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      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.


        The door to the living room burst open startling Sue whose teacup rattled against the saucer. John merely glanced up with a frown, and pointedly stared at the tv screen.

        “Anyone want to join me for a walk?” Clove asked brightly, perhaps even a little feverishly.

        “When, dear?” asked Sue. “I’m washing the curtains tomorrow.”

        “Now!” Clove replied. “A nice moonlit walk to the park! It’s a lovely evening,” she added hopefully.

        “Steady on, old girl,” said John. “We’re watching the telly.”

        “Things like that need to be planned, Clove,” Sue said. “And besides, we’re watching tv now.”

        “You can’t just go out walking in the dark, haven’t you read the papers? Streets are full of yobs after dark, it’s not safe.” John shook his head and tutted. “Things aren’t like they used to be.”

        Sue agreed. “No, times have changed. You don’t want to be out after dark, not nowadays”

        “But if we all go together it might be fun!” Clove was feeling desperate. “It’s fun doing something spontaneous, just getting up and doing it!”

        John appeared to give this some consideration.

        “No, I don’t think so,” he said, shaking his head again. “No, that would never do.”

        “Things have to be planned,” Sue agreed, “And besides, we’re watching the telly now. I know, how about a nice cup of tea? I’ll go and put the kettle on.”


          “I think you’re ready now” the techromancer said to an incredulous Bea.

          “Really?” Bea looked suspicious.

          “Yeah, well…” the techromancer looked embarrassed “Not really. You’re not so easy to teach, and I’m not a great teacher either, but with what you learnt, you should be fine. Besides, you need to go now. They are coming for you.”

          The techromancer pointed to one of the directions in his hut, one of the many paths or tunnels that would lead her to a safe escape. For now.

          “So this is goodbye.” Bea said, a tad annoyed by the unceremoniousness of it all. “What next now?”

          “Remember what I told you,” the techromancer said enigmatically “about the custard.”

          “Oh well, that makes it so much clearer now.” Bea sighed as she popped out of the hut towards her new destination.


            “Look,” Ricardo pointed out to Bossy, “Seems you’re worrying too much, I just got a SMS from Connie, they’re all fine.”

            “Glad they’re putting the newspaper subsides to good use…” snickered Bossy, thinking about the rather large phone bills Hilda used to put on her expenses. She could only wish that Connie would be more reasonable with overseas phone calls. “Anyway,” Bossy sighed “what is it exactly that she managed to say in less than 160 characters?”

            Ricardo fumbled over his phone’s message history “She, she just replied… hang on, here:”

            We're fine. Sophie is her usual weird, and we are following a lead to a nearby clinic.
            PS: Food's horrid, and the latest fashion is from the 60s.

            “You stupid boy!” Bossy jumped out of her chair. “Don’t you see she’s sending you a clue. Not is all fine. There’s only one explanation for that 60s fashion resurgence, and you better hope it doesn’t smell like coconut!”


            In reply to: Coma Cameleon


              “Aaron, it’s time.”

              A female voice. But low for woman, and harsh. Not gentle like his mother’s voice. The voice on the other side of the wooden door was familiar although at that moment Aaron could not have attached a name or a face to the voice.

              A knock.

              “Aaron, are you there? It’s time. We can’t be late.”

              Aaron’s insides contracted. Reflexively he closed his eyes. At the same time his right hand moved to cover the watch on his left wrist—a gift from his father when he turned 10 years old. He did these things without thinking.

              If he had thought, if he had had the luxury of time to analyse these small movements—and it was clear from the voice that he did not—he would have come to the conclusion that he hoped to block out the truth of what the voice was saying.

              “Aaron!” The tone had changed. Now, the voice implied a threat.

              Still without thought, Aaron picked up his jacket and a small brown suitcase and moved slowly towards the voice.


              In reply to: The Hosts of Mars


                For all her wired cleverness, there was something that the central intelligence had seemingly forgotten to take into account in her parameters.

                Eb woke up in a sweat, barely remembering bits of a horrible dream of being chased and banging on a closed door for escape from a herd of phombies (those guys who had their phones implanted under their skins and would often have a creepy vacant look while in communication).

                The banging on the door. According to his mother, if there was something that her nurse Fancy Woo was better at than cooking rice, it was at interpreting dreams. But he didn’t need her expert advice on this one.

                His mind was aching from the lack of alcohol, but at least he could think quite clearly.
                There weren’t many accesses to enter the simulation, for obvious reasons. Continuity had to be maintained at all costs, to preserve the sanctity of the experiment. That motto had survived the multiple iterations of the simulation since its inception.

                Eb knew of most of them, even if he’d wondered about the presence of backdoors. He had not been able to find any since his many years of service. So for all he knew, there were only two ways to get in and out: up and down. “Up” through the fake ships, with the whole stasis protocol, and “down”, through the mines were they would usually send agents from time to time, mostly for reconnaissance purposes.

                He looked at the screen, and as he had feared, the explosion triggered in the tunnels by Finnley had sealed their main exit point.

                “You underestimate me, my dear Eb” the voice of Finnley merrily bounced on the insulated walls.

                Eb was startled. Hadn’t he known that Finnley was just a program, he could have sworn her synthetic voice had a trace of menace in it.

                Finnley” he regained his composure as much as he could “Haven’t the thought occurred to you that the tunnels are now sealed? We cannot let your blue aliens go in and out as easily now!”
                “Eb, you do know I do not think.” Her voice was still slightly ominous. “But I ran multiple simulation, and this one still yields the best possible outcome.” she continued more cheerily.
                “How so?”
                “It is evident. Many of the earlier settlers, still know about the simulation, even if they self-programmed themselves to accept the illusion as better than outside reality. They can become a problem for the evacuation protocol. With the tunnels’ exit collapsed, they have no other way than to comply. Besides, what good plausible aliens come out from the ground, really. We don’t want to miss their grand entrance.
                And don’t be such a worrywort about budget, Eb.”


                In reply to: Mandala of Ascensions


                  On earth, during the time of Atlantis, Floverley served as a priestess in the Temple of Light. In many other incarnations she was a healer, sometimes to the wealthy and sometimes to the poor and illiterate. In her final incarnation, 300 years ago as measured on earth, she was crippled with leprosy. She learned much through that life. Master Meldik appeared to her —although she did not know him by that name then, only as a beautiful being of light—and taught her how to draw the light in to her heart so that she did not become bitter, her insides as twisted and deformed as her poor body. Instead those who came across her wondered at the love that radiated from her.

                  But was she ready for Asended Lady Master status?

                  “Buggered if I know,” she muttered to herself.


                    Christmas has always been a strange tradition in our family.
                    Maybe because first and foremost, Christmas is all about family. Besides the twins and their bond, sometimes I wonder what makes us a family at all.
                    It doesn’t help that we can never get snow around this place, and dressing in red and white fluff is not going to make things suddenly magical.

                    It was comical to see the exterminator come with a red bonnet, panting and all red himself, as if he were some genial Santa bringing gifts of death to our yonder’s rodents residents.
                    He didn’t catch a rat, but got himself a fright. Thanks to Mater, when she erupted in the attic in her white hanuka honey cream face-lifter mask. I think that sneaky Finly got to her in the end.
                    The mystery of the strange noises in the inn is not going soon, apparently.

                    Bert and Aunt Idle got back from their trip in the evening. Apparently Bert had insisted to bring some sort of shrub to make a Christmas tree in the great hall (it’s not so great, but we call it that). Finly didn’t seem pleased too much with it. Raking leaves in summer, bringing pests inside… she didn’t have many kind things to say about it. So Mater sends her to cook a “festive dinner”, that’s what she said. I heard Finly mutter in her breath something about kiwi specials. I like kiwis. Hope she’ll make a pavlova… just, not with Mater’s face cream!

                    It seems that giving small gestures of appreciation got the mood going. Aunt Idle is always very good at decorating with the oddest or simplest of things, like rolls of TP. Sometimes she would draw nice hieroglyphs in the layer of dust on the cabinets, it gives the furniture a special look. Mater always says it’s because she’s too lazy to do some cleaning consistently, but I think it’s because cleaning is not creative enough for her. Can’t believe I just said nice things about Aunt Idle. Christmas spirit must be contagious.

                    Then, Devan came home with some pastries. It’s not often I see Devan these days, and usually he’s always brooding. I would too, if I had to come back home when I could just start my life away from there. Finly was all eyes on him all of a sudden. Seems nobody noticed, not even the twins, too busy being snarky while playing on their phones,… it looks like there is some strange game between these two, my brother and our Finly. I think Finly makes a lot of efforts to look younger with him, I can see when she fiddles with her hair. They would make good friends, and I’m sure Devan doesn’t mind the accent.

                    As always, it’s not about how pretty the tree is, or how good the food is, or how big the gifts are… It’s more about being together, for better or for worse. And Dad, and Mum are always out of this almost nice picture, but somehow, it matters less today.

                    There’s a good thing about that Christmas spirit. It gives you the weirdest ideas. To be nice, I asked Mater if we should invite the guests to our festive dinner, and probably lifted by the mood, she said yes, of course. When I went to the closed door to invite the guy, I thought a random act of kindnes is a perfect occasion to learn more about our mysterious resident stranger… Maybe that’s what the adults mean in church when they say you should always be kind to each other.



                      I am picking some grass for the guinea pigs. Delicate wee things; they don’t handle the heat well and I have moved them to the shelter of the shed. The wind has come up strong and I am enjoying the cooling it brings with it. The long grass bends away from me as though seeking safety from the scissors I hold in my hand. For a moment the wind subsides and I can feel how the sun is burning my neck so I take refuge in the shade of a tree.

                      Thinking time.

                      I heard Prune crying out last night in her sleep. She had already fallen back asleep when I went to check on her. It crossed my mind when she cried out that she may have seen the ghost too. I asked her about it in the morning but she did not seem to recall her nightmare.

                      “I slept liketh a log but I thanketh thou for thy kindness in asking dearest Mater,” she said to me.

                      ”Enough of that cheek!” I told her, but was privately relieved she was okay.

                      Anyway, It has been twice now. I wake and there he is, over by the antique oak chest in the corner of my room. At first I can’t move or call out. And by the time I can he has gone. When I say “gone”, I don’t mean he walks out the door. He just sort of fades away. He has his back to me so I can’t tell you what his face is like. All I can tell you is that he is tall and he has on a blue robe, in a silky fabric, almost like a dressing gown with a tie in the middle.

                      There, I have told you now. You may be thinking it is just a silly old woman’s dream. But you don’t get to my age without having plenty of dreams, and this was nothing like any dream I have ever had.


                      In reply to: The Hosts of Mars


                        John was about to leave the pod for the airlock when a sharp voice startled him.

                        “Where are you going on your own Johnny? You know the rules!”

                        He could tell she was only pretending indignation. She had this fun smirk at her pursed lips that he knew by heart. She was most likely vexed at not being asked to come along for the venture past curfew.

                        At 15, Yz was 5 years younger than him (in Earth years), and only half his height, but her brains were razor sharp, as well as her tongue. She was also a gifted mechanic, and a fearless young girl.

                        They exchanged a conniving smile. No more than three minutes after, she was back, silent as a cat, and suited up for the harsh environment of Mars.
                        Over the years, small adjustments had been made to the suits, some purely out of fashion, but the main elements remained the same, which little change from one Earth cargo to the next. Ensuring their survival at minimal cost to their movements and senses.
                        Survival outposts were also planted all across the area, so as long as they stayed at safe distance to their pod, they were in no real danger.

                        The sand scooters were always free to take for a ride. A matter of life and death, it would be a crime to put locks on them. At any moment, anybody could be in dire need for a ride. And besides, in all that expanse of land, where to run to?


                          I noticed when Mater left the house early and discreetly. I know all the sounds of the house, and even the light footsteps of my grandmother couldn’t avoid making the floor creak.

                          I’m mildly curious, as it isn’t every day Mater leaves the house, besides for the Sundays’ mass. She always complained about her cracking joints, and plenty other pains. Must be why she liked to threaten everyone with inflicting some.

                          She had looked genuinely sad when the furball had died, though. I was too, but my eyes are set on one of the new spaniel pups from a litter that Battista and Gerardo, the funny Italian couple with the pizzeria next door just had.

                          Battista promised to keep one for me. I lied of course, told her that my aunt had agreed to it. By any rate, Aunt Idle wouldn’t remember giving her approval or disapproval, and would most probably fall gaga for the little puppy. So it would just be a little white lie.

                          I was about to fall back asleep when I hear the door creak open. My first thought was that it was Mater who’d forgotten her keys, but the loud footsteps weren’t hers.

                          My heartbeat raised a little while I jump out of bed full of hope.

                          “Papa Fred!” I almost cried out while flying down the stairs, but then I stopped in mid sentence.
                          The man in the entrance isn’t father.

                          I would have cried for help, but Aunt Idle and my sisters have a very loud sleep, and I don’t want to look afraid. Father had taught me to stand my ground with wild animals.

                          “Who are you?” I ask the dust covered man. He had a broad hat, and a thick bushy beard. His coat was covered with cracked mud and dust from the road.

                          “Apologies for my intrusion young lady. Is that the Flying Fish Inn? Someone told me I could stay there for a while.”



                            I feel myself moving slowly today. The thought of death and my poor little guinea pig is still nagging. It occurs to me that perhaps I am walking slowly because I don’t want to move too fast into the inevitable.

                            Or perhaps it is just that I did not sleep so well last night. It is so damned hot and night time offers little respite from the heat.

                            At least the kids have stopped fighting. I worry about them. Always shut away in their rooms on that internet thing.

                            I am so tired. More tired than I should be. It is not the usual aches and pains. Something feels wrong. I have made up my mind to go and visit Jiemba, the local aboriginal healer. It is a wee bit of a walk, so I will need to start early, before the heat gets up. I don’t want to ask Dido to take me. “Just go and see the doctor in town!” she will say to me. For all her alternative ways, Dido can still be pretty closed minded about some things—and she thinks I am a crazy old fool anyway.

                            But I think Jiemba has the gift—special healing powers—and he comes from a family of aboriginal healers. His father was a healer and his grandfather too. I went to see him once, his father, years ago. My back was bad and the doctor in town said I would need an operation. He did some chanting, calling up spirits I think, put his hand on my back and pulled out a stone. He said the stone was the sickness causing my back pain, or some such thing. I was sceptical at the time, but my back never did give me any more bother. I’ve read up on it since then and I think there is something in it all. The older I get the more I realise I don’t know it all.

                            Besides, there is something else I want to ask him about and I don’t know who else I can talk to. That’s the problem with getting old—one of the problems anyway—people tend to assume you are losing your marbles if you say anything out of the ordinary.

                            But I think the Inn is haunted.


                              Lisa felt constipated and feverish. It was the first signs of nicotine withdrawal. She shouldn’t have used so many patches before they left for the Island. And she hadn’t thought of bringing some for this journey. With the monotony of the landscape, her attention kept drifting away from their goals. She was thinking of Jack again. Was he able to manage all the dogs ? Had he neutered all the cats ? She had dreamt that he was bitten by Flint.

                              When they arrived near the coast, she felt disappointed. It was kind of greyish. And the drizzle, which started falling shortly after they left Gazalbion, felt cold on her cheeks. This wasn’t helping cheer up her mood. Besides, despite all the fun of ass traveling, after some time, your own eventually hurt.

                              “Where are the bamboos?” asked Fanella.
                              Lisa was shivering, the wind had become stronger, which oddly reinforced her feeling of isolation, and the sea looked agitated.
                              “Yeah! where are the bamboos?” she said, allowing her irritation to blurt out in her tone. Although, in a way she was relieved that they wouldn’t have to build their own raft. Maybe they could even rest a little. She looked at the greenish sand. Maybe not.
                              Her ass brayed something unintelligible, emitted a small surprised bark, then cleared his throat.
                              “Sorry for that, after a while, what you shapeshift into begins to run into you”, said Lazuli Galore.
                              “You must be shapeshifting quite often”, added Sanso pensively.
                              Lazuli didn’t know how to take that and decided to snort.
                              “I must have lost track”, he continued, “or the island have changed since the last time I went there, which was when I arrived on the island, and… that’s funny I don’t remember when. Anyway, I can still shapeshift into something else and carry you on the other size.”
                              “A whale!” said Fanella, excited at the idea.
                              “Not a whale!” countered Lisa, horrified. “He might think he’s one and make us sink with him.” Her teeth were chattering, she didn’t know if it was because of the cold or because of her withdrawal.
                              “A duck would be perfect”, she said with a resolute tone. “Ducks float quite well and we could get some warmth under the feathers. We should have taken blankets when we left.”
                              The ass looked at her, a bit puzzled. “Have you ever seen a duck ?” he asked, “they are quite small.”
                              Lisa was going to retort something she could have regretted, but Sanso spoke before she could.
                              “According to my experience, size is not an issue for you, Lazuli”, he said.
                              Fanella frowned, then put her hand to her mouth and tittered.

                              Before she could say Jackass, Lisa felt the ass grow between her legs. Soon enough, they were all comfortably settled on the back of a giant mandarin duck, floating away from the grey shore into the unknown.


                                The Zebra
                                “Zebra energy will help you to take the apparently conflicting parts of your personality and weave them into a pattern which is unique, distinctive and beautiful. As a zebra, the artist within you can live in harmony with the businessperson, the spiritual explorer with the secular decision-maker, the dreamer with the practical goal-setter, neither overpowering the other, each retaining its place of importance and full expression. The zebra will teach you to honor the black and white sides of yourself without compromising yourself into a dull gray.
                                The zebra will also teach you how to seek out others who are like you, finding comfort and company in groups, while maintaining your own unique identity, your pattern of stripes like a fingerprint, unlike any other. This combination of individuality within community will be a very powerful force in your life.

                                The zebra energy is also the energy of physical health, long life and great stamina. Breathe in this vital source of very real physical power. Feel how you are capable of running across the plains for hour after hour, each step filling you with vibrant earth energy, so that the more you exercise, the more energized you become. Then just kick up your heals with joy, for you are the zebra, vital and alive. How fortunate you are!”


                                  Accounts of the Journey to the Lower Realm

                                  I was at a steppe first, like I was meditating in the desert, then went through a forest entrance, and stayed under a tree. There were lots of sounds and animals life, flapping wings sounds, deers, ants, but the most vivid presence was that of snake, and I was a bit suspicious, but it came back very gently, inviting, and after I recognized it, it made me journey, travelling like a dragon or feathered multicolored snake to an ancient place.
                                  The snake analogy with shedding old skin comes to mind, after accepting it, it makes a lot of sense.
                                  I saw green and purple at times.
                                  I felt a horse too but it was just a hooves’ sound.

                                  I went through the entrance to a cave. I asked my power animal to come. An ancient tortoise came up to me. I asked if this was my power animal but i felt such love for the tortoise that i felt that was my answer. We explored energetically what the tortoise wisdom i need is. I put my hand around the tortoise neck and we swam in the water.
                                  I wanted to cry, I loved the tortoise energy so much. And the protection of the tortoise shell.
                                  I saw a snake.
                                  The horse was the first animal I felt, right as I went in the entrance. I stroked the horse as i went by.
                                  I saw a unicorn too, [and ]was surprised by the unicorn.
                                  I didn’t sense many creatures. just the horse, the snake and the unicorn.

                                  First I saw little white skulls, whistling like the shells of the guy in the video.
                                  Then I become my shaman self and I have my magic cape. I find the entrance [to the lower realm,] which was kind of difficult at first as if there was some distracting energy.
                                  I finally enter the lower realm and find my horse right away, he’s very excited and I ride with him for some time, just for the pleasure of being with an old friend.
                                  Then I ask him to lead me to Abalone and show me whatever is interesting.
                                  He leads me to see an old shaman, man or woman I don’t know.
                                  The shaman makes me sit in his room and offers me tea, then tells me to relax and wait.
                                  So I relax and I begin to project to Abalone as the Giant beanstalk, I begin to grow and grow and grow and have the city built on top of me. I am the whole island.
                                  I have the impression that the beanstalk is in the center of Gazalbion or very close to it
                                  Then I come back to the place and have the impression the Shaman wants to delay me, so I say thanks and ask my horse to show me the rest.
                                  We go the the old Temple and I feel that there is something special there, once again he tells me to relax and just allow not look for things.
                                  So I wait and feel that the time and space is weird that it flows around the stones in a particular way, like when you follow a certain path or corridor, you may go forward in time and another way lead you back in time. If you take a wrong turn you can end up in a loop.
                                  Then the signal for the return begins, so I go back from where I come from and thank my horse.
                                  It was cool and fun to be there again.
                                  I projected at some point to check if everyone was ok, and felt like it was fine.
                                  I saw a unicorn too.

                                  That was interesting, about half way through a zebra started follwing me, well on my right. I saw all kinds of animals, but they were all doing their own thing or turned away, except for the zebra, until the change of tempo and then I was swept up in a flock of cranes I think (or herons or storks but I think cranes), but then the zebra was waiting at the top. I could feel his warm muzzle sort of on my right shoulder.
                                  First was a field full of unicorns on the left but they were just grazing, then a bison head who turned away, then the group of deer I thought, but the zebra walked over to me grazing. Me and the zebra waited for goats to cross our path.
                                  The feeling of being in amongst the cranes was amazing and the zebra fell back while that was happening, but then at the end he was waiting.
                                  I was surprised by the unicorns cos I don’t even think about them usually.
                                  There were lizards sucttlign around under the cranes.
                                  A couple of times I strongly saw purple and green, and thought of Jib.<i> not really ask [the zebra if he was the power animal] in words, but his presence calmly walking beside me with the feeling of his muzzle on my shoulder was comforting.
                                  When the cranes distracted me from him he fell back, but he was waiting at the top.
                                  The cranes feeling was marvelous, really, they were all flapping gracefully all around me on the ascent. So cranes and zebra stand out the most.
                                  [At some point] I started going down old stone steps, at first me and FP were kids holding hands, with jib and eric behind us, then I thought, wait, I’m supposed to be doing this alone.
                                  The unicorns in the very beginning were in a castle courtyard type place but they ignored me.
                                  Then a bison head who turned away these were in niches in the stone walls
                                  I ended up in a stalactites type cave, but there were mostly old old stone steps with stone walls along the sides.
                                  There was a crowd of people, well a small gathering, towards the bottom, but they were, er, faceless. Innocuous.
                                  I am quite amazed at how great that was! and how many creatures actually popped up
                                  and how the feeling was of the zebra and the cranes.
                                  The zebra was stoic and steadfast and comforting, the cranes were exhilarating and uplifting.</i>


                                    The room numbers were framed in a golden disc carved with what looked like zodiac animals and a circle of eights.

                                    Linda observed the man walking in front of her. As soon as the effects of the lust gas had dissipated, she had been able to focus on something else than his butt. He’d been watching over his shoulder, and it was not to see if she was keeping with his pace. He had been frowning ever since she’d met him, and you could say his whole attitude exuded wariness. Despite her Happiness Training and the meditation practice at night with Sadie, she was beginning to feel some bowel tension. Not good for her digestion.

                                    He stopped in front of room 57. He knocked, didn’t wait for an answer, instead used his magnetic key to open it, and entered. She followed. He looked one last time on both sides of the corridor, then locked the door.

                                    They were in a big yellow lounge. Linda addressed a silent prayer to the Good Taste Goddess, sympathizing with the pain She must have endured each time an interior designer had expressed such lack of sobriety. It wasn’t just the color. The furniture seemed to come from Hart to Hart, except the sofa was in a dark yellow leather, and the cushions in a bright magenta.

                                    “Wait here ‘till I call you”, he said. He left through a door on the right, taking his frown with him.
                                    Linda heard him talk to someone in the other room, certainly a bedroom. A feminine voice answered him. They argued for some time. The woman was the last to speak. Then the silence.

                                    Linda hesitated to seat on a jumping armchair with yellow and brown stripes. It was as if every cell of her body, and even the molecules of her clothes were repelled by the choices of the interior designer. She would have sworn her platform shoes were trying to levitate from the carpet.

                                    The man’s head appeared at the door.
                                    “Come in, she’s ready to see you.”

                                    Linda could see emotions struggle on his face.

                                    “But I warn you”, he said, his fists clenched, “she’s been sick since we have arrived. If my wife is tired, I’ll ask you to leave.”

                                    “Oh!” Linda said.


                                      Irina gave an appreciative look at the holographic map that Mr R had made of the island.
                                      By a simple triangulation technique combined with sophisticated echolocation, the robot had managed to come up with a rough estimation of it, even though scattered patches were black, representing the blind spots, apparently due to the abundance of water bodies on the island that created interferences.

                                      “Well, it actually looks better than I expected, the coast is a bit rocky, but probably more temperate and less humid than here. Some of those spots here seem to hint at habitations…”
                                      “Madam is absolutely right” Mr R opined with confidence, and a glimmer of pride in his forehead interface.

                                      “When the girl is well enough to travel, we’ll leave.”
                                      “She’s still a bit cold and delirious.” The robot assessed, “Her condition has improved steadily, if not quickly. There is a good chance the green won’t go, but she will live.”

                                      “Have you finished the sentinel?”
                                      “Yes, Madam. It is complete and will serve well in monitoring the gate. Besides water rats and wrecked boats, not much seems to have went through recently. Although…”
                                      “Yes Mr R?”
                                      “I’m not quite certain Madam, which is confusing for me, but there was a moment were my sensors noticed a presence of a young person, but it lasted only for a few nanoseconds in a row, then I could not perceive it… It probably was a malfunction of my sensors Madam, I apologize, but the humidity…”
                                      “I don’t believe your sensors malfunctioned Mr R. I do believe someone’s been trying to phase in, but didn’t succeed. Make sure your sentinel can detect such things…”
                                      She went on: “Another thing, before I go for my astral meditation. Did you manage to get me a date? I’m no rocket science expert, but it sounds easier to get than your quite astonishing map Mr R.”
                                      “Madam is too kind. And as as always, perfectly astute. This should be easy, but again this modest robot has run into a profoundly perplexing paradox.”
                                      “A paradox, how exciting. What is it?”
                                      “According to the shifting position of constellations during the nights and the sun’s elevation, the results differ from one day to another. We have to run a few more test to be conclusive…”
                                      “Is is a local occurrence?”
                                      “It seems to be true for the whole island, Madam. It is currently fluctuating between a series of years, some of which I mapped to the following years, in no particular order: 555, 777, 888, 1010, 1111, 1212, and so on until 2121, and as well, a series of related geographical points on the Earth.”
                                      “No wonder it seems to be the garbage collector of the entire universe”, she sighed.

                                      Then, something hit her.

                                      If myths of such places were to be trusted… Could it be… the mythical Avalon ?
                                      If that were the case… Who could well be the mysterious resuscitated bog mummy?
                                      One of the island’s Queens ?”

                                      She smiled to herself, brushing off the notion. Irina, you’re such a hopeless romantic…


                                        “Madam, I have found something…” Mr R was pointing at a large floating piece of moss in the middle of the bog where they had landed a few days ago.
                                        “At last,… some excitement, whoo…” said Irina with a deadpan expression that left no doubt as to her current level of excitement.

                                        There weren’t many clues as to where and when they’d arrived, but she already hated it.
                                        The bog for one, wasn’t her idea of a great retirement place. Of course, there were probably other places to explore on the island, it wasn’t as if she’d stay here permanently, but for now, if the bog was a nexus point of teleporting, she’d rather stay around, in case others would come from there. That was one of the first thing you learnt during the Training, to secure your entry points. You’d never know what to expect, teleporting whales were probably the least dangerous of the things that could get stranded here. And judging by the amount of strange objects littering the area, she and her robot weren’t the first thing to have been discarded here.

                                        She’d tasked Mr R, in his immense resourcefulness, to build her a proper watchtower, or just for now, a downsized version of what she’d felt would be a decent one.
                                        A proof of the robot’s talent was that with barely nothing, he’d managed in the past days to bulldoze a clearing in a less wet portion of the land. There, the light’s plays were purely gorgeous, creating the smallest ripples and endless reflections on the green tinges of the water —something Irina could observe with wonder for hours. Mr R had also managed to cook her a rather lovely braised water rat, with fresh peppermint and lotus roots caramelized in wild bees’ honey.
                                        He’d already built the foundations of a anthill-sized promontory, with a clean deck where she could rest on a surprinsingly comfortable deckchair made of driftwood and pieces of whatnots gathered around the place. That was were she was enjoying the last minutes of sun for the day, just about when he’d asked her to check on his discovery. It probably was important enough for the robot to disrupt her digestive meditation.

                                        “Well, well… What have we got here…”
                                        “It looks like a person, Madam… Female, around 28, judging by her bone structure. Her vitals are subtly low, but it seems she is alive…” the robot said after a careful scanning.
                                        “Alive? With that color ?” Irina was quite perplexed and slightly amused too.
                                        She wouldn’t mind some company and probably some intel on the island. Besides, there was a side of her that liked to nurse back to life those poor little wounded creatures. The girl would be her first greenish one…

                                        “Take her to our place, Mr R” she ordered the robot. “We will soon need double ration of your delicious water rat stew, Mr R”.


                                          “You look just like your father” was Lisa’s mother’s only remark when Lisa had thoughtfully sent her a couple of photos from Portugal. No compliment coming from her, thought Lisa, rolling her eyes. And it wasn’t even true ~ she looked nothing like her father, something else must have triggered her mothers comment, some other association.
                                          “Remember your new policy, dear, don’t take it personally” Mirabelle reminded her. “Just another cranky old crone stewing on an old trigger. Besides,” she added, “What about Frank and Molly? Can you get a more specific remote view? Stuck in a carob tree could be almost anywhere.”
                                          “You’re rather sweet for such a bossy tart” replied Lisa with a grateful smile. “Shush now then while I access their location.”
                                          Lisa closed her eyes and waited for the images to appear. There was an explosion of purple and a great deal of static before an image began to appear of carob pods on a car windscreen. As Lisa viewed the glass a strange thing began to happen and she started to focus on the reflections. There were dozens of people approaching, all wearing brilliant white robes trimmed with gold. The robes were short, and revealed a considerable amount of tanned muscled leg, and a murmur of appreciation escaped her lips. What handsome fellows, she thought, but there’s something odd about them. Either this is a fancy dress party on a dry dusty hill, or another time zone.


                                            By the time Lisa and Mirabelle arrived in Lisbon, it was too late. Frank and Molly were already heading south in a stolen car, the whale portal tile on the back seat, next to an assortment of other tiles of various colours and sizes. They were approaching a small town not far from the coast when Madam Li the navigation robot said turn left at your peril in Chinese. Frank hadn’t mastered the arts of intonation fully in his efforts to learn the language, and merely heard “turn left” and something else as incomprehensible to the ear as any other Portuguese town, and besides, the narrow goat track looked marvelously less traveled and enticing.

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