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      “You’ve been careless. The ghosts have been following you.”

      The Queen had not moved nor spoken. It was her emissary who was talking in her stead, as customary.
      In the morning, at the break of dawn, Rukshan had summoned the Court, by calling in an owl with the old speech of their tongue.
      It was not long before he was found and guided to a careful ritual of purification before he was allowed in front of their sovereign.

      The idea struck him like lightening. Following me? Was that what happened?

      “You look surprised. Another sign of carelessness. Now, they are wandering around our walls of magic fire, they are following you. As a result of our actions, we are exhausting our stores of magic to put defenses in place, putting our civilisation in peril. What have you to say for your defense?”
      “Throw me in iron jail” a shudder ran through the small crowd “kill me if you think I deserve it.” Rukshan paused for dramatic effect “But it won’t solve your predicament, will it?”

      He felt a rush of defiance coursing through his veins. They couldn’t hold him against his will, there wasn’t any ban on improper use of magic, nor any punition for that, and if they wanted to get rid of the ghosts, they’d better let him go.

      “Let him go.” The breaking of protocol made everyone fuss around, until the Queen silenced everyone with a regal wave of hand. “Let him go.” She turned her gaze to meet his. “You think you are better than us, by renouncing the old ways, trying to define your own, but you are not above natural laws. They will follow you until you find how to appease them. I do hope, for the sake of all, that you will find a way. Humans may think they have tamed the wild, but the wild is rising and cannot be contained. The forest will see to it, and you better hurry. We will give you what you need for your journey, and three days to prepare.”


        There was no way around it. As hard as he would have tried, he couldn’t reach the peaks of the mountain without crossing the part of the Enchanted Forest which the Fae called their own. There was no way for him to avoid paying the price, or to avoid facing the Court.
        Rukshan wished there was an easier way, but trying to avoid it would only delay the inevitable. Besides, he would need provisions to continue his journey —that is, if they’d let him.

        The first signs of the enchanted signposts had appeared two days ago. He’d been walking through the silent and cold forest for close to ten days already. His progress was slow, as the days were short, and the nights were better spent recuperating.
        The early signs that he was approaching the Fae land wouldn’t have been noticeable by any other than those with some Fae blood in their veins. Some were as subtle as enchanted dewdrops on spiderwebs, other few were watcher crows, but most of the others were simply sapling trees, shaking at the slightest change of wind. All of them silent watchers of the Forest, spies for the Queen and her Court.

        From the first sign, he had three days. Three days to declare himself, or face the consequences. He would wait for the last one. There was something magical about the number three, and anything more hasty would only mean he was guilty of something.

        Like improper use of magic he thought, smiling at the memory of the oiliphant. The Queen was clutching at a dwindling empire, and magic sources gone scarce meant it had to be “properly” used.

        He never believed such nonsense, which is why he’d decided to live outside of their traditions. But for all his disagreement, he remained one of them, bound by the same natural laws, and the same particularities. Meant to reach extremely old ages while keeping an external appearance as youthful as will is strong in their mind, able to wield strong magic according to one’s dispositions, ever bound to tell the truth (and becoming thus exceptionally crafty at deception), and a visceral distaste for the Bane, iron in all its forms.
        Thus was his heritage, the one he shared with the family that was now waiting for his sign to be granted an audience in the Court.

        One more day, he thought…


          When Rukshan awoke, all was quiet.
          The little cottage felt completely empty, even with the presence of Emma.
          He propped himself up, feeling hungry for the first time in many days.
          The light outside was pale, everything seemed covered in a dense white fog.

          There was a little note on the table.
          “In case you decide to wake up while we are out, don’t be alarmed, I have taken Tak outside gather some wood —the kid was growing too restless inside, and even though my legs are not as strong as they used to, I will enjoy a little walk as well. Help yourself to the cheese. M~”

          The fire had died in the chimney, so he started to clean the cinders and prepare some small wood for a little warmth.

          The feeling of unrooted emptiness lingered around. Maybe it was just the fog. He would enjoy it a little longer while it lasted, before all thoughts of duties and things to do would catch up with him.


            “I know you want to get out, but it’s not time yet” Margoritt is braiding small twig figurines on the wooden table, and has lined up already four of them.
            “One for each soul in the house,” she says as if to answer silent questions, “you Tak, Rukshan, Emma and myself.”
            The young Tak is pointing at the last one she makes inquisitively.

            “It’s tradition to make one more for the Stranger. Who knows maybe someone is on their way, or in need of help. There, help me hold this.” She ties the head firmly and nips the thread with a quick jab.

            “If they come, they’d better arrive during daytime. Nobody wants to be outside during the night.”

            She looks pensively at the bed, where Rukshan lies motionless. “Whatever got you, may still be out there, lurking. Tonight’s the longest night, better get prepared.”

            She smiles again and gives the little figurines to Tak. “Keep them safe, we’ll do the burning ceremony at noon. I hope it will give new energy to your friend. He’s been in deep sleep for a long time already.”


              It was the smell of the cedar incense that brought him back to consciousness. All was still very confused in his head, his muscles aching, sore from the run.
              He remembered the sudden cold that stopped the rain in mid-air, blanketing the bamboos in snow in a snap.
              Something had disturbed the spirits

              “Ah, I see you’ve woken up! About time! You’ve slept the sleep of the dead” the voice of an old woman —he remembered her too, vaguely,… stout and strong, finding him and…
              Tak?” his voice croaked, his throat was parched with thirst.
              “There, there, have a hot drink here, it will give you back your strength.” He almost recoiled at the strong smell.
              “Don’t be a child, or Emma will think you don’t like her.” She pointed at something at the back of the lodge. A small hairy goat bleated knowingly. “A gift from Mr Minn. She’s cute, gives good milk, and lets me weave her lovely fur, what’s not to like? She’s for the company he said. He helps me settle here Mr Minn. Quite a funny fellow, you’ll see.”

              Tak? Where is he?”
              The old woman looked surprised for a moment, then almost immediately smiled. “Oh, you mean your monkey?”
              “Not monkey…” he said before she cut him “I know, an ape, don’t lecture me on the difference, I was a philosophy professor before I turned weaver-author. He’s here, come, little one! I must say it’s the strangest monk… ape I’ve seen,… I like the outfit by the way. I guess without him, you’d be still freezing to death in that forest. He was quite stubborn.” She seemed not to have spoken in ages, and was never out of subjects.
              “I’m Margoritt by the way. All my friends call me Margo.”
              Rukshan” he croaked.
              “You’re a fae, right. I could tell. You were lighter than you seem, made carrying you easier. Even with Emma helping, my knees were killing me. Anyway, you fae were a long way home. You probably have fascinating tells to share. I’ve seen your book. Oh don’t get all upset, it’s safe, I didn’t open it, just saw the leather-bound spine. You’ll tell me all about it if you want when you get back on your feet. For now, you should rest.”

              I feel so old… he said in a whisper before falling back to sleep.
              He could hear Margoritt’s unstoppable litany continue in the background “No complaining about that again! Old, old,… bah, I’m old. I was not meant to live centuries like you, and that cold…”


                The small fire had died during the night. There wasn’t a lot of firewood in the forest, so he’d used all the dry leaves he could find. The child was quiet, and sleeping peacefully.
                Waiting for the sun to rise, Rukshan was carving a piece of bamboo into a flute.

                The night had been cold, and a lot of the smaller bamboos had turned yellow. He thought about the ginkgo trees in the town, guessing they would have left all their golden leaves to the ground by now, going into the winter sleep, falling silent for a little while.

                He didn’t have a clear plan, but some twirling leaves on the ground seemed to invite him in another direction than he had planned. He gazed into the last of the fire’s smoke, and saw there was a small lodge he didn’t know about, close to the Dragon Heartwood. Something he didn’t expect. There was an old woman there, to whom he could entrust the care of the boy, while he would go to the mountains.

                They would go there, another little detour, at the first crack of the pale sunlight above the bamboos’ tops.


                  Rukshan woke up early. A fine drizzle was almost in suspension in the air, and already the sounds of nature were heard all around the inn.
                  They shared breakfast with Lahmom who was packing to join a group for a trek high in the mountains. He wasn’t going in the same direction —the rain shadow and high plateaus of the mountainous ranges were not as attractive as the green slopes, and in winter, the treks were perilous.

                  The inn-keeper fed them an honest and nourishing breakfast, and after eating it in silent contentment, they went on their separate way, happy for the moment of companionship.

                  The entrance to the bamboo forest was easy to find, there were many stone sculptures almost all made from the same molds on either sides, many were propitiation offerings, that were clothed in red more often than not.
                  Once inside the bamboos, it was as though all sounds from outside had disappeared. It was only the omnipresent forest breathing slowly.

                  The path was narrow, and required some concentration to not miss the fading marks along the way. It had not been trodden for a while, it was obvious from the thick layers of brown leaves covering the ground.

                  After an hour or so of walking, he was already deep inside the forest, slowly on his way up to the slopes of the mountain forest where the Hermit and some relatives lived.

                  There was a soft cry that caught his attention. It wasn’t unusual to find all sorts of creatures in the woods, normally they would leave you alone if you did the same. But the sounds were like a calling for help, full of sadness.
                  It would surely mean a detour, but again, after that fence business, he may as well have been guided here for some unfathomable purpose. He walked resolutely toward the sound, and after a short walk in the sodden earth, he found the origin of the sound.

                  There was a small hole made of bamboo leaves, and in it he could see that there was a dying mother gibbon. Rukshan knew some stories about them, and his people had great respect for the peaceful apes. He move calmly to the side of the ape so as not to frighten her. She had an infant cradled in her arms, and she didn’t seem surprised to see him.
                  There were no words between them, but with her touch she told him all he needed to know. She was dying, and he could do nothing about it. She wanted for her boy to be taken care of. He already knew how to change his appearance to that of a young boy, but would need to be taught in the ways of humans. That was what many gibbons were doing, trying to live among humans. There was no turning back to the old ways, it was the way for her kind to survive, and she was too old for it.

                  Rukshan waited at her side, until she was ready to peacefully go. He closed her eyes gently, and when he was done, turned around to notice the baby ape had turned into a little silent boy with deep sad eyes and a thick mop of silvery hair. As he was standing naked in the misty forest, Rukshan’s first thought was to tear a piece of cloth from his cape to make a sort of tunic for the boy. Braiding some dry leaves of bamboos made a small rope he could use as a belt.

                  With that done, and last silent respects paid to the mother, he took the boy’s hand into his own, and went back to find the path he’d left.


                    There was one inn he knew about, the last one before the haunted bamboo forest. It served a solid but plain mountain meal, enough to be worth your coins, and carry you through the rigours of the cold ahead.

                    He doubted the oiliphant would carry him further through the thickly planted bamboos, so he would have to let her go for now, let her return to one of the secret entrances to the Forest, and be one again with the wild and her own.
                    Already the little crowd following them was getting thinner and thinner. After a while, the spell of novelty wore off, and they would realise where the enormous beast was walking toward. Very few wanted to have anything to do with the place. Rukshan wasn’t sure how such legend had spread about the bamboo forest behind haunted, as he would as a youngling find the crackling and wooshing sounds in the large plants rather soothing. Of course, as of all places, it was dangerous to venture there mindlessly, but he’d found the spirits dwelling there usually rarely ill disposed towards visitors, unlike deeper and higher in the mountains were some evils would ride the wind to great distances.

                    Not without feeling a small pinch in his chest, he said a last goodbye to his oiliphant friend, and went in the direction of the inn as the sun was already low on the horizon. The distinct sound of the bamboos could be heard from miles away, and there was only a few people left looking at the beast. His goodbye seemed to have lifted the last of the trance, and they suddenly woke up to where they were, some with an instant recoil on their faces. After a few minutes, he was alone once more.

                    Strangely, the fence had continued for longer than he’d thought. It wasn’t very high, more like a little nuisance really, but the complete oddity of its presence was enough to grate his nerves. He was reminded of something his master had told him For every inside, there is an outside, and every outside, there is an inside. And though they are different, they go together. The secret of all insides and outsides is this – they look a different as possible, but underneath are the same, for you cannot find one without the other. It made him realise that he couldn’t tell where the people who’d built the fence were from – the city or the forest. He’d immediately assumed something, while it could have been easily the reverse.
                    Now he looked at the fence itself, it was quite an ingenious piece of work, trying as much as possible to reuse local and discarded materials. Maybe it was more a tentative of a connective tissue rather than a fence…

                    It was in this more peaceful mood that he reached the inn, just an hour before nightfall, as he could tell from the sun. Lanterns were already lit outside of the inn, and although he’d expected it to be empty of customers as often was the case, it seemed to have another guest. He wouldn’t mind a little company, maybe they could enlighten him about the nature of this new boundary.

                    “My name is Lhamom” the traveler said to him with an inviting grin and slim beaming face. She wore a deerskin hat, and a patchwork of tribal clothes from villages around the mountains in the manner of an explorer of old times. She was already drinking the local woolly goat butter milk tea, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy every mouthful.
                    Rukshan would only bear it with enough spices to soften the strong taste. Nonetheless, he took polite sips of the offered beverage, and listened to the pleasant stories of the nearby and faraway countries she would eagerly tell about.
                    Now, curled up near the burning woodstove, enjoying a simple meal and simple everyday stories, after a lovely day riding above troubles, he would already feel complete, and closer to the magic he sought.


                      He had gently coaxed the oiliphant who was reluctant to go past the fences, towards the haunted bamboo forest, a bit further along the way. He’d thought that the Forest had many secret entrances, and would surely provide a way in when the time would be right. All he had to do was to keep his direction steady, and not mind a little detour. There might be a reason for all that —already he could see people coming out of their dwellings eyes full of curiosity to have a closer look at the both of them. Most would only observe in wonder, but some dared follow them for a little while. He started to wave, but nobody paid him any mind, they were clearly here for the creature. So he’d decided to retreat in silent observation.

                      With the excitement of leaving and riding the oiliphant to the Forest, Rukshan had almost forgotten about the phial in his pocket. He wasn’t sure yet what it was for, but it felt auspicious and welcome. A little nudge that would help him once in the thick of the woods.


                        The oiliphant recognised him with her deep thoughtful motherly eyes, and extended her trunk as a greeting. He accepted the gentle pat on his head, feeling as though a blanket of inextinguishable love had spread over, pouring over and inundating the land with unspoken blessings of grace.
                        With her trunk gently wrapped under his arms, she lifted him as if he were weightless, landing him on the soft spot behind her neck’s wrinkles, where he could sit and not fall.

                        She then proceeded to move slowly to the forest, not after having trumpeted a clear call in the heavy air surrounding the city, as though she was trying to spread purity to clear the misgivings in suspension over the town.

                        The walk was pleasant, and had a slow meditative quality. Every moment was connected to everything, everywhere. Each footstep was deliberate, a perfect action in perfect resonance.

                        Rukshan didn’t know how much time had elapsed when the border of the enchanted forest appeared. He realized they were coming close when the oiliphant’s serenity and soft lull of the walk felt slightly disturbed.
                        He blinked to look in the distance. The mist of the air had not completely cleared at this early hour, but he could make out the source of the disturbance. He suddenly felt a rage flare up, a rage he didn’t know he had in him. How did they dare! They had fenced the Forest, and put a toll booth!


                          The oiliphant had arrived. Rukshan had heard her powerful trumpeting that made the walls vibrate and resound deeply.
                          He’d called the great Oiliphant Spirit a month ago, with an old ritual of the Forest, drawing a complex symbol on the sand that he would fill with special incense offering, and letting it consume in one long slow burn. He had to chose the place carefully, as the magic took days to operate, and any disruption of the ritual by a careless passerby would just void its delicately wrought magic.
                          Sadly, oiliphants had left a long time ago and many believed they were creatures of lore, probably extinct. He knew from the Forest fays that it was not so. There were still sightings, from deep in the Forest, in the part where the river water fell pristine and pure from the mountainous ranges. What was true was that even for the fay people, such sightings were rarer than what used to be, in the distant past.
                          It was a reckless move on his part, drawing one so close to the town walls, but he knew that even the most godless town dweller would simply be in awe of the magnificent giant creature. Besides, they were notoriously difficult to mount, their thick rubbery skin slippery and slick as the smoothest stone, as if polished by ages of winds and sky water.
                          Thus the magic was required.
                          Rukshan’s little bag was ready. He’d taken with him only a small batch of provisions, and his leather-bound book of unfinished chronicles, spanning centuries of memories and tales from his kin.

                          Leaving his office, he took the pile of discarded paper and closed the door. The office looked almost like when he’d first arrived, maybe a little cleaner. He liked the idea of leaving little footprints.
                          After throwing away the papers in front of the building with the trash, he looked up at the Clock Tower and its twelve mannequins. There was definitely something awry at play in the Tower, and the mere thought of it made him shiver. The forlorn spirits dwelling in the basements had something to do with the Old Gods, he could tell. There was fear, anger and feelings of being trapped. When you were a mender, you knew how to connect with the spirit in things, and it was the first step in mending anything. He could tell that what made him shiver was the unthinkable idea that some things may be beyond repair.

                          Before leaving, he walked with pleasure in the still silent morning streets, towards the little house where the errand boy of the office lived with his mother. He had a little gift for him. Olliver was fond of the stories of old, and he would often question him to death about all manners of things. Rukshan had great fondness for the boy’s curiosity, and he knew the gift would be appreciated, even if it would probably make his mother fearful.
                          The bolophore in his old deer skin wrapping was very old, and quite precious. At least, it used to be, when magic was more prevalent, and reliable. It was shaped as a coppery cloisonné pineapple, almost made to resemble a dragon’s egg, down to the scales, and the pulsating vibrancy. People used bolophores to travel great distances in the past, at the blink of a thought, each scale representing a particular location. However, with less training on one-pointed thoughts, city omnipresent disturbances, and fickleness of magic, the device fell out of use, although it still had well-sought decorative value.

                          Rukshan left the package where he was sure the boy would find it, with a little concealment enchantement to protect it from envious eyes. To less than pure of heart, it would merely appear as a broken worthless conch.

                          With one last look at the tower, he set up for the south road, leading to the rivers’ upstream, high up in the mountains. Each could feel the oiliphant waiting for him at the place of the burnt symbol, her soft, regular pounding on the ground slowly awakening the life around it. She wouldn’t wait for long, he had to hurry. His tales of the Old Gods and how they disappeared would have to wait.


                            After the Elders were gone back to the Capitol City of the Seven Hills, Rukshan was left pondering for awhile about his duties.
                            The visit had been pleasant enough, thanks to his deft organisation, and he had the skills to let just enough imponderables and improvising spots so that the whole thing didn’t look too artificially prepared.
                            The Sultan was pleased, and Rukshan was aware that some behind the curtains politics were are play, where he, somehow also was involved, although he couldn’t yet see how. It seemed his capacity for solving or clarifying complex matters was in high demand. One of the Elders of senior attainment had talked to him briefly, in a very amenable tone which was best suited when asking favours. “How odd” he’d thought, as the discussing dynamics would usually be the other way around.
                            Rukshan, I wanted to talk to you about your future” — was how he introduced the conversation. After a few minutes, the intent was clear that there were other places where they had planned to send him.

                            The next few days had him struggle to appease his own feelings. As usual in the cities, people where dealing in abstractions, and abstractions had the inconvenient side-effect of stirring the sea of the mind in all sorts of directions, none of which related to what was happening in the present moment.

                            His family was for that matter very dismissive of his way of life, living as he had for many years in the city. Fays used to live in the forests flanking the mountains, deep inside the sacred groves, where they were in accordance with old rites and the natural time, the breath of life in the trees. They argued that men cities were an insane world of abstractions, that made you forget were you came from, and what sustained you.
                            Ages ago, one of his ancestors, CJ Soliman had written after a visit of the first city (a mere hamlet at the time) “It is quite possible that the Forest is the real world, and that men live in a madhouse of abstractions. Life in the Forest has not yet withdrawn into the capsule of the head. It is still the whole body that lives. No wonder men feel dreamlike; the complete life of the Forest is something of which they merely dream. When you walk with naked feet, how can you ever forget the earth?”

                            He wouldn’t have disagreed actually. He’d found the pull of nature was strong, soft but steady and immovable. But as far as his life was going, he’d come to realise that cities were in need of a fine balancing act, otherwise, leaving them unchecked would probably hasten the pace at which they ate away acres of forests in their developments. Already, the sacred woods were threatened, and with them, his family and ancestors’ way of life.

                            After that discussion with the Elder, he’d found the need to clear up and make space for the new. He’d spent a whole day throwing away stuff, amazed at how much even himself would gather of unnecessary things. In the new space, he’d let the birds songs enter through the window, despite the biting cold and the grey fog.
                            A resolve was birthed in his mind and made clear at the time, as clear as the morning chirping in the thick air.
                            He would soon go back to the mountains, in the Dragon Heartwood, visit his family and look for the old Hermit for counsel.


                              Preparing the pages for the arrival of the Elders had taken him the best of the last two days. The younglings were rather immature and in need of training in the complex rituals and protocols. Most had come from good families, so they did possess the principles well enough. However, they often carried about them an indistinct arrogance that would be sure to irritate the Elders. Rukshan himself wasn’t good at being humble, but over the years had learned to dull his colours, and focus on his own centre.

                              He had hardly any time to think about the dreams, the book or the trees, although at times he could feel almost carried away, as though a swift and clear wind had swiped his head light, suddenly relieved from any burdening thought, almost ready to fly or disappear. Those moment rarely lasted, and quite frankly were a little unsettling.

                              And there was still his repressed memories about what he had discovered hidden under the Clock’s hatch. He wanted to believe there was nothing to worry about that, that the silent ghosts were part of the original design, but his intuition was fiercely against it.
                              In fact, his guts were telling him the same things as when he’d found out the pocket from his coat he’d just mended was originally wrongly attached inside the lining, (creating the rip at that exact spot, as if to catch his attention). Although he would usually have happily ignored it, this time he couldn’t let go, and felt almost forced to redo it, first unpick the seams he’d just sewn, then to finally detach the pocket from the inner lining and redo the mending —another indication that the living force that breathed through all wouldn’t let him eschew troubles this time.


                                As much as he would have liked to keep reading, Rukshan had to let go of the book. The pale sun of winter was already high, and although the Pasha didn’t really seem to worry about it, he had to go prepare for the visit of the Elders.

                                Already pages started to vanish into thin air, one after the other, making the understanding of the patches left much harder to fathom. Notwithstanding, he’d found interesting tales, but nothing proving to be of immediate use to his current quandaries, nothing at least that he could intuit. Even the name of the author, a certain Bethell, wouldn’t register much.
                                All in all, if his dimensional powers started to manifest (at last, after 153 years, one would start to lose hope), the result was a bit underwhelming.

                                The Pasha, during his last visit, had hinted at some company of local Magi that would make his Overseeing less stressful. He’d felt so exhausted he had barely noticed. It wasn’t the Pasha’s habit to make subtle suggestions. What really possessed him would have been worth investigating.

                                Anyway, before he left home in the morning, suddenly remembering the suggestion and its unusual disclosure, Rukshan had flippantly looked though the name cards crammed in the many boxes gathered in the duration of his long past duties.
                                Without much look at it, he’d found and taken the bit of parchment with the sesame, and worked the incantation to speak to the Magi’s assistant.

                                The meeting had gone well. The Magi knew their business. They would come back to audit the Clock in a few days.
                                It was only later that he looked at the new card they gave him. The heraldry was rather plain, but then it struck him —he hadn’t registered at first, because they used a rather old dark magic word from a speech almost forgotten. “Gargolem – spell the words, we’ll make it move”.


                                  Rukshan didn’t know when the book first appeared. His room wasn’t large, and he always took great effort to keep it organised and uncluttered. Well, it was hardly effort at all, more like a well ingrained habit.

                                  Thinking about it, the book could have been put there by a visitor, that was the most evident explanation. But undoubtedly the nosy concierge wouldn’t have missed such opportunity to mention it when he’d come back from the Clock, even at the late hours of the day he’d come back lately.

                                  Considering, his latest exploration of the basement of the Clock below the hatch had not been extremely enlightening nor completely in vain, if only for realising the fact that he was in dire need of more expert help. The Clock was old as the Town, and after generations of crafters jealously guarding of their secrets, the knowledge of its magic had been watered down to the bare necessities. And without proper care and maintenance, last incident could well reoccur at any time.
                                  For now, he had to stop worry, it wouldn’t do his body any good, only manage to let his real age catch up with his now youthful appearance. He knew just the right way for him to get back to his centered balance.

                                  Sipping his favourite brew of hot tulsi leaves tea, he sat cross-legged, carefully in the brown floor chair with the golden thread embroideries, and observed the large black book placed at an angle on the end table.

                                  The tea was already giving off its soothing effects, and glinting, he could see the book almost vibrate.

                                  The thought came back to him. The book was a memory, a memory that he’d brought back from a dream of last night. How peculiar, he thought. He’d heard about such magical powers that the Fays possessed, travelling between pocket dimensions, but it was almost part of the lore of old, nobody had witnessed such things —in human memory, at least.

                                  Now he was curious to open the book. He probably would have to hurry before it starts to fade and vanish. He was glad for the tea, it was the perfect brew to avoid any excitement that would hasten the fading process.


                                    Rukshan had hardly any time to think about the trees of his area of enchantment in the past days. Actually, he’d rushed to the Clock every morning at dawn, and was busy until dusk, after which he slept like a log, to start the cycle again.

                                    As he looked into the mirror in the morning, observing the hints of fatigue under his green eyes dulling the glow of his dark olive skin, he realized that there was only so much that his morning yoga could do to help rejuvenate.
                                    He sighed and tied his sleek dark hair into a top knot.

                                    The trees and the profound wisdom of their calm silence was still here, at his fingertips, in such contrast to the daily activities, that he wondered if the workings of the heart completely eluded him. After all, he couldn’t say he loathed his overseeing and mending job, not could he say that he didn’t pour his heart in it. But still, something about it felt artificial in some ways.

                                    When he arrived at the Clock Tower in the morning, the air was still fresh, and the stairs wouldn’t yet smell of the usual cat piss. The clock’s time was still a smidgen behind. Usually, he would just to the best he could, and just let things patch themselves up, but it seemed as though this time, the change of structure was more profound, requiring from him to go… for lack of better way to put it,… the heart of the matter.

                                    From the top of the tower, he would usually hardly go lower than the first level where the 12 mannequins were stored and revolved around the central axis to appear at each hour, until noon and midnight were they would all play an elaborate dance.

                                    Below that level laid the belly of the beast. An intricate assemblage of copper wires, brass mirrors, lanterns and scalipanders, accessible by simple steps coiled around the central axis, hiding below a round wooden hatch.


                                      With the return of the City Pasha announced yesterday night, Rukshan Soliman was finding himself in a pickle.
                                      He had arrived early at the Palace one block left from the City Clock Tower, knowing full well he had some chance to find the Pasha in better mood before he starts to catch up with all the problems from his entourage.

                                      The meeting wasn’t as unpleasant as he had expected. He had listened patiently to all that he already knew, and went back in silence to the Tower to oversee the last of the repairs.
                                      The clock was still behind 1 minute and fifty seven seconds, but most of the mannequins were operating as normal.

                                      The boockoockoo of the enchanted Silver Jute resounded gravely. He was going to be late for his 10:30 New City Mandala project meeting.

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