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      “Tsk tsk,” said Rukshan when he heard that the carpenter hadn’t done anything yet.
      “At least the joiner came and fixed the mirror in the bathroom,” said Fox trying to sound positive.
      They were in the kitchen and Glynis was brewing a chicken stew in Margorrit’s old purple clay pot.
      Fox seemed distracted with saliva gathering at the corner of his mouth. Rukshan realised it was not the best of places to explain his plan with all the smells and spells of Glynis’ spices.
      “Let’s go outside it’ll be best to tell you where we are going,” said Rukshan.
      Fox nodded his consent with great effort.

      “If you go out, just tell Olli to bring in more dry wood for the stove,” said Glynis as they left.

      They took the Troll’s path, a sandy track leading in the thick of the forest.
      “Are you sure we’ll find him there?” asked Rukshan.
      “Trust me,” said Fox pointing at his nose.
      “I thought you had abandoned the shapeshifting and using your fox’s smelling sense?”
      “Well if you want to know, Olli is quite predictable, he’s always at the Young Maid’s pond.

      “I realise I haven’t seen the lad in months,” said Rukshan.
      Fox shrugged. “He’s grown up, like all kids do.”

      They arrived at the pond where Olli was sculpting a branch of wood in an undefinable shape. Rukshan had almost a shock when he saw how much little Olli had changed. He was different, almost another person physically. Taller and with a man’s body. It took the Fae some time when he had to tell himself that the person in front of him was the boy that had helped them in the mountain. But Rukshan was not the kind to show many emotions so he just said.

      “You’ve grown boy.”
      Olli shrugged and stopped what he was doing.
      “I’ve heard so,” he said. “She wants more wood?”
      “Yeah,” said Fox with a knowing grin.
      Olliver sighed and left with supple movements.

      When the young man was gone, Fox turned towards the Fae, whose eyes seemed lost in the misty mountains.
      “So, what is the plan?”
      “I’m thinking of a new plan that shall make use of everyone’s potential and save a young man from boredom.”


        Tak didn’t like school at first. It was only at the insistance of Glynis that he had to socialize that he tried to put some effort in it. He didn’t know what socializing meant, one of these strange concepts humans invented to explain the world, but if Glynis thought highly of this socializing, he had to give it a try, whatever it was.

        Rather quickly, he’d managed to make friends. He didn’t realize it at first, but his new friends were all a bit desperate, and more or less called freeks or something. He wasn’t sure he deserved to be called a freek, but he was going to try hard at this too.
        “You don’t have to try hard”, his new friend Nesy told him “I think you’re a natural at this.” Nesy’s name was really Nesingwarys which is really hard to pronounce, so she told him to call her Nesy. She had dark and white hair, shining like a magpie’s feather coat, and dark blue eyes that were both kind and ferocious at the same time.

        “Don’t mind the others, they’re all ignorant peasants, or worse, ignorant spawns of the bourgeois elite.” She’d told him. Tak had opined silently, not wanting to show that he wasn’t sure about the meaning of all the shiny new words. He suspected Nesy to like shiny words like magpies were attracted to precious shiny stuff.
        When she was staying at the cottage, Margoritt also liked to teach him shiny new words, but he would only taste them and forget — to him they were more like sweet food for his tongue than shiny stuff to keep.
        When it came to stuff, Nesy had rather simple tastes. She showed him some little clay statues she’d made, and kept carefully wrapped in a small felt satchel. They had all sorts of funny faces, she was really talented. They reminded him of Gorrash, so it almost made him cry.
        Tears were a magnet for nasty kids, so he knew better than to let them out, but Nesy had noticed, and squeezed his hand for comfort.

        He liked the other freeks too. They seemed to understand him, and he didn’t have to use his hypnotic powers for that. Glynis had told him not to use his powers at school, otherwise he wouldn’t learn anything. Aunt Eleri had disagreed with that, but she disagreed with everyone.

        “You should come visit at my home” he said to her spontaneously “I want to show you the baby snoots, now they’re almost grown up, but they look funny and pretty, especially when they eat Glynis’ potions.”


          It’s been only a day since I arrived, and I’m already over it. Nothing seems to have changed. What a drag this place is.

          Only Mater keeps surprising. She was a bit more emotional and hermitical than usual. Didn’t think those two cursors could move with her, but I guess she’s still has it in her.
          Aunt Dido said she’ll croak one day, and we’ll find her having spent her last breath lying in a fresh dug hole in the ground. I don’t know if that was her idea of a bad joke or a veiled menace, there’s no telling when she’s been smoking.

          Bert was all busy with things to repair and prepare, we barely had time to talk since I arrived. What a crowd-pleaser he’s become, don’t know what he gets out of this one-sided deal, with Dido having him wrapped around her fingers like this.

          That funny Dido is all over the place, and nowhere to be found, as usual. She said we’ll be expecting guests. She probably was high as a kite. Would be a first since ages.
          I wonder what would drag people here, it’s not like the place is on any maps, or on the way to a tourist spot. But who knows what instant instapound fame can do to lure people in the oddest spots… Been reading articles about those nincompoops going to severely polluted place to take selfies in front of azure acidic water pretending to be on Bora Bora. Wouldn’t be surprising if Clove or Corrie had started a trend on flabber just to prank us. Like using ///digger.unusually.playfully to send people in the middle of nowhere in search for gold…

          There were some leftovers in the fridge. I was ravenous, and almost ate all of the funky shredded chicken. Smokey taste, but okay. Finly had an horrified look on her face when she came back with the supplies, probably the shock of seeing me all grown up now.


            A strong and loud guttural roar echoed through the mountains, ferocious and hungry.
Fox’s hairs stood on his arms and neck as a wave of panic rolled through his body. He looked at the others his eyes wide open.
            Olliver teleported closer to Rukshan whose face seemed pale despite the warmth of the fire, and Lhamom’s jaw dropped open. Their eyes met and they swallowed in unison.
“Is that…” asked Fox. His voice had been so low that he wasn’t sure someone had heard him.
Rukshan nodded.

            “It seems you are leaving the mountains sooner than you expected,” said Kumihimo with a jolly smile as she dismounted Ronaldo. 
She plucked her icy lyre from which loud and rich harmonics bounced. The wind carried them along and they echoed back in defiance to the Shadow.

            You must remember, seemed to whisper an echo from the cave they had used for shelter for weeks. Fox dismissed it as induced by the imminent danger.

            The Shadow hissed and shrieked, clearly pissed off. The dogs howled and Kumihimo engaged in a wild and powerful rhythm on her instrument.

            You must remember, said the echo again.

            Everobody stood and ran in chaos, except for Fox. He was getting confused, as if under a bad spell.

            Someone tried to cover the fire with a blanket of wool. 
“Don’t bother, we’re leaving,” said Rukshan before rushing toward the multicolour sand mandala he had made earlier that day. Accompanied by the witche’s mad arpeggios, he began chanting. The sand glowed faintly.

            Lhamom told them to jump on the hellishcopter whose carpet was slowly turning in a clockwise direction. 
“But I want to help,” said Olliver.
“You’ll help best by being ready to leave as soon as the portal opens,” said Lhamom. She didn’t wait to see if the boy followed her order and went to help Rukshan with her old magic spoon.
            “Something’s wrong. I’ve already lived that part,” said Fox when the screen protecting the mandala flapped away, missing the fae’s head by a hair.
            “What?” asked Olliver.
            “It already happened once,” said Fox, “although I have a feeling it was a bit different. But I can’t figure out how or why.”

            At that moment a crow popped out of the cave’s mouth in a loud bang. The cave seemed to rebound in and out of itself for a moment, and the dark bird cawed, very pleased. It reminded Fox at once of what had happened the previous time, the pain of discovering all his friends dead and the forest burnt to the ground by the shadow. The blindness, and the despair.
            The crow cawed and Fox felt the intense powers at work and the delicate balance they were all in.

            The Shadow had grown bigger and threatened to engulf the night. Fox had no idea what to do, but instead he let his instinct guide him.

            “Come!” he shouted, pulling Olliver by the arm. He jumped on the hellishcopter and helped the boy climb after him.

            “COME NOW!” he shouted louder.
 Rukshan and Lhamom looked at the hellishcopter and at the devouring shadow that had engulfed the night into chaos and madness.
            They ran. Jumped on the carpet. Kumihimo threw an ice flute to them and Fox caught it, but this time he didn’t nod. He knew now what he had to do.

            “You’ll have one note!” the shaman shouted. “One note to destroy the Shadow when you arrive!”
Kumihimo hit the hellishcopter as if it were a horse, and it bounced forward.
            But Fox, aware of what would have come next, kept a tight rein on the hellishcarpet and turned to Olliver.
            “Go get her! We need her on the other side.”
            Despite the horror of the moment, the boy seemed pleased to be part of the action and he quickly disappeared. 
The shaman looked surprised when the boy popped in on her left and seized her arm only to bring her back on the carpet in the blink of an eye.

            “By the God Frey,” she said looking at a red mark on her limb, “the boy almost carved his hand on my skin.”
            “Sorry if we’re being rude,” said Fox, “but we need you on the other side. It didn’t work the first time. If you don’t believe me, ask the crow.”
            The bird landed on the shaman’s shoulder and cawed. “Oh,” said Kumihimo who liked some change in the scenario. “In that case you’d better hold tight.”

            They all clung to each other and she whistled loudly.
            The hellishcopter bounced ahead through the portal like a wild horse, promptly followed by Ronaldo and the Shadow.

            The wind stopped.
            The dogs closed in on the portal and jumped to go through, but they only hit the wall of the powerful sound wave of Kumihimo’s ice lyra.
            They howled in pain as the portal closed, denying them their hunt.


              Fox popped back into existence, blind, after what felt like a very long black out. He heard a thud on the ground as he let go of the ice flute. A strong smell of decay and cold ash rendered him dizzy. He fell on his knees, threw up and cursed when the pain caused by a little stone reached his brain. It hurt.
              He rolled on the side and banged his head on a tree trunk. He cursed, grabbing his head in an attempt to contain the pain that threatened to make him faint.
              Where is the hellishcopter? he thought, confused as his hands touched the sandy ground. He tried to control a wave of panic.
              Rukshan? Lhamom?”

              Maybe I fell off the carpet during the transfer, Fox thought. But why am I blind?
              Olli?..” he tried. His voice broke off. _Where is everyone?”

              He remained prostrated. He would have been glad to hear any noise other than his heartbeat and his quick breath.
              After some time his sight came back. He would have preferred it did not. Everything was grey. The forest had burnt, and so had the cottage.
              He looked around what remained of the kitchen. His heart sank when he saw what looked like a burnt body trying to escape. He went back out and found Gorrash, broken into pieces scattered near the pergola. The stones were covered in a thin layer of grey ash. Fox cried and sobbed. He couldn’t believe what had happened.
              Where was everyone? Wasn’t he supposed to have the power of miracles? His heart ached.

              A black silhouette slid between the burnt trees.
              Glynis! You’re aliv…” Fox’s voice trailed off. He could now see the dead trees through the burka. It was only a ghost.

              She came and met him with a sad smile.
              “You were not there,” she said more as a constatation than an accusation. Still Fox felt the guilt weigh on his shoulders. He wasn’t there for his friends. The people he had grown to love. The people he called family in his heart.

              “What happened?”
              “You were not there. The monster came right after the others came through the portal. I wasn’t prepared. They counted on you and the flute. But it was too quick. It escaped and went to the village where it merged with Leroway. Eleri tried to cast her stone spell but it bounced back and she met the same end as Gorrash.”
              Fox looked at the scattered stones on the ground.
              “Once it controlled Leroway, it went into a frenzy and burnt everything. Everything. Only ashes remain.”
              Fox remained silent, unable to speak. It was his fault.

              “You have to go back,” said Glynis’s shadow. “They count on you.”
              The breeze blew. The ghost flickered, a surprised expression on her face.
              “Under the ashes in the kitchen, the last potion,” she said quickly. “It can turn back time. Bring the sh…” A cold breeze blew her off before she could finish.


                Fortunately the aging spell didn’t last long and they returned to normal.
                The missing teeth had not grown back, but Liz had had perfect new teeth installed in place of the old ones. They were shinier and could even sparkle under full moon light. Of course, Godfrey told her the dentist was a fan of Tolkien and found inspiration from the elven magical artefacts.
                At the time Liz almost canceled her appointment because she didn’t want disco teeth in her mouth that could distract her audience. But she had been seduced by the bubbly personality of the dentist, and though she did not admit it as it was not proper, she rather liked going to him.
                Liz grunted unladilikely as she opened her lips wide like a horse, trying to see if they would shine under some bathroom LED light. But the glitter only came from the beads and sea sparkles of her bathroom mirror and vasque, the bottles of shampoo and her new rejuvenation stem cell cream she had just put on her face. The teeth, they looked perfectly normal.
                What a disappointment, really, she thought.
                She had to ask Godfrey when was the next full moon. Would the treasure in her mouth only shine under moonlight or would it shine also indoor? She wondered. She might as well have to have special mirrors installed to redirect all the light in the new ballroom.


                  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.

                  Rukshan came into the house and he found Margoritt sitting at the dining table on which there was a small parchment roll. Her angry look was so unusual that Rukshan’s felt his chest tighten.

                  “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.

                  “We are not going to give them that satisfaction, are we?” asked Margoritt, pleading like a little girl. “We have to find something Rukshan,” she said. “You have to help me fight Leroway.”

                  “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?


                    You’re a fool, Olli

                    His mother’s voice, even now kept haunting him. Olliver was a bit of a fool, far too credulous at times.
                    People would think him a simpleton, and, at 17, he would still arch his back when he was around others, maybe a little more now that he’d grown so much, always feeling awkward and unsuitable for anything.

                    He wasn’t so clear how the foolish plan had hatched in his head, honestly, he wasn’t very clever. Maybe he was guided. There was no other explanation.

                    Slowly, slowly his mother Ethely would exhort him, when he struggled to explain so many things in his head.

                    There was the house first. They had come early in the day, paint it with the white triangle in a circle. That meant it was to be demolished soon. The Pasha wanted to remove the ugliness of the town, the old bazar and the cows and chickens pens out of the town’s wall. He wanted a nice clean pall-mall place for his games, with boring clean white walls, and fake grass, his mum told him.
                    What is fake grass made of? he asked at the time. It was all he could think of. He hadn’t imagined they could tear down their neighbourhood, or their old familiar house.

                    So first, the house. Then the precious package. He liked it, the gilded egg with the strange difficult name. Rukji (that’s how he’d told him to call him, it was more easy) had left a note for him. He didn’t write much, in large big letters for him to read slowly. He remembered the stories Rukji told him about the egg. He used to forget a lot of things, but the stories were always very clear in his head, and he never forgot them.
                    Rukji said the egg used to transport people and things to distant places, at the speed of thought.
                    Olli had laughed when he told him that, he’d said his thoughts were not very quick. Rukji had smiled, with his nice and a bit sad smile.

                    So, he’d thought, maybe the egg could send his house and mum to a safe place, before they remove the house.
                    He’d tried to think of it, touch the eggs and its gilded scales, but nothing happened. You’re a fool Olli his mother said, while she was gathering their few things in a large cloth and wicker basket.

                    Then there was the tower. He’d thought Rukji would be there, still. He could tell him the secrets surely. But the stern man at the clock building told him he had gone.

                    Olli didn’t trust the man, and went from the back-entrance he knew about, up in the tower, to see in case he was there. But he wasn’t.

                    It was only the stroke of the 7th hour. And one of the mannequins from the tower moved as he would do, four times a day. Alone, at 7 in the morning, and 7 at night, and with everyone at noon, and midnight.

                    Olli had recognized the god of travel, with a funny pose on his plinth. He called him Halis. He had trouble with remembering names, especially long names. Ha-sa-me-lis. Sometimes he would say the names out of order. Like Hamamelis, and that would make everybody laugh.

                    That’s when something happened. He’d prayed to the god, to help his mother and their house. But the golden egg with his scales touched the statue, at a place where there was no pigeons stains. And zap! that was it.

                    Black for a moment, and then he was in the forest.
                    And he wasn’t alone.

                    “Free! At last!” he’d shouted.
                    Then he’d said “Ain’t that unexpected rusty magic… You tricky bastard managed to zap me out of my concrete shell! now, pray tell, where in the eleven hells did you send us, young warlock?”

                    What a fool you are, Olli, you got us all lost he could hear her whisper in his head.


                      So, her nocturnal thief had struck again!

                      Glynis had left a freshly brewed batch of ‘Dream Recall’ potion on the window ledge to soak up the energy of the full moon overnight. And now one jar was missing.

                      She didn’t mind; in fact it gave her a warm feeling of satisfaction whenever anyone wanted her potions. And she was not afraid because she sensed no harmful intent. But she was curious as to the identity of her visitor.

                      Perhaps she should set a trap to unmask the thief?

                      Later, maybe. Today, she was taking her potions to one of the outdoor markets in the city where people peddled all manner of handmade and home grown products. She was long overdue for a visit. She would put on her burka, tattered now but still functional, and trek through the forgotten paths of the enchanted forest, hidden to most, pulling her little cart of wares behind her.

                      And when she comes close to the outskirts of the city, she will hunch her back and begin to walk slowly as though she is someone of very advanced years. She will set up her stall and a crowd will quickly gather, pushing and jostling to be first, for her potions are in high demand.

                      It has not always been that way. At first, people were wary of her, the crooked old crone in her tattered robe. Only her bright blue eyes visible, eyes which dart quickly to the ground if one looks too hard. But it took just a few, lured closer to her table by curiosity or desperation—or perhaps it was pity for she must look a sorry sight. After that, it didn’t take long for word to spread.


                        The North wind was cold on his cheeks. It was almost sunset, which didn’t help with the temperature. Fox was sweeping a street covered in autumn leaves. He couldn’t help but think it was useless. The wind was scattering away the leaves as soon as he had made a small heap. He already missed the quietness of his hut.

                        Mr Mole must have misunderstood, he thought, he appointed me caretaker of the city streets.
                        Fox took a whiff of city air. The cold bit his nose,but it was not enough to numb his sense of smell. The dragon breath was still there, even though the North wind had dispersed it a bit.
                        I’m not sure it will be enough.

                        He shivered, he never liked staying outside too long in his human form. Fox looked around. When he was sure nobody was in sight. As the sun disappeared behind the city walls, he allowed his true nature to the surface, just enough to enjoy the warmth of his red fur on his body. It was such a good feeling he almost didn’t stop in time. He touched his face, a moustache had grown on his upper lip, and his ears were a tad pointy. He passed his tongue onto his teeth; the length of his canines reminded him of chicken hunt in the nearby farms.
                        Don’t let yourself get carried away by the memories, he reminded himself. He took a deep breath. The smells of the city were stronger now, and it was as if someone had lit a light.

                        With his improved hearing, he caught up a strange noise coming from a nearby garden. It was like a faint pulse that was growing louder as the light diminished. A crack as soft as the whisper of stone. And the most unexpected words.

                        “Bloody bird shit ! Why do they always pick my nose ?”

                        Fox came closer to the small garden stonewall, as stealthily as he could, to see a gnome washing his face in a small basin. He suddenly caught sight of some wavering in the air, coming from a bush. The waves gradually took the shape of a strange animal, still rather translucent. Its fur behaving as if it was immersed into water, all wavy and floating.

                        “Ah! You’re here Rainbow,” said the gnome.
                        “Mrui,” answered the creature.
                        “Let’s get some potion for you, then.”

                        Fox looked the two of them walk silently toward the house. He could see the rays of light getting through the spaces of the wooden shutters. The gnome climbed on his friend’s back and took a bit of that translucent quality. He said something but it sounded like gargling. Fox almost expected to see his hair beginning to float in an invisible current. But it didn’t. And then they disappeared through the wall.

                        Fox dropped his broom, which bounced on the stonewall before falling on the floor. He waited, half expecting to hear a voice ask about all the noise. But the place remained quiet except for the wind. He jumped over the wall and waited behind a bush, his eyes on the wall where they had entered the house.

                        What if they don’t come out? he thought. But he remained there, his gaze fixed. He let his fur grow more. He wanted to be comfortable in the cold night.


                          Glynis likes to light candles before dark. She has a trail of candles leading from the kitchen to her small bedroom down the hallway. She made the candles herself by extracting the wax from the bayberries which grow with wild abandon on the bushes in front of the house. The candles burn cleanly and have a beautiful scent which helps her drift to sleep at night.

                          Glynis is in the portion of the house which was once the servants’ quarters. Part of the main house was destroyed in a fire many years ago and seemingly abandoned for good. There are acres of garden, once beautifully manicured, now overgrown and vibrant with life.

                          She is not sure how long she will stay here and lately has felt a restless pull to move on. Where? She is not sure. So for now, she practices her magic arts and knows she has much to learn.

                          Glynis is about to retire for the evening when something catches her attention. A flicker of light at the window. When she looks again there is nothing there. But something else is amiss; she can sense it.

                          “Oh, what is this? Eleven jars of potion? Darnit! I’m sure I made a clean dozen!”


                            Humming quietly to herself, Glynis stirs the mixture in the large black pot. She feels proud that she now knows this recipe by heart and no longer has to refer to the large book of spells which sits on a nearby stool.

                            Small bubbles begin to form on the surface of the mixture—soon it will boil. Now … remember … ”the mixture must boil for 5 minutes, no more and no less”.

                            She wasn’t sure why the directions were so precise … apparently understanding would grow in time. She pondered whether it was the element of discipline involved which added a particular flavour to the spell. After all, the intention of the heart was important and the difference between a great spell and just a mediocre one. She hoped to be a master one day and revered for the purity and efficacy of her mixtures.

                            “Quiet now,” she chided herself. “Pride won’t help this spell any.”

                            Five minutes. She has her own way of marking time though at first it had not been so easy. The moment the mixture was boiling she began to sing. She sang the whole song through twice and then pulled the pot from the fire to leave it to cool. Next it would go in the jars that stood waiting on the bench like a line of willing soldiers and then it must sit till spring.


                            Daylight is beginning to fade and she remembers she still has no sage.

                            The orchard is particularly beautiful this time of day she thinks. Late afternoon. Once, there was a path of stones leading down to the garden where sage and other herbs grow in abundance, but now the path is long overgrown.

                            A Silver Jute alights on a branch ahead of her.

                            “Hello!” Glynis says, happy to see the bird.

                            The Jute opens its beak and with a thrusting motion propels a berry which flies through the air and lands at the girl’s feet.

                            “Thank you”, she says and a feeling of warm gratitude fills her heart as she picks up the berry and puts it in her basket.

                            The Jute nods his head in acknowledgment and with a loud cry spreads his wings and flies off over the trees of the orchard.


                            It felt as if all hell had broken loose this morning. Everyone seemed to look for their heads, and all in the wrong places.

                            What he was really looking for, was his heart. Taking about other people, they used to say things like “his heart’s in the right place, you know”, as a form of apology, as if they knew what was the right place. Maybe they all were wrong, and nobody knew for sure.

                            In the morning, the ginkgo trees in the lane leading to the fortified city had all started to turn to gold, glittering the path with golden flecks. Magic comes from the heart they all whispered in the cold wind telling tales of first snows. Autumn had arrived late this year, and the weather was playing all kinds of strange choreographies.

                            He could do well with a bit of magic, but magic was tricky to harness these days. All the good practitioners of old seemed to have been replaced by snake oil merchants. But the trees still knew about magic.

                            He had a theory, that some pockets of old magic remained, shrouded in nature, oblivious to the city-life encroachments, ever-alive and ripe for the picking. He had heard the term “area of enchantment”, and that was to him the perfect description. He knew some sweet spots, near derelict places, gently overgrown with foliage, sitting side by side with the humbums of the busy city life.
                            He would ask the trees and vines there if they could help with the unusual wreckage of this morning.


                              “M’am, I am quite honoured to meet you” Godfrey felt the need to add a creeping “Your daughter always speaks highly of you…”

                              “Don’t be silly, dear” cooed the mother “You can call me Felicity, no need to make me feel like a granny.”

                              “Traitor” muttered Liz’ between her teeth. She was spread across the sofa while monitoring the developments of her Mother’s coup and trying to gather her wits and plan her next move. Mother wouldn’t be easily defeated. Last time, Liz’ had to resort to a rats and roaches invasion. Made the house unlivable for months. But quite worth it.

                              “Has your latest gigolo grown tired of you and thrown you out… again?” she interrupted the amiable chatter of her mother and Godfrey.

                              “Dear, dear, don’t brood like that, it makes you look like your father. You know my mother instincts have always been very strong. Call it my antennas if you shall — I can always tell when you’re not right, and I can’t let you down this slope.” She retorted, queenly ignoring the rude comment.


                              In reply to: Mandala of Ascensions


                                Domba didn’t know why he’d attract those strange beings of light who tried to cajole him into following their glib tongued advice.
                                Domba was no fool, he’d learnt young that nobody gets interested in Domba unless someone wants to play tricks on him.
                                His life was a prison, that much he knew. The light guys could well be the jailers themselves for all he knew. He didn’t care about that, or any of their business with power. Power of knowledge, for all the good it did, didn’t seem to have guided the human race to better ends. And compassion was for foolisher than himself.

                                For now, he did have fun a little with the one who called herself Dispe, for her spirit seemed benign enough, a fountain of wonderment and joy in contrast with the way he’d learnt to see the world. He couldn’t really understand all about her wild rants, but if anything, he was curious about her views, and how she sustained them, like as a child, he was endlessly amazed at the resilience and resourcefulness of ants.

                                Maybe she was a queen ant, and he was just that stupid worker she was having fun with.

                                The wild nature overgrown in the miles of no-man’s land around his place had so much to teach. Persistance, endurance, and a boundless love of life itself. It was as though nature’s own rhythm was overlaid and hidden by the man-made time and routines. Whereas, if you were to look under, the slow stubborn and everlasting pace of nature’s growth was vibrating underneath, encouraging whoever willing to listen to slow down to its tune, and taste its encompassing love of life.
                                He often wondered how long before men would come and try to pour concrete over the land, and raise scrapers of metal and blown-sand. His only solace was to think that in his madness, man couldn’t completely obliterate nature, that it would always be waiting patiently.

                                He wondered how those light beings failed to see how even them weren’t as apart from it as they thought they were. Or maybe they knew deep up.

                                He’d noticed a bird coming many times too. That bird had an agenda, and too clean feathers to not be either a spy, or some heavenly messenger.


                                In reply to: The Hosts of Mars


                                  Prune’s journal

                                  The quarantine wasn’t as long as expected, we’ll be on Mars tomorrow. The Indian guy didn’t explain much of what happened. Maybe it was just a drill.
                                  Anyhow, Hans has kept his promise, and the guinea pig is fine. Somehow, it seems to have grown stronger in space. Maybe the lesser gravity?
                                  Mater would have liked it.
                                  Speaking of Mater, I got that strange feeling she’s with me somehow. Funny, come to think of it, she was always the one talking about the spirit world. Was never really sure if she was well in her head when she finally opened to me about it (everything else showed that yes, she was nowhere near senility, even before death struck).
                                  If someone should chose to play poltergeist after all, who else than Mater. Way to go Ma!


                                  In reply to: The Hosts of Mars


                                    “Did you hear the noise?”
                                    “No I didn’t hear anything”
                                    “I swear I heard some squeaaa… But you know that already, don’t you” He looked at her suspiciously. “What are you hiding there?”
                                    “Stop that, you perv’” She was wrapping her arms around her bosom in a protective manner.
                                    “I’m not like that” He moved a few inches away from her, with his back to the gritty metallic wall of their small capsule.

                                    Prune was starting to feel bad for the other guy. “You’re Hans, right?”
                                    He nodded. Everybody knew their names, it was part of the contract. They also had to accept to be filmed as part of the raffle company’s advertisement plan. So, there was little they didn’t know about each other, despite not having been able to speak to each other until now.

                                    The suspension process the company had rented was not the high-grade version, too costly. So they had to age, unlike most of the other richer travellers. Which made it odd, as Hans had grown a huge beard and even two years of aging had made them slightly different. Almost like strangers. There was a comfort in that, knowing they each held something private, a capacity to be someone else, be worthy of being known and explored. Nothing like what mockery the TV show had made of them.

                                    “You won’t show me? Don’t worry I won’t tell.” His voice was light, you couldn’t have told he was more than 40.

                                    She unzipped her track suit’s pink jacket, to reveal a little ball of fur.

                                    “It’s a small piggy. They’re so fragile, I think I did something stupid. But I promised my gran to not leave it. I couldn’t break that promise.”
                                    “Don’t worry Prune” Hans said reassuringly “We’ll find a way to keep it safe.”


                                      Aunt Idle:

                                      Flora arrived, hot and dusty from the travelling, in the late afternoon. A shower and a well iced gin and tonic soon revived her, and I got the girls to see to supper and the oddball in room 8, and asked Bert to keep an eye on them while Flora and I sat on the porch. It did me a power of good to sit chatting and joking with a friend, a woman of my own age and inclinations, after the endless months of nothing but the company of kids and old coots.

                                      She looked pretty much the same as I’d gathered from the videos and photos online, although her bum was a lot bigger than I expected considering her slender frame, but she was an attractive woman with a merry gurgle of a laugh and warm relaxing energy.

                                      I asked her about the video she was planning to make, but it all sounded a bit vague to me. “Frame” it was to be called, and there were various period costumes involved and a considerable amount of improvisation, from what I could gather, around the theme of “frame of reference”. What that meant exactly I really couldn’t say, but she said we were all welcome to play a role in it if we liked.

                                      We’d been sitting out there until well past sundown, enjoying the cool evening air and a bit of Bert’s homegrown pot, posting selfies together on Spacenook and giggling at the comments, when we heard an ear splitting scream coming from an upstairs window. Flora looked at me with a raised eyebrow, and I just cracked right up for some reason, don’t ask me why. I laughed until the tears were rolling down my cheeks, and my ribs ached. I tried to stand up and fell back in the chair, which made me laugh all the more. I was wiping my eyes with a paper hanky when Clove appeared, saying Prune had had a nightmare.

                                      “Oh thank goodness for that!” I exclaimed, which set me off again, and this time Flora joined in. I did wonder later when I was getting ready for bed what she must have thought about it all, me having hysterics at the sound of a screaming child. But it did me a world of good, all that laughing, and I was still tittering to myself when I lurched into bed.


                                      2049. 22 years after the original settlers had landed on Mars, where they had since been followed by more and more pioneers looking for the next frontier of civilization.

                                      A lot had changed since they arrived, they were now a few hundred strong, and the first generation of Martian born babies were entering adulthood.

                                      Maia would celebrate her 50th birthday tonight. In Earth years. By Mars’ count, she was younger by half. Still, she was the eldest of the mission, and had learnt so much during these years. Her son, John had grown into a fine young man. He was named after John Carter of course. He wasn’t the first born here, but was the first to have survived. He always had the will to explore more, despite the dangers, he wanted to make the planet his own.

                                      She knew he was destined to greatness. She had a dream a long time ago, one dream that made her enlist into the program. She’d dreamt of Mars as a lush planet, that mankind had managed to terraform with a vaporous atmosphere, more dense than on Earth, but breathable. The light of the evening sky was misty and a pale grey-green. Maia hoped she would live to see her dream come true, that somehow they found a way to venture out and breathe the new air, having succeeded in making the best out of the immense resources of the red dust planet.


                                        By the time Mirabelle and Igor had recovered from physical effects of the abrupt emotional catapult during their teleport to find Lisa, Fanella, Ivan and Sanso, they found themselves alone on the sandy beach. Bewildered, they looked around but could find no sign of the others that they had momentarily seen as they landed, before collapsing in bodily distress.
                                        Weakly, Mirabelle sank down onto the sand, and looked at Igor questioningly. “What do we do now? My head is spinning still and I need a drink of water. Where are we?”
                                        Igor, drained of energy and just as puzzled, straightened his back and tried to sound reassuring.
                                        “Something very peculiar has happened. See these mangrove trees? They have grown at least a meter taller since a few minutes ago when we landed. And see this log here, this wasn’t here a few moments ago. It can’t have washed up while I was having a crap behind the bushes. Something has happened to time.”
                                        “You mean we’ve time traveled again? I don’t think I can stand much more of this,” replied Mirabelle, starting to weep.
                                        “Come now Mirabelle, sitting here sniveling won’t help. On your feet, girl, we will walk until we find some kind of civilization.” Igor pulled her to her feet, scanning the surroundings. “This way,” he said firmly, setting off along the beach. “I have a feeling there is something over there,” he said, pointing towards the east.

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