut through huge distance in space, it was angry and ever arriving.
Let me think that something big is coming.
I ordered a macchiato and the waiter had made a funny whale design with the foamed cream. When I asked he said he didn’t know why because he had never made it before. I could see it. And it looked angrier as the foam melted. I decided not to pay too much attention to the whale, focusing my attention instead on finding a friend in the passing crowd. Lots of students that day. A group of girl came and stopped right in front of me, chatting loudly. I started to feel irritated and looked at them angrily. One of them saw my face and turned to tell something to her friends. I saw the blue whale keyring hanging from her backpack zipper. They all looked at me and laughed.
I think I’m whale cursed.
The front door of Mr French had a certain Gothic quality to it which caught the eye of Star. She was a sucker for the glitz and the extravagant –the more garish, the better. Had she got her way, their office would be full of the cumbersome stuff. Catching the glint in Star’s green eyes, Tara rolled hers. She clanged the metal lion to signal their presence.
A decrepit butler called off their ruckus after what seemed like a pause in eternity. They could hear the rambling from a distance behind the door. “I’m coming! No need for such noise! Ah, these youngs nowadays, not a shred of patience!…”
“Shttt, let me handle it,” replied Star shaping her face into a genial one, oozing honey and butterflies.
When the butler finally opened the door, he snapped her shut “We’re not interested in whatever… hem, services you’re offering Mesdames.”
The butler’s face turned sour. “Yes of course, I understand. Then you should know Mr French has been in a coma since his dreadful accident last month. Since you have a direct line to him, I suggest you… call him?” And with that, he slammed the door shut on their faces.
“Rude!” Tara mouthed.
“At least, that tells us something my dear.”
“Don’t bait me like this. I’ll ask, what exactly?”
“That our Mr French is not who he says he is…”
“I wonder if it has something to do with the immense fortune he made with his voice…”
“That would be a very interesting question to answer indeed.”
“Damn it, too late again, Miss B won’t be pleased.”
Ricardo was looking at the clandestine distillery from a distance. It had burst in flames a short while ago, and the local press was already covering the event.
“But Sophie was right. Maybe there’s more to this particular… calling of hers.” Ricardo brandished his fake newsporter card in front of the officer at the police cordon and managed to slip unnoticed into the area. It had probably more to do with his ability to be unnoticed at times than it had to do with the card itself, but the card helped boost his confidence.
There were a number of car trails leaving from the place, and the police would certainly take time to go through all of it thoroughly, including the rats’ and frogs’ trails if they could. But Ricardo didn’t care for meticulousness, but rather for efficiency, and of course, potent gossip. One trail in particular caught his eye.
“You’re good at hiding in plain sight, Ric’, but you’re still a rookie.”
Hilda was there, in all her usual flamboyance, hiding in plain extravagance. “You didn’t think Bossy would have let you without a senior chaperon?” she added cockily. “But I see you caught up on an interesting lead.”
“How could you be there so fast? It’d been months we couldn’t reach you? And more importantly… How can’t anybody around see you, especially in this horrible, completely out-of-place mustard orange plastic leather suit?”
Hilda guffawed “They can’t see what they can’t understand! You can’t imagine how invisible I become in America. They don’t understand diddly squat!” She turned intense again. “I was myself on a case, you see. A case of the mummies. Sanso told me I’d find a trail of clues at this place, but now it’s gone in flames, I started to wonder. Until I saw your interest in that particular one. It’s not a frog’s for sure,… or it’s got some big crummy tyres. I get a feeling it’s going to lead us to our next story.”
“It better be.” Ric’ said glumily, “or Bossy isn’t going to be chipper about it.”
“Not to worry, I’ll call my friend Blithe Gambol, P.I. to the help with the tracking and all. Could never beat her at the find-the-trail-on-gloogloo game.”
The few cars on the dark road were flying past him at speed, sometimes honking in alarm when abruptly realizing he was there at an inch of being run over. But none had stopped so far. Might have been they couldn’t see his little thumb up.
“Hitch-hiking my way back isn’t doing so well for me.” reflected Barron after a while. Oh, you may wonder how he escaped from his captors. Simple answer was he got bored waiting and he saw an opportunity.
In reality, it was an elaborate plan, and the screeching sound of a nearby car had provided the right amount of distraction for him to make a run for it. Well, not run really, more like a patient and careful tumbling around. The sound had been alarming enough for most of the forces present to run for the potential intruders without caring to leave someone to watch over the innocent sleeping baby (that was him, but he wasn’t really sleeping).
Anyway, he hadn’t made it very far outside the clandestine distillery at the back of the Motel, and was about to abandon all hope and phone his half-sister Yvanevskaia for help, when an old DRAPES CLEANING van suddenly braked to a screeching halt just in front of him.
“Why d’ya stop Art’! They’re still after us, those maniacs!”
“A baby honey! I almost ran over the baby!”
“That’s a big ass baby, it’s almost a kid, and what is it doin’ hitch-hickin’ in the dead of night?”
“I dunno my sweet cotton-candy luv,… maybe he got bored or sumthin’…”
“So what are you waiting for? Just damn’ take it, and let’s pump gas and put some distance between us and these gangsters!”
Barron was all too pleased to oblige, and as a matter of fact, had already managed to sit in the back with the funny looking lady with the long face.
“Go!” he cooed at Arthur, who pushed the engine back into a roar.TracyParticipant
June was born in Glasgow, Kentucky in 1957. Her real name is not known yet. She comes from a military family who used to move around a lot, hence, never really felt home in any place, and kept largely her distances with relatives. At a young age of 17 (1974), she eloped with her then fiancé and did a tour of the USA on a shoestring, aiming to stow away on a Californian ship to reach Hawaii. We find her years later, happily divorced, and sought in 5 states for various charges, primarily identity theft and credit card fraud. A chance encounter with April led her to her next scam: registering as an experienced nanny “au pair”, coming from Glasgow, Scotland. She didn’t manage to stay too long at her employs, yet a fortunate event led her to apply and be selected for the nursing of the President’s precocious baby. She loathes all that the President represents, but likes a challenge, and the irony of being a wanted con-artist on the run under the nose of the Secret Services.
A wild eyed crow was cawing relentlessly since the wee hours of the dawn.
Nothing much had moved since everyone arrived at the Inn, and in contrast with the hot days, the cool night had sent everyone shivering under the thin woolen blankets that smelled of naphthalene.
Deep down, Bert was glad to see the old Inn come back to life, even if for a little while. He was weary of the witch though. She wouldn’t be here without some supernatural mischief afoot.
He glanced in the empty hall, putting his muddy pair of boots outside, not to incur the fury of Finly. He almost started calling to see if anybody was home, but thought better of it. Speaking of the devil, Finly was already up and busy at the small kitchen stove, and had done some outstanding croissants. In truth, despite all her flaws, he liked her; she was a capable lady, although never big on sweet talks. No wonder she and Mater did get along well.
Bert started to walk along the hall towards the hangar, where he knew old cases where stored, one with a particular book that he needed. It was hard to guess what would happen next. He found the book, that was hidden on the side of the case, and scratched his head while smiling a big wide grin.
He was feeling alive with the kind of energy that could be a poor advisor were his mind not sharp as a gator’s tooth.
The book had a lot of gibberish in it, like it was written in a sort of automatic writing. For some reason, after the termite honey episode, Idle had started to collect odd books, and she was starting to see spy games hidden in the strangest patterns.
Despite being a lazy pothead, the girl was smart, though. Some of her books were codes.
Bert’s had his fair run with those during his early years in the military. So he’d hidden the most dangerous ones that Idle had unwittingly found, so that she and the rest of the family wouldn’t run into trouble.
Most of the time, she’d simply forget about having bought or bargained for them, but in some cases, there was a silly obsession with her that rendered her crazy about some of those books. Usually the girls, especially the twins, would get the blame for what was thought a child’s prank. Luckily her anger wouldn’t last long.
This book though was a bit different. Bert had never found the coding pattern, nor the logic about it. And some bits of it looked like it talked about the Inn. “Encoded pattern from the future”, “remote viewing from the past”, Idle’s suggestions would have run wild with imaginative solutions. Maybe she was onto something…
He looked a two bits, struck by some of the parts:
The inn had been open for a long time before any of the tenants had come, and it had been full of people once it had been full all day long.
She had gone back after a while and opened up the little room for the evening and people could be seen milling about.
The rest of the tenants had remained out on their respective streets and were quiet and peaceful.
‘So it’s the end of a cold year.’
The woman with golden hair and green eyes seemed to have no intention of staying in the inn as well; she was already preparing for the next year.
When the cold dawn had started to rise the door to the inn had been open all night long. The young man with red hair sitting on a nearby bench had watched a few times before opening his eyes to see the man that had followed him home.
There was a young red hair boy that had arrived. He was curious as to the man following.
The other random bit talked about something else. Like a stuff of nightmares. And his name was on it.
The small girl stood beside him, still covered with her night clothes. She felt naked by the side of the road. There was nothing else to do.
In the distance, Bert could faintly hear the howling of the woods, as two large, black dogs pounced, their jaws ready to tear her to pieces. The young girl stared in wonder and fear before the dog, before biting it, then she was gone. She ran off through the bushes. “Ah…” she whispered to herself. “Why am I not alive?” She thought to herself: this is all I need.
If I am here, they’ll kill or hurt my kids. They won’t miss me for nothing.
She ran the last few kilometers to her little cottage; not long after, Bert heard the sound of the forest. He was glad it was.
Maybe the witch was not here for nothing after all.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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?”TracyParticipant
She needn’t have worried about being distracted by dolls at the market, as there were no dolls there anyway. Lucinda chose a statue for her friends birthday present, a squat grey character with gargoyle features. She heartily regretted her choice, for the weight of it was not inconsiderable, and she had a further two bus journeys to make, and then a walk of some distance.
What she hadn’t expected was to find another doll at the party. Lucinda nearly choked when the birthday girl opened the long soft present wrapped in shiny silver foil.
He didn’t like the City, but there he was again. There seemed to always be a trail of clues leading back to it, no matter how much he wanted to distance himself from it.
Rukshan wanted to make quick thing of his mission there. Find the librarian and trade the old map that the Sages had given him during the gathering, for another one.
His appointed quest was to find the origin of the dark force, and for that, all clues seemed to point toward the elusive Master that Gorrash said had created him.
The Sages in the Forest had told Rukshan about how, long before, the Master was banned from the magic circle in the Forest for practicing forbidden magic. They suspected he had since been hidden in the land of the Giants. The librarian had the map that Rukshan needed in order to get there.
“Of course” he said, looking at the worn-out parchment that the librarian had taken from a large leather binder. The land of the Giant was on no map known to man, because their land was on another plane, much like the Shadow world of the Faes. Except this one was underground, in a hollow plane under theirs, untouched by men, with only rare points where both worlds touched.
Of course, the portal to this world was back at the center of the Forest.
The pigeons dove from the thirtieth floor’s balcony in an attempt to mimic the planes it had seen above, or maybe in an attempt to mimic the ultrabright advertisement that its mother’s mother had seen long ago. It had left an unalterable trace in that lineage’s DNA.
The pigeon that had seen at least one plane had been a pigeon, but when the pigeons dove and created a ripple, they didn’t leave a trace like the pigeons that had witnessed only the distant planes.
In the air, they were flying against the wind, while on ground they were falling along a riverbank.
“I guess they didn’t hear a loud noise because when they stopped for some distance they stopped and looked up, and what they saw looked as if they had died.”
In the future, those pigeons, who could remember the names of the buildings they had seen during the war, could join together and explore another world and its inhabitants were not like them.
On one of the banks of the river, a lone pigeon watched them from afar, and she looked at them with the calm of a mother on her child while saying,
“Please tell me something. If they are so brave, then tell me anything.”
She didn’t say any of the usual questions from a child, but she knew the answers in herFloveParticipant
Eleri had returned from her visit to Alexandria feeling buoyed and more certain than ever that something had to be done about Leroway and that she was the one to do it. She found Glynis at the dining room table pouring over her big book of spells. She hardly bothered raising her head to greet Eleri.
“Wrong is it! So chucking an old lady out of her home is right I suppose.” Eleri glared back at Glynis and folded her arms across her chest. True, she wasn’t sure her plan wasn’t morally flawed, but Glynis could be such a righteous prig sometimes. “And it isn’t like your stupid plan has been such a great success. Look at you there with your big book acting like you can save us all!”
So far, the magic spell had only succeeded in altering the solidity of the cottage and from a distance it now shimmered like a mirage. They all agreed it was very pretty but not that effective in hiding the cottage from Leroway’s men.
“I never claimed to be an expert — although i know a hell of a lot more about magic than you, Glynnis added mentally — but there is good magic and there is bad magic and even if you succeed in turning him to stone, which I actually doubt you can do ….” She immediately wished she could retrieve her words; It was like rag to a bull to tell Eleri she couldn’t do something. She softened her tone.
“Why don’t you talk to Gorash about it. It’s nearly dark so he should be around soon. Ask him how he feels about being a statue and that’s only during the daylight hours! Imagine what it would be like to be encased in stone forever and no hope of redemption. There is no crime that deserves such a harsh punishment as that.”
“That is unfortunate,” said Rukshan when Fox told him about the dogs’ answer. They were all gathered around the fire on rough rugs for a last meal before activating the portal. For a moment shadow and light struggled on Rukshan’s face as the flames of the fire licked the woods, making it crack and break. A few sparkles flew upward into the dark starry night.
Lhamom used the magic metal spoon to serve steaming soup in carved wooden bowls, and Olliver was doing the service.
When he took his, Fox felt a chilly breeze find its way past his blanket. He shivered, put the bowl on the carpet in front of him and attempted to readjust the yakult wool blanket in a vain attempt to make it windproof. He took back the bowl and took a sip. The dogs barked in the distance. They were impatient to start the hunt. Fox shivered again.
“I could still serve as bait,” Fox said because he felt it was his fault if the plan failed. “You know, surprise the dogs while they are focused on the Shadow and make it follow me to trap it into the portal after we crossed it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rukshan. “It’s too dangerous. If you try to do that, we could have not one but two problems to solve. And you might get stuck too.”
Rukshan shook his head. “No. It was a foolish of me to hope those dogs would help us.”
“What can we do then?” asked Lhamom. They all drank their soup, the silence only broken by the fire cracking and the dogs barking.
“I know,” said Lhamom. “You were so helpful today with the cooking and all.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rukshan. “Olliver was with me helping me with the sand all day.” He stopped. His face showed sudden understanding. “Oh! Of course,” he said. “The book we burnt. The shard’s power was not only teleportation, but also ubiquity.” Rukshan turned to look at Fox. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Fox shrugged, making his blanket slip off of his shoulders slightly. Before he answered he adjusted it back quickly before the warmth he had accumulated could vanish into the night. “Well I saw him… I mean them. How do you think I came out of the negotiation alive? I can not teleport! I don’t even know what my powers are, or if I have any now that the shards have gone.”
“Grace and miracles,” said Rukshan with a grin.
A strange cristalline noise rang to Fox’s hears.
“What? Oh! Yes. Well, that explains it then,” he said, feeling a mix of grumpiness and contentment. He finished his soup and was about to leave the comfort of his blanket to take some stew when Lhamom took the bowl from his hands. She gave him a good serving and gave him back his bowl.
“Don’t make as if I said nothing important,” said Olliver.
The red of the flames enhances his angry look, thought Fox.
“I can be at two places, even more, at once. I can still be the bait and go back home with you at the same time.”
A dog barked impatiently.
“Yes,” said Fox.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” said Rukshan, concern on his face.
“Why? I’m not a boy anymore, if that’s what it’s all about. I can do it. I already did it this afternoon.”
“Well this afternoon was nice and cosy, wasn’t it? You had plenty of light, and yes you helped Fox escape from the dogs, so you can certainly do it. But what about the Shadow spirit. We have no idea what it is, or what it can do to you. And what will happen if one of you get killed?”
Once again, they fell silent. There was a dog bark and that strange cristalline noise again. It sounded closer.
“What’s that noise?” asked Olliver. Fox suddenly realised the strange noise had nothing to do with the sound of miracles, but it was a real noise in the real world.
“What noise?” asked Lhamom. “And what are you all talking about, shards and powers and ubiquity?”
“I can hear it too,” said Fox. “I’ve heard it before, but thought it was just me.”
The noise happened again, this time sounding a lot like metallic ropes snapping on ice.
Fox wriggled his nose. There was the smell of an animal and of a human.
“I think someone is coming,” he said, sniffing the cold air. “A donkey and a human.”
It was not too long before they saw an odd woman riding a donkey. She was playing a lyre made of ice, the strings of which had a faint glow. The woman was smiling like she was having the best adventure of her life.
“Hi guys. I came to help you. You didn’t think I would remain forgotten in my cave, did you?”
Talking with the dogs. That’s what Fox had to do. Easier said than done, he thought scratching his head. His previous encounters with dogs were rather tumultuous and limited to being hunted down in the forest during a hunting party or being chased at the market because he had caught a hen. He had never really talked to dogs before, unless taunting counted of course.
Rukshan had said it was urgent, but Fox found there were so many little things to do before, like tidying up the cave, putting some suncream on his sensitive red head skin, or trying to see if Lhamom needed help.
But after some time, Fox realised he had to go eventually. Everyone else was busy with their own part of the plan. Rukshan was building the sand mandala on a flat surface that he and Olliver had cleared, and Lhamom was finishing a makeshift screen to protect the mandala from the wind with a few bamboo poles and rolls of fabrics she had found on her journey here. It was very colourful fabric with Bootanese patterns that Fox wouldn’t have used to cover a chair. It felt too busy for him.
So, he went to see Lhamom as she was struggling to plant the last stick in the rocky ground.
“Have you talked to the dogs? she asked.
“Ehr, not yet,” mumbled Fox who felt a bit ashamed when Lhamom frowned. “I think I need to give some kind of present to the dogs and I was wondering if you had something suitable in your many bags.”
“Oh! Sure. Can you finish that for me then?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Fox. He replaced her with the bamboo stick and, as she was walking away, he shouted: “I don’t think chocolate will do this time.”
“Oh! I know,” she said with a smile and a wink. It cheered Fox up a little bit, but a gush of wind called him back to his task of holding the pole. Once he secured it he put on an awkward smile, but noticed that Rukshan and Olliver were too busy to have noticed.
Lhamom came back with a big ham which Fox thought was more than suitable. He thanked her and made a joke about leaving her with her pole that he thought afterword he should not have done and walked away from the camp in the crunchy snow.
Fox had been aware that the dogs were observing him, and especially the big ham he was carrying. A few of them had begun to gather at a distance and they were beginning to whine, which attracted more of them. When he estimated he was far enough from the camp he put the ham down. He couldn’t transform into that many layers of clothes so he started to undress, watching wearily the dogs that were now growling.
It was freezing outside and Fox was shocked by how skinny his body had become. He shivered badly and focused to change into his natural red fox. It took him a little bit longer than usual but when the fur grew and started to keep the warmth close to his body, he growled with pleasure. The world around him changed as his senses transformed. Colours were different and slightly less varied, sounds were more crisp and a profusion of noises he couldn’t hear as a human suddenly vied for his attention: the sound of the wind on the rocks, the harmonics of the dogs’ voices, and the scents… simply incomparable. He wished he had kept the ham for himself.
“It’s a fox!” barked a voice.
“Let’s kill it!” said another.
“Where’s the two-legged gone?” asked a young dog.
“Who cares? It brought us meat. It’s gone. Let’s eat!”
Fox suddenly regretted he had made a full change.
Fox’s stomach growled and resonated on the cave’s walls. He feared it would awaken the others. It was cold and he curled up inside his ten blankets made of yak wool, tempted to turn into a fox to get extra fur.
After being caught in a snowstorm, they had found a cave with a frozen toothless body. Rukshan had used incense and chanting to perform a commummycation spell, and to everyone’s surprise, Lhamom’s voice came out of the toothless frozen mouth. It was feeble and was full of sharp crystalline harmonics that made Fox’s grind his teeth. Because the commummycation was bad, Rukshan had to lean closer, almost touching its face. Fox shivered incontrollably, unable to know if it was of disgust or of cold.
Rukshan told them that Lhamom had been rescued by a hellishcopter from the underworld and was on her way to extract them from the ice. He seemed as puzzled as Fox, but their guide seemed to know the strange beast and assumed their friend was blessed because hellishcopters were not known to help strangers.
Dogs barked in the distance. Fox winced and wondered why he came to the mountain. He wished he could be back to simple cottage life in the enchanted forest. Then he recalled it was not that simple at the moment and he wondered how their friends were dealing with their own problems.
He couldn’t sleep, like the previous nights and he didn’t dare go to far from the camp to relieve his bowels by fear of the hungry dogs.
He also had had dreams. Strange dreams of master Gibbon’s home in the forest threatened by dozens of bulls with bright red eyes running angrily toward his unaware master. Each time Fox woke up when the bulls were about to crush the hut and master Gibbons opened his eyes, his face hurling towards Fox. Afterwards he never could go back to sleep. So he waited. He waited for their friend Lhamom to arrive as she promised.
Despite using his human form frequently, Tak was at heart still the same little gibbon his friend had found in the bamboo forest.
A lot of his inner turmoil had been transformed, like a new skin on a wound, especially after the ceremony. He no longer felt the weight of the other lives they had lived, nor the stir of revenge that was festering inside. His heart was like a forest after a fire, growing anew, fresh below the cover of dead ashes.
During the past months, he had been mostly busy with himself. He couldn’t avoid the classes that Rukshan would teach him in the morning, but it still left a good deal of free time. He would wander in the nearby woods, listening to the sounds, exploring where it felt safe enough, and at times jumping from branch to branch in his gibbon form.
He could feel Fox was a bit envious at times —struggling too much to retain his human form. It would become more difficult with the age, to stay longer in a form especially if you started to master it later in age. So he had to enjoy and relish the fact he was still young.
In the forest, he had felt disturbance, but nothing like the ghosts that had chased them a long time back. There was work done at a distance, and it displaced creatures, the forest was angry. His companions too, and Fox was talking about doing sabotage work. Rukshan had asked him to take no part in it, but there was no telling how long he could resist the call.
When he entered that night back in the cabin, there was a strange smell, something subtle and precious, like smokey and peppered with ambergris and with a feel of dew on a fresh lettuce. It came from a small package on the drawer in the burka lady’s quarter.
It smelt too good. Surreptitiously he entered the room and opened the little thing, there was a creamy substance in it. Surely some nice spread for freshly baked bread.
He couldn’t resist, the smell was tantalising. He dipped one finger, licked it, and… wow… in three quick gulps, licked the whole thing clear.
Tak was at heart still the same mischievous little gibbon his mother loved so much.
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