The Doctor was at times confused about his own plan. Well, most of the time if felt clear and perfectly diabolical, and he could easily understand why at times lesser minds could get confused about the twists and turns —and to those lesser minds, it would usually suffice to say “don’t worry, it’s all part of the Plan.” It was difficult to properly phrase the sentence so that the Plan doesn’t get too easily confused with any plan. But he was expert in conveying that it wasn’t a mere plan.
After having tried and used old or elaborate devices beyond known technology like alleged alien crystal skulls to outcomes of various satisfaction in the past, he’d realized that those so called AI technologies were a silent gangrene for the mind. By becoming more tech-savvy, people lost their savoir and their savour by relying too much on external support. People were becoming malleable, predictable, and replaceable.
His bloody assistant was a sad testament to the downward evolution humanity was rushing towards. It was a strange and sad irony, that by enhancing their ineptitude, he was actually working to the perfection of the human race.
“Ah yes! Evolution!” That was his legacy, and he was of course profoundly misunderstood.
This whole sad business with the chase after the dolls and the keys and the remote control of magpies, and the psychic blasts, beauty treatments and Barbara enhancements, all that made sense once you showed it in the proper light. These were the catalyst to the real and interesting events. The ones which mattered.
It all started after the Army got him out of his prison rot in exchange for his work on some special science experiments. Top-secret, evidently. His handler, a certain nobody by the name of Fergus, was assigning him the experiments.
While he was dutifully working on his assigned projects, he quickly realized that he was given vast funding which would have taken him more time to gather on his own, so he did his part, all while experimenting and honing his skills. Clearly, the Army lacked any vision beyond the confines of “find a better way to torture, maim or kill mass amount of individuals.” Primates. Luckily, their experiments with remote control, brainwashing, and body modelage were less gory than the average science experiments, and far more into his own area of expertise.
It took him 5 years to escape. This plan (a smaller plan, part of the Plan which had not yet fully hatched at the time) — this plan for an escape started to form when Fergus let slip important bits of information, which seemed insignificant taken in isolation, but meant a whole new area of discoveries when put together by a brilliant mind like his own.
Fergus started to gloat about securing some secrets as a blackmail or fail-safe policy in case the Army’s “hired help” misbehaved. This part was known for a long time, it was what was called our ‘retirement plan’ in the contract we signed. What was more peculiar was when he started to let details slip about the method. All thanks to little doses of hypnotic potion in spiked shared drinks, courtesy of the Doctor. It seemed clear that this elaborate scheming of keys and dolls was child’s play and nothing particularly genius, however what was more interesting was when Fergus started to realize that the dolls his niece had made somehow matched certain persons of interest without her conscious knowing. There was a deeper mystery to be cracked, and even Fergus wondered if the Army had not tempered with his family genetics to induce certain characteristics or something of the like. Well, all ramblings of a simpleton you would say, but maybe it wasn’t.
After all these searches to externalize certain abilities of the mind, the Doctor was starting to get fascinated by people exhibiting these qualities naturally.
The appearance of this strange red crystal seems to confirm these doubts. There are untapped forces at play, and maybe doors that could be opened.
Barbara suddenly irrupted into the room “Our guests are coming, just received a text!”
The Doctor sighed thinking some doors should remain closed.
The loud throbbing of a Harley Davidson interrupted the unexpected revelation moment.
A few seconds later, the door banged open and a man with a long moustache, thick eyebrows and a rather bushy hair entered the Inn.
Devan didn’t know the name of the man, but he did manage to infuse his wide open mouth with an interrogation.
The fact that Mater was the first person to pronounce the name of the man didn’t escape Prune’s shrewd mind.
“How do you know him?” she asked Mater who blushed and used another puff of dust to cough and avoid the question.
But one surprised all the others, even Fergus.
“My long lost brother!” said Sanso. He moved forward and hugged the newly arrived man. Truth be told, there was some ressemblance between the two of them.
Mandrake was looking at Ugo who seemed rather focused on the scene. Something was off, he could feel it. He should warn Arona, but the darn lizard never left her side, or her hair. It was pretty annoying since she would not brush his fur very often now, and he certainly needed some refreshing with all the knots caused by the dryness of the climate.
The frame now hanged above the missing toilet seat was already giving the privy a little more cosy look. Of course, the smell of the room with the open hole was still making his nose wrinkle inwards, but the framed dried roses were a nice touch.
He was particularly happy about the clever no-nail solution he’d found. Crushing together two spiky caterpillars and sticking them at both sides of the back of the frame — it kept the frame stuck nicely, and it could be re-positioned and readjusted to be perfectly level.
Lost in admiration of his work, he was dragged out of his thoughts by a thunderous sneeze.
“Good flovious! That flu looks nasty Glynis, you should get some rest, dear.”
Glynis almost rip-snotted her kerchief in half while blowing her nose.
“But who will do all the cleaning?” she asked plaintively.
The vegetable garden was luxurious and greener after the rain. The trees were trembling with delight in the light afternoon breeze.
“Are you meditating?” asked Rukshan who wanted to get going on the mission already.
“Kinda,” answered Fox without opening his eyes. “I’m using my imagination as a creative tool in order to make the carpenter show up and finish his work.” He breathed in deep and exhaled a humming sound.
“I think you’re mistaken. It’s not about making the other do what you want.”
Fox opened his eyes. “Don’t tell me what to do,” said Fox feeling a tad tense. “It’s a technique transmitted to me by Master Gibbon.”
“I’m just saying…” began the Fae.
“Oh! You’re happy, I can’t meditate now I’m too tense,” Fox bursted out.
“I guess if you got tense that easily, you weren’t that relaxed in the first place.”
Fox got up and squished a courgette. That seemed to put him into even more anger, but Rukshan couldn’t help laughing and Fox couldn’t keep angry very long. He walked on another courgette and laughed.
“I don’t like courgettes,” he said.
“I know. Glynis will not be very happy though if you crush all the vegetables.”
“Yeah. You’re certainly right. When are we leaving?”
“Mr Minn’s nephew, who’s a carpenter, was just visiting in the city and Margoritt asked them if they could help with the carpentry. You know how Mr Minn can’t resist her charms. They have collected the material from the other carpenter and they are coming tomorrow to finish the work. So we’ll be ready to go. I just have to convince Glynis to let Olli come with us.”
“Margoritt is coming back?”
“No. She’ll stay in the city. You know, her knees… and her sister being at the cottage.”
“Oh! I had forgotten about her,” said Fox raising his eyes to the sky.
The room was not oversized and not to bright despite facing south. It had the oddest strange decor Shawn Paul would have expected from that place. It seemed to come right out of a Victorian movie with the heavy furniture that took all the space in the room and the dark and overloaded wallpaper that sucked up the light coming through the velvet curtains.
Shawn Paul sneezed. It didn’t as much feel dirty as it felt old like his grand parent’s house. He wondered how often the Inn’s staff cleaned the room. He had to move his luggage in order to open the window to get some fresh air. It was so hot and dry. There was a drug store on the other side of the dusty road and a strange man was looking at him. A feeble wind brought in some red dust and Shawn Paul sneezed again, reducing the little enthusiasm he could have had left to nothing. He imagined his clothes covered with red dust and quickly closed the window. As the man was still looking Shawn Paul shut the velvet curtain, suddenly plunging the room into darkness.
His fear of insects crept out. He had no idea where the light was so he reopened the curtain a bit.
He then checked thoroughly under the pillows, the bedcover and the bedsheet, behind the chairs and in the wardrobe. Australia was know for having the most venomous creatures and he didn’t want to have a bad surprise. He looked suspiciously at a midge flying around not knowing if it was even safe to kill it. Shawn Paul had never been the courageous type and he began to wonder why on earth he had accepted that trip. He had never traveled out of Canada before.
Needing some comfort, he looked frantically into his backpack for the granola cookies he had brought with him. With the temperature the chocolate chip had melted and he wondered at how to eat a cookie without dirtying his hands.
Someone knocked at the door making him jump with guilt like when he was a kid at his grand parents’ and would eat all the cookies in his bedroom without sharing with his cousins.
“Lunch is served,” a woman’s voice said from the other side.
Anxiety rushed in when he saw all the people that were already seated at the only table in the lunch room. He might have gone back to his room if Maeve hadn’t come from behind him.
“Let’s go have a seat.”
He read between the lines what he was thinking himself: Don’t leave me alone. Whether it was truly what she had meant was not important.
“Isn’t hoarding for rainy days same as flouting the rules?” Godfrey wondered, more to himself than for anybody in particular.
“It’s not technically hoarding if you make it count; and stop arguing, and just eat your damn goober already.”
Considering splitting it in two to make more of it, Godfrey resigned himself to be done with the last arachis hypogaea.
While his brain rushed with endorphins as he was munching on the monkey nut, he realized what Finnley had meant by the Inspector knowing too much.
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.TracyParticipant
The conspiratorial mood changed as Liz noticed the figure clumsily moving behind the curtains.
Turning to the inspector, she said, “My dear Melon, forgive me for the brevity of my comment, but I must ask you to leave. Now, now! No arguing! I’m a busy woman, and I have characters running rampant across the globe, and converging in a most unseemly rushed manner. I simply don’t have time for any more of these delicious trifles, and what’s more, we have an intruder of the unofficial kind. No, you are an official kind, and I must ask you to leave.”
The thoughts of Miss Bossy asking him to torture sweet Sophie still bothered Ric while he went out to look for the reporter. Could he even call her that, he suspected most of her articles were fake news and even if they had at some point come from a seed of truth, they were so transformed by her retelling that it was impossible to prove them in any direction, be it false or true.
Ric found sweet Sophie sleeping on the couch of the waiting room in a very unwomanly position. Fortunately she didn’t wear a skirt. Her mouth was wide open and a stream of saliva was dropping from her chin. She even snored. Ric was put off by her pink trousers and electric blue jacket. Did she colour her hair? he thought. They looked a bit purple.
Sweet Sophie snorted and emerged from slumber totally unaware she was observed.
“What?” asked Miss Bossy when Ric told her about Sophie’s dream. “Nonsense! Sweet Sophie having precognitive dreams? Time travel wasn’t enough for that old hag. And you’re saying she requested a daydreaming room to continue her investigations, with ambiant music and ayahuasca? I’m not financing her drug cravings.”
Sophie entered the dark room. She didn’t think it would work, to ask Ric for the daydreaming room. She tried the couch. Soft but not too soft, hard enough for her back. Oh! Sweet Time Lord, what a relief from the open space chair. An instrument of torture if you asked her.
She had developed an obsession with the Doctor, and it all came from a dream she had just before Ric found her. In that dream, she was really attracted to the Doctor—who looked just like an old crush of her—, and he was showing her his amazing inventions, telling her about his superior mind, his poignant history and all the great things he did during his famous time. So…yeah. She kind of finally fell in love with him for the second time. Then he confessed her he was so sorry for what he did, it made her cry almost. He said it was stupid of him and he still thought she is his daughter— that’s when she thought she had lost track of the dream timeline and in another moment she found another crazy coincidence that turns every possible event to pure insane: The Doctor has a new body. Not in the literal sense. He hasn’t even given it a whole new look. Instead, it has a completely bizarre look with its entire body filled with…
That’s when she had awaken. That’s why she needed the couch and the room and the plant. She had seen in a video that it could help.
Someone knocked at the door and brought in a silver plate with a steaming muddy potion.TracyParticipant
Sweeping the shards of glass and pottery into the dustpan, Lucinda was focused the floor, and keeping the little dog away from the shattered pieces, so she didn’t notice immediately that the doll was missing. As soon as she did, she ran to the door and looked down the hallway but Maeve had gone. How rude she’d been!
“Forgot my toothbrush, had to dash back and fetch it,” he said, fumbling with his key and looking nervous. “Oh, Maeve? She’s gone to Australia.”
“She’s gone to Australia?” I parroted stupidly, my mind whirling. Shawn Paul tittered nervously and said nothing, turned on his heel and loped off down the hall to the stairs.
“doll stolen tart next door teafed it and is on way to oz but seen another one call me asap need 2 talk”
The sixth finger on Barbara’s left hand looked quite odd, but it was a nice recent addition from the Doctor. She looked at it while the Magpies were slowly awakening. A bleak bipping sound was all there was indicating the average pulse of the seven spies.
The Doctor, poor man, seemed to have had some difficulties recently to remember her name and also that she was a woman. Since a few weeks, in order not to startle him when she entered the new lab, she had had to get rid of her beehive hairdo, but she had kept it in a secret vault in her bedroom and every evening she took it out and brushed it and put it on her head to remind her.
She had been quite dedicated to the Doctor and had stayed despite the last mess at the Hidden Spa. She spent an awful lot of time erasing all the links and comments that could lead to them, hence such an empty thread. It was all her doing, Barbara’s, and she could do that because of her new left pinkie in which she had an electronic key controlling all the machines and the lab’s security network. And it was connected to the Internet.
The bipping sound was accelerating signalling to her that they were close to awakening. She was going to call the Doctor, he had said that he had to be there when they opened their eyes because he must be the one on whom they imprinted. Like birds you know. He would be like their mother and they would obey him. She turned on the comlink and called him.
“It’s Barb, Doctor.”
“Oh. Why are you disturbing me in my Jacuzzi?”
“They are awakening.”
“Oh. I’m coming.”
But there was no more time.
The pods were open and the seven Magpies were looking at her.
“No! No!” said the Doctor who entered at that moment. “What have you done!?”FloveParticipant
“Bugger,” said Maeve. “I’m out of butter. What shall we do, Fabio?”
Fabio rushed excitedly to the front door.
“Go and see if Lucinda has some butter? Good idea, but you have to do the talking. Okay?”
Clearly, I am in need of human companionship.
An old rhyme from her childhood came to mind. She would say it over and over, fast as she could without tripping over her tongue.
Biddy Botter bought bum butter. Blah said she the butters bitter but if i buy some better butter, better than the bitter butter that will make the bitter butter better.
Lucinda’s door has the number 57 on the front and a skull door knocker. Maeve’s door was numbered 22 so it made no sense at all. Lucinda opened the door a crack and peered out at Maeve.
“Oh Maeve,” she said, “Um, hi.”
“Hi. Is this a bad time? I just wanted to borrow a bit of butter if you have any spare.”
Lucinda hesitated before opening the door and gesturing Maeve in.
“Sure,” she said. “Excuse the mess.”
Maeve spotted the doll right away.
“What are you doing with Ima Indigo!”
Ima was sitting on the shelf near the the window, sandwiched between a cracked concrete buddha head and a dying fern. Maeve picked the doll up.
“May I?” she said, without waiting for a reply.
She turned the doll over and felt the back seam with her fingers. The stitching was rough and the thread didn’t match the tiny stitches on the rest of the doll’s body. She gently squashed Ima. No key.
“Where did you get this? Did you take a key out of her body?”
Lucinda patted Fabio and shook her head, annoyed at Maeve and at the same time feeling guilty.
“I found her at the market.”
“Oh my god,” said Maeve.
While doing circles and cooling down at the bottom of the Doline’s pool, Leörmn in his white sea dragon form felt a rush in the probability streams, and pockets of dimensions long closed slowly re-opening.
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.
The wind was playing with the fine grained ash that had been the enchanted forest and Margorrit’s cottage. Fox felt empty, he sat prostrated like an old jute bag abandoned on the ground. He was unable to shake off the inertia that had befallen on him since his arrival.
He was caught in an endless cycle of guilt that rolled over him, crushing his self esteem and motivation until it disappeared in the ashes like his friend and the whole world.
After a moment, his stomach growled, reminding him that he was still alive and that he hadn’t eaten that well during the last few days. His nose wriggled as beyond the decay it had caught the smell of a living creature that was passing by. He heard a crow caw.
Fox wailed, he didn’t want to be taken out of his lamentations and self pity. He thought he didn’t deserve it. But this time, like all the others before, hunger won the battle without that much of a fight and Fox was soon on his feet.
He looked around, there was cold ash everywhere. It smell bad, but he couldn’t really tell where it came from. It seemed to be everywhere.
The crow landed in front of him and cawed again. It looked at him intently.
It cawed. As if it wanted to tell him something. The black of its feathers reminded him of Glynis’s burka. Glynis. She had told him something. They count on you, as if there was still time. The last potion, cawed the crow. And it took off, only to land in what would have been the cottage kitchen. It rummaged through the ashes.
“The kitchen!” shouted Fox, suddenly recalling what she had said. The crow looked up at Fox and cawed as if encouraging him to join it in the search.
“The last potion that can turn back time!?”
Fox ran and foraged the ashes with the crow. He found broken china, and melted silverware. He coughed as his foraging dispersed the ashes into the air. Suddenly he shivered. He had found a bone under a piece of china. He shook his head. What a fool, it’s only chicken bone.
The raven, which Fox wondered if it was Glynis, showed Fox a place with its beak. There was a small dark bottle. He wondered why they were always dark like that. He felt a rush of excitement run through his body and he was about to open it and drink it when he saw the skull and crossbones on the label. In fact it was the only thing that was on the label. Fill with a sudden repulsion, Fox almost let go of the bottle.
“I’m not drinking that,” said Fox.
The bird jumped on his arm and attempted to uncork the bottle.
She picked at the cork.
Fox looked at the dreaded sign on the bottle. He hesitated but opened it. When the smell reached his nose he was surprised that it was sweet and reminded him of strawberry. Maybe it was by contrast to the ambient decay.
At least, he thought, if I die, the last thing I taste would be strawberry.
He gulped the potion down and disappeared.
The bottle fell on the floor, a drop hanging on the edge of its opening. Certainly attracted by the sweet smell, the crow took it with his black beak. It just had time for a last satisfied caw before it also disappeared.FloveParticipant
There was a knock at the door. It was a tentative knock, 3 small taps really, and It would have been easy to miss if Glynnis and Eleri had not lapsed into an uncomfortable silence and now sat glowering at each other across the kitchen table.
They turned their heads towards the door in alarm, differences forgotten in light of this new threat. Nobody had knocked on the door of the cottage in the woods for such a long time.
Glynis went to the window by the front door and peeped out.
“It’s an old lady,” she said in surprise
“Could be a trick! Don’t answer it! What’s an old lady doing in the forest this hour of the evening? That’s too strange.”
“Well, I sense danger actually,” said Eleri haughtily but she stood aside and Glynis opened the door carefully, just a few inches at first, peeping out through the gap while Eleri hovered anxiously behind her. A plump little lady wearing a crinkly blue suit and a hat with a bird’s feather on it stood on the front step.
“Hello, can I help you?” said Glynis
“Hello dear, I was starting to think nobody was home. Is this where Margoritt lives? I do hope I have the right place. I have come such a long way.”
“I’m her sister, Muriel, from the North. I’m sure she must have spoken of me. Do let me in, dears. It is icy cold out here. And I think I may be having one of my turns because your lovely wee house is looking ever so twinkly. It’s the migraine you know … they get me in the head ever so badly now and then. It’s the stress of the long journey I think ….”
“I am not sure where my case is … I left it in the forest I think. Perhaps one of you young things could find it for me. It was getting ever so heavy. Now, tell me your names and then if someone could make me a nice hot cup of tea, and one for themselves of course!” She laughed brightly and Glynis and Eleri joined in though they weren’t sure why. “And perhaps you could get me a wool blanket for my knees and I expect after a good sleep I’ll be right as rain.” She looked around the cottage with a small frown. “I can see I have come to the right place. I’d know my sister’s tastes anywhere.”
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.
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.”
Fox’s stomach growled and resonated on the cave’s walls. He feared it would awaken the others. It was cold and he curled up inside his ten blankets made of yak wool, tempted to turn into a fox to get extra fur.
After being caught in a snowstorm, they had found a cave with a frozen toothless body. Rukshan had used incense and chanting to perform a commummycation spell, and to everyone’s surprise, Lhamom’s voice came out of the toothless frozen mouth. It was feeble and was full of sharp crystalline harmonics that made Fox’s grind his teeth. Because the commummycation was bad, Rukshan had to lean closer, almost touching its face. Fox shivered incontrollably, unable to know if it was of disgust or of cold.
Rukshan told them that Lhamom had been rescued by a hellishcopter from the underworld and was on her way to extract them from the ice. He seemed as puzzled as Fox, but their guide seemed to know the strange beast and assumed their friend was blessed because hellishcopters were not known to help strangers.
Dogs barked in the distance. Fox winced and wondered why he came to the mountain. He wished he could be back to simple cottage life in the enchanted forest. Then he recalled it was not that simple at the moment and he wondered how their friends were dealing with their own problems.
He couldn’t sleep, like the previous nights and he didn’t dare go to far from the camp to relieve his bowels by fear of the hungry dogs.
He also had had dreams. Strange dreams of master Gibbon’s home in the forest threatened by dozens of bulls with bright red eyes running angrily toward his unaware master. Each time Fox woke up when the bulls were about to crush the hut and master Gibbons opened his eyes, his face hurling towards Fox. Afterwards he never could go back to sleep. So he waited. He waited for their friend Lhamom to arrive as she promised.
“I think a sandstorm is coming” Rukshan pointed at Olli the menacing clouds galloping towards them. “We need to find cover!”
It was too risky for them to teleport again with this meteorological turbulence.
A small ridge of rock was showing not far from their landing spot. They started to rush towards it, their steps burrowing in the shifting sands making their run almost like a crawl.
“We won’t make it!” Olli had stumbled in the soft ground, his eyes filled with terror at the darkening reddish sky.
“Olli, hurry! we’re almost there!”
“Kweee” a squeeky sound that almost felt like a purring seemed to alleviate Olli’s fears for a moment, and he managed to hurry back to cover.
“Not a second too early!” Rukshan shouted in the midst of the howling sands.
The rocky formation had a crevice which was just big enough for them, and would keep them safe. Rukshan had deployed a large cape to try to seal the entrance with a magical spell.
“Safe, for now.” He felt tickled. “What the…?”
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Viewing 20 results - 41 through 60 (of 198 total)