Bob sighed loudly as he rummaged through the odds and ends drawer: old menus from the takeaways in town, pens, rubber bands, a button, reading glasses, newspaper clippings. He’d never expected to need the phone number; now he did and what do you know? He can’t find the damn thing.
“What a shameful mess that drawer is in,” said Jane. She was seated at the kitchen table, arms folded, shaking her head at him. She looked about twenty today with her dark hair cascading prettily over a lacy pink mini dress.
Bob frowned at her though his heart did a leap. The way it always did when he saw her. “You were the one who kept it clean and you jumped ship. And I’ve said, can’t you look your age?”
“Don’t I look pretty?” She pouted and fluttered long eyelashes at him.
“Makes me feel old. And I don’t recognise you like that.”
“You are old,” she said as her hair turned white. “And bad-tempered as ever. What are you hunting for?”
“The phone number. You know the one he said to call if the box was ever unearthed. Can’t find it anywhere.”
“You’d lose your head …” said Jane as her head lifted off her body.
Bob jumped. “Darn it, Jane. I’ve said don’t do that! Why do you always do that and go giving me the heebie jeebies?”
“Cos I can, love.” She grinned mischievously before settling her head back on her shoulders. “Just a bit of fun. Now think hard, where else might you have put it? The shoe-box under our bed? The safe in the pantry?”
Bob flung a hand to his head. “The shoe-box! That’s where it will be!”
Jane grinned. “Well, get a move-along, old man. Before our Clara gets in more deep than what’s good for her. She won’t let it go now she’s found it. Stubborn as a mule my grandchild,” she added proudly.
Bob reached a hand to her. “Come with me while I look? I miss you, Jane. You never stay long enough.”
“Oh stop with all the sweet talk!” She poked her tongue out at him. “Anyway I’ve told you before, it takes too much energy.” She was fading and Bob felt his chest tighten. “Don’t worry, I’m keeping an eye on you, old man.” She was vibrating air now, sparkly and pink.
“If you don’t pay the bill, I’ll call the police,” said the waitress, closing the door and turning the open sign to closed. She turned the key and put it in her apron pocket. “Either you pay the bill or you wash the dishes.”
Vince was just about the stamp his foot again and a look of anguish came over his face. Finton, the waitress, looked quizzically at him and reached out to touch his arm. “Are you alright?”
Then the floodgates opened and Vince collapsed in a chair, tears rolling down his face. Finton sat down next to him and put her arm across his shoulders, patting him gently until the sobbing had subsided.
“Now then, sir, why don’t you tell me all about it while you’re doing the dishes,” she said kindly, “I’d be happy to listen, and I can interrogate you too, if that’s what you’d like.”
Vince wiped his eyes and blew his nose with a crumpled napkin, smearing strawberry jam across his cheeks. Finton didn’t have the heart to tell him, and tried hard not to snigger.
“Call me Vince,” he smiled weakly, and followed Finton into the kitchen.
Rosamund pressed her ear to the wardrobe door and listened. Nothing. She tapped gently. No response. “Is there anyone in there?” she whispered. She rapped on the door, harder this time. “Are you hungry?” she said loudly. “Got a pizza ordered, you want one?”
“Yes please,” came the muffled reply. “Ham and pineapple.”
Rosamund reeled backwards.
“Pineapple!” Romamund was aghast. “Not on pizza!”
“OK cheese and tomato then, just let me out! I’m desperate for a pee!” the voice was wheedling, and oddly familiar.
“Promise no pineapple?”
“For god’s sake woman, let me out! I promise!”
Rosamund turned the key and quickly stepped back a few paces, grabbing the broom as a weapon. People trapped in wardrobes could be aggressive, she knew that much.
The wardrobe rocked dangerously as a bulky shape emerged, swathed in mink.
April shook the moth eaten fur off her shoulders and smoothed the tangled hair back from her brow. “I might ask you the same question, young lady! Wait til your mother hears about this! But first, point me in the direction of the rest rooms!”
“Over there, ” Rosamund said weakly. “I’ll order your pizza.”
“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.
They had to stop to get some rest. Rukshan knew the signs, the song of a black swan, a nesting bear in the forest, cubic clouds… All strange omens not to be taken lightly. He told the others they’d better find shelter somewhere and not spend the night outside.
As soon had he make the announcement that he saw the relief on their faces. They’d been enthusiastic for half a day, but the monotony of walking got the better of their motivation, especially the kids who were not used to such long journeys out of the cottage’s safety.
Fortunately they were not far from the Sooricat Inn, a place lost in the woods, it still had four walls, warm food and almost certainly a hot bath. Let’s just hope they’re open, thought the Fae.
When they arrived, the owner, an old man from Sina, looked at them suspiciously.
“Ya’ll have your attestation? I can’t believe ya’re all family. Don’t think I’m a fool, ya’re a Fae, and this little fella there, he’s smaller than the children but has a beard. Never saw anything like him,” he said with rumbling r’s pointing at the children and Gorrash with his chin. The dwarf seemed offended but a stern look from Rukshan prevented him from speaking.
“Anyway,” continued the innkeeper, “I can just sell ya food. Not’ing parsonal. That’s rooles, ya’know with the all stayin’at home thing from Gavernor Leraway, I can not even let ya’in. Ya can buy food and eat it outside if ya want.”
“Oh! I really shouldn’t. I don’t like breaking rooles.”
“I knew you more daring, Admirable Fuyi,” said a booming voice coming from behind them. They all turned around to see Kumihimo. She was wearing a cloak made of green and yellow gingko leaves, her silvery white hair, almost glowing in the dark, cascading beautifully on her shoulders. A grey cat strode alongside her.
“Oh! that’s just the donkey, Ronaldo. It got transformed into a cat after walking directly into a trap to get one of those darn carrots. He knew better, don’t pity him. He got what he deserved.” Kumihimo’s rant got a indignant meow, close to a heehaw, from Ronaldo.
“Kumi! I can’t believe it’s ya!” said the innkeeper.
“You two know each others?” asked Rukshan.
“It’s a long story,” said the innkeeper, “From when I was serving in Sina’s army, we had conquered the high plateaus. I gave up the title of Admirable when I left the army. After Kumi opened my eyes.” Fuyi’s eyes got wet. “Ah! I’m sure I’ll regret it, but come on in, ya’ll. Let me hear yar story after you taste the soup.”
They walked through a labyrinth of tunnels which seemed to have been carved into a rocky mountain. The clicks and clacks of their high heels echoed in the cold silence meeting all of Sophie’s questions, leaving her wondering where they could be. Tightly held by her rompers she felt her fat mass wobbling like jelly around her skeleton. It didn’t help clear her mind which was still confused by the environment and the apparent memory loss concerning how she arrived there.
Sophie couldn’t tell how many turns they took before Barbara put her six fingers hand on a flat rock at shoulders height. The rock around the hand turned green and glowed for two seconds; then a big chunk of rock slid to the side revealing a well designed modern style room.
A little man was working at his desk. At least Sophie assumed it was his desk and that he was working. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bermudas. The computer screen he was looking at projected a greenish tint onto his face, and it made him look just like the green man icon. Sophie cackled, a little at first.
The Doctor’s hand tensed on the mouse and his eyebrows gathered like angry caterpillars ready to fight. He must have made a wrong move because a cascade of sound ending in a flop indicated he just died a death, most certainly on one of those facegoat addictive games.
That certainly didn’t help muffle Sophie’s cackle until she felt Barbara’s six fingers seizing her shoulders as if for a Vulcan nerve pinch. Sophie expected to lose consciousness, but the hand was mostly warm, except for that extra finger which was cold and buzzing. The contact of the hand upon the latex gave off little squeaky sounds that made Sophie feel uncomfortable. She swallowed her anxiety and wished for the woman to remove her hand. But as she had noticed more than once, wishes could take time and twists before they could be fulfilled.
“Why do you have to ruin everything every time?” asked the Doctor. His face was now red and distorted.
“Every time?” said Sophie confused.
“Yes! You took your sleeper agent role too seriously. We couldn’t get any valuable intel and the whole doll operation was a fiasco. We almost lost the magpies. And now, your taste for uncharted drugs, which as a parenthesis I confess I admire your dedication to explore unknown territories for science… Anyway, you were all day locked up into your boudoir trying to contact me while I just needed you to look at computer screens and attend to meetings.”
Sophie was too shocked to believe it. How could the man be so misinformed. She never liked computers and meetings, except maybe while looking online for conspiracy theories and aliens and going to comiccons. But…
“Now you’re so addict to the drugs that you’re useless until you follow our rehab program.”
“A rehab program?” asked Sophie, her voice shaking. “But…” That certainly was the spookiest thing she had heard since she had arrived to this place, and this made her speechless, but certainly not optionless. Without thinking she tried a move she had seen in movies. She turned and threw her mass into Barbara. The two women fell on the cold floor. Sophie heard a crack before she felt the pain in her right arm. She thought she ought to have persevered in her combat training course after the first week. But life is never perfect.
“Suffice!” said the Doctor from above. “You’ll like it with the other guests, you’ll see. All you have to do is follow the protocol we’ll give you each day and read the documentation that Barbara will give you.”
Sophie tried a witty answer but the pain was too much and it ended in a desperate moan.
“Ouch! that hurt!”
“Look!” Tara nodded towards the mansion. “Over there, far window. It’s open.”
Star, still smarting from being unceremoniously dragged into the bushes, shrugged her shoulders. “So?”
“We’ve come all this way. We can’t go without a fight! Let’s break in!” Tara’s face was animated. “I mean, who is going to stop us? That butler could barely walk and Mr French is supposedly in a coma … and … well, don’t you think it seems strange about the accident and everything?”
Keeping low under cover of the ornamental pears, they crept back towards the house. “Did that curtain move?” whispered Star. “It fluttered, the room next to the open window!”
Glynis noticed the fae’s hands. They were trembling. It was so faint nobody had noticed, but she had trained her eyes to that sort of things.
“Not now,” she said, looking at everyone. “He just arrived and we didn’t give him the time to rest and feel welcomed.” She turned to Rukshan. “My friend, forgive our rudeness. Come to the kitchen where I’ve made my famous chard and chicken gratin.”
Everyone could see the relief on Rukshan’s face. A burden, that they all have been unaware of, seemed to lift a bit from his shoulders and a small tear appeared at the corner of his eye.
“Maybe he can take a bath before going to the kitchen,” said Fox whose nose was wiggling. They all laugh.
“Go prepare the bath,” Glynis said, “I’ll feed him before he faints.”
“And maybe afterward he can tell us his story in the land of Giants,” said Eleri hopefully. She seemed to have forgotten her ankle.
“Of course, we’ll do all that,” said Glynis. Then she pointed at the blocks on the floor. “Our friend here have plenty of time. A few millenia. Now, chop chop! leave our guest be.”
Probably afraid to catch the floo, Muriel had packed in a jiffy, and left the place without saying much more than a few admonitions.
Glynis atchooed some more, in case Muriel was still within earshot, then laughed heartily. It was good to laugh. She disliked the saying that you always laugh at the expense of someone, but in that case it felt splendid. Muriel had been such a bag of chips on her shoulders, with her moaning and complaining and her hardly lifting a finger.
After all the belly laughing was done, and some more for good measure, she looked at Fox’s wrinkled nose, and laughed some more: “the loo is still in a dire situation though!”
He tittered jollily, hooting his reply “For sure! All the purple cabbage you fed that harpy didn’t help!”
As if I didn’t have enough to think about without this! Bert had let it slip that he’d been down to the old Brundy place but that man is like a sardine tin without a key when he’s got a mind to be secretive, and he wouldn’t tell what the dickens was so important down there that he had time for it, now of all times. That got me thinking about that time the twins brought a life sized doll from down there and scared me half to death, but before I had time to start thinking about those ripped up maps that ~ I’ll be honest ~ I’d forgotten about, Finly burst in with her hand over her mouth and a wild look in her eye.
“Don’t be sick in here!” I snapped and quickly swung her round by the shoulders and gave her a shove in the direction of the bathroom, but then she blurted out that Prune had eaten the chicken. “Prune?” I said, admittedly rather stupidly, I mean, nobody told me Prune was coming, or had I forgotten? And then Finly shook me ~ actually shook me bodily! ~ and shouted, No, The CHICKEN! That’s when my own hand flew to my mouth, and I said, Not the chicken. Finly said Yes, and I said No, and this went on for a time until I had a moment of clarity.
Don’t tell her what was in the chicken, Finly, I said, Just go and give her something to make her sick. Quickly!
Bloody woman rolled her eyes in a most unnecessarily exaggerated fashion at me and fled. I was left contemplating the nature of modern humans and their love of theatricals when it dawned on me that making Prune take something to make her vomit, at such short and urgent notice, with no explanation forthcoming, might be difficult to accomplish. Especially for the likes of Finly. I wondered if we had time to devise a cunning plan, or if we had no choice but to resort to brute force.
That’s when a little voice popped in my head and said, “Magic: The last resort.”
“You do that, Sha. Nurse Trassie wasn’t it?”
Sharon nodded and pursed her lips tightly. “Bloody uppity tart. We bloody pay enough to be ‘ere, I reckon. They should get the tea bloody right.” Her eyes narrowed menacingly. “ Anyway, she’ll keep. So,‘ow we going to find ‘im then, Glor?”
Gloria scratched her head vigorously, perhaps checking it was still there, before taking a moment to examine her fingernails.
“Wot’d Mavis say then?” she asked at last. “When you did that texting thing to ‘er?”
“‘Ere let me find my phone and I’ll read it out loud to you. Oh, blimey, ‘ave you seen my glasses, Glor?”
Gloria’s generous curves wobbled and gyrated as she convulsed into fits of laughter.
“They’re on yer bloody ‘ead!” she said pointing and gasping for breath. “Oh, I nearly peeed myself, ya blimmen muppet!”
“Thanks, Glor. Wot I’d do without you, I don’t bloody know. Don’t mean to make you pee yerself though. It’s ‘ard enough getting them nurses to give out them extra thick pantyliners. Blimmin uppity tarts. Expecially that Nurse Trassie. Anyway, she’ll keep.”
“Oh, it’s text talk. The younguns talk like that now and our Mavis always did like to keep up with trends. Lots of lust it means. That saucy cow!”
“She always was a saucy one that, Mavis! Look at us stuck in ‘ere and ‘er with a new fella. Lucky sod. Maybe after our beauty treatment, we might get us a new fella too.”
“I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track down the Doctor though, Shar. I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track him down when we’re stuck in this bleedin’ ‘ole.” Gloria shoulders shook and she began to sob loudly.
“Wot’s that then,” asked Gloria, sniffing loudly into her hanky.
“I’ve ‘ad one of my bloody brainwaves!”
“I knew you would, Shar! You’ve always ‘ad brains. I’m all agog!”
“We’ll get Mavis to go to the papers! Put in an advert to find ‘im!”
“You’re a blimmin genius, you are, Shar!”
Fox popped back into existence, blind, after what felt like a very long black out. He heard a thud on the ground as he let go of the ice flute. A strong smell of decay and cold ash rendered him dizzy. He fell on his knees, threw up and cursed when the pain caused by a little stone reached his brain. It hurt.
He rolled on the side and banged his head on a tree trunk. He cursed, grabbing his head in an attempt to contain the pain that threatened to make him faint.
Where is the hellishcopter? he thought, confused as his hands touched the sandy ground. He tried to control a wave of panic.
He remained prostrated. He would have been glad to hear any noise other than his heartbeat and his quick breath.
After some time his sight came back. He would have preferred it did not. Everything was grey. The forest had burnt, and so had the cottage.
He looked around what remained of the kitchen. His heart sank when he saw what looked like a burnt body trying to escape. He went back out and found Gorrash, broken into pieces scattered near the pergola. The stones were covered in a thin layer of grey ash. Fox cried and sobbed. He couldn’t believe what had happened.
Where was everyone? Wasn’t he supposed to have the power of miracles? His heart ached.
She came and met him with a sad smile.
“You were not there,” she said more as a constatation than an accusation. Still Fox felt the guilt weigh on his shoulders. He wasn’t there for his friends. The people he had grown to love. The people he called family in his heart.
“You were not there. The monster came right after the others came through the portal. I wasn’t prepared. They counted on you and the flute. But it was too quick. It escaped and went to the village where it merged with Leroway. Eleri tried to cast her stone spell but it bounced back and she met the same end as Gorrash.”
Fox looked at the scattered stones on the ground.
“Once it controlled Leroway, it went into a frenzy and burnt everything. Everything. Only ashes remain.”
Fox remained silent, unable to speak. It was his fault.
“You have to go back,” said Glynis’s shadow. “They count on you.”
The breeze blew. The ghost flickered, a surprised expression on her face.
“Under the ashes in the kitchen, the last potion,” she said quickly. “It can turn back time. Bring the sh…” A cold breeze blew her off before she could finish.
“That is unfortunate,” said Rukshan when Fox told him about the dogs’ answer. They were all gathered around the fire on rough rugs for a last meal before activating the portal. For a moment shadow and light struggled on Rukshan’s face as the flames of the fire licked the woods, making it crack and break. A few sparkles flew upward into the dark starry night.
Lhamom used the magic metal spoon to serve steaming soup in carved wooden bowls, and Olliver was doing the service.
When he took his, Fox felt a chilly breeze find its way past his blanket. He shivered, put the bowl on the carpet in front of him and attempted to readjust the yakult wool blanket in a vain attempt to make it windproof. He took back the bowl and took a sip. The dogs barked in the distance. They were impatient to start the hunt. Fox shivered again.
“I could still serve as bait,” Fox said because he felt it was his fault if the plan failed. “You know, surprise the dogs while they are focused on the Shadow and make it follow me to trap it into the portal after we crossed it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rukshan. “It’s too dangerous. If you try to do that, we could have not one but two problems to solve. And you might get stuck too.”
Rukshan shook his head. “No. It was a foolish of me to hope those dogs would help us.”
“What can we do then?” asked Lhamom. They all drank their soup, the silence only broken by the fire cracking and the dogs barking.
“I know,” said Lhamom. “You were so helpful today with the cooking and all.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rukshan. “Olliver was with me helping me with the sand all day.” He stopped. His face showed sudden understanding. “Oh! Of course,” he said. “The book we burnt. The shard’s power was not only teleportation, but also ubiquity.” Rukshan turned to look at Fox. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Fox shrugged, making his blanket slip off of his shoulders slightly. Before he answered he adjusted it back quickly before the warmth he had accumulated could vanish into the night. “Well I saw him… I mean them. How do you think I came out of the negotiation alive? I can not teleport! I don’t even know what my powers are, or if I have any now that the shards have gone.”
“Grace and miracles,” said Rukshan with a grin.
A strange cristalline noise rang to Fox’s hears.
“What? Oh! Yes. Well, that explains it then,” he said, feeling a mix of grumpiness and contentment. He finished his soup and was about to leave the comfort of his blanket to take some stew when Lhamom took the bowl from his hands. She gave him a good serving and gave him back his bowl.
“Don’t make as if I said nothing important,” said Olliver.
The red of the flames enhances his angry look, thought Fox.
“I can be at two places, even more, at once. I can still be the bait and go back home with you at the same time.”
A dog barked impatiently.
“Yes,” said Fox.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” said Rukshan, concern on his face.
“Why? I’m not a boy anymore, if that’s what it’s all about. I can do it. I already did it this afternoon.”
“Well this afternoon was nice and cosy, wasn’t it? You had plenty of light, and yes you helped Fox escape from the dogs, so you can certainly do it. But what about the Shadow spirit. We have no idea what it is, or what it can do to you. And what will happen if one of you get killed?”
Once again, they fell silent. There was a dog bark and that strange cristalline noise again. It sounded closer.
“What’s that noise?” asked Olliver. Fox suddenly realised the strange noise had nothing to do with the sound of miracles, but it was a real noise in the real world.
“What noise?” asked Lhamom. “And what are you all talking about, shards and powers and ubiquity?”
“I can hear it too,” said Fox. “I’ve heard it before, but thought it was just me.”
The noise happened again, this time sounding a lot like metallic ropes snapping on ice.
Fox wriggled his nose. There was the smell of an animal and of a human.
“I think someone is coming,” he said, sniffing the cold air. “A donkey and a human.”
It was not too long before they saw an odd woman riding a donkey. She was playing a lyre made of ice, the strings of which had a faint glow. The woman was smiling like she was having the best adventure of her life.
“Hi guys. I came to help you. You didn’t think I would remain forgotten in my cave, did you?”
In the white silence of the mountains, Rukshan was on his knees on a yakult wool rug pouring blue sand from a small pouch on a tricky part of the mandala that looked like a small person lifting his arms upwards. Rukshan was just in the right state of mind, peaceful and intensely focused, in the moment.
It was more instinct than intellect that guided his hands, and when he felt inside him something click, he stopped pouring the sand. He didn’t take the time to check if it was right, he trusted his guts.
He held the pouch to his right and said: “White”. Olliver took the pouch of blue and replaced it with another. Rukshan resumed pouring and white sand flew in a thin stream on the next part of the mandala.
After a few hours of the same routine, only broken by the occasional refreshments and drinks that Olliver brought him, the mandala was finished and Rukshan stood up to look at the result. He moved his shoulders to help relieve the tensions accumulated during the hard day of labor. He felt like an old man. His throat was dry with thirst but his eyes gleamed with joy at the result of hours of hard concentration.
“It’s beautiful,” said Olliver with awe in his voice.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Rukshan. He accepted a cup of warm and steaming yakult tea that Olliver handed him and looked at the boy. It was the first time that Olliver had spoken during the whole process.
“Thanks, Olli,” said Rukshan, “you’ve been very helpful the whole time. I’m a little bit ashamed to have taken your whole time like that and make you stand in the cold without rest.”
“Oh! Don’t worry,” said the boy, “I enjoyed watching you. Maybe one day you can teach me how to do this.”
Rukshan looked thoughtfully at the boy. The mandala drew its power from the fae’s nature. There could certainly be no danger in showing the technique to the boy. It could be a nice piece of art.
“Sure!” he said. “Once we are back. I promise to show you.”
A smile bloomed on Olliver’s face.
In the white silence of the mountain, Lhamom sat on a thick rug of yakult wool in front of a makeshift fireplace. She had finished packing their belongings, which were now securely loaded on the hellishcarpet, and decided it was cooking time. For that she had enrolled the young lad, Olliver, to keep her company instead of running around and disturbing Rukshan. The poor man… the poor manfae, Lhamom corrected, had such a difficult task that he needed all his concentration and peace of mind.
Lhamom stirred the content of the cauldron in a slow and regular motion. She smiled because she was also proud of her idea of a screen made of yakult wool and bamboo poles, cut from the haunted bamboo forest. It was as much to protect from the wind as it was for the fae’s privacy and peace of mind.
“It smells good,” said Olliver, looking with hungry eyes at what Lhamom was doing.
“I know,” she said with pride. “It’s a specialty I learned during the ice trek.”
“Can you teach me?” ask Olliver.
“Yes, sure.” She winked. “You need a special blend of spiced roots, and use pootatoes and crabbage. The secret is to make them melt in yakult salted butter for ten minutes before adding the meat and a bucket of fresh snow.”
They continued to cook and talk far all the afternoon, and when dusk came Lhamom heard Rukshan talk behind his screen. He must have finished the mandala, she thought. She smiled at Olliver, and she felt very pleased that she had kept the boy out of the manfae’s way.
Fox listened to the white silence of the mountain during that brief moment, just after the dogs had made it clear, despite all the promises of food, that they would not help the two-leggeds with their plan.
Fox sighed. For an instant, all felt still and quiet, all was perfectly where it ought to be.
The instant was brief, quickly interrupted by a first growl, joined by a second and a third, and soon the entire pack of mountain dogs walked, all teeth out, towards a surrounded Fox. He looked around. There was no escape route. He had no escape plan. His stomach reminded him that instant that he was still sick. He looked at the mad eyes of the dogs. They hadn’t even left the bones from the meat he gave them earlier. He gulped in an attempt to remove the lump of anguish stuck in his throat. There would be no trace of him left either. Just maybe some red on the snow.
He suddenly felt full of resolve and camped himself on his four legs; he would not go without a fight. His only regret was that he couldn’t help his friends go home.
We’ll meet in another life, he thought. Feeling wolfish he howled in defiance to the dogs.
They had stopped and were looking uncertain of what to do next. Fox couldn’t believe he had impressed them.
“Come,” said a voice behind him. Fox turned surprised. On the pile of his clothes stood Olliver.
“How did you,” he yelped before remembering the boy could not understand him.
“Hurry! I can teleport us back to the camp,” said the boy with his arms opened.
Without a second thought Fox jumped in Olliver’s arms and the next thing he knew was that they were back at the camp. But something was off. Fox could see Rukshan busy making his mandala and Olliver was helping him with the sand. Then he could see Lhamom cooking with the help of another Olliver.
Fox thought it might be some case of post teleportation confusion. He looked at the Olliver who helped him escape an imminent death, the fox head slightly tilted on the side, the question obvious in its eyes.
“Please don’t tell them,” said Olliver, his eyes pleading. “It just happened. I felt a little forgotten and wanted so much to be useful.”
Fox turned back into a human, too surprised to feel the bite of the cold air.
“Oh! Your clothes,” said Olliver before he disappeared. Fox didn’t have time to clear his mind before the boy was back with the clothes.
The trial run was not a complete success, and so it was back to the cooking pot and the agonizingly slow wait.
The spell and the magic concoction had rendered the three women partially invisible: it seemed that anything with the colour yellow in it (including of course green and orange and so on) remained plainly visible. Pathways of bile had been illuminated like never before: it was not a pleasant sight.
“I always have trouble with the damn yellows,” remarked Eleri with a despondent sigh, as her hand absentmindedly rubbed her solar plexus. “Hey!” she elbowed Glynis in the ribs, “I just had a thought! Maybe you need to put something purple in the pot.”
“I don’t know but you know how they always tell you to twirl your yellows with purple.” Eleri’s face fell and her shoulders sagged. “I don’t know, Glynis, it’s all so discouraging. I miss the others, it’s too damn quiet around here these days. You’d think we’d be able to amuse ourselves, and that makes it even more depressing, doesn’t it? How on earth are we going to snap out of it?”
“Speak for yourself you miserable tart, I’m busy trying to make this potion so we can get out of here. Just try to buck up, will you! If I had time I’d make you a Buck the Fuck Up potion, but can’t you see I’m busy!” Glynis slammed the wooden spoon down on the counter and burst into tears.
Eleri raised an eyebrow and said sagely, “Who’s calling who a miserable tart now then, eh!” and then ducked as the wooden spoon came hurtling towards her.
“Now now,” said Margoritt, “We’re all a bit stressed, no need to take it out on each other. Group hug!”
“You can’t stay here forever,” said Margoritt. The words came out of the blue and it took a few moments for Glynnis to make sense of them. The two women had been working together in silence as they collected the plentiful purple fruit of the Droog tree in preparation for bottling.
“Oh, well, no of course not,” said Glynnis without conviction.
“You are attractive enough now we can see you without those scales,” continued Margoritt sternly. “There is no need to hide away here in the forest. You need to think about what you want to do next.”
Margoritt’s words stung and Glynnis lifted her hand reflexively to her head. Two small bumps were all that remained of the Sorcerer’s curse. Eleri had cut a fringe for her and the bumps were barely visible. In a funny sort of way, she liked the reminder of the bumps. When she touched them she felt strong.
“There has been no word from the others for several moons now and I think we all need to face facts,” Margoritt said quietly. She put down her basket and leaned against a tree trunk for support. “We’ve tried but we don’t have the resources to fight Leroway any longer and truth is this body is old and tired. I have a sister in the North who I can stay with for a while. Just while I gather my strength.”
Glynnis was silent. She wished she could find words to reassure Margoritt but knew anything she said would sound trite. They were both aware of the dangers which faced the travellers. And though she had tried, she had not found a spell to contact them.
“The mountain will not give up its treasure easily but I know they would hasten to return if they were able. And they have much strength between them. We must not give up hope,” she said softly at last and Margoritt nodded.
Glynis shivered. The Droog trees were casting long shadows over the garden like twisted old men. “It’s getting cold … maybe we should go in. Tomorrow is soon enough to make plans.”
Lucinda could hear the neighbours dog whining through the thin walls between the apartments, but she liked the dog, and she liked her neighbour Maeve, so the noise was a comfort rather than a bother. Moments earlier a movement from the window had caught her eye: fleetingly it looked like some sort of dust devil or whirlwind of dry leaves. Perhaps that was what had upset Caspar.
She went out onto the kitchen balcony and looked across at Maeve’s identical balcony and called softly to the dog. He came sidling out looking guilty, with a lowered head and nervous tail wag. Lucinda noticed that her neighbours tomato plants were ripening nicely, while her own were still hard shiny green, thanks to the shade of the big oak tree. A blessing in some ways, keeping the hot afternoon sun off the kitchen, but not so good for the tomatoes. Not that it was particularly hot so far this summer: glancing down she noticed the guy from the apartment on the other side of Maeve was wearing a scarf as he sauntered out onto the sidewalk. Surely it’s not cold enough for a scarf, though, thought Lucinda. Still, perhaps he’s just wearing it because it matches his socks. A trifle vain, that one, but a nice enough fellow. Always a ready friendly smile, and Maeve said he was quiet enough, and never complained about her dog.
Lucinda had been passing by one day as Shawn-Paul had opened his door, and she couldn’t help but notice all his bookcases. He’d noticed her looking ~ she hadn’t been subtle about her interest and was trying to peer round him for a better look inside ~ and he’d invited her to come round any time to borrow a book, but that he was late for an appointment, and didn’t have time to invite her inside that day. Lucinda wondered why she’d never gone back, and thought perhaps she would. One day. One of those things that for some reason gets put off and delayed.
There was nothing Lucinda liked more than to find a new ~ or a newly found old ~ book, and to randomly open it. The synchronicities invariably delighted her, so she did know a thing or two about the benefits of timing ~ otherwise often known as procrastination. When she did decide to visit Shawn-Paul and look at his books, she knew the timing would be right.
“Don’t lean on me man, la la la la, synchronicity city…” she started singing an old Bowie song that popped into her head from nowhere, barely aware that she was changing the words from suffragette to synchronicity.
Meanwhile unbeknown to Lucinda, Shawn-Paul had just rounded the corner and bumped into the gardener, Stan, who was on his way to the apartments to mow the lawns. They exchanged pleasantries, and patted each others shoulders in the usual familiar friendly way as they parted. The two guys were not friends per se, they never socialized together, but always enjoyed a brief encounter outside with an easy pleasant greeting and a few words. Shawn-Paul always inquired about Stan’s family and so on, and Stan often complemented Shawn-Paul’s scarves.
Granola, temporarily rustling around in the big oak tree, noticed all of this and immediately recognized the connecting links, and peered eagerly at the three people in turn to see if they had noticed. They hadn’t. Not one of them recalled the time when they were all three suffragettes chained to the railings near an old oak tree.
The biggest shock of all was finding the unposted draft comment under the random rewreights story, but what on earth was it all about?
“Interestingly such bodies alone while the heads cling to — when they felt the desire for movement, that is.
At least, that’s what the Forehead was thinking while shaving — as it did not have enough appendages to be able to meditate while defecating, which was by far, it was told, the best method of enlightenment known to Peasmen and other sensible beings.
Anyway, how odder can it be, it thought again. It may well be time to shift all of this a bit — why would each head need such a renewal of bodies and thus incarnations (or more properly, “embodiments”) without itself changing. Funnily enough, the alien bodies had in fact no need for heads. They actually had more than one: one for each of the sensory tendrils coming out of their shoulders. And according to them, Peasland bodies could very well start their ®evolution just now.
alone were reproducing while the heads had to constantly find out new bodies to cling to — when they felt the desire for movement, that is.
At least, that’s what the Forehead was thinking while shaving — as it did not have enough appendages to be able to meditate while defecating, which was by far, it was told, the best method of enlightenment known to Peasmen and other sensible beings.
Anyway, how odder can it be, it thought again. It may well be time to shift all of this a bit — why would each head need such a renewal of bodies and thus incarnations (or more properly, “embodiments”) without itself changing. Funnily enough, the alien bodies had in fact no need for heads. They actually had more than one: one for each of the sensory tendrils coming out of their shoulders. And according to them, Peasland bodies could very well start their ®evolution just now.”
Liz was baffled, and decided to go and sit in the sun and think about it and see if any of this had helped, before continuing.
He took the road again not much later after a light breakfast.
The potion hadn’t seemed to bring about immediate noticeable changes. It told Rukshan something about its maker, who was versed enough in potions to create gradual (and likely durable) effects. Every experienced potion maker knew that the most potent potions were the ones that took time, and worked with the drinker’s inner magic instead of against its own nature. The flashy potions that made drastic changes in nature were either destructive, or fleeting as a bograt’s fart in the spring breeze.
If anything, it did give him a welcome warmth in the chest, and a lightness on his back and shoulders.
The Faes had been generous with him, and he had food enough for a few days. Generous may not have been the right word… eager to see him scamper away was more likely.
Enhanced by the potion’s warmth, the Queen’s words were starting to shake some remembrance back to him, melting away a deep crust of memories he had forgotten somehow, pushing against the snow like promises of crocuses in spring. The core of the Dragon Heartswood was very close now, a most sacrosanct place.
Faes were only living at the fringe, where life and magic flew, running like the sap of an old tree, close to the bark.
Inside was darker, harder to get to. Some said it was where life and death met, the birthplace of the Old Gods and of their Dragons guardians before the Sundering.
His initial plan was to go around it, safe in Fae territory, but after the past days, and the relentless menace of the hungry ghosts on his trail, he had to take risks, and draw them away from his kin.
The warmth in his heart was getting warmer, and he felt encouraged to move forth in his plan. He gave a last look at the mountain range in the distance before stepping into the black and white thickets of austere trees.
Eleri shivered. The cold had descended quickly once the rain had stopped. If only the rain had stopped a little sooner, she could have made her way back home, but as it was, Eleri had allowed Jolly to persuade her to spend the night in Trustinghampton.
Pulling the goat wool blankets closer, Eleri gazed at the nearly full moon framed in the attic window, the crumbling castle ramparts faintly visible in the silver light. The scene reminded her of another moonlit night many years ago, not long after she had first arrived here with Alexandria and Lobbocks.
It had been a summer night, and long before Leroway had improvised a cooling system with ventilation shafts constructed with old drainage pipes, a particularly molten sweltering night, and Eleri had risen from her crumpled sweaty bed to find a breath of cooler air. Quietly she slipped through the door willing it not to creak too much and awaken anyone. The cobblestones felt deliciously cool on her bare feet and she climbed the winding street towards the castle, her senses swathed in the scents of night flowering dama de noche. Lady of the Night, she whispered. Perhaps there would be a breeze up there.
She paused at the castle gate archway and turned to view the sleeping village below. A light glimmered from the window of Leroway’s workshop, but otherwise the village houses were the still dark quiet of the dreaming night.
Eleri wandered through the castle grounds, alternately focused on watching her step, and pausing for a few moments, lost in thoughts. It was good, this community, there was a promising feeling about it. It wasn’t always easy, but the hardships seemed lighter with the spirit of adventure and enthusiasm. And it was much better up here than it had been in the Lowlands, there was no doubt about that.
Her brow furrowed when she recalled her last days down there, when leaving had become the only possible course of action. Don’t dwell on that, she admonished herself silently. She resumed her aimless strolling.
Behind the castle, on the opposite side to the village, the ground fell away in series of small plateaus. At certain times of the years when the rains came, these plateaus were green meadows sprinkled with daisies and grazing goats, but now they were crisply browned and dry underfoot. Striking rock formations loomed in the darkness, looking like gun metal where the moonlight shone on them. One of them was shaped like a chair, a flat stone seat with an upright stone wedged behind it. Eleri sat, appreciating the feel of the cool rock through her thin dress and on her bare legs.
It feels like a throne, she thought, just before slipping into a half sleep. The dreams came immediately, as if they had already started and she only needed to shift her attention away from the hot night in the castle to another world. Her cotton shift became a long heavy coarsely woven gown, and her head was weighed down somehow. She had to move her head very slowly and only from side to side. She knew not to look down because of the weight of the thing on her head.
Looking to her right, she saw him. “Micawber Minn, at your service,” he said with a cheeky grin. “At last, you have returned.”
Eleri awoke with a start. Touching her head, she realized the weighty head dress was gone, although there was a ring of indentation in her hair. Her heavy gown was gone too, although she could still feel the places where the prickly cloth had scratched her.
Suddenly aware of the thin material of her dress, she glanced to her right. He was still there!
Spellbound, Eleri gazed at the magnificent man beside her. Surely she was still dreaming! Such an arresting face, finely chiseled features and penetrating but amused eyes. Broad shoulders, flowing platinum locks, really there was not much to fault. What a stroke of luck to find such a man, and on such a romantic night. And what a perfect setting!
And yet, although she knew she had never met him before, he seemed familiar. Eleri shifted her position on the stone throne and inched closer to him. He leaned towards her, opening his arms. And she fell into the rapture.
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