“You really know your trade, Fuyi,” said Rukshan. “You’ve built the most exquisite and comfortable place. And I think the empty dishes speak aplenty about the quality of the food and the pleasure we took in this shared meal. Now, let us help you with the dishes,” said Rukshan.
“Ach! Don’t be so polite,” said Fuyi. “I’ll have plenty of time after yar departure tomorrow. It’s not like the inn is full. Just enjoy an evening together, discuss yar plans, and have some rest. I know that life. Take the chance when it presents itself!”
The Sinese food made by the innkeeper had been delicious and quite a first for most of them. Tak had particularly enjoyed the crunchy texture of the stir fried vegetables flavoured with the famous five spices sauce. Nesy had preferred the algae and chili dishes while Fox, who ate a red hot pepper thinking it was bell pepper, had stuffed himself with juicy pork buns to put out the fire in his mouth.
Gorrash, befuddled by the novelty, had been at a loss of labels, good or bad. He simply chose to welcome the new experiences and body reactions to flavours and textures. As for Olliver, he gave up the chopsticks when he saw how fast Fox made the food disappear from the dishes.
Now that the dishes were empty, the children and Gorrash had left the table and were playing near the fireplace. Olliver was looking at the trio with envy, split between the desire to play and enjoy the simplicity of the moment, and the desire to be taken more seriously which meant participate in the conversation with the adults.
“We have plenty to discuss, Fae,” said Kumihimo.
Fuyi looked at Olliver, recognising the conundrum. “That’s settled, then,” he said to the group. Then turning toward Olliver: “Boy! I’m sure the start of the conversation will be boring for a young mind. Let’s join the others for a story of my own. You can still come back later and they’ll fill you in on the details.”
Fuyi and Olliver moved to the fireplace. The innkeeper threw cushions on the floor and sat on a wooden rocking chair. At the mention of a story, Tak, Nesy and Gorrash couldn’t contain their exuberant joy and gathered all ears around Admirable Fuyi. As he rocked, the chair creaked. He waited until they all calmed down. And when he was satisfied he started.
“I was young and still a fresh recruit in the Sinese army,” started Fuyi. “We were stationed at the western frontier just below the high plateaus and I hadn’t participated in any battle yet. With the folly of youth I thought that our weapons and the bond we shared with my fellow soldiers were enough to defeat anything.”
“Listen” said Gabe, the cult leader. “How long have you been Gourd level? One year?”
The other nodded.
“See Gavin, I think you’re ready to go Operating Tomathetan.”
Gavin gulped. “But, but… are you sure about such a leap? And… what about…”
“Oh, don’t worry about him, the yielding of his crops has been written, and it’s not good. Better look toward the future Gavin. And let me ask you something, don’t you think about the future?”
When the Great Leader Undisputed Gabe had spoken, it was customary to bow and continue listen, in case he wasn’t finished.
“Is there anything more I can do you for, oh GLUG?”
“Sure. Get me your proposal for the new organization of the crops. No rush. Tomorrow will be fine.”
“Your great leaderness is too bountiful.”
“Of course. Now scram, I have rituals to attend to.” And with that, Great Leader Undisputed Gabe made a hasty retreat into the inner sanctum with his favourite vestal priestess of the moment.
Gavin was flummoxed. It had all been foretold by the heretic Basil. He wondered, should he consult him? The weight of this sudden assignment felt heavy on his shoulders. He wondered how he could solve the mountain of problems that had accumulated like horse shit on a pile of manure.
“You’ll see, it’s all connected.” Star signaled Tara when they were ushered into the inner sanctum. “I’m sure all the trail of clues have led to this for a reason. Have I told you about my theories about multiple timelines and probable selves? Maybe the Vince who called us called us from a different probability…”
“You probably right, but that nurse outfit is really too tight.” Tara wiggled impatiently on her chair.
“AH! There you are!” a manly voice behind them. “Welcome, welcome, young fresh divine sprouts.”
Gabe took a while to observe them, then made a face. “Not the freshest batch I had, I must admit, but that should do.”
He clapped his hands, and a woman entered. “Get those two well anointed, and prepared in the art of leafing.”
Tara and Star looked at each other with an air of utter incomprehension on their faces, but decided unanimously to just go with the flow. Who knows, if all was indeed connected, it would probably bring them one step closer to Uncle Basil and the solving of mysterious comatose Vince.
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!”
Some whale random cloud :
Toilet needs seems makes takes
Happens lost died passing sister
Forgive nodded barely strange water
Everybody inspiration weather aunt forget
Fraud writer forgotten speed topic
Talked mostly mars dusted previous
Couch gargoyles coupons
It certainly is talking about something to be found at Jiborium’s Emporium with the coupons.
“Ouch! that hurt!”
“Look!” Tara nodded towards the mansion. “Over there, far window. It’s open.”
Star, still smarting from being unceremoniously dragged into the bushes, shrugged her shoulders. “So?”
“We’ve come all this way. We can’t go without a fight! Let’s break in!” Tara’s face was animated. “I mean, who is going to stop us? That butler could barely walk and Mr French is supposedly in a coma … and … well, don’t you think it seems strange about the accident and everything?”
Keeping low under cover of the ornamental pears, they crept back towards the house. “Did that curtain move?” whispered Star. “It fluttered, the room next to the open window!”
“That’s right,” Rosamund nodded enthusiastically. “Anti-vegan vaxxer and she don’t eat nothing with no eyes either. She drives Mum bloody mental going on about how the animals have got souls while Mum’s trying to enjoy a nice baccy fry up. Mum calls her Aunt Moanie.”
Star smirked. “Other than his obvious attributes?”
“You mean the fella with the voice like a bloody angel?” asked Rosamund, spitting an olive onto Tara’s sleeve. Tara swore under her breath as the olive bounced to the floor. Fortunately there was no mark; it was a new blouse and had cost Tara an arm and a leg. Worth the investment, she had reasoned at the time. One must look the part. And clearly, her Moulin Rouge ensemble wasn’t a good look for a Professional Investigator, even with fishnets and a feather boa.
“He cancelled his appointment but he paid the, quite frankly exorbitant, deposit we asked for,” said Star. “He’s going to email us the rest of the details. Do we need to know more that that?”
“Well, I’ve been doing a search and there is nothing anywhere online about him, or his world famous melodious voice. I suggest we pay this Mr French a visit.”
“Oh bloody awesome!” Rosamund leapt to her feet and pizza boxes went flying. “Oops, sorry about that. I’ll clean it soon as we get back.”
“You know, I wasn’t initially fond of this idea, Godfrey” Elizabeth said, while looking at Roberto doing the dishes. A bit unusual of her to spend time in the kitchen, probably her least favourite room in the house, but she was keen to revise her judgment as the view was never as entertaining.
Godfrey was finishing a goblet full of cashews while leafing through the “Plot like it’s hot” new book from the publishing house that Bronkel had sent autographed and dedicated to Liz “without whom this book may have never seen the light of day”.
“Godfrey, are you listening to me? You can’t be distracted when I talk to you, I may say something important, and don’t count on me to remember it afterwards. Besides, what’s with the cashews anyway?”
“Oh, I read they’re good natural anti-depressant… Anyway, you were saying?”
“You see, like I just said, you made me lose my stream of thought! And no… the view is for nothing in that.” She winked at Roberto who was blissfully unaware of the attention. “Yes! I was saying. About that idea to write Finnley in the new novel. Completely rash, if you’ve had asked before. But now I see the benefit. At least some of it.”
“Why are you never paying attention?”
“No, no, I heard you. But I never… wait a minute.” The pushy ghostwriting ghostediting, and most probably ghostcleaning maid (though never actually seen a proof of that last one) had surely taken some new brazen initiative. Well, at least Liz wasn’t taking it too badly. There maybe even was a good possibility she was trying hard to stay on continuity track about it. Godfrey continued “Benefit, you said?”
“Yes, don’t make me repeat myself, I’ll sound like a daft old person if ever a biopic is made of me, which by the way according to Bronkel is quite a probability. He’s heard it from a screenwriter friend of his, although his speciality is on more racy things, but don’t get me carried away. The benefit you see, and I’ve been reading Bronkel’s stupid book, yes. The benefit is… it moves the plot forward, with ‘but therefore’ instead of ‘and then’. It adds a bit of spice, if you get what I mean. Adds beats into the story. Might be useful for my next whydunit.”
Godfrey was finding her indeed lingering a tad too obviously on the ‘but‘ and their beats, but abstained from saying anything, and nodded silently, his mouth full of the last of the cashews.
Liz pursed her lips “Well, all this literature theory is a great deal of nonsense, you know my stance on it; I made my success without a shred of it…”
“Maybe you’re a natural” Godfrey ventured.
“Maybe… but then, they’ve got some points, although none as profound as Lemone’s. His last one got me pondering: finckleways is not a way in, delete it or it’ll get you locked out; only flove exists now. “
“Here you are then,” said the driver. They were parked outside of an imposing iron gate with a large padlock. “This is as far as I can take you. I dont have authority to go any further.”
“Authority? You mean this is it?” said Maeve. “All I can see are trees.”
“Usually there is someone here to open the gate when visitors arrive. Must be running late. That’s not like them.”
“Oh,” said Maeve. “They aren’t actually expecting us. I mean, we didn’t make an appointment or anything.”
The driver shook his head and laughed. He turned his head to look at them. “I might as well take you back then. You don’t get in here without being expected.” He started the engine.
“Wait!” said Maeve. “We haven’t come all this way to give up. Have we?” She looked at Shaun-Paul who, after a moment of hesitation, nodded.
“Bloody hell,” said the driver. “Sorry about that. You fellas alright back there?”
“Yeah, I couldn’t stop,” said the driver. “I’ve only just got my bloody licence back.”
“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.
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.
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.”
“You do that, Sha. Nurse Trassie wasn’t it?”
Sharon nodded and pursed her lips tightly. “Bloody uppity tart. We bloody pay enough to be ‘ere, I reckon. They should get the tea bloody right.” Her eyes narrowed menacingly. “ Anyway, she’ll keep. So,‘ow we going to find ‘im then, Glor?”
Gloria scratched her head vigorously, perhaps checking it was still there, before taking a moment to examine her fingernails.
“Wot’d Mavis say then?” she asked at last. “When you did that texting thing to ‘er?”
“‘Ere let me find my phone and I’ll read it out loud to you. Oh, blimey, ‘ave you seen my glasses, Glor?”
Gloria’s generous curves wobbled and gyrated as she convulsed into fits of laughter.
“They’re on yer bloody ‘ead!” she said pointing and gasping for breath. “Oh, I nearly peeed myself, ya blimmen muppet!”
“Thanks, Glor. Wot I’d do without you, I don’t bloody know. Don’t mean to make you pee yerself though. It’s ‘ard enough getting them nurses to give out them extra thick pantyliners. Blimmin uppity tarts. Expecially that Nurse Trassie. Anyway, she’ll keep.”
“Oh, it’s text talk. The younguns talk like that now and our Mavis always did like to keep up with trends. Lots of lust it means. That saucy cow!”
“She always was a saucy one that, Mavis! Look at us stuck in ‘ere and ‘er with a new fella. Lucky sod. Maybe after our beauty treatment, we might get us a new fella too.”
“I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track down the Doctor though, Shar. I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track him down when we’re stuck in this bleedin’ ‘ole.” Gloria shoulders shook and she began to sob loudly.
“Wot’s that then,” asked Gloria, sniffing loudly into her hanky.
“I’ve ‘ad one of my bloody brainwaves!”
“I knew you would, Shar! You’ve always ‘ad brains. I’m all agog!”
“We’ll get Mavis to go to the papers! Put in an advert to find ‘im!”
“You’re a blimmin genius, you are, Shar!”
“We all have, Liz,” he said. “To my great shame.”
“Yes, indeed. Well, we need to do better and give her the great admiration and reverance she is due. I have a writer’s meeting this morning, and if it weren’t for Finnley haranguing me, I would not have completed my assignment and I would have been a laughing stock. She saved me, Godfrey.”
“It was nothing,” said Finnley.
“Oh my god,” said Maeve again. “Do you know what this means?” She put Ima back on the shelf. “You need to water that plant.”
“No,” said Lucinda. “I mean, no, I don’t know what this means.”
“I don’t either really,” said Maeve with a sigh.
“How about I make us a nice cup of tea and you can explain what you do know.”
Maeve nodded and cleared a pile of books off Lucinda’s sofa so she could sit down.
“You’ve got a lot of stuff.”
“Yeah, I’m a hoarder. It’s a bit of a problem but I’ve started getting help for it. I go to ‘Hoarder’s Anonymous’. Have you heard of it?”
Maeve shook her head.
“Hi, I’m Lucinda and I’m a hoarder … you know … 12 steps stuff. Same old format.”
“Cool,” said Maeve, not sure what else to say.
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.
A deep 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 other his eyes wide open.
Olliver had teleported closer to Rukshan whose face seemed pale despite the warmth of the fire, and Lhamom’s jaw had 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.
“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. It hissed and hurled back, clearly pissed off. The dogs howled and Kumihimo started to play a wild and powerful rhythm on her instrument.
It shook the group awake from their trance of terror. Everobody stood and ran in chaos.
Someone tried to cover the fire.
“Don’t bother, we’re leaving,” said Rukshan, and he himself rushed 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. It needed something more for the magic to take the relay. Something resisted. There was a strong gush of wind and Rukshan bent forward just in time as the screen and bamboo poles flew above his head. His chanting held the sands together, but they needed to act quickly.
Lhamom told the others to jump on the hellishcopter whose carpet was slowly turning in a clockwise direction. Fox didn’t wait to be told twice but Olliver stood his ground.
“But I want to help,” he said.
“You’ll help best by being ready to leave as soon as the portal opens,” said Lhamom. Not checking if the boy was following her order, she went to her messenger bag and foraged for the bottle of holy snot. On her way to the mandala, she picked the magic spoon from the steaming cauldron of stew, leaving a path of thick dark stains in the snow.
Lhamom stopped beside Rukshan who had rivulets of sweat flowing on his face and his coat fluttering wildly in the angry wind. He’s barely holding the sands together, she thought. She didn’t like being rushed, it made her act mindlessly. She opened the holy snot bottle and was about to pour it in the spoon covered in sauce, but she saw Rukshan’s frown of horror. She realised the red sauce might have unforgivable influence on the portal spell. She felt a nudge on her right arm, it was Ronaldo. Lhamom didn’t think twice and held the spoon for him to lick.
“Enjoy yourself!” she said. If the sauce’s not good, what about donkey saliva? she wondered, her inner voice sounding a tad hysterical. But it was not a time for meditation. She poured the holy snot in the relatively clean spoon, pronounced the spell the Lama had told her in the ancient tongue and prayed it all worked out as she poured it in the center of the mandala.
As soon as it touched the sand, they combined together in a glossy resin. The texture spread quickly to all the mandala and a dark line appeared above it. The portal teared open. Rukshan continued to chant until it was big enough to allow the hellishcopter through.
“COME NOW!” shouted Fox.
Rukshan and Lhamom looked at the hellishcopter, behind it an immense shadow had engulfed the night. It was different from the darkness of the portal that was full of potential and probabilities and energy. The Shadow was chaotic and mad and light was absent from it. It was spreading fast and Lhamom felt panic overwhelm her.
They ran. Jumped on the carpet. Kumihimo threw an ice flute to them and Fox caught it not knowing what to do with it.
“You’ll have one note!” the shaman shouted. “One note to destroy the Shadow when you arrive!”
Fox nodded unable to speak. His heart was frozen by the dark presence.
Kumihimo hit the hellishcopter as if it were a horse, and it bounced forward. The shaman looked at them disappear through the tear, soon followed by the shadow.
The wind stopped. Kumihimo heard the dogs approaching. They too wanted to go through. But before they could do so, Kumihimo closed the portal with a last chord that made her lyre explode.TracyParticipant
Eleri nodded off to sleep after a warming bowl of Alexandria’s mushroom soup, followed by a large goblet of mulberry wine, and woke up to the warmth of the flickering fire her friend had lit while she’d been dozing. They sat in a companionable silence for awhile, and even the little dog was silent. Alexandria smiled encouragingly at Eleri, sensing that she had things on her mind that she wished to share.
“I had an idea, you see,” Eleri began, as Alexandria topped up her wine goblet, “To do something about Leroway. I fear it may be considered intrusive,” she said with a little frown, “but I expect it will be welcome notwithstanding. Drastic measures are called for.”
Alexandria nodded in agreement.
“The thing is, since I had this idea, I’ve remembered something that I’d forgotten. Hasamelis It’s all very well turning people into stone statues, but I must ensure they don’t reanimate, and there was the issue of the vengeful emotions on reanimation. Luckily that damn rampaging reanimated guy never caught up with me, and we don’t know where….”
“Oh but we do!” interrupted Alexandria.
“You do?” exclaimed Eleri. “Where is he?”
“He’s behind you!”
Eleri slopped wine all over her lap and she jumped up to look behind her. Sure enough, Hasamelis was lurking, thankfully immobile, in the dark corner of the room. Eleri looked at Alexandria enquiringly, “Is he..?”
“Oh yes, don’t worry. He’s quite rigid and immobile again. We found the spell you see, Yorath and I.” Eleri swallowed a frisson of jealousy as her friend continued, “ Yorath got a clue from you, when you brought the bones home. I provided the missing ingredient by accident, when I spelled Hasamelis wrong.” Alexandria chuckled merrily at the memory. “I jotted down Hamamelis instead and when Yorath saw it he said that was it, the missing ingredient: witch hazel! Witch hazel and ground bones to reverse a reanimation.”
“I say, well done!” Eleri was impressed. “But how did you administer it?” She could not imagine getting close enough to him, or him being amenable to ingest a potion.
“We ground the bones up and mixed them with distilled witch hazel and rolled them into little balls, and then catapulted them at him. I’m not very good with my aim, but Lobbocks was brilliant. We had to run like the blazes afterwards though, because it took some time to work, but Hasamelis did start to slow down after a couple of hours. He was heading this way, to your cottage, and eventually came to a standstill right here in this room. We managed to push him into that corner, out of the way.”
Alexandria gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth.
“If I turn Leroway into a statue, I don’t want him reanimating at all. I wonder if we incorporate the witch hazel and the ground bones into the elerium in the immobilizing process it will prevent any reanimation occurring in the first place?”
“I think you need to speak to Yorath,” suggested Alexandria. “But where is he?”
“You can’t stay here forever,” said Margoritt. The words came out of the blue and it took a few moments for Glynnis to make sense of them. The two women had been working together in silence as they collected the plentiful purple fruit of the Droog tree in preparation for bottling.
“Oh, well, no of course not,” said Glynnis without conviction.
“You are attractive enough now we can see you without those scales,” continued Margoritt sternly. “There is no need to hide away here in the forest. You need to think about what you want to do next.”
Margoritt’s words stung and Glynnis lifted her hand reflexively to her head. Two small bumps were all that remained of the Sorcerer’s curse. Eleri had cut a fringe for her and the bumps were barely visible. In a funny sort of way, she liked the reminder of the bumps. When she touched them she felt strong.
“There has been no word from the others for several moons now and I think we all need to face facts,” Margoritt said quietly. She put down her basket and leaned against a tree trunk for support. “We’ve tried but we don’t have the resources to fight Leroway any longer and truth is this body is old and tired. I have a sister in the North who I can stay with for a while. Just while I gather my strength.”
Glynnis was silent. She wished she could find words to reassure Margoritt but knew anything she said would sound trite. They were both aware of the dangers which faced the travellers. And though she had tried, she had not found a spell to contact them.
“The mountain will not give up its treasure easily but I know they would hasten to return if they were able. And they have much strength between them. We must not give up hope,” she said softly at last and Margoritt nodded.
Glynis shivered. The Droog trees were casting long shadows over the garden like twisted old men. “It’s getting cold … maybe we should go in. Tomorrow is soon enough to make plans.”
It was still raining clumps of wet sand when Rukshan, Olliver, Fox and Twee arrived at the oasis.
The light had dimmed and there was a feeling of hope mixed with dread in the vicinity. Only a mud brick wall no higher than a man’s waist was surrounding the village; and despite the infelicitous weather, standing here were a pair of sentinels so covered in sand clumps that they almost looked like a pair of stone wyverns guarding the entrance.
“Sسلام Salum’ friends. We are simple merchants, passing through, please allow us some shelter for the night” explained Rukshan using what he could remember of his rusty Nomads’ old tongue.
After a long silent glance at his strange companions, they shrugged and nodded him that he could go through.
Rukshan signaled to the others to follow him. The central paved road was leading the the market place, which would constitute, with the masjid, the centre of the city, and the most likely place to find answers on their quest.
Everyone seemed to have retreated to their places, in caves or the homes built on top of the caves from excavated materials. It was rather quiet except from the occasional thump noise made by the rain.
They were about to enter an alley when they heard someone loudly call them.
“Stop right here, Plastic Ban Police! – show us your bags and IDs.”
The entrance to the cellar was in the library, just behind a book shelf that had been pushed away. How convenient, Godfrey thought.
“Roberto has been busy,” he said, appreciating the new little wheels under the elm wood bookshelves. He tried it several times and saw that the wheels were perfectly oiled and made no sound.
“Too oily,” said Finnley tutting disapprovingly at the stains on the wooden floor. She was already thinking of buying a new carpet, or maybe a new puppy that would help her dust the floor as it followed along. It would have to be small and energetic. Not too energetic though.
Liz was fascinated by the door. It was an old door, carved certainly in oak wood and painted with oddly hypnotic patterns. She looked at the tonic glass she still had in her hands. “Did you put something in my tonic?” she asked. The glass pigheadedly refused to focus on the bottom of her eye.
“I think it was empty,” said Godfrey. “Or at least it is now.” He took the glass from Liz and came back quickly, not wanting to miss the opening. He handed a pair of pink and shiny scissors to Liz who glanced at them and then at Godfrey with a puzzled look.
“Do you expect me to cut your hair?” Liz asked him. “I think you should have your hair cut,” she added because it seemed to crawl and wave on his head. She looked at Finnley. “Yours too, dear, I’m afraid.”
Finnley’s lips and eyes thinned as she tried her sharp face on Liz who cackled, and Finnley just shrugged and tutted again.
“Well, use them to cut the red ribbon of course.” Godfrey nodded in the direction of the door and Liz saw that there was a fluffy red ribbon sagging between the side shelves and barring the entrance to the cellar. How come she hadn’t seen it before.
She took the scissors and winced when the sound of the cutting resounded like nails on a blackboard, and for a moment she shuddered as the face of Sister Clarissa and her magnifying goggles popped out of the door. A horrendous sight, if you asked her. Liz had always suspected that their only use was to traumatise the students. She had forgotten she went to a catholic school.
The door was finally opened, and Liz hoped what they found downstairs would not bring up more of those memories.
Thankfully, there had been a little left of the potion that Tak had so voraciously eaten.
Rukshan had almost aborted the trip to the desert to take care of the little shapeshifting gibbon urchin, whose new shade of green looked serious enough.
As quiet as she used to be, Glynis had shown a lot of cool and dexterity in handling the suspicious food poisoning case. She was gentle with the little boy, and didn’t show much concern about his going through her stuff.
In the end, she said she would be able to manage curing him, but that it would take probably a moon’s time.
Seeing Rukshan’s longer than usual face about the delay, she was the one to push him to go to the desert mysterious blue beams.
“Go with Olliver, he will teleport you both, and you can be back faster. Once you’ll be clear of what it is, we can plan something. It seems rather obvious nobody’s really ready to leave.” She glanced wryly at Eleri who was munching noisily on her goat milk’s oats.
Rukshan smiled. She’d almost sounded as though she was the boss. In any case, Glynis was right. Despite the cottage becoming overcrowded, and the threat of nearby building work encroachments into the forest paradise, all the unexpected friends seemed not in a rush for a change of scenery. Fox, Gorrash, Eleri and Hasam’, Margorrit and Tak, and the occasional resupply visits from the village…
“I think you’re right.” He picked up his bag and nodded at Olli. “Let us go and investigate this desert beam. Are you ready?”
And in a flash of the golden egg device, gone they were.
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