I awoke. Eyes, though not threatening, loomed over me. My heartbeats began to frenzy from the tips of my ears to the end of my tucked-under tail.
He can see me. He can see me truly.
Any exclaim I thought I could make was paralyzed. All I could hear for long moments were my own rapid pulse stampeding through every sensory. My eyes locked with the looming eyes.
Where was my Belahan? He did leave me? Had this been all a ruse?
Though presence jarring, his words were softly spoken and his body hunched less intimidatingly than of a warrior. He introduced himself. He reached down to his side, gliding his hand unhurriedly atop my Belahan’s head, stopping momentarily to scratch him behind the ear. He pushed his head against the hand, urging the ear massage on.
Have I been betrayed? No, not my Belahan. But how could I truly know? Have I been ever MORE foolish? One wrong step after another.
The man of soft words broke the internal interrogation when he made note that he had felt something amiss on the rocks when I had first encountered him. The words were still stolen from my mouth and I tensely froze, only able to continue staring right at him in anticipation for every movement that may or not happen. The lack of my response didn’t deter him. His delicate words continued, pasting truth on my facade. He knew my presence was fresh, as many were before me. He spoke of the radiantly blossoming redhead who he said to be the Queen.
No wonder her florals were more fierce than this melodious speaking to me now.
He spoke of the many lights I must have noticed. Before I could stop myself, “Many lights,” came tumbling out with an awed breath. Immediately regretting speaking, his words melted into my ears as I could only begin to panic again wondering if my words could make any depth. Completely lost in my own horrors, I checked back in as he held out an emerald. I took a sniff, seeing if I could sense any ill-tampering, but it was no emerald. This smelled of earth and mint. The mild-toned man must have seen the confusion on my canine facade for he explained its purpose. The Grey my Belahan had guided me away from before was said to be a force not to be tempted. The mint was said to become a form of short-lived cloaking when ingested.
How bad could the Grey be? I must trust in Belahan. But is the trust given back false? They both must sense the callow and naive stench. How do I learn to tell the difference? The only being I’ve ever known was my Irakasle, Maisu during rituals, and he raised me to know that pain is love and love is pain.. But when you have true power, both are only means to gain more. Irakasle said that was why I must perform all duties. My purpose was special. My vitality was promised and destined, which is why my keeping had always been secluded. He said it would help me stay focu-
followed by the sounds of chimes raced down the hallway. Someone else began to enter the domain. The clement character’s attention, along with mine and Belahan, went to the door. He had offered breakfast and began making it but he made no mention of guests. I peeked out the bedroom, peering at the opening door as if it were prey. First to walk in was a long coat, adorned with a hat and no face easily visible. The room’s aroma of food immediately was consumed by the smell of a sea’s adventure out where no land could be seen. The salt in the air was palpable. The second to enter was a configuration of bones in a coat that was no match for his size. I had a strange sensation to chew on him, but I pushed the thoughts quickly aside as soon as the next appeared. She was so dark and stunning beautiful that chills of fear went sparking down my spine right through my tail. The last… I smell blood, booth fresh and rotting. He stalked and stumbled in, unlike the rest, peering over each shoulder under his dirty blanket. A peculiar gang seeming on a mission as they quickly greeted “George.” My head was so flooded with thoughts the first time, I didn’t catch his name.
I tried to stay as breathlessly quiet as I could but “George” made full aware of my presence to the entire assembly.
BETRAYAL! BELAHAN, WE MUST GO! BELAHAN? NO, WHERE ARE YOU G-
He happily greeted the party as if they were old friends. His tail swung side to side and he nuzzled into each of their hands, or at least, what could be labeled “hands.” George called out to me, beckoning me out of the room. I didn’t want to but I found my paws moving forward nonetheless. I stopped part way down the hallway, just shy of the kitchen doorway where the conglomerates gathered. They had begun talking about some hunt and presented a book. I was watching what seemed to be a pig in a blanket move around as the others stood attentively around the book. Suddenly, George pierced his finger!
Sacrifice? Already? Oh, no.
Red drew larger on his fingertip, but much less sacrifice than I imagined. He then only released a few drops of blood on a page. The entire group marveled at what seemed to be parchments of occultism. I made note that this band of misfits found joy in rambling. I had only known to speak when spoken and to only speak words you mean to use. I am intrigued by their freely engaging interactions. Enchanting as they were, I could smell whatever George had been prepping and I began to slightly panic as the scent turned to stench. I stared blankly at George who didn’t seem to notice. The rotting one began to steal items and made a ruckus. He reach out to scratch my ear as he did my Belahan’s, and before I could think of what to do, I growled. This brought boney one’s attention to us and he scolded the decomposing meat.
The gaggle give their appreciation to George before asking if each could obtain a magic mint, just as the one George had given me before. Belahan moves for the door and George suggests that I follow the herd. Again, my initial instincts tell me to not trust in any of the shenanigans but I found myself gravitating towards the door after them nonetheless. I motioned, asking for another mint, and George nodded graciously. I hurriedly catch the trails of the dubious platoon and follow from a distance.
They traveled down to the many dancing lights and made their winding way to the pier, and eventually under the pier. The lights and energy were radiant. The smells of sweet and salty were just as intoxicating the first time. Had Irakasle not told me, “Without focus, you will achieve only weakness,” day after beating day, I may have easily lost the group’s scent and sight.
Perhaps Irakasle had been right…
The crew stops at a grand post, one of many holding up the wide plank stretching into the unforgiving sea. The Post before us spat 3 times. Before I could begin to conclude what or why, the world seemed to turn. I felt as if my feet were to be where my head was and my head to the floor, but instead, as the world recollected itself, the dancing lights I came to adore were no more. Bulbs were broken and walls holding up mostly shattered memories. A silver spire looms on the beach and red light pulsed atop. A small mobile building sat seemingly waiting for travelers. One by one, each member passed through the sliding doors, including Belahan.
Where are we going now? I don’t want to go.
The skeleton-like stood at the entrance, lulling me with promises of safety and trust. I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t want to be left at the beach of the distorted festival either, which the skull spoke could be my alternative. Paw in front of the next, I crossed the threshold.
The contraption whirls to life as loudly as it could roar. There were many lights again, some soft. Some loud. The room began to jerk and spin in chaotic order. The collection of bones began to look green. My stomach lurched and I instantaneously understood why. When the contraption finally came to a halt, my head took a minute to follow. The doors breathed open, releasing tension as the cold air seeped in. Slowly, the crew hobbled, stumbled, and leaped out. The crew, but not me.
I know where we are. I spent time trying to get out of here, only to come back? For what? A bloody book?
I could hear the group call out “Big Basin” but it didn’t look large enough to warrant the title. It smelled of dust and death. The trees were dark and daunting. Chilling red vines snaked their way up some of them. There was no grey as far as the eye could see. The bones lingered back and kindly gestured for me to take foot.
_He keeps turning kind words at me. He seems compassionate. Is it a strength or a weakness?
The company each tied themselves to the rope. I bit the end to stay back and flee if needed. Belahan romped up front, against my internal howls of objection. The rope reminded me of the ones Irakasle used for binding. His seemed to be twined with gold and had minds of their own biding their own magic, while the lifeless one I clenched tasted of dust and worn plastic.
In the distance, young laugher echoed through the trees. The head of the rope turned to follow the sounds And masses of prints heading down a wide path. They became louder, as if we were getting closer, but then they began to deaden, laugher coming from every direction but getting softer with each giggle. I begin to feel very disoriented. The lines of the ash-covered surroundings and dead underbrush bled together for moments at a time.
The red creepers fined and twisted on more and more until a majority of the trees had red bases. The shapes in the ground, like the smaller fleshies, seemed to cover the path before, but as we allowed them to guide us, the route never branched but the shapes became fewer. It lessened to only one linear marking left to follow… Until we came to a fork. The the tender fleshie prints pranced down a dark, menacing without reason path while the other, not as touched by magic, good or bad. The group bickers as to where to go, though they seemed to all agree to follow the shapes. (The rotting meat want “spanx?”) As soon we we turn the trail, the shapes disappear from our path. My forwards stop to investigate but only the ones that smells of deepest sea sees what I already had been smelling, a puddle rich copper lingering in the perimeter, much father away than a step should be considering it’s singularity. As we closed around it, the aroma hit my snout frighteningly, as I fix my eyes on the puddle. The imprint of little fleshie was filled to the brim with blood.
Further down the path, a trail of blood invites curiosity, not for the weak-hearted. It proved true, leading to a fight of blood – smear and wrought, but the struggle clearly ended there. The stop was where a row of consistent and linear red-vined trees began. The group cautioned moving forward, rightfully so. Deep Sea hands the dark lady a vile, she throws and upon impact, the the glass shatters and blood splatters. The trees immediately start soaking up the liquids and chiming as they feasted. The tried this with two other files and two other trees. All three times, the same thing happens. Bones opted to cut a piece of the vines that had been impacted. He also cut meat off of one that had not been fed and according to Deep Sea, oddly enough, both tastes of childhood sweets.
They continued forward. I couldn’t not fathom why. I felt eyes all around us. I whimpered but no one noticed. I glanced back at my tail but the pathway we had taken her was no more each time. My paws made no impression on floor behind us, neither did anyone else’s, as if we never traveled.
The company comes to a seemingly wooden bridge but when struck, a metal clang rang and bellowed. There was no beneath, but the sea of forgotten souls and bones was as vast as the once rapid rivers, I’m sure of it. Yet they seem determined to press forward. I whimper in warning, nit again, go unanswered. As we crossed the bridge, each of our steps helped to make a deadly musical number. The bridge began to break, but not behind us or below us, only in front of us. They begin to bicker again about what to do.
NOW?! NOW YOU THINK IS THE TIME?!
I drop the rope and dash past them. I nudge Belahan before leaping. As I land, I feel his paw steps land briefly behind me. I recollect myself as the rest make their vaults to safety. In awe, we all stood staring at the bridge. Not because it was broken ad in shambles, but simply because it was not. The bridge was completely intact, as if our misery had all bee a game. Bones exclaims in anger of the trickery.
I’ve seen this magic before.
We come to a clearing. The forward move forward but I stand next to the dark beauty. I wonder if she mistrusts the openness of the field as I do. She scapes the perimeter as the forwards make fools of themselves, making their presence known by calling out to the unknown. The dark beauty announces what we both immediately feared. The grey.
The group huddles together and begin speaking of a summoning. I’ve summoned before with Irakasle, but his use for me was that of his vessel.
Was that why I was here? Did they need a vessel? Perhaps Irakasle was again, right all along..
Deep Sea inquires as to who can craft. They seem to need something etched. I spent many hours carving wood and molding metal before. But before, they were for curses. I place my paw forward and Bones eyes me closely, asking “Can you etch this image into this candy?” I nod. He told forth a mint from George and his knife. Belahan’s form had no thumbs so I could not help. I mirrored Bones as he stood before me a a gasp escaped each party member, except Bones. He exclaimed in shock and threw up his one hand and one knee-hand. Wordlessly, knowing there was not much time before the grey drew closer, I etch the mint sweet. It is almost perfect. Deep sea offers his blood within the carvings. The world darkened even more.
“So, it’s you…” A tinkling terror of a voice rang through the trees. Deep sea, being the blood giver and keeper of blood book, spoke to the voice first. They converse about the missing girl they sought. The voice offered only vague responses. Bones adds his own inquiries as he doesn’t realize that what was just summoned is exactly what they had come to uncover. The tinkling terror directs her words to Bones and continues to speak of past and future, both unclear. Deep sea held up the blood book and the voice hissed. “HAVE YOU USED THE BOOK.” – she asked repeatedly and demandingly. Unsatified with Deep Sea’s response, she put the attention back to the girl they were so keen on recovering.
“She is not safe but she is not hurt.” "
“She is in the woods.”
“Morning dew time is when she is present.”
Help to find the girl? Lead them to her? Why is she important? None of these words mean anything to me.
“Bury the candy in the ground. Go to the Thyme in the morning dew. She will be there at noon, crying pitiful things. She will be her, but not her.”
The grey sets in, around our feet. I realize it’s quickly rising, more quickly than anyone else seems to be reacting to. In a panicked reach, I offer Belahan an unetched mint sweet from my bone-like fingers and be bit, swallowing in a moment and eyes locked with mine pleading, “Now yours.”