They had to stop to get some rest. Rukshan knew the signs, the song of a black swan, a nesting bear in the forest, cubic clouds… All strange omens not to be taken lightly. He told the others they’d better find shelter somewhere and not spend the night outside.
As soon had he make the announcement that he saw the relief on their faces. They’d been enthusiastic for half a day, but the monotony of walking got the better of their motivation, especially the kids who were not used to such long journeys out of the cottage’s safety.
Fortunately they were not far from the Sooricat Inn, a place lost in the woods, it still had four walls, warm food and almost certainly a hot bath. Let’s just hope they’re open, thought the Fae.
When they arrived, the owner, an old man from Sina, looked at them suspiciously.
“Ya’ll have your attestation? I can’t believe ya’re all family. Don’t think I’m a fool, ya’re a Fae, and this little fella there, he’s smaller than the children but has a beard. Never saw anything like him,” he said with rumbling r’s pointing at the children and Gorrash with his chin. The dwarf seemed offended but a stern look from Rukshan prevented him from speaking.
“Anyway,” continued the innkeeper, “I can just sell ya food. Not’ing parsonal. That’s rooles, ya’know with the all stayin’at home thing from Gavernor Leraway, I can not even let ya’in. Ya can buy food and eat it outside if ya want.”
“Oh! I really shouldn’t. I don’t like breaking rooles.”
“I knew you more daring, Admirable Fuyi,” said a booming voice coming from behind them. They all turned around to see Kumihimo. She was wearing a cloak made of green and yellow gingko leaves, her silvery white hair, almost glowing in the dark, cascading beautifully on her shoulders. A grey cat strode alongside her.
“Oh! that’s just the donkey, Ronaldo. It got transformed into a cat after walking directly into a trap to get one of those darn carrots. He knew better, don’t pity him. He got what he deserved.” Kumihimo’s rant got a indignant meow, close to a heehaw, from Ronaldo.
“Kumi! I can’t believe it’s ya!” said the innkeeper.
“You two know each others?” asked Rukshan.
“It’s a long story,” said the innkeeper, “From when I was serving in Sina’s army, we had conquered the high plateaus. I gave up the title of Admirable when I left the army. After Kumi opened my eyes.” Fuyi’s eyes got wet. “Ah! I’m sure I’ll regret it, but come on in, ya’ll. Let me hear yar story after you taste the soup.”
Board 10, Story 1
The maids escapees of Versailles timeline venture in strange lands and go to extreme lengths to find adequate food. “Didn’t the time GPS say to turn left at your peril?”
Ascended Master Floverly goes about her duties to paint and inspire the world a better place by applying Herself entirely lovingly to the most demanding tasks. “A whole new world / A new fantastic point of view…”FloveParticipant
Liz was waxing hysterical to her publisher. “I tell you, Bronkel, you complain of the loose threads wandering into nothingness, the deranged and meaningless story lines … turns out it isn’t a personality flaw; it’s those lonely vacations in the desert where I was forced to be the boy my mother always wanted.”
“Oh that’s a fantastic idea Becky!” encouraged Tina (anxious to divert attention from the fact her egg shampoo had turned her own hair green) when Becky suggested tentatively that perhaps she could try Al’s advanced visualisation techniques to turn this disastrous start to her wedding day around.
“Yes, imagine it as you would like it to be, no matter how unrealistic it may seem. Imagine looking in the mirror and seeing your skin glowing like a glowing diamond. After all, you have nothing to lose Becky-pooh.”
Tifikijoo Island has been a casualty of rising sea levels. The question is, who is seeking to repopulate the island with giant spiders?
The first thing the dwarf did was a finger of honor. “Take that darn blubbit queen!” he shouted before he crumbled butt naked down on the wooden floor surrounded by his former golden carapace. His skin was still glowing with a strange lucent light.
“What did he say?” asked Fox.
“What’s a blubbit?” asked Olliver.
Glynis put her hands on the baby snoots eyes, but there were too many of them and she only had two hands.
“Have you seen his skin?” asked Eleri.
“Well yes, he’s butt naked,” said Kumihimo.
Gorrash had had time to clear his mind and started to realise they were all looking at him.
“I mean, he HAS a skin now,” insisted Eleri. “Smooth and… all that comes with it. Not his former rocky mossy textured whatever it was before even after daylight.”
The dwarf who never had to worry about his own modesty before couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of that simple fact. “Am I still dreaming?” His stomach growled and he looked surprised at his belly. “Am I starving?” Fox laughed.
Glynis brought the dwarf a blanket, and he marvelled at the roughness of it on his new skin. They all started to talk at the same time, wanting to know about the blubbits, about the new skin, asking Kumihimo and Rukshan how it was possible.
“I don’t know,” they both said.
“Well! I don’t know about you, but now that he has skin he can certainly appreciate some champagne with us!” said Margoritt, trotting to the kitchen. She came back with a bottle and a sabre. “Who wants to crack it open?”
“How can he eat so much?” would ask Eleri later.
It was the new moon. Rukshan had been walking into the dark of the forest for some time. The noises of nocturnal animals felt like deep silence after his return from the land of the Giants. There, day and night, the giants were restless. You could hear them growling and shouting. It didn’t matter if it was a nasty fight or a friendly brawl, the noise had been taxing for his nerves and his right eye was still twitching randomly.
Rukshan stopped a moment. The silence almost made him cry of relief and he thought in that moment the enchanted forest deserved its name.
He took a deep breath. His nose wiggled, tickled by the scent of smoke from a fire. He was close to his destination, then. He had been following symbols traced with moon paint on the trees, a trail that only his Fae eyes could see even without moonlight. Humans would not to see it the same way. This trail of symbols might even have been left for him by someone who wanted to be found when he would come back.
Rukshan had found the start of the trail by chance behind the cottage after diner today. He had told Glynis he needed fresh air. The truth was that he had been alone for so long now that having so many people around him made him feel a bit claustrophobic. He had spotted was a faint glow behind a jasmin bush and had thought it was one of the baby snoots. As he was feeling the need for some pet company he had walked up to the bush. Instead of a creature there was the first glowing symbol, a spiral with seven sticks that looked like a hand with seven fingers. Not long after Rukshan had found another symbol, and another. It was clear the hands made a trail for him to follow. So he had followed.
Soon, he found a wooden shack. Smoke was coming out of a hole in its roof and light from the windows. Rukshan could hear two people talking together. One was asking questions and the other answering them. He recognised the voices.
He didn’t bother to knock on the door.
“I’ve been waiting for you”, said Kumihimo the shaman.
“I’m her new apprentice”, said Fox. “You’ve been away for so long”, he added as if apologising for something.
A wet and warm thing touched Rukshan’s hand. Ronaldo the donkey brayed to welcome him. “Of course you are here too”, said the Fae. He found an apple he had put in his pocket after diner and gave it to the donkey. Ronaldo rolled up its chops and gave a heehaw full of joy, sparkles in its eyes.
“Good, you haven’t forgotten good manners”, said the shaman. “Now, seat! We have much to talk about.”
Glynis was casting discret glances at the new joiner. He was a friend of Rukshan and a was a fae too. He arrived in the morning at the cottage with his tools and presented himself as Guilbert the Maker. Tall with a fair skin, he was also more muscular than was his friend, and than she thought a fae could be. They were such a secretive people.
The potion maker, with her new lovely face glowing inwardly realised she hadn’t been allowing herself to find other people attractive, not in the way she found this fae attractive, and she had felt the warmth of desire rising to colour her cheeks. As Guilbert was busy taking measurements for the new loo, Glynis unconsciously found things to clean close to the loo.
She felt a tad irritated when he announced that he had all he needed and that he would be back in a few days with everything that he needed.
So fast, she thought. Too fast. And yet he would be back in a few days.
Glynis went through the rest of the day struggling with hope. Hope was treacherous. She had yearned for it for so long with her previous curse, and now it carried with it the taste of bitter almond. She didn’t dare think he… Guilbert would be back. The fae’s name had a sweetness when she thought it and it was hard not to say it aloud. But poison, she thought, can also be deceivingly sweet.
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.
POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])
Maeve and Shawn-Paul are travelling separately to the Australian bush, and end up together at the Flying Fish Inn where they discover they’ve been given the same coupons. Maeve is suspicious of a mysterious man following her.
Maeve has an exchange with Arona, and sketches her and the cat for her collection of ideas for new dolls. They discover that Arona has the key from her doll.
Little is said of what happened after Maeve’s Uncle Fergus appears in dramatic fashion.
After the collective black-out, all bets are off as to the next steps.
FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])
Fergus has mysteriously disappeared after the black-out.
DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)
Arona, Ugo, Albie and Mandrake have left the Australian Inn, after a dramatic chase by unknown assailants, possibly the magpies sent by the Doctor. They reappear in the Doline, in Leörmn’s pool, having managed to get the magpies off their trail.
NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)
The Doctor has managed a psychic event of dramatic proportions. He’s noticed a glowing red crystal that seems to have interfered with his machine. He’s starting to study it, and unravel its secrets.
Sharon, Gloria and Mavis, the dynamic trio is planning their escape from the nursing home. The psychic blast seems to have alerted Gloria somehow as to the fate of Granola (B), as she somehow guess it’s linked to the Doctor’s experiments (beauty treatments). They plan to go there to investigate (after a fashion).
LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)
DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)
The wind swooshed in the garden, making fallen apples roll on the ground. The air had a lively smell of earth and decaying fruit, and the grass was still moist from the morning dew.
The statue of Gorrash was facing East, and the rising sun was bringing golden hues to his petrified face. Little snoots were curled in glowing colourful balls of liquid fur around the statue, making it pulsate with a quieting purr. Around Gorrash, the slope was peppered with some of the gargoyles rejects that Eleri had made and couldn’t sell at the market. Still, instead of discarding them, she’d arranged a little forest of painted gargoyles as a sort of silent watchful army guarding Gorrash’s sleep.
Rukshan liked to meditate at the place, it helped with the stress he’d felt at coming back from the last ordeals. He wouldn’t have thought, but his identity had felt more shaken than he knew. He wasn’t feeling at home with the Faes any longer, and there were few people who could relate to his adventures in the villages nearby, where he was nothing more than an ominous stranger. Retreating in the Fae’s dimension, hidden from all and mostly abandoned was a tempting thought, but he’d found it was a lure with empty promises. He still had work to do.
Tak and Nesy were already awake and were coming back for the rest of the story.
He’d started to tell them about the Giants, the old forgotten story which he’d learnt many years ago in his previous life as a Dark Fae. Both were captivated at the prowess displayed by the Master Craftsmen, the old Rings of Stones that they built, the Cairns of the Fallen, and the Fields of Chanting Boulders where magic rituals where performed.
“Tell us more Rukshan!” they said. “Tell us more about the Three Giant Kings.”
“Do you remember their names?” he smiled back at the children.
“Yes! There was Ceazar…” Tak started
“Caesar, yes” he corrected gently
“… and Archimedes,” Tak continued hesitantly
“Yes, and who was the third one?”
“He had a long and strange name! Nesy, help me!”
The girl tried to help him “It starts with a V”
“Vergincetorix!” the answer came from behind a bush.
Fox took a place near the gargoyle army garden, and a baby snoot jumped into his lap, cooing in vibrating mruii.
“So what about these Kings do you want to know?” Rukshan asked.
“Everything!” they all said in unison.
“Oh well, in this case, let me retell you the story of the Golden Age of the Three Giant Kings, and how they saved their people from a terrible catastrophe.”
It was ridiculous, outrageous even: trapped in a fictional story… Granola couldn’t believe it at first. But the facts were plain and simple. The walls of the glowing red crystal albeit slightly elastic wouldn’t let her pass.
It all started when the Doctor launched his experiment, or at least that’s what she surmised from the past few days of observation from inside the crystal. She got to admit the vantage point was interesting, were it not for the red hue tinting everything in her sight. The Doctor was madder than a mad hatter, and kept very strange company.
At first, she thought it was all inside of a story made up by her friends and that she was safely within the story realm, but of late it seemed it wasn’t as clear cut as it used to be. The Doctor lived in the same dimension as her friends after all; maybe he was the one who’d managed to voyage through dimensions. But Maeve, Shawn-Paul were still in their Australian adventure, at risk from the magpies, and the remote brainwashing; only Lucinda and Jerk were more or less safe for now, but they were trapped in their rut and lacking of inspiration.
When it started, she had immediately noticed the huge bursts of energy, like waves of dark light, and had wished herself at the source of it, to see what was targeting her friends. In turn, it disrupted the evil machinery, and trapped her in the crystal.
Mad as he was, the Doctor wasn’t lacking brains. He’d already figured out there was something special about the crystal, and was spending his days observing it ignoring the distractions provided by his beehived coiffed servant.
She didn’t want to call Ailill for help, this one she’d got to figure out on her own, and fast, or else her friends may soon be in more dire situation.
The Doctor smiled gleefully, rubbing his hands together.
His new invention was showing promising results. Minds were being wiped clean, and foggy somnolence was enveloping characters without well-defined characteristics.
Better still, he’d found something interesting trapped inside of his Remote Brainwashing machine, crystallized and trapped in a nugget inside one of the vials. It was glowing faintly and had tried to derail his experiment. A little sprite of some kind, or maybe a rebel soul .
The aircon was buzzing and Sophie walked in her pajamas through the open space to reach her dreaming base. That’s how she secretly called it. She could feel the eyes of her colleagues following her, and as usual she felt proud to be the center of attention. It didn’t matter that it was jealousy or anything else. People were looking at her and she was doing something different.
Once in her base of operation, she settled on the couch and looked at the brew that had been brought for her. It was her second attempt at remote viewing the Doctor and this time she had requested a bucket and some padding around the sharp corners. She feared a little the unleashing of her wild nature, but in truth she had no idea what to expect. She had read on the Internet that there was nothing to fear and that there would be no side effects, and usually with her natural paranoia she would have double checked before using the drugs, but her obsession with the Doctors had rendered her a little bit… more reckless.
She pinched her nose and swallowed the brew. One gulp. But some of it stayed in her mouth and nausea followed. She didn’t like the taste at all. Then she laid down the couch and waited. The effects weren’t long to come. Space lit up, soon followed by the usual geometrical dynamic animation and the strange floating spirits. One of them looked like her old nanny. She had a hair on her chin and Sophie couldn’t focus on anything else. The hair grew and multiplied on the face, it was soon a forest of wiggling glowing worms growing indefinitely.
After what seemed an eternity to her, she saw the doors. A huge circle made of doors like a giant neckless. Sophie giggled at the typo especially that she could see the neckless giant now below the doors. It was definitely a male, with boobs covered by skulls.
Find the door, she reminded herself. Her thought took the shape of a butterflowck —understand a flow of a flock of butterflies— that rippled in a pond of honey… suckles.
It reached the door and she was sucked in.
“Why are they doing this?” asked a male voice behind her. “They’re supposed to be magpies, not monkeys.”
“I’m not sure,” said a bald woman with six fingers and an ethereal beehive hairdo. The strange thing was that she had a beard.
“Do something quick. I need them operational soon” said the man, “You’re the one controlling them after all,” he added with poison in his voice.
Sophie startled at the name. She turned around and tried to look at the man, but he was headless, or rather pixelated. Shit! I watch too much science fiction, she thought.
“Anyway,” he continued. What are the news on the dolls’ front?”
“We are closing in on the next target, Doctor. It’s a small Inn in Australia where the vortex or probabilities converge. I took the liberty to send another sleeping agent there to steal the key and the list of other addresses from the dollmaker. He’s taking the same airplane as she is.”
Everyone was back, safe and sound from that ghastly trip in space and time.
Rukshan hadn’t felt the exhaustion until now. It all came down upon him rather suddenly, leaving behind its trail a deafening silence.
For the longest time he’s been carried by a sense of duty, to protect the others that’d been guiding his every steps, acting through him without doubt or concern. But in the new quiet place they were for that instant, there was no direction.
Riddles still abounded, and he knew too well their appeal. Knowledge and riddles seemed to go hand in hand in a devilish dance. Lila or Masti of the divine… Or just fool’s errand, enticed by the prospect of some revelation or illumination from beyond.
There had been no revelation. The blue beams that had attracted them seemed to have come with more questions than answers. Maybe they were only baits for the naive travellers…
Even the small crystals he’d collected from the trip, glowing faintly, apparently alive with some energy felt as though they weren’t his own riddle to solve. He left the pouch on the desk with a word for Fox, along with the other small gifts he’d left for the others: some powdered colors, a rare vial of whale’s di-henna, a small all-seeing glass orb, and a magical shawl.
It was time for him to pack. He didn’t like it much, but his only calling at the moment was that of coming home. Back to the land of the Faes. The Blood Moon Eclipse was upon them, and there would be a gathering of the Sages in the forest to honor the alliances of Old. Surely their little bending of time and space wouldn’t have gone unnoticed at such auspicious moment. Better to anticipate their questions than being marked as an heretic.
And he wasn’t all too sure the Shadow has been vanquished. Its thirst for the power of the Shards was strong, beyond space and time. If it were to reappear again, the Faes skills would be necessary to help protect the other Shards holders.
“I’ll see you again my friends” he said, as he entered the center of the nine-tiled square he’s drawn onto the ground, and vanished with it.FloveParticipant
North South East and West
I call for those who know the best
What is lost must now be found
Take my luck and turn it around
Though the night air was heavy and still, the lower branches of a nearby Oak rustled and bowed gently before her as though waving her forward. One by one, puddles of dirty grey light on the ground shone brightly, creating the effect of a twinkling, glowing path moving through the darkness.
Magic is pretty easy when your intention is clear, thought Glynis.
Night had fallen when Rukshan came back to the cottage. He was thinking that they could wait a little bit for the trip. He did not like that much the idea of trusting the safety of their group to a stranger, even if it was a friend of Lhamom. They were not in such a rush after all.
Rukshan looked at their luxuriant newly grown pergola. Thanks to the boost potion Glynis had prepared, it had only took a week to reach its full size and they have been able to enjoy it since the start of the unusual hot spell. The creatures that had hatched from the colourful eggs Gorrash had brought with him were flowing around the branches creating a nice glowing concerto of lights, inside and out.
It was amazing how everyone were combining their resources and skills to make this little community function. In the shadow of the pergola there was an empty pedestal that Fox had built and Eleri had decorated with nice grapes carvings. Gorrash was certainly on patrol with the owls. His friends had thought that a pedestal would be more comfortable and the pergola would keep Gorrash’s stone from the scorching heat of the sun. Also, he wouldn’t get covered in mud during the sudden heavy rains accompanying the hot spell.
Seeing the beautiful pedestal and the carved little stairs he could use to climb up, Gorrash had tried to hide the tears in his eyes. He mumbled it was due to some desert dust not to appear emotional, but they all knew his hard shell harboured the softest heart.
The dwarf had repaid them in an unexpected way. Every day just before sunrise, he would take a big plate in his hands and jumped on the pedestal before turning to stone. It allowed them to put grapes or other fruits that they could eat under the shadow of the of the pergola.
“They sent me a bloody pigeon,” she said when she arrived. She took the roll and handed it to Rukshan. “The city council… Leroway… he accuses us of unauthorised expansion of the house, of unauthorised construction on communal ground, and of unlicensed trade of manufactured goods.” Margoritt’s face was twisted with pain as the said the words.
Rukshan winced. Too much bad news were arriving at the same time. If there was a pattern, it seemed rather chaotic and harassing.
“They threaten us to send a bailif if we don’t stop our illegal activities and if we don’t pay the extra taxes they reclaim,” she continued. “I’m speechless at the guile of that man.”
Rukshan smiled, he wondered if Margoritt could ever be rendered speechless by anything except for bad flu. He uncoiled the roll and quickly skimmed through the long string of accusations. Many of them were unfair and, to his own opinion unjustified. Since when the forest belonged to Leroway’s city? It had always been sacred ground, and its own master.
“I have no money,” said Margoritt. “It’s so unfair. I can’t fight with that man. I’m too old and tired.”
“Don’t forget we are all in the same cottage, Margoritt. It’s not just you. Eventhough, they clearly want to evict us,” said Rukshan. “Even if we had enough money, they would not let us stay.” He showed her the small roll. “The list of accusations is so ludicrous that it’s clearly a ploy to get rid of us. First, that road they want to build through the forest, now evicting us from the ground.” And those bad omens from the mountain, he thought with a shiver.
“Ahem,” said a rockous voice. Gorrash had returned from his patrol. “I know where to find money,” he added. “At leas, I think I know. I had another dream about my maker. It’s just bits and pieces, but I’m sure he hid some treasure in the mountains. There was that big blue diamond, glowing as brightly as a blue sun. And other things.”
A big blue diamond? It sounds familiar. Rukshan thought. There was an old fae legend that mentioned a blue diamond but he couldn’t remember. Is it connected to the blue light Olliver mentioned earlier? He wondered.
“That’s it! You have to go find this treasure,” said Margoritt.
Rukshan sighed as he could feel the first symptoms of a headache. There was so much to think about, so much to do. He massaged his temples. The trip had suddenly become urgent, but they also had to leave someone behind to help Margoritt with the “Leroway problem”. And he winced as he wondered who was going to take care of that road business. It was clear to him that he couldn’t be everywhere at the same time. He would have to delegate.
He thought of the telebats. Maybe he could teach the others how to use them so that he could keep in touch and manage everything at distance. He sighed again. Who would be subtle and sensitive enough to master the telebats in time?TracyParticipant
glowing fence mean visit forgotten
felt focus sunny witch behind wisdom
hungry stories taking early under eggs
keep laughing carefully nature
Roberto had gone to the swimming pool. He was mostly puzzled by how reality had shifted into those broken pieces that didn’t seem to fit together since he had come back from that strange tunnel with all the roots spawning strange characters from glowing pink bubbly growth.
It must have something to do with the pink liquid leaking frrrrom those strrrange pouches, he thought.
He looked pensively at the swimming pool. Half of it was covered by thick ice while the other half was boiling with micro bubbles rising from the bottom and the walls, and steam slowly rising in the cool spring air.
Roberto had first thought there might be something wrong with the water cleaning mechanism of the swimming pool, but he had checked it and nothing was wrong, except the cleaning bot was stuck in the icy part of the swimming pool.
His second thought had been that it was a fancy pool cover installed by la señora Liz. But he didn’t find the retracting mechanism. La señora Liz and la muchacha Finnley, his colleague, seemed busy with the man with the moustache. Roberto had the impression the man wanted to find a wife, he didn’t want to intrude and say anything. He had tried to talk to el mayordomo Geoffrey, but he was busy again preparing another viaje de negocios for la señora.
So Roberto was there pondering in front of the swimming pool. That’s when he noticed the entrance of the green maze just on the other side of the pool, at the junction between summer and winter. He didn’t remember if it was there before.
The snow had turned into blizzard and it was hard to see even a few meters ahead. It was hard to move because of the wind and of the thick white layer covering the forest ground. Fox looked behind him, his footsteps were already gone. He felt worried for the dwarf. Fox thought he shouldn’t have left his friend like that. There was no point now looking for him, and anyway Fox wasn’t really sure in which direction he came from. He shivered, his clothes were soaked and covered with snow and ice. He felt cold inside his bones. He was too tired to even wish for shelter. He was about to sit in the snow when he felt something bumping into his left leg.
“Oh! you’re there,” said Gorrash. “What strange weather. I have never seen something like it.”
Fox was too cold to answer but he felt relieved that his friend was well. The dwarf seemed so lively. Fox noticed his friend was carrying three colourful eggs in his little arms. They reminded him of the glowing eggs of that strange creature, except they weren’t glowing. He wanted to ask where Gorrash had found them, but his mouth wouldn’t respond.
“Anyway,” said the dwarf, “You’d better come this way, there is a wooden house with a fire burning inside.”
Fox looked at the dwarf jumping over the thick snow as if it was a game. He hesitated but decided to follow. He had nothing to lose.
They soon arrived in front of a wooden house. The door opened and an old lady got out, opening an umbrella. She was waving her other arm and saying something that Fox couldn’t hear with the raging wind. He continued to advance and the old lady looked horrified. She hurried toward him still talking. Fox eventually heard what she was saying.
“Don’t come closer! My house will not resist that blizzard.”
It was so strange that Fox stopped where he was. The old woman had no difficulty approaching despite the wind and the snow. When she was close enough, she covered Fox with the umbrella and the world became still around them.
“Is that a magic umbrella?” he asked.
“Sort of,” said the woman. “It’s more of an anti-curse thingy that my friend Mr Minn gave me some time ago. I didn’t think it would be useful, until today.”
Looking at what was left in his bag, it made Rukshan realise he was walking in the Dragon Heartswood for longer than he thought.
It was a maze with layers of concentric circles of tree, and seemed far bigger and vast once you were inside that it should have been.
He had been presumptuous to venture in it, without any guidance or map, knowing very well that most of those who had entered it, never came out. There was a magical distress beacon that was in the bag, but he guessed it would only help him retrace his steps back to where he entered. He didn’t want to use it. He could still feel the glowing confidence infused in his heart by the potion, and now, it was as though it was telling him to do nothing, and just not worry. So he chose one of the trees, to just sit under, and meditate for a while.
There was a bird, high in the small patch of sky that the treetops didn’t cover. Or at least, it looked like a bird. I had been there for a moment, as if watching him.
“Don’t you like birds?” the voice said “They are my favourite creatures, so smart and graceful. Ah, and the joy of the flight!”
He wouldn’t open his eyes, not sure the feminine voice was in his head or not. She was one and the same with the large bird hovering —it was one of her projections, but she was human.
“You know who I am, Rukshan, you have been searching for me.”
“You are the Hermit, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and here I am, saving you a long trip to the mountains.” There was a smile in her voice.
He didn’t know what to say, but feared to open his eyes, and risk the spell to vanish.
“You can open them, your eyes. They are deceivers anyway, they are not the senses that matter.”
She was there, in front of him, looking ageless. There was no telling if she was a projection or real.
She had put something in front of him. A sort of flat braid, not very long, and made with different threads of diverse nature and impractical use, yet artfully arranged, revealing clever and shifting patterns.
“It is for you Rukshan, to help you remember. I have worked on it for the past days, and it is now ready for you.”
He looked at the patterns, they were clear and simple, yet they changed and seemed to elude understanding. The braid was only loosely attached at the end, and threatened to unravel as soon as moved.
“These are your lives, intertwined. You and six others. You don’t know them, in this life —however long yours has been. But you are connected, and you have know each other before, and you have intertwined before. Some of these past stories can be read in the patterns, and some are tragic, and they all bear fruits in this life and the next. It is no mystery why you have been attracted to the Heartswood, because it is where the Sundering started, and where you and the others have left things unresolved. If you don’t look deep now, and take steps to correct course, you will go from this life to the next and repeat your torments and endless search.”
“Yes, you are starting to remember… That day, when you and the others tried to rob the Gods of the flame of creation. They cursed you, even their pet Dragon who was supposed to guard their treasure and sided with you against them.”
She showed him the ring of charred trees that marked that particular period in the middle of all the rings for each ages of growth of the Heartswood.
“The Sundering” he spoke softly, reminded of fables in the legends of the Fae. That was the ancient age, when most of the Gods had disappeared, some said, gone through the doorway that was at the very heart of the Heartswood, the very source of life and death, and creation. There had been new Gods after that. They also possessed great powers, but none with the aura of the Old Ones —no Old God would have been trapped in stone by a mere witch’s enchantment.
Rukshan turned to the Hermit with deep pondering. “What can we do?”
She was starting to fade away, turning again into a bird. “Each of you has a special power, that you stole in that past life, and with each new life, you carry it with you, and with it, its curse. Find who you were, find what you stole, and give it back. Then the threads will unravel and the knot of all the curses will be undone.”
For the last day, he’d gone to the shrines, pay his respects to his ancestors.
They had long joined with the trees, for most, still living in their roots, and while the trees that they prayed to were young in comparison to the ones in the Heartwood, they were all connected.
Here, it was harder to ignore their messages. Their voices had the gravity of silence, bearing the weight of ageless wisdom. Among them, Rukshan felt at home.
The cold was sharper than the day before, and the east wind brought with it smells of industry and worry, and that of the dragon’s bad tooth. He felt there was a past were such things disturbed him; for now, he was at peace.
Back to the campement, he retreated in his small lodge with the thin paper walls, and the warm mountain salt crystal lights.
There, in front of him, was the little he possessed, and the provisions needed for the climb to the mountain.
He’d found a page from the vanishing book reappear from time to time in his bag. Everytime it carried different words, and would vanish again. Its magic didn’t come from the trees, but their messages intertwined. The page carried bits and pieces of news about the Sage Sorceress, who had started to move on her healing path, the Teafing Tinkeress who was hunted by a swift menace of godlike powers, and also a Gifted Gnome, on his way to become his own maker under the protection of a Renard Renunciate looking for lost souls.
He couldn’t figure out the stories yet, but he was glad for the piece of paper. He was helpless at distant viewing in general, so it did save him additional worry about sorting through his impressions and getting them right. Like after the Court audience, when he couldn’t feel Margoritt’s presence, and worried she and Tak were in trouble. The resident Seer at the campement had peered through his glubolin and confirmed that they were both fine. He did also confirm that she’d fainted, and was recovering. Rukshan had wanted to go back, abandon the trip to the Hermit, but reasoned that Margoritt was fine for now, and that she was a proud woman. He would have to trust she and Tak would be alright.
“Magic comes from the heart. You will know when to use it.” the words said in passing were etched in his memory, and the potion was still here. Its color seemed to reflect his mood at times. After the morning praying, it was almost glowing gold. Now, it was a pale purple. He had felt no pull to use it. At first, there was strong resistance about it, but now, there was a mildly curious acceptance of the gift. Like the vanishing paper, whether it appeared or disappeared was of no consequence for now.
The paper wall shivered. His meditative state was easily distracted by the sounds around, even after nightfall when everything went quiet.
“Quiet suits you well.” The visitor was near him, wearing thin wool despite the cold.
“My Queen?” he was surprised.
“You still don’t remember who you are, do you?” the Queen leaned forward. He felt a strange attraction, and their lips touched. The kiss was warm and filled him with longing. They fell into each other’s arms.
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