Saturday, November 08, 2008

Chapter Eight - Things that were lost

Ansus growled. ‘A tick is too kind a word for him.’

‘Oh Ansus, don’t be so hard on him. He can’t be that bad,’ Pahana said, rubbing the tiger’s back. ‘Besides, it’s good that his friends were able to join us.’ She waved to Jed. ‘Hurry up, we must move on. We can’t linger here.’

‘You sound as bad as the tiger,’ Jed said. He maintained his pace, perhaps slowed a little, and sauntered up to Pahana and Ansus at the same time as his two companions. ‘Lilo, Ben, this is – what is your name again? Let me see, I think it’s Pahana – as in, ‘We must save Pahana’ and ‘We can’t stop because we have to look for Pahana.’

The man and woman with Jed mumbled greetings. They both looked pale and tired, especially Ben, who appeared to be coming down with an illness.

Inwardly, Pahana grumbled. Perhaps Ansus was right about her assessment of Jed, but it would not help anyone to be rude to the man and even objectionable people deserved her help and respect. ‘Pleased to meet you Ben and Lilo.’

Ben smiled. It was beautiful and lit up his face. ‘It’s great we’re united at last. The good tigress was very worried about you. Now that we’re together, I ask that we rest for a short while to gather our energy and to eat a small repast.’

Pahana regretted having to disappoint him. ‘I’m afraid we have to keep going. The true path that will lead us out of the maze will not remain open for much longer and we will lose precious time if we rest. I know you’re tired and it’s hard going, but perhaps Ansus could carry you on her back for a while to help you recover?’

Ben looked at the tiger’s narrow back. Ansus growled.

‘Come on, there is an alcove up ahead. We can stop in there for five minutes. If this true path is so easy to lose we’ll never make it out of here, so we may as well not kill ourselves trying,’ Jed said. He tapped the casket in Pahana’s arms. ‘That better have food or some sort of goodies in it.’

Pahana pulled away. ‘I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s important.’ She hoped it wasn’t food, thinking of the corrupted feast Lipedo had laid out for her.

Jed shrugged. ‘I think we have some provisions left, but we need to go on a scouting party soon. Food and water is hard to find in this place.’

Ansus thumped her tail against Pahana’s leg. ‘We could do with looking in that box and if Jed is right, an alcove is a better place to open it up than exposed in the corridor. I think we can afford to stop for a little while.’

‘Lead the way, Jed,’ Pahana said.

He saluted her mockingly and then carefully squeezed past Ansus to lead the way down the corridor. ‘It should be along here on the right,’ he said, slapping the brick wall with his hand. ‘I found it on one of my hunts. Ah, yes, here it is.’

He seemed to disappear into the wall of the corridor. Pahana could detect no opening, but then his head appeared grinning out of the brickwork and his arm beckoned them towards him. Up close, Pahana saw that a doorway was concealed in the wall. It was so cleverly hidden that even standing right in front of it she found it hard to see. Stepping into the doorway brought her to a small square chamber that was just large enough for the four people to sit against the walls and for the tiger to stretch out at their feet.

Lilo helped Ben sit down on some rubble. He coughed a little, but shook away Lilo’s concerns. She sat down beside him. Jed took a cloth bag out of his pocket. It contained a spongy brown loaf – whether bread or fungus, Pahana could not tell – which he proceeded to divide into equal shares and distribute. Pahana shook her head when he offered her a portion.

‘Not hungry?’ Jed looked surprised.

Pahana smiled. ‘I don’t need it, thank you.’

He looked at her intently for a moment, then shrugged and broke the piece in two, giving a share each to Ben and Lilo. He took a bottle from his other pocket and repeated the process. Once again Pahana refused her share.

‘I don’t get you and the tiger,’ Jed said. ‘You don’t eat or drink anything, but you aren’t sick and tired like we are – or were you dining in style the same place you got your glad rags?’

‘I’m not hungry, that’s all, and I think you need it more than I do at the moment,’ Pahana said.

‘We don’t need you to make sacrifices for us.’ Jed sounded angry.

Pahana flushed. ‘I’m not. If I need it, I’ll ask you for it.’

‘Please Jed, don’t fight,’ Lilo said softly.

Jed sniffed and sat down to eat his food. He stared at Pahana while he ate.

Ansus, stretched between the people, did not have much room to manoeuvre. She nodded at the casket in Pahana’s arms. ‘Open it.’

Pahana caressed the box lid. ‘Are you sure? Is it safe?’ She was afraid. She didn’t want to find out what it contained. She wasn’t worried that it was something evil, although there was certainly the possibility, but what if it was something good? What if it was a key to escape the maze, or a torch to light their way? Even worse, what if it was empty? As long as she carried it unopened it could contain any or all of these possibilities. She didn’t want to ruin it but finding out what lay inside and sealing its fate.

‘It smells of the other worlds,’ Ansus said, sniffing loudly. ‘You were drawn to it for a reason. The sage would not let you keep it if it was going to harm you.’

‘Where did you get it anyway?’ Jed asked.

‘From the room of the creature that the night train brought me to,’ Pahana replied.

Jed smiled. ‘So you’re a thief. I guess we’ve more in common than I thought.’

Pahana was tempted to reply but thought better of it. She wasn’t going to allow him to draw her. She turned the box around on her knee so that the clasp was facing her. She grasped it, then paused, looking to Ansus once more for assurance.

‘Open it,’ Jed said. ‘We can handle whatever’s inside.’

‘Seize the day,’ Ben said. Lilo murmured her agreement.

Ansus nodded. ‘Open it, Pahana.’

Pahana drew in a deep breath. Holding it, she flicked open the clasp and tilted the lid back. It fell open easily, on well-oiled hinges. A bright blue light spilled out of the box and illuminated the alcove. The box was lined with black velvet. Resting in a depression in the centre was a crystal vial filled with sapphire light. Pahana picked up the vial and held it up. It was cold to the touch.

‘It’s beautiful,’ Lilo said.

‘What is it?’ Jed asked, leaning forward to look closer.

Ansus banged her tail against the wall. ‘It’s yours, Pahana. It’s your missing brain.’

Jed laughed. ‘Her what?’

‘The part the Mubby harvested from her, or parts I should say, as it took a piece from her head night after night and placed it in this bottle for the private collection of a lord for this part of the maze,’ Ansus said.

‘That don’t make a whole lot of sense to me,’ Jed said, scratching his head.

Ansus wrinkled her brow, her stripes coming together to form a long black line. ‘What I don’t understand is why the Mubby was giving it to Lipedo, when you were held prisoner in another lord’s area. They must be working together.’ She scratched behind her ear. ‘That is not good.’

Pahana cradled the vial in her palm. Could the blue light really be part of her? It was so beautiful.

‘What’s a Mubby?’ Ben asked.

‘A creature of the maze,’ Ansus said. ‘One of the many. Some – like the butterballs – work in groups. Mubbys' work alone. They form alliances with the various lords of the maze and usually keep to their area.’

‘I hope we don’t meet one,’ Ben said.

‘We’ve handled worse,’ Jed said.

Ansus sat up. Lilo and Ben drew their legs to their chests to avoid them being crushed by the tiger. ‘We must replace the contents of the vial,’ she said. She sniffed Pahana’s hands. ‘We have to put it back before we continue.’

‘What can we do to help?’ Ben asked.

‘I don’t see how we can get that bottle into her head,’ Jed said.

Pahana touched the top of her head. She could still feel the painful edges of her wound. How had Jed not noticed it? She thought of pouring the contents of the vial into the soft spot within the crater of her skull. She imagined blinding pain, similar to the progress by which the light had been extracted. ‘I’m afraid, Ansus.’

The tiger touched her face to Pahana’s. Her nose was cold against the girl’s skin. ‘Don’t be, it won’t hurt. It belongs to you. Returning that which is yours is never painful, it is the extraction that hurts.’

Pahana buried her fingers in the tiger’s fluffy mane. ‘I trust you.’

Ansus stood up. ‘Kneel down,’ she said. ‘Face the wall.’

Pahana knelt on the dusty brick, her face pressed against the wall and the back of her head facing the tiger. She heard the others stand up. She could feel them watching her.

‘Give me the vial,’ Ansus said.

Pahana raised her hand. The tiger’s jaws closed gently around the bottle and took it out of her grasp. She clutched the wall, her fingers digging into the crumbling mortar between the bricks. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the deed to be done. She heard the thick sound of the stopper being removed from the bottle. Even with her eyes shut she could see the increase of light bouncing off the walls in the alcove. Ansus pressed against her back and she could feel the tiger’s breath on her hair. The light diminished and a cool tingling sensation made Pahana’s head itch. It grew until she could bear it no longer. She wriggled, first her feet and legs and then her body. Her hands flew away from the walls, her fingers tearing into the soft flesh of her scalp.

‘My head. There isn’t a hole there anymore,’ Pahana said. She twisted around and threw her arms around Ansus’ neck. ‘It’s gone.’

‘That was freaky,’ Jed said. ‘The light – I don’t know – it was absorbed into your head. I can’t describe it.’

‘Do you feel any different?’ Lilo asked.

Ben slowly clapped his hands together. ‘That was quite a show.’

Pahana stood up. She did feel different. Lighter, clearer, more complete. She couldn’t stop hugging the tiger and then running her hand through her hair and hugging Ansus again. She smiled and it was like the light beamed out of her face onto the others. Blue flame flickered across her skin.

‘I feel…’


Her elation disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. Pain seared through her temples, bringing her to her knees once more. Her fingers dug into Ansus’ shoulder and back. The tiger growled but didn’t remove her support. Pahana buried her face in the tiger’s fur, her teeth gritted against the agony.

She was no longer in the maze. She was somewhere else, some other place that was familiar but she couldn’t name. It was dark – nighttime. She was alone. No, someone was with her. A woman. She stood in shadow against the wall in front of her. She was tall, imposing, with red eyes and long dark hair that curled like a beast upon her shoulders. She was beautiful, powerful, and deadly. Her lips curled in a smile. Pahana knew the meaning of the smile.

‘You belong to me now.’

The door of the room opened. Cold wind blew in. Pahana gripped – what? A chair. Yes, she was sitting in a battered armchair. Her hands ate into the fabric, her body pressed into the back of the chair. A man stood in the doorway. He was very tall and thin, emaciated, dressed in a black suit that clung to his skeletal frame highlighting its awkwardness. In places the suit was worn and scuffed, green with mould. His shirt, once white, was covered in grime. A wilted black rose garnished his buttonhole. Dark hair covered his head and atop his pate rested a tall top hat, similarly decrepit as his suit. His face, however, was the most awful thing about him. It existed, framed by his hair, bound between the hat and the high collar of his shirt, but it was blank. Completely featureless. A smooth void of flesh stood where eyes, nose and mouth should have been. Pahana could not tear her eyes from the expanse of nothingness. In its facelessness she read expressions too horrible to contemplate.

The faceless man strode into the room. Despite having no eyes, he moved with the grace of a man who knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going. In one fluid motion he removed a knife from his pocket. The blade was serrated, curled and cruel. He held it close to his body. His hands were long, his fingers bone thin capped with sharp nails. Pahana could not move as he approached her chair. She willed herself invisible, but she knew there was no hiding from this figure. He reached out, pinning Pahana to the chair with his free hand. He was so strong. Pahana felt a bulldozer was holding her to the chair. He brought the knife forward. Pahana wriggled, but she could not escape. The knife flashed, searing through her clothes and flesh, cutting bone. Two cuts, one horizontal across her chest, the other vertical down her torso. A red tee oozed in blood. The knife, its work done, disappeared into the faceless man’s pocket and now his hands came into play. He reached into the wounds he had made, parting the bone and flesh and making the hole larger. Pahana looked down and saw her organs exposed beneath the fat and blood. Her heart, beating, looked slower than it felt. Her intestines coiled puzzle fashion over her abdomen.

There was no expression of glee on his face, but Pahana imagined one as the faceless man reached into her chest cavity and removed her organs, one after the other, stuffing them into his pockets. His hands flew, more efficient than surgical instruments, plucking heart and lungs with the ease of picking apples. Soon there was nothing left but blood and strands of tissue. The long hands grabbed the open ends of the rib cage and pressed them together again, hiding the emptiness inside. His work done, the faceless man stepped back. He stood motionless, ready, his suit stuffed with Pahana’s insides.

Now it was the turn of the shadow woman to step forward. Pahana watched her climb out of the wall, grow into a three dimensional shape. She no longer feared the woman. She was numb, her mind reeling how she was still alive after what had just happened.


Anonymous said...

Yikes! Poor pahana! how horrible!

I like the development of the maze, the different lords of the maze, and her beautiful blue brain, but who are these new evil creatures?
i still don't trust Jed!

Hope to see more tomorrow!

Inkpot said...

Interesting comment, thanks Anon. Glad you liked the 8th chap.

Anonymous said...

wow! grim stuff but i am just waiting for angsus or angel or jed or the handsome your man to arrive to do something. the action, adventure, excitment and horrow nerrer ceasess- wheres' the publisher. so good to be back inthe outer planets

Inkpot said...

Hi Anon (the real one) good to have you back. I can't imagine how difficult the last few days were for you. Pahana's problems pale in comparison.