Forever Winter (Part 18)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


THE MOUTH OF THE DRAGON

The gentleman of the boxes stumbled into the clearing, tripping over a branch that had been hidden in snow. “Damn it!” he yelled, falling face first into an unspoiled drift. He got to his feet, brushing off the cold white fluff that clung to his long coat. He shook himself much like a dog, clearing the remaining patches of snow and moved on into the clearing and towards the well. The group had not long left, he could make out their tracks in the snow heading off towards the break in the trees where the path led.

He approached the well, now blocked by the magic that the lady of the jars had performed. Though he too was practised in magic arts now, he did not know of this kind and he looked on in curiosity to the strange structured elements, tiny parts of the colo twinkling ever so softly; trapped now. He took out a small box from his bag, not much bigger than a match box. He scraped some of the residue off into the box, returning it to his bag. Then he looked up, and his curiosity once again turned to anger.

“That bloody woman!” he yelled, his voice reverberating around the clearing.

Above the now blocked well, a huge plump grey cloud floated, sprinkling out heavy drifts of snow which fell like cotton wool. The lady of the jars had also set a snow cloud to cover the well quicker and deeper in snow, another way to fight back she had thought.

“Not content with the whole land covered in her blasted snow, she pots about with extra clouds to madden us all!” He said, grabbing off a chunk from the well and sending it angrily up towards the floating mass. It fell softly through, hitting one of the trees not far from him.

He heard it then, movement from the direction of the hit tree as if an animal had scuttled out of sight. He heard another movement too, this time to the side of him. The gentleman of the boxes had lived in the woods for many years now and knew a lot about the habits of nature. He ducked down, reaching into his pocket for something. He watched silently, and then he heard another sound, a rustling in the same tree where the clump had hit.

He was quick and quiet as he lurched forward and threw out some tiny amber stones which seemed to hit his target. He approached cautiously, keeping his distance slightly. It was a Dimian, as he thought it might be due to the well. He did not fear these creatures, quite the reverse. He knew that they contained much power that could be extracted if you knew how. The amber stones he had thrown clung to the little black blob, pinning it down now like tree sap. Its eyes flashed in alarm, and it oozed some sort of green foam which stained the snow around it.

It was rare for them to be on their own, and the gentleman looked around him quickly, checking to see if there were others. Satisfied there were not, he approached the little creature.

“I guess you were attracted to the same thing I hunt too.” He said, opening his bag and reaching inside. It is true that the Dimian were tracking the girl from Europa, this one had become confused by the power the lady of the jars had used on the well. It had lingered and become lost, trying to return underground. The gentleman of the boxes took out a glass jar, and scooped up the creature, quickly stuffing a stopper in the top. The stones that had pinned the thing began to hiss and melt inside the glass now, and slowly began to turn into a soft brown liquid. The Dimian flashed its eyes once more before the liquid covered it completely, freezing it as the liquid solidified.

The man took out a small cardboard wrapper and covered the jar like a wine bottle. He preferred using boxes, naturally, and even using a jar irked him as it was a practice of the lady of the jars. But this was the only way he could preserve things alive, unlike his boxes of the dead that he handled usually. He smiled to himself in his successful capture, as Dimian are notoriously hard to catch and can always be quite dangerous. With a fresh spur of energy, he chased on after the group, embolden now to succeed.

The group had trudged on through the trees, the weather remaining more open and calmer to help their path. The girl from Europa took in all that she saw, for on her planet there were no things as trees, and the animals there were quite different. She spotted an owl in one of the trees she passed and asked the lady about them.

“Usually nocturnal, but I fear my incessant snow confuses the poor dears.” The lady had said, noticing how large the owl was.

“Nocturnal?” the girl asked curiously.

“Only out at night-time, sleeps all day. The lucky devils.” Ezra said, looking behind them to see if they were being followed.

“Oh, I see. Yes, we have creatures that have similar patterns. Our days are long there, but some only come out at certain times.” She said, somewhat dreamily.

“It’s interesting how so different, yet so similar things are.” The lady said, smiling at the girl. The girl smiled too, comforted by the familiarity. Even across the vastness of space, simple things connected them.

“I think there’s trouble brewing.” Ezra said, nodding his head back in the direction they had come. They all looked that way and could see some birds taking flight just off in the distance.

“Oh my, I thought we would have been there before he came along.”  The lady said.

“It’s that man, isn’t it?” The girl asked, closing her eyes and seeing the shadowy images now of both him and the Dimian. The shapes moved like clouds in her mind, one brighter due to its proximity.

“Yes, he’s a pebble in my shoe that’s for sure. But he has maligned intent on you I am afraid, and we cannot be doing with this now here in the middle of the woods.” She added. “Ezra, we need…”

But Ezra was already moving off down the path where they had come from.

“I’m on it.” He called back to them. He held out a little vial, the Dragon’s tongue that the lady had given to them all to keep them warm, and to add some light to their journey. Rushing now, he went down the path until he was in a dense spot of trees. The ones here seemed to clump together, throwing dark shadows, and casting much murky thoughts. Ezra stopped, looking around quickly. He could hear the movements coming off further, but he thought he could make out two groups of noises.

He did not hesitate, tipping out the Dragon’s tongue flame into his hands where it flashed in the air of the world. Tipping it back and forth like a hot potato, Ezra breathed onto the little flame, and muttered the incantation that he knew only too well. He was the keeper of the flame in his little post, protecting her cottage back home. The flame roared and grew upward and out, a real magical dragon soaring up to the trees. The red beast roared and sneaked around the trunks, gobbling the light up and creating a black void in its wake. Ezra turned and ran back to re-join the group as the dragon raced through the wood, destroying the light that lay hidden between the trees and cast down from the sky above. It was as if a huge hand was brushing a blackness over the wood. Not the kind where your eyes could adjust to, but a dark void that allowed no light to remain. The red dragon danced in spectacle and haste, snatching the light, and roaring its triumph. It raced back to Ezra, sweeping an emptiness around them as it shrank down and returned back into the little vial that he held out for it.

The lady of the jars held up her own little light, casting a beam off in the direction they needed to head.

“That should do it for now.” She said, nodding in satisfaction. The girl from Europa stood and smiled at Ezra.

“That was wonderful.” She said, having been transfixed by the dragon’s dance.

“It was nothing.” Ezra said, proudly. Whispering a gratitude to the Dragon’s tongue flame now residing safely back inside his little vial.

The blackness did its job. Not only had it blocked the way for the gentleman of the boxes, but it also permeated below the ground. Now, Dimian are used to underground conditions where there is little light, but the magic from the Dragon’s tongue flame does more than paint things black. It disables senses and orientation, and for them it overwhelms them with a pocket of energy from the spell. So, while they consume in their static state, they are completely disoriented, much like the little one that unfortunately found its way into the bag of the gentleman of the boxes. The man too was bamboozled by the snatched light. Now lost in the dark in the middle of the forest. He searched the depths of his own mind for a resource to help him, for he had had enough now of the woman’s meddling charms.


 

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