“Finnley, stop pacing like that with that concerned look of yours, you make me dizzy. Is that too difficult a task to hire a secretary?”
“You mean the perfect one for me?”
“No I mean, she’s called Pearl. She’ll start tomorrow. What concerns me is something else entirely. Something strange, if you ask me. But you never ask, so I’m telling you.”
“Well, this whole conversation started because I asked you.”
“You asked me because you thought it was related to your previous request.”
“Then tell me and stop brooding. It’s killing the mood.”
Finnley snorted. “If you want to know, someone is throwing things on the balcony. Children things. The other day I found that cheap toy to make soap bubbles. And then it was a small blue children’s plastic sand shovel. And today they dropped a red bucket.”
“I’ve asked Godfrey and I’m positive it’s not him because it’s driving him nut too. We asked Roberto because he’s been attempting to teach tricks to the dogs. A waste of time if you ask me, letting the garden going to the dogs,” she smirked.
“Then, was it Roberto and the dogs?”
“Not at all! We kept an eye on him while he was training the dogs. Nothing. But the objects keep coming. I’m telling you either we have a ghost or a portal to another dimension in this mansion.”
“That sounds like a nice idea,” said Liz, pouting at the possibilities.
“You wouldn’t say that if another you came into this thread.”
“Finnley, when you’ve fed all those dogs, would you be so kind as to hire me a secretary. I simply can’t keep up.”
It was Liz’s turn to snort. “Carrots and snails, that’s all he’s interested in nowadays. I don’t know what the world’s coming to. You just can’t get the…”
Finnley clapped her hands over her ears and cut her off. “Please! Don’t say that again!”
“Why is it so dark in here?” said Liz changing the subject.DevanParticipant
Working at the gas station gave me the possibility to not only be confined at home but also at work. At least I could enjoy the transit between places, that’s what I told me everyday. And better go to work than turn around all day in the studio I rented since I left the Inn.
You can’t imagine how many people need gas during the confinement. It looks like in this part of the country people don’t have as many dogs as them in the big cities, so they do all sorts of crazy things to be able to get out.
A man came to the station this morning. I’m sure it was to give the equivalent of a walk to his brand new red GMC Canyon, you know, treating his car like she needed fresh air and to get some exercise regularly. From behind the makeshift window made of transparent wrapper, I asked him how was his day. You know, to be polite. He showed me the back of his truck. I swear there was a cage with two dingos in it.
The guy told me he captured them the other day in case the cops stopped him in the street with no reason to be out. At least, he said, I could still say I’m giving them a walk. I told him them being in a cage would hardly pass as a walk but he answered me with a wink and a big grin that cops weren’t that intelligent. I’m glad we have makeshift windows now, at least seeing his teeth I didn’t have to smell his breath. I’m not sure who’s the less intelligent in absolute terms, but in that case I’d rather bet his IQ would fail him.
Well that’s probably the most exciting thing that happened before I went home after work. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from Prune. On the landline. It’s like she has some magical means to know when I’m there.
Anyway, she asked me if I washed my hand. I told her yes, though I honestly don’t recall. But I have to make her think all is ok. She started to talk again about Jasper. Each time she mention the subject I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure I fancy having a brother, even if it’s kind of being in a TV series. She said she had looked for him on internet, contacted some adoption agencies, even tried a private called Dick. That’s all that I remember of the private’s name. Dick, maybe that’s because he never answered her calls. Might be dead of the pandamic I told her. PandEmic, She corrected. I know, I told her, I said that to cheer you up.
We talked about Mater too. That made me laugh. Apparently Idle saw her in a fuschia pink leotard. Prune half laughed herself when she mentioned the leotard, but she said : Truth is I don’t know what Dido had taken when she had seen Mater outside. I suspect the om chanting was simply snoring.
There was a silence afterward. Maybe Prune was thinking about age and the meaning of life, I was merely realising I was hungry. I swear I don’t know what crossed my mind. I have a tendency to want to help my sister even if I think there is no hope. You know, I told her, about Jasper we could still go and ask that woman in the bush. It’s like she already knew what I was going to say. Tiku? I knew by her tone that all the conversation was fated to lead there. Yeah. I can drive you there after work tomorrow.
Of course, we didn’t even have to go there after all.
Boredom rang the bell in the morning and I made the mistake of opening the door. I should have known better in this confinement time, they said the postman should leave the package at the door, or be at least at 2 to 3 meters from it when we open. Apparently boredom didn’t receive the notice, and I opened the door and let it in.
Once it was there, nothing seemed interesting enough. I tried to show my guest a movie, or a series. New ones, old ones, none seemed to satisfy its taste. Even the expensive tea I opened just for the occasion and made for my guest tasted duller than gnat’s pee. I thought gnat’s pee might have been more exciting as I would have welcomed it as a new experience, but I’m certain it wasn’t that new to boredom.
Boredom is like a crowd, it amplifies the bad mood, and paint dull all that it touches. I had received a set of twelve chromo therapy glasses, all making a beautiful rainbow in the box. I remembered being so excited when I had received that set, all those moments I would spend looking at the world in different colours. Why did I wait? Now I couldn’t even get close to the box. Boredom seemed so comfortable now that I felt tired at the idea of driving it out of my couch, not to mention driving it out of my apartment entirely.
Boredom had not been passive as one could have thought. It had diligently painted everything in a shade of dull which made it hard for anything to catch my attention. Everything looked the same, I had become fun blind. Only the window started to look like a satisfactory exit. I had to trick my mind in thinking it too would be boring.
But at the end of the afternoon the phone rang. I looked boredom into the dull of its eyes. I almost got drowned in it again almost losing any interest to answer. It made it drop its guard and I seized the moment to jump on my mobile. It was a friend from Spain.
“You won’t believe it!” she said.
I looked boredom in the eyes and I clearly could see it was afraid of what was coming. It was begging for mercy.
“Try me,” I said to my friend.
“I got a swarm of bees gathering on the top of my roof patio! I swear there are hundreds of them.”
“What?” I was so surprised that I looked away through the window and lost sight of boredom. When I looked back at the couch, boredom was not there. I looked around trying to see if it could have hidden somewhere while my friend was talking about having put the dogs in the shed, not daring go feed the cats on the rooftop with all those bees swarming around. I could hear her hubbie in the background “Oh my! I think they are building something.”
My imagination worked faster than a pandemic and it had already built a manhattan beehive project. Despite my disbelief I had to face the fact that there were no traces of dull places anymore around me. I could almost see the swarm of bees getting the last touch in cleaning the dull-art boredom had crafted around so plainly while it was there.
“Send me some pictures,” I said. “I want pictures!”
“Adaptability and improvisation are the names of the game now,” said Liz, beaming with satisfaction. Her impulse had been a success. A quick call to the local dog shelter and the delivery of two dogs within the hour had solved the problem nicely. As anyone who’d ever had dogs knew, cleaning up spilled food was simply never a problem. “You won’t have to wash the dishes anymore now!”
“What do you mean?” Finnley asked suspiciously. “Surely you can’t mean…”
“Why, yes! Just put them all on the kitchen floor and the dogs will do it for you. They’re ever so good, they won’t miss a single morsel. Which is more than can be said for your washing up. Now don’t pout! Be glad you have one less job to do.”
Godfrey patted the black poodle’s head, which had a funny sort of spring loaded feel. “We’re keeping the dogs, then?” he asked, failing to keep the hopeful note out of his voice. He was rather taken with the funny little dog. Without waiting for an answer from Liz he said to the expectant little face peering up at him, “What shall we call you, then?”
The shadow of a frown creased Liz’s brow momentarily as she wondered if she’d done the right thing. Would she be able to stomach seeing Godfrey fawning over a poodle? Why on earth had the dogs home sent her a poodle? Did she sound like a poodle person? But then, they’d sent her a lurcher as well. Liz contemplated taking umbrage at that, did she honestly sound like a lurcher person? A lurcher poodle person? Or a poodle lurcher person?
“Are we keeping both of them, then?” asked Roberto. “What shall we call you, big boy?” he asked, addressing the dog.
“On the way back call in at the dogs home and pick two more dogs up, Finnley. We may as well have one each. I’ll ring them now.”FloveParticipant
Her family’s origins is South-Asian. April is an aspiring artist, using her free time as a nanny to explore her art. She met June in 1999, while June was on the run from the police and broke into the household where April was in charge of twins and a pack of dogs at the time. June’s unexpected help with the twelve whining household dogs helped win her over and they became inseparable friends shortly after that, despite June’s temper and kleptomania habits.EricKeymaster
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.EricKeymaster
Some updates on the Heartwoods Weave
So far, there were loosely 2 chapters in this story, and we’re entering the 3rd.
Let’s call them:
- Ch. 1 – The Curses of the Stolen Shards
- Ch. 2 – The Flight to the Desert Mountains
- Ch. 3 – Down the Lands of Giants
Ch. 1 – The Curses of the Stolen Shards
In Chapter One, we get acquainted with the main characters as their destinies intertwine (Rukshan, Glynis, Eleri, Gorrash, Fox, Olliver and Tak).
In a long past, the Forest held a powerful artifact created and left behind as a seal by the Gods now departed in their World: a Gem of Creation. It was defiled by thieves (the 7 characters in their previous incarnations of Dark Fae (Ru), Toothless Dragon (Gl), Laughing Crone (El), Mapster Dwarf (Go), Glade Troll (Fo), Trickster Dryad (Ol), Tricked Girl (Ta)), and they all took a shard of the Gem, although the innocent girl was tricked to open the woods by a promise of resurrecting a loved one, and resented all the others for it. She unwittingly created the curse all characters were suffering from, as an eternal punishment. Removing the Gem from the center of the Forest and breaking it started a chain of events, leading to many changes in the World. The Forest continued to grow and claim land, and around the (Dragon) Heartwoods at the center, grew many other woods – the Haunted Bamboo Forest, the Enchanted Forest, the Hermit’s Forest, the Fae’s Forest etc. At the other side, Cities had developed, and at the moment of the story, started to gain control over the magical world of Old.
From the special abilities the Seven gained, some changes were triggered too. One God left behind was turned into stone by the now young Crone (E).
Due to the curse, their memories were lost, and they were born again in many places and other forms.
During the course of Ch.1, they got healed with the help of Master Gibbon, and the Braider Shaman Kumihimo, who directed Rukshan how to use the Vanishing Book, which once completed by all, and burnt as an offering, lifted the curse. Tak (the Girl of the origin story), now a shapeshifting Gibbon boy, learned to let go of the pain, and to start to live as a young orphan under the gentle care of the writer Margoritt Loursenoir and her goat Emma, in a cottage in the woods.
Glynis, a powerful healer with a knack for potions, still haven’t found a way to undo the curse of her scales, which she accepts, has found residency and new friends and a funny parrot named Sunshine. Eleri besides her exploration of anti-gravity, learnt to make peace with the reawakened God Hasamelis no longer vengeful but annoyed at being ignored for a mortal Yorath. Eleri continues to love to butt heads with the iniquities of the world, which are never in lack, often embodied by Leroway and his thugs. Gorrash, who adopted the little baby Snoots activated by Glynis’ potions seemed simply happy to have found a community. Fox, a fox which under the tutelage of Master Gibbon, learnt to shapeshift as a human for all his work and accumulation of good karma. Olliver, a young man with potential, found his power by activating the teleporting egg Rukshan gave him. As for Rukshan, who was plagued by ghosts and dark forces, he found a way to relieve the Forest and the world of their curse, but his world is torn between his duties towards his Fae family in the woods, his impossible love for his Queen, and his wants for a different life of exploration, especially now knowing his past is more than what he thought he knew.
At the end of the chapter, the Door to the God’s realm, at the center of the Forest seems to have reopened.
Ch. 2 – The Flight to the Desert Mountains
In the second Chapter, strange sightings of light beams in the mountains prompt some of our friends to go investigate, while in the cottage, the others stay to repel encroachments by brutal modernity embodied by Leroway and his minions. Glynis has found a way to be rid of her scales, but almost failed due to Tak’s appetite for untested potions. Remaking the potion, and succeeding at last, she often still keeps her burka as fond token of her trials. Eleri is spreading glamour bomb concrete statues in the woods, and trying her hand with Glynis supervision at potions to camouflage the cottage through an invisibility spell. Muriel, Margoritt’s sister, comes for a visit.
In the mountains, the venturing heroes are caught in a sand storm and discover spirits trapped in mystical objects. Pushing forward through the mountain, they are tracked and hunted by packs of hellhounds, and dark energy released from an earthquake. Rukshan works on a magical mandala with the help and protection of his friends. Olliver discovers a new teleportation trick making him appear two places at once. Kumihimo rejoins the friends in trouble, and they all try to leave through the magical portal, while Fox baits the dogs and the Shadow. Eerily, only Fox emerges from the portal, to find a desolated, burnt Forest and his friends all gone. They had been too late, and the Shadow went with them through the portal instead of being destroyed. Luckily, a last potion left by Glynis is able to rewind Fox in time, and succeed in undoing the disaster. The beaming lights were only honeypots for wandering travellers, it turned out.
Shaken by the ordeal, Rukshan leaves the party for some R&R time in the parallel world of the Faes, which is now mostly abandoned.
Ch. 3 – Down the Lands of Giants
In Chapter 3, which has only just begun, some time has passed, and Margoritt has come back to the City, at the beginning of winter for some special kneedle treatments. Glynis and Margoritt are in turn taking care of Tak, who has joined a local school, where he seems to have befriended a mysterious girl Nesingwarys (Nesy). Gorrash seems to have been hurt, broken whilst in his statue form by Leroway’s thugs, but the Snoot babies are still staying with him, so there is hope. Fox is always hungry, and helps with the reconstruction work for the cottage, which was damaged in a fire (we suppose during Leroway’s men foray in the woods).
Rukshan emerges from his retreat after an encounter with a mad Fae, babbling about a Dark Lord’s return. Piecing clues together, he finds a long lost World Map and connection with a renegade magician who may have been the Maker of Gorrash (and maybe linked to the trapped spirits in the mountain after all). He sends a pigeon to his friends before he returns to the thick of the Heartwoods.
Now, it seems the Door to the God’s realm has reopened the ancient Realms of the Underworld too, all accessible through the central pillar of the World, intersecting their World precisely at the Heartwoods, were the Gem of Creation originally was. He’s planning to go to the long lost Underworld of the Giants, were he suspects the so-called Dark Lord is hiding.
She had to smile when she saw the thin blue thread stuck to the dogs collar. Lucinda’s friend Sparrow had just been telling her about an incident involving a blue thread, and his interpretation of it. There had been some discussions about the colour, and suggestions that with a somewhat limited range of perceivable colours, one could hardly assign such a broad category as “blue”, for example, to merely one interpretation, despite many agreeing that they would have interpreted it that way too.
Lucinda was inclined to find the fact that they’d each seen blue threads more amusing than who the string represented, and considerably more interesting (interesting though it was) than if a single blue thread had been seen by one person, regardless of who it represented.
The fact that all of this occurred on yet another blue thread ~ in a manner of speaking ~ made the whole thing rather amusingly droll.
“I’ve just had a letter from one of my characters,” replied Liz. “Here, look.”
Dear Liz, it said.
Henry appeared on the same day my young niece arrived from Sweden with her grandma. My mother had already arrived, and we’d just returned from picking them up from the airport. A black puppy was waiting outside my gate.
“We can’t leave him out here,” I said, my hands full of bags. “Grab him, Mom.”
She picked him up and carried him inside and put him down on the driveway. We went up to the house and introduced all the other dogs to the newcomers, and then we heard howling and barking. I’d forgotten to introduce the other dogs to the new puppy, so quickly went down and pulled the terrified black puppy out from under the car and picked him up. I kept him in my arms for a while and attended to the guests.
From then on he followed me everywhere. In later years when he was arthritic, he’d sigh as if to say, where is she going now, and stagger to his feet. Later still, he was very slow at following me, and I’d often bump into and nearly fall over him on the return. Or he’d lie down in the doorway so when I tripped over him, he’d know I was going somewhere. When we went for walks, before he got too old to walk much, he never needed a lead, because he was always right by my side.
When he was young he’d have savage fights with a plastic plant pot, growling at it and tossing it around. We had a game of “where’s Henry” every morning when I made the bed, and he hid under the bedclothes.
He was a greedy fat boy most of his life and adored food. He was never the biggest dog, but had an authority over any plates of leftovers on the floor by sheer greedy determination. Even when he was old and had trouble getting up, he was like a rocket if any food was dropped on the floor. Even when he had hardly any teeth left he’d shovel it up somehow, growling at the others to keep them away. The only dog he’d share with was Bill, who is a bit of a growly steam roller with food as well, despite being small.
I always wondered which dog it was that was pissing inside the house, and for years I never knew. What I would have given to know which one was doing it! I finally found out it was Henry when it was too late to do anything about it ~ by then he had bladder problems.
I started leaving him outside on the patio when we went out. One morning towards the end, in the dark, we didn’t notice him slip out of the patio gate as we were leaving. In the light from the street light outside, we saw him marching off down the road! Where was he going?! It was as if he’d packed his bags and said, That’s it, I’m off!
Eventually he died at home, sixteen years old, after staggering around on his last legs for quite some time. Stoic and stalwart were words used to describe him. He was a character.
A couple of hours before he died, I noticed something on the floor beside his head. It was a gold earring I’d never seen before, with a honeycomb design. Just after he died, Ben went and sat right next to him. We buried him under the oak tree at the bottom of the garden, and gave him a big Buddha head stone. Charlie goes down there every day now. Maybe he wonders if he will be next. He pisses on the Buddha head. Maybe he’s paying his respects, but maybe he’s just doing what dogs do.
A strong and loud guttural roar echoed through the mountains, ferocious and hungry. Fox’s hairs stood on his arms and neck as a wave of panic rolled through his body. He looked at the others his eyes wide open.
Olliver teleported closer to Rukshan whose face seemed pale despite the warmth of the fire, and Lhamom’s jaw dropped open. Their eyes met and they swallowed in unison. “Is that…” asked Fox. His voice had been so low that he wasn’t sure someone had heard him. Rukshan nodded.
“It seems you are leaving the mountains sooner than you expected,” said Kumihimo with a jolly smile as she dismounted Ronaldo. She plucked her icy lyre from which loud and rich harmonics bounced. The wind carried them along and they echoed back in defiance to the Shadow.
You must remember, seemed to whisper an echo from the cave they had used for shelter for weeks. Fox dismissed it as induced by the imminent danger.
The Shadow hissed and shrieked, clearly pissed off. The dogs howled and Kumihimo engaged in a wild and powerful rhythm on her instrument.
You must remember, said the echo again.
Everobody stood and ran in chaos, except for Fox. He was getting confused, as if under a bad spell.
Someone tried to cover the fire with a blanket of wool. “Don’t bother, we’re leaving,” said Rukshan before rushing toward the multicolour sand mandala he had made earlier that day. Accompanied by the witche’s mad arpeggios, he began chanting. The sand glowed faintly.
Lhamom told them to jump on the hellishcopter whose carpet was slowly turning in a clockwise direction. “But I want to help,” said Olliver. “You’ll help best by being ready to leave as soon as the portal opens,” said Lhamom. She didn’t wait to see if the boy followed her order and went to help Rukshan with her old magic spoon.
“Something’s wrong. I’ve already lived that part,” said Fox when the screen protecting the mandala flapped away, missing the fae’s head by a hair.
“What?” asked Olliver.
“It already happened once,” said Fox, “although I have a feeling it was a bit different. But I can’t figure out how or why.”
At that moment a crow popped out of the cave’s mouth in a loud bang. The cave seemed to rebound in and out of itself for a moment, and the dark bird cawed, very pleased. It reminded Fox at once of what had happened the previous time, the pain of discovering all his friends dead and the forest burnt to the ground by the shadow. The blindness, and the despair.
The crow cawed and Fox felt the intense powers at work and the delicate balance they were all in.
The Shadow had grown bigger and threatened to engulf the night. Fox had no idea what to do, but instead he let his instinct guide him.
“Come!” he shouted, pulling Olliver by the arm. He jumped on the hellishcopter and helped the boy climb after him.
“COME NOW!” he shouted louder. Rukshan and Lhamom looked at the hellishcopter and at the devouring shadow that had engulfed the night into chaos and madness.
They ran. Jumped on the carpet. Kumihimo threw an ice flute to them and Fox caught it, but this time he didn’t nod. He knew now what he had to do.
“You’ll have one note!” the shaman shouted. “One note to destroy the Shadow when you arrive!” Kumihimo hit the hellishcopter as if it were a horse, and it bounced forward.
But Fox, aware of what would have come next, kept a tight rein on the hellishcarpet and turned to Olliver.
“Go get her! We need her on the other side.”
Despite the horror of the moment, the boy seemed pleased to be part of the action and he quickly disappeared. The shaman looked surprised when the boy popped in on her left and seized her arm only to bring her back on the carpet in the blink of an eye.
“By the God Frey,” she said looking at a red mark on her limb, “the boy almost carved his hand on my skin.”
“Sorry if we’re being rude,” said Fox, “but we need you on the other side. It didn’t work the first time. If you don’t believe me, ask the crow.”
The bird landed on the shaman’s shoulder and cawed. “Oh,” said Kumihimo who liked some change in the scenario. “In that case you’d better hold tight.”
They all clung to each other and she whistled loudly.
The hellishcopter bounced ahead through the portal like a wild horse, promptly followed by Ronaldo and the Shadow.
The wind stopped.
The dogs closed in on the portal and jumped to go through, but they only hit the wall of the powerful sound wave of Kumihimo’s ice lyra.
They howled in pain as the portal closed, denying them their hunt.
A deep guttural roar echoed through the mountains, ferocious and hungry.
Fox’s hairs stood on his arms and neck as a wave of panic rolled through his body. He looked at the other his eyes wide open.
Olliver had teleported closer to Rukshan whose face seemed pale despite the warmth of the fire, and Lhamom’s jaw had dropped open. Their eyes met and they swallowed in unison.
“Is that…” asked Fox. His voice had been so low that he wasn’t sure someone had heard him.
“It seems you are leaving the mountains sooner than you expected,” said Kumihimo with a jolly smile as she dismounted Ronaldo.
She plucked her icy lyre from which loud and rich harmonics bounced. The wind carried them along and they echoed back in defiance to the Shadow. It hissed and hurled back, clearly pissed off. The dogs howled and Kumihimo started to play a wild and powerful rhythm on her instrument.
It shook the group awake from their trance of terror. Everobody stood and ran in chaos.
Someone tried to cover the fire.
“Don’t bother, we’re leaving,” said Rukshan, and he himself rushed toward the multicolour sand mandala he had made earlier that day. Accompanied by the witche’s mad arpeggios, he began chanting. The sand glowed faintly. It needed something more for the magic to take the relay. Something resisted. There was a strong gush of wind and Rukshan bent forward just in time as the screen and bamboo poles flew above his head. His chanting held the sands together, but they needed to act quickly.
Lhamom told the others to jump on the hellishcopter whose carpet was slowly turning in a clockwise direction. Fox didn’t wait to be told twice but Olliver stood his ground.
“But I want to help,” he said.
“You’ll help best by being ready to leave as soon as the portal opens,” said Lhamom. Not checking if the boy was following her order, she went to her messenger bag and foraged for the bottle of holy snot. On her way to the mandala, she picked the magic spoon from the steaming cauldron of stew, leaving a path of thick dark stains in the snow.
Lhamom stopped beside Rukshan who had rivulets of sweat flowing on his face and his coat fluttering wildly in the angry wind. He’s barely holding the sands together, she thought. She didn’t like being rushed, it made her act mindlessly. She opened the holy snot bottle and was about to pour it in the spoon covered in sauce, but she saw Rukshan’s frown of horror. She realised the red sauce might have unforgivable influence on the portal spell. She felt a nudge on her right arm, it was Ronaldo. Lhamom didn’t think twice and held the spoon for him to lick.
“Enjoy yourself!” she said. If the sauce’s not good, what about donkey saliva? she wondered, her inner voice sounding a tad hysterical. But it was not a time for meditation. She poured the holy snot in the relatively clean spoon, pronounced the spell the Lama had told her in the ancient tongue and prayed it all worked out as she poured it in the center of the mandala.
As soon as it touched the sand, they combined together in a glossy resin. The texture spread quickly to all the mandala and a dark line appeared above it. The portal teared open. Rukshan continued to chant until it was big enough to allow the hellishcopter through.
“COME NOW!” shouted Fox.
Rukshan and Lhamom looked at the hellishcopter, behind it an immense shadow had engulfed the night. It was different from the darkness of the portal that was full of potential and probabilities and energy. The Shadow was chaotic and mad and light was absent from it. It was spreading fast and Lhamom felt panic overwhelm her.
They ran. Jumped on the carpet. Kumihimo threw an ice flute to them and Fox caught it not knowing what to do with it.
“You’ll have one note!” the shaman shouted. “One note to destroy the Shadow when you arrive!”
Fox nodded unable to speak. His heart was frozen by the dark presence.
Kumihimo hit the hellishcopter as if it were a horse, and it bounced forward. The shaman looked at them disappear through the tear, soon followed by the shadow.
The wind stopped. Kumihimo heard the dogs approaching. They too wanted to go through. But before they could do so, Kumihimo closed the portal with a last chord that made her lyre explode.
“Good lord, is that little dog still coughing?” Eleri asked, disentangling herself from Alexandria’s dreadlocks which had wrapped themselves around her bowler hat as they embraced and kissed a greeting. “After all this time?”
“I had a terrible bout of memory flu, and forgot all about him,” she replied with a pang in the region of her heart. How on earth did I completely forget I left that little dog here? she wondered.
“Well, never mind,” Alexandria said, softening. “He’s been well looked after, and I’ve enjoyed staying here while you’ve been away. I’ve been wondering if you’d mind if I stayed on here, what with all the trouble with Leroway. Makes me feel ill, all that division and fighting; I just don’t want to go back.”
Eleri beamed at her old friend. “I think that would work out perfectly! That little dogs cough isn’t driving you mad, though?”
“Oh he does a bit, sure, but there are worse things in life, eh,” she said with a rueful grin. “But come, you must be hungry and thirsty after your journey home, come inside, come inside.”
“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?”
In the white silence of the mountains, Rukshan was on his knees on a yakult wool rug pouring blue sand from a small pouch on a tricky part of the mandala that looked like a small person lifting his arms upwards. Rukshan was just in the right state of mind, peaceful and intensely focused, in the moment.
It was more instinct than intellect that guided his hands, and when he felt inside him something click, he stopped pouring the sand. He didn’t take the time to check if it was right, he trusted his guts.
He held the pouch to his right and said: “White”. Olliver took the pouch of blue and replaced it with another. Rukshan resumed pouring and white sand flew in a thin stream on the next part of the mandala.
After a few hours of the same routine, only broken by the occasional refreshments and drinks that Olliver brought him, the mandala was finished and Rukshan stood up to look at the result. He moved his shoulders to help relieve the tensions accumulated during the hard day of labor. He felt like an old man. His throat was dry with thirst but his eyes gleamed with joy at the result of hours of hard concentration.
“It’s beautiful,” said Olliver with awe in his voice.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Rukshan. He accepted a cup of warm and steaming yakult tea that Olliver handed him and looked at the boy. It was the first time that Olliver had spoken during the whole process.
“Thanks, Olli,” said Rukshan, “you’ve been very helpful the whole time. I’m a little bit ashamed to have taken your whole time like that and make you stand in the cold without rest.”
“Oh! Don’t worry,” said the boy, “I enjoyed watching you. Maybe one day you can teach me how to do this.”
Rukshan looked thoughtfully at the boy. The mandala drew its power from the fae’s nature. There could certainly be no danger in showing the technique to the boy. It could be a nice piece of art.
“Sure!” he said. “Once we are back. I promise to show you.”
A smile bloomed on Olliver’s face.
In the white silence of the mountain, Lhamom sat on a thick rug of yakult wool in front of a makeshift fireplace. She had finished packing their belongings, which were now securely loaded on the hellishcarpet, and decided it was cooking time. For that she had enrolled the young lad, Olliver, to keep her company instead of running around and disturbing Rukshan. The poor man… the poor manfae, Lhamom corrected, had such a difficult task that he needed all his concentration and peace of mind.
Lhamom stirred the content of the cauldron in a slow and regular motion. She smiled because she was also proud of her idea of a screen made of yakult wool and bamboo poles, cut from the haunted bamboo forest. It was as much to protect from the wind as it was for the fae’s privacy and peace of mind.
“It smells good,” said Olliver, looking with hungry eyes at what Lhamom was doing.
“I know,” she said with pride. “It’s a specialty I learned during the ice trek.”
“Can you teach me?” ask Olliver.
“Yes, sure.” She winked. “You need a special blend of spiced roots, and use pootatoes and crabbage. The secret is to make them melt in yakult salted butter for ten minutes before adding the meat and a bucket of fresh snow.”
They continued to cook and talk far all the afternoon, and when dusk came Lhamom heard Rukshan talk behind his screen. He must have finished the mandala, she thought. She smiled at Olliver, and she felt very pleased that she had kept the boy out of the manfae’s way.
Fox listened to the white silence of the mountain during that brief moment, just after the dogs had made it clear, despite all the promises of food, that they would not help the two-leggeds with their plan.
Fox sighed. For an instant, all felt still and quiet, all was perfectly where it ought to be.
The instant was brief, quickly interrupted by a first growl, joined by a second and a third, and soon the entire pack of mountain dogs walked, all teeth out, towards a surrounded Fox. He looked around. There was no escape route. He had no escape plan. His stomach reminded him that instant that he was still sick. He looked at the mad eyes of the dogs. They hadn’t even left the bones from the meat he gave them earlier. He gulped in an attempt to remove the lump of anguish stuck in his throat. There would be no trace of him left either. Just maybe some red on the snow.
He suddenly felt full of resolve and camped himself on his four legs; he would not go without a fight. His only regret was that he couldn’t help his friends go home.
We’ll meet in another life, he thought. Feeling wolfish he howled in defiance to the dogs.
They had stopped and were looking uncertain of what to do next. Fox couldn’t believe he had impressed them.
“Come,” said a voice behind him. Fox turned surprised. On the pile of his clothes stood Olliver.
“How did you,” he yelped before remembering the boy could not understand him.
“Hurry! I can teleport us back to the camp,” said the boy with his arms opened.
Without a second thought Fox jumped in Olliver’s arms and the next thing he knew was that they were back at the camp. But something was off. Fox could see Rukshan busy making his mandala and Olliver was helping him with the sand. Then he could see Lhamom cooking with the help of another Olliver.
Fox thought it might be some case of post teleportation confusion. He looked at the Olliver who helped him escape an imminent death, the fox head slightly tilted on the side, the question obvious in its eyes.
“Please don’t tell them,” said Olliver, his eyes pleading. “It just happened. I felt a little forgotten and wanted so much to be useful.”
Fox turned back into a human, too surprised to feel the bite of the cold air.
“Oh! Your clothes,” said Olliver before he disappeared. Fox didn’t have time to clear his mind before the boy was back with the clothes.
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, layered in warm clothes, looked dubiously at the hellishcopter. He had assumed it was fantastic and awe inspiring creature from the underworld. But it wasn’t.
“It’s a carpet with a circular wooden platform,” he said, feeling a bit disappointed. He noticed the steam that formed out of his mouth with every word and it made him feel cold despite the numerous layers around him.
The carpet was floating limply above its shadow on the snow. It looked old and worn out by years of use. The reds blues and greens were dull and washed-out, and it was hard to tell apart the original motives from stains. Oddly enough it was clear of dust.
“Not just a carpet, said Lhamom with her usual enthusiasm illuminating her face. It’s a magic carpet.” She wore that local coat of them which looked so thin compared to his multiple layers, but she had assured him it was warm enough for far worse temperatures. Steam was also coming out of her mouth when she talked.
Fox was still not convinced. “And how fast does it go?”
“Fast enough,” said Lhamom. “You’ll all be back in no time to the forest.”
“Isn’t there a risk for the luggage to fall off? I don’t see any practical way to attach them.”
“Oh! Sure,” retorted Lhamom with an amused look. “You won’t fall from the platform unless someone pushes you out.”
Fox winced and gulped. His mind had showed him someone shaken by an uncontrollable movement and pushing him off the platform above the sharp mountain tops, and even if it his fantasy had no sound, it was not very reassuring.
Lhamom looked at him sharply. “Are you afraid of heights?” she asked.
Fox shrugged and looked away at Rukshan who was busy packing the camp with Olliver and their guide.
“What if I am?” Fox said.
“I have some pills,” she said, foraging in her numerous pockets. She brandished victoriously an old little wooden box that she opened and showed him brown pills that looked and smelled like they had been made by dung beetles.
Rukshan had finished his packing and was approaching them with a messenger bag.
“Don’t play with him too much, he said, in his current state Fox’s will swallow everything, except food.” Rukshan and Olliver laughed. Fox didn’t know what to make of it, feeling too exhausted to find clever retorts. Lhamom winked at him and put the pills back in her pocket.
Rukshan put his hand on Fox’s shoulder. “We’re going home through a sand portal, he said giving putting a hand on his bag. I’ve gathered coloured sand from the different places we visited and Lhamom had brought some holy dripping water collected from the running nose of the lama headmaster of Pulmol Mountain when he last had a cold.”
That sounded a little complicated to Fox and he didn’t try to make sense of it.
“We’ll only go on the hellishcopter to fly throught the portal with all the stuff we collected. But I need time to make the sand portal, and from what you reported the dogs have said, we may only have little time available before that thing you have felt come to us.”
Fox started. With his bowel adventures and Rukshan’s previous dismissal of the matter, Fox had forgotten about the odd presence he had smelled and that had seemed to preoccupy the hunting dogs at night.
“What do you mean?” he asked, trying to not let worry crept back in his mind.
“I first thought it was fantasies coming out of your imagination because of your poor health condition, but when I told Lhamom this morning she told me what it was.” Rukshan hesitated.
“What? asked Fox, his heartbeat going faster.
“Some kind of ancient spirit roaming through the mountain. It feeds of human flesh and is attracted by magic. It was liberated by an earthquake recently and it that Olliver and Tak felt. Up until now the dogs, who are the gardians of the mountains, were enough to ward it off for us despite the presence of the baby snoot. But now that Lhamom has brought the spoon and that I’m going to use magic for the portal, it may get bolder and the dogs will not be enough to stop it. Fortunately it only gets out at night, so we have ample enough time, Rukshan said cheerfully. Olliver also is exhausted and he can’t use his teleporting abilities for all of us. By using a sand portal I may even be able to lay a trap for the spirit when we leave, but I need to begin now and let’s pray the weather remains clear and windless.”
It took some time for the meaning and the implications of flesh eating to sink into Fox’s mind. He looked nervously at the sky where it seemed a painter had splashed a few white strokes of clouds with his giant brush. Were they still or moving? Fox couldn’t tell. He looked back at Rukshan and Lhamom.
“What can I do to help?”
“I need you to explain the plan to the dogs so that they release the spirit when I give the signal.”
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.
The air was crisp and dry in the mountains. They had been walking for days under the guidance of their local guide Strumpjioku, whose name was simply pronounced Sok despite or because a very complicated writing system. It seemed to interest Rukshan a lot but Fox had had some brain freeze trying to understand their guide’s nebulous and proud explanations about it.
Of course, it might have been caused also by the lack of air. They were so high in the mountains, and at times Fox had even seen and heard things that should not have been there. Especially during the long nights when packs of wild dogs barked endlessly. Fox understood their language. They were hunting things. It wasn’t clear what, but Fox could sometimes sense a lingering smell carried by the otherwise empty air that he couldn’t identify.
They had established camp for the night and Sok was busy cooking for them. Fox growled miserably. He didn’t fancy too much the spicy food that seem the only thing they could get in those mountains. He missed the running hens of Margoritt’s cottage in the forest and her secret mushroom sauce that was to die for. He would even have eaten her ratatouille with only vegetables.
Rukshan was trying to cast a fae spell in order to contact their friend Lhamom who had left them for a special ceremony in a temple. She said it was for her friend Donny whose mother had passed away recently. Being in a hurry as they were, they didn’t insist to wait. Lhamom said she could catch up on them later. The spell failed again and Rukshan cursed.
Dogs started to bark loudly. Not too soon after the strange smell became stronger, and it made Fox nervous, especially hearing to the hunting dogs.
Fox approached Rukshan.
“The dogs are hunting something, he said.
“As long as they don’t hunt us, retorted Rukshan with a shrug. He seemed upset by his failed attempt and not too eager to talk.
Fox caught Sok looking at them, but the guide turned back to his cooking when he saw Fox looking at him.
“That won’t help me sleep”, mumbled Fox more grumpy than usual.
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