Part 18 – Drastic Acts and Delay No More
Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, and Jala’s kind were characteristically kind of cruel. Charity was not a popular concept in the Northern wilds and her tribe didn’t celebrate it as a beautiful principle worthy of mention in traditional folk songs and bedtime stories. Their children were not brought up to be benevolent, generous beings and sympathetic dispositions were often scratched out before sentimentality took too strong a hold and rendered the individual unfit to stand the hardships of life.
The Northern young were instead moulded to be as hard-hearted, hard-minded and hard-bodied as possible. Babies who mewled and appeared weak were routinely whipped. Those who suffered from eczema and asthma had their ailments beaten out of them. Sappy littl’uns who offered food – a precious commodity in winters of scarcity – to their hungry pets were left out in the snow until they caught frostbite.
Life is hard and you can’t expect anyone to fight against adversity for you. Those were the principles pounded into the thick skulls of the folk of Jala’s homeland. Now stood in the centre of a bathhouse bloodbath – a tableau of death, despair and devastation – Jala felt that pounding again. Life is hard.
She looked at the wide watery eyes of Satra. A shred of compassion started to crystallise and grow but then it was checked and choked by an internal growl. The voice of Jala’s inner Barbarian spoke up and called out with the biting aggression of the bitter Northern winds – ‘Too many bloody delays!’
In a moment her mind was made up. She had things to do – a Star Witch to find, a Sablemagus Guildmeister to find, a crock of indigolily flowers to find and purchase with her pilfered gold. She had had quite enough of all the hold-ups and distractions that the city of Stellastelathororn had presented. And she had definitely had enough of the stench in this den of depravity. The internal monologue instructed her quite clearly – ‘GO’.
‘Sorry…’ Jala sighed, her dead determined eyes staring down the quiet little pretty village girl doomed to dance in seedy dives. ‘You and your baby… you can look after yourselves…’
And with a turn of her boot-heels Jala was off and gone, or at least she would have been had her progress not been brought to an abrupt halt by a shocking ‘HYYYYYYAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIKKKKK!’ noise.
It was the distraught dire squeal of Satra. Her teary angel face had cracked, now convulsing chasmic apoplexy, pitiful sorrow stoked up and transmuted into red wroth.
‘YOU BIIIIIIIIIIIIIITCH!’ she howled at a pitch that would trouble nervous dogs and disorientate any of the Darksiren Sea’s sabre-dolphins who happened to be hanging around Stellastelathororn’s harbour. Before Jala had time to be surprised by the sudden explosive volume emitted by the hitherto meek creature she was defending herself from a flurry of fury-blows. Satra had sharp fingernails and teeny-tiny pointed teeth. The flesh on Jala’s forearms prickled and with flickers of fresh crimson the barbarian realised that her assailant was drawing blood.
The inner voice groaned again – ‘Too many bloody delays!’ – and, upon hearing it, Jala decided that her Barbarian voice was right. (The Barbarian inner voice is always right.) Taking a stride back from the dancer-turned-devil, she unsheathed her sword and with the speed of lightning landed two fast slashes.
Satra’s right arm dropped to the ground with a pffftmp. The other slash had cleaved right through the girl’s ribcage and, after a few seconds of indecision, her left lung decided to fall out as well. It too hit the ground with a pffftmp.
Jala had already left, out the back door and out into the amber early evening that was now hanging over Stellastelathororn. Her smote challenger fell dead upon a floor caked with viscera, gristle and various bodily fluids that are better off not being identified.
Before she passed away, Satra reached to her dissected chest with her remaining left arm. She grasped at a neckchain and yanked loose a locket, the clasps opening to reveal an inside stencilled image of a baby.
‘Avenge me, my baby…’ she memo-ed, the locket glimmering with a supernatural lustre as her lips made the shapes. ‘Avenge me…’
Krung Nak To contemplated her navel, let out a forlorn sigh and then raised her head to look at the Stoat who was, in turn, looking at her expectantly. She rolled her eyes around the her chamber of incarceration. ‘We can’t just stay trapped in here, hanging on to see how things pan out,’ offered one of her many internal monologues. The others hummed in agreement. Out of the hubbub one spoke clearly and decisively. ‘It’s definitely high time we did something very, very drastic’.
‘Fine, fine,’ she groused out loud, grimacing as she sought to emphasise that her upcoming proactive effort was one done under duress. “Listen Stoat – I will keep this as brief and simple as possible…”
Marek looked at her with increased expectancy. Little stoaty eyes blinked with careful concentration.
The Star Witch wriggled in her bonds. “You are aware that I have certain talents… certain gifts that come entirely natural to me that more mundane beasts may regard as being of the “supernatural” variety, yes?’
Marek nodded, eyes even wider with expectancy.
‘I and other corporeal entities similar to myself owe a great many of those gifts to a gland. Its names are many. Its names are hard to pronounce. For that reason we refer to it in the common tongue as the Mage Gland. Most mage-types have this gland. Some are born with it and others have it inserted into them at a later date. I will spare you details of these operations. Really, it’s not a pretty picture you want present in your imagination…’
Kru winced, but the even-more-expectant Marek nodded and urged her on. ‘Please… please continue.’
‘Well, the difference between having a Mage Gland and not is a little like this – a dull person walks down a dirt footpath in the forest and is aware of the dirt footpath and the forest. With the gland, however, there is awareness of the dirt footpath, the forest and its composition of various forms of flora, the age of said flora, the mood of the flora, the spiritual alignment of the flora, the entire eco-system supported by the flora across a radius of at least twenty acres and what the majority of the creatures in that eco-system had for breakfast and how they’d rate it on a scale of one-to-ten.’
‘Incredible…’ remarked the stoat.
‘Oh, it is credible and it may be the key to us getting out of this situation,’ assured Kru with discernible tetchiness. She was on edge, mainly because she was about to mess with something she’d vowed never to mess with.
‘Usually, when you’ve got a gland you can tell who else is similarly endowed. It leaves a non-visible tint. It’s like a beacon or an alarm gong sounding without tone or timbre, but it’s there all the same. Empathy. A telepathic link that can be tuned into if you listen carefully enough and heed your ninth sense. Do you follow?’
The stoat did not quite follow but he squeaked affirmatively all the same. ‘So what are you saying?’
‘What I’m saying is this – if I massage and exercise my Mage Gland I will almost certainly attract the attention of others who share this rare anatomical feature. That would include members of the Sablemagus Guild and perhaps magicians, witches, warlocks and other beasts who may possibly be sympathetic or useful to us…’
She thought a moment. ‘… or also entities who may not be sympathetic or useful to us, but that’s the chance we take. Even if no one feels the throbbing of magic through the æther, I won’t be able to control my reaction to its excitement. No one will be able to stand the racket and let it go unaddressed…’
‘So what do you have to do to get your Gland going?’ asked the Stoat gripped with suspense.
‘Stoat,’ the Star Witch commanded with a half-sigh of surrendering resignation. ‘Rip the front right off of my dress…’
Survival instinct kicking in, Jala had paid close attention on her journey from the marketplace to the bathhouse. She’d memorised the route and now retraced that route, zipping through the dinghy, darkening streets of Stellastelathororn’s rougher nether regions with great urgency.
There was reason for rushing with night closing in and the heavy purse of loot hanging vulnerable on her belt. ‘No more bloody delays!’ kept sounding out in the background and she pushed on through the alleyways and filthy streets in a vigorous blur, shoving any and every obstacle aside with little care or compunction.
On a lane of fishmonger stalls she elbowed past several workmen. She thrust herself in between two idle touts who seemed to be arguing over a piece of string. She marched on with fierce fervour and knocked over a round man who rolled over onto the cobbles and hollered out with a theatrical flourish, ‘Spare me! I am but a humble turnip!’
Upon hearing the phrase Jala came to a stop. She remembered those words. She’d heard them in her vision – the projection of her destiny she’d experienced back at the Fountain of the Meek when Kru had spat out scattered fragments from the future yet to be.
A predestined moment had come to pass. Fate had followed through to deliver her the occasion when the sentence ‘Spare me! I am but a humble turnip!’ occurred in the unravelling of her life. It was an irrelevant aside of little importance in isolation but, considering the wider context, Jala felt a panic at the actual realisation of a preordained moment.
She shuddered as she recalled the visions of her destiny – the most traumatic being the rising dragon lifting itself above the wasteland of burning skulls, swooping down upon her on dread wings of certain death.
She gulped and stared into space, the revived fear freezing her on the spot.
The round man, now recovered and upright again, mistook Jala’s expression for confusion and spoke out in order to explain himself. ‘You see, it’s all a bit of showmanship, see? Just to drum up business, see?’
Jala snapped out of her nightmarish daydreaming and turned to eyeball the man. ‘What?’ She discovered that the round man was actually round because he was dressed up in a costume.
‘I’m a turnip!’ He grinned and Jala observed that, actually, it was a pretty impressive turnip costume. ‘Tunpeth’s my name and vegetables are my trade! It’s hard doing veggie business in a seafood city like this, see? Need some promotion, see? Just some theatricality, see?’
The inner Barbarian voice unleashed itself and bounced around Jala’s cranium once more. With ‘Too many bloody delays!’ ricocheting around and impetus firing up afresh the Northern Barbarian turned and marched on at even greater speed.
Tunpeth sighed, slightly hurt that she hadn’t even said goodbye. Looking down at his bulbous turnip body, he began to feel a bit silly.
Marek wanted to ask politely in order to keep up semi-dignified appearance and not impose himself as a disrespectful pervert of a rodent.
‘Of course I’m sure! Now delay no more! Rip this tunic right open and bare my midriff if you want to get out of here!’
He didn’t need asking twice. Tiny rodent feet bounded across the chamber and with a mighty leap the stoat flew through the air and landed on Kru’s torso. With a swift slide and a flash of claws he split the Star Witch’s dress down the middle and landed gracefully, the falling fabric billowing around him.
He looked up at the naked feminine body, dazzling white and amazing in its subtle myriad shifts. It seemingly never settled in one fixed form but, through some strange magic, moved through ages and cosmetic characteristics. If the Star Witch were ever to act as a life model for art students they would find their portraits inaccurate as soon as they’d left a mark on the canvas. No one would be able to describe the nude witch’s body because it altered several times every second.
At least that was true for the parts of the body you don’t tend to share in polite society. Only one private area stayed solid and stable. Voyeuristic stoat eyes soon spotted it and Marek lingered on the oddity, realising this outstanding protuberance was.
‘The Mage Gland?’ he guessed and, yes, he guessed correctly.
Pulsing just to the lower left side of her perpetually re-shaping bellybutton, the gland was a visible tumescent lump. It appeared to be laughing. It was ready to have some fun.
‘Yes, that’s my Mage Gland,’ Kru corroborated. ‘I haven’t looked at it in a while. It looks pretty happy…’
‘Yes,’ the Stoat agreed.
‘Well, let’s ruin its day and hopefully further our hopes of finding a release. Marek, please bite my Mage Gland.’
‘Just do it,’ smiled the Star Witch with a viscous, forced grin. Half her mind was really reluctant to go through with the humiliating ordeal but the other half – well, it was feeling pretty thrilled at the prospect.
Naked and waiting, the gland pulsating prouder and prouder, she pushed the Stoat. ‘Just do it! Bite it! BITE IT!’
‘Your wish is my command, Witch.’ And the rodent stood to attention, moistened his lips with a swish of his tongue. He exhaled an eager squeak then dashed forward and clambered up Kru’s legs. Marek arrived at the lump and embraced it enthusiastically, attaching his teeth to the flesh around its edges and then clamped down.
It tasted like a sweaty strawberry. He also noted a hint of vanilla.
As the Stoat gnawed and chewed and worried at the Gland, he started to feel a powerful momentum. He got into a groove. Vivid colours and visions coalesced in his mind and he began to feel a euphoric surge. Then he heard her.
She was groaning with pleasure and pain, except it was louder than commonplace groaning. It was immense – an orgasmic and terrible cacophony on a colossal scale. The Star Witch sang. The Star Witch screamed. Her duet of ecstatic moans and tortured cries reverberating around the small room and surely transcending the confines to echo out into the city, the continent, the world and, indeed, the cosmos beyond.
Marek looked up and saw Kru’s face shimmering between a picture of bliss and a study in agony. She was experiencing mystical titillation and spiritual scourging that couldn’t possibly be comprehended by the limited minds and spirits of more ordinary beings. He presumed that the pushing of this particular spot was the most overwhelming experience available to gifted folk like Kru. He chewed even harder.
Bite, gnaw, suck. But then he heard another sound marking itself out amidst the mighty moanings of the Star Witch.
In his peripheral vision Marek noticed that the door was rocking. Someone was beating on it, struggling to find the handle and get inside.
Kru had been right to assume that her strong response would attract someone or something’s attention. But whose?
The Stoat felt another swelling compulsion and sucked on with vigour. Halfway through a lovebite he suddenly found himself shocked out of reverie by the rending of wood and steel as the door broke apart.
Marek loosed his lips from the gland. Kru ceased her groaning. The pair looked to the door and took in the surprising sight of the strangers now entering the aperture…
Exhausted by her exertions, the Star Witch barely managed to catch her breath before gasping, ‘Oh, I don’t believe it…’
The retort from the shadows of the doorway – ‘Believe it, Lady Charmfingers…’
The sky was on the cusp of pitch blackness and the lanterns of Stellastelathororn had been lighted. The City of Stars, it appeared, was a city that never slept for the market traders appeared to have no interest in packing up their goods and closing upon the coming of night.
Jala strode on through the dirty milieu and allowed herself a moment of optimism as she spied the gateway to the tent-packed square ahead. Inside she’d find the flower stall and with a purse full of coin she’d be able to buy the indigolilies. Chant Kru’s name three times over its petals and then the magical flower would bloom and guide her to her lost companion’s location.
A bird’s bright call acted as fitting sound effect to the thought of reunion. Jala looked skyward to see if she could spot the creature in the evening dark and, sure enough, there it was with its sleek wings shining in the lantern-light.
The large, majestic crow glided overheard, calling out to announce its arrival before it came to a rest on a grand archway sequestered behind a dry fountain at the side of the street. Jala was intrigued and veered sideways in order to get a closer look at this hidden portal. Its facade was quite spectacular – a writhing panoply of runic shapes and pictures carved into deftly sculpted basalt, adorned with smatterings of quartz.
Then she read the words inscribed over the top of the aperture that lead into what looked like nothing more than thick purplish fog clouds. The words read ‘Arch of Souls’.
The crow crowed and Jala recalled the last words of the Sablemagus Guildmeister before he abandoned her in the marketplace. ‘Meet me at the head of the Arch of Souls when the crow, err well, crows.’
This was the place and the moment, but what about the indigolily flowers? Could she trust the Guildmeister to keep his appointment or should she return to the market and procure the artefacts that would reunite her with the Star Witch?
With the crow crowing, the dark darkening and frustration at too many bloody delays bothering her Barbarian temperament, Jala resolved to make a decisive choice.
The poll closed at noon BST on the 8th of December. If you cannot see a poll above, please try a different browser or enable cookies. Alternatively wait until the next full moon and journey out to your nearest stone circle. There you must perform the dark and sacred rites of the long dead kingdom of the Fey. Seek the wisdom of the shades and wraiths who will appear before you. They will know what to do…