“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.”
It wasn’t such a bad day, thought Olliver, and it might even be a good day. The birds are singing, we saw a boar and a few deers already. Animals are getting back and they don’t seem to fear the humans so much.
Rukshan was walking first and Fox was following him with a heavy backpack. Tak and Nesy were mostly playing around and marvelling at everything their path crossed. Olliver envied their innocence, the innocence he had lost not so long ago.
Except the animals and the two guards they had to hide from, the day had mostly been uneventful and Olliver’s mind was wandering off into the mountain where he could feel useful and strong. He felt strangely blissed and suddenly had the impulse to walk toward a patch of yellow flowers.
“STOP! Pay attention where you walk,” said Rukshan. “Come back to your left two feet and walk straight. I told you to follow my every steps.”
“Okay, uncle Ruk!” said Olliver a bit ashamed to have been caught not paying attention.
“I don’t understand,” said the Fae. “Glynis’s potion doesn’t seem to work for you. The aetherical tentacles around the traps don’t seem to detect us but only you, and you also seem susceptible to their power to attract you. It’s not the first time I had to warn you.”
The Fae could see the etherical traps and especially the free flowing tentacles or the tension lines attached to trees, stones, wooden posts, anything that would cross a trail at different heights. With the potions they should be impervious to detection and affections by the traps. Olliver hadn’t thought that far. He had thought that by following them he could manage not to be caught. Right now, he feared more Rukshan’s piercing eyes than the traps. He looked at Fox involuntarily.
“It’s my fault,” said Fox looking a bit contrite. Sweat was pearling on his face. “It’s becoming too dangerous for Olli so I must confess something.” He put his heavy bag on the floor and opened it and a dwarf’s head peered timidly out.
“By the fat belly of the giants! What made you do such a stupid thing?”
“You didn’t think at all!” said the Fae. “The potions were not just for the fun of drinking something pungent and bitter with the taste and texture of yak wool.”
“Leave me out of this teleportation stuff!” said Gorrash.
“What an idea! But I already thought of that my little friend. You two are going to to back.”
“No we’re not! If you make us go back we’ll follow you from a distance.”
“Oh You, I’m sure it’s your idea,” started Rukshan.
“No, it’s mine,” said Olliver. “Uncle Fox had almost convinced Gorrash it was better to stay, but I couldn’t let him be stay behind after just being reborn. You said it once, we don’t leave our friends behind.”
“I’m sure it was under another set of circumstances,” countered the Fae.
“Anyway you see the traps, I can follow your instructions. And if there is any fever problem I can teleport Gorrash back to the cottage.”
“I do not totally agree with you but I see you have learned to make an argumentation.”
Fox felt the Fae relax. “Agreed, you come with us to the Great Lakes to meet the Graetaceans and you’ll follow what I tell you to do from now on. I’ll treat you as a responsible adult.”
“Yay! We’ll meet the Graetaceans!” said Nesy.
“Olli and Gorrash will stay with us,” said Tak jumping around his friends with such a broad smile. Rukshan thought he was growing too soft on them all, with the new generation growing he started to feel his own age.
Bubbling and turning from orange to green to duck blue, the potion was perfect and smelled of good work, a strong blend of cinnamon, cardamom and crushed cloves. She smiled broadly and poured the potion into five vials, which she gave to Rukshan. They were all gathered around her in the kitchen looking rather fascinated by the whole operation.
“One for you, and one for each of the children,” Glynis said with a grin.
“I’m not a kid,” said Fox.
“I don’t need a potion to go wherever I want,” said Olli with a grin.
“Well,” started Glynis, “Despite your unique skill, Olliver, you still need the potion in order to thwart the control spells Leroway’s saucerers had scattered around the country,” Glynis said. “You all remember what happened to aunt Eleri last time she went out. You know how skilled she is when she need to sneak out. She barely escaped and Rukshan and I had a hard time turning off that dancing spell, which I’m sure is the least damaging one.”
She looked at Gorrash with compassion but the light dimmed as a cloud passed in front of the sun outside. She pointed her finger at him. “Your immune system is still like one of a newborn. And I’d prefer you’d stay home and not go around during a beaver fever pandemic. There are plenty of things you can help me with!” Glynis showed the cauldron, vials and other utensils she used to make the potion, and the cake earlier, and yesterday’s dinner.
“Well, if I have not to challenge my immune system…” Gorrash started.
“You know better than to argue with me,” she said.
Gorrash opened his mouth to say something but decided otherwise and ran away into the garden.
Fox started to follow him.
“Don’t said Rukshan. There’s nothing you can do.”
“He’s my friend!” said Fox.
The first thing the dwarf did was a finger of honor. “Take that darn blubbit queen!” he shouted before he crumbled butt naked down on the wooden floor surrounded by his former golden carapace. His skin was still glowing with a strange lucent light.
“What did he say?” asked Fox.
“What’s a blubbit?” asked Olliver.
Glynis put her hands on the baby snoots eyes, but there were too many of them and she only had two hands.
“Have you seen his skin?” asked Eleri.
“Well yes, he’s butt naked,” said Kumihimo.
Gorrash had had time to clear his mind and started to realise they were all looking at him.
“I mean, he HAS a skin now,” insisted Eleri. “Smooth and… all that comes with it. Not his former rocky mossy textured whatever it was before even after daylight.”
The dwarf who never had to worry about his own modesty before couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of that simple fact. “Am I still dreaming?” His stomach growled and he looked surprised at his belly. “Am I starving?” Fox laughed.
Glynis brought the dwarf a blanket, and he marvelled at the roughness of it on his new skin. They all started to talk at the same time, wanting to know about the blubbits, about the new skin, asking Kumihimo and Rukshan how it was possible.
“I don’t know,” they both said.
“Well! I don’t know about you, but now that he has skin he can certainly appreciate some champagne with us!” said Margoritt, trotting to the kitchen. She came back with a bottle and a sabre. “Who wants to crack it open?”
“How can he eat so much?” would ask Eleri later.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Fox. “Let’s do it now. I’ll gather his blocks and pieces together before night falls.” He left the house before anyone could say anything and left the door open. The afternoon was near to its end and the light was dimming fast. Glynis, Rukshan and Eleri soon could hear the cyclical grating noise of the wheelbarrow and the thumping noise of the blocks being loaded.
“I don’t have all the required ingredients,” she said, “That pink clay from Sina, I used it all to lift the jinx on the loo.”
Olliver appeared at that moment. “You need my help?”
“We would if you could go somewhere you have never seen before,” said Rukshan. His panda eyes gave him a really tired look.
“Oh but I can, now,” said Olli. “If you’ve been there, I just need you to say the name and I can follow the vibration back to its origin.”
“My, What have I missed? I’ve been away far too long,” said the fae.
“You certainly have,” said Fox who was back and waiting at the door. The baby snoots, who were never far from the dwarf, had followed and their colourful glows brought an interesting set of nuances to Fox’s aura. “Can someone help me bring all those blocks into the house?”
Eleri would have helped of course, but pain you know, her ankle was so bad at the moment, she couldn’t risk making it worse. Glynis cleared a space and put a table cloth on the floor. “Don’t you make a scratch on my new wooden floor,” she warned the boys who brought the pieces together.
“Wow, the blocks are like magnets, but also different,” said Olliver, “It’s difficult to take one away because they attract each other, but if you bring them too close they repel each other. I can feel it.”
“Yes,” said Rukshan, “the Master creator told me we can’t force the process without the proper requirements.”
Once every pieces were on the table cloth, they all gathered around, even the baby snoots, and they looked at the rocks for a moment. Glynis had lit a few candles since the night had fallen and the light was painting dancing shadows on the walls. Fox’s stomach growled but his attention was all on what Rukshan would say next. They all were.
“So where is this pink clay?” asked Olli who couldn’t wait longer.
Glynis giggled “Doldrums, you mean doldrums…”
“Yeah, something like that.” Fox became somber, he always felt rebuked when he had interesting news to share.
“Anyway, I’m off to my teleportation course. Olliver’s been trading me courses for shapeshifting mentorship.”
“Oh, good. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to be at multiple places at once. Like doing the chores at the cottage, while chopping wood at the same time.”
“Way to kill the mood lady!” Fox, said leaving a dust trail in his wake.
A red leaf fell on the nose of the biggest gargoyle and Fox stopped his rehearsal. It had been exhausting and he didn’t remember why on earth he was doing that. He also didn’t remember how long he had been speaking in front of the Gargoyles, maybe he drank the wrong potion in the morning. Glynis had given him a potion especially made for him to calm his anxiety and help him solve a few energy blockages from childhood, or in his case, cubhood.
One of the baby snoots giggled behind the back of the shrieking gargoyle.
“You don’t mess with me, little…” He found himself lacking the creativity to find any insult the could understand. It was no use cursing the little rainbow creatures, they didn’t seem to care. Fox suspected it was not because of a lack of intelligence but simply because they didn’t view life, or anything, as a problem. He took note that he should get some inspiration from that.
“What were you doing, uncle Fox?” asked Olliver.
Fox opened his eyes wide. The boy seemed taller everyday and Fox had to look up to actually meet his eyes.
“Will you never stop to grow?” he asked with a little resentment.
“Well…” the boy started with his breaking voice.
“Where were you,” asked Fox. “I thought you had left with Rukshan.” In a way Fox was relieved that it was not the case and it soothed a little the pain caused by the sudden departure of the Fae.
“Oh! Teleporting here and there,” said the boy, considering adding some semi-truth about going to school.
An idea sprouted in Fox’s mind. It was too tiny for him to know what it was but his unconscious mind was already working about a plan to catch up with Rukshan, connecting the bits and pieces left by the Fae in his tales to the children and his innocuous comments.
“What do you think about… having some dinner,” he said not yet able to formulate in his imagination that he could even go on an adventure with Olliver.
Olliver was surprised when he teleported back to the cottage to see everyone busy with their own affairs.
Fox was practicing a speech in front of the gargoyles statues rearranged in the garden like pupils in a class. He looked so serious that Olliver swallowed his guffaw. He wanted to update him about his scouting around, for the entrance that Rukshan had spoken about, and Fox had seemed interested at the time to join the exploration. His keen sense and shape-shifting abilities were always handy to have in a team.
The kids were at school, and he found out that Glynnis was teaching birds in the wood thicket.
“So much schooling going around” he whispered, almost afraid to be caught skipping classes.
“You can still join me, if you’d like,” Eleri said, having jumped out of nowhere. Her black dress was an interesting piece of improvisation. “I’m going to a funeral, but it should be fun, the deceased has promised he would haunt Leroway and his thugs.”
“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.”
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.
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.FloveParticipant
Liz, who had been out in the garden, waxing lyrical about the glorious sun for this time of year, the colours of the flowers and at the same time regaling Roberto with tales of the places she had been, paled when she noticed Paul Anna writing notes into his phone.
She stopped dead in her tracks.
“It’s that powerful journalist, Paul Anna! I can’t possibly do an interview now!” she hissed at Roberto, “I’ve not even unpacked my case … I don’t have any clean clothes! Where is that maid .. what’s her name … Glynis? Oh no, that’s not right. Ah, Finnley!”
Liz looked frantically around.
“Here I am. All ears, as per usual,” said Finnley.
“Oh okay, If i must,” said Finnley. She had been looking forward to the interview. She well remembered the last interview when Inspector Olliver had come to question Liz over the missing maid in the suitcase misadventure. Most entertaining.
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.
“That is unfortunate,” said Rukshan when Fox told him about the dogs’ answer. They were all gathered around the fire on rough rugs for a last meal before activating the portal. For a moment shadow and light struggled on Rukshan’s face as the flames of the fire licked the woods, making it crack and break. A few sparkles flew upward into the dark starry night.
Lhamom used the magic metal spoon to serve steaming soup in carved wooden bowls, and Olliver was doing the service.
When he took his, Fox felt a chilly breeze find its way past his blanket. He shivered, put the bowl on the carpet in front of him and attempted to readjust the yakult wool blanket in a vain attempt to make it windproof. He took back the bowl and took a sip. The dogs barked in the distance. They were impatient to start the hunt. Fox shivered again.
“I could still serve as bait,” Fox said because he felt it was his fault if the plan failed. “You know, surprise the dogs while they are focused on the Shadow and make it follow me to trap it into the portal after we crossed it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rukshan. “It’s too dangerous. If you try to do that, we could have not one but two problems to solve. And you might get stuck too.”
Rukshan shook his head. “No. It was a foolish of me to hope those dogs would help us.”
“What can we do then?” asked Lhamom. They all drank their soup, the silence only broken by the fire cracking and the dogs barking.
“I know,” said Lhamom. “You were so helpful today with the cooking and all.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rukshan. “Olliver was with me helping me with the sand all day.” He stopped. His face showed sudden understanding. “Oh! Of course,” he said. “The book we burnt. The shard’s power was not only teleportation, but also ubiquity.” Rukshan turned to look at Fox. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Fox shrugged, making his blanket slip off of his shoulders slightly. Before he answered he adjusted it back quickly before the warmth he had accumulated could vanish into the night. “Well I saw him… I mean them. How do you think I came out of the negotiation alive? I can not teleport! I don’t even know what my powers are, or if I have any now that the shards have gone.”
“Grace and miracles,” said Rukshan with a grin.
A strange cristalline noise rang to Fox’s hears.
“What? Oh! Yes. Well, that explains it then,” he said, feeling a mix of grumpiness and contentment. He finished his soup and was about to leave the comfort of his blanket to take some stew when Lhamom took the bowl from his hands. She gave him a good serving and gave him back his bowl.
“Don’t make as if I said nothing important,” said Olliver.
The red of the flames enhances his angry look, thought Fox.
“I can be at two places, even more, at once. I can still be the bait and go back home with you at the same time.”
A dog barked impatiently.
“Yes,” said Fox.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” said Rukshan, concern on his face.
“Why? I’m not a boy anymore, if that’s what it’s all about. I can do it. I already did it this afternoon.”
“Well this afternoon was nice and cosy, wasn’t it? You had plenty of light, and yes you helped Fox escape from the dogs, so you can certainly do it. But what about the Shadow spirit. We have no idea what it is, or what it can do to you. And what will happen if one of you get killed?”
Once again, they fell silent. There was a dog bark and that strange cristalline noise again. It sounded closer.
“What’s that noise?” asked Olliver. Fox suddenly realised the strange noise had nothing to do with the sound of miracles, but it was a real noise in the real world.
“What noise?” asked Lhamom. “And what are you all talking about, shards and powers and ubiquity?”
“I can hear it too,” said Fox. “I’ve heard it before, but thought it was just me.”
The noise happened again, this time sounding a lot like metallic ropes snapping on ice.
Fox wriggled his nose. There was the smell of an animal and of a human.
“I think someone is coming,” he said, sniffing the cold air. “A donkey and a human.”
It was not too long before they saw an odd woman riding a donkey. She was playing a lyre made of ice, the strings of which had a faint glow. The woman was smiling like she was having the best adventure of her life.
“Hi guys. I came to help you. You didn’t think I would remain forgotten in my cave, did you?”
In the white silence of the mountains, Rukshan was on his knees on a yakult wool rug pouring blue sand from a small pouch on a tricky part of the mandala that looked like a small person lifting his arms upwards. Rukshan was just in the right state of mind, peaceful and intensely focused, in the moment.
It was more instinct than intellect that guided his hands, and when he felt inside him something click, he stopped pouring the sand. He didn’t take the time to check if it was right, he trusted his guts.
He held the pouch to his right and said: “White”. Olliver took the pouch of blue and replaced it with another. Rukshan resumed pouring and white sand flew in a thin stream on the next part of the mandala.
After a few hours of the same routine, only broken by the occasional refreshments and drinks that Olliver brought him, the mandala was finished and Rukshan stood up to look at the result. He moved his shoulders to help relieve the tensions accumulated during the hard day of labor. He felt like an old man. His throat was dry with thirst but his eyes gleamed with joy at the result of hours of hard concentration.
“It’s beautiful,” said Olliver with awe in his voice.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Rukshan. He accepted a cup of warm and steaming yakult tea that Olliver handed him and looked at the boy. It was the first time that Olliver had spoken during the whole process.
“Thanks, Olli,” said Rukshan, “you’ve been very helpful the whole time. I’m a little bit ashamed to have taken your whole time like that and make you stand in the cold without rest.”
“Oh! Don’t worry,” said the boy, “I enjoyed watching you. Maybe one day you can teach me how to do this.”
Rukshan looked thoughtfully at the boy. The mandala drew its power from the fae’s nature. There could certainly be no danger in showing the technique to the boy. It could be a nice piece of art.
“Sure!” he said. “Once we are back. I promise to show you.”
A smile bloomed on Olliver’s face.
In the white silence of the mountain, Lhamom sat on a thick rug of yakult wool in front of a makeshift fireplace. She had finished packing their belongings, which were now securely loaded on the hellishcarpet, and decided it was cooking time. For that she had enrolled the young lad, Olliver, to keep her company instead of running around and disturbing Rukshan. The poor man… the poor manfae, Lhamom corrected, had such a difficult task that he needed all his concentration and peace of mind.
Lhamom stirred the content of the cauldron in a slow and regular motion. She smiled because she was also proud of her idea of a screen made of yakult wool and bamboo poles, cut from the haunted bamboo forest. It was as much to protect from the wind as it was for the fae’s privacy and peace of mind.
“It smells good,” said Olliver, looking with hungry eyes at what Lhamom was doing.
“I know,” she said with pride. “It’s a specialty I learned during the ice trek.”
“Can you teach me?” ask Olliver.
“Yes, sure.” She winked. “You need a special blend of spiced roots, and use pootatoes and crabbage. The secret is to make them melt in yakult salted butter for ten minutes before adding the meat and a bucket of fresh snow.”
They continued to cook and talk far all the afternoon, and when dusk came Lhamom heard Rukshan talk behind his screen. He must have finished the mandala, she thought. She smiled at Olliver, and she felt very pleased that she had kept the boy out of the manfae’s way.
Fox listened to the white silence of the mountain during that brief moment, just after the dogs had made it clear, despite all the promises of food, that they would not help the two-leggeds with their plan.
Fox sighed. For an instant, all felt still and quiet, all was perfectly where it ought to be.
The instant was brief, quickly interrupted by a first growl, joined by a second and a third, and soon the entire pack of mountain dogs walked, all teeth out, towards a surrounded Fox. He looked around. There was no escape route. He had no escape plan. His stomach reminded him that instant that he was still sick. He looked at the mad eyes of the dogs. They hadn’t even left the bones from the meat he gave them earlier. He gulped in an attempt to remove the lump of anguish stuck in his throat. There would be no trace of him left either. Just maybe some red on the snow.
He suddenly felt full of resolve and camped himself on his four legs; he would not go without a fight. His only regret was that he couldn’t help his friends go home.
We’ll meet in another life, he thought. Feeling wolfish he howled in defiance to the dogs.
They had stopped and were looking uncertain of what to do next. Fox couldn’t believe he had impressed them.
“Come,” said a voice behind him. Fox turned surprised. On the pile of his clothes stood Olliver.
“How did you,” he yelped before remembering the boy could not understand him.
“Hurry! I can teleport us back to the camp,” said the boy with his arms opened.
Without a second thought Fox jumped in Olliver’s arms and the next thing he knew was that they were back at the camp. But something was off. Fox could see Rukshan busy making his mandala and Olliver was helping him with the sand. Then he could see Lhamom cooking with the help of another Olliver.
Fox thought it might be some case of post teleportation confusion. He looked at the Olliver who helped him escape an imminent death, the fox head slightly tilted on the side, the question obvious in its eyes.
“Please don’t tell them,” said Olliver, his eyes pleading. “It just happened. I felt a little forgotten and wanted so much to be useful.”
Fox turned back into a human, too surprised to feel the bite of the cold air.
“Oh! Your clothes,” said Olliver before he disappeared. Fox didn’t have time to clear his mind before the boy was back with the clothes.
The full moon was high and a cluster of fireflies were flying stubbornly around a lone corkscrew bush. The baby rainbow creatures were playing like young squirrels, running and jumping around on Gorrash’s arms and head.
The dwarf was still, as if he hadn’t awoken from his curse despite the darkness of the night. He was looking at the bush illuminated by the fireflies and his the dim glows of the rainbow babies were giving his face a thoughtful look.
My life is certainly as complicated as the shrub’s twisted branches, he thought, his heart uneasy.
The others all had been busy doing their own things during the day, like Glynis with her invisibility potion, or Eleri with her Operation Courtesan. Rukshan went away with a goal too, finding the source of the blue light the children had seen in their dreams and he left for the mountains with Olliver and Fox.
Margoritt was an old lady and with all the fuss about the upcoming eviction and destruction of her nice little cottage farm she had been tired and went to sleep early. Gorrash understood very well all of that.
A ball of sadness and frustration gathered in his throat. The rainbow babies stopped and looked at him with drooping eyes.
“Mruiii?” they said as if asking him what it all was about.
“Don’t do that, you’re gonna make me cry,” he said. The raspiness of his voice surprised him and distracted him from the sadness.
“Mruii,” said the little creatures gathering closer to him as if to sooth him. He shed a few tears. He felt so lonely and frustrated because he couldn’t be with his friends during the day. And the summer nights were so short.
I have to find a project for myself, he thought. Maybe find a cure to my own curse like Glynis.
Gorrash felt a tinge of bitterness in his mouth. Why? he wondered. Why didn’t my maker come lift my curse like that man came to deliver Glynis from hers?
He regretted this thought, if anything it only made him feel more miserable and lonely.
An owl hooted and there was some noise coming from the house. Light was lit in the kitchen, and soon after the door opened. It was Glynis. She carried a small crate written Granola Cookies, but it was full of potions and other utensils. Her eyes looked tired but her face was shining. Since she used that potion to cure herself, she had had that inner glow, and despite himself Gorrash felt it started to warm his heart with hope.
“I will need some help,” said Glynis.
The rainbow babies ran around and changed colours rapidly.
“Sure, I can do that,” answered Gorrash. And as he said that he realised he had felt the need to talk to someone so badly.
They sat near the corkscrew shrub and Glynis began to get her stuff out of the crate. She drew the shape of a circle with a white chalk that shone under the moonlight and gave Gorrash eight candlesticks to place around the circle. Gorrash placed them a bit too conscientiously around, and he felt the need to talk become stronger, making him restless.
“Can I tell you something?” he asked, unsure if she would want to listen to his doubts.
“Of course. I need to reinforce the charm before the others arrival. It will take some time before I actually do the spell. We can talk during that time.”
Encouraged by her kindness, he told her everything that had been troubling his heart.
Talking with the dogs. That’s what Fox had to do. Easier said than done, he thought scratching his head. His previous encounters with dogs were rather tumultuous and limited to being hunted down in the forest during a hunting party or being chased at the market because he had caught a hen. He had never really talked to dogs before, unless taunting counted of course.
Rukshan had said it was urgent, but Fox found there were so many little things to do before, like tidying up the cave, putting some suncream on his sensitive red head skin, or trying to see if Lhamom needed help.
But after some time, Fox realised he had to go eventually. Everyone else was busy with their own part of the plan. Rukshan was building the sand mandala on a flat surface that he and Olliver had cleared, and Lhamom was finishing a makeshift screen to protect the mandala from the wind with a few bamboo poles and rolls of fabrics she had found on her journey here. It was very colourful fabric with Bootanese patterns that Fox wouldn’t have used to cover a chair. It felt too busy for him.
So, he went to see Lhamom as she was struggling to plant the last stick in the rocky ground.
“Have you talked to the dogs? she asked.
“Ehr, not yet,” mumbled Fox who felt a bit ashamed when Lhamom frowned. “I think I need to give some kind of present to the dogs and I was wondering if you had something suitable in your many bags.”
“Oh! Sure. Can you finish that for me then?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Fox. He replaced her with the bamboo stick and, as she was walking away, he shouted: “I don’t think chocolate will do this time.”
“Oh! I know,” she said with a smile and a wink. It cheered Fox up a little bit, but a gush of wind called him back to his task of holding the pole. Once he secured it he put on an awkward smile, but noticed that Rukshan and Olliver were too busy to have noticed.
Lhamom came back with a big ham which Fox thought was more than suitable. He thanked her and made a joke about leaving her with her pole that he thought afterword he should not have done and walked away from the camp in the crunchy snow.
Fox had been aware that the dogs were observing him, and especially the big ham he was carrying. A few of them had begun to gather at a distance and they were beginning to whine, which attracted more of them. When he estimated he was far enough from the camp he put the ham down. He couldn’t transform into that many layers of clothes so he started to undress, watching wearily the dogs that were now growling.
It was freezing outside and Fox was shocked by how skinny his body had become. He shivered badly and focused to change into his natural red fox. It took him a little bit longer than usual but when the fur grew and started to keep the warmth close to his body, he growled with pleasure. The world around him changed as his senses transformed. Colours were different and slightly less varied, sounds were more crisp and a profusion of noises he couldn’t hear as a human suddenly vied for his attention: the sound of the wind on the rocks, the harmonics of the dogs’ voices, and the scents… simply incomparable. He wished he had kept the ham for himself.
“It’s a fox!” barked a voice.
“Let’s kill it!” said another.
“Where’s the two-legged gone?” asked a young dog.
“Who cares? It brought us meat. It’s gone. Let’s eat!”
Fox suddenly regretted he had made a full change.
Fox, layered in warm clothes, looked dubiously at the hellishcopter. He had assumed it was fantastic and awe inspiring creature from the underworld. But it wasn’t.
“It’s a carpet with a circular wooden platform,” he said, feeling a bit disappointed. He noticed the steam that formed out of his mouth with every word and it made him feel cold despite the numerous layers around him.
The carpet was floating limply above its shadow on the snow. It looked old and worn out by years of use. The reds blues and greens were dull and washed-out, and it was hard to tell apart the original motives from stains. Oddly enough it was clear of dust.
“Not just a carpet, said Lhamom with her usual enthusiasm illuminating her face. It’s a magic carpet.” She wore that local coat of them which looked so thin compared to his multiple layers, but she had assured him it was warm enough for far worse temperatures. Steam was also coming out of her mouth when she talked.
Fox was still not convinced. “And how fast does it go?”
“Fast enough,” said Lhamom. “You’ll all be back in no time to the forest.”
“Isn’t there a risk for the luggage to fall off? I don’t see any practical way to attach them.”
“Oh! Sure,” retorted Lhamom with an amused look. “You won’t fall from the platform unless someone pushes you out.”
Fox winced and gulped. His mind had showed him someone shaken by an uncontrollable movement and pushing him off the platform above the sharp mountain tops, and even if it his fantasy had no sound, it was not very reassuring.
Lhamom looked at him sharply. “Are you afraid of heights?” she asked.
Fox shrugged and looked away at Rukshan who was busy packing the camp with Olliver and their guide.
“What if I am?” Fox said.
“I have some pills,” she said, foraging in her numerous pockets. She brandished victoriously an old little wooden box that she opened and showed him brown pills that looked and smelled like they had been made by dung beetles.
Rukshan had finished his packing and was approaching them with a messenger bag.
“Don’t play with him too much, he said, in his current state Fox’s will swallow everything, except food.” Rukshan and Olliver laughed. Fox didn’t know what to make of it, feeling too exhausted to find clever retorts. Lhamom winked at him and put the pills back in her pocket.
Rukshan put his hand on Fox’s shoulder. “We’re going home through a sand portal, he said giving putting a hand on his bag. I’ve gathered coloured sand from the different places we visited and Lhamom had brought some holy dripping water collected from the running nose of the lama headmaster of Pulmol Mountain when he last had a cold.”
That sounded a little complicated to Fox and he didn’t try to make sense of it.
“We’ll only go on the hellishcopter to fly throught the portal with all the stuff we collected. But I need time to make the sand portal, and from what you reported the dogs have said, we may only have little time available before that thing you have felt come to us.”
Fox started. With his bowel adventures and Rukshan’s previous dismissal of the matter, Fox had forgotten about the odd presence he had smelled and that had seemed to preoccupy the hunting dogs at night.
“What do you mean?” he asked, trying to not let worry crept back in his mind.
“I first thought it was fantasies coming out of your imagination because of your poor health condition, but when I told Lhamom this morning she told me what it was.” Rukshan hesitated.
“What? asked Fox, his heartbeat going faster.
“Some kind of ancient spirit roaming through the mountain. It feeds of human flesh and is attracted by magic. It was liberated by an earthquake recently and it that Olliver and Tak felt. Up until now the dogs, who are the gardians of the mountains, were enough to ward it off for us despite the presence of the baby snoot. But now that Lhamom has brought the spoon and that I’m going to use magic for the portal, it may get bolder and the dogs will not be enough to stop it. Fortunately it only gets out at night, so we have ample enough time, Rukshan said cheerfully. Olliver also is exhausted and he can’t use his teleporting abilities for all of us. By using a sand portal I may even be able to lay a trap for the spirit when we leave, but I need to begin now and let’s pray the weather remains clear and windless.”
It took some time for the meaning and the implications of flesh eating to sink into Fox’s mind. He looked nervously at the sky where it seemed a painter had splashed a few white strokes of clouds with his giant brush. Were they still or moving? Fox couldn’t tell. He looked back at Rukshan and Lhamom.
“What can I do to help?”
“I need you to explain the plan to the dogs so that they release the spirit when I give the signal.”
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