Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!
Seizing the moment, April tossed her pizza aside and sprang over to to the wardrobe door, slammed it shut and turned the key. Leaning her back on the locked door, she smiled triumphantly.
The office door opened slowly, due to the melted cheese stuck on the carpet that had slid down the door when the pizza hit it. Fortunately for April the door got stuck on an olive, providing a valuable few seconds in which to grab the broom and flee to the rest room before Star and Tara entered the room.
“Don’t let me out until April!” a muffled voice joined the banging sounds coming from the wardrobe.
“Finnley, stop pacing like that with that concerned look of yours, you make me dizzy. Is that too difficult a task to hire a secretary?”
“You mean the perfect one for me?”
“No I mean, she’s called Pearl. She’ll start tomorrow. What concerns me is something else entirely. Something strange, if you ask me. But you never ask, so I’m telling you.”
“Well, this whole conversation started because I asked you.”
“You asked me because you thought it was related to your previous request.”
“Then tell me and stop brooding. It’s killing the mood.”
Finnley snorted. “If you want to know, someone is throwing things on the balcony. Children things. The other day I found that cheap toy to make soap bubbles. And then it was a small blue children’s plastic sand shovel. And today they dropped a red bucket.”
“I’ve asked Godfrey and I’m positive it’s not him because it’s driving him nut too. We asked Roberto because he’s been attempting to teach tricks to the dogs. A waste of time if you ask me, letting the garden going to the dogs,” she smirked.
“Then, was it Roberto and the dogs?”
“Not at all! We kept an eye on him while he was training the dogs. Nothing. But the objects keep coming. I’m telling you either we have a ghost or a portal to another dimension in this mansion.”
“That sounds like a nice idea,” said Liz, pouting at the possibilities.
“You wouldn’t say that if another you came into this thread.”
“Oh Sha, can’t I sleep a little more? My head’s still dizzy after that cryo gin treatment. All those shots, I don’t remember what I did afterward.”
“You tried to seduce that young Canadian boy. I can tell, his lady wasn’t very pleased. If she could make voodoo dolls you’d be in big trouble.”
“Ah! Shouldn’t be so far from that acupuncture treatment in Bali when you didn’t want to pay the price. Remember your face afterwards? I bet that girl had used those needles on sick pangolins without cleaning’em.”
“It hurt. But never had my face skin so tight in my life!” Sha cackled.
“And lips so big you could replace Anjelyna Jawlee in Lara Crop.”
“She’s already up. Wanted to take a walk on the beach with the cows, she said. You better don’t invite us, I said.”
They put on their tight yogarments, a beach hat and left for the class.
“I don’t like walking in the sand like that,” said Glo. “With or without shoes, the sand come in between your toes. I could still have eaten something, my stomach sounds like a whale during mating season.”
“They sent a message this morning. It said: ‘Come, Fast’.”
When they arrived at the practice room, they wondered if they took a wrong turn. Maybe the cryoga class was in another bungalow.
“Why all those tables and milk bottles?” asked Glo.
They went to see the lady with the beehive hair that looked like a teacher.
“Sorry, young’un,” said Sha. “Wasn’t that supposed to be cryoga class?”
“Oh! no,” said the teacher. “It’s cryogurt class today. How to make your own yogurt ice cream and apply it on your body to flatten out tight those wrinkles.”
Everyday is now. I know, I’ve stopped the count.
This strange book I’ve found must be for something. Had the impulse to post a picture from it on a forum.
There were instructions coming with it, I have only started to decypher them, and my brain already feels like it will melt if I go too fast.
Apparently the Chinese philosopher who wrote it said he was swallowed whole, then spat out from the belly of a giant fish, a kūn 鯤, months later. I know, sounds crazy, and yet very familiar. Jonas of course, but also Sinbad, —Pinocchio even… The story’s not new to us.
When he came back, he said it was only to share knowledge. So came his book of encoded instructions.
First instruction he said. You are in a maze, you want to find the center of the maze, and never get lost again while you decide whether or not you still want to explore it.
It kind of struck a chord for some reason. I realized, with all the stories we tell ourselves, they abound, expand in our minds, take roots deeply.
The thought came this morning: if suddenly I’m struck dead, and find myself in my own stories, I would be in a tight spot to escape the whole craziness. I would need a backdoor, a way back, or out.
That’s why its first instruction resonated. It continued. Create your center of your maze. Now. Don’t delay, you may regret it. It must be pure with intent, and tell about who you are in the deepest sense. Engrave the following words around it to seal this pure memory. And put it outside in the world, so that someday when you come back to it, you’ll know.
You have found the Center of Your Maze.
Now, You Know It
And it can never be taken from you again.
I know of a memory of mine I could put in my center. It came very naturally. An illustrated book of stories, mythology to be exact. One of the first books I got, and I can still remember vividly the feeling of entering its world. My parents had given it to me as a gift at a time they had to leave me home alone for a few hours. When they came back, I was still on the same kitchen chair, deeply thrown into the book’s world, feeling like barely a minute had passed.
It was a moment out of time and space. I know it was what being at the center of my maze meant.
I’m grown now, but the feeling is still there. I’m going to put that out some place where I can find it in case I ever get lost again among the shadows of men.
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.
Mater has started a fitness regime to make sure she lives long enough to make the milestone. She said if it had all happened a couple of years ago she wouldn’t have minded whether she popped off or not, but now that she was this close, she wasn’t going to be robbed of her glory.
It was hard to see the glory in that lumpy old flesh wobbling around the front yard, or why anyone would be interested in robbing her of it still less, but she was determined, and there was no putting her off. And it’s not just the jogging. I thought we had a swarm of bees on the porch yesterday and went out to investigate and it was Mater, sitting there on the wooden floor in an awkward parody of a guru pose babbling some Om sounds and humming. And that wasn’t the worst of it either, she was wearing a fuchsia pink leotard.
I woke up this morning with a stiff neck. I do not mention it too much with my friend because some of them have a tendency to look for a reason behind anything like you have a choice that you don’t want to make, or you don’t listen your truth, or whatever one can invent in such a case. I’m sure someone would even mention a past life when my head was cut off. Today I don’t want other people’s opinion about me so I just say it’s a way for me to take care of myself.
Today I take things one at a time. I called a few friends to take news, and only one of them answered. Which is fine by me because I didn’t really want to talk, only to make the effort to connect. I went into the garden, the grass is tall and it looks like a prairie. I’m sure wild mice enjoy it, and the neighbour’s cats also. One of them has a roof full of them redheads and black ones. I see them cross the wild grass one at a time, each has their own habitual path.
I love looking at them. It’s quieting.
There was an argument somewhere. I heard people shout. A man and a woman. It sounded like a soap, so I’m not sure it wasn’t someone’s TV on. The air was so clear, the absence of the cars and normal conversations gave it enough place to express. Each silence they left in between their arguments was filled with sounds of nature.
I have a new family of birds coming into the garden. I baked them some wild rice with carrots and some fat. Someone told me it’s the last day you can feed them, afterwards it’s best they look for food for themselves as spring is here. So I’ve made the stew although I haven’t fed them during winter. I can tell they enjoyed it as nothing was left when I came back two hours ago.prUneParticipant
Summer is slowly ending from our side of the planet. Despite the onslaught of depressing daily news, it makes me wonder if everyone suddenly became concerned for Mater for reason:
a. because she’s at risk not to become centenarian in time to get the medal of enduring persistance
b. because we should now cancel the expensive party we had all started to plan with great pain
c. because the longer we search, there’s still no telling who and where is Jasper and whether he’d be there even for a remote party behind screens…
Some idiot has disabled or smeared all my cams on the Inn, so I only can spy with the sounds now, it’s a bit jarring at times. I thought I heard Bert cough a few times.
Maybe it’s just code…
It was funny watching the toilet paper surge sweep through one place after another, I could follow that much on this contraption my helpers had me wired up to, this social media thing. I suppose I notice different things since I stopped trying to make sense of anything. Things start to catch my eye, but not the usual things.
There’s one thing I’ve learned and that’s if you don’t give a toss about how demented you are, there is a lot on the plus side to consider with dementia.
Not sure why but I keep seeing all this rambling, from that gal they call my niece, on this device as they call it (sounds a bit medieval to me), and she’s doing this lockdown diary thing. Sometimes I feel like saying, do you realize how many of us have been on lockdown already for ages, for month, and for years, relying on pea brained opinionated ever changing drifters to see to our needs. But f course I don’t say that, because I don’t know how to work this blasted device properly. If I did, I’d let them have it!
I find myself momentarily cheered, energized by this thought. And then I feel deflated, and can’t remember what it was about.
Macaroni tonight. The evening woman doesn’t seem to stay long anymore.FloveParticipant
It’s taking blimmin forever for the Oober to get here, and, wouldn’t you just know it, rain!
“Hop in,” says the driver. He’s leaning over holding open the front door. An older chappie with a shiny forehead and rosacea. He definitely drinks. Maybe he’s come straight from the pub. Still, it’s raining and I’m late, so I hop in. In the back seat, mind. I’m not much of a one for talking.
“I’m Finnley.” I crack a smile to make up for sitting in the back. It feels strange smiling. In my mind, there’s not much point to smiling. It just encourages people to be overly familiar.
“Bert,” he says. He’s Australian I think from the accent and his expression is more of a sneer than a smile. I reckon I pissed him off not getting in the front seat. “F i n n l e y.” He sounds it out like he’s learning a new language. “Always thought that was a boy’s name?”
“Can be either.”
Do I look like a boy, Bert?
Anyhow, that’s enough chitchat for me. I get my phone out and make like I am checking for messages. Haha. As if.
“Here on holiday, Finnley? Pity about the weather.”
Oh here we go.
“Oh yeah, corker! Where’s that, Finnley?”
“Washingtown Beige House, Bert.”
I have to be honest, saying it out loud still gives me goosebumps. And Bert’s surprise doesn’t disappoint.
Barron was not really a baby, more a toddler already. He was playing alone in his play fence, like he was usually left doing when his odd caretakers had gone for an escapade. After a while, he got bored cooing like a baby looking at shiny stuff and suckling at noisy things. After all, as not many had realized, he was blessed with a genius IQ — there was no point at hiding his smarts when no one was around.
The house bulldog was sleeping nearby, snoozing like a roaring motorbike. Apart from that, this part of the House was quiet. Occasionally he could hear gurgling sounds coming from the badly soundproofed pipes of the old building. Somebody was having an industrious bowel movement. Hardly news material, his father would have say.
He checked the e-zapwatch that his nannies had put on his wrist. Bad news. His kidnappers were late. He wondered if something had changed in the near perfect plan. Yet, he’d managed to have the money wired to the offshore account, while his contacts, codenames Jesús & Araceli (he wasn’t sure they were codenames at all) said it was in order for the baby abduction.
He could hear suspicious sounds outside; the bulldog barely registered. What if some acolytes in the plan had bailed out? The sounds at his bedroom’s window could be his abductors, waiting for a way in.
As usual, he would have to take matters in his own tiny hands, and let others get the credit for it.
He peeled off one side of the net and tumbled outside of the playpen. Damn, these bodies were so difficult to manœuvre at times. Reaching the window would be difficult but not impossible. After dragging a chair, and a pile of cushions, he hoisted himself finally at reach of the latch, and flung it open. The brisk cold air from outside made his nose itch, and it was the last thing he remembered while he smelled the chloroform.
The downward climb had taken what felt like days. The more he went, the darkest it was even the stars at his feet were now swallowed in obliviating darkness.
Rukshan felt like abandoning at times, but pressed on and continued, down and down as he rose above clouds.
The ancient energies that had shaped this topsy-turvy passage spiraling around the fence of the heartwoods wouldn’t have done something of that magnitude and let it unfinished. It was calling for an exploration, while at the same time protecting itself from mere wanderers, the kind with lack of imagination or endurance.
His mind reminded him of old tales that spoke of sacrificing to the trees for knowledge and passage, but it was surely meant as a metaphor. Hanging upside down for hours was probably in itself a form of sacrifice.
He reached to his pouch for a drink of sour milk, when he suddenly realized that the gravity had turned, and the pouch was no longer floating above his head. With the darkness and the lack of landmarks, he’d failed to notice when this happened.
It surely meant he’d crossed an invisible barrier, and was now journeying inside another plan, deeper down. Ground couldn’t be far now. He took a pearl off one of his braids, and threw it. Then he looked at the darkness beneath his feet with intent to discern the faintest sounds. Quickly enough, the pearl gave back a ricocheting sound, clean and echoing slightly against what seemed to be moist stones. Indeed ground was there, where once the sky was.
Maybe the final test was a leap of faith. Or maybe it was just to patiently complete the climb. A few more steps, and he would be there. A few more steps.
Fourty four hours and 3 stopovers later, Maeve was glad to have arrived at Alice Springs airport. It was fun to see that the further she went, the smallest the aircraft became. Until it wasn’t too funny, and got almost downright scary with the last small propeller plane, that shook so much it seemed out of an old Indiana Jones movie, sans flying chicken.
The airport was quaint and small, the way she liked, with a passageway shaded by large swathes of fabric reminiscent of Seville’s streets. The air was surprisingly fresh, and she wondered if she’d been too optimistic about the weather and her choice of clothes, considering it was still winter down here.
While she was waiting at the luggage belt, she discreetly observed the other waiting people.
Uncle Fergus always said she had to be observant. Besides, she had a natural eye for details.
Apart from the few Crocodile Dundees that screamed tourists who were waiting for their oversized luggage, she could spot a few out-of-place people. One in particular, that seemed to have followed the very same route since the first layover in Vancouver. Too strange a coincidence, and the fellow was too unassuming too.
“Maeve! MAH-EH-VEH” She jumped at the sounds. Almost didn’t recognized her own name, if she hadn’t recognized her neighbour’s voice first, and his peculiar way to pronounce it like she was a precious wahine.
“Shawn-Paul?! What on earth are you doing here?” She frowned at him “Have you been stalking me?”
“No, no! It’s not like that! I’ve received those funny-looking coupons, you see…”
“What? You too?”
Now, a second person following on her tracks even through a different combination of flights was more than a coincidence. It meant danger was afoot.
“Shouldn’t we carpool? I looked up the trail to the inn, it’s a long drive and by the looks of it, not at all too safe for a lone woman travelling.”
Maeve shrugged. That may keep the other creep off her trail. “I don’t mind, but if you insist on being so chivalrous, you’re paying for the taxi.”
Before he could say anything, she handed him her piece of luggage to carry.
“It is a rather peculiar mystery indeed, don’t you think.” Liz leaned suggestively towards the Inspector. He had insisted to keep his trench-coat on, which for some reason she was finding incredibly alluring. It reminded her of all the fun she had in the past, playing her favourite character, Becky in tarty nun’s outfit. She made a mental note for the next costumed party.
“Some peanuts, Inspector?”
“Good gracious, no. I’m terribly allergic to nuts, but I’m partial to your delicious canapés.”
After a mouthful of tarragon cod pâté with capers, Walter leaned back and a little further from Liz and said “Mmm, delicious. Well, it is indeed quite a good mystery you’ve chosen to write about. All these keys, I love the idea. It sounds out of a spy novel, but I do wonder what are the connections, you see, in most crimes I’ve solved in the past,” he cleared his throat, taking the glass of red wine Finnley had just brought “there is always a good chance the culprit is closer than you know. The skill is always to find the hidden connection.”
“Aaah. I’m so glad you’re saying that Walter, I was telling them the same no later than this morning!”
She took a random ramekin from the coffee table “some peanuts?”.
Mandrake yawned and moved his paw swiftly on his left ear. “You haven’t paid close attention to the rhyme, have you?”
Deep in the maze of threads of past
She hides and fails to cast
A spell to help her float and ghast
Moribund characters trapped there last
Albie found the roaring voice of the black cat smooth like a roll of pebbles in a cataract, and felt mesmerized by the words so much he couldn’t focus his attention.
“Sounds like she’s trying to help ghosts or something?”
Mandrake shrugged “… or something.”
He took one of the few pearls left, and started to work a vortex to go where it began. His earliest memory of her. Something to do with that cunning and crafty dragon… Clues were hiding in that moment he was sure. At the very least, the dragon would help power back the sabulmantium for the tracking spell…
Elizabeth was even more impressed when the Obviously Intelligent Daily Comment Generator mentioned something very similar to Alice’s cookies .
She was delighted to see that Sanso was one of the early arrivals to the garden party, and that he’d brought with him a rag tag assortment of strapping young Arduino time hackers.
Finnley bustled past with her arms full of colourful bed linen, muttering under her breath.
The horses snorted as they were reined in to a halt an the front entrance. A young woman in what appeared to be a fancy dress costume descended from the carriage.
“I ‘ave come to ‘elp Finnley wiz ze bedding!”
Talking with the dogs. That’s what Fox had to do. Easier said than done, he thought scratching his head. His previous encounters with dogs were rather tumultuous and limited to being hunted down in the forest during a hunting party or being chased at the market because he had caught a hen. He had never really talked to dogs before, unless taunting counted of course.
Rukshan had said it was urgent, but Fox found there were so many little things to do before, like tidying up the cave, putting some suncream on his sensitive red head skin, or trying to see if Lhamom needed help.
But after some time, Fox realised he had to go eventually. Everyone else was busy with their own part of the plan. Rukshan was building the sand mandala on a flat surface that he and Olliver had cleared, and Lhamom was finishing a makeshift screen to protect the mandala from the wind with a few bamboo poles and rolls of fabrics she had found on her journey here. It was very colourful fabric with Bootanese patterns that Fox wouldn’t have used to cover a chair. It felt too busy for him.
So, he went to see Lhamom as she was struggling to plant the last stick in the rocky ground.
“Have you talked to the dogs? she asked.
“Ehr, not yet,” mumbled Fox who felt a bit ashamed when Lhamom frowned. “I think I need to give some kind of present to the dogs and I was wondering if you had something suitable in your many bags.”
“Oh! Sure. Can you finish that for me then?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Fox. He replaced her with the bamboo stick and, as she was walking away, he shouted: “I don’t think chocolate will do this time.”
“Oh! I know,” she said with a smile and a wink. It cheered Fox up a little bit, but a gush of wind called him back to his task of holding the pole. Once he secured it he put on an awkward smile, but noticed that Rukshan and Olliver were too busy to have noticed.
Lhamom came back with a big ham which Fox thought was more than suitable. He thanked her and made a joke about leaving her with her pole that he thought afterword he should not have done and walked away from the camp in the crunchy snow.
Fox had been aware that the dogs were observing him, and especially the big ham he was carrying. A few of them had begun to gather at a distance and they were beginning to whine, which attracted more of them. When he estimated he was far enough from the camp he put the ham down. He couldn’t transform into that many layers of clothes so he started to undress, watching wearily the dogs that were now growling.
It was freezing outside and Fox was shocked by how skinny his body had become. He shivered badly and focused to change into his natural red fox. It took him a little bit longer than usual but when the fur grew and started to keep the warmth close to his body, he growled with pleasure. The world around him changed as his senses transformed. Colours were different and slightly less varied, sounds were more crisp and a profusion of noises he couldn’t hear as a human suddenly vied for his attention: the sound of the wind on the rocks, the harmonics of the dogs’ voices, and the scents… simply incomparable. He wished he had kept the ham for himself.
“It’s a fox!” barked a voice.
“Let’s kill it!” said another.
“Where’s the two-legged gone?” asked a young dog.
“Who cares? It brought us meat. It’s gone. Let’s eat!”
Fox suddenly regretted he had made a full change.
Despite using his human form frequently, Tak was at heart still the same little gibbon his friend had found in the bamboo forest.
A lot of his inner turmoil had been transformed, like a new skin on a wound, especially after the ceremony. He no longer felt the weight of the other lives they had lived, nor the stir of revenge that was festering inside. His heart was like a forest after a fire, growing anew, fresh below the cover of dead ashes.
During the past months, he had been mostly busy with himself. He couldn’t avoid the classes that Rukshan would teach him in the morning, but it still left a good deal of free time. He would wander in the nearby woods, listening to the sounds, exploring where it felt safe enough, and at times jumping from branch to branch in his gibbon form.
He could feel Fox was a bit envious at times —struggling too much to retain his human form. It would become more difficult with the age, to stay longer in a form especially if you started to master it later in age. So he had to enjoy and relish the fact he was still young.
In the forest, he had felt disturbance, but nothing like the ghosts that had chased them a long time back. There was work done at a distance, and it displaced creatures, the forest was angry. His companions too, and Fox was talking about doing sabotage work. Rukshan had asked him to take no part in it, but there was no telling how long he could resist the call.
When he entered that night back in the cabin, there was a strange smell, something subtle and precious, like smokey and peppered with ambergris and with a feel of dew on a fresh lettuce. It came from a small package on the drawer in the burka lady’s quarter.
It smelt too good. Surreptitiously he entered the room and opened the little thing, there was a creamy substance in it. Surely some nice spread for freshly baked bread.
He couldn’t resist, the smell was tantalising. He dipped one finger, licked it, and… wow… in three quick gulps, licked the whole thing clear.
Tak was at heart still the same mischievous little gibbon his mother loved so much.
Night had fallen when Rukshan came back to the cottage. He was thinking that they could wait a little bit for the trip. He did not like that much the idea of trusting the safety of their group to a stranger, even if it was a friend of Lhamom. They were not in such a rush after all.
Rukshan looked at their luxuriant newly grown pergola. Thanks to the boost potion Glynis had prepared, it had only took a week to reach its full size and they have been able to enjoy it since the start of the unusual hot spell. The creatures that had hatched from the colourful eggs Gorrash had brought with him were flowing around the branches creating a nice glowing concerto of lights, inside and out.
It was amazing how everyone were combining their resources and skills to make this little community function. In the shadow of the pergola there was an empty pedestal that Fox had built and Eleri had decorated with nice grapes carvings. Gorrash was certainly on patrol with the owls. His friends had thought that a pedestal would be more comfortable and the pergola would keep Gorrash’s stone from the scorching heat of the sun. Also, he wouldn’t get covered in mud during the sudden heavy rains accompanying the hot spell.
Seeing the beautiful pedestal and the carved little stairs he could use to climb up, Gorrash had tried to hide the tears in his eyes. He mumbled it was due to some desert dust not to appear emotional, but they all knew his hard shell harboured the softest heart.
The dwarf had repaid them in an unexpected way. Every day just before sunrise, he would take a big plate in his hands and jumped on the pedestal before turning to stone. It allowed them to put grapes or other fruits that they could eat under the shadow of the of the pergola.
“They sent me a bloody pigeon,” she said when she arrived. She took the roll and handed it to Rukshan. “The city council… Leroway… he accuses us of unauthorised expansion of the house, of unauthorised construction on communal ground, and of unlicensed trade of manufactured goods.” Margoritt’s face was twisted with pain as the said the words.
Rukshan winced. Too much bad news were arriving at the same time. If there was a pattern, it seemed rather chaotic and harassing.
“They threaten us to send a bailif if we don’t stop our illegal activities and if we don’t pay the extra taxes they reclaim,” she continued. “I’m speechless at the guile of that man.”
Rukshan smiled, he wondered if Margoritt could ever be rendered speechless by anything except for bad flu. He uncoiled the roll and quickly skimmed through the long string of accusations. Many of them were unfair and, to his own opinion unjustified. Since when the forest belonged to Leroway’s city? It had always been sacred ground, and its own master.
“I have no money,” said Margoritt. “It’s so unfair. I can’t fight with that man. I’m too old and tired.”
“Don’t forget we are all in the same cottage, Margoritt. It’s not just you. Eventhough, they clearly want to evict us,” said Rukshan. “Even if we had enough money, they would not let us stay.” He showed her the small roll. “The list of accusations is so ludicrous that it’s clearly a ploy to get rid of us. First, that road they want to build through the forest, now evicting us from the ground.” And those bad omens from the mountain, he thought with a shiver.
“Ahem,” said a rockous voice. Gorrash had returned from his patrol. “I know where to find money,” he added. “At leas, I think I know. I had another dream about my maker. It’s just bits and pieces, but I’m sure he hid some treasure in the mountains. There was that big blue diamond, glowing as brightly as a blue sun. And other things.”
A big blue diamond? It sounds familiar. Rukshan thought. There was an old fae legend that mentioned a blue diamond but he couldn’t remember. Is it connected to the blue light Olliver mentioned earlier? He wondered.
“That’s it! You have to go find this treasure,” said Margoritt.
Rukshan sighed as he could feel the first symptoms of a headache. There was so much to think about, so much to do. He massaged his temples. The trip had suddenly become urgent, but they also had to leave someone behind to help Margoritt with the “Leroway problem”. And he winced as he wondered who was going to take care of that road business. It was clear to him that he couldn’t be everywhere at the same time. He would have to delegate.
He thought of the telebats. Maybe he could teach the others how to use them so that he could keep in touch and manage everything at distance. He sighed again. Who would be subtle and sensitive enough to master the telebats in time?
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