The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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54. EPILOGUE

Ashlin

Ash woke up in the darkness. Jenna was sound asleep beside him. Tomorrow, he would go back to his job at the library, and The Tale of the Happy Bunny was preying on his mind. Even if it was all made up, what if it was still possible? He could still imagine such a book even if one had never been written. And sorcery was all about the mind. Could he still dream a page of such a book that never was, and be found cold and dead next morning, with no explanation?

Stupid, stupid mind. Shut up.

He turned over and closed his eyes, and sought the impossible dark unglowing greens and reds of the forest in his dreams. He relaxed and drifted and knew again what it was to forget what a book looked like. Then he could sleep.

 

Celandine

A new, well-paved road led to the edge of the forest, which had been cut and burned back for a hundred yards, except where a strip of heavily-webbed trees extended out to the ruins of an old cottage. The road stopped here. A cart with a dozen barrels on it stood nearby, guarded by hooded and masked soldiers. There were braziers burning, and stacks of torches ready to be lit.

A figure dressed like a bee-keeper entered the cottage with a lit torch in one hand and a canvas bag in the other. It fitted the torch in an ornate brass stand that had never been part of the original furniture of the hovel. Also new was a polished wooden table near the middle of the room, with a game board on it. There were spiders crawling on this, and traces of web. One particularly thick strand of web had been attached between a knight and a vacant square two squares forward and one to the side. Spiders scattered as the bee-keeper approached and laid the canvas bag aside.

“Not a particularly good move,” said a woman’s voice under the hood, “You aren’t learning very fast.” She moved her unseen opponent’s knight to the indicated square and thought for a moment.

“You try to threaten the queen I see. I hope you are ignorant of the symbolism of this game, or I will be very annoyed with you.”

She reached to her queen and moved it out of the way of the knight’s clumsy advance, improving her own position slightly. As she placed it, something dropped from the ceiling exactly onto the back of her hand. It was a larger than usual spider, its fat body about the size of a hazelnut and covered in pinkish dust. Celandine watched it interestedly as it gnawed uselessly at her leather glove. She then took a glass jar from the canvas bag, emptied the spider into it and sealed the lid tightly.

“Perhaps you are learning too fast.”

Outside the hut, soldiers approached and respectfully rinsed off her suit and the jar with something that smelled like gin and sulphur. As she walked past the cart towards her coach, which stood a safe distance away, she gestured.

Soldiers began unloading barrels from the cart, and carrying haunches of chemical-smelling meat towards the tree-line.

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