“Never again,” said Tara, pouring her second black coffee. “I’m done with these hangovers. You’ll have to find someone else to drink with from now on.”
“You say that every week, Tara. What are we going to do next? We’re floundering. We don’t even have a plan. Everything we do takes us further away from the case. I don’t even remember what the case is!”
“Here, have some more coffee. Don’t roll your eyes at me like that, cases are always like this, they always go through this phase.” Tara wasn’t in the mood for this kind of depressing talk, it was much too complicated. Surely it was simply a matter of drinking another coffee, until everything fell back into place.
“Cases do, do they?” Star asked, “Do they really? And what phase would that be, and how would you know?”
“Snarky tart, yes they do. I’ve been researching things you know, not just swanning around. We’ve reached the part of the case where nothing makes sense and the investigators don’t know what to do next. It’s an essential part of the process, everyone knows that. The important thing is not to try and work things out too early. The danger is preconceived ideas, you see,” Tara pontificated, warming to the theme.
“I can assure you that I have no preconceived ideas because I have no clue what’s going to happen next,” replied Star, trying not to roll her eyes too obviously. She knew from experience not to provoke Tara too much until at least the third cup of coffee.
“Precisely!” Tara said triumphantly. “Now it will all start to come together and make sense. ”
Star didn’t look convinced. “What are we going to do about the middle aged lady we locked in the wardrobe last night, though?”
“What did we do that for?!” asked Tara in astonishment.
“I can’t remember. Maybe we thought it was Aunt April?”
“Wait, if Aunt April isn’t in the wardrobe, then where is she?”
“That’s what I”m saying!” cried Star in exasperation. “What do we do next?”
“A dil-do factory?” She was aghast. “A fucking carrot dildo factory?”
“Oh don’t push it.” Star lit a large cigar, a nasty habit that cropped up when she was nervous. She blew a smoke ring and sighed. “At least the rogering was a nice change. Good clean sex, almost a spiritual experience.”
“Oh come now, with all the don’t-need-to-know details…”
“Well, don’t be such a prude, you were there after all. With all that luscious moaning. Haven’t seen you so flushed in ages…” Star tittered in that high-pitched laughter that could shatter crystal flutes.
“Wait… a minute.” Tara was having a brainwave. “We may have overlooked something.”
“What? In the sex department?”
“Shush, you lascivious banshee… In the flushed department.”
“What? Don’t speak riddles tart, I can’t handle riddles when my body’s aching from all that gymnastic.”
“Can’t you see? They got to get rid of the dissident stuff unfit for cultish dildoing, if you catch my drift.”
“Oh I catch it alright, but I’ve checked the loo… Oh, what? you mean the compost pile?”
“I’ve seen trucks parked out the back, they where labelled… Organic Lou’s Disposal Services… OLDS… That’s probably how they remove their archives, if you see what I mean.”
“I have a theory. Although it usually would be more in your area of theories.”
“What? Alien abduction?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m talking time travel… Haven’t you noticed the scent of celery when we were at the mansion and the appartment?”
“A dead give-away for time-travelling shenanigans!”
“Exactly. And if I’m correct, might well be that it’s Mr French from the future who phoned us, before he returned to his timeline. Probably because he already knows we’re going to crack the case. Before we know.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Would have been nicer if he’d told us how to solve it instead, if he knew, from the future and all? Are you not sure he’s not from his past instead, like before he got in that dreadful car accident?”
“Oh well, doesn’t matter does it? And probably won’t any longer once we locate the Uncle Basil in the Drooling Home of Retired Vegetables.”
“You really know your trade, Fuyi,” said Rukshan. “You’ve built the most exquisite and comfortable place. And I think the empty dishes speak aplenty about the quality of the food and the pleasure we took in this shared meal. Now, let us help you with the dishes,” said Rukshan.
“Ach! Don’t be so polite,” said Fuyi. “I’ll have plenty of time after yar departure tomorrow. It’s not like the inn is full. Just enjoy an evening together, discuss yar plans, and have some rest. I know that life. Take the chance when it presents itself!”
The Sinese food made by the innkeeper had been delicious and quite a first for most of them. Tak had particularly enjoyed the crunchy texture of the stir fried vegetables flavoured with the famous five spices sauce. Nesy had preferred the algae and chili dishes while Fox, who ate a red hot pepper thinking it was bell pepper, had stuffed himself with juicy pork buns to put out the fire in his mouth.
Gorrash, befuddled by the novelty, had been at a loss of labels, good or bad. He simply chose to welcome the new experiences and body reactions to flavours and textures. As for Olliver, he gave up the chopsticks when he saw how fast Fox made the food disappear from the dishes.
Now that the dishes were empty, the children and Gorrash had left the table and were playing near the fireplace. Olliver was looking at the trio with envy, split between the desire to play and enjoy the simplicity of the moment, and the desire to be taken more seriously which meant participate in the conversation with the adults.
“We have plenty to discuss, Fae,” said Kumihimo.
Fuyi looked at Olliver, recognising the conundrum. “That’s settled, then,” he said to the group. Then turning toward Olliver: “Boy! I’m sure the start of the conversation will be boring for a young mind. Let’s join the others for a story of my own. You can still come back later and they’ll fill you in on the details.”
Fuyi and Olliver moved to the fireplace. The innkeeper threw cushions on the floor and sat on a wooden rocking chair. At the mention of a story, Tak, Nesy and Gorrash couldn’t contain their exuberant joy and gathered all ears around Admirable Fuyi. As he rocked, the chair creaked. He waited until they all calmed down. And when he was satisfied he started.
“I was young and still a fresh recruit in the Sinese army,” started Fuyi. “We were stationed at the western frontier just below the high plateaus and I hadn’t participated in any battle yet. With the folly of youth I thought that our weapons and the bond we shared with my fellow soldiers were enough to defeat anything.”
“It’s funny,” he said, squinting his eyes. “Looks like the maze kind of fades out.”
“Oh yeah, that happens all the time. People lose interest you see, then it all but vanishes from their experience. Quaint, I know.”
Kahurangi, nicknamed Kahu, was trying hard to get interested, see if the structure would come back into focus. But there were more fun things around. He asked again to the guy who was selling pop corn at the entrance.
“T’is normal that people wander around with… well, pets? Look at this guy, with a piglet on a leash. It’s cute, don’t get me wrong, and probably more useful when you’re looking for truffles…”
“Pretty normal. Seems animal have a sense around this thing, or so it’s believed. Many will bring one and try again. Look, I buried my snake not long ago, it was getting tired I think. Not sure they make the best animals to cover ground there.” He continued “Are you buying me something or what?”
“Oh sure, give me that, and a bottle of water.”
He handed a crumpled bill of 5 and thanked.
“A word of unsollicited advice?”
Kahu noded “Sure.”
“See those piles of rocks over there, along the way?”
“Looks like inukshuks, are they? Strange place to find them though.”
“Yeah, you’ll tend to see more as you get along. People started to build them to pinpoint places they’d been, but over time, they became encampments, and people lost the will to move on.”
“Don’t stay too long around them.”
Kahu shrugged and moved along. The maze was starting to get in focus again, there was not a minute to spare.
The journey to the Pistil itself would have been worth its own story, thought Charlton. They had to avoid road blocks, crowds of chanting christians that had certainly vowed to spread the virus as fast as possible, and howlers who you were never sure weren’t the real thing from Teen Wolf. They had to be, in such a landscape. Once arid, it had turned greener in just a few weeks. Rain was now weekly when drops of water used to only show up with the bottles of water from the tourists.
Despite Kady’s advice not to take anything, he’d still brought the book of drawings. Kady had said nothing about the book, nor the clothes, or the snacks. Charlton was sometimes literal about what people told him, but he also knew it. So he didn’t say anything when he saw Kady had her own backpack with clothes, some money and food. During the trip, he tried to reproduce the experience with the drawings and the dreams —but nothing happened. Charlton felt a little disappointed.
They saw the pistil long before they arrived at its foot. It was at the end of the day and the sunset was splashing its reds and purples all around it. Charlton had had time to get used to its tall presence in the landscape. Yet, seeing it at a close range from below was a strange experience. Taller than the tallest man-made tower. He wondered what he was supposed to feel in its presence. Awe? Electricity? Enlightenment? Bursts of inspiration? This should at least be a mystical moment, but all he could feel was annoyance at the crowd of people crawling around like aphids avid to suck its sap.
Kady looked more annoyed than surprised. She was walking past the flock as if she knew exactly where to go. Charlton followed, feeling dizzy by the sudden increase of activity and smells. He soon got nauseous at the mix of incense and fried sausages.
“There are so many of them,” he eventually said. “How come? It was so difficult just for the two of us to avoid police controls. Do we have to wait with them?”
“Nah! They’re just the usual bunch of weirdoes,” Kady said. “They’ve been here a long time. I bet some of them aren’t even aware there have been a virus. But stay close. I don’t want to lose you, it’s a maze before the maze. I just need to see someone before we go in.”
They walked for about another ten minutes before stopping in front of a big tent. There, a big man with a boxer’s face was repairing all kind of electronics on a table with the application of a surgeon. Phones, cameras, coffee machines… Charlton wondered how they got electricity to make it all work.
“Hey, Kady!” said the man. “You’re back. Did you give it to her?” His face looked anxious.
“Her favourite perfume,” he said with a broad smile.
“I told you she still loves you. I also brought you something else.” Kady dropped a box on the table among the electronics. Charlton didn’t think it could be possible to witness the expression of a ten year old child on such a hard face, but what was inside the box certainly did magic.
“You brought chocolate?”
“Did you find the chestnut one?”
“My favourite,” said Max to Charlton. “Is this your friend?”
“I told you, you’re always welcome. Did you know she saved my life in there?”
“Saved your life?” asked Charlton looking hesitantly at Kady. “No, I didn’t know.”
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!”
With her pink glove on and her lips apart, Liz passed her finger on the bookshelf. Making the most of the opportunity of Finnley’s excursion outside, Liz had pretexted she wanted to show Roberto how to check for dust. In truth, but she would never confess to it, except to Godfrey after a few drink and some cashew nuts later that day, in truth she had bought a new pink uniform for the gardener/handyman and wanted to see how it fitted him. Of course, she had ordered a few sizes under, so Roberto’s muscles bulged quite nicely under the fabric of the short sleeves, stretching the seam in a dangerously exciting way.
“What’s this book?” asked Roberto.
“What?” asked Liz who had been lost in one of the worst case scenario. Why would Roberto talk about something as undersexying as a book? Nonetheless, without wanting to, her eyes followed the gardener’s sexy arm down to his sexy finger pointing at the book spine and her brain froze on the title: “An Aesthetic of the Night Mare“, by Vanina Vain.
“What’s this book doing among my personal work?” she asked, all sexying forgotten.
“Don’t you remember?” asked Godfrey who happened to pass behind her. “Years ago when you still read your fanmail you answered one from a young girl wanting to follow in your footsteps. You sent her a handwritten copy of Rilke’s letter to a young poet. I wrote it myself and Finnley signed it for you. She’s so good at imitating your signature. Well anyway a few years later that girl finally published her first book and sent you a copy to thank you.”
“Have I read it?” Liz asked.
“You might have. But I’m not sure. It’s quite Gothic. The girl takes advantage of her sleep paralysis at night to do some crazy experiences.”
Liz had no recollection whatsoever of it, but that was not the point.
“Tsk. What’s it doing among my personal work bookshelves? Don’t we have somewhere else to put that kind of…”
“The trash you mean?” asked Finnley.
“Oh! You’re back”, said Liz.
“Tsk, tsk. Such disappointment in your voice. But I’m never far away, and luckily for some”, she added with a look at Roberto who was trying to stretch the sleeve without breaking the seam.
She’d felt like crying and had to pop in the little dog in the room to whine insistently and express her frustration.
Ailill had said she wasn’t at fault, but management, blahblah. She would have loved to strangle him at the moment; all her efforts, her successful pop-ins, and the gruesome timeless experience trapped in the Doctor’s crystal… That ought to be worth something. She was still dedicated to her work and her vision to help people around. Rather that than being hanging around with blissful dudes in an ethereal after-life.
“Where is the fun?” she’d asked to the vortex Ailill had made when he left. The vortex had answered in sparkles and she’d suddenly felt connected to her friends. She felt confident their story was now in their own capable hands, and she was free to explore new dimensions. There was potential in a tart wreck repackage. It finally brought an inner smile back to her thoughts before she jumped in: “To boldly go where no man has gone before!”FloveParticipant
Rosamund narrowed her heavily mascaraed eyes. “How much are you going to pay me?” she asked, reaching into the back of her jeans. “Thong’s all up my damn crack!”
“I don’t do cleaning.” Rosamund held out her hands. “See? Fancy nails eh? Can’t risk it.”
Tara took a deep breath before speaking. “It’s just answering phones and … stuff. If you don’t want to … that’s fine. ”
“Didn’t say I wasn’t keen. I can start right now if you guys want.”
“Cartwright and Wrexham Private Investigators, can I help you?”
“Do you do missing persons?” Vince asked, getting straight to the point. “Good, well then can I speak to a detective; it’s a very confidential matter.”
“My uncle Basil, he’s gone. He got in with that cult, and now he’s gone. They’ve seduced him with all that mumbo jumbo and hype and parlour tricks, I could see it coming, I tell you, I knew they’d take him.” Vince was becoming emotional. “And now he’s left me.”
“Well if it’s your uncle, he must be, how old? So what if he wants to join a cult?” said Star, wondering why he was being so melodramatic. “What?” she whispered to Tara who was pulling faces and shaking her head. “Oh, right!” she replied, getting the message.
“Now then Mr French, I’m confident that we can find your uncle. We have some experience with cults and know how they operate. If you’d like to make an appointment with our secretary to pop in to the office as soon as possible..”
“I’m a senior partner, not a secretary!” Tara hissed, taking the phone. Her anger subsided when she heard his voice. Where had she heard that voice before?
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.
Bugger them all then, Lucinda said to herself, I’ll carry on here without them.
For a time she had been despondent at being abandoned, sinking into an aching overcast gloom to match the weather. Waiting for it to rain, and then waiting for it to stop.
On impulse, in an attempt to snap out of the doldrums, she signed up for a Creative Writing and Rambling course at the local Psychic Self Institute. Institutionalizing psychic matters had been the brainchild of the latest political party to gain power, and hitherto under the radar prophets, healers and remote viewers had flocked to sign up. The institute has promised pension and public health credits to all members who could prove their mental prowess, and needless to say it had attracted many potential scammers: useless nobodies who wanted to heal their diseases, or lazy decrepit old scroungers who wanted to retire.
Much to everyone’s surprise, not least their own, the majority of them had passed the tests, simply by winging it: making it up and hoping for the best. Astonishingly the results were more impressive than the results from the already established professional P.H.A.R.T.s ~ (otherwise known as Prophets, Healers and Remote Technicians).
This raised questions about the premise of the scheme, and how increasingly difficult it was to establish a criteria for deservingness of pensions and health care, particularly if any untrained and unregistered Tom, Dick or Harry was in possession of superior skills, as appeared to be the case. The debate continues to this day.
Nothwithstanding, the Institute continued to offer courses, outings and educational and inspiring talks. The original plan had been to offer qualifications, but the entrance exams had provoked such a quandary about the value and meaning (if any) of qualifications, that the current modus operandi was to simply offer each member, regardless of merit or experience, a simple membership card with a number on it. It was gold coloured and had classical scrolls and lettering on it in an attempt to bestow worth and meaning. Nobody was fooled, but everyone loved it.
And everyone loved the tea room at the Institute. It was thought that some cake aficionado’s had even joined the Institute merely for the desserts, but nobody objected. There was a welcome collective energy of pleasure, appreciation and conviviality in the tea room, and it’s magnetic appeal ~ and exceptional cakes ~ ensured it’s popularity and acclaim.
A small group had started a campaign to get it placed on the Institutes Energetic Cake Connector mapping programme. As Lucinda had said in a moment of clarity, “A back street bar can be just as much of an energy magnet as an old stone relic”, casting doubt over the M.O.S.S group’s (Mysterious Old Stone Sites) relevance to anything potentially useful.
“In fact,” Lucinda continued, surprising herself, ““I’ve only just realized that the energy magnets aren’t going to be secret, hidden and derelict. They’re going to be busy. Like cities.”
Several members of the M.O.S.S group had glared at her.
Lucinda hadn’t really thought much about what to expect in the creative writing classes.
Not knowing what to do with the powder, Jerk pondered for a moment, then recalled a tradition from India that he’d seen on a documentary or in a magazine; taking the blue sand, he started to pour it on the ground to draw a rangoli in the shape of a feather. He clearly wasn’t very experienced at sandpainting, and the drawing looked more like a stick in an old worn sock, but he was glad that it could illuminate somehow the bland and cold fake marble at the entrance of the mall.
Granola was starting to get anxious in her red crystal. It wasn’t very comfortable. She thought she could just adjust her mental size to make it more spacious, but it was automatically adjusting. She was starting to feel desperate when she noticed a blue thing with the shape of a deflated condom glowing on one of the sides of the crystal.
The imprint of a magical act of grace she could hear vibrating. The vibration was slow and steady. She could guess she needed two, or maybe three, more of these symbols to resonate properly and break the crystal open.DevanParticipant
I have never seen so many guests at once at the Inn. Even old Bert is ferreting around, I’ve seen him many times near the shed or near the garage door. Mater knows about it of course. I’ve seen her looking at him from the corner of her eyes. I wonder if she knows about the hidden gold. I’m sure Bert knows, and that’s why he’s always been lurking around when we were kids.
Mater, she hadn’t said anything when I came back and took my old room as if I never left. She just grunted and gave me some work to do.
“It’s not good to stay idle all the time,” she had said, making me chuckle as I saw aunt Idle sneaking out to take care of her weed plot in the back yard. As if Mater didn’t know about it. I know she tried to chew some when Idle was in India and she didn’t like the taste of the raw plant, so I had showed her how to smoke it. After the coughing spell had passed, she had seemed to enjoy the experience then, but I don’t know if she had ever used some again afterward. She’s as stern as she used to be. But I like her that way. She’s the spine of the Flying Fish Inn. I’m not sure Idle could manage it all, especially I doubt Finly would stay more than a few days if Idle was the manager here.
Although, I’m suspecting Finly to sell weeds to the guests. She’s been acting weird and I’ve come upon her and Idle arguing in the kitchen upon a loafed bush lizard. Dido was accusing Finly of stealing her last crop and Finley… Well, I don’t really care about what they do.
I’ll just have to find some quiet time to go inspect the cellar. If what the man on the Harley had told me is true, I want to find the tunnels below the Inn.
The day was young, and Mandrake was enjoying playing the cat in the Inn.
Besides the benefit of unrepentant naps, what best way to be undercover in a dimension where talking cats where unheard of. His boots had been a subject for a casual chat during the breakfast, but he managed to get away with them, thanks to Arona’s quick wits who had explained he had sensitive paws.
Some of the other guests at the Inn were a bit curious though, too curious.
He’d almost jumped to rip his face off, when the Canadian guy asked whether it wouldn’t be best to have him neutered. Luckily, years of dealing with humans and dragons had left him with a patience for these types of shenanigans, even tolerating a pat or two on the head.
The maid-who-wasn’t-a-maid was another story, she seemed to fear him, and chased him with a broom when he was wandering in the morning, looking for clues as to the key.
While he was napping in a corner of the main hall on a dusted shelf near a silly looking fish, he had spotted a suspicious old man who had sneaked in and had done some business in a locked hangar before leaving. Maybe the man knew about the three words engraved on Arona’s key.
It had been weeks since Annabel looked at the old notebooks again, but when she did, she couldn’t help but marvel once more at the synchronicity. Her partner had a couple of dental appointments in the coming days, and a number of teeth were to be extracted ~ more than Annabel would be willing to lose in one fell swoop after her singularly unpleasant experience with an extraction of two adjacent teeth, but her partner Dalgliesh didn’t seem unduly worried.
Annabel felt an affinity to Liz as she perused the yellowing pages of the notebooks, although thankfully she, Annabel, still had most of her own natural teeth and had not yet resorted to plastic, despite that they were a similar colour, indeed a perfect match, to the yellow notebooks.
It wasn’t the first mention of yellow that day, either. Annabel had painted a wall purple and was surprised to find that it made her feel gloomy to look at it. The green accessories looked pleasant enough against it, but she strongly felt there was a need for yellow as well. And yet the idea of that seemed repugnant. Lavender, blue green, and yellow! It sounded ghastly. Annabel was avoiding looking at the wall for the time being, thinking the best solution was probably to repaint the wall a safe neutral scream.
Annabel meant cream, naturally, a safe neutral cream, but the astonishing typographical error was duly noted, in case it was related to the other mention of yellow, which was when not one but two of the local guru’s suggested she be sure and twirl her purples with her yellows, whatever that meant.
Meanwhile, Annabel was giving some thought to the idea of a safe neutral scream, which had rather a catchy ring to it, despite it’s accidental appearance.
Daisy the dung beetle’s daughter applauded when she finished her creation. She had completed a big mandibala of coloured sand, patiently extracted the previous years from dungs her uncle had brought back form the outside world. He had said some of it came from a faraway land where their ancestors had been worshiped by giants. Daisy had tried to imagined being worshiped, but her limited experience of life and of the world made her Goddess dream short lived.
But what she liked most was that she could put all those pieces of faraway lands in her own composition. She looked at the result, satisfied. At a certain time, she knew a cone of light from outside the Doline would come directly warm her mandibala and her wish to see the outside world would be granted.
The memories of the strange vision had faded away. Only the feeling of awe was lingering in his heart.
Fox was walking in the forest near Margoritt’s cottage. The smell of humid soil was everywhere. Despite it being mostly decomposing leaves and insects, Fox found it quite pleasant. It carried within it childhood memories of running outside after the rain whild Master Gibbon was trying to teach him cleanliness. It had been a game for many years to roll into the mud and play with the malleable forest ground to make shapes of foxes and other animals to make a public to Gibbon’s teachings.
Fox had been walking around listening to the sucking sound made by his steps to help him focus back on reality. He was trying to catch sunlight patches with his bare feet, the sensations were cold and exquisite. The noise of the heavy rain had been replaced by the random dripping of the drops falling from the canopy as the trees were letting go of the excess of water they received.
It was not long before he found Gorrash. The dwarf was back in his statue state, he was face down, deep in the mud. Fox crouched down and gripped his friend where he could. He tried to release him from the ground but the mud was stronger, sucking, full of water.
“You can leave him there and wait the soil to dry. You can’t fight with water”, said Margorrit. “And I think that when it’s dry, we’ll have a nice half-mold to make a copy of your friend.”
Fox laughed. “You have so many strange ideas”, he told the old woman.
“Well, it has been my strength and my weakness, I have two hands and a strong mind, and they have always functioned together. I only think properly when I use my hands. And my thoughts always lead me to make use of my hands.”
“Breakfast’s ready”, she said. “I’ve made some honey cookies with what was left of the the flour. And Glynis has prepared some interesting juices. I like her, she has a gift with colours.”
They left the dwarf to dry in the sun and walked back to the house where the others had already put everything on the table. Fox looked at everyone for a moment, maybe to take in that moment of grace and unlikely reunion of so many different people. He stopped at Rukshan who had a look of concern on his face. Then he started when Eleri talked right behind him. He hadn’t hear her come.
“I think I lost him”, she said. “What’s for breakfast? I’m always starving after shrooms.”
He took the road again not much later after a light breakfast.
The potion hadn’t seemed to bring about immediate noticeable changes. It told Rukshan something about its maker, who was versed enough in potions to create gradual (and likely durable) effects. Every experienced potion maker knew that the most potent potions were the ones that took time, and worked with the drinker’s inner magic instead of against its own nature. The flashy potions that made drastic changes in nature were either destructive, or fleeting as a bograt’s fart in the spring breeze.
If anything, it did give him a welcome warmth in the chest, and a lightness on his back and shoulders.
The Faes had been generous with him, and he had food enough for a few days. Generous may not have been the right word… eager to see him scamper away was more likely.
Enhanced by the potion’s warmth, the Queen’s words were starting to shake some remembrance back to him, melting away a deep crust of memories he had forgotten somehow, pushing against the snow like promises of crocuses in spring. The core of the Dragon Heartswood was very close now, a most sacrosanct place.
Faes were only living at the fringe, where life and magic flew, running like the sap of an old tree, close to the bark.
Inside was darker, harder to get to. Some said it was where life and death met, the birthplace of the Old Gods and of their Dragons guardians before the Sundering.
His initial plan was to go around it, safe in Fae territory, but after the past days, and the relentless menace of the hungry ghosts on his trail, he had to take risks, and draw them away from his kin.
The warmth in his heart was getting warmer, and he felt encouraged to move forth in his plan. He gave a last look at the mountain range in the distance before stepping into the black and white thickets of austere trees.
The night was almost there, the dwarf would come out of his heavy daysleep any minute now. Fox had been collecting mushrooms along with twigs and branches to make some fire. He hoped the constant drizzle of these last few days had not rendered them too wet.
The differences of his needs and cravings depending on his being a fox or a human had always amazed him. When he was a fox, he feared fire and would avoid it at all cost. When he was a human, he couldn’t spend a night out in the cold without a fire. His body was simply not good at keeping warmth inside when he had no fur. Today was no exception and Fox was certain the dwarf would also appreciate it to get rid of the cold of the stone.
After piling up the wood for the fire, Fox smelled his harvest of fresh mushrooms. He imagined them accompanying a good rabbit stew and felt saliva water his mouth. His diet as an animal was mostly meat, whereas as a human he was oddly attracted to vegetables, and even enjoyed the taste of mushrooms. He might not enjoy them so much had he not met a girl once, so long ago when he was a still a cub learning to transform into a human. He remembered the girl had said she was called Eleri, which he had found amusing because in French “Elle rit” means “she’s laughing”.
“How do you know French?” she had asked.
“Oh! My master Gibbon teaches me French, he says it would give me another way of thinking the world.”
“Your master must be fond of Romance stories,” she giggled.
Fox didn’t really understood what she meant by that, and he thought it was not so important because what she had in her bag smelt so funny.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“You want some?” She handed a bunch of butterstache fungi to the handsome redhead boy. “I realise I don’t know your name.”
“I’m Fox,” he said his eyes fixed on the strange looking things in her hands. He sniffed and wrinkled his nose. “Is it safe?”
He remembered the look of incredulity in her eyes, her beautiful eyes. She was the first girl he had seen. He didn’t know much about humans except what Master Gibbon had told him in French, which didn’t really make sense at that time.
“It’s totally safe, you might only have some funny experiences if you take the wrong ones in the forest,” Eleri laughed and Fox remembered the meaning of her name in French. He thought the name suited her well. He accepted her gift, for her eyes, and for her sincere laugh.
Since that time, eating mushrooms was always coloured with joy and a sense of daring. The last rays of the Sun faded away.
“It smells like mushrooms, and butterstache if I’m not mistaken,” said the raspy voice of the dwarf.
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