Timeless - Part Two

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is the middle part of my sappy fantasy story.(Image created by Kim Traynor)

Submitted: December 10, 2014

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 10, 2014



Chapter Five

Rye and Blenny hid under some porch steps, each with a head poked out from an opposite side, watching as Dogwood and Darter left Dogwood’s home.  They were headed out to the fields, a perfect chance for Tinthorn’s cronies to search the property.

“Hey!  That’s the guy who didn’t pay the entry toll!” Blenny hissed at Rye.

“I know stupid,” Rye said.  “He’s small fry though.  We need to see what Duncewood’s got.”

As soon as the homeowner was out of sight, the two walked up to his house, carefully observing an invisible line in the ground around it.  They didn’t need to see it since they remembered exactly what step they were on each time some enchantment stopped them.  Crossing the line would mean instant pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.

“Well go ahead,” Rye said.  Blenny swallowed hard.  His feet shuffled without moving forward, like he was dancing to avoid wetting himself.  “Either you go, or Tinthorn hears how you disobeyed his orders.”

Blenny stuck his hand past the invisible line.  Nothing happened.  He waved it around wildly, stirring the air and grunting with the effort.  He tricked himself into thinking he could feel the magic, almost like a broth surrounding the home.  He sucked in one last breath of magic-free air and held it, puffing his cheeks out.  He took a small jump over the line and braced himself for the horns of an invisible ram.  Rye relished the silence, while Blenny feared it.  He glanced up to the house.  Perhaps Dogwood had forgotten to put up the last spells after they’d worn off.  Blenny let the air he hoarded escape.  Before his sigh was half over, hundreds of little pink explosions fired on the surface of his skin.  A sweet liquid released from the magical bombs filled his mouth and caused him to drop to his knees and choke.  It tasted like someone had drained a bog and refilled it with watermelon juice.  He stood back up and observed himself.  The fluid hung off him in slimy ropes and began to harden and flake off almost instantly.  His hair was so thick with it though that he would have to cut it all off.  He stared back at Rye with a slight whimper in his eyes.

“It’s just gunk you big baby,” Rye said.  “Hurry up and spring whatever’s on the door before he gets back.”  Blenny picked the crusting pink slime from his eyelashes and trudged forward.

Dogwood took Darter, and a knapsack full of enchantment tools and potion ingredients, to an open meadow that sloped down, out of sight of Windgate, and into the smooth-rocked edges of a slow brook.  He dropped the pack on the ground and opened it, shuffling things until he found a bronze ingot, a knife, a small vial of clear liquid, and a pouch filled with green powder.

“What are you doing with those?” Darter asked.

“Making soup.”  Darter did not laugh.  “Sorry, bad joke.  Are you familiar with magnetism?”

“Yes,” Darter replied, happy to display something other than the ignorance he’d been wearing on his sleeve since meeting Dogwood.  “It’s the magic of metals.  It draws some of them to each other and guides compasses.”

“It’s actually separate from magic, but yes that’s the idea.  Some metals point to magnetic north.  Similarly, some inherently magic materials point to magic north.”

“There’s a north pole of magic?” Darter asked, unhappy with his ignorance’s return.

“Odd as it may seem, yes.  It’s actually a few hundred miles southeast of here.  So, if I use these to build a magic compass and that compass points somewhere other than magic north…”  Dogwood let the thought trail off, in hopes that Darter could finish it.  Instead he just stared, trying to force words out of his mouth when there were no thoughts to power them, like planting in leeched soil.  Dogwood ended the awkward silence.  “If it points somewhere else, then a powerful magic, like the one you search for, is interfering with the field.”  Darter’s eyes widened.  He understood and raced to voice his grasp of it so fast that he slurred his words.

“Like a magnet messes with a compass!”

“There you go.  If it’s near enough, this magic compass should point straight to it,” Dogwood finished.  Darter gestured for him to get on with it; his wife’s approach was becoming a stronger ache in his ribs.

Dogwood grabbed a tiny leaf off the ground and placed it in a puddle separate from the stream’s flow.  Then he grabbed the knife and, with astonishing quickness, sliced a hair thin sliver of bronze off the top of the ingot.  After placing the sliver on the leaf, he opened the vial and let one drop of its contents hit the bronze.  The metal sucked up the fluid and turned a sparkling blue color.  A dash of powder finished the compass recipe and changed the sliver black.  Almost immediately, the leaf began to spin in the puddle, eventually coming to a jarring stop in one direction.  The pull was so powerful that the leaf was dragged to the edge of the puddle where it crashed on the gravel like a tidal wave would beach a dinghy.

“Wow… this thing is more powerful than I suspected,” Dogwood said.

“But you can find it right?”

“Yes.  Should we find it though?  Dragon’s blood is valuable but that doesn’t mean you should wake one up and ask for a cup… if you know what I mean.”

“All I know is that there’s a pile of gold waiting to move out of my pack and into yours.”

“Good point.”

Dogwood brought out a small bowl, filled it with stream water, and then rebuilt the compass inside it.  The bowl’s edge prevented the needle from beaching itself.

“Okay,” Dogwood said, “It’s telling us it’s in town somewhere.  Let’s hope it doesn’t lead us to a locked mansion door.”  With the needle leading the way, the two men walked single file back into town.  Dogwood looked up as little as necessary to avoid smashing his nose against a wall.  Darter had grabbed Dogwood’s pack and was now pulling at a strap on its side, taking his anxiety out on the object. It must work, he thought.  I must be free.

Each time their route was obscured by a building they circled it quickly and then resumed their slow pace to avoid spilling the water, like a carriage driver taking turns too quickly and then leaning back to check his passengers for bumps on the head.

Finally, the needle started to circle one building.  Dogwood looked up. And up.  And up further.  And up some more.  The Raven’s Nest clock tower.

“Great.  Some bird probably lined its nest with the most powerful relic ever seen in Windgate,” Dogwood groaned.

“Haha, very funny,” Darter said.  Dogwood didn’t smile.  “Well you’re not serious are you?”

“Ravens have a bad habit,” Dogwood said, “of picking up all sorts of human objects, especially magic ones.  And I can’t imagine where it would be otherwise.  There’s nothing but gears, springs, and dust in that tower.  So we’ll have to search the nests.” 

“Maybe we’ll pick up some eggs for lunch,” Darter joked, trying to shake off his growing dread.  He could feel Everglade drawing closer, his breath toasted by the heat of his heart.  He feared his absorbing love of her. As it drew closer, he felt like a great pair of lips was overtaking the sun, was swallowing him whole, smothering everything that separated him from her.

 Chapter Six

Blenny grabbed the door knob and twisted.  A moment later he was forty feet away, his face pressed into the grass and a column of mud plugging one nostril.

Rye watched in amazement as the door swung open and batted his accomplice across the street.  It was closing quickly, the magic on it ready to lock it again as soon as it closed.  He leapt forward and stuck his hand in, holding it open.  He looked over his shoulder to Blenny’s distant still form.

“Blenny!  You alive?” he yelled.  One of Blenny’s hands flailed for a moment, then slapped back to the ground.  Good enough, Rye thought.  He stuck his head in the open door.

Despite his distaste for Dogwood, he couldn’t help marveling at the trinkets he’d collected.  A spiral shelf that circled the whole interior several times was loaded with colored sand hourglasses, three dimensional dream catchers, ornate keys and locks, geodes, shape shifting silverware, and a hundred other things his mind would have to diet and exercise on just to begin to understand.  He walked in and let the door close behind him.  Cogwick watched from a window in his home, annoyed that someone would interrupt his private time.  Go on, Cogwick thought, Look in the chest. 

After disrespectfully fondling some of the treasures and dropping them on the bed, Rye spotted the perpetual motion machine and reached for it.  Cogwick, not inclined to spend an hour cleaning oily fingerprints off his home with a mop, stuck his torso out of the window and addressed Rye.

“You there!  Looking for treasure?”  Rye took a step back, then forward to squint Cogwick into focus.

“What are you?  Some magic bug?”

“I am a repairman thank you very much.”

“You’re not on the census… how long you been here?  That’s a lot of back taxes you owe.”

“I’m sure we can discuss that later.  Or perhaps I can compensate you with a tip?”

“That depends, how good a tipper are you?”

“I mean information,” the roll of Cogwick’s gear pupils was too small for Rye to pick up on, “I know where Dogwood keeps the best stuff.”

“Oh yeah?  Where?” Rye asked.

“In that chest over there, next to the bed.  You can pick a lock can’t you?”

Rye went to the chest and dropped to his knees.  The chest was little more than a splintery wooden box but the lock was opulently decorated.  It was connected to the chest with a circular braid of gold.  The keyhole was surrounded by iridescent stripes of turquoise punctuated by flecks of ruby blown into the lock’s glass body.

“Doesn’t matter how fancy it looks,” Rye muttered, “They’re all the same in the middle.”  He pulled a long wire from his pocket, perfect for breaking into the homes of noncompliant citizens.  He licked the tip and, with the most skill he had at anything, slid the wire into the lock like a seamstress threading a needle.  He tapped a piece of the lock’s innards.  With the terrible feeling of being a piece of fruit slush sucked off a bowl’s edge, Rye was pulled in.  For a moment he saw the lock’s interior, his fear preventing him from marveling at its complexity.  Then everything was dark.

The birds had plenty of time to prepare for the assault.  The stairs in the clock tower were so old and creaky that Dogwood and Darter made an awful racket ascending them.  Once they reached the top they barely had a moment to look at all the workings of the clock and the central pyre that wouldn’t be lit for a few hours yet.  The ravens cawed and dove at them, their shrieks drowning out the ticking of the large mechanism.

Dogwood reached out for one of the low-hanging nests, but one of the birds caught his hand and scratched it.  He recoiled and dropped his pack, ineffectively using his back as a shield.  Darter was simply swatting and yelling at the things, counting on Dogwood to pull some solution out of the bag.

The clock chimed on the hour.  The bells overhead rang and sent the men’s heads into horrible pain.  Their inner ears vibrated like unstable weather veins.  The birds seemed almost empowered by the sound, doubling their efforts to remove the intruders.  Darter, unable to swat since his hands now plugged his ears, stumbled backward, getting his tunic caught between two very large gears.  It pulled him up into the air and let him hang like a damp sock out to dry.  His legs kicked weakly.

Dogwood was drawing a blank.  In the flickering shadows of the bird’s wings, no spells came to mind and no helpful device jumped out of the bag.  The ravens started coming at him from below, reaching for his eyes with their beaks. 

Maintenance was rarely needed on the well-built tower and the pyre was lit from a lower level, which gave the ravens a sense of territory the longer no one showed up.  Worse yet, the sounds of the attack were still drowned out by the clock’s chiming.  No one could hear their battle.

Dogwood stood up and swatted much like Darter had been, unable to see his surroundings.  Everything was a patchwork of feathery shadows, old wood, and rotating metal.  He hit the back of his head on something.  Glass cracked behind him.  Dogwood whirled around to see the service door, built seamlessly into the face of the clock so mechanics could step out and repair the hands.  With nowhere else to go, he pushed it open, only mildly aware there would barely be room to stand on the clock’s rim.  The minute hand of the clock was at chest level, blocking his advance.  He tried to push it down as the wall of birds bit and scratched at his neck.  It wouldn’t budge, at least not any faster than it was supposed to.

The birds pressed, cawed, clawed, and rammed.  There was nowhere to go.  The force of them behind him became overwhelming.  Dogwood grabbed the minute hand like a branch to steady himself, but ended up rolling over the top of it and dangling for his life.  From the casual observer’s point of view, many floors below, he would appear to be desperately trying to stop the passage of time.  Dogwood looked down at the houses below, each roof sharp like a halberd thirsty for blood.

Despite the danger, Dogwood noticed the breeze on his cheek.  The chiming had stopped.  The cawing was farther away.  The birds had lost interest in him and were busy swirling around the nearly unconscious Darter.  Without wasting time with questions, Dogwood pulled himself up, ducked under the minute hand, and reentered the clock’s body.  He rushed towards Darter, finally preparing some enchantments in his head that might stop the attack.  He wouldn’t get the chance though.

As Darter’s eyes closed, his chest lit with a pale green light.  Phantom branches burst forth from his chest and filled the room.  They settled onto the walls and gears and slowly faded away.  The ravens calmed down, landing on the beams above the men.  They looked sleepy, a couple even settled down in their feathers until they looked like black oil lamps.

Dogwood lifted Darter off the gear and smacked his cheek a few times.  Darter sputtered and flailed back to his feet.

“What happened?” he asked.

“I think,” Dogwood organized his thoughts, “Magic I think.  Two bits of it.  Something saved me… then something saved you.” 

“Vines?  Or branches?  Did they..”

“Yeah,” Dogwood said.

“That was my wife then… or the piece I have with me.  She has that effect… she calms everyone down.  I can’t control it though.”  Dogwood stared at the drowsy ravens, some of them looking like they were about to fall from the rafters.

“You didn’t tell me your wife was so powerful.”

“Why do you think I need this thing to break free?  No one can resist her.”  Darter’s breath was finally catching up with his words.  “What saved you?”

“I don’t know… the object maybe.  Let’s find it.”  The two hesitantly began rifling through the nests they could reach.  Dogwood was nervous about sticking his hands under some of the calm ravens, but they paid little attention. 

Darter used his pinky to twirl a few eggs around like bits of hardened icing on an old cake.  Nothing underneath. 

Dogwood found four clear marbles in one nest and pocketed them.  They were magic, but only powerful enough to cheat at marbles.  Ten nests later and all they found were the marbles, a clockwork key, a quill pen that flew away when touched, and some small crystals.

“None of these are right.  They’re just mildly magic bits of pocket lint,” Dogwood said.

“Try the compass again,” Darter suggested.  Once the small cup was dug out, Dogwood refilled it and reset the needle.  He took a step in its indicated direction before the need flew out of the cup and out the access door of the clock face, disappearing into the sunlight that poured through the opening.

“But… I thought it was in the tower,” Darter said.

“No,” Dogwood said with widening eyes, “It’s on the tower.”  With that he dropped the cup, letting its contents drain through the spaces between floor boards.  He leaned out of the door into the sun, which had grown more intense in the last few minutes.  Dogwood shielded his eyes with his free hand and examined the hand bisecting the door frame.  He’d noticed before how ornate they were, but the degree of it only now showed itself.  The edge of the hand was etched and painted with absurdly small symbols.  There were green eyes, shattered hearts, pulses of flame, and hosts of other pictograms barely thicker than ant heads engraved into the hand’s edge.

“I found it,” Dogwood declared.

Chapter Seven

Tinthorn stood in line, twenty people away from the massive doors he was trying to enter.  He never understood how the line was always long.  Fernico saw tons of visitors, but turned down almost every request that involved him spending money.  The blacksmith would beg him to buy armor, whining about how Fernico’s personal fortune was the bulk of the town’s funds, before Fernico shut him down.  If those doors had ever guarded a well of charity, it was certainly bone dry now.  Many of the faces that walked out had tears streaming down them.  Fernico never let him cut though.

“But sir,” Tinthorn would say, “I’m head of taxes and guard!  What if there’s an emergency and I need to protect you.”

“No cutting,” Fernico would reply, his bony fingers plucking at his silvery stubble.  “Everyone thinks they’re concerns are just as immediate as yours.  It is my duty to patiently listen to everyone’s strife… before I decline giving them a handout.”

“Why not just put up a sign… you know… ‘No charity’?” Tinthorn would say.  Fernico would pinch a hair’s base.  He would squeeze and tug and pull until the hair came out, doing this so slowly and dramatically that Tinthorn might swear he heard the hair’s fibers screaming and snapping like overburdened rope.  On the base of the hair would be a small piece of pinched bloody skin.  Fernico would hold it out for him to see.

“This is what they want Tinthorn.  They shuffle in here with their outstretched claws to beg for pieces of me.  I’m lucky they’re not strong enough to take them.  A sign won’t keep them out.”

So Tinthorn stood in line, his patience burning up like droplets of lamp oil.  The doors behind him opened and a hideous purple bump stumbled inside.  The bump was attached to Blenny’s forehead, a souvenir from Dogwood’s trap door.  It exerted an awful pressure on Blenny’s head, making his eyes roll low in their sockets and blink out of rhythm.

“Blenny!  What on green Earth happened?” Tinthorn shouted.  He didn’t rush out to help his unsteady employee, lest his place in line get filled.  Blenny instead made his way over to Tinthorn and leaned his back against the nearby wall.

“It was door,” Blenny said, his tongue getting in the way of the words.  “Doorwood.”

“You mean Dogwood?” Tinthorn asked.

“Yeah.  He hit me with dogwood.  Rye welt in.  To get… to get Door’s stuff.”  Blenny’s eyes closed and he moaned at the ceiling, making everyone else in the line almost uncomfortable enough to leave.

“You’re not making sense you idiot.  Where’s Rye?”

“Rye’s welt in the house.  Didn’t come over.  I waited.  Didn’t come to.”  Blenny shuddered and almost fell.  He steadied himself by slapping the wall.  “I think my skull’s burst.  Doorwood welted it.”

“You got hit pretty good alright.  Are you saying Rye is trapped in Dogwood’s house?”  Tinthorn asked, growing tired of forcing a back-and-forth with Blenny’s concussion.

“Yeah boss.”

“The magician’s holding him prisoner then.  I’ll go arrest him.”  Tinthorn leaned to the side and stared at the line in front of him.  He growled, holding back the urge to use the person in front of him as a club to beat his way to the front.  “As soon as I can get permission.  Go get your head fixed Blenny.”

Blenny did something resembling walking until he reached the front door.  After exiting, Tinthorn heard the thump of his body hitting the grass.  Couldn’t lose his place in line though.  Not after already waiting ten minutes.

Windgate’s citizens were regularly depressed, so they weren’t likely to hold their chins up and notice the clock’s missing hand.  They might have noticed Dogwood carrying a long bundle wrapped in cloth, which is why he rushed it home as quickly as possible.  Darter shut the door behind them and drummed on it ecstatically.

“We got it, we got it!  Ha-hah! Okay hurry up.  How do you do this?  Maybe tap me on the shoulder like you’re knighting me,” he said, grabbing for the bundle.  Dogwood pulled it back.

“Hold your horses Darter, I need to check some things.”

“Dogwood the first thing you taught me was that some horses can ride right through what’s holding them back.  Come on, time is short.”

“How short?” 

Darter huffed out his bottom lip and blew a tuft of his hair away.  He closed his eyes and looked around inside himself.  Amidst the mighty roaring rivers there were a few translucent branches growing thicker.  Darter could almost hear them growing tangible, taking up space and binding his thoughts.  His eyes opened.

“She’ll probably be here midday tomorrow,” he said.  Dogwood placed the bundle on the bed and wrung his hands together.

“Listen.  This could be dangerous.  I need to do some research, some safety tests, maybe an experiment or two before I risk using it on you, okay?” Dogwood said.

“But… what kind of risks could there be?”

“Magic has a nasty habit of being vague Darter.  Its power is severing emotion.  One way to do that would be to kill you.”

“Oh I see.  I guess we can wait until first thing in the morning.”  Darter let his hands drop to his sides.  To him it felt like dropping his sword with his enemy’s pressed against his throat.  “Alright if I stay here?” he asked, not expecting Dogwood to care.  He leaned backward to sit on the bed.  Dogwood grabbed the bundle and used it as a prop to hold Darter off the blankets.  He pushed his confused employer back up.

“I don’t mean to intrude,” Darter said, reconsidering whether he’d made any friends in Windgate.  “I can give you some rent for the night.”  Dogwood franticly apologized.

“No, no, no, that’s not it.  I’m sorry but… I…”  He let the moment trail off into silence.  To say it, to admit it as fact to someone more real than Cogwick might break the illusion.  If she was a dream, sharing her with Darter might make her evaporate.  But if she was real, it was cruel to deny their connection.  “I have a lover,” he finally said.  Darter grinned.

“No need to be embarrassed!  You have your fun and I’ll stay at the inn down the street.  Fair bit of warning though, if you get too close you might wind up like me and have to use that divorcing sword on yourself.”  Darter made his way to the door but stopped in front of it.  He rubbed the back of his neck and turned around.

“Now I’m the one who’s sorry friend but… I’ve just had a hammer of uncertainty start banging at my forehead.  I know the hand could be very valuable.  I’m sorry for not trusting you but I’m deathly afraid of letting it out of my sight.”  Dogwood hummed for a moment, trying to find a solution.

“How about some collateral,” Cogwick suggested, having emerged from the background and listened silently as he tended to.

Dogwood scanned his shelves and let his eyes stop on something made mostly of glass.  It had a clear stand and four small egg-shaped sections with metal faucets penetrating their tops.  He grabbed it and walked over to Darter, handing it over gently.

“This is an…”

“An egg chamber, I know,” Darter interrupted.  Dogwood’s eyes widened. 

“You don’t have to look so surprised.  It’s used on chicken eggs right?  Infuses various potion ingredients with the embryo so when it hatches you get chickens that are three feet tall or extra fat or six-legged.”

“That’s right.  How do you know about this one?”

“It’s my wife again,” Darter admitted, his eyes dropping to the floor.  “I even owe my knowledge to her.  Her parents are very wealthy… when Everglade was young they had a monstrous version of one of these built and stuck her inside.” 

Dogwood was appalled at the thought.  For someone who rescued magical trash, works of art that had been misused, to hear about that was like hearing about villages burned down with their residents fenced in.

“That’s abominable,” Dogwood said, his voice quaking with anger over people he’d never met.  “What did they force into her?” he asked.

“I don’t remember specifically.  Sea salt and some other things.  She has an aura… it calms everything she encounters.  They wanted to make her into some elegant little glass swan that would swim around and impress their gilded neighbors.”

“I see why you want to escape now.  You’re not sure if this is your choice,” Cogwick commented.  Darter turned to look at the little bronze man, having already forgotten his presence again.

“That’s right… I mean I know I love her.  I’m just not sure how much is me and how much is magic.  Is she a ruby or colored glass?  The only time I can think on it clearly is when I’m away from her influence.”  Silence flooded the room again.  Dogwood was getting tired of it walking in like some inconsiderate nude and interrupting the flow of things.

“Will the chamber do as collateral?  It’s worth at least ten gold.”  Dogwood asked.

“Yes.  I’ll see you gentlemen tomorrow.”  Darter took the chamber and rushed out, embarrassed by his confusion.  Cogwick looked to Dogwood, who was unwrapping the clock hand on the bed already.  If he’d had to hide his enthusiasm over the artifact from Darter any longer it might have pickled his brain.

“So how did you figure out that was it?” Cogwick asked, trying to jump and lean at the right angle to get a decent view.

“I fell over it and the ravens that were so adamantly protesting my presence just stopped caring.” Dogwood answered.  “It broke their bonds to me.”

Dogwood placed both hands on the hand’s base, holding it like a saber.  He closed his eyes and tried to perceive the magic surrounding the object.  As he breathed deeply he could feel the room filling up around him, space being stifled by magic projections.  The hand sent ticking pulses of magic up through his arms that echoed in his heart like it was a marble cathedral two hundred feet high.

“What do you see?” Cogwick asked.  Dogwood exhaled and, almost afraid to do so, opened his eyes.

His home had transformed.  Dogwood was trapped between layer after layer of colorful lines that passed in and out of the walls.  Everywhere he looked there were purple chains, red knotted ropes, blue wires, yellow threads, green vines, and thick strands of what looked like pink taffy.  Paranoid that these might start to wrap around him like constricting snakes, Dogwood tossed the hand onto the bed.  There was no sound as the various lines vanished from his sight.

“I saw,” he said, struggling to find words, “connections.  Emotions… I think. Wow.  I just… I don’t even know where to start.”

“Well it’s a good thing I trapped you a test subject,” Cogwick said.  Dogwood arched an eyebrow questioningly. 

“Tinthorn’s boys stopped by earlier.  Rye’s all nice and cozy in the chest.  If that thing works you should be able to artificially make amends.” 

Dogwood chuckled.  He had half a mind to sell the trunk with the trespasser still inside.

“Thank you my friend.  I’ll try just that.”  Dogwood grabbed the hand off the bed and tried not to be overwhelmed by the magic visions.  He pushed down the though that the magic pulses felt like they were designed to pass through something much mightier than his moist little heart.  “Okay focus,” he said, “What would Rye feel?  Anger.  Just anger.  I only want to see anger.”  All the other lines faded, leaving only a red web of fraying ropes.  Some of them were moving, prompting Dogwood to remember they were each attached between two people. “Alright.  Just Rye’s anger at me.  Just the anger between the trunk and my hands.”  The red faded, save for one example.  It phased through the front of the chest and buried itself in Dogwood’s hands.  “Ellasi!” he proclaimed.  The lock clicked open and flung the trunk’s lid up.  Rye rolled out and onto the floor, panting.

He rose on wobbly legs to look at Dogwood.  The rope of anger was hanging out of his heart but, of course, Rye could not sense it.

“You,” he scowled.  “I’ll kill you!”  He rushed at Dogwood with hands outstretched, too enraged and tired to care about the weapon in his hand.  Dogwood sliced upward, straight into the rope.  It snapped cleanly, the whip cracking sound of it slamming Dogwood’s ears.  The rope wheeled around crazily and was almost instantly reeled back into Rye’s chest, causing him to stumble backward.  Silence.  Cogwick compressed his spring arms out of suspense.

“I didn’t mean to intrude Dogwood.  I’d better get back to Tinthorn,” Rye said.  His expression was blank except for a tiny bit of fear in his trembling lip, the result of a possible smack from Tinthorn.

“Umm… by all means,” Dogwood said, motioning towards the door.  Rye took his leave, even stopping in the doorway to make his first breath of fresh air in several hours a deep one.  When the door clicked shut, an idea bloomed in Dogwood’s mind.  “Cogwick, what time is it?” he asked.

“There are four hours of daylight left,” he responded dutifully.

“Plenty of time,” Dogwood said before rushing out the door, hand in hand.

“The appointment line starts at the front door,” Fernico’s guard warned.  With one dramatic slice the guard no longer cared Dogwood was trespassing.  He even opened the mansion’s gigantic door for him.

As he tiptoed through the hallways Dogwood wondered how many guards Fernico would have on patrol on a normal day.

Every three steps there was some gold or silver vase up against the wall, from a variety of dying cultures and famous craftsmen.  Fernico rotated them monthly, discarding the old ones.  Dogwood shuddered when considering how many were left to rust before he started rummaging like a raccoon. 

A house this big should have a map, he thought.  He ascended a spiral staircase, neutralized another guard, asked the now-polite man where the vault was, and then followed his directions back down the stairs.  He accidentally rounded a wrong corner and found a line of people waiting to see Fernico, quickly doubling back before anyone saw.  Tinthorn was third in line and too busy picking paint off the wall to notice his target flit by.

The vault’s door was molded out of black metal, with an artistic jungle scene etched into it.  Various big cats looked out from the design to the approaching Dogwood.  He could do what he needed to without entering the vault, but an angry curiosity drove him on.  He needed to see how much wealth was just sitting in there, gathering dust, while half the town was surviving on dust.  The big cats in the design growled at him when he got too close.

“Please,” he said, “You can afford better magic than this.  Malsatego!”  The cats hissed for a moment before withering into skeletons and crashing to the design’s grassy ground.  The vault’s door creaked open.

Dogwood couldn’t believe his eyes.  The glare from the sunlight in the hall bounced off a mountain of perfectly stacked gold ingots.  There was enough to power the town on charity for four winters.  Dogwood started to get angry but stopped himself after picturing a red rope wrapping around him and choking his breath away.  Because that’s what it does, he thought, remembering the things the hand had shown him.  I’ll just do what I’m here to do. 

He clasped the hand and pictured the root of everyone’s problem.  A gray green root, looking thicker and more poisonous than the serpent whose body keeps Hell stitched together, had burrowed into the pile of gold.  No doubt the other end was drawing nourishment from the bubbling tar in Fernico’s heart.  Dogwood could see a fevered pink outlining the root.  Madness.  He’s in love with the money.

With one mighty strike the root snapped, spurting whitish-yellow fluid and writhing.  Dogwood had executed the grotesque emotion, freeing Fernico from his own greed.  Now it was time to make a hasty retreat.

© Copyright 2020 Blaine Arcade. All rights reserved.

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