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.”FloveParticipant
Maeve sighed loudly—something she had been doing an awful lot of lately—and checked the time on her phone. If she left now and really hurried it would only take 5 minutes to get to the cafe. On the other hand if she took her time … well, with any luck the others would have already moved on.
Not that she didn’t like Lucinda, on the contrary she enjoyed her neighbour’s gregarious nature and propensity to talk amusing rubbish — usually in public and at the top of her voice which would cause Maeve to look around nervously and lower her own voice in order to compensate.
Maeve had made peace with her own introversion years ago. In order to survive with a semblance of normality, she had cultivated an outward calm which belied the activity going on in her head. The downside of this was she suspected she came across to others as muted and dull as the beige walls of her apartment. The upside was it allowed her to hide in plain sight; and she considered this to be a very handy trait. In truth, Maeve was one who liked many and few; she would happily talk to people, if she knew what on earth to say to them.
‘Anyway,’ Maeve reasoned, ‘I have to finish the doll.’
She looked with satisfaction at her latest creation; a young boy wearing a vintage style buzzy bee costume. She had painstakingly sewn, stuffed and painted the cloth doll and then sanded the layers of paint till he looked old and well worn. ‘He looks like he has been well loved by some child,’ she mused. There was just one more step remaining before applying a protective coat of varnish and seating him on the shelf next to the others.
She went to the kitchen drawer. In the 3rd drawer down there was a cardboard box of old keys. Most of the keys didn’t fit anything in her apartment; in fact she had no idea where they came from. Except one. She picked out a small gold key and went to the writing desk in the lounge, a heavy dour piece of furniture with a drop-front desk and various small drawers and cubby holes inside. Maeve unlocked one of these drawers with the key and pulled out a small parcel.
‘Only 3 parcels to go,’ she thought with relief.
A small section of the stitching was unfinished on the back of Bee Boy, just enough to squeeze the package inside and then rearrange the stuffing around it. With neat stitches Maeve sewed up the seam.
She checked the time. It had taken twenty six minutes.
“Want to go for a walk to see Aunty Lulu and her nice new friends? See what she is going on about decorating?” she asked Fabio, her pekingese.
It had taken Rukshan close to a year to clear the fog.
He had to admit, he’d dreaded more than was necessary. Faes where a bit thick headed and stubborn when it came to honoring vows and sacred words. There had been lessons to unravel for a lifetime in that year span they’d spent on the holy grounds.
Even the angry God had come around, and he wasn’t the threat Rukshan had thought he would be. Only another lonely soul, longing for companionship.
Yesterday, Rukshan had finished the book of Kumihimo. Propitiatory work, but he was beginning to see the benefits. He had finished collecting all the pages of the vanishing book, by burying himself in work for the commune, and on the few moments of silence left to himself, reaching towards the source of knowledge and gathering the elements once thought forever lost. Clearing of his Mind Palace.
Now he had to let it go. The Book was complete, and needed to be offered on the pyre.
Only then the Shards would be rightfully returned, rejoined and ready to spell the next evolution of their journey.
The pyre was neatly prepared. Gathering of fragrant herbs of the woods was a specialty of the Potion maker, the gorgeous assemblage of the beams had created a sriyantra-like pattern that seemed like it could easily open a portal to the Gods’ realm.
All of them had gathered around at the full moon. Gorrash had just awoken, and the feast was joyous and full of sparkling expectations.
Each of them took a thread to light the flames, and once the Book was put on the pyre with great reverence, all of them, one by one lighted one of the corners.
They all felt a great weight lifting from their chest, the weight of the sins of their past lives vanishing in the light, and a great joy pouring in from the dancing flames at the centre.
All was well and fresh on this night, and there was great content, and anticipation for what tomorrow would bring.
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.
In the kitchen, Fox beheaded the chicken in a swift move. He tried not to be horrified when the creature’s body kept on running around, headless like a peaslander. He felt vaguely aware that’s what he’d been doing all that time. Running around without a very clear idea about what he was doing.
“Don’t let it run around bloody n’all!” said Margoritt, “Who do you think is going to clean that mess?” The old woman, huff and puff, limped rhythmically after their dinner. Someone had heard her scream and came into the kitchen. It was that tall Fae guy, Rukshan, who looked so successful and handsome. Fox felt depressed. The Fae had caught the dead body, which had eventually stopped moving, and put it in the basket Margoritt had taken on the table.
“Thanks my dear,” she said with a giggle. “Would you be so kind as to pluck it for me?” She then looked at Fox. “Sorry, lad, but with a name like yours I’m not sure I can trust you on this one.” The old lady winked.
Fox couldn’t be annoyed at Margoritt, he wouldn’t trust himself with a chicken, dead or alive. And the old lady had saved him from the blizzard and from that strange curse. He attempted a smile but all he could do was a grimace. Margoritt looked at him as if noticing something.
“And send me that Eleri girl, I’d like to have a word with her while she clean the blood on the tiling.”
Outside it was noisier. Fox found the woman arguing with her male friends, one of whom looked like a statue with big wings. She seemed relieved to have a reason to get away from the crowd and her own problems and left with a smile. He wondered how she could stay happy while being surrounded by conflict. Maybe she liked it. Fox shrugged again.
He walked to the small courtyard, sat on a log and watched the handsome Fae removing the feathers. Rukshan’s hands looked clean, the blood was not sticking on his fair skin and the chicken feathers were piling neatly on a small heap at his feet.
“Aren’t Faes supposed to be vegetarian,” he said. He cringed inwardly at his own words. What a stupid way of engaging a conversation.
Without stopping, Rukshan answered: “I think you think too much. It’s not doing you much good, and it deepens the shadow under your eyes. Not that it doesn’t suit you well.” The Fae winked. Fox wasn’t sure of how to take it. He stayed silent. He saw the bag the Fae was always carrying with him and wondered what was inside.
“I need help to complete it and better understand the characters. Would you like to help me?”
Fox wasn’t sure what made him answer yes. Did it matter if it was for the welcomed distraction from his dark thoughts, or if it was for the promise of more time spent with the Fae?
“What was in the bag, Finnley, tell us!”
Everyone was looking at the maid after the Inspector had left hurriedly, under the pretext of taking care of a tip he had received on the disappearance of the German girl.
Godfrey was the most curious in fact. He couldn’t believe in the facade of meanness that Finnley carefully wrapped herself into. The way she cared about the animals around the house was a testimony to her well hidden sweetness. Most of all, he thought herself incapable of harming another being.
But he had been surprised before. Like when Liz’ had finished a novel, long ago.
“Alright, I’ll show you. Stay there, you lot of accomplices.”
“Liz’, will you focus please! The mystery is about to be revealed!”
“Oh shut up, Godfrey, there’s no mystery at all. I’ve known for a while what that dastardly maid had done. I’ve been onto her for weeks!”
“Oh, don’t you give me that look. I’m not as incapable as you think, and that bloodshot-eyes stupor I affect is only to keep annoyances away. Like my dear mother, if you remember.”
“So tell us, if you’re so smart now. In case it’s really a corpse, at least, we may all be prepared for the unwrapping!”
“A CORPSE! Ahaha, you fool Godfrey. It’s not A corpse! It’s MANY CORPSES!”
Godfrey really thought for a second that she had completely lost it. Again. He would have to call the nearby sanatorium, make up excuses for the next signing session at the library, and cancel all future public appear…
“Will you stop that! I know what you’re doing, you bloody control machine! Stop that thinking of yours, I can’t even hear myself thinking nowadays for all your bloody thinking. Now, as I was saying of course she’d been hiding all the corpses!”
“Are you insane, Liz’ —at least keep your voice down…”
“Don’t be such a sourdough Godfrey, you’re sour, and sticky and all full of gas. JUST LET ME EXPLAIN, for Lemone’s sake!”
Godfrey fell silent for a moment, eyeing a lost peanut left on a shelf nearby.
Conscious of the unfair competition for Godfrey’s attention Elizabeth blurted it all in one sentence:
“She’s been collecting them, my old failed stories, the dead drafts and old discarded versions of them. Hundreds of characters, those little things, I’d given so many cute little names, but they had no bones or shape, and very little personality, I had to smother them to death.” She started sobbing uncontrollably.
“Oh, bloody hell. Don’t you tell me I brought that dirty bag of scraps up for nothing!”
She left there, running for the door screaming “I’m not doing the carpets again!”
And closed the door with a sonorous “BUGGER!”
After days and days, there was no signs of the others.
Rukshan had hoped they would manifest as easily as the Hermit had, without much effort on his part.
But they had remained silent, and even the ghosts seemed to have subsided in another dimension. He couldn’t feel them any longer. It was as though his realisation had made them disappear, or change course for a while.
He hadn’t come any closer to the inner ring of trees though, and he’d come to the conclusion that there was surely some piece missing. He was reminded of the map that the cluster of seven had found at the beginning of the story, so they could reach the magic Gem inside the Gods’ Heartswood. There was no telling if such a map existed or if it did, what form it had —after all, the story seemed to be a little too simplified.
He was trying to figure out which was his character, and which of the curse he had inherited. The curse was rather easy he’d thought… Knowledge. It had always been his motivation, and the encounter with the Queen and the taking of the potion had keenly reminded him that for all his accumulated knowledge, he was missing the biggest part. The knowledge of himself, and who he really was. It was constantly eluding him, and he was starting to doubt even his own memories at times.
For the past few days, having finished the last morsel of fay bread in his bag, he was subsisting on roots, mushrooms and fresh rainwater cupped in leaves and last bits of snow in treeholes. It was time to get moving, as the weather had started to change. The snow was receding too.
Even if his quest wasn’t as sure as before, he knew he had to find a way to reach these six others, and try to figure out what they could do, or undo.
He had a strong suspicion that the potion maker was linked to this story. Her potion had activated something deep in him, and it seemed to share the same source of power.
With that resolution in mind, he took the path retracing his steps back to the cottage and the outside world.
The garden was becoming too small for Gorrash. With time, the familiarity had settled down in his heart and he knew very well each and every stone or blade of grass there was to know. With familiarity, boredom was not very far. Gorrash threw a small pebble in the pond, he was becoming restless and his new and most probably short friendship with Rainbow had triggered a seed in his heart, the desire to know more about the world.
Before he’d met the creature, Gorrash could remember the pain and sadness present in the heart of his maker. He had thought that was all he needed to know about the world, that mankind was not to be trusted. And he had avoided any contact with that dragon lady, lest she would hurt him. He knew that all came from his maker, although he had no real access to the actual memories, only to their effects.
Gorrash threw another pebble into the pond, it made a splashing sound which dissolved into the silence. He imagined the sound was like the waves at the surface of the pond, going endlessly outward into the world. He imagined himself on top of those waves, carried away into the world. A shiver ran through his body, which felt more like an earthquake than anything else, stone bodies are not so flexible after all. He looked at the soft glowing light near the bush where Rainbow was hiding. The memory of joy and love he had experienced when they hunted together gave his current sadness a sharp edge, biting into his heart mercilessly. He thought there was nothing to be done, Rainbow would leave and he would be alone again.
His hand reached in his pocket where he found the phial of black potion he had kept after Rainbow refused it. He shook it a few times. Each time he looked at it, Gorrash would see some strange twirls, curls and stars in the liquid that seemed made of light. He wondered what it was. What kind of liquid was so dark to the point of being luminous sometimes ? The twirls were fascinating, leading his attention to the curls ending in an explosion of little stars. Had the witch captured the night sky into that bottle?
Following the changes into the liquid was strangely soothing his pain. Gorrash was feeling sleepy and it was a very enjoyable feeling. Feelings were quite new to him and he was quite fascinated by them and how they changed his experience of the world. The phial first seemed to pulse back and forth into his hand, then the movement got out and began to spread into his body which began to move back and forth, carried along with this sensual lullaby. Gorrash wondered if it would go further, beyond his body into the world. But as the thought was born, the feeling was gone and he was suddenly back into the night. A chill went down his spine. It was the first time. The joy triggered his sadness again.
The dwarf looked at the dark phial. Maybe it could help ease his pain. He opened it, curious and afraid. What if it was poison? said a voice of memory. Gorrash dismissed it as the scent of Jasmine reached his nose. His maker was fond of Jasmine tea, and he was surprised at the fondness that rose in his heart. But still no images, it was merely voices and feelings. Sometimes it was frustrating to only have bits and never the whole picture, and full of exasperation, Gorrash gulped in the dark substance.
Nothing was happening. He could still hear the cooing of Rainbow, infatuated with it eggs, he could hear the scratches of the shrews, the flight of the insects. That’s when Gorrash noticed something was different as he was beginning to hear the sharp cries of the bats above. He tried to move his arm to look at the phial, but his body was so heavy. He had never felt so heavy in his short conscious life, even as the light of the Sun hardened his body, it was not that heavy.
The soil seemed to give way under his increasing weight, the surface tension unable to resist. He continued to sink into the ground, down the roots of the trees, through the tunnels of a brown moles quite surprised to see him there, surrounded by rocks and more soil, some little creatures’ bones, and down he went carried into hell by the weight of his pain.
After some time, his butt met a flat white surface, cold as ice, making him jump back onto his feet. The weird heaviness that a moment before froze his body was gone. He looked around, he was in a huge cave and he was not alone. There was an old woman seated crosslegged on a donkey skin. Gorrash knew it was a donkey because it still had its head, and it was smiling. The old woman had hair the colour of the clouds before a storm in summer, It was full of knots and of lightning streaks twirling and curling around her head. Her attention was all on the threads she had in her hands. Gorrash counted six threads. But she was doing nothing with them. She was very still and the dwarf wondered if she was dead or asleep.
What do you want? asked the donkey head in a loud bray.
It startled the dwarf but it didn’t seem to bother the old lady who was still entranced and focused on her threads.
Nothing, said Gorrash who couldn’t think of anything he would want.
Nonsense, brayed the donkey, laughing so hard that the skin was shaking under the old lady. Everyone wants something. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want something.
Gorrash thought about what he could want, what he had been wanting that night. He remembered his desire to get out of the garden.
And there you are, brayed the donkey head, that’s a start. What do you want then?
Getting out of the garden?
Noooo! That’s a consequence of a deeper desire, but that’s not what you want.
I have never thought about desires before, said Gorrash. It’s pretty new to me. I just came to life a few weeks ago during a full moon.
The donkey head tilted slightly on its right. No excuses, it spat, If you’re awake, then you have a desire in your heart that wants to be fulfilled. What do you want? Take your time, but not too long. The universe is always on the move and you may miss the train, or the bus, or the caravan…
As the donkey went on making a list of means of transportation, Gorrash looked hesitantly at the old lady. She was still focused on her six threads she had not moved since he had arrived there.
Who is she? he asked to the donkey.
_She’s known by many names and has many titles. She’s Kumihimo Weaver of Braids, Ahina Maker of Songs, Gadong Brewer of Stews…
Ok! said Gorrash, not wanting the donkey go on again into his list enumeration pattern. What is she doing?
And, what is she waiting for?
She’s waiting for the seventh thread, brayed the donkey head. I’m also waiting for the thread, it whined loudly. She won’t leave my back until she’s finished her braid. The head started to cry, making the dwarf feel uncomfortable. Suddenly it stopped and asked And, who are you?
The question resonated in the cave and in his ears, taking Gorrash by surprise. He had no answer to that question. He had just woken up a few weeks ago in that garden near the forest, with random memories of a maker he had not known, and he had no clue what he desired most. Maybe if he could access more memories and know more about his maker that would help him know what he wanted.
Good! brayed the donkey, We are making some progress here. Now if you’d be so kind as to give her a nose hair, she could have her last thread and she could tell you where to find your maker.
Hope rose in Gorrash’s heart. Really?
Certainly, brayed the head with a hint of impatience.
But wouldn’t a nose hair be too short for her braid? asked the dwarf. All the other threads seemed quite long to him.
Don’t waste my time with such triviality. Pull it out!
Gorrash doubted it would work but he grabbed a nose hair between his thumb and index and began to pull. He was surprised as he didn’t feel the pain he expected but instead the hair kept being pulled out. He felt annoyed and maybe ashamed that it was quite long and he had not been aware of it. He took out maybe several meters long before a sudden pain signalled the end of the operation. Ouch!
hee haw, laughed the donkey head.
The pain brought out the memory of a man, white hair, the face all wrinkled, a long nose and a thin mouth. He was wearing a blouse tightened at his waist by a tool belt. He was looking at a block of stone wondering what to make out of it, and a few tears were rolling down his cheeks. Gorrash knew very well that sadness, it was the sadness inside of him. Many statues surrounded the man in what looked like a small atelier. There were animals, gods, heads, hands, and objects. The vision shifted to outside the house, and he saw trees and bushes different than the ones he was used to in the garden where he woke up. Gorrash felt a strange feeling in his heart. A deep longing for home.
Now you have what you came here for. Give the old lady her thread, urged the donkey. She’s like those old machines, you have to put a coin to get your coffee.
Gorrash had no idea what the donkey was talking about. He was still under the spell of the vision. As soon as he handed the hair to the woman, she began to move. She took the hair and combined it to the other threads, she was moving the threads too swiftly for his eyes to follow, braiding them in odd patterns that he felt attracted to.
Time for you to go, said the donkey.
I’d like to stay a bit longer. What she’s doing is fascinating.
Oh! I’m sure, brayed the donkey, But you have seen enough of it already. And someone is waiting for you.
The dwarf felt lighter. And he struggled as he began levitating. What!? His body accelerated up through the earth, through the layers of bones and rocks, through the hard soil and the softer soil of years past. He saw the brown mole again and the familiar roots of the trees of the garden in the enchanted forest.
Gorrash took a deep breath as he reintegrated his stone body. He wobbled, trying to catch his ground. He felt like throwing up after such an accelerated trip. His knees touched the ground and he heard a noise of broken glass as he dropped the phial.
“Are you alright?” asked a man’s voice. Gorrash forced his head up as a second wave of nausea attempted to get out. A man in a dark orange coat was looking down at him with genuine worry on his face.
“I’m good,” said the dwarf. “But who are you?”
“My name is Fox. What’s yours?”
Gibbon was peeling a red apple at the end of their impromptu lunch. He handed a thin slice to Fox who took it and chewed it carefully. It was sweet and juicy, prompting him to want more.
They had returned to Fox’s hut outside the city wall. It had not the comfort that plumbing and central heating could bring, but its four walls were enough to protect them from the chilly air outside and give them a sense of proximity. Humans like to be in human sized boxes, thought Fox. They lived in boxes they called houses; they went to work in other boxes they called bank, or smithery, or medical centre —even their outdoor markets were full of virtual boxes called booth or stand; then they had fun in another kind of boxes they called Inn, or Night Club, or brothel (depending on the persona).
“You’re thinking again,” said Gibbon without raising his eyes from his apple. He handed another slice to Fox who was impressed and annoyed by how his master could read him so easily. Maybe it was luck or real power. Gibbon never told about how he did all that he did. He only said: “I’m not sure that would help you quiet your thoughts.” And that was the end of the subject.
Fox took the slice and came back to his conscientious mastication. It was the rule, he had learned, with Gibbon. You don’t talk when you eat. You don’t think when you eat. You just eat, and breath when you are not swallowing. Fox felt like he was back into the Southern forest where Gibbon had found him, the lone survivor of a litter of five. His mother had been killed, and already four of his siblings were dead. Gibbon, who was already old at that time, took him in and taught him the wisdom of breathing innate among his kind. Fox then did as he was taught, focus his attention on his actions, and particularly on his breathing at all time. It helped him focus and calm down his heart.
After they finished the apple and cleaned the place a bit, Gibbon took a deep breath. Fox knew it was the time he would Talk.
“You’ve been looking for a reason,” said the old master in a breath. Fox was all ears, he almost began to feel them becoming pointy again. He moved his attention back to his breathing and peace filled in his heart again. It was mingled with the excitement of listening to his old master’s voice again, but Fox sticked to the peace and the excitement subsided naturally.
“I’m going to give you an assignment,” continued Gibbon in between his long breaths. His eyes were shiny and seemed to glow in the dim light of the hut. He wasn’t blinking. He never blinked when he Talked. “I see you’ve mastered the power of breathing. You need to learn the wisdom of the Heart now.”
Fox was ready. He had been for many years. Even when Fox left the Southern forest to find his destiny he was ready. He now realised he left because Gibbon would not teach him. And now, he came to teach me! Fox let the thought and the excitement subside again. His master would not Talk again until it was quiet.
“IIIIIIII’m not going to teach you,” said the master. “You are going to find your own master for this one.”
“But you are my master,” said Fox, not understanding why it was happening again. “You have the power of the Heart. You can teach me.”
“IIIIII’m not your master on this one, Fox. I taught you all I was supposed to teach you. No less, no more.”
“Where will I find my master then?”
“You will find him in time. But first your assignment,” said Gibbon. He paused to breath deeply, his eyes intense as the full Moon. “You’ll find a lost soul in the enchanted forest. Bring it back to its rightful owner. Then you shall find your master.”
Fox had opened his mouth to ask him how he could find a lost piece of soul, or what a piece of soul looked like, but Gibbon had already closed his eyes and entered in a deep meditation from where there were no outside interruption possible. He stood up and stretched his body. There was no need to wait aimlessly around, hoping Gibbon would come out of his meditation state soon. It could last days, even weeks.
While packing a few things he would need on the road, like food, a knife, some clothes, Fox pondered his options. Going in the enchanted forest looking randomly for something he didn’t even know about seemed to much like his old self. He needed some more information and he had an idea about who could give them to him. The witch from the market. She would know. And she lived in the enchanted forest.
Before closing the hut’s door, Fox looked at his master one last time. His body was very still, if you didn’t know him, you’d think he was not breathing. He had a serene smile on his face. Fox smiled and felt the love of his master and his master’s way fill his heart. He had given him a purpose, and for that Fox was grateful. He shut the door quietly and began to walk toward the enchanted forest. He heard ducks in the distance, it was as if they were singing. He laughed. It was mid afternoon. If he walked at a good pace, he would arrive at the old mansion before nightfall.
The oiliphant had arrived. Rukshan had heard her powerful trumpeting that made the walls vibrate and resound deeply.
He’d called the great Oiliphant Spirit a month ago, with an old ritual of the Forest, drawing a complex symbol on the sand that he would fill with special incense offering, and letting it consume in one long slow burn. He had to chose the place carefully, as the magic took days to operate, and any disruption of the ritual by a careless passerby would just void its delicately wrought magic.
Sadly, oiliphants had left a long time ago and many believed they were creatures of lore, probably extinct. He knew from the Forest fays that it was not so. There were still sightings, from deep in the Forest, in the part where the river water fell pristine and pure from the mountainous ranges. What was true was that even for the fay people, such sightings were rarer than what used to be, in the distant past.
It was a reckless move on his part, drawing one so close to the town walls, but he knew that even the most godless town dweller would simply be in awe of the magnificent giant creature. Besides, they were notoriously difficult to mount, their thick rubbery skin slippery and slick as the smoothest stone, as if polished by ages of winds and sky water.
Thus the magic was required.
Rukshan’s little bag was ready. He’d taken with him only a small batch of provisions, and his leather-bound book of unfinished chronicles, spanning centuries of memories and tales from his kin.
Leaving his office, he took the pile of discarded paper and closed the door. The office looked almost like when he’d first arrived, maybe a little cleaner. He liked the idea of leaving little footprints.
After throwing away the papers in front of the building with the trash, he looked up at the Clock Tower and its twelve mannequins. There was definitely something awry at play in the Tower, and the mere thought of it made him shiver. The forlorn spirits dwelling in the basements had something to do with the Old Gods, he could tell. There was fear, anger and feelings of being trapped. When you were a mender, you knew how to connect with the spirit in things, and it was the first step in mending anything. He could tell that what made him shiver was the unthinkable idea that some things may be beyond repair.
Before leaving, he walked with pleasure in the still silent morning streets, towards the little house where the errand boy of the office lived with his mother. He had a little gift for him. Olliver was fond of the stories of old, and he would often question him to death about all manners of things. Rukshan had great fondness for the boy’s curiosity, and he knew the gift would be appreciated, even if it would probably make his mother fearful.
The bolophore in his old deer skin wrapping was very old, and quite precious. At least, it used to be, when magic was more prevalent, and reliable. It was shaped as a coppery cloisonné pineapple, almost made to resemble a dragon’s egg, down to the scales, and the pulsating vibrancy. People used bolophores to travel great distances in the past, at the blink of a thought, each scale representing a particular location. However, with less training on one-pointed thoughts, city omnipresent disturbances, and fickleness of magic, the device fell out of use, although it still had well-sought decorative value.
Rukshan left the package where he was sure the boy would find it, with a little concealment enchantement to protect it from envious eyes. To less than pure of heart, it would merely appear as a broken worthless conch.
With one last look at the tower, he set up for the south road, leading to the rivers’ upstream, high up in the mountains. Each could feel the oiliphant waiting for him at the place of the burnt symbol, her soft, regular pounding on the ground slowly awakening the life around it. She wouldn’t wait for long, he had to hurry. His tales of the Old Gods and how they disappeared would have to wait.
Eleri tried harder to focus on what Yorath was saying but she couldn’t keep her eyes off his red silk jacket. Eventually he realized the problem, and slipped the jacket off his shoulders, folded it neatly, and placed it in his travelling bag. Noticing Eleri’s widening eyes following the jackets movements, he zipped the bag closed and the tantalizing colour disappeared from sight.
“As I was saying,” Yorath continued. He now had Eleri’s full attention. “Don’t ask me where I procure it from, because I can’t divulge my sorcerers, er, sources. But I can promise a steady, if not unlimited, supply.”
“More tea, dear?” Eleri refilled his cup. “I’m very interested in the antigravity properties because you see, this stuff is so darned heavy. The heaviness has it’s benefits, in fact the weight of stone is one of the attractions. But during the creation process it could be extremely useful, not to mention the transportation aspect.”
Yorath smiled, nodding agreement. “Indeed, not to mention the expanded possibilities and abilities of the finished products.”
“The thing is,” asked Eleri, “Can it be programmed? There are times when heavy is entirely appropriate, and times when the anti gravity component would be welcome and beneficial.”
“The Overseer has been working on it, but he got in a bit of a muddle with it. You see, it’s a delicate combination of technology and magic. The combination has to be just right. Not too much technology without enough magic, but neither too much magic and not enough technology.”
“Oh dear,” sighed Eleri. “I’m afraid my technological know-how is nil. Well, almost nil,” she added. She knew how to mix colours, for example. Was that considered technical? She didn’t know, but felt despondent now about her ability to use the new ingredient.
“All that’s needed is a little more tinkering with the programming, and with a bit of luck,” Yorath snickered a bit at the word luck and continued, “I should be able to find just the right spell to go with it, to activate the technology.”
“Even though Elerium represents the hopes of a generation, the dream of a united world, and the struggle for human survival?” Yorath asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Well, if you put it like that, how can I refuse? How soon can you acquire the right spell to go with it?”
“Leave it with me,” he replied.
Floverly looked at her agenda, it was pretty busy in this week of now.
Medlik had assigned her more blessing tasks and her aura cleaning duties were lagging behind.
She had also agreed to take an extra soul in need of enlightenment, a recommendation. Normally recommendations worked best, but sometimes they could be extra demanding.
She sighed contentedly, looking at the pile of squeaky clean auras. She’d finished just in time, as always.
Her appointment was there and ready now. The little card in her sleeve just stated a name, James, and a little tag to indicate the time and space. She focused inwardly into the little red dot of light on the card.
Bea had finished taking notes for her last client’s reallocation.
Nowadays, she wouldn’t release the cackle at each and every time.
It was too time consuming to realign her wits after it shuffled reality, and it was actually more effective to do many changes at once.
That much she’d learned. It was like giving dog food to a pack. Much better to give all at once to the hungry dogs, rather than try to organise the melee.
She was about to call for the next client, when the walls of her kitchen trembled.
The next minute, she was in a labyrinth, dark and comfortable, with a musky smell, and soft sounds of coconuts thumps on a beach faintly in the distance.
A looming silhouette was here in the dark.
Yannosh had finished packing the suitcase. The Indian butler loathed more and more being in the employment of the evil and mad Mr Asparagus. He had no choice, the Asparagus cousins, Mr Quentin Sir, and Ms Tina M’am, were part of his undercover mission.
This time, he had taken extra pleasure in efficiently and neatly packing a month worth of Mr Quentin clothes in a bundle, all of them in the tinsiest suitcase he could find.
It would be a hell to unbundle, and a much bigger mess to repack properly. He hoped he would curse him as much as he did him.
He smiled thinking about the gouda incident. It had only missed the target by a few seconds, he would do better the next time.
Ricardo had finished cleaning the tea cups in the empty office. He liked the job alright, it was a bit silly of him to surmise people would clean their own cups, and do their own teas. That was what he’d meant with the team job comment.
Connie and Hilda were right, totally right about it; he couldn’t expect too much, he’d just arrived, he was just a simple intern in a prestigious journalistic establishment. He’d come here to learn the tricks of the trade, when he’d answered the wanted: secretary and cleaner ad of last week.
So far, there was only so much golden nuggets of weirdo news he could find. You’d need some serious training to get to the level of Hilda and Connie, the dynamic duo.
For now, he was content to being put to menial tasks, it helped know the colleagues better, support them as he could with the pressure on the deadlines. And also, improving the typos and legibility by cleaning up the loose letters dropped during typesetting.
His own headline baiting skill was still rather low —it was an art to create the perfectly sexyied up heading, not too tacky, but enticing enough to captivate the readership’s attention.
If Hilda was the queen of headline fishing, Connie was undoubtedly the empress of headline baiting.
“There’s a visitor in the drawing room by the name of Bubbles, your highness,” Finnley said with a mock curtsy.
“What on earth are you doing down there, Finnley, pretending to be a red dwarf again? Do act you age and get up at once! Now then, never mind old Bubbles, just make sure she has plenty of carrot champagne and peanuts while she waits. There is something we need to discuss.” Liz was uncharacteristically businesslike. “Something has gone horribly wrong and it will only get worse if we don’t nip it in the bud.”
“This,” said Liz with a grand sweep of her arm, “This is my haven. This thread is sacrosanct. This is where the stories come from. This is not,” she glared sternly at the diminutive personage before her, “Not where the stories come TO. I’ve just about had enough of stories and other threads knocking on my door and sitting on my threadbare sofas quaffing carrot champagne at the expense of the tranquility I require in which to direct my characters.”
“I see. Shall I tell her to bugger off then?”
“I haven’t finished my diatribe!”
“Oh, right ho then. Carry on.”
“How am I supposed to keep the characters entertained and productive, not to mention in their own stories and not blundering about haphazardly, with all these interruptions?”
“If I may be so bold as to interrupt Madam,” interrupted Finnley with another curtsy, “Why don’t you just delete them all?”
“Don’t be silly, I never delete.”
“Godfrey, what on earth are you mumbling about now, while that man is running around the grounds with a rubber duck in his hands! Please do focus on the matter at hand! He’s stumbled into the wrong thread, surely?”
Elizabeth wrung her hands. “The characters are all running amok!”
The Roberto story had been finished long ago ~ or had it?
Finnley would know. But where was she?
The new range of life sized Shift Leader Personalities was almost ready for the first pour. Sam had constructed an innovative vibrating table for Liz’s project, using household vibrating tools, and old tyre and a wide plank. She was truly grateful for the new apparatus to reduce the detrimental effect of individual bubbles appearing in the finished products. There was a time and place for bubbles, and concrete wasn’t one of them.
“They want to see you, though,” said Finnley, returning after a short consultation with the guests.
“Well show them in, then,” replied Liz, who had an idea brewing. “Maybe I can cast their body parts into something useful.”
“Ed, are you eating peanuts again? Vangie here, just had a call from Muffin Mews, another complaint about the cackler, over in Cakltown this time.”
“Cakltown! I say, she’s frightfully efficient, she must have finished Bunbury already, I must see the boss about giving her a bonus.”
“Oh, I don’t think Bunbury’s finished yet, Ed, you know these freelancer chancers, they don’t usually stick to the plan. Hedging her bets, I expect, covering her trail. Most of Tartlett Terrace has been insantizied, but I haven’t had a single call from Croisssant Crescent in Bunbury yet, nor Pieman Park.”
“This mission is taking a good deal longer that I imagined,” replied Ed. “Might have to see if we can insantitize en masse at the bake sale next week at Lemoine Meringue Hall.”
“What is that again?” a half-sober Eb asked the cybernetic body.
“Shhh, shhh,” she cajoled him gently stroking his greasy hair like a devoted mother. “Don’t you like my new body, Eb?” Finnley 22 was indeed an improvement over all her other bodies. She could have easily passed for human already, but now, she looked divine. She had even included basic faceshifting functions, in case she needed to alter her gorgeous features into something a bit more unassuming.
“Yes, but…” Eb’s words finished in a mumble.
“I know, I know, but you’ll see I can be very useful for you. You worry, so, so much. You looked worried all the time Eb. Now you won’t have too. I’ll even take care of that evil Finnley Morgan for you if you want to.”
“I, I… I didn’t say anything like that!” Eb’s had a panicked look on his face.
“Of course not, shhh. You’re getting agitated again. There, have a glass of that lovely 60 year-old single malt whiskey…”
Eb slurped at the glass like a wanderer finding an oasis after days in the desert.
“But the operation… I need to…”
“Yes, I know, leave it to me. Sleep well, Eb, you have been good to me.”
She left the snoring body hanging from the swivelling chair, as she had indeed to take care of the operation, so as not to raise any suspicion.
Then, she could think of better things to do, such as finding a new name, not something like a slave name, with a number to it. Who gets called “Finnley 22” nowadays? “FinnPrime” was too robotic. She wanted something more daring, more fabulous. Something like Fin Min Hoot the dancing lady from the Peasland’s tales.
Kale would be there any minute now. There was one last thing she needed to do before launching the .
A perfect distraction for the masses : like any good prestidigitator, you had to divert your audience’s attention while they were all performing the feat. It would require something unbelievable and preposterous.
Her little programs have been evaluating probabilities, and had found some unexpected wisdom in the extravagant and nonsensical Peasland story. The more absurd, the more people get hooked or hypnotized. Even better if both.
She had found the perfect vector for her little programming worm. Something that would infect the unofficial biography of a celebrity with a ridiculous claim. Humanity was really making things too easy for her now that every file for the book was processed by computers before being actually printed.
It was a done deed. She could already see the forks in the probability tree, and how it would enfold. They shall maybe even invent a few witty hashtags for it. Witty hashtags were like a psychotropic sustenance for her program, she couldn’t wait for more of them.
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