No sooner had they reached for the drinks in the office cupboard, than the phone rang loudly.
“I thought you gave her the afternoon?” Tara mouthed while picking the annoying phone. “Cartwright and Wrexham Private Investigators, can I help you?”
Her face frowned. “Herself speaking.”
“Yes, we do private investigations. Very successfully I may say. Alright Ma’am, let me check my agenda.” She looked in the air, flipping an imaginary agenda. “Oh, you’re in luck, our 5pm just cancelled. Alright then, see you at our office. Au revoir.”
Tara hung up with a smile.
Star was busy slurping the mojito while struggling with the mint bits in her teeth. “What? Tell me this instant!”
“Our second case! Isn’t it exciting!”
“Sure thing, what it is this time? Evil possession?”
“Actually, it’s not that far off. Apparently, our ladyship needs a falgrante delicto of adultery. Her husband seems to be a cheating one, and with a twinge of double personality… Or at least that’s what she said.”
“Fantastic. Can’t wait for all the juicy details. I’ll go prepare my sequin red dress to set the honey trap darling.”
“Good lord, get a hold of yourself Star, it’s only been a day, and you’re ready to jump on the next passing horse as it were.”
“Who said you shouldn’t mix pleasure with business.”
“Right. Thought that was the reverse…”
“Tsk. Just to get the last word.”
I’ve been up since god knows what time. Got up for the loo and couldn’t face going back to the awful nightmares. That girl that came yesterday said she’d been having nightmares, she said it was common now, people having nightmares, what with the quarantine. I think I might have just snorted at the silly girl, but when I woke up last night I wondered if it was true. Or maybe I’m just a suggestible old fool.
Anyway, I stayed up because lord knows I don’t want to be in a city in America at night, not waking and not dreaming either. I’ve had a feeling for a long time, and much longer than this virus, that it was like a horror movie and it would behoove me not to watch it anymore or I’d be having nightmares. I didn’t stop watching though, sort of a horrified fascination, like I’d watched this far so why stop now.
In the dream I was on a dark city street at a bus stop, it was night time and the lights were bright in a shop window on the other side of the sidewalk. I had a bunch of tickets in my hand all stapled together, but they were indecipherable. I had no idea where I was going or how to get there. Then I noticed the man that was by my side, a stranger that seemed to have latched on to me, had stolen all my tickets and replaced them with the rolled up used ticket stubs. I made him give me back my tickets but then I knew I couldn’t trust him.
Then I realized I hadn’t finished packing properly and only had a ragged orange towel with bloodstains on it. So I go back home (I say home but I don’t know what house it was) to pack my bags properly, and find a stack of nice new black towels, and replace the bloody orange one.
I’m walking around the house, wondering what else I should pack, and one room leads into another, and then another, and then another, in a sort of spiral direction (highly improbable because you’d have ended up back in the same room, in real life) and then I found a lovely room and thought to myself, What a nice room! You’d never have known it was there because it wasn’t on the way to anywhere and didn’t seem to have a function as a room.
It was familiar and I remembered I’d been there before, in another dream, years ago. It had lovely furniture in it, big old polished wooden pieces, but not cluttered, the room was white and bright and spacious. Lovely big old bureau on one wall, I remember that piece quite clearly. Not a speck of dust on it and the lovely dark sheen of ancient polished oak.
Anyway in the dream I didn’t take anything from the room, and probably should have just stayed there but the next thing I know, I’m in a car with my mother and she races off down the fast lane of an empty motorway. I’m thinking, surely she doesn’t know how to take me where I have to go? She seemed so confident, so out of character the way she was driving.
I got up for the loo and all I kept thinking about was that awful scene in the city street, which admittedly doesn’t sound that bad. I won’t bother telling the girl about it when she comes to do my breakfast, it loses a little in the telling, I think.
But the more I think about that lovely room at the end of the spiral of rooms, the more I’m trying to wrack my brains to remember where I’ve seen that room before. I’ve half a mind to go back there and open that dark oak bureau and see what’s inside.
Board 7, Story 2
Hector Coon announces the winner of the biggest carrot competition at the Pillaughpiffleston Manor fete, as Phlynn the gamekeeper gloats over his first prize for the fancy dress party. Lady Theresa Eaglestone (a.k.a. T’eggy) is confident she can continue to conceal the true paternity of the newborn Lord of the Manor, with the help of her old friend Marvin Scrozzezi.
Aunt Idle found the food in Iceland ghastly, especially if you weren’t a fishy sort of person. She contemplated roasting the cat instead.
Francette Fine of the Theatre du Soleil and Igor Popinkin of Russian Ballet troupe set up a food stall to try and make ends meet during La Cuarentena, until large theatre gatherings are permitted again.JibParticipant
Board 4, Story 3
Berenice, still under training, was overseeing the process, daunted by the alarming number of blinking buttons from the apparatus. She tried to look composed, knowing full well her aunt Barbara wouldn’t make preferential treatment if she were to make a blunder.
“BWAAAAHA!” blurted out Gloria coming out of what appeared to have been a very lucid dream.
“I just got meself the most horrid dream Shar’, you know wot?”
“Good Lord no! WORSE even!”
“WOT now?” Sharon couldn’t help but ask, shushing with a mean eye the poor Berenice.
“NURSE TRASSIE! She was comin’ fur us!”
“Oh bloody hell. Haven’t they confined her already?” Sharon dismissed with a shrug that made the whole concrete floor vibrate like a panzer washing machine in dry mode. “Look lassies, that’s more interesting.” She nodded towards the haggard Sophie lying on one of the tables. “Brought us some competition on the looks area it seems.”
“What?” Mavis strained to hear.
“Look dammit! The poor fashion-impeded soul that landed on a waiting list for one of our spots. Gosh, that latex thingy she sports makes me all blushy! But don’t you worry. She can’t be competition to us, ladies. That cryo-treatment is already working I can tell.”
She felt the need to add and punctuate towards Berenice “And no thanks to you, young lady. You should learn from me. Never been afraid to push a button in my life!”
What was I thinking. That all will be good and all, and forever after.
Lord, sometimes I miss that bloated boat, and its ordeal felt like an old familiar pain that distance makes bearable in retrospect.
A week back into life, and all goes to hell. Good thing I’m not a trader, looking at the stock market would make you want to jump from a tall building.
Since all is in chaos, I’ve been noticing them more. The synchronicities. Seems like the voices have found other ways to reach at me. Talks of forest and trees, arcane words spoken in different contexts.
If only I weren’t paying attention. But then there are the dreams. Last ones have been insane. And not just those after a heavy meal, you know. The kind that gets you more tired when you wake up, as if you’ve spend the whole night piling up mountains upon mountains.
I’d rather just pop a pill and see the elephants dance from branch to branch, if you see what I mean. But the voices wouldn’t let me go. Now they are egging me on to do something I don’t want to do.
A book opened at random, summarizes it all: “Our heart is anxious about being sent here.“
Next line is a tease: “Gathering the resources of all under heaven as in a storehouse.”
But when did I sign up to be the bloody storehouse manager?
“This is the life, eh!” June said, stretching out on the sun lounger sipping a fruity cocktail. “Turquoise sea and a salty breeze, this is the life for me!” she said, kicking off her new deck shoes in nautical blue and white, and hitching her dress hem up to expose her thighs to the sun.
The skipper raised an eyebrow and smiled sardonically, while simultaneously averting his eyes from the unappetizing sight of the doughy flesh. He could imagine this one rolling around below decks looking green as soon as the weather changed.
“Sure beats that jail. That had me worried, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t sure we were ever gonna make it outta there,” replied April, smiling fondly at Ella Marie and giving her hand an affectionate squeeze. “You saved our bacon, honey.”
“If it weren’t for that there Lord Wrick turning up, even the money might not have got you out.” Arthur chimed in. “Promising ole president Lump that land for the golf course if’n he pardoned you. Jacqui, you done wonders there.”
“Ah well, the young Lord Wrick owed me a favour, you might say. But that’s another story,” Jacqui replied. “The main thing was we had to get out of the country fast before Lump finds out about that land in Scotland.”
June sniggered. “Can’t imagine him in a kilt, can you? I wonder if he’s orange down there as well.”
“Oh, please! You really know how to lower the tone, dontcha? Gawd, what a thought!” April started to feel queasy. Changing the subject, she said, “Hey, did I tell you our Joanie’s going to meet us in Australia too?”
Norma was taking the sheets for a clean when she ran into the tall black figure of Mr August in the neatly carpeted corridors that Finnley had got freshly cleaned. Those odd people from Alabama that had brought Barron back had been all too pleased to help with the carpet cleaning, gaining a contract with the Beige House rather than a one-time reward.
August was a gentleman, and offered to help, while exchanging some innocent small talk. He was a married man after all. “Those carpets sure do look cleaner than they ever were.”
“You look distressed Norma.” he paused looking genuinely concerned. “It’s nothing to do with the sacking of June & April, is it? Or is that the stress of all that sudden responsibility falling on your shoulder? Taking care of Mr. Barron and all?”
“Oh yes, but no!” she immediately answered. “It was such an honor that Mistress Mellie Noma entrusted me with her child. The Lord will forgive me for speaking ill of them, but these two were not fit and proper to raise a child, with all that partying and …” she stopped thinking she sounded like a bitter spinster.
“Amen.” smiled August. “Not to mention all the gossiping around.” he giggled.
He rose from the floor and gave her back the folded sheet in a neat package.
“Good luck with the kid. Now he’s back, there’s no telling what goes in this head of his. I still wonder how he managed to get on this little trip. I have to go, work to do before Pres. Lump is coming back from his impricotement hearings. Seems he won once again and will be here in no time.”
“Lord Gustard Willoughby Fergusson helped his wife Floribunda onto the camel,” Tibu spoke softly, gently turning the well worn page. “And clamboured onto his own. Cranky and Illi were mounted on donkeys, as were Tibn Zig and Tanlil Ubt, their local guides. Three hot dusty days, and two bitterly cold nights away lay their destination: Tsnit n’Agger and the home of the legendary giant of the Alal’ Azntignit.”
A movement caught Tibu’s eye and he glanced up. She was still there, listening.
He turned back to the book and continued reading. “Cranky was feeling like a fish out of water in the desert, but Illi had taken to it like a duck to water. Not that there was alot of water about in the desert, Cranky grumbled to herself. What she wouldn’t have given for a nice hot cup of tea and a crumpet.”
“Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” she interrupted. “It’s such rotten weather to stand out here and I ~ well, I like just listening to you.”
Tibu preferred selling second hand books to selling watches, for he could read them while waiting for customers instead of watching the minutes and hours tick by. Maybe that’s why they called them “watches”, he thought, because if you have one, you watch it. Too much, it would seem.
He was reading “The Perilous Treks of Lord Gustard Willoughby Ferguson” while sheltering from the pounding rain, huddled in the corner of an office building porch with a few dozen books piled onto an old blue blanket. He rarely sold any books, but passing strangers kindly brought him a coffee in a take away cup from time to time, or a sandwich or burger. The more thoughtful ones dropped some money into the upturned bowler hat that he’d found in the bin, so that he could choose tea, which he preferred, or some fruit, which he preferred to burgers. One of the regular office girls, a fresh faced young looking redhead, brought him a brand new lighter one day, after noticing him asking for a light the day before. She was a good listener, and often stood beside him silently listening to him read aloud from one of his books.
“Init been quiet as being caught in the doldruffs, my Mavis?” Sha was sandwiched in the cryogenic apparatus like a tartine in a toaster, with her ample person protruding like cheese squeezed in too much.
The door flung open.
“Good Lord, aren’t them splendigious, those little tarts, meringue and all.”
Berenice, Barb’s niece, trotting in his steps, taking her role as the new temp assistant very seriously was about to voice a response that he quickly tutted away. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Took me a while to find out the thread though, buried through all that poubelle creative thinking and monologues, and bla and bla. Action all gone missing safe for a little excitement in Tik…” He stopped, looking around suspiciously. “They’re here, I know. Stop it, now. Hey. Shut up!”
“He’s been acting all strange, since he cracked that red crystal.”
“Shht, Glo. You don’t want him to get mad and stop all our beauty treatment. I can feel my skin tighten and dewrinkle.”
“T’is like ironing, fussure. Some steam and a good hot iron to remove the wrinkles.”
“Ahahah, wrinkles yourself, they’re more like crevices, hihihi!”
“But first, nuffin like a ice treatment to tighten the glutes.”
“Oh uhuh, haha, she said glutes like a snotty beauty specialist. Next she’ll say we need to do Pontius Pilates…”
Berenice couldn’t help herself. She blurted out in one quick sentence “But what are you planning to do with them, Doctor?”
He paused a moment his conversation with the invisible guests then turned nonchalently at B.
“But just… perfecting them, sweet thing. Oh, and love what you did with the beehive.”FloveParticipant
“Welcome, Everyone!” said Mater. She had entered unnoticed and was standing in the doorway regarding the assembled group and looking rather more lewd than welcoming. She had worn a pantsuit for the occasion, a relic from the 70’s made of red garbardine. Fortunately, the forgiving nature of garbardine added a little stretch, but even so the cloth clung rather too tightly to Mater’s curves.
“Oh, lord love ya! “ said Finly. “Look at you! You’ve not dusted that pantsuit off since you got it out of the chest, have you!” She hit Mater with her duster and a cloud of dust enveloped her.
“Way to go, Mater!” said Devan.
“What are you doing, crazy old woman?” shrieked Dodo. Unfortunately her mouth was full of bread roll and it sounded more like, “Woowawuooingwazyolewoom?”
“She’s aboriginal?” asked Sanso looking at Dodo with interest.
Prune snorted. “We aren’t quite sure where she is from but she is an interesting specimen.”
“I expect she is rip snorting drunk again,” said Mater after the dust had subsided. “Anyway, I just want to say it is a pleasure to have you all here. I hope you are finding enough to eat. If you need anything, Bert here is your man.”
“Thanks ever so much,” said Arona, smiling charmingly and gently wiping the lizard with her paper table napkin before popping it back under her turban.
Bert grunted and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “We aren’t used to this many folk staying at one time,” he said. “But yeah, welcome all. So, what are you all here for?”
“It’s to do with a doll, actually,” said Maeve. Shawn Paul looked at her, impressed with her boldness.
“A key,” said Arona, waving the key in the air.
Mater stumbled and reached out to the door frame for support.
“Bloody hell,” said Bert.JibParticipant
The thoughts of Miss Bossy asking him to torture sweet Sophie still bothered Ric while he went out to look for the reporter. Could he even call her that, he suspected most of her articles were fake news and even if they had at some point come from a seed of truth, they were so transformed by her retelling that it was impossible to prove them in any direction, be it false or true.
Ric found sweet Sophie sleeping on the couch of the waiting room in a very unwomanly position. Fortunately she didn’t wear a skirt. Her mouth was wide open and a stream of saliva was dropping from her chin. She even snored. Ric was put off by her pink trousers and electric blue jacket. Did she colour her hair? he thought. They looked a bit purple.
Sweet Sophie snorted and emerged from slumber totally unaware she was observed.
“What?” asked Miss Bossy when Ric told her about Sophie’s dream. “Nonsense! Sweet Sophie having precognitive dreams? Time travel wasn’t enough for that old hag. And you’re saying she requested a daydreaming room to continue her investigations, with ambiant music and ayahuasca? I’m not financing her drug cravings.”
Sophie entered the dark room. She didn’t think it would work, to ask Ric for the daydreaming room. She tried the couch. Soft but not too soft, hard enough for her back. Oh! Sweet Time Lord, what a relief from the open space chair. An instrument of torture if you asked her.
She had developed an obsession with the Doctor, and it all came from a dream she had just before Ric found her. In that dream, she was really attracted to the Doctor—who looked just like an old crush of her—, and he was showing her his amazing inventions, telling her about his superior mind, his poignant history and all the great things he did during his famous time. So…yeah. She kind of finally fell in love with him for the second time. Then he confessed her he was so sorry for what he did, it made her cry almost. He said it was stupid of him and he still thought she is his daughter— that’s when she thought she had lost track of the dream timeline and in another moment she found another crazy coincidence that turns every possible event to pure insane: The Doctor has a new body. Not in the literal sense. He hasn’t even given it a whole new look. Instead, it has a completely bizarre look with its entire body filled with…
That’s when she had awaken. That’s why she needed the couch and the room and the plant. She had seen in a video that it could help.
Someone knocked at the door and brought in a silver plate with a steaming muddy potion.
Albie was hurt by Arona’s mockery, but tried to put a brave face. Derailing of the quest was expected, and he had to prove his bravery.
He had started to realize people outside the Doline had a different way of speaking —very vulgar, his Ma, Freda would say; and they weren’t even nobility, so he couldn’t know for sure what was proper or not. Maybe it was all make believe. In any case, he found the new style rather daring… and exciting.
When he came back, he had to raise his voice to be heard.
“HRRMEMN! Mil… I mean… Friends! Arona is right, it’s going to be a long trek, and the road doesn’t get any better than this.” He pointed at the lone road in the middle of the sandy reddish expanse traveled by deceptive winds.
“How long?” Sanso asked apprehensively.
“By my count, maybe 7 days of walk due East of the place, and that’s if we keep walking during most of the day.”
“Don’t be daft, boy!” Mandrake interjected. “It’s not like Arona not to have a plan.”
The following silence was astounding, so he added, his meowing voice thinning as he spoke… “like an e-scooter from Jiborium Emporium? maybe?”
“You’ve become all so strung up now, haven’t you?”
“Well, it’s not like it’s the friendliest place on Earth, is it? I think I spotted 3 scorpions and one fat brown viper not moments ago, and they didn’t look all too happy with their new neighbours.”
“Ah, but I told you, we need to go to the local shaman for protection and safe passage first. There at her camp, we’ll get a rental jeep with a GPS. From there, to reach the Inn, it shouldn’t take us more than 10h… and 21min drive. Más o menos, amigos.”
She winked at Albie “is it enough a plan for you, young man?”.FloveParticipant
But Arona wasn’t quite ready to trek. On a pretense of tying her boot laces, she was trying to conceal laughter.
“What’s that, Milord?” she snorted, “What is this quest of which you speak?”
Mandrake’s tail shuddered in annoyance.
“Do grow up, Arona!” said Mandrake. “We have only a few days and precious little progress has been made.”
“I thought we had made excellent progress,” said Arona, deflated. “I mean, I found you, didn’t I?”
“Well, technically it was me who found him,” said Sanso, puffing his chest out proudly. “Oh yes, you didn’t know that, did you! I was exerting my influence on the moon and the stars to guide us in the right direction.”
“My word,” said Mandrake and Arona grimaced at him. “See what I mean!” she hissed.
“The quest,” said Sanso, “is quite simple. We have a key and we need to find the door which it opens. And I suggest we make haste to the flying fish Inn where we will find said door.”
Some updates on the Heartwoods Weave
So far, there were loosely 2 chapters in this story, and we’re entering the 3rd.
Let’s call them:
- Ch. 1 – The Curses of the Stolen Shards
- Ch. 2 – The Flight to the Desert Mountains
- Ch. 3 – Down the Lands of Giants
Ch. 1 – The Curses of the Stolen Shards
In Chapter One, we get acquainted with the main characters as their destinies intertwine (Rukshan, Glynis, Eleri, Gorrash, Fox, Olliver and Tak).
In a long past, the Forest held a powerful artifact created and left behind as a seal by the Gods now departed in their World: a Gem of Creation. It was defiled by thieves (the 7 characters in their previous incarnations of Dark Fae (Ru), Toothless Dragon (Gl), Laughing Crone (El), Mapster Dwarf (Go), Glade Troll (Fo), Trickster Dryad (Ol), Tricked Girl (Ta)), and they all took a shard of the Gem, although the innocent girl was tricked to open the woods by a promise of resurrecting a loved one, and resented all the others for it. She unwittingly created the curse all characters were suffering from, as an eternal punishment. Removing the Gem from the center of the Forest and breaking it started a chain of events, leading to many changes in the World. The Forest continued to grow and claim land, and around the (Dragon) Heartwoods at the center, grew many other woods – the Haunted Bamboo Forest, the Enchanted Forest, the Hermit’s Forest, the Fae’s Forest etc. At the other side, Cities had developed, and at the moment of the story, started to gain control over the magical world of Old.
From the special abilities the Seven gained, some changes were triggered too. One God left behind was turned into stone by the now young Crone (E).
Due to the curse, their memories were lost, and they were born again in many places and other forms.
During the course of Ch.1, they got healed with the help of Master Gibbon, and the Braider Shaman Kumihimo, who directed Rukshan how to use the Vanishing Book, which once completed by all, and burnt as an offering, lifted the curse. Tak (the Girl of the origin story), now a shapeshifting Gibbon boy, learned to let go of the pain, and to start to live as a young orphan under the gentle care of the writer Margoritt Loursenoir and her goat Emma, in a cottage in the woods.
Glynis, a powerful healer with a knack for potions, still haven’t found a way to undo the curse of her scales, which she accepts, has found residency and new friends and a funny parrot named Sunshine. Eleri besides her exploration of anti-gravity, learnt to make peace with the reawakened God Hasamelis no longer vengeful but annoyed at being ignored for a mortal Yorath. Eleri continues to love to butt heads with the iniquities of the world, which are never in lack, often embodied by Leroway and his thugs. Gorrash, who adopted the little baby Snoots activated by Glynis’ potions seemed simply happy to have found a community. Fox, a fox which under the tutelage of Master Gibbon, learnt to shapeshift as a human for all his work and accumulation of good karma. Olliver, a young man with potential, found his power by activating the teleporting egg Rukshan gave him. As for Rukshan, who was plagued by ghosts and dark forces, he found a way to relieve the Forest and the world of their curse, but his world is torn between his duties towards his Fae family in the woods, his impossible love for his Queen, and his wants for a different life of exploration, especially now knowing his past is more than what he thought he knew.
At the end of the chapter, the Door to the God’s realm, at the center of the Forest seems to have reopened.
Ch. 2 – The Flight to the Desert Mountains
In the second Chapter, strange sightings of light beams in the mountains prompt some of our friends to go investigate, while in the cottage, the others stay to repel encroachments by brutal modernity embodied by Leroway and his minions. Glynis has found a way to be rid of her scales, but almost failed due to Tak’s appetite for untested potions. Remaking the potion, and succeeding at last, she often still keeps her burka as fond token of her trials. Eleri is spreading glamour bomb concrete statues in the woods, and trying her hand with Glynis supervision at potions to camouflage the cottage through an invisibility spell. Muriel, Margoritt’s sister, comes for a visit.
In the mountains, the venturing heroes are caught in a sand storm and discover spirits trapped in mystical objects. Pushing forward through the mountain, they are tracked and hunted by packs of hellhounds, and dark energy released from an earthquake. Rukshan works on a magical mandala with the help and protection of his friends. Olliver discovers a new teleportation trick making him appear two places at once. Kumihimo rejoins the friends in trouble, and they all try to leave through the magical portal, while Fox baits the dogs and the Shadow. Eerily, only Fox emerges from the portal, to find a desolated, burnt Forest and his friends all gone. They had been too late, and the Shadow went with them through the portal instead of being destroyed. Luckily, a last potion left by Glynis is able to rewind Fox in time, and succeed in undoing the disaster. The beaming lights were only honeypots for wandering travellers, it turned out.
Shaken by the ordeal, Rukshan leaves the party for some R&R time in the parallel world of the Faes, which is now mostly abandoned.
Ch. 3 – Down the Lands of Giants
In Chapter 3, which has only just begun, some time has passed, and Margoritt has come back to the City, at the beginning of winter for some special kneedle treatments. Glynis and Margoritt are in turn taking care of Tak, who has joined a local school, where he seems to have befriended a mysterious girl Nesingwarys (Nesy). Gorrash seems to have been hurt, broken whilst in his statue form by Leroway’s thugs, but the Snoot babies are still staying with him, so there is hope. Fox is always hungry, and helps with the reconstruction work for the cottage, which was damaged in a fire (we suppose during Leroway’s men foray in the woods).
Rukshan emerges from his retreat after an encounter with a mad Fae, babbling about a Dark Lord’s return. Piecing clues together, he finds a long lost World Map and connection with a renegade magician who may have been the Maker of Gorrash (and maybe linked to the trapped spirits in the mountain after all). He sends a pigeon to his friends before he returns to the thick of the Heartwoods.
Now, it seems the Door to the God’s realm has reopened the ancient Realms of the Underworld too, all accessible through the central pillar of the World, intersecting their World precisely at the Heartwoods, were the Gem of Creation originally was. He’s planning to go to the long lost Underworld of the Giants, were he suspects the so-called Dark Lord is hiding.
It was done. The spell was lifted and Rukshan could see the path ahead.
Some memories remained trapped in inaccessible places yet, but he wouldn’t need those; they were remnants from a different past.
Now his mission was clear, he was to go back to the Forest, to gain passage to Jötunheimr, the land of Giants, and find the Master, that powerful Alchemist able to imbue life into stone. The ones that some had called Necromancer, or Dark Lord.
There were strong wind currents when they passed above land, drafts of warm air competing with each other, and it took some skill to land the Jiborium Air Express without any damage.
“It’s incredible the distance we can travel without refueling,” he mused aloud. As if Australia’s coasts weren’t huge enough, their travel inland seemed to have stretched for days. Sanso had been seasick most of the time, and at first Arona thought his retching was just emotion sickness, but it was only motion after all.
“The secret is in the lard, boy. It burns longer.” Sanso said, before reaching for a bucket.
He resumed. “Arona could have taken a Zeppelin you know, the Emporium always used to have few spares, they’re so much more comfortable, and still quite affordable.”
“Guess your comfort wasn’t the priority, nor were you expected, were you?” Mandrake was in a somber mood, well, somberer than usual.
“Mmh, someone’s sprightly today! Guess it doesn’t have anything to do with Ugo the gecko, does it?”
The bickering continued a while longer after all the landing was done, and the balloon was folded back in a neat package.
“Before we venture further in Mutitjulu land, we’ll need to seek permission from the local shaman.” Arona said.
Noticing the boy, she asked “Aren’t your parents going to be concerned, you seem a little far from home!”
“We can still send them a postcard?” he answered tentatively. “It’ll be like a quest, a rite of passage for me. After that, I’ll be a man in my village!”
“Well, when you have had enough, let me know. I think most bodies of water are connected to the Doline, I can just send a magical trace with the last pearls to guide you home.”
“That is kind and generous, Milady. Thank you.”
“So what is our quest?” Sanso seemed to creep out of the shadows where he was lurking.
“Well, that won’t surely get us run in circles now.” Mandrake sniggered. He turned to Arona who was already ready to trek in the rocks and sand. “What about you? Has your quest anything to do with that key you got?”
I was looking forward to it, to tell you the truth. Things had been so dull around the Inn for so long, I’d started to feel that the old place had slid right off the map. Maybe things would have been different if Bert had remortgaged the place, but he’d refused, and there was no persuading him. So we’d bumbled along managing to keep the wolf from the door, somehow. It was quiet with the twins gone to college, and Devan who knows where, off traveling he’d said but had not kept in touch, and lord knew, Mater wasn’t much company these days. And there were so few guests that I was in danger of talking them to death, when they did come. Bert said that was why they always left the next morning, but I think he was pulling my leg.
Then out of the blue, I get a request to make a reservation, for two reporters here to cover the story, they said. I almost said “what story, there is no story going on here” and luckily managed to stop myself. If they wanted a story, I’d give them a story. Anything to liven the place up a bit.
On impulse, I decided to give Hilda “Red Eye” Astoria room 8 at the end of the corridor. Now there was a story, if she wanted one, the goings on in room 8! And to make it look like the inn was a busy thriving concern, I gave Connie “Continuity” Brown room 2, next to the dining room. Connie Brown was doing a report for the fashion column, and had inquired about the laundry services, and if there was a local dressmaker available. Of course I assured her there was, even though there wasn’t. But I reckoned Mater and I could manage whatever they required. Fashion shoot at the Flying Fish Inn, I ask you! What a joke.
I asked Bert what story he thought they were here to cover. He shifted in his seat and looked uncomfortable.
“We don’t want then digging around here, you don’t know what they might find.”
I looked at him piercingly. He asked me if a gnat had got stuck in my eye and why was I squinting. I wasn’t sure which dirty dark secret he was referring to, and frankly, would be hard put to recall all the details myself anyway, but I had a sneaking suspicion the old inn still had plenty of stories to tell ~ or to keep hidden awhile longer.
It had been a strange tale that Maeve had told her, and Lucinda had a feeling that her neighbour hadn’t told her the whole story. Surely, if one was going to enormous trouble to make lots of dolls, one would ask more questions about why the keys were being sent to particular addresses. But Lucinda hadn’t asked any questions, as she didn’t want to stop Maeve moving towards the door without the doll. If she had done there was a danger that Maeve would remember to take it. Lucinda had wanted to know why that Australian Inn was full of coachloads of Italian tourists, and wondered why Maeve had used the word wop to describe them. It wasn’t like her to be rude, the comment about her ears notwithstanding.
Granola, meanwhile, from her temporary current vantage point of the dreadlocked doll, was pleased to see that the doll had drawn attention. The misinterpretations were mounting up, but that didn’t matter at this stage.
“Do you mind?!” hissed the doll to Granola. “Can’t you see there’s only room for one of us in here, and I was here first!”
“Oh give over, a bit of merging never hurt anyone, least of all a cloth doll. Good lord woman, think of all the tapestry and weaving symbolism of it all!”
“Oh alright then,” the doll grudgingly admitted. “I feel a ton lighter since passing that dreadful key. Holding on to that made me feel constipated. If you’d barged in while I still had the key, it would have been a bit cramped.”
Lucinda was looking suspiciously at the doll. “What did you just say?” she asked, feeling ever so slightly foolish.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” the doll snapped back. Lucinda’s jaw dropped. Well, I never! Not only does the doll talk, it talks to imaginary friends.
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