House of the Macacawks
'Man, this map's tricky,' said Betro, one of Lexon Gambwell's four man, staring aghast at the map he held, which had been directing them to go south until a minute previously, and had suddenly changed for south-west instead.
'Gambwell, this is all shit!'
'Give it to me, dumb head,' said Lexon and snatched the map from Betro. He looked at it, it was no longer asking them to travel south-west, but east. 'Holy!' Lexon gasped the next moment, as all the contents disappeared altogether, leaving the map a total blank.
Furious, he tore it into half a dozen pieces and threw aside.
'Hey,' said Gensk, another of his men. 'Why did you do that for?'
'It's useless, she scammed me!' Lexon looked away.'
'She?' said Betro, confused. 'A woman? Whom are you talking about?-Hey, hey, you know, then, who kept the gold below the tree?'
'Shut up,' Lexon snapped. 'And get the chest open, will you? I want to see the gold.'
Betro grimaced, but dragged the chest to their midst. Producing a key, he unsuccessfully tried at the lock a couple of times. In the third attempt, it finally gave way. Lexon's heart beat quadrupled, fear stirring in his pit. He shouldn't have accepted the witch's deal at all, the map was already nuts; just as a dog's tail never straightened, and sly never disembodied a witch, whatever you say. Still, all the hard work with Henry and his family, he didn't want seeing it get wasted.
For some time, Betro struggled with the chest, which was too tightly shut and refused to open up. Not long before, though, he was able to get it open. And open it did, to reveal the glittering wealth and to etch relief onto Lexon's features.
It is rather remarkable to note how quickly expressions change. Indeed, a few things have the capability to be faster, it must be said. And specially, when immense relief switches places with tragic grief... well, expressions tend to forgo their quality of speed... just as was the case with Lexon and his men. Even as the quantity of gold became ash, Lexon, and for "long" while, remained gazing at it, his face bearing relief still, though in a very slow rate, it was changing.
Lexon fell onto his knees.
'Mai canniola,' he muttered. '...You cheated me.'
Stark horror was the only expression he now had.
Charles nearly walked into Tonkeytus, the leader of the tribe of the short men, when he suddenly appeared right in front of him.
'You?' he exclaimed. Behind, Henry's pet cat made a fearful sound. Less than a quarter of an hour had passed since they left the spot where they had been interrogated by Lysando, the wizard, and here was Tonkeytus once more, who had, so sincerely, asked them apology for the trouble from Lysando.
Aunt Isabella, at annoyance's peak, furrowed angrily. The fact that Tonkeytus knew magic did not much bother her.
'You are here again?'
Tonkeytus ignored her but insisted on Charles.
'You were lying then, weren't you?' He asked him in curious words. Caught off guard completely, Charles spluttered an awkward 'How d'you know?' betraying all the efforts he had made at concealment earlier at once.
'It's child's play for me to differentiate between a truth and a lie.' Although a small form, he cast quite a towering aura about himself.
Charles attempted at regaining himself, wishing he hadn't been stupid.
'But why do you care who we are?'
'I don't care who you are, only your relation with Albert Bennet. You, boy, resemble him a lot, particularly your ears-which I doubt at being a mere coincidence.'
Charles knew his grandfather had an ear bigger than the other, just as himself. His father had told him of that who, too, had the same case with his ears. It was a generic physical feature, he had said, that passed from father to son. Charles always betted, no matter how many greats you put before, his entire line of grandfathers had had the same kind of ears.
Charles decided o answer in an obvious manner.
'Alright, I'm Albert Bennet's grandson; so, what do you gain from it? And what would you lose if I'm not?'
'It's nothing about gaining of losing,' Tonkeytus replied, eyes reflecting his inner determination. Somewhere, Charles felt, Tonkeytus was steadily getting onto a definite goal. 'Are you sure you are Albert's grandson?'
Strangely, Charles found himself keeping quiet. He just kept looking at Tonkeytus, his gaze wavering from time to time. It was probably best, considering that he could not sum up any way of dealing with the proximity question. Whether to decline or subject, he was incapable to decide. Either for good or for worse, it wasn't known, Thomas picked up the talk, so that Tonkeytus was made to turn at him instead.
'Yes,' Thomas blared. 'Albert Bennet was our grandpa, so you don't fry our heads anymore.'
'You are not lying, are you?'
Thomas grunted itch.
'All the time you are asking us to tell the truth, and when we do so, you call it a lie?'
Tonkeytus, whom Thomas surpassed by a foot, eyed him, but not with contempt. It was a wholly different kind of expression his face hosted. Somewhat of disbelief, yet not without a tinge of belief as well. Charles saw a very confused mind indeed, behind Tonkeytus' face. Although, he never was sure what played in it. Here was someone determined, but divided between himself as regard his decisions. Then Tonkeytus became completely vacant.
'Alright,' he said, nodding to them, though speaking more to himself. He produced a small black glass bottle from a pocket in his trousers.
'What's that' Charles said, his ears hot for some causes.
'Nothing...' Tonkeytus murmured slowly, uncapping the bottle, unleashing an immensely sweet aroma in the process.
'Hey, hey-DON'T!' An alarmed Aunt Isabella deliberately tried to reach for the bottle in Tonkeytus' hand-she never got it. She crashed onto the ground, and before he realised it, Charles had fallen too. Strong dizziness was over him in wee seconds. Then all he knew about was slipping into the arms of a deep warm sleep...
It had been a long time since the Assurs and the Dwarfy Dwarf had seen Canniola get into such a rage as this. And they feared it most because she simultaneously kept unleashing her fury upon them, randomly shooting curses at anyone whenever an occasional sound or two was heard.
However, in reality, Mai Canniola's external madness only reflected a portion of the internal tantrum that was swelling inside of her. She was doing her best to control herself; murdering her own followers, she was but merely causing harm to herself, and she knew that more too well than not.
But what had happened was in no way something that could be flung aside without worry. The Macacawks had got them, and neither the purple one or Miranda, or herself, had been able to stop it, solely because of the risk of getting revealed. She wanted to, using all her might, direct her powers to solve the problem, but a failed attempt would leave none but the last option: Force that would lead not only to the disclosure of the entire plot to the Descendant, but also to the Potion Makers and Macacawks and whom not.
Canniola trusted the Purple one and Miranda with everything for devising a way out; the former specially, he had been the greatest help ever bestowed on her. However, the main trouble was time; it was the last month of the 3000th year, and if they could not shake off the Macacawks well before the days ran out, then she would be doomed to be monitored by Navarion for all eternity...
Her jaw muscle twitched as she heard her head Dwarfy Dwarf, who stood beside her throne, gulp audibly. He flinched, apparently shocked at his own unconscious doing, then remained still for good.
Mai Canniola clenched her fists into balls, fighting to be in her cool. No, he is too important... I mustn't... I cannot...
The next minute saw the head Dwarfy Dwarf lying dead on the floor in a pool of blood after the witch had throttled him to limpness and then literally shredded out his guts with her misty two inch long nails.
'NOOO!!!' Canniola shrieked, reverberating everywhere, shaking every single being in the castle. 'NO! DO SOMETHING, ARAKOSH! DO SOMETHING!'
'Ummm,' Charles moaned as he opened his eyes, feeling a soft bed underneath him. When the blur finally gave way, he saw a ceiling overhead, white washed, decorated with a large painting of a plant sapling. There was a very strong scent of soil about the room that though wasn't really any bad smell, Charles found itchy.
He thought of rubbing away the remaining sleep, but strangely, he never actually did so. He thought again the same thing, and once more, his hands his hands did not move up to his eyes, remaining as they were. Charles frowned, wondering. Before soon, the frown faded and his brows climbed high in his forehead and his eyes widened his mouth opening. He realised, he was unable of moving his arms, how hard he tried. In fact, he could not move any part of his body at all, his head being the one exception. His torso, his legs, arms, hands and fingers; they were totally not responding to his mind's will. Of course, that they were there, he was able to feel their presence, it was not like they had gone devoid of feeling absolutely. But his connection with them did not extend any further. From his shoulders onward to the tips of his feet, he could not move a single muscle.
As Charles fretted over his body, no idea at how it had come to such a state, just then, the door of half-of-usual-size of the room was pushed open, and in came a beaming Tonkeytus, a food trolley in front of him.
'Awake, aren't you?' he said. Charles had a violent urge to smack his brains out, and he didn't think he would have resisted to play it out in actuality if not for his presently corpse like body.
'You!' he snarled. 'What have you done to me? And where are the others?'
'Oh,' said Tonkeytus, still smiling. 'Don't worry it's nothing. Your body will be alright in a couple of hours; it's so at the time being because you smelled the Paralyin gas. Your friends are in a different room and unconscious. I just wanted to show you to somebody.'
'Shut up!' Charles hissed, 'You kidnapped us, you bastard!'
'Well,' he said, taking it without offence. 'I am not one, and this is no kidnapping; you'll be freed once you talk with Grandcawk.'
'I'm talking with no one! Just release us!'
'Can't actually, not before the effects of the Paralyin gas wears off you. And, anyway, you'll be only glad I brought you here-at least if you truly are Albert Bennet's grandson.'
'I am, so what; let my body get okay and then see what I do to you!'
Tonkeytus mused loudly, then bringing the trolley beside Charles, said,
'Cool down, boy, cool down; you don't look the killer kind anyway. And I repeat, you'll be only glad I brought you here once you meet Grandcawk. Um, here is some bread, butter and tea, your upper body will be quite functional by half-an-hour, and you can have this then.'
It was at that moment that something struck Charles: Tonkeytus, standing next to the bed, might have as well been taller than himself.
Though hatred was boiling hot inside Charles, he could not help but become puzzled at it. Tonkeytus, hadn't he been shorter than half a normal man the last time he had seen him?
'Um,' said Tonkeytus. 'I've got some work, so... well, I'll come after sometime.'
Making to the door, he was about o open it, when Charles, in between noisy breathes, said,
'You got big. How?'
Much to his surprise, Tonkeytus chuckled.
'It's strange, isn't it, how one's perspective may lend him such a reversed outlook on the reality? ... Wait sometime more, there is more to it.'
He left the room, and Charles sand deeper into his pool of confuse. "Reversal of the reality"? What on earth did he mean by it? And what was more there more to it? ...
Nothing could have been more disheartening to Charles than lying on that soft bed, fully conscious of mind, but exercising a dead man's capability for movement.
Aunt, Thomas, Henry... were they safe? He did not know if he should trust Tonkeytus. His character was too doubtful for it; he appeared all friendly and had a kind old face, but Charles could not understand why he had first helped them in getting away from Lysando, and then rounded upon them to maliciously make them unconscious and brought them to this place consent less.
What Charles was sure about was that everything happening had a strong connection with his grandfather. From Garvinson's spirit to his present situation, all had his grandfather at the base.
I was almost unnatural that such odious people knew him. Of course, he had been a naturalist and, although infamous for the failed Tropagian mission, was quite a known name in Belaria. But ghosts and tailed humans, who dwelt in Tropagia, knowing him... that, allowed Charles a very twisty sensation in his guts that he had never experienced before.
Charles was a damnling sure even his father hadn't had any knowledge regarding Grandfather's veiled relations with the mysteries of Tropagia, and didn't think it was all pious on the latter's part in keeping mum towards his family, if not others.
Charles really missed his father, especially now that the world seemed to be converging into bleak weirdness, the series of unimagined, out-of-place, charging at them like mad bulls. Maybe, somehow, these things wouldn't have happened had he been there. Charles heaved a sigh.
The plight of a drunken cabman cost a lot... The cab had run over his father, killing him on the spot.
The realisation of controlled movement of the upper body came after what qualified for an aeon. His legs had still to revive, but just the fact he could move his arms about infused great spirit in him. And yes-
It was time he did something.
Charles rolled himself to the side of his bed; then, using his arms for safety, dropped to the floor, managing to hurt is hips nonetheless. It was at that moment Charles caught a glimpse of something dangling to his lower back, kind of a rope.
There was an abrupt pause in his breathing, as a second glance told him more than he would have preferred digesting. It wasn't a rope; it shared the light brown colour of his skin, or extended from his own body. Charles' heart skipped a breathe; he did not want to hear this.
It was a tail. His "own" tail.
His hand quivering, he touched and held it. He could feel it. Although, like his legs, it didn't respond to his will, it was possible for his to sense his being. It was a part of him just as the rest of his body was.
And all this time he never realised its existence, until now? How?! Charles felt stupid, and then thought it was not his fault after all. He had never had a tail, and wasn't accustomed to bearing one. It was obvious he had mistaken it with his legs and backside. Question was,
How did he happen to have a tail?
'Surely Tonkeytus,' he answered himself. 'He did this, no doubt.' While he could not speculate a reason why, he was definite Tonkeytus, who knew magic, had used his vile powers to give him a tail. And was this what he had meant by his words?
Charles contorted his face and gritted his jaw muscle. As long as a child, he remembered, he "had" wanted a tail and had fantasized possessing one. But he wasn't a child anymore, he didn't fancy one nor did it please him very much for others to play out all sorts of weird transformations to his body.
He jerked his head when he heard the muffled noise of gunshots being fired in a continuous row, that took not less than half-a-minute to cease, then, immediately following, was the raising of an enthusiastic song, sung in unison by what had to be a whole crowd of people:
You're good and great;
Never have we met someone,
More clean of soul and straight!
You sled the terror,
All our maladies and heartaches,
You've always been there to cure.
Today, you've reached your 200th year,
And, praise you, we've no sorrows to bear.
A happy, happy birthday to you Grandcawk!
Even we nutty people, your blessings turned brainy,
Have washed and cleaned our stinky socks!
Without you, we are nothing, we pride no existence;
You're to us all, the smoothest, the wisest,
And the strongest fence.'
The song came to its magnificent ending in high tones, after which there was much cheering and merry shouts for some time. They gradually quietened in a few minutes, and silence took over.
Though whelmed by the sudden intensity of the song, there was only one question Charles found himself asking-People? What kind of place was it outside of the room?
He hadn't been all sure where Tonkeytus had brought them, and this had merely increased his curiosity. Of course, Tonkeytus did not live alone, he had his men and Lysando, together with the wolf-monster, that Charles needn't be told of; but the song had had female voices too, and also, possibly, voices that ought to have belonged to children.
Mustering great effort, Charles dragged himself to the door. It was closed from outside and firmly shut. Charles rapped hard at it no fewer than two dozen times, yelling forcefully Tonkeytus' name. Everything was in vain; that somebody was nearby outside, was an 'anti-possibility.'
His arms and throat thoroughly exhausted, Charles gave up his pointless efforts and retreated to hoping. There was nothing to do, and his limp legs added a good amount to that. If Aunt, Thomas and Henry did not turn up alright, Charles swore, he'd smother Tonkeytus if he could-Thing was, he couldn't, not now in his present condition anyway.
Charles began waiting. It was a wait for the effects of the Paralyin or something, to wear off his legs; however, before the wait ripened, he heard the clatter of approaching footsteps.
Charles fisted his mad out at the door.
'GET ME OUT OF HERE! GET ME OUT OF HERE!'
A woman called out in a rushed tone.
'Charles, it's okay, it's me, your Aunt; I've come to you.' It was indeed Aunt Isabella. Charles mentally scolded himself for not recognising the voice.
'Get the door open fast, I want to see him,' she told someone, and an 'Of course' of readily agreement issued, that Charles believed to be Tonkeytus.
A click of unbolting, and the door opened to reveal the two of them. Lines of worry were cleaved onto Aunt's face, who respired fast and tense, her arms thrown wide as if searching; Tonkeytus, initially about to gesture at the bed, then opting for the floor once seeing Charles.
They were of the same height. Aunt Isabella had a tail.
'Aunt!' said Charles astonished eyes prowling at her tail and interrogating of her unnatural short stature.
'It's him,' said Aunt, flushing red, chinning at Tonkeytus. 'He did it to all of us,' she added, and it was explained to Charles why Tonkeytus had looked taller earlier, as of now-he himself had shrunk in height.
'It's nothing to worry about. Your bodies will become as before once you go out of the house.' Tonkeytus sounded obvious.
Charles stared him dead at the eye.
'Why did you bring us here for, and what's this place exactly?'
Tonkeytus opened his mouth, but it was Aunt Isabella who answered, her tone pressed.
'He wants us to meet someone called Grandcawk, head of their tribe or something. He says this is their 'house', and we are a great depth below ground.'
Charles exhaled sulkily, casting a pair of stern eyes at Tonkeytus.
'You ridiculed that other man, Lysando, for thinking us to have relation with Albert Bennet, why did you change your mind then, eh, and brought us here without consent?'
'I know,' said Tonkeytus slowly, I brought you here against your will, and I'm sorry for that. But we have something of your grandfather's that we want to return. And, as I told you then, you look like a miniature of your grandfather; you reminded me strongly of him. I planned of bringing you here the very moment my sight fell on you. But I could not do so in front of Lysando and the Macacawks, and hence had to fend him off and catch up with you later.'
'But why?' Charles asked. 'They are your men after all.'
Tonkeytus furrowed quizzically, as if Charles question was pretty much dumb.
'You sure know very little about your own grandfather boy,' he turned his head sideways. 'And you, lady, you must be knowing something about Albert's life, right? He was your father!'
Aunt Isabella, not catching, had eyes dull as a vacant room. Tonkeytus strained the edge of his upper lip disbelievingly, then, after apparently checking the annals of his memory, finally was able to wear an expression of understanding on his face.
'So,' he said, to himself rather than Aunt or Charles. 'Good old Albert kept his promise, after all. He didn't tell anybody, even his own family about us-and still they call his "Traitor"!'
His mouth formed a self explanatory "O" and he nodded briskly to himself.
'What are you talking about?' said Charles, observing Tonkeytus.
Tonkeytus, suddenly reminiscent, snapped out and said,
'...No, no; it's not your fault you don't know anything about your grandfather's life. We made him vow not to tell anyone about ourselves, Tropagia dwellers... Well um, you see, Albert was a great man, and was a great friend of both the Macacawks and the Potion Makers...well, that was until he was framed.'
'Framed?' said Aunt, an awkward iciness in her word.
'um, yes,' said Tonkeytus, 'Albert was framed of murdering the then king of the Potion Makers, Brucus the first, and...'Tonkeytus clicked his tongue in hesitation, 'And declared a traitor.'
Charles took a breath and raised a brow. At that bubble of a moment, he firmly told himself: Either Tonkeytus was a crazy old brat, who wasn't quite in his mind right now (while Charles had long given up Tonkeytus was anything of a determined person, he was slowly beginning to doubt Tonkeytus' mentality), or thirty years ago, someone bearing a wicked mind had falsely claimed his grandfather's identity to be his own, and fooled Tonkeytus and his people.
Utterly sarcastic as Charles was, he took it best to let Tonkeytus continue his gibberish.
'...And that's why son, I transformed your bodies into Macacawk-like with doses of a special potion. Otherwise if someone comes to know who you are, the Potion Makers would be communicated and reported, and they won't spare any mercy on you to avenge their old king.'
'Alright,' said Charles flatly, nodding approve. His anger for Tonkeytus was slowly vanishing for not-so-mysterious reasons, only to be replaced by a sort of frustrated exasperation.
'...I want to see the boys.'
''But they are unconscious,' said Tonkeytus, slightly turned down at the uninterested response. 'They can't come back.'
Charles steadily got up to his feet. It had abruptly come to him that he could control his legs again, when he had unknowingly moved his toes.
'Charles!' said Aunt happily.
'I can go to them, anyway.'
Outside the room, Tonkeytus led Aunt and Charles through a number of passages and corridors that winded often. At first he was slow at walking, but quickly enough, he was able to walk properly. One thing that settled in Charles' mind was that the place was very large; what intrigued him however was the absence of a single soul to be seen. So, the question was where were the ones who had sung sometime ago?
'I heard a crowd of people singing together about half-an-hour ago,' said Charles. 'Then why is this place all so empty?'
'You heard Grandcawk's birthday song, then, didn't you boy?' said Tonkeytus.
'Grandcawk's birthday song?''
'Yes, it's his birthday today. He's 200 years old now. Everyone is in the hall room and feasting, that's why nobody's around these parts of the house.' Aunt shrugged when Charles exchanged giddy looks with her.
'I wanted to join the feast too,' continued Tonkeytus, wistful. 'But your Aunt fully revived very fast, and when I went to check, she created a tantrum to see how you were.'
'Why did you keep me separate from the others in the first place?' said Charles.
'There simply weren't enough beds, and I didn't have the keys to the nearby rooms,' Tonkeytus replied airily. 'And besides, I thought it more secure to keep you in a more desolate of sectors of the House.'
When they reached the room in which Thomas and Henry were, they found that they had become conscious, though, below their necks, their bodies remained out of function. Henry's cat was perched near his legs, eyes large and twinkling and ears raised. Both the boys' confusion fixed beings were largely relived upon seeing Charles and Aunt; but within seconds worry and shock overcame their faces as they realised the transformations Charles and Aunt Isabella had undergone through, added by that Tonkeytus was with them.
I took a long tedious while to explain them the things that they barely could make any head or tail out of. They were unable to fathom why although they could still feel their bodies, they couldn't move them; and when told that they too had tails, pale seized their skins.
'It differs according to the age,' was the reply Tonkeytus gave when Charles questioned him of why the boys were taking so long to recover from the Paralyin Gas's effects. 'They'll be as good as ever in an hour, it's nothing to bother about.'
When Thomas and Henry recovered till their waists, Tonkeytus brought them some food that Charles ate this time along with the others. They were suspicious that Tonkeytus might try and drug them as second time, but noon and the wild fruits may as well as have been an age go, and the only option was to subject to hunger.
Once they finished, Tonkeytus took away the plates, and returning, informed that the grand feast was over, and Grandcawk had retired to his chamber, the other people also had begun returning to their own respective rooms. 'Let the boys get well with their legs, and after sometime, I'll take you to Grandcawk, the head of us, Macacawks. And you will be ever grateful I brought you here, doesn't matter even if I played crook.'
'When will you let us go back to the forest?' Aunt asked, decisively, a tad of urgency in her voice.
'Tomorrow morning-because it's night, and I trust you know the forest is a thousand times more dangerous at night than during day,' he added when Aunt glinted fiery eyes. 'And it is certainly not desired that Albert's descendants should die due to our fault. It's strange, actually, why you came to Tropagia initially, though I won't trouble you asking whatever trouble that was for.'