The clay mixture was giving off a golden hue. Everyone had gathered to look at the miracle happen, especially the two kids and their Snootish pets.
“I think there’s a word in the old language for what we are,” mentioned Glynis feeling that pregnant silence was too dangerously promising of unsilent babies. She was looking fondly at the odd looking family. “Tūrangawaewae. They are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home.”
Eleri whistled a tentative “whoohoo to that!” but she was starting to get inebriated with the fermented goat milk, and was wondering what it was all about.
“Good for her,” said Eleri “although I wished you’d kept some of that magical clay for me, had experiments to make on that. Could help in the great fires recovery process down under.”
“As a matter of fact, there was some left that I kept for you.” said Glynis. “I’ll give it to you later, but for now, just shush, and let the process unravel, or we’ll never catch up.”
Indeed, the protective golden carapace around Gorrash embued with rebuilding powers was finally starting to crack as the last ray of light of the day were vanishing behind the horizon.
Looking at the exasperated voices of his captors, Barron needn’t know how to speak Spanish to be entirely certain he was in over his head.
He wondered why the negotiators hadn’t been brought in already; the plan was simple —well, initially. He was to get a cut of the ransom, and disappear with it in some nice sunny resort in the South. Like the extreme South, not Alabama South.
Someone must have interfered… He could have sworn there was a woman’s voice with a funny accent speaking to them before she hung up on them.
¡La chica dice que ya tienen al bebé! That much he could understand; an impostor 👶🏻baby now? And who had replaced August in his duties?
Well, at the moment, he had a group of angry Frenchmen and Mexicans in a smelly rillettes distillery with a useless baby on their hands. He knew too well that if he wanted to keep all his limbs, he’d have to improvise quickly. Good thing they hadn’t removed his eye-watch. By now, as inept as they’d be, the two nannies should have got his GPS coordinates.
Well… They had trouble spelling their names without typos at times so he’d better not leave that to chance.
He started to text:
SOS - baby in danger at Rillettes Distillery, Alabama
He added the GPS coordinates, just in case; now, with help possibly on the way, he’d have to prepare that distraction in order to extract himself of his predicament.TracyParticipant
We finally figured out what was wrong with everyone, making us all lounge around for weeks on end, or maybe it was months, god knows it went on for a lot longer than our usual bored listless spells. Barely a word passed anyone’s lips for days at a time, and not a great deal of food either. None of us had the will to cook after awhile, and when the hunger pangs roused us, we’d shuffle into the kitchen and shovel down whatever was at hand. A wedge of raw cabbage, or a few spoonfuls of flour, once all the packets of biscuits and crisps had gone, and the pies out of the freezer.
Finley seemed to cope better than anyone, although not up to her usual standard. But she managed to feed the animals and water the tomatoes occasionally, and was good at suggesting improvisations, when the toilet paper ran out for example. The lethargy and slow wittedness of us all was probably remarkable, but we were far too disinterested in everything to notice at the time.
To be honest, it would all be a blank if I hadn’t found that my portable telephone contraption had been taking videos randomly throughout the tedious weeks. It was unsettling to say the least, looking at those, I can tell you.
It started to ease off, slowly: I’d suddenly find myself throwing the ball for the dog, picking up the camera because something caught my eye, I even had a shower one day. I noticed the others now and then seemed to take an interest in something, briefly. We all needed to lie down for a few hours to recover, but we’re all back to normal now. Well I say normal.
Finly looked at some news one day, and it wasn’t just us that had the Etruscan flu, it had been a pandemic. There had hardly been any news for months because nobody could be bothered to do it, and anyway, nothing had happened anywhere. Everyone all over the world was just lounging around, not saying anything and barely eating, not showering, not doing laundry, not traveling anywhere.
And you know what the funny thing is? It’s like a garden of Eden out there now, air quality clean as a whistle, the right weather in all the right places, it’s like a miracle.
And everyone’s slowed down, I mean speeded up since the flu, but slower than before, less frantic. Just sitting on the porch breathing the lovely air and thinking what a fine day it is.
One good thing is that we’re taking showers regularly again.TracyParticipant
It was good of them to do it I suppose, but you know me and new contraptions, it’s hard to summon up the courage to deal with a new one, no matter how seemingly simple it might be to a mind more attuned to that sort of thing. There were a couple of glaring spelling mistakes the last time I used it, that I know I couldn’t possibly have made, so I suspect the damn thing has gremlins, like all these contraptions seem to have. Always doing inexplicable things.
At first I was worried about those two women who hadn’t come back out of the old mine yet, and cursed old Sanso for blinking right out like that, but I had the feeling that Sanso was on the case and not to worry. What could I do about it anyway? I reckon one day we’ll hear the story, one way or another.
I’ve had enough to think about here with Mater’s latest drama.
“Albie, wake up, sweetie!”
“It’ll take him a day or two to recover. This was a psychic attack the scale of which I haven’t seen before.” Arona was assessing the situation. Luckily for her, the old protective spells woven in the cloak that she’d used to make her hijab had protected her from it. Sanso seemed to have been hit more, although the effects varied and honestly, it was always a bit difficult to be a fair judge of his sanity or lack thereof.
“Strange things happen around these keys.” Mandrake said pointing at the key that Arona was wearing around her neck. “Are you sure you still want to run around places finding the others? Especially after what Fergus said about them?”
“I never knew you to pussy out like that” she said with a smile “where’s your sense of adventure?”
“The point is, I wouldn’t know where to start. It was all supposed to be a simple recon mission, wasn’t it? But that energy surge… Something else entirely; maybe we should leave it to Ed Steam and his team.”
Mandrake stretched lazily, and continued “I wouldn’t feel bad about them, seems they got the hang of living in a ghost town, they don’t need all the action to feel good. Might end up wake up the underground monsters, if you let them.”
“Oh, that’s smart. From the Doline’s vortex, it’ll be much easier to pick up the energy signature of the other keys, check if they haven’t been moved.”
“Better pray that they haven’t been moved, or found.”DevanParticipant
I have never seen so many guests at once at the Inn. Even old Bert is ferreting around, I’ve seen him many times near the shed or near the garage door. Mater knows about it of course. I’ve seen her looking at him from the corner of her eyes. I wonder if she knows about the hidden gold. I’m sure Bert knows, and that’s why he’s always been lurking around when we were kids.
Mater, she hadn’t said anything when I came back and took my old room as if I never left. She just grunted and gave me some work to do.
“It’s not good to stay idle all the time,” she had said, making me chuckle as I saw aunt Idle sneaking out to take care of her weed plot in the back yard. As if Mater didn’t know about it. I know she tried to chew some when Idle was in India and she didn’t like the taste of the raw plant, so I had showed her how to smoke it. After the coughing spell had passed, she had seemed to enjoy the experience then, but I don’t know if she had ever used some again afterward. She’s as stern as she used to be. But I like her that way. She’s the spine of the Flying Fish Inn. I’m not sure Idle could manage it all, especially I doubt Finly would stay more than a few days if Idle was the manager here.
Although, I’m suspecting Finly to sell weeds to the guests. She’s been acting weird and I’ve come upon her and Idle arguing in the kitchen upon a loafed bush lizard. Dido was accusing Finly of stealing her last crop and Finley… Well, I don’t really care about what they do.
I’ll just have to find some quiet time to go inspect the cellar. If what the man on the Harley had told me is true, I want to find the tunnels below the Inn.
As if reading his mind, Rukshan said as soon as he saw him “It’s a joy to see you, little devil! Don’t expect to have me here for too long though, I’m just gathering a few things before I go for my new exploration. How have you been? And aren’t you going to introduce this young lady?”
“It’s a pleasure too, have fun in the garden, but be careful not to trample Glynis’ new plantling.”
“He’s a nice kid.” Glynis was at the windowsill, enjoying the quiet afternoon air.
Rukshan smiled and said. “I like your new carpet, and what you have done with the house. Has your spell worked to get the carpenter to fix the loo? I feel bad leaving you all again while there is still much to do.”
“Don’t worry, Fox is good help, so long as you keep him away from the chickens.”
It all started to feel insanely crowded and agitated in the Inn, it took me a while to check whether I was tripping on some illegal substance.
Truth was, the funny chicken was doing alright until Finly and Idle came back in a hurry, tried to make me puke and feed me charcoals, as if I’d been poisoned or something.
I overheard Aunt Dodo when she shouted at poor Finly “why would you put my stash with the lizard leftovers! It’s me-di-cine you old cow, not some bloody herb seasoning!”
Finly looked indignant, but she knew better than to argue. Besides, I’m sure her face was speaking volumes, something in the tune of “with the bloody mess of your stuff all over the place, why do you think?” Sure, there was some other profanities hidden in the wrinkles of her sweet face, but she would leave that to Mater to spell them out.
Anyways, I just maybe feeling juuust a little funny, but with years of bush food regimen behind me, my liver is surely strong as an ox and pumping all the stuff out of my system like a workhorse.
So, yeah, I was maybe tripping a little. So many new people came in at the same time, it felt like a flashmob. They were probably real and not just hallucinations, since Dido dashed out to greet some of them.
I went upstairs and spied on them from there. I’m making also a list, mostly for Aunt Dodo, because if her heart is in the right place, her brain probably isn’t (or it’s a tight one).
So there, I wrote on a yellow sticky note:
Dido, if you're paying attention, here are the guests at this moment: - Not counting PRUNE, and DEVAN who just texted me he's coming!! - A jeep-full of loonies: A GIRL with red and white track pants and a hijjab, a black CAT and a GECKO (wait, you can forget about the gecko), a weirdo GUY in a fancy ruffle shirt and a little redhair BOY. TIKU is here too, helping FINLY in the kitchen. - Your old friend HILDA, and her colleague CONNIE - Two townfolks Canadian tourists who argue like an old couple, but I don't think they are, MAYV(?) and SANPELL(?) (sorry, couldn't catch their names with their funny accent)
I guess breakfast is going to be lively tomorrow…
“Tsk tsk,” said Rukshan when he heard that the carpenter hadn’t done anything yet.
“At least the joiner came and fixed the mirror in the bathroom,” said Fox trying to sound positive.
They were in the kitchen and Glynis was brewing a chicken stew in Margorrit’s old purple clay pot.
Fox seemed distracted with saliva gathering at the corner of his mouth. Rukshan realised it was not the best of places to explain his plan with all the smells and spells of Glynis’ spices.
“Let’s go outside it’ll be best to tell you where we are going,” said Rukshan.
Fox nodded his consent with great effort.
They took the Troll’s path, a sandy track leading in the thick of the forest.
“Are you sure we’ll find him there?” asked Rukshan.
“Trust me,” said Fox pointing at his nose.
“I thought you had abandoned the shapeshifting and using your fox’s smelling sense?”
“Well if you want to know, Olli is quite predictable, he’s always at the Young Maid’s pond.
They arrived at the pond where Olli was sculpting a branch of wood in an undefinable shape. Rukshan had almost a shock when he saw how much little Olli had changed. He was different, almost another person physically. Taller and with a man’s body. It took the Fae some time when he had to tell himself that the person in front of him was the boy that had helped them in the mountain. But Rukshan was not the kind to show many emotions so he just said.
“You’ve grown boy.”
Olli shrugged and stopped what he was doing.
“I’ve heard so,” he said. “She wants more wood?”
“Yeah,” said Fox with a knowing grin.
Olliver sighed and left with supple movements.
When the young man was gone, Fox turned towards the Fae, whose eyes seemed lost in the misty mountains.
“So, what is the plan?”
“I’m thinking of a new plan that shall make use of everyone’s potential and save a young man from boredom.”
Miss Bossy Pants was losing patience. If it weren’t for the heat spell that made her cat-like reflexes duller than usual, she would have shredded the hippie yurt that Ricardo had built for Sophie, that useless temp too fast promoted.
She had to reason with herself, although she didn’t like that. Mostly because she always agreed with the devil on her shoulder. “OK, I’ll give them a chance to fish for key information.”
Truth was, there was already enough evidence that Sophie’s brain was mush, and probably heavily tampered with by the Doctor. Who knows what that maniac might have planted as post-hypnotic suggestions in such a suggestible mind. There was little doubt that if she’d escaped, she was actually probably still a pawn he could control.
She liked a worthy opponent. It would be so much more satisfying to crush him in the end.
Her phone buzzed.
“in oz, on ourwya to hippicenter gto grdbraeknig inforamton keep cool hilda &c.”
Well there was good news after all. She started to list them to give her heart:
1. Hilda remembered how to spell her own name
2. She had not lost or broken her company phone
3. They were not dead or maimed or enhanced yet, so clumsy as they were, they’d probably managed to stay off the radar of the Doctor.
Of course, the other things she’d learned in that short moment was probably outweighing the silver lining:
3. She had probably an insane roaming bill to the company phone
4. They’d continued to max out the credit card to pursue the topic
5. Clumsy as they were, it was surely a matter of time before they alerted the Doctor to their investigation.
She thought quick and fast, while waving her fan figorously (it was a modesty hiding fan). Punching the screen of her phone, she typed.
“Had breakthru too. Sophie was one of the dolls – need to find keys to dirty secrets & coded map to intercept = hashtag bigger than wee key leaks.”
There, that should keep them occupied and well on track with the wild goose chase, while she devised a plan B.
An unexpected shaman tart witch was looking and had spotted them coming from afar.
“Head Shaman Tart Witch, if you please.” She muttered in her breath, happy to break the fourth wall and all.
The sun was already high and the air was sizzling ready to burst out like buttered pop corn.
“A rather lame metaphor. You’ve done better.”
The Head Shtart Witch, as we will call her later for brevity’s sake, was as tart as a sour lemon dipped in vinegar, and prone to talking to spirits, when not cackling in tittering fits of laughter, as shamans are wont to do.
She was surprisingly in tune with the narrator’s voice this late in the day, considering it wasn’t her first bottle of… medicine she ingested today.
“Voices are rather quiet, yes. I was expecting a bit more… quantity if you know what I mean.”
The narrator had absolutely no idea of what she meant, not discontent with the quantity per se.
Three in quantity, they came, looking for her. A girl, visibly in charge, although a bit hard to tell either, buried into the baggy hood and all.
“The star-studded stockings under the striped red and white trousers were a bit of a give-away though… she was a she, and a bossy pants to boot.” the Head Schwtich replied.
“And don’t take advantage to maim my full name… Jeeze, they’re so lazy these days. Can’t even spell right.”
Ignoring the rude comments, the narrator continued.
Then, a man, a bit namby-pamby with the gait of a devil-may-care goat at that.
And a boy, on the threshold of manhood, with lots of red hair and freckles he could have put the bush on fire.
“You have forgotten the gecko… and the cat.”
The cat wasn’t forgotten of course, but was it technically a cat, with the talking and all? Poor thing had ill-fitted boots (probably a clearance sale from the Jiborium’s), so that it wouldn’t burn its pads on the red hot trail. It seemed stubborn enough to refuse being carried, although not confident enough about the surrounding life in the bush to stop checking every minute for all that crawled and crept around.
“That’s why they’re here. The protective charms. That, and the jeep of course.”
The Twitch seemed to know everything so the narrator felt it would probably best to let her finish the comment.
“Oh, don’t you start. That passive aggressive attitude isn’t going to get your story done, is it. And it’s not like I’m going to follow them in their dangerous and futile quest. It’s your job, better get to it.”
Indeed, she was only just a sour, old, decrepit…
“You stop that!”
Sanso yawned and stretched lazily “I hope they have a hot shower now, I feel so dirty.”
Arona chose to ignore Sanso and let him gesticulate. They’d only walked for less than 15 minutes, and the perspective of few more hours of driving with him breathing down her neck started to give her murderous thoughts.
She turned to the team. “Listen, whatever happens, don’t make rude remarks, even if she seems a bit… unhinged.”
“Are you talking about the crazy lady with the chameleon on her head, who talks to herself and looks like she hadn’t got a bath in a century?”
“That’s what I meant Sanso.” Arona rolled her eyes in a secret signature move she owned the secret of. “Listen, it would be better for everyone if you’d stay here and stop talking until we get the keys to the jeep, alright.”
Luckily for all of them, a little sage smudging and a bakchich in kind sealed the deal with the HEAD Shaman Tart Witch, and less than an hour later, with the mountain at their back, they were all barreling at breakneck speed down the lone road towards the Old Mine Town.
That’s where the Inn was, now starting to crawl with unexpected guests and long lost family members.
Muriel looked at the unfinished construction work with an eye of reproach.
“No, it’s not the loo, dear. Your atrocious gargoyles, I may say, do add a bit of… Gothic flavour to it. Does for lazy bowels better than prunes if you ask me. I can’t be more in a hurry to leave the place. But no, it’s more the sink —or lack thereof— that I’m worried about. But of course I’m sure you have a plan for that…” She eyed Eleri over her round spectacles, precariously balanced at the tip of her angular nose, in a way that made Eleri uncomfortable.
“Well, we kind of lost hope, after all the joiners and handymen that have come to fix it, and abandoned the work.”
“So? Are you calling it quits? That’s not reasonable. Are you sure you’ve not badly chosen the spot, like decided to put in above a cursed indigenous cemetery, or that there isn’t some trickster pixie spell there?”
Glynis, who was there with a basket of laundry ventured rather boldly:
“I don’t think so, Morayeel.” She smiled innocently, knowing full well Muriel didn’t like the nickname and continued, even more emboldened.
“I have dejinxed the place myself. No, I think the problem is that it’s too clean now. I probably must lift the cleaning spell, or no worker will ever approach the place and get it finished.”
Some updates on the Heartwoods Weave
So far, there were loosely 2 chapters in this story, and we’re entering the 3rd.
Let’s call them:
- Ch. 1 – The Curses of the Stolen Shards
- Ch. 2 – The Flight to the Desert Mountains
- Ch. 3 – Down the Lands of Giants
Ch. 1 – The Curses of the Stolen Shards
In Chapter One, we get acquainted with the main characters as their destinies intertwine (Rukshan, Glynis, Eleri, Gorrash, Fox, Olliver and Tak).
In a long past, the Forest held a powerful artifact created and left behind as a seal by the Gods now departed in their World: a Gem of Creation. It was defiled by thieves (the 7 characters in their previous incarnations of Dark Fae (Ru), Toothless Dragon (Gl), Laughing Crone (El), Mapster Dwarf (Go), Glade Troll (Fo), Trickster Dryad (Ol), Tricked Girl (Ta)), and they all took a shard of the Gem, although the innocent girl was tricked to open the woods by a promise of resurrecting a loved one, and resented all the others for it. She unwittingly created the curse all characters were suffering from, as an eternal punishment. Removing the Gem from the center of the Forest and breaking it started a chain of events, leading to many changes in the World. The Forest continued to grow and claim land, and around the (Dragon) Heartwoods at the center, grew many other woods – the Haunted Bamboo Forest, the Enchanted Forest, the Hermit’s Forest, the Fae’s Forest etc. At the other side, Cities had developed, and at the moment of the story, started to gain control over the magical world of Old.
From the special abilities the Seven gained, some changes were triggered too. One God left behind was turned into stone by the now young Crone (E).
Due to the curse, their memories were lost, and they were born again in many places and other forms.
During the course of Ch.1, they got healed with the help of Master Gibbon, and the Braider Shaman Kumihimo, who directed Rukshan how to use the Vanishing Book, which once completed by all, and burnt as an offering, lifted the curse. Tak (the Girl of the origin story), now a shapeshifting Gibbon boy, learned to let go of the pain, and to start to live as a young orphan under the gentle care of the writer Margoritt Loursenoir and her goat Emma, in a cottage in the woods.
Glynis, a powerful healer with a knack for potions, still haven’t found a way to undo the curse of her scales, which she accepts, has found residency and new friends and a funny parrot named Sunshine. Eleri besides her exploration of anti-gravity, learnt to make peace with the reawakened God Hasamelis no longer vengeful but annoyed at being ignored for a mortal Yorath. Eleri continues to love to butt heads with the iniquities of the world, which are never in lack, often embodied by Leroway and his thugs. Gorrash, who adopted the little baby Snoots activated by Glynis’ potions seemed simply happy to have found a community. Fox, a fox which under the tutelage of Master Gibbon, learnt to shapeshift as a human for all his work and accumulation of good karma. Olliver, a young man with potential, found his power by activating the teleporting egg Rukshan gave him. As for Rukshan, who was plagued by ghosts and dark forces, he found a way to relieve the Forest and the world of their curse, but his world is torn between his duties towards his Fae family in the woods, his impossible love for his Queen, and his wants for a different life of exploration, especially now knowing his past is more than what he thought he knew.
At the end of the chapter, the Door to the God’s realm, at the center of the Forest seems to have reopened.
Ch. 2 – The Flight to the Desert Mountains
In the second Chapter, strange sightings of light beams in the mountains prompt some of our friends to go investigate, while in the cottage, the others stay to repel encroachments by brutal modernity embodied by Leroway and his minions. Glynis has found a way to be rid of her scales, but almost failed due to Tak’s appetite for untested potions. Remaking the potion, and succeeding at last, she often still keeps her burka as fond token of her trials. Eleri is spreading glamour bomb concrete statues in the woods, and trying her hand with Glynis supervision at potions to camouflage the cottage through an invisibility spell. Muriel, Margoritt’s sister, comes for a visit.
In the mountains, the venturing heroes are caught in a sand storm and discover spirits trapped in mystical objects. Pushing forward through the mountain, they are tracked and hunted by packs of hellhounds, and dark energy released from an earthquake. Rukshan works on a magical mandala with the help and protection of his friends. Olliver discovers a new teleportation trick making him appear two places at once. Kumihimo rejoins the friends in trouble, and they all try to leave through the magical portal, while Fox baits the dogs and the Shadow. Eerily, only Fox emerges from the portal, to find a desolated, burnt Forest and his friends all gone. They had been too late, and the Shadow went with them through the portal instead of being destroyed. Luckily, a last potion left by Glynis is able to rewind Fox in time, and succeed in undoing the disaster. The beaming lights were only honeypots for wandering travellers, it turned out.
Shaken by the ordeal, Rukshan leaves the party for some R&R time in the parallel world of the Faes, which is now mostly abandoned.
Ch. 3 – Down the Lands of Giants
In Chapter 3, which has only just begun, some time has passed, and Margoritt has come back to the City, at the beginning of winter for some special kneedle treatments. Glynis and Margoritt are in turn taking care of Tak, who has joined a local school, where he seems to have befriended a mysterious girl Nesingwarys (Nesy). Gorrash seems to have been hurt, broken whilst in his statue form by Leroway’s thugs, but the Snoot babies are still staying with him, so there is hope. Fox is always hungry, and helps with the reconstruction work for the cottage, which was damaged in a fire (we suppose during Leroway’s men foray in the woods).
Rukshan emerges from his retreat after an encounter with a mad Fae, babbling about a Dark Lord’s return. Piecing clues together, he finds a long lost World Map and connection with a renegade magician who may have been the Maker of Gorrash (and maybe linked to the trapped spirits in the mountain after all). He sends a pigeon to his friends before he returns to the thick of the Heartwoods.
Now, it seems the Door to the God’s realm has reopened the ancient Realms of the Underworld too, all accessible through the central pillar of the World, intersecting their World precisely at the Heartwoods, were the Gem of Creation originally was. He’s planning to go to the long lost Underworld of the Giants, were he suspects the so-called Dark Lord is hiding.
One morning Fox noticed a pigeon on the fence. It was cooing and certainly trying to catch a female. But there was none. Actually there hadn’t been so many pigeons in the woods, and Fox had always thought they were city creatures. That’s why he looked closer. The pigeon fretted, a little bit uncertain of the two legged man, because of his fox scent that was still getting out from time to time. But it remained still enough so that Fox could catch it. It would make a nice addition to their lunch.
He was about to break the bird’s neck when he noticed the little cylinder attached to its left leg. He detached it and called Glynis. The cylinder was enchanted and it required some skills to be opened. Someone didn’t want anyone to read that message.
Glynis arrived and the pigeon tried to fly away, but Fox had a firm grip on it. Glynis glared at him.
“Don’t kill the messenger, please,” she said.
Fox, not after some hesitations, released the bird who landed heavily on the fence.
“It’s a shame to let go of such a well fed bird.”
“I know, but we may need it to send back a message and well trained pigeons are hard to come by in the woods.”
So they didn’t have pigeon for lunch. And Glynis struggled. And after noon they were still trying without much success.
“None of my spells have worked so far. I don’t know what to do to crack it open,” lamented Glynis.
“Good idea,” said Fox, “let’s try that.” He took the cylinder and bent it slightly. It cracked open easily. Glynis looked at Fox daringly.
Before Fox could talk, Glynis said: “You’re allowed to roll your eyes. Two turns only.”
Fox did and they read the message. It was from Rukshan.
“Dear fellow companions, I’m sure you’ll know how to open the message,” he started. They snorted.
“I found a path that I hope would help revive our friend. Although I need some help. I’m sure the work with the carpenter and the joiner is done and Fox can come give me a hand.”
It was done. The spell was lifted and Rukshan could see the path ahead.
Some memories remained trapped in inaccessible places yet, but he wouldn’t need those; they were remnants from a different past.
Now his mission was clear, he was to go back to the Forest, to gain passage to Jötunheimr, the land of Giants, and find the Master, that powerful Alchemist able to imbue life into stone. The ones that some had called Necromancer, or Dark Lord.
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…
“That’s three pearls you gave her, for very little information in return” Albie said to the cat once they were out of the lair. “Seriously, the bag lady gave me chills even in that hot damp weather.”
“Don’t insult the Voodoo witch, boy” the cat meowed, it’s not safe while the vines are listening. “And her piece of information combined with the tracking spell recipe was valuable enough… once we get closer to her location.”
“Who is this Arona by the way, that you are willing to give the witch precious pearls and your claws for her?”
“She’d been many things, boy. An Enchantress, an Adventuress, a Master of the Arts,… and most of all, a good friend.”
“You suspect she’s in trouble, don’t you?”
The cat looked at the boy and squinted its eyes. “You are sharper than you let on. Now come on, we have some way to go, and with only a few pearls I managed to keep, we’ll be running out of portals before you know it.”
Mandrake love of chasing pigeons almost got the best of him, but he managed to keep on track in the whirlportal that opened doors within places.
The Cat had gone for errands to the Doline, the only place that the Voodoo witch’s portals couldn’t reach. Only the underground streams led to it, as some sort of enchantment protected it and kept it hidden.
The swamps of the bayou were well connected to such otherworldly places, but it still took him much more time to get there than he’d wanted. The pearls from the Doline were the price for a tracking spell that the Voodoo witch he was going to had promised him so he could find Arona.
A strong and loud guttural roar echoed through the mountains, ferocious and hungry. Fox’s hairs stood on his arms and neck as a wave of panic rolled through his body. He looked at the others his eyes wide open.
Olliver teleported closer to Rukshan whose face seemed pale despite the warmth of the fire, and Lhamom’s jaw dropped open. Their eyes met and they swallowed in unison. “Is that…” asked Fox. His voice had been so low that he wasn’t sure someone had heard him. Rukshan nodded.
“It seems you are leaving the mountains sooner than you expected,” said Kumihimo with a jolly smile as she dismounted Ronaldo. She plucked her icy lyre from which loud and rich harmonics bounced. The wind carried them along and they echoed back in defiance to the Shadow.
You must remember, seemed to whisper an echo from the cave they had used for shelter for weeks. Fox dismissed it as induced by the imminent danger.
The Shadow hissed and shrieked, clearly pissed off. The dogs howled and Kumihimo engaged in a wild and powerful rhythm on her instrument.
You must remember, said the echo again.
Everobody stood and ran in chaos, except for Fox. He was getting confused, as if under a bad spell.
Someone tried to cover the fire with a blanket of wool. “Don’t bother, we’re leaving,” said Rukshan before rushing toward the multicolour sand mandala he had made earlier that day. Accompanied by the witche’s mad arpeggios, he began chanting. The sand glowed faintly.
Lhamom told them to jump on the hellishcopter whose carpet was slowly turning in a clockwise direction. “But I want to help,” said Olliver. “You’ll help best by being ready to leave as soon as the portal opens,” said Lhamom. She didn’t wait to see if the boy followed her order and went to help Rukshan with her old magic spoon.
“Something’s wrong. I’ve already lived that part,” said Fox when the screen protecting the mandala flapped away, missing the fae’s head by a hair.
“What?” asked Olliver.
“It already happened once,” said Fox, “although I have a feeling it was a bit different. But I can’t figure out how or why.”
At that moment a crow popped out of the cave’s mouth in a loud bang. The cave seemed to rebound in and out of itself for a moment, and the dark bird cawed, very pleased. It reminded Fox at once of what had happened the previous time, the pain of discovering all his friends dead and the forest burnt to the ground by the shadow. The blindness, and the despair.
The crow cawed and Fox felt the intense powers at work and the delicate balance they were all in.
The Shadow had grown bigger and threatened to engulf the night. Fox had no idea what to do, but instead he let his instinct guide him.
“Come!” he shouted, pulling Olliver by the arm. He jumped on the hellishcopter and helped the boy climb after him.
“COME NOW!” he shouted louder. Rukshan and Lhamom looked at the hellishcopter and at the devouring shadow that had engulfed the night into chaos and madness.
They ran. Jumped on the carpet. Kumihimo threw an ice flute to them and Fox caught it, but this time he didn’t nod. He knew now what he had to do.
“You’ll have one note!” the shaman shouted. “One note to destroy the Shadow when you arrive!” Kumihimo hit the hellishcopter as if it were a horse, and it bounced forward.
But Fox, aware of what would have come next, kept a tight rein on the hellishcarpet and turned to Olliver.
“Go get her! We need her on the other side.”
Despite the horror of the moment, the boy seemed pleased to be part of the action and he quickly disappeared. The shaman looked surprised when the boy popped in on her left and seized her arm only to bring her back on the carpet in the blink of an eye.
“By the God Frey,” she said looking at a red mark on her limb, “the boy almost carved his hand on my skin.”
“Sorry if we’re being rude,” said Fox, “but we need you on the other side. It didn’t work the first time. If you don’t believe me, ask the crow.”
The bird landed on the shaman’s shoulder and cawed. “Oh,” said Kumihimo who liked some change in the scenario. “In that case you’d better hold tight.”
They all clung to each other and she whistled loudly.
The hellishcopter bounced ahead through the portal like a wild horse, promptly followed by Ronaldo and the Shadow.
The wind stopped.
The dogs closed in on the portal and jumped to go through, but they only hit the wall of the powerful sound wave of Kumihimo’s ice lyra.
They howled in pain as the portal closed, denying them their hunt.
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.
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