, & bedwin
hiding in the honeycomb hill, surrounded by the savage tribes of the lords of carrion, having recently buried their "friend" balthazar
. bedwin, seeing a chance to prove his mettle & wanting to see if escape was possible, woke the lovely lorelai to take his watch while he scouted out the enemy encampment. in doing so, he discovered that the sabertooth tiger admiring barbarians, the lords of slaughter, were hiding in a ring even closer to their camp! the adventurers were well & truly trapped. sneaking back to the honeycomb hill, bedwin was surprised by a figure, a figure that noticed him & strode on over with quick hopping steps-- the clearly inhuman xartrus
. or well, something was wrong with him, all covered by a wimple & only his pasty, acromegalic face showing, never revealing his hands from beneath his leather cape. bedwin convinced the others to come off the hill & meet with him, & xartrus told them he could vouch safe them down the mantichora stair
, & he marked them with blood to make it so.
down the stairs they went, ever so slowly. damocles had been hurt badly in the fray with the lords of slaughter, & lorelai was sinking into shock from the seemingly random death of balthazar, xartrus slinking off to "hunt". it took them two nights & three days to descend the steps, during which emotions ran high. at the feet of the stairs, they come up against the painted wall of dunes, a strange desert of many textures & substances-- clay, gravel, sand, dirt, anything you could imagine, in all the visible colours of the rainbow. the four of them stopped to rest, & heal: bedwin, damocles, & lorelai staying there, making water traps to keep hydrated, & again xartrus left to be alone. after another five days, damocles felt good enough to venture a crossing, & cross they did, sleeping among the dunes, finding lorelai in the morning surrounded by the wing bones of some great flying drake. after some time they came across a cobbled road, made up of horseshoe crab shells, & they took it.
the road of red chitin shells led them to a place of strange machines buried in dust; a czarist dome, which bedwin tried to uncover, the skeleton of a derrick of some sort, a great wheel hundreds of feet across. & above all, a freshwater lake! with a vast metal cone tower along side of it, & golden swan boats garnished with peacock feathers! the boats had the smell of ages on them, as though they had been kept in a hollywood attic for hundreds of years, & just trotted out now. the party got onto the boats, finding them easily steered by pedals which dipped the wings in the water to turn, & a gondola pole for good measure. once they slipped into the river that led off the lake, they found themselves making astonishingly good time; the river provided constant propulsion, & the sides were sheer, the water deep, almost like a chute. going down, they saw vast shadows in the sky-- birds! & later saw them, giraffe like, feeding on wrigling lizards the size of ponies (pictured above). the river culminated in a waterfall! but they had the foresight to pull off before then, into tiny pools leading off the main bed of the river. they also saw other swan boats there, & one got sucked under the placid surface of the water.
from there, they saw an enormous waterfall, like one of the niagara falls, pouring water into a narrow gulf which existed between the falls & a huge mountain rising across from it. they also saw some of the huge drakes taking wing, using the pressure from below to soar upwards into the sky. the mountain was striped green & grey, for on close inspection the saw it to be terraced, carved into vast steps, presumably once used for crops, but now long since overgrown into forests, well watered by the falls, teaming with strange life, each a microcosm depending on what seeds landed there. the four crossed a bridge they discovered that spanned the gulf, & then there they were, climbing the hulk of the mountain. they slept amidst the nocturnal chatter of the life there, & before the second night came upon them, they found in the twilight an abandoned house
. as soon as they entered, well. poof!
was filled with clutter: chickens in cages stacked on cords of broken furniture, faggots of reeds, smashed pottery, wadded up rags, broken lamps. mason jars filled with strange liquids with rusty tea kettles on top, collections of bones, jelly & pickles, wooden fan blades jutting out in the gaps. lorelai turned to speak to damocles & when she turned back, bedwin was gone. she looked around a corner to see bedwin & then damocles too was gone. she started to run through the place, looking for her friends, but found only a heron. a simple swordsbird, fencing with his beak, who advised her to say yes three times, but no after that. & too there was choke-pear, a familiar made of clockwork & doll parts & frog legs, who told her to always say yes, & a box of cut-off faces, all speaking together, which told her to say no no no! then granny came. granny was as tall as a bad dream, hunched of back, warted as a witch, with iron teeth & a shawl. hideous, maternal, screeching granny.
lorelai had to mop the kitchen, where she also sparred with the heron. granny came in, to make stone soup! a little belladonna, a little pepper, some turnips, some salt, some arsenic, some saffron, some this & that & oh! she had not meat! but could lorelai spare a bit of blood for the soup? & lorelai said she could. that night, lorelai slept in a trundle bed at the foot of a canopy bed of lavish, if ancient & musty, design, in a room filled with empty birdcages. the next day, lorelai was polishing the silver ware in the armory, kept company by the box of faces. granny came in looking for a fish hook but could find nothing. so she decided to make one, & asked lorelai for a cup of blood to temper it in. oh no, said lorelai, so granny was forced to look elsewhere for the blood. that night, there were buckets of water in the room with lorelai, & lorelai stuck her head in a broken birdcage & sang songs. the next night, there was a prince coming to visit, & lorelai was told to clean granny's best dress-- a moth eaten, tea stained old gown. boxed lied to lorelai, telling her to cut it up for rags, but choke-pear told lorelai to clean it, & lorelai trusted choke-pear, though she was lost & crying. along came giant old granny, mother of ogres, & asked if lorelai could give her a cup of blood. granny wanted to seduce the prince, & wanted to spill the blood on the sheets to make the prince think she was a virgin. that night, the serving staff, including lorelai, waiting & watched from the windows. soldiers on too too long legged horses came, all banded in red armor with big ridged shields on their backs. three carriages with chicken legs came next. from the first emerged a torrent of birds, & from the third emerged nothing, but from the middle came the prince, all legs of shot iron, an arm of fur & claws, another of tentacles & scales, a face of eyes & blue beards & a tri-corn hat. the monster prince!
in the night, there was a guest in the canopy bed that in the room with lorelai. a dark woman covered in a gown of bird feathers, cruel of aspect, robotic as any bird. she told tracey not to be afraid. & while she slept, lorelai washed her face. the next morning, granny came to lorelai & told her she could go, if only she'd leave granny with a cup of blood. granny had gathered together the gown lorelai had washed, & some turnips from the soup, & the mop for a backbone, & silverware for fingers, & made a little lorelai scarecrow. lorelai gave her a cup of blood & walked out the front door...