“Wake up,” Woody said frantic with fear. “Aw, come on wake up!”
“Will you shut up,” Hugo grumbled and rolled away from the irritating noise.
“But you have to get up!”
“What is your major malfunction ‘shroom boy?” Amanita asked.
Woody answered her in a whisper, “The others are here.”
“Stop being so cryptic and spill it,” Hugo demanded, now more interested in what Woody was trying to say.
“The other Muridae are here looking for their missing relatives.”
“Whatever?” Amanita replied.
“I don’t think you understand the seriousness of our situation,” Woody urged.
“And tell me, what would that be?” baited Amanita.
“One they will find the bodies, two they will find the bodies, three they will find the bodies, oh yeah , and us,” Woody answered nervously.
Amanita now sat up in bed with her arms resting on her knees. She watched as Woody paced the floor with excited energy. Hugo remained under the covers, faced down with his arm draped across Amanita’s stomach.
“In response to your concerns I have this to say, count one so, count two, who cares, count three let…them…find…me,” Amanita said and smiled slyly at the thought of a possible onslaught.
“I told you last night there was barely enough here to wet my whistle,” a vicious hunger dripped from her every word like a junky in desperate need of a fix. “If they find us, you just stay out of my way. These mice are too fat to put up much of a fight. They deserve whatever I give them. They should be ready for anything.”
Woody stood rooted in place. She scared him. There was no doubt this Psilocybe pixie was dangerous. Woody flashed on the bodies from the night before. The mangled lifeless masses brutally butchered, three males and two females.
If they truly were as soft as she says then why such violence? One thing was perfectly clear; he needed to stay on her good side.
A commotion in the hall caught their attention.
Woody ran to his usual hiding spot in the corner and cloaked himself.
Amanita pushed the covers off them and laid her hand onto Hugo’s back extending her cloak to cover him. If anyone looked in the room all they would see is an unmade bed.
A mere second after the sheets settled the knob turned and the door opened. Many voices could be heard coming from the hall. Most were males, posturing and lobbing threats at an invisible foe.
“Nothing here, what about that one?” came a voice from the hall as the door opened.
Bright light flooded the room illuminating the crumpled sheets and blankets strewn about the floor.
“Hey, I got something!” Yelled the black silhouette standing in the open doorway.
Three more silhouettes joined the first. Each carried a weapon found from around the mansion. One had a kitchen knife, another carried a heavy frying pan, yet another held a large rolling pin.
“Do you think they’re still here?” Someone asked.
“They are the stupidest thing to walk the earth if they are,” stated another. “If they are here, we’ll beat them to a bloody pulp before finishing them off for what they did.”
“Yeah, come on,” the first one said addressing the others. “They could be in the bathroom, let’s get them.”
Weapons raised high they charged the room, rounded the large bed and kicked in the bathroom door.
As they stormed the large room, Amanita flashed to the bedroom door and quietly closed it. A half a breath later, she was behind the male standing at the bathroom doorway. He was more concerned with trying to see over the heads of the others to notice her.
She stood behind him and with cat light reflexes slit his throat so he couldn’t scream.
The others hearing his lifeless body fall to the floor turned to see what happened.
Amanita stood waiting to pounce on the small band of mice.
Realizing she just killed their friend, each mouse raised his weapon and charged her.
Amanita took out everyone without breaking a sweat. Job completed, she returned to the bed and crawled in next to Hugo, who hadn’t moved a muscle.
“Anybody hungry?” She asked a few minutes later. “I’m famished all of a sudden.”
“Yeah, I’ll have some breakfast,” Hugo mumbled from the bed. His head buried deep in the pillow he hugged.
“What?!” exclaimed Woody still huddled in the corner but now visible. “How could you possibly think about eating at a time like this?”
“What?” Amanita mocked. “First thing in the morning, after you wake is a good time for breakfast. It certainly doesn’t come after lunch. Everyone knows that.”
In a flash she was gone.
“Are you just gonna let her go?” Challenged Woody.
“There could be others here in the mansion. Not to mention…”
“Then don’t mention it,” Hugo interrupted.
“How much longer do you think we could safely stay here?” Asked Woody. “The other mice obviously know something is up.” He nervously paced across the room; back and forth, back and forth he walked. His pace quickened with rising fear.
“Anytime now they’ll be knocking down the door. They’ll…,they’ll…,they’ll…,oh I don’t want to think of what they’ll do,” Woody cried.
“Calm down your giving me a head ache,” Hugo complained.
“Don’t you see?” Woody tried again.
Hugo sat up in bed startling Woody, “No, don’t you see? Where you not just in the same room as me when she single handedly took out those mice in the bathroom?”
Woody shaken, replied timidly, “Well yes.”
“And how many were there?”
“F-four, there were four of them.”
“And how many were in the kitchen last night?”
“That’s right five,” Hugo locked eyes with Woody to drive home his next point. “She did that. She did all that by herself without breaking a sweat or receiving a scratch. I have no doubt that we’ll be fine.”
“I d-don’t like this,” replied Woody trying hard to keep his composure, while inside he shook with fear.
“I don’t want any part in this,” he stated. “I’m leaving.”
“That’s not a good idea,” warned Hugo.
“Of course it is, I didn’t sign on for this.”
“That don’t matter,” Hugo stated. “You work for the boss, you’re here whether you like it or not you’re in this.”
“I can go,” Woody challenged. “I can leave and hide so that even the boss can’t find me.”
“There isn’t a place we can’t find you,” Hugo cautioned again.
“Y-you can’t even find the Oracle,” Woody accused. “If she can get away so can I.”
“Don’t fool yourself Woody. This is just a minor set back. We will find her.”
“The only foolish thing is me waiting around to die at the hands of the mice waiting on the other side of that door.” Woody’s voice grew louder with his growing fear.
“There is no one else here to worry about and we have at least a few hours before they send another search party,” Hugo informed Woody.
“How can you be so sure they don’t have her right now as we speak?”
“She wouldn’t let that happen,” Hugo replied matter-of-factly. “My angel would flash too me before ever letting herself get caught.”
“I got news for you,” Woody warned. “There are those who can keep her from flashing.”
“What are you talking about?” Hugo asked unconcerned.
“There are some who could effectively box her in. She wouldn’t be able to flash away. It’s like hitting a brick wall in every direction.”
“Who are they?”
Woody hung his head ashamed, “I don’t know who they are. All I know is they exist. I thought only Gods had the power to keep us boxed in but there is someone on the boss’ payroll who can do it.”
“You’re not making sense to me. How do you know this?”
“I’ve reported to a special place to keep the boss updated on the Oracle’s movements. It’s a darkened room and I can feel it when this guy enters and leaves. His energy is immense it presses in on me. Anyways, there was one time I tried to leave before he said I could. I hit a wall.”
“I see,” was all Hugo said.
“Now do you understand why we have to go?” Woody asked hopeful he’d finally reached Hugo.
“We stay,” Hugo replied. “The plan doesn’t change.”
“What?!” Exclaimed Woody. “Have you not heard a word I just said?”
“Everyone.” Hugo replied sternly. “It would be wise for you to calm down and don’t even think of leaving.”
Hugo got out of bed, slipped his pants on and walked out of the room with out saying another word.
“Grim, you might wanna take it easy with that mead,” Fay suggested while she gripped the seat for dear life.
“Grim?” he said and pondered the nick name Fay used. “I like it!”
“I’m glad you don’t mind it; but really could you be more careful?” Fay groused. “These bumps are killing me.”
“Oh alright, I‘ll try but I can‘t see with those little lights of your’s blindin’ me. I have a light that would work for the both of us,” offered Grimgour.
He stopped walking and gently set the wheel barrel down. From his shoulder, Grimgour removed a dusty sack and dug noisily through it for a few moments before pulling out a minor’s oil lamp.
A small pin point of blue light floated in the middle of the lamp glass. Grimgour raised the lantern up and gave it a tap. A thick cloud of dust rose from it. He slowly turned it from side to side until he found a knob at the base of the glass. He reach thick chubby fingers toward the small round knob. Grimgour turned the knob carefully; as he did the pin point of light grew bright.
Even though the light seemed dim to the eyes, it lit the entire cavern. Everyone was amazed to see the expanse of the cavern. The room was so enormous compared to the first cavern they’d traveled through.
Ari let out a whistle that reverberated around the room. Water could be heard dripping slowly from the ceiling into pools of all different sizes and heights. The cavern floor was covered in rings of pools with a path winding through it.
“Wow!” exclaimed Apple. “Honey look have you ever seen anything so amazing?”
“No,” Todd answered.
Grimgour hung the light on the wheel barrel’s hook near the handle. He took a deep drink of mead; then carefully picked up the wheel barrel. They were moving through the cavern once again.
“Grimgour will we be on a road like this all the way?” Mina asked.
“Pretty much, there is one place along the way where you’ll have to cross a stream,” he answered.
It wasn’t long before they crossed the pool cavern to enter a long tunnel.
The tunnel was carved out of the surrounding stone. It was carved just high enough for Grimgour to pass through. The top his head nearly scrapped along the ceiling. The blue light that illuminated the pool cavern seemed to get swallowed in the tunnel. There was a grainy look to the walls as they passed. Small flecks of crystal caught and reflected the light as they passed.
The dark tunnel had an ominous enclosed feeling in it.
“I don’t like this place,” Ky said as they entered. “I get a sense of dread.”
“That’s just the rock,” Grimgour replied.
“How’s that?” Mina asked. “How can the rock make you feel things?”
“The stone is a living essence,” Grimgour replied. “It has an energy signature but most creatures can’t pick up on it. Some stones and crystals act as recorders. They capture the energy around them and play it back.”
“That sounds like the Divinity stone I use as an Oracle,” Fay said.
“Oh yes, the Divinity stone was a masterful piece of work,” Grimgour commented.
“How do you know of the Divinity stone?” Fay asked suddenly suspicious of Grimgour.
“My clan had a hand in making the Divinity stone,” he informed them.
“What does that mean?” Mina asked
“Yeah, I thought the Divinity stone was a gift from the Gods,” added Todd.
“Where do you think the Gods got the stone from?” Grimgour challenged. “They charge us to do the jobs dealing with stones.”
“Careful Grim,” Fay warned. “They probably wouldn’t like you telling their secrets.”
“Ah, I’m not worried,” he replied. “They don’t pay us any mind until they need something.”
Grimgour took another deep drink from the carafe. He swayed a little and the wheel barrel rocked violently.
Fay cried out, “Grim watch it! You’re gonna tip us!”
“Na, everything is fine,” he said. “I can hold my mead better then anyone. ”
A rose blush bloomed deep red over his nose and the top of his round cheeks that peek out over his thick beard.
“Maybe we should take a break once we’re out of the tunnel,” Mina offered.
“Yeah, I defiantly could stretch my legs,” agreed Apple.
Grimgour let out a loud hiccup, “the next room has plenty of places you can walk around.”
Mina leaned over to Ky and whispered, “I’m worried that our guide isn’t going to make it much further.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“What do you think we should do?” She asked.
“Don’t worry we’ll think of something,” he replied and tried to reassure Mina by placing his hand over hers.
She didn’t resist his advance. The contact was just as comforting for him as it was for her.
The tunnel seemed to go on forever. The light played tricks on their vision. They seemed to be standing still, neither moving towards the end or further from the entrance.
Grimgour drank mead three more times before the tunnel exit started to grow close. Finally, the exit was upon them. As they drew near the air seemed to change; it was lighter, fresher. Everyone perked up when the air hit them.
A couple more steps and Grimgour left the tunnel behind them. It wasn’t long before he stopped the wheel barrel to let them out. He helped them all, one by one, to get down.
This room was different in many ways, it wasn’t as large as the pool room nor was the ceiling as high.
The blue light from the lantern gave the room an ethereal glow. All along the walls, floor and ceiling were studded with clear crystals that had white smoke like ribbons running through them. They grew from the rocks in every direction. The spears of beauty absorbed and bent the light giving the room a dream like quality.
Aside from the crystals, it felt warmer. Only the circling breeze kept everyone comfortable.
“Girls to right, and guys on the left,” Ari ordered.
“You gonna be alright?” Ky asked Grimgour.
Grimgour sat on the trail next to the wheel barrel. He laid his arm along the wheel barrels top to rest his head upon before answering, “Yeah.”
“That must be some good mead?” Ky prodded.
“Oh the best,” replied Grimgour. “I can honestly say that, hiccup, I’ve never had butter, better.”
“Would you be so inclined as to share a very small swig?”
“Well sure, after all it is bottomless,” Grimgour answered and reached for the carafe he’d set on the floor.
He held the carafe out to Ky almost knocking him off his feet.
“Um, Grim,” Ky started.
“Do you think you could shrink the bottle down to my size?”
“Ha!” Grimgour chuckled. “That’s a good one, my friend. Hold on.”
He held the carafe in his hand looked at it and a moment later is started to shrink back to it’s normal size.
Grimgour handled to bottle carefully even with his inebriated condition.
Ky took the bottle from Grimgour and sat on the ground next to him. Using his shirt, Ky wiped the bottle off and took a deep drink.
The two sat quietly together as they waited for the rest of the group to return.
“What is this?!” Exclaimed Fay. “Wake up, you big behemoth!” Fay poked the slumbering Grimgour in the leg.
A deep snort and leg jostle was his only response.
“Well Rogan,” Fay said almost accusingly, “do you have any bright ideas on how we wake the sleeping giant?”
“Yup, we let him sleep it off.”
“What do you mean let him sleep it off?” Fay continued her verbal rampage. “What are we supposed to do while he sleeps?”
“We should rest as well,” Mina offered. “I could get something together for us to eat.”
“That really sounds good right about now,” Apple replied. “I hadn’t noticed how hungry I was when we were walking but now I’m famished and so is the little one. She is moving around like crazy.”
“It wasn’t easy to find but I got it,” Jim said as he stepped into the library.
“Good. That’s everything then,” Caleb stated. “Now, we wait.”
“What do you need this stuff for anyways, boss?” Questioned Jim.
“This stuff,” Caleb said as he examined the contents of the sac, “is what we’ll need to make our present feel at home. Once she’s comfortable and happy, we’ll get all that’s coming to us. Happiness, a life and most importantly a future free of this cursed place with no enemies to worry about.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Jim replied.
“I haven’t heard any news from Woody,” Jim ventured.
“Ah yes,” Caleb started. “We’ve hit a snag there but I may have a way around it.”
“Is there any way I could be of help?” Offered Jim.
“Yes, as a matter of fact there is,” Caleb answered. “See that I am not bothered again until I come to you.”
“Consider it done,” Jim said before leaving the room.
Caleb locked the door behind him.
In front of the fire, in the comfortable high backed chair, Caleb settled in and propped his feet up on the rest. In a wine glass on the table next to him sat the sleep drought calling to him. Once he drank it, it would be a few moments before he’d be asleep and on his way back to her.
Excitement and anticipation moved through him. He picked up the cool glass and swirled the auburn liquid around. The fire light made it glow warmly, a slight smell of hops wafted from the glass.
Caleb drank the liquid quickly in a single swallow.
“YUCK!!!!” he exclaimed, “What did those witches put in here?”
Whatever was in the amber concoction went down smooth, warming his throat and stomach. A wave of warmth shot from Caleb’s stomach wrapping around his middle and up his torso. When the warmth reached his shoulders it shot down his arms and warmed his hands. As quickly as the warmth moved north, it moved south spreading down his legs and filled his toes. It reached his head last, setting his cheeks a blaze with the warmth. It felt like he was standing in the fire not sitting in front of it.
Caleb let out a slow deep breath as he enjoyed the warmth engulfing him after the horrible shock of the taste.
He studied the empty glass against the fire light, while pondering what ingredients could taste so horrible but feel so good. Resigned to not knowing for now, he moved to place the glass back home on the side table.
The glass never made it safely back. It tipped gently onto the table from Caleb’s now sleeping grip.
“Right on time, my darling,” Gabriella said greeting Caleb from the grassy mound under the shade of palm tree.
“The time we’re apart passes like molasses. Two days seemed like two years but soon it’ll all be over, you’ll be free from this prison,” Caleb said leaning forward offering his hand.
Gabriella slid her hand into his and stood sinuously, never breaking the lock they held on each others eye.
Once on her feet, he pulled Gabriella into a tight embrace and buried his head against her neck. He breathed in her sent. Gods she smelled good, his salty princess.
“I have everything ready,” Caleb started.
“I had no doubts,” she replied, the breath of her words tickled his neck sending a chill down his back.
“The date is set too,” Caleb fought to contain his excitement. He wanted nothing more then to please her.
Gabriella broke the embrace and searched his eyes for any trace of deception before speaking, “When?”
“March eighteenth is the night of the waning moon we’ll need,” Caleb answered. “It’ll reach the pinnacle at 1:15 am. That is the exact moment when the ritual needs to be complete.”
“That’s a few weeks away,” Gabriella said as she pondered the possibility of her plans coming to fruition.
“I’ve got everything ready in the alter room,” Caleb informed her. “All of the ingredients and tools are ready.”
“Oh Caleb, I’m so excited!”
“Me too, I can’t wait until your free of this place and home in my arms.”
His confession cooled her excitement.
Once I’m free, he will have to be dealt with, she thought. I will make sure its quick and painless that’s the least I can do.
“There is one problem,” Caleb reluctantly stated.
His words snapped her back to reality.
“I’m sorry, I was lost in thought,” Gabriella apologized. “What did you say?”
With a deep sigh he repeated the words, “There’s a problem.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Gabriella said reassuringly. “What ever it is I’m sure we can fix it.”
Caleb released her and took a step back. Angry with the circumstances, he didn’t deserve her touch. He wasn’t worthy of her softness. He couldn’t even look at her right now. The disappointment in her eyes would be too much for him. Her disappointment towards him would be crushing. The words worthless, scum, failure, played through his head like a broken record.
“I-I can’t find the Oracle,” he confessed. “Its like she fell off the face of the earth. We lost sight of her during a snow storm.”
“She couldn’t have disappeared,” reasoned Gabriella. “Maybe they had to stop for the storm.”
“No,” Caleb started as he recounted the events of the past couple days. The taking of the mansion, interrogation of locals, and search for crows.
Gabriella was quiet, as she listened to every word he said. She remained quiet long after he finished.
He sat on the ground waiting for her to respond. The same words circled his mind, worthless, scum, failure, unlovable.
Finally, she moved to sit beside him.
Gabriella leaned her head on his shoulder before saying, “She’s got to be on the farm somewhere. I can help look for her. If they are near water I can hear them and depending on the circumstances see them.”
“Really?” Caleb asked relieved.
“Just be glad everything needs water to live,” she responded. “At some point, they will need water and we have time.”
Late into the night thousands of tiny wispy shimmering balls of light fell from the sky like snow flakes in a storm. The balls of light fell with purpose seeking out every sleeping Muridae in every home around the farm from Watertown to Orchard Valley to Packersville, Bean town and everyplace in-between. But not a single wisp of light fell on Flower City.
The lights found their way through hidden windows, under doors, through cracks and more. Once inside each home it moved from room to room looking for the inhabitants. Once found, the light grew brighter filling the room and waking the sleeping Fey.
Dreamy eyed and confused they would wake to shade their eyes from the gently pulsing ball of light hovering above their comfortable beds.
Some of the braver Muridae would reach to touch the ball of light; only to have it move slightly out of reach.
“My children,” came the soft feminine voice from the light that pulsed in time with the words, “Don’t be afraid. It is I, your Goddess Imerra. I come to you tonight with a most urgent warning. You must take up arms and head to the Dark. A war is waging and the survival of your species depends on the out come.”
Wives clutched their husbands, children ran to their parents, everyone was in a state of shock as they listened in disbelief.
“We have already suffered many casualties. Flower City has fallen, all is lost, there is no one left alive. The Dark’s warriors occupy the city still looking for your treasured Oracle. She has escaped and is on route to the Dark as I speak. She is headed to the fight and needs your help. It will take each and everyone of you to win this war. Spare only those needed to care for the children and elderly. The journey will be difficult with the recent storm so you must work together. Regrettably, I can not assist you in your journey. I will meet you at the border and fight side by side with you. Until then stay safe and move swiftly, my dear ones.”
The lights slowly dimmed and finally dispersed in a spray of sparks. The farm fell into darkness once again, only not as quiet as every able Muridae moved into action.
Neighbors, friends, relatives all became sisters and brothers never a tighter family is formed then when one is mulishly attacked for no apparent reason. This very night the call to arms went out and Muridae everywhere heeded the call.
By morning small bands of Muridae laden with supplies set off marching towards the Dark. It threatened to be a long dangerous journey through piles of fresh snow. Fortunately, the sun shining brightly had melted the snow just enough for the troops to walk atop of it without sinking.
Many mice headed to unknown futures lead by inexperienced leaders full of good intentions, heart and a thirst for justice for their fallen friends and family. They left behind wives and children to care for the elderly.
“How much longer do you think he’ll sleep?” Apple asked Rogan.
“Yeah, it’s been hours since he passed out,” added Todd.
“No way of knowing,” Rogan replied.
“That’s it!” exclaimed Fay. “I’ve had enough of this do nothing go no where waiting around thing.”
Fay stood from the seat she shared with Apple and marched to the side of the wheel barrel were Grimgour was napping.
Grimgour in deep slumber never moved a muscle during the hours he spent sleeping off the mead. His head still rested on the arm propped along the wheel barrel’s rim.
For an old lady, Fay could move fast when the mood struck her and now was just one of those moments. She was past the group and standing next to Grimgour before anyone could stop her. She stood with her hands on her hips surveying the sleeping giant.
Finally, with a humph and a decisive nod of the head, Oracle Fay reached high over head and tangled her hands in a single thick strand of Grimgour’s beard. She wrapped the hair a round and round her fist before giving a sharp tug.
Pain shot across Grimgour’s cheek effectively rousing the sleeping giant enough for him to sit up straight and rub the sore spot.
“Bloody hell, what bit me?” He asked dreamily.
“I did,” Fay yelled waving the strand of hair over her head. “You’ve been asleep for hours and it’s high time you got up and we got moving again.”
“All right,” Grimgour responded waving his hand to settle Fay. “We’ll hit the road again don’t get yourself tied in a knot and quiet down there’s an avalanche of falling rocks in my head.”
“That’s what you get,” scolded Fay. “You shouldn’t drink so much, its bad for you. A hangover is nature’s way of reminding you how foolish you’ve been.”
“Shhhhh,” Grimgour pleaded. “You’re not helping.”
“Oracle Fay,” Apple quietly called in an attempt to quell the situation. “Maybe you should take your seat again so we can get moving.
“Great idea,” agreed Grimgour. “You sit down and I’ll just get a drink to clean the cotton from my mouth and then we’ll be on our way. Where did I leave that bottle?”
Grimgour searched the ground around him fruitlessly for his carafe of mead. When he didn’t hit upon anything but the dusty, dirt floor he looked and felt around for the bottle becoming more alarmed with each pass.
“You’re not going to find anything down there,” Fay informed him.
Grimgour grew upset at her taunting, “What have you done with my mead?”
“I’ve done nothing with it,” Fay replied nonchalantly as she fluffed and straightened her clothing.
“Where is it?” Grimgour asked through clinched teeth.
He grew more and more angry with each passing thump that reverberated through his head.
“I’ve got it,” Ky answered. “You said I could have some before you fell asleep.”
“Fell asleep, hah!” Fay interrupted, “That’s generous; I would say more like passed out.”
“Fay please?” Mina pleaded.
“Oh relax all of you,” Fay barked and stood to face Grimgour once again. “Look Grim, you’re going to get up and take us where we need to go. There are a lot of lives depending upon us not to mention the most important one that she carries still. We have to reach our destination quickly or all could be lost for more then just the Muridae race. I have seen visions of a horrible world with no magic, no Fey, and a lot of pain and suffering.”
Apple took in a sharp disbelieving breath and buried her head in Todd’s chest for comfort.
Todd wrapped his arms tightly around his little family.
Mina hugged herself as Ky pulled her close.
Rogan stood to join Oracle Fay. He placed a large hand on her shoulder. Fay reached up and placed her hand over his.
“Grimgour,” Rogan addressed him. “Our deal still stands; you get us to our destination and the carafe is yours. However, I think until that time comes its best if we hold onto the mead.”
Grimgour’s response was a simple head nod acknowledging the new terms.
“Good, now that that’s all settled let’s get this show on the road,” Fay demanded.
Queen Phyce stood in her alter room and stared deeply into the gazing pool, all the while, plotting her next move.
“Here mousey, mouse,” she playfully called in a whisper. “Where could you be hiding my little elusive Oracle?”
The gazing pool presently showed a slowly sweeping view of the pond’s shore in Watertown. A thin layer of clear ice covered the calm water. The ice distorted much of the view as it elongated some of the background and caused the leafless trees to morph and take on an eerie gnarled appearance.
The Queen could make out the small boat dock that lead a short distance out into the water. There were a few trees surrounding the pond. One tree had a low hanging tire swing frozen and snow covered. Tall tawny cat tail weeds stood snow capped along the waters edge. Many were bent and broken under the wait of the fallen snow allowing Queen Phyce to see past to the shore.
There was an obvious foot trail encircling the pond. It was the only place where the snow looked flat. Beyond the trial lay a smattering of trees and fluffy snow mounds where tall grasses once stood. The snow remained pristine and unbroken except for the few rabbit tracks leading to and from the waters’ edge.
“No one’s been to the pond in a while,” pondered Queen Phyce. “Where are they?”
Queen Phyce waved her hand across the gazing pool’s surface changing the scene searching for other open water sources on the farm.
“Todd, how much time do you think has passed since we’ve been down here?” Asked Apple.
“Hard to say with no sun or moon light,” he replied. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”
The crystal cavern continued on narrowing to more of a tunnel, twisting and turning the deeper they traveled through it. The crystals studding the walls, ceiling and floor grew thicker and more smoky. The blue lantern light didn’t penetrate and get reflected back the same as with the smaller ones. Instead the light was almost swallowed by the thicker crystals, causing dark eerie shadows to run along the walls.
“How you holdin’ up, Grimgour?” Rogan asked.
“I’m fine,” Grmgour replied.
“We can stop whenever you need to,” he offered. “The growing heat is practically unbearable for us; I can only imagine how you feel pushing even a small load.”
“This heat doesn’t bother me,” Grimgour replied. “I’m used to it.”
“Where is all the heat coming from?” Asked Apple. “It’s hotter then the hottest summer day down here and there’s no sun.” Plus, the ground above us is frozen with winter’s snow.”
“Some from up above and some from below,” Grimgour answered. “Just depends where we are.”
“Oh,” was all Apple could manage as she pondered the seemingly riddle of an answer Grimgour gave.
“Does anyone have any water?” Fay asked breaking the brief silence.
A resounding no came from the group as one by one each checked their water cans in turn to find not a drop to spare.
“That’s just great,” complained Fay. “How are we to survive this heat with no water.”
Grimgour answered, “Not much further and you can get fresh water.”
“They’ve set up the first camps near the borders, boss,” Jim informed Caleb. “What do you want us to do?”
“Nothing,” Caleb replied flatly as he read notes for the pending unbinding ritual.
“Nothing?” Questioned Jim. “Are you sure? If we strike now they’ll be easily over taken.”
“We do nothing,” Caleb repeated agitation seeped through his tone. “They are of no concern to me; not when a whole city is taken by just two of my best warriors.”
“Granted,” Jim conceded, “but what will happen when their numbers grow?”
“Nothing,” Caleb again replied. “They are fat, unorganized and untrained dopes. We can leave them there to freeze for all I care. I would wager my entire empire that not one of them will call to arms and make the first strike. So we wait and watch cuz nothing is going to happen.”
“Whatever you say boss,” Jim gave up. He stood from the familiar chair opposite Caleb’s desk in the study.
Jim posed one last question, “Is there anything you want me to tell the generals?”
“You can tell them to stay their blades. We do nothing but watch,” Caleb ordered as he looked up finally from his pages of notes, to drive the point home. “My true target has always been the Oracle and that hasn’t changed. It’s not out there with the riff-raff. Now leave me.”
“UGH! I thought you said it wouldn’t be much farther and we’d have water,” Fay complained. “I’m so dizzy, and my head is pounding.”
“We’re almost there,” promised Grimgour.
“I hope so,” added Apple. “Please don’t hate me Grim, but I’m not feeling very well either.”
“Here dear,” Todd offered. “Why don’t you lie down? You can use my lap for a pillow. Close your eyes, I’m sure Grimgour will get us to the water soon.”
Apple nodded and stretched out carefully on the bench like seats. The wood was hard and somewhat uncomfortable but her head felt better. She laid there with Todd as he gently stroked her hair. Apple absently rubbed her belly, a new habit that she found very calming.
Grimgour quickened his pace slightly concerned for the tiny mother to be.
True to his word, it wasn’t much longer before a subtle change was felt in the air. The air felt lighter and less oppressive. The crystals growing from the cavern walls started to shrink in size.
“What’s that noise?” Mina asked, hearing the roar first. “And do you feel that? The air is moving and not just from Grimgour.”
Every step Grimgour took brought them closer to the noise. It grew louder as the air grew lighter and fresher. Everyone perked up with excitement and anticipation to see the source of the life giving water.
They could hardly see anything ahead of them. The path led to a sharp turn in the rock wall. As soon as Grimgour rounded the corner a great rush of fresh air swept over the group.
“Ah!” came the relieved cry from everyone in the wheel barrel.
“It’s a waterfall!” Mina exclaimed in awe. “Oh my Goddess, would you look at this place? I’ve never seen anything so wondrous.”
The new cavern was the biggest yet. It made the orchard look small. There were high ceilings and wide open spaces. The floor was dotted with tall and widely rounded stone pillars. The pillars seemed to hold up the ceiling much the way supports maintain a roof.
The giant rushing waterfall cut the cavern in two. The top of the waterfall was so high, they couldn’t make it out from their position. The base of the waterfall was a far walk away even for Grimgour.
The falling water created a steady breeze throughout the cavern. The air was fresh and clean with a comfortable humidity compared to the passage they’d just left.
“Forget the waterfall,” Ari interjected, “check out the crazy iridescent mushrooms. This place is full of them.”
“Yeah, they remind me of Rogan’s tattoos,” Apple commented.
Everywhere on the walls, floor, rock formations and high up on the ceiling mushroom grew like a pine forest. The smallest most immature were as tall as the Muridae. While, the tallest grew slightly higher than Grimgour and were just as round.
The mushrooms came in every color under the rainbow. Some had cerulean blue caps with Caribbean green stems, others had brilliant orange caps with neon yellow stems, and still others had purple caps with red stems and vise versa. There were polka dots on the largest capes that matched the stem colors.
Every mushroom, tall, small, large capped, twined, what have you, glowed softly from within casting it’s light in a close halo.
“It’s the sheer number of mushrooms that light this room,” Grimgour informed the group. “We’re always careful to tend mindfully. Never taking to many or the balance would be thrown off and we’d loose all of this.”
“What do you mean tend?” Fay asked, all concern over her thirst lost. “Do you mean to tell me you can eat these?”
“Usually things colored like this are poisonous,” added Todd. “Especially mushrooms, there are so many that look harmless but are really deadly.”
“How can you be sure they are safe for us?” Questioned Todd. “Have you entertained many Muridae?”
“Have I lied to you yet?” Grimgour challenged.
“I don’t know, that line about this place being not to far off was a little bit of a stretch, if you ask me,” Fay quipped.
Grimgour shook his head in response to Oracle Fay’s snarky remark. He brought the wheel barrel to rest nearer the shore where the ground was more like sand and there was a natural clearing in the mushrooms.
“We’ll camp here for the night,” Grimgour informed the group. Then he helped them all out of the wheel barrel.
“The temperature difference is amazing,” Mina commented to Ky as they walked a short distance away from the group to stretch their cramped legs.
“Yeah, who knew it was possible for a place like this to exist,” added Ky.
“Mina,” Fay called. “Come help me set up my bed roll. Then we’ll split up to bathe. I’ve never felt so uncomfortable and dirty before in my life.”
“Yes mistress,” Mina called back.
Mina turned to leave but Ky grabbed her arm effectively stopping her. “I’ll set up your bed roll,” he said without looking at her. Oracle Fay and Apple should be separated, the rest of us can set up around them. We’ll each take a shift on look out.”
Mina didn’t turn to face him she looked towards the group and said, “I understand, but do you think that’s really necessary?”
“This place gives me a bad feeling,” Ky answered.
“Are you sure it’s this place and not your loss of telepathy?”
“I can’t be sure,” Ky confessed. “We’ll be cautious nonetheless.” His grip lessened releasing her slowly, Ky’s finger tips lingered not wanting her to leave.
At Mina’s departure, Ky quickly turned his attention to other pressing safety matters. “Rogan, can I have a word?” He called from near the shoreline, well away from the others.
Rogan jogged to where Ky waited, “What’s up?”
“Do you think it’s a good idea to let them separate from us?”
“I don’t see how we have a choice, bro.”
“I don’t like it,” Ky stated distracted. “That would leave both Apple and the Oracle alone with only Mina to protect them.”
“We’re safe down here. No one knows where we are,” Rogan reminded him. “Plus, we got big old Grim to help us.”
“I still don’t like it,” Ky insisted. “I can’t shake this feeling.”
“What feeling is that?”
“That something isn’t right. I can’t say exactly what, but I-I don’t like it,” asserted Ky.
“Do you wanna be the one to tell Fay that she has to bathe with a male?” Rogan asked teasingly. “Good luck with that. Let me know how many limbs she leaves you.”
“Mina is combat trained but not experienced,” Ky informed his friend.
“I think you’re overreacting,” Rogan said as he patted Ky on the back for reassurance. “Come on now, I think we all could use a relaxing soak. You especially, your ripe, p-eeww.”
Ky lifted his arm and took a quick whiff, “Ew, you’re right.”
“I’m glad that’s settled. You’ll see, everything will be fine.”
A few moments later, the traveling party was decidedly split into two groups, the ladies headed north of camp and the boys moved further south of the camp with Grimgour in the lead.
The banks of the underground river were lined with a soft black sandy beach. There were a few large boulders and some smaller rocks scattered here and there throughout the stream bed. The rocks and boulders created natural wading pools of varying depths. The small travelers headed towards the shallow pools while Grimgour sought a deep spot.
The flowing water was clear and slower moving this far from the falls. Grimgour was the first to enter the water. He jumped in clothing and all. The once crystal clear water instantly turned a murky, muddy brown from all the dirt and grit that washed off Grimgour. The muddy brown plumes continued to rise from Grimgour for quite sometime and caused long dirt streaks to flow down stream.
“Geesh, Grim or should I say Grimy, when was your last bath?” Teased Ari.
“Oh, not that long ago,” Grimgour replied simply. “I think it was the last time I was here.”
“Wow, that long ago,” Ari teased before disrobing.
“How’s the water?” Rogan asked settling his change of pants in a dry spot.
“Fine,” Grimgour answered.
“Careful Ro,” Ari cautioned, “You keep that up and he’ll never stop talking.”
“That headache still bothering you?” Ky asked a little concerned in the change in Grimgour’s behavior.
“You have no idea,” replied Grimgour. His head floated just above the water line.
“Cold water doesn’t usually help a hangover,” commented Rogan, walking cautiously towards the water. His pants and boots lay abandoned on the sandy floor.
“Not cold at all. It’s perfectly warm,” answered Grimgour before ducking just under the surface.
“It’s warm?” Ky asked a little shocked.
Ari shrugged his shoulders, “Guess so. Last one in is a rotten human.”
All three took off running towards the water, pushing and shoving each other. Todd stayed back shaking his head at the foolishness before him. It took Todd a few moments longer then the others to disrobe before entering the water.
When Todd finally reached the water’s edge, he was greeted by a giant splash of water from the other’s.
“About time you decided to join us,” Ari taunted. “We’ve deemed you the stinky human. You were the last one in the water.”
“I don’t really care,” Todd replied. “This water feels so good.”
“Yeah, reminds me of the hot springs back home,” Rogan offered.
“I could take a nap,” Ky added.
“What do you think the girls are talking about?” Asked Todd.
“Who knows,” commented Ari. “They’re probably swapping beauty tips.”
“Or, Oracle Fay is bossing them about,” Ky added. A hint of his playful nature returning.
“All I care about is soaking up some of this heat then finding some food,” Rogan stated.
“Time passes oddly down here,” commented Todd. “I’ve completely lost track of how much time we’ve spent down here.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” replied Ari, “Oh Grim will keep us on track.”
“Speaking of food,” Ky said redirecting the conversation. “Do you really think those mushroom will be safe to eat?”
“I told yah they’re fine.” Grimgour chimed in.
Further up stream Mina, Oracle Fey and Apple finally found a suitable spot to enter the stream. The spot was sheltered by a large mushroom perfect for changing behind. It also offered a mostly obstructed view of their entrance into the water.
“Mmmm, this water is absolutely decadent,” Apple said as she settled against the rock wall.
“It feels wonderful on my old bones,” Fay added. “I wish we had one of these at home.”
“You have heated water in your bath,” commented Mina.
“Yeah but this water feels so much better.”
Mina rolled her eyes at Oracle Fay’s statement, “Water is water.”
“Can I ask you both something?” Apple ventured.
Oracle Fay nodded and Mina said “Yes.”
“P-please don’t think horribly of me, I don’t normally talk about others but,” Apple paused troubled by her thoughts.
Oracle Fay prodded, “But?”
Timid Apple quietly continued, “D-did either of you notice Rogan’s tattoo’s when we entered this cavern?”
“No why?” Oracle Fay asked.
“Well, I’m not exactly sure if what I saw was real or a trick of the light. Th-that’s why I wanted to ask you both before I made a huge fool of myself.”
“What do you think you saw?” Mina asked.
“Well, as we turned the corner and passed the opening his tattoos shimmered. They grew a little brighter for a brief moment, somewhat like the mushrooms,” Apple confessed. “It could’ve been the lantern’s light or maybe I’m more tired then I realized.”
“There is only one way to know for sure if what you saw really did happen,” Oracle Fay asserted. “We’ll ask him about it.”
“What?!” Apple said shocked. “I can’t do that. I’d be to embarrassed.”
“I’ll do it,” Oracle Fay stated. “There is little in life that bothers me. Plus, I’ve been curious about his markings since we first met. Tonight will be the perfect opportunity to ask him about it.”
“Ladies,” Mina interrupted, “It looks like the fellas are getting out.”
“Mina!” Apple exclaimed. “You shouldn’t be spying on them. How would you feel.”
“Oh relax Apple. We’re far enough away they wont know.”
“My eyes are too bad to see that far away,” added Oracle Fay.
“Too bad, there’s some really nice eye candy down there,” offered Mina. “If I didn’t know better I’d swear your Todd was one of Lord Fennik’s guard. He’s got a nice build.”
“Thank you Mina, but really you shouldn’t do that.”
“Maybe we should finish up and get out too,” Mina suggested. “I’m sure it wont be long and Ky will be headed up here to get us.”
“I’m not ready yet,” Oracle Fay said in protest. “My joints have never felt so good. I’m telling you there is something different about this water.”
“You’re probably right,” Apple said floating towards the shore. “Even though it feels wonderful, I am starting to prune up. I don’t know if all this warmth is good for the baby.”
“Oh fine, but I’m taking another soak in the morning before we leave,” Fay ordered as she begrudgingly moved towards the shore.
By the time the Mina, Apple and Oracle Fay rejoined the others, camp was set up. The bed rolls were spread across the ground in a circle around a small fire. Off behind the group a much larger blanket was spread near the wagon. Grimgour gave the travelers plenty of room. He also had a fire lit with a small folding table, cutting board and knife set up.
“Where’s Grim,” Fay asked.
“He’s gone to gather some mushrooms for supper,” Ky informed them.
“I’m not to sure about these mushrooms,” Todd said.
“Todd, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Apple said. “I don’t think Grim would do anything to hurt us.”
“Yeah, besides we still have the carafe,” Ari offered.
“That doesn’t matter,” Todd challenged. “He’s so much bigger and stronger then us; he could kill each and everyone of us and take it at anytime.”
“But the fact that he hasn’t proves that he intends to honor his word and see us safely to our destination,” Apple countered.
Todd opened his mouth to argue his point but said nothing. He opened and closed his mouth two more times before a confused and ponderous look came upon his face. He couldn’t argue with her logic.
“Fine,” Todd finally managed to say, “but I will try them first. If nothing happens to me then you can eat. I wont take a chance with our child.”
“That’s ok dear,” Apple said tenderly, “if it makes you feel better I will do as you ask.”
Grimgour emerged from a behind a clump of mushrooms. On his shoulder he carried a tall, young mushroom. It was almost as tall as Grimgour. It wasn’t very thick in the stem only about an inch in diameter. It had a small unopened blue cap and green stem. The shade of blue matched Rogan’s tattoos exactly.
Fay looked to Rogan immediately but there was no change in the coloring of his tattoos like Apple had suggested.
Grimgour said not a word but walked right over to the table and set the long mushroom down with the bottom over hanging the tables edge. Some sandy pieces of dirt were encrusted around the base. Grimgour cut the end off with the large knife he had waiting. The freshly cut end of the mushroom revealed that the green color didn’t permeate the entire stem. There were five blue spots encircling the center of the stem.
Grimgour cut the stem masterfully into smaller more manageable pieces. He took the blocks of mushroom and cut them into thin strips. Next he speared the pieces of mushrooms onto skewers. Grimgour made a skewer for everyone there. Setting one aside for himself, he shrunk the rest down to a size the Muridae could manage.
“Here you go,” Grimgour said and presented the food to Rogan. “I’m sure you know what to do.”
“Ah, yeah. What would that be exactly?” Rogan asked.
A slight look of confusion passed quickly across Grimgour’s face before he said, “Roast them over the fire until they glow brightly.”
Rogan only nodded his understanding and returned to the group. He passed out the skewers and as everyone moved closer to the camp fire toasting their mushrooms.
Fay reached for the skewer Rogan offered but grabbed his hand instead. She gently pulled him close.
He obliged her unspoken request and leaned his ear closer to her. Oracle Fay spoke in a hushed tone, “Rogan what was Grim referring to when he said you’d know what to do?”
Rogan’s only response was a shoulder shrug. He pulled his hand free and again handed Fay her mushroom skewer.
Fay, undeterred by Rogan’s brush off, pursued her line of questioning less discretely. “Rogan, have you had this type of mushroom often?”
“No,” he answered unaffected by Oracle Fay’s brash attempts to make him tell her the truth.
“Fay, what are you doing?” Mina asked.
“I’m trying to find out if these mushrooms are safe,” Fay said in a tone warning Mina not to interfere.
Rogan said nothing, he stared at his roasting mushroom turning it slowly in fire.
Fay cleared her throat, “As I was saying before Mina rudely interrupted, Rogan you said you haven’t eaten these often, why is that?”
“Fay, stop this,” Mina chided. “You’re being childish. Rogan doesn’t know anymore about these then we do.”
“Really, Mina?” Challenged Fay. “How can you be so sure? What do you know about him? Hum? Do you know where he comes from? What he’s done in his life time to this day? Who his family is? Tell me. What do you know for sure?”
“Stop it! Both of you,” Rogan exclaimed. He stood to address the whole group. “Mina, leave Oracle Fay alone. She is just trying to protect the group.”
“No, she isn’t Rogan,” Mina stated. “She’s being a mean old lady. And I use the term lady lightly.”
“Watch your tongue,” warned Oracle Fay.
“Or what?” Mina said finally loosing her restraint. She stood and walked to where Fay sat. Mina would look Fay in the eyes while telling her just what she thought. “You’re not gonna do anything. There is nothing you can do to me. I’ve had it with you. You’re a mean bitter being. Sure you have moments of niceness but even that is calculated. Why do you have to be like this? So mean and chafing. You don’t let anyone like you for long. As soon as someone shows any concern or caring you turn on them.”
Fay sat there and didn’t say a word. She looked Mina in the eyes through her entire rant. Fay didn’t flinch she took all that Mina had to give. There it was, someone else turned on her. They always did in the end. They would either turn on her or leave even now.
“And for your information none of us have to be here. We are here as a favor to our Lord and Goddess. Our stories don’t matter. What we’ve been through, where we’ve been doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re here for them and you and every Fey creature in existence, and to some extent the humans too. Without us and you fulfilling this mission there will be no them. So to make the rest of this trip bearable, I highly suggest that you shut up and be thankful for everything we do.”
The longer Mina carried on, the more Fay’s wrinkled face changed. Her look hardened, her wrinkles deepened, her stare more focused. She started clinching her fists. Tension screamed a warning by the way she carried her body.
Ky quickly grabbed Mina by the arm and pulled her away from the group. “Come on, you need to cool off. That’s enough.”
Mina looked to Ky as realization of what she’d done settled in. Her eyes grew large and a blush covered her cheeks as a tear ran down her face.
Ky wrapped his arm around her back supporting Mina as he lead her away.
They walked in silence for quite sometime a long the stream’s edge. Tears streamed down Mina’s face but she just let them fall. The campsite grew steadily smaller behind them and still they walked in silence until it was finally gone from site.
Mina sat in a crumple on the sandy beach exhausted and cried out. Ky sat next to her and pulled her close. She welcomed his touch and laid her head on his shoulder listening to the rhythm of his easy breathing.
“Ky, what have I done?” she asked in disbelief. “Was that really me? I’m not that cruel and that was cruel.”
“Sh-sh-sh, Mina don’t. Everything you said was true. Brutally honest but true. Fay is a hard nut to crack. She has her own issues but that doesn’t give her the right to treat others cruelly,” Ky offered.
“Regardless of that, I still should never have talked to her that way.”
“Look, we’re all stressed and tired,” Ky said. “This isn’t easy for any of us. Least of all, an almost eighty year old mouse, who when this journey is all said and done, may not live through it.”
“All the more reason I should’ve bit my tongue.”
“Here,” Ky said jostling his should to rouse Mina.
“What?” She asked as he moved to kneel in front of her.
He gently grabbed her chin and said, “Open up, let me see.”
“See what? You’re being silly.”
“I wanna know if you have a tongue left. You’ve bitten it so often around Fay. I don’t believe there’s one in there.”
She swatted his hand away from her face, “Your nuts,” she said with a chuckle.
“Yeah and you’re in a better mood, so I win,” Ky replied.
Oh, really,” Mina said rolling her eyes as she pushed Ky playfully. “It’s gonna take more then that to put me in a better mood.”
“Is that so?” Ky asked with a sly smile and a devilish look in his eyes that was not lost on Mina.
“Yes that’s so,” she said tersely. “Don’t go getting any funny ideas.”
“What?! Who?! Me never.”
“Just stop that line of thought right where it began Ky Montrachet,” warned Mina. “Mister, I don‘t like this place and we gotta be safe.”
“That hasn’t changed but now I got this added worry.”
“And what would that be?” She asked.
“I’m worried that I can’t get you in a better mood. I thought this might work,” He said leaning in close to her and brushing her lips with his before gently kissing her.
Mina melted at his tender touch.
Ky pulled back and searched her eyes for acceptance, “how are you feeling now, any better?”
“I think maybe just a smidge better,” she answered looking deeply into his eyes and biting her lower lip.
“I’d say that’s progress but I know I can do better then a smidge,” Ky said and leaned in to steal another longer more passionate kiss.
“Now, what have we here?” sneered Queen Phyce as she peered at the entwined couple on the stream bed. The Queen refocused her gaze along the water’s edge until she found her prize. “You cleaver, cleaver little mice. You’re all the way deep underground, no wonder we couldn’t find you, but now I’ve got you.”
She quickly turned from the gazing pool to her guard, “Get me Gee.”
No one said a word as Ky led Mina away from the camp fire. And still no one said anything long after loosing site of them. They either stared at the mushrooms roasting over the fire or at the ground.
“I blame all of that on you,” Fay finally said looking directly at Rogan. “This whole thing could’ve been avoided if you’d only answer my questions.”
“That’s not fair,” Apple said. “It’s not right for us to question those the God’s entrust to guard and protect us. They wouldn’t put our lives in danger.”
“Your such a sweet innocent child,” Fay replied, “but I would ask you to butt out. You know nothing of what the Gods would ask or do to us for their own gain. You’ve no idea what I’ve seen or been through all in the name of the Gods.”
“Now hold on here,” Todd said jumping to Apple defense.
“I will not,” Fay interrupted defiantly, “Just look around you. Where are we? Never mind everything that came before, look at us right here, right now. I ask you, where…are…we? We are trapped, yes trapped, deep underground traveling towards a dark alter, deep in a region no Muridae goes willingly, but us. We are walking right into the lion’s den all in the name of the Gods and why? They want to bring about some great change but wont tell us what that change is. Why not? They ask us to blindly do whatever they will and for what? A thank you. That’s no longer good enough for me. I’ve given up way to much of my life and loved ones to follow blindly, any longer.”
“B-but that’s faith,” Apple’s sweet tender voice replied.
Her three simple words stopped Fay in her tracks. The word faith hung for a long time in the air like a prayer.
Apple found the courage deep within to speak the next few words softly, “I have faith in them. I know I may be young and na´ve but since carrying my baby I’ve seen awful things myself. I’ve had dreams of what the world will be without my child and what we are doing right now. So I believe with every fiber of my being that this is right. I have faith that the Gods will protect and keep us.”
Todd reached for his wife’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
“I don’t talk much about anything but if it helps you all I will share some things,” Rogan said. “The only condition is I choose which questions to answer.”
“Agreed,” Fay responded.
“After dinner,” Ari added, “Check it out, it looks like our mushrooms are done. They are glowing even brighter then the others. It’s gonna be like eating light. Cool!”
“Bon appetite,” Rogan said before taking a bite of the roasted mushroom. He relished the meaty, earthy taste. It had a hearty chewy feel without being tough or rubbery. It was juicy with a slightly smoky flavor from roasting. He took another bite and chewed it slowly savoring the great meal.
“Well Rogan hasn’t keeled over yet,” observed Ari. “So, I guess it’s safe.”
Ari brought the skewer close to his face and smelled the brightly glowing green mushroom chunks. They smelled ok mostly like smoke from the fire. Next, he turned it over looking for anything odd. Then chuckled at realizing the whole thing was odd. Finally, Ari took a small bite of the exotic food. He chewed once, then twice, and moved it around before chewing a third time. The flavor was amazing to him.
“Wow,” exclaimed Ari. “This is like nothing I’ve ever tasted. It’s hard to describe, like all of my favorite dishes in one. How is that even possible?”
“Really?” asked Todd, still skeptical off the odd fungus. He copied Ari in approaching the glowing food before him, first smelling then looking it over before taking a small bite.
“Todd you should see your face,” Ari said in awe.
“Why? What’s wrong with it?”
“Honey, your cheeks are all lit up,” Apple answered with giggle.
“Well, I don’t care this food is great!” Todd replied excitedly. “Go ahead try it.”
“Finally,” Apple said before taking a big bite. “Mmmmm, that is good! Thank you Grim.”
“Sure, no problem,” Grim replied in-between mouthfuls.
Fay said nothing as she timidly tried the food. It was wonderful just as the others said. It was warm and filling. The wonderfully meaty feel calmed her frayed nerves. There was something to be said about the peace that followed a good meal.
Everyone finished their first skewer, roasted a second helping and just started eating again by the time Mina and Ky returned to the group.
“Mina are you okay?” Apple asked concerned with Mina’s disheveled appearance and flushed cheeks.
“I’m fine just a little hungry, thank you for your concern Apple,” she answered and took a seat as far away from Oracle Fay as possible.
Ky got a new skewer of food for the both of them and sat next to Mina.
Everyone sat around the fire without speaking, tension hung thick in the air. The only one unaffected was Grimgour who sat on his blanket eating quietly.
“I think there’s only one thing that can liven you all up,” Ari offered. “Ky grab that carafe. Wine all around including Grim. It’s time to get some good spirits rolling or the rest of this journey is gonna be just miserable.”
“You got it,” Ky answered grabbing the carafe of wine from deep within his pack.
“None for me, thanks,” Apple said. “Its not good for the baby.”
“I think we’ll let you pass but just this one time,” joked Ari.
The mood barely lifted with the first few passes of the bottle.
Oracle Fay still hadn’t said a word to anyone, which was very unusual for her.
Apple being the only clear headed among them started the conversation off, “Um, Rogan is it ok to talk about where you come from now?”
“No time like the present. I’ve got a full belly and a gentle warmth in me, so fire away,” he answered.
“Well, can you tell me about your tattoos?” She asked.
“There isn’t much to tell,” Rogan replied nonchalantly. “Suffice it to say, they are a custom my race follows; all our worriers have them.”
“Oh,” Apple said intrigued by his answer.
“And what race would that be?” Oracle Fay asked snidely.
“I’m from the Sho-chee court.”
“I’ve never heard of the Sho-chee court.”
“I don’t expect you should have Oracle,” replied Rogan. “My God ruled long ago and has since been dormant.”
Apple leaned a little closer towards Rogan as he talked. Enthralled by his story, she wanted to know more about the being sitting across the from her, “Wow, Rogan what kind of God is Sho-chee?”
“The proper way to say His name is Xochipilli; I guess it’d translate into The Flower Prince.”
“Ha! Are you kidding me?” Fay asked in surprised laughter. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard yet. You mean to tell me you’re a guard for a flower prince. What does he have to worry about someone stomping on his pretty little flowers?”
“Mock me if you want but without Him you wouldn’t have had the food you ate tonight.”
“What are you going on about?” Fay questioned.
“I can answer that one Rogan,” Grimgour interjected. “These mushroom come from the realm of Xochipilli. They were a gift for some job or other we did, no doubt. The thing is these mushrooms are special. They have many uses depending on how they’re ingested. If you were to eat nay just lick one without preparing it you’d be drugged with a powerful hallucinogen. It’s said this helps those seeking inspiration open doors to the heavens and creation itself.”
“This just gets better,” chuckled Oracle Fay. “Your God is a drug lord and that’s why he needs worriers.” Fay fell to her side in a fit of laughter.
Oracle Fay’s disrespect of a God enraged Mina once again, “Fay, how could you laugh at another’s God?”
“Hold on,” Ky interrupted. “Mina, I don’t think she is quite herself at this moment. Look.”
Laying next to Fay on the ground was a small bite of undercooked mushroom.
“Hm, how fortunate for us,” stated Rogan. “She’ll sleep like a log tonight and this inquisition is over.”
“How long until she falls asleep?” Mina asked.
Oracle lay fast asleep before another word was spoken. Mina moved Fay into a more comfortable position while the others cleaned up from dinner.
“Rogan,” Apple started. “Can I ask you something else?”
Reluctantly he answered, “Let me guess, you want to know how I ended up with Lord Fennik?”
“Well, yes,” she answered timidly. “That is if you want tell me.”
“I don’t and please don’t ask again,” replied Rogan.
“Come on Apple let’s get some sleep too,” Todd said as he wrapped an arm round her. “We’ve got a long road still ahead of us.”
“Ky, I’ve got a crazy idea,” Ari offered.
“Ok, I’ll bite what is it?”
Ari spoke quickly, “You saw how fast this stuff knocked out Oracle Fay right?”
Hesitant Ky answered, “Yes?”
“Then I propose that we….”
“Don’t, just don’t,” Ky interrupted. “Ari, I know what you’re going to say and as much as I’d agree this trip would be more pleasant with her asleep; she would also be more of a liability that way.”
“Aw come on,” pleaded Ari. “How about we bring a little just incase. That way we’ll have an out if she gets too insufferable again.”
“But Ky, think of poor Mina,” Ari tried again. “She could use a break…”
“Don’t pull me into this,” Mina interrupted. “But if you were to ask me I’m with Ari on this one.”
“Great that’s two against one,” Ari teased. “I’ll pack some right away.”