Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!
“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.
Everyday is now. I know, I’ve stopped the count.
This strange book I’ve found must be for something. Had the impulse to post a picture from it on a forum.
There were instructions coming with it, I have only started to decypher them, and my brain already feels like it will melt if I go too fast.
Apparently the Chinese philosopher who wrote it said he was swallowed whole, then spat out from the belly of a giant fish, a kūn 鯤, months later. I know, sounds crazy, and yet very familiar. Jonas of course, but also Sinbad, —Pinocchio even… The story’s not new to us.
When he came back, he said it was only to share knowledge. So came his book of encoded instructions.
First instruction he said. You are in a maze, you want to find the center of the maze, and never get lost again while you decide whether or not you still want to explore it.
It kind of struck a chord for some reason. I realized, with all the stories we tell ourselves, they abound, expand in our minds, take roots deeply.
The thought came this morning: if suddenly I’m struck dead, and find myself in my own stories, I would be in a tight spot to escape the whole craziness. I would need a backdoor, a way back, or out.
That’s why its first instruction resonated. It continued. Create your center of your maze. Now. Don’t delay, you may regret it. It must be pure with intent, and tell about who you are in the deepest sense. Engrave the following words around it to seal this pure memory. And put it outside in the world, so that someday when you come back to it, you’ll know.
You have found the Center of Your Maze.
Now, You Know It
And it can never be taken from you again.
I know of a memory of mine I could put in my center. It came very naturally. An illustrated book of stories, mythology to be exact. One of the first books I got, and I can still remember vividly the feeling of entering its world. My parents had given it to me as a gift at a time they had to leave me home alone for a few hours. When they came back, I was still on the same kitchen chair, deeply thrown into the book’s world, feeling like barely a minute had passed.
It was a moment out of time and space. I know it was what being at the center of my maze meant.
I’m grown now, but the feeling is still there. I’m going to put that out some place where I can find it in case I ever get lost again among the shadows of men.JibParticipant
Dear Jorid Whale,
My hands are shaking while I type this on the keyboard.
I’m not sure which of last night’s dreams is the bizarrest. Bizarre in a fantastic way, although for certain people it might be called grotesque. I’m certain it has something to do with that book I ordered online last week. I don’t usually read books and certainly not like this one. But the confinement, it makes you consider making things out of your ordinary.
It’s called The Enchanted Forest of Changes, by a Chinese artist Níngméng (柠檬). They say his artist name means lemon, but that some of his friends call him Níng mèng 凝梦 (curdle dreams), which to my ears sound exactly the same except a little bit angrier. I found out about him on a forum about creepy dolls abandoned in forests all around the world. Yeah exactly, the confinement effect again. Apparently it started with a few dolls in a forest in Michigan, and then suddenly people started to find them everywhere. I wonder if some people are really into the confinement thing or if it’s just me using that as a reason to stay home.
Anyway, someone on that forum posted one of the picture of that book and it caught my eye. So much so that I dreamt of it the following night. So I bought the book and it’s mostly ink drawings, but they seem to speak directly to some part of you that you were not even aware you had. I almost hear whispers when I look at the drawings. And then I have those dreams.
Last night I dreamt of a cat that had been reared as a boy. He even had the shape of one, but shorter maybe. He had learned to talk and use his paws as hands, his claws had grown into fingers, had lost most of his fur and he was wearing clothes. If I was amazed by such a feat, it kinda seemed normal for the people I met in that dream. It just took a lot of efforts, love and dedication to raise this kind of children.
And Whale, I feel tingling in my arms. This morning you showed me the picture of a kitten! That’s not a mere coincidence. I’m feeling so excited, my hands are too slow to type what I want to write. I fear I’m going to forget an important detail.
About the second dream. The world was in shock, there was this giant… thing that looked like a pistil and that had grown during the night in some arid area. It was taller than the tallest human made tower. Its extremity was cone shaped, and I confess that the whole thing looked like some kind of dick to me.
Plants and trees had followed in the following days as if the pistil had changed the climatic conditions (autocorrect wanted to write climactic, is that you playing around?).
The pistil was protected by some kind of field and it couldn’t be approached by everyone. Governments had tried, pharmaceutical companies had tried. People who wanted to make gold out of it, they were all rejected. But for some reason some people could approach. Anyone, not just the pure of hearts or the noble ones. Actually a whole bunch of weirdoes started to take their chances. Some were allowed in and some where not. Nobody knew what was the deciding factor.
A friend of mine that I have not seen in years during my waking life, she came back and asked me to come with her. So we went and were allowed in. My recall of the events after that is fuzzy. But I get the strange impression that I will spend more time in there later on.
[Edited in the afternoon]
I don’t believe it! It’s on the news everywhere. It has even replaced the news about the virus and the confinement.
Giant pistils have appeared around the world, but it seems only people who had been infected can see them.
Crazy rumours run on the internet. Giant mass hallucination caused by the virus. Some people say it’s alien technology, spores engineered to control our brains.
There is one not so far from where I live. Should I wait for Kady to call me?TracyParticipant
Can you help me get my limerick energy back?
It hit the sack and now there’s a lack
Of rhyme, and reason too
It grew, then flew, and now there is too few new
It’s choppy and sloppy and clumsy and bumsy
and frankly, quite rubbish.
Yours in anticipation in La CuarantenaDevanParticipant
Working at the gas station gave me the possibility to not only be confined at home but also at work. At least I could enjoy the transit between places, that’s what I told me everyday. And better go to work than turn around all day in the studio I rented since I left the Inn.
You can’t imagine how many people need gas during the confinement. It looks like in this part of the country people don’t have as many dogs as them in the big cities, so they do all sorts of crazy things to be able to get out.
A man came to the station this morning. I’m sure it was to give the equivalent of a walk to his brand new red GMC Canyon, you know, treating his car like she needed fresh air and to get some exercise regularly. From behind the makeshift window made of transparent wrapper, I asked him how was his day. You know, to be polite. He showed me the back of his truck. I swear there was a cage with two dingos in it.
The guy told me he captured them the other day in case the cops stopped him in the street with no reason to be out. At least, he said, I could still say I’m giving them a walk. I told him them being in a cage would hardly pass as a walk but he answered me with a wink and a big grin that cops weren’t that intelligent. I’m glad we have makeshift windows now, at least seeing his teeth I didn’t have to smell his breath. I’m not sure who’s the less intelligent in absolute terms, but in that case I’d rather bet his IQ would fail him.
Well that’s probably the most exciting thing that happened before I went home after work. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from Prune. On the landline. It’s like she has some magical means to know when I’m there.
Anyway, she asked me if I washed my hand. I told her yes, though I honestly don’t recall. But I have to make her think all is ok. She started to talk again about Jasper. Each time she mention the subject I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure I fancy having a brother, even if it’s kind of being in a TV series. She said she had looked for him on internet, contacted some adoption agencies, even tried a private called Dick. That’s all that I remember of the private’s name. Dick, maybe that’s because he never answered her calls. Might be dead of the pandamic I told her. PandEmic, She corrected. I know, I told her, I said that to cheer you up.
We talked about Mater too. That made me laugh. Apparently Idle saw her in a fuschia pink leotard. Prune half laughed herself when she mentioned the leotard, but she said : Truth is I don’t know what Dido had taken when she had seen Mater outside. I suspect the om chanting was simply snoring.
There was a silence afterward. Maybe Prune was thinking about age and the meaning of life, I was merely realising I was hungry. I swear I don’t know what crossed my mind. I have a tendency to want to help my sister even if I think there is no hope. You know, I told her, about Jasper we could still go and ask that woman in the bush. It’s like she already knew what I was going to say. Tiku? I knew by her tone that all the conversation was fated to lead there. Yeah. I can drive you there after work tomorrow.
Of course, we didn’t even have to go there after all.JibParticipant
I woke up this morning with a stiff neck. I do not mention it too much with my friend because some of them have a tendency to look for a reason behind anything like you have a choice that you don’t want to make, or you don’t listen your truth, or whatever one can invent in such a case. I’m sure someone would even mention a past life when my head was cut off. Today I don’t want other people’s opinion about me so I just say it’s a way for me to take care of myself.
Today I take things one at a time. I called a few friends to take news, and only one of them answered. Which is fine by me because I didn’t really want to talk, only to make the effort to connect. I went into the garden, the grass is tall and it looks like a prairie. I’m sure wild mice enjoy it, and the neighbour’s cats also. One of them has a roof full of them redheads and black ones. I see them cross the wild grass one at a time, each has their own habitual path.
I love looking at them. It’s quieting.
There was an argument somewhere. I heard people shout. A man and a woman. It sounded like a soap, so I’m not sure it wasn’t someone’s TV on. The air was so clear, the absence of the cars and normal conversations gave it enough place to express. Each silence they left in between their arguments was filled with sounds of nature.
I have a new family of birds coming into the garden. I baked them some wild rice with carrots and some fat. Someone told me it’s the last day you can feed them, afterwards it’s best they look for food for themselves as spring is here. So I’ve made the stew although I haven’t fed them during winter. I can tell they enjoyed it as nothing was left when I came back two hours ago.prUneParticipant
Summer is slowly ending from our side of the planet. Despite the onslaught of depressing daily news, it makes me wonder if everyone suddenly became concerned for Mater for reason:
a. because she’s at risk not to become centenarian in time to get the medal of enduring persistance
b. because we should now cancel the expensive party we had all started to plan with great pain
c. because the longer we search, there’s still no telling who and where is Jasper and whether he’d be there even for a remote party behind screens…
Some idiot has disabled or smeared all my cams on the Inn, so I only can spy with the sounds now, it’s a bit jarring at times. I thought I heard Bert cough a few times.
Maybe it’s just code…
Day 1 of the Experiment
There is comfort in an empty page; ideas seem to recoil at its touch. It quiets the voices, all of them vying for a place in the mind, eager to start and conquer this new expanse.
So this is an experiment, to bring in some of the voices, maybe one at a time. Writing them down levels the ground, they have to pause. And wait for the ink to dry.
I’ll burn those pages once I write them down; can’t risk any of them leaping off the pages and taking a life of their own… That’s the reason I’m not using one of these fancy electronic typewriters. They’re all connected now. They could escape through the wires.
So I’ll burn these pages. But not yet. I have to lure them out first. With a promise of an escape. And to finally drain them out, one by one.
Someone is coming. Will resume later.
“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.”
“Nobody else can see him, Liz. Or her. Whatever.”
“Trebuchet. Nobody else can see it. I’ve asked Godfrey. I’ve asked Roberto. I asked all your ex-husbands. I even skyped that maid we sent packing in a suitcase—she’s fine by the way—and she said she had a doubt too.”
“Those fools! What would they know!”
“I’m many things but I’m no fool!” said Godfrey emerging from behind the curtains.
“Why on earth are you wearing a pith helmet, Godfrey?”
Godfrey beamed. “Glad you noticed. What do you think? Alessandro told me it was all the rage.”
“I’m very uncomfortable with fashion, Godfrey. As you well know. One of the reasons I hired you was for your obvious lack of any fashion sense. And as for you, Finnley, if you don’t exchange those wide-legged pants for something less à la mode, I will have to re-instate a uniform.”
“Perhaps said promise is the reason for her failure to materialise,” said Fox with an almost imperceptible twitch of his nose. “Not that I am one to be catty, but let’s call it … an astute observation.”
“I am inclined to agree, though, like you, I am loth to come to such a harsh conclusion. It is possible, I suppose …” Glynnis paused doubtfully, “some misadventure may have befallen her?”
“She does complain frequently of being locked out,” agreed Fox. “Although I confess, I fail to see the barriers to which she so often refers.”
Liz couldn’t believe her ears; at first she’d ignored the harbingers, the unattended dust trails, and of course, all the crumbs on the table piling up day after day.
He paused to leave room for Liz’ to answer, not that she ever needed any to start with. But she was profoundly shocked at the betrayal.
“I don’t believe you gave her paid leaves, have you; one of your silly ideas?”
Godfrey thought for a moment, “Now you mention it, I don’t believe she had any, even after all this time, had she?”
“Don’t be daft, Godfrey, she wouldn’t want any; of course, there’s a reason I chose her over the other very qualified staff lining up to work here.”
“Not even a trace, her personal belonging are gone; not even a message left behind. A mystery fit for one of your novels, eh.”
A wild eyed crow was cawing relentlessly since the wee hours of the dawn.
Nothing much had moved since everyone arrived at the Inn, and in contrast with the hot days, the cool night had sent everyone shivering under the thin woolen blankets that smelled of naphthalene.
Deep down, Bert was glad to see the old Inn come back to life, even if for a little while. He was weary of the witch though. She wouldn’t be here without some supernatural mischief afoot.
He glanced in the empty hall, putting his muddy pair of boots outside, not to incur the fury of Finly. He almost started calling to see if anybody was home, but thought better of it. Speaking of the devil, Finly was already up and busy at the small kitchen stove, and had done some outstanding croissants. In truth, despite all her flaws, he liked her; she was a capable lady, although never big on sweet talks. No wonder she and Mater did get along well.
Bert started to walk along the hall towards the hangar, where he knew old cases where stored, one with a particular book that he needed. It was hard to guess what would happen next. He found the book, that was hidden on the side of the case, and scratched his head while smiling a big wide grin.
He was feeling alive with the kind of energy that could be a poor advisor were his mind not sharp as a gator’s tooth.
The book had a lot of gibberish in it, like it was written in a sort of automatic writing. For some reason, after the termite honey episode, Idle had started to collect odd books, and she was starting to see spy games hidden in the strangest patterns.
Despite being a lazy pothead, the girl was smart, though. Some of her books were codes.
Bert’s had his fair run with those during his early years in the military. So he’d hidden the most dangerous ones that Idle had unwittingly found, so that she and the rest of the family wouldn’t run into trouble.
Most of the time, she’d simply forget about having bought or bargained for them, but in some cases, there was a silly obsession with her that rendered her crazy about some of those books. Usually the girls, especially the twins, would get the blame for what was thought a child’s prank. Luckily her anger wouldn’t last long.
This book though was a bit different. Bert had never found the coding pattern, nor the logic about it. And some bits of it looked like it talked about the Inn. “Encoded pattern from the future”, “remote viewing from the past”, Idle’s suggestions would have run wild with imaginative solutions. Maybe she was onto something…
He looked a two bits, struck by some of the parts:
The inn had been open for a long time before any of the tenants had come, and it had been full of people once it had been full all day long.
She had gone back after a while and opened up the little room for the evening and people could be seen milling about.
The rest of the tenants had remained out on their respective streets and were quiet and peaceful.
‘So it’s the end of a cold year.’
The woman with golden hair and green eyes seemed to have no intention of staying in the inn as well; she was already preparing for the next year.
When the cold dawn had started to rise the door to the inn had been open all night long. The young man with red hair sitting on a nearby bench had watched a few times before opening his eyes to see the man that had followed him home.
There was a young red hair boy that had arrived. He was curious as to the man following.
The other random bit talked about something else. Like a stuff of nightmares. And his name was on it.
The small girl stood beside him, still covered with her night clothes. She felt naked by the side of the road. There was nothing else to do.
In the distance, Bert could faintly hear the howling of the woods, as two large, black dogs pounced, their jaws ready to tear her to pieces. The young girl stared in wonder and fear before the dog, before biting it, then she was gone. She ran off through the bushes. “Ah…” she whispered to herself. “Why am I not alive?” She thought to herself: this is all I need.
If I am here, they’ll kill or hurt my kids. They won’t miss me for nothing.
She ran the last few kilometers to her little cottage; not long after, Bert heard the sound of the forest. He was glad it was.
Maybe the witch was not here for nothing after all.
Miss Bossy Pants was losing patience. If it weren’t for the heat spell that made her cat-like reflexes duller than usual, she would have shredded the hippie yurt that Ricardo had built for Sophie, that useless temp too fast promoted.
She had to reason with herself, although she didn’t like that. Mostly because she always agreed with the devil on her shoulder. “OK, I’ll give them a chance to fish for key information.”
Truth was, there was already enough evidence that Sophie’s brain was mush, and probably heavily tampered with by the Doctor. Who knows what that maniac might have planted as post-hypnotic suggestions in such a suggestible mind. There was little doubt that if she’d escaped, she was actually probably still a pawn he could control.
She liked a worthy opponent. It would be so much more satisfying to crush him in the end.
Her phone buzzed.
“in oz, on ourwya to hippicenter gto grdbraeknig inforamton keep cool hilda &c.”
Well there was good news after all. She started to list them to give her heart:
1. Hilda remembered how to spell her own name
2. She had not lost or broken her company phone
3. They were not dead or maimed or enhanced yet, so clumsy as they were, they’d probably managed to stay off the radar of the Doctor.
Of course, the other things she’d learned in that short moment was probably outweighing the silver lining:
3. She had probably an insane roaming bill to the company phone
4. They’d continued to max out the credit card to pursue the topic
5. Clumsy as they were, it was surely a matter of time before they alerted the Doctor to their investigation.
She thought quick and fast, while waving her fan figorously (it was a modesty hiding fan). Punching the screen of her phone, she typed.
“Had breakthru too. Sophie was one of the dolls – need to find keys to dirty secrets & coded map to intercept = hashtag bigger than wee key leaks.”
There, that should keep them occupied and well on track with the wild goose chase, while she devised a plan B.DevanParticipant
I’d never have thought I would come back to the Inn. I had left believing I could make a fortune out of digging opals in Boulder, you know, finding the big one worth thousands. I didn’t miss my family and their odd attachment to the dead Fish. I guess except Prune, she had an ambition, of sort, meaning she wanted to get out of that black sucking shithole. And she always had crazy ideas. She knew how to think differently.
In Boulder, instead of fortune I found dust, sweat and booze, also lots of suspicion and jealousy when anyone found something. I was sucked in the local habits. Bad habits if you ask me, the kind that suck the life out of a man. But I did it anyway, there was not much to do. It soon felt as suffocating as the Inn, and it was not because of the dust. It was just another shithole, ‘tis all.
I was saved from dying from boredom when that strange man arrived on his Harley Davidson. He stayed for some times always telling stories. Crazy mad stories. I think he was a little paranoid, always believing he was followed or that some people were in danger. I asked him once why he was speaking so loud if he feared he was followed.
The man laughed and said: “It is a mean of self preservation son. They won’t dare make me disappear or it will prove I’m telling the truth.”
The kind of self explanatory stuff that you can never prove wrong or false, would have said Prune. Well with a better choice of words I’m sure.
Anyway, the man and his stories are part of the reasons I came back because he talked about that Dead Fish Inn, and a goldmine.
Muriel looked at the unfinished construction work with an eye of reproach.
“No, it’s not the loo, dear. Your atrocious gargoyles, I may say, do add a bit of… Gothic flavour to it. Does for lazy bowels better than prunes if you ask me. I can’t be more in a hurry to leave the place. But no, it’s more the sink —or lack thereof— that I’m worried about. But of course I’m sure you have a plan for that…” She eyed Eleri over her round spectacles, precariously balanced at the tip of her angular nose, in a way that made Eleri uncomfortable.
“Well, we kind of lost hope, after all the joiners and handymen that have come to fix it, and abandoned the work.”
“So? Are you calling it quits? That’s not reasonable. Are you sure you’ve not badly chosen the spot, like decided to put in above a cursed indigenous cemetery, or that there isn’t some trickster pixie spell there?”
Glynis, who was there with a basket of laundry ventured rather boldly:
“I don’t think so, Morayeel.” She smiled innocently, knowing full well Muriel didn’t like the nickname and continued, even more emboldened.
“I have dejinxed the place myself. No, I think the problem is that it’s too clean now. I probably must lift the cleaning spell, or no worker will ever approach the place and get it finished.”
“It is a rather peculiar mystery indeed, don’t you think.” Liz leaned suggestively towards the Inspector. He had insisted to keep his trench-coat on, which for some reason she was finding incredibly alluring. It reminded her of all the fun she had in the past, playing her favourite character, Becky in tarty nun’s outfit. She made a mental note for the next costumed party.
“Some peanuts, Inspector?”
“Good gracious, no. I’m terribly allergic to nuts, but I’m partial to your delicious canapés.”
After a mouthful of tarragon cod pâté with capers, Walter leaned back and a little further from Liz and said “Mmm, delicious. Well, it is indeed quite a good mystery you’ve chosen to write about. All these keys, I love the idea. It sounds out of a spy novel, but I do wonder what are the connections, you see, in most crimes I’ve solved in the past,” he cleared his throat, taking the glass of red wine Finnley had just brought “there is always a good chance the culprit is closer than you know. The skill is always to find the hidden connection.”
“Aaah. I’m so glad you’re saying that Walter, I was telling them the same no later than this morning!”
She took a random ramekin from the coffee table “some peanuts?”.
Leörmn smiled a long smile.
“What? Are you going to look at me stupidly and wait to say some mysterious nonsense? We haven’t got time for that.” Mandrake was clearly not impressed by the large scaleless pale dragon, with the green frills around the crest, reclining on the side of the pool, and still looking a few heads taller than him and Albie combined.
“Of course not. Let me charge that for you.” With one flick of his long fingers, the dragon zapped the sabulmantium that was in the magical carry-all-you-can pouch the cat had at his belt.
“Oh WAIT! Damn it, you ol’ reptile, you mind where you aim!” The zapping had gone a little too close.
Leörmn smiled again, “Now, you wanted to know were she hides.” His smile disappeared. “I’m afraid there isn’t much I can do, she seems hidden from me too. But there is a chance. I’ve picked up her energy signature not so long ago. She’s in a different dimension, but never long at one place. For some reason, it’s like she’s entangled herself with other lives and get lost at times.”
“Can you lead me to the place?”
“Place & time, my friend. Yes, I believe I can. The Doline underground water tunnels can lead you to many places and times. I’ve drawn a path for you. Just take your scuba, and follow the glukenitch lights at the bottom.”
Albie looked amazed and excited at the opportunity.
The cat grunted in his whiskers “Don’t get excited lad. What he means is glukenitch poos.”
Konrad had to cover his brown eyes as he watched the wall collapse.
On his left was the Tower, the one-of-a-kind creation under which the Dark Lord, Garl, swore an oath. The stone from the center fell toward the right with a soft thunk. The walls surrounding the Tower were broken apart by a flash of light.
Konrad continued to the center of the twelve-tiled square he drew onto the floor to make his escape.
Two or three days later, he would meet another of his patrons, the mysterious Surt, who’d come across him first. They talked about the recent events leading up to the Dark Lord having fallen, and the dark rumors that were rampant.
Surt seemed to be one of those who didn’t believe the news. This one had only heard the official stories, but was still somewhat interested. He said, “My apologies for not making the trip to the capital earlier… it was not easy to travel in such close proximity to it.” Surt explained why he came to this place, even though he had no clue on his own.
“So what brought you here?” Konrad asked the giant.
“Surt has something you’ll want to know about the Dark Lord’s sister Nesingwarys.” Surt explained.
“What about her?” asked Konrad.
“She’s a magical girl. That sort of thing. She goes to school with a little girl with some special abilities. I’ve taken a keen interest.” His eyes narrowed. “Her abilities are her own. You know, something with the potential to kill the whole school. She’ll keep you safe. You’ll become her protector and help her survive the Dark Lord. Maybe one or two times. It’s her calling.”
“N-no-it’s not my calling!” Konrad shouted. “My calling is to protect you!”
“Surt is well versed in her abilities, and she has her own reasons not to go down the Dark Lord’s path. She has no interest in the Dark Lord, or anything related to him.”
Konrad replied with a tone of bitterness. “I will help her by keeping my own thoughts hidden, and not talking about it outside of the school.” Konrad walked away to go back and forth between Surt and Soren. Surt continued to watch him with curiosity.
Soren was looking around worried, confused, bewildered.
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