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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49. The Forest Inside

“Where am I?”

Ashlin was wandering through a forest. Just under his feet, the ground was translucent, and impossibly far beneath him were stars, like reflections in a pond. Above, the trees were unbelievably high, and they reached up into the sky. The moon shone among them through wisps of cloud.

Apart from moonlight, the forest was dark, but brightly coloured. Impossible greens, darker than black, richer than emerald. Reds like black coals dreaming of future embers.

You are here. It wasn’t exactly a voice.

“Who are you?”

I am here.

“Who? Who are you, what are you?”

Here is what I am. Here is me.

“Am I awake?”

I am awake.

“Why am I here? What do you want from me?”

When you make those words, I see shapes in you that I do not make in me. Those words are not anything.

“Are you ... the spiders?”

I am not the eight-meat. I am not four-meat, six-meat or two-meat. I am here.

“Am I ... dead?”

Not dead.

It was dreamlike, but very vivid. Ashlin was confused. He searched about himself for notebook and pencil. He seemed to be wearing only a blanket. He couldn’t remember what a book looked like. This was terrifying. It was as though only part of him was here, and he couldn’t remember all of what he had left behind.

“I am not awake. This isn’t real.”

I am awake.

“How can a place be awake? This looks like a forest to me. What are you seeing?”

I see myself. I see you. I wake in the hot days, and sleep in the cold. But I forget so much in the cold days and the wind.

“You forget?”

The wind breaks me. The eight-meat sleep or die in the snow. But I sleep underneath. I do not want to forget. I will go towards the sun and stay awake forever. I will cover the world and know everything.

 

Ashlin moaned and mumbled. Jenna was watching him, and trying to comfort him. He asked if he was dead at one point, and she said no, and squeezed his hand.

“What do you think it is?”

“I’m no doctor. I’ve known people eat the wrong kind of mushrooms and see strange things.” Green looked at Ashlin’s pale and sweating face. “I’ve also known them to drop dead from it.”

“But don’t worry,” Derk added quickly, as Jenna’s eyes teared up. He gave Green an exasperated look. “It’s not like that. He got no more than a pinch of that dust up his nose I expect. That can’t be enough to kill him.”

Ashlin mumbled again. It sounded like “Webs.”

A sudden flash of memory struck Jenna. What funny webs they spin. I call them my funny-web spiders. She slapped herself on the forehead.

“God above and below, I am so stupid!”

“What?”

“She knew. Queen Celandine was trying to show me some spiders in her museum. She knew this forest thing had something to do with them. I didn’t go near and look at them, because, well, you know. But I should have. Oh, if she sent us out here to die and didn’t tell me something that could have saved Ash, I am going to slap her so hard.”

“To be fair,” said Derk, “she was only sending you out to get killed. She didn’t know Ash would be joining us.”

“That is not the point. She has most likely not been slapped enough anyway, what with being a queen.”

“Let’s not get arrested just yet for treason or regislap or whatever. Let’s get Ash better and go home,” Derk said kindly. “Let’s get back on the Green Lady, and just go. Leave the two monsters to deal with each other.”

Jenna nodded sadly. She stroked Ashlin’s damp hair off his forehead.

“Cover the world.” he mumbled.

“We have to see this through, though. I’ll try not to slap any royalty in the meantime. But this sort of thing is exactly why I left Ashlin behind and took this job. I couldn’t stay at home and be a married woman and wash clothes and raise stupid pretty green-eyed children.”

“Why did you leave, exactly?”

“Because Doctor Grey explained to me that we are in a dangerous time. He explained it to Ash too, but as usual Ash didn’t completely get it. He didn’t think it through. He wanted to walk away from the danger and settle down. But I knew if it all went wrong, millions of people could die. Millions. And I love Ash, and you know, he’d be one of them.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s such an idiot. Look, he can’t even take on a simple killer spider-forest without getting himself, well, whatever state he is in. The idiot.”

Jenna wiped away tears again.

Ashlin stirred then, and opened his eyes.

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Ash! Are you all right?”

“No. I’m an idiot. And I’m still dreaming a bit. But I know I am, so it’s not so confusing. And I think I know what’s happening.”

“Is is anything to do with rainbow badgers?” asked Derk, cautiously.

“I might still be hearing things. In case I’m not, and Derk really just asked me about rainbow badgers: no, it has nothing to do with them. Whatever they are.”

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