Updated: Jul 17, 2020
This is the third part in a five-part series, written as a series of journal entries. You can find the first part here, and the second part here. The last two entries will be published over the course of the next two weekends. Enjoy!
Monday, 25 September 2023
I took my new friends into town this morning to pick up some things. They don’t have active bank accounts anymore (at least, not on this planet, I suppose), but Gren insisted that if he could only get his hands on a guitar, he’d be able to pay me back within a few days for everything. I remain doubtful, of course, but I always did enjoy music, and learning that he was a musician as well as a traveller of worlds only made me eye him with new respect. So our first stop was a music shop, where Gren picked out a used acoustic that was on sale. The weather was a bit too dreary for him to set up on a street corner and strum for pennies, which I assumed was his plan, but I’m sure the sun will show his face again eventually and dry up the drizzle, however temporarily. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to some live entertainment back at the manor.
Sam and Sarah somehow snuck away from the group while Gren was still inspecting guitar strings, but it’s not a very large town, and their brightly coloured hair doubles as a beacon, so we’d no trouble finding them a few blocks down along the main drag. In their brief time away, they’d managed to obtain some produce to restock the kitchen as well as a fresh set of clothes. I never even knew any shops around here sold black leather leggings, yet they were both sporting a pair (along with some rather intimidating boots and dark, lacy sweaters that looked like they were made more from cobwebs than wool) once we found them again. I’d like to think Sarah and Sam paid for their acquisitions, but I didn’t care to investigate the matter in any great detail. I somehow don’t think I’d like the answer if I did. Sarah tossed a shopping bag to Mari with a wink and a nod, while Sam handed over another tote to Gren. “Now we’re even,” Sarah announced, which struck me as an odd thing to say at the time, but Mari just dipped her head and accepted the gift without looking at the contents. Gren followed suit, but Ruv’s constant smirk wavered for just a fraction of a second, so quick I almost didn’t catch it.
On our way out of town, Mari spotted a “help wanted” sign in the window of the local pub (remember that time you had to rescue Cattie and me, after we had a few pints too many in celebration of finishing university? Same pub, same owners, though they’ve since changed the name) and snatched up a few applications. I told her she didn’t have to get a job—after all, you left me more than enough to fund whatever they need to get back on their feet, not that I’ve revealed to them exactly how much that is yet—but, like Gren did earlier, Mari insisted she’d pay me back for everything. I don’t feel like I deserve repayment; I’m not really doing much besides give them a place to crash and keeping them fed for the time being, and my motivation has as much to do with my own curiosity as any sense of altruism. The stories of their adventures, if even half true, paint a picture of a world I would very much like to visit. Can you imagine the kind of samples I could bring back from Aorean stones, what new minerals I might discover there? The longer I spend with these folks, the more I wonder what else is out there, what other universes await through the circles, what new adventures lie in store for Mari and her merry band of shapeshifting sanguines.
I think, dear uncle, that I’d like to be a part of their next one.
I’ve already taken this much time off from school, what difference would a few more months make, especially if I return with one hell of a dissertation topic? It’d be unlike anything the board has ever seen! But I’m getting ahead of things again. One step at a time. Maintain chronology. I can almost hear your voice in my head, reminding me to slow down, to really see what I’m studying, record it properly.
Since our return to the manor, Gren’s been busy practicing on his guitar upstairs, Ruv’s wandering around the grounds and exploring the woods (probably in his wolf-form, if I had to wager a guess) and the siblings are taking a cat nap. Mari, however, has been helping me in the lab. I can tell she doesn’t have much experience, and she’s no aspiring scientist, but she’s careful with the glassware, good at paying attention to detail, and has a steady hand. We chatted idly while I ran a few more specs through the computer program, seeing if there was something I’d missed yesterday, but alas…same results: nothing conclusive. Nothing out of the ordinary. I may as well have been analysing any other local rocks, lichen, or fungi.
I was lamenting this aloud when Mari had an idea. “What about the song?” she prompted.
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” I admitted. To be honest, I was only half paying attention to whatever she’d been prattling on about before, as my nose was firmly embedded in mineral specimens and crystal structures. I always have been somewhat single minded.
“Gren sings a song,” Mari explained (or repeated, for all I know). “It changes every time, but that’s how he opens the circles. With a song.” Then she started humming, and the light bulb finally turned on in my head.
I immediately recognized the tune. It was the same one I’d heard, subtly and distant, when the portal opened. I’d thought the faerie stones themselves must have been singing, or maybe the wind through the rowan branches, and so much from that event has blurred already in my memory that I also thought perhaps I’d imagined hearing any music at all, but there it was again. The same tune. I grilled Mari with questions about the song, about her understanding of the travelling circles, and then at long last, the start of a theory began to take shape. I asked her to hum again while I turned my eye back to the microscope.
And, to my dismay, the music made not even the least difference. No reaction at all, not from the stones, not from the moss, not from the mushroom spores, not even from the slivers of rowan tree bark.
It was all just…normal.
Seeing my frustration carved clearly into my face, Mari got up from where she was sitting, and said that she was going to find Gren. “It’s not just the song that opens the circle,” she told me on her way out of the lab, “it’s the voice singing it.” I nodded, although I didn’t see what difference one voice would make from any other in terms of activating the magic latent in the materials—it had to be there, there had to be some kind of reaction—but I was willing to humour her idea. She’d been a good lab partner so far, and she certainly has more experience with travelling circles than I do, never mind that I’ve apparently lived most of my life right next to one.
When Mari returned she was indeed accompanied by Gren, but from the way they both lingered in the doorjamb I could tell they had no intention of joining me in the lab. I immediately sensed that something had gone awry, although neither had yet spoke. So I stood, backing away from my laptop (still whirring away, running another spec that would also likely come back perfectly mundane), and joined them. “Did something happen?” I asked in a whisper.
“Gren thought he heard something while he was playing,” Mari began.
“Well,” Gren interjected, “it was more what I didn’t here.”
“But it’s probably nothing,” Mari added, a bit too quickly, which told me it was clearly something.
“They’re probably here somewhere, just not in their rooms right now.”
“You’re probably right. Too soon to panic.”
That certainly caught my attention. “What are we not panicking about now?” I inquired.
Gren ran his fingers through his long, dark bangs. “I was in between songs, you know? And then I realized I couldn’t hear Sam snoring anymore. So I went to check, because I was supposed to be keeping an eye on them…”
“Wait, what?” I asked. “Why?”
Mari and Gren exchanged a glance. “We haven’t been travelling with Sam and Sarah that long, and there’s still a lot we don’t know about them, but we think they’re mostly harmless,” Mari said softly, as if they might be waiting around the next corner and could overhear. “It’s just, a few days before we met you, we’d kinda rescued them from some trouble they were in. And we’ve been trying to make sure they’re not left to their own devices too long because we don’t know how much they’ve really left that old life behind… ”
“You can tell her,” Gren urged.
Mari inhaled a big breath before continuing. “They were working for this trickster guy, who was using them not only because they’re sanguines, but because they have a, uh, unique skill set.”
By this point we had left the lab far behind and had made our way to the kitchen, where we encountered Ruv. He had evidently returned from his grounds explorations and fancied himself a snack, for we found him with his mouth stretched halfway round a sandwich while he perused the contents of the refrigerator. He greeted us with that mischievous, crooked smile of his. He must have picked up on some of the conversation as we’d approached, for as soon as he’d swallowed, he said with no shortage of gusto and crumbs, “What Mari is trying to tell you, is that Sam and Sarah are professional thieves.”
“So if we don’t know where they are,” I reasoned out loud, letting my logic fill in the gaps left by my acquaintances’ omissions, “then that means they’re probably making off with some priceless family heirlooms.” Something out of place on the recently closed refrigerator door caught my eye, so I drifted closer to Ruv. He stepped aside to let me study it, and my fingers brushed a magnet that wasn’t there that morning, holding up a scrap of paper that was likewise new. The magnet depicted a lounging leopard, its fur a solid sheen of black. I recalled then what Ruv had told me about sanguines. Wolves are common; big cats, too. “By chance, do the twins shift into panthers?”
“Yes,” Mari replied, drawing out the word. I mutely removed the scrap of paper from the refrigerator door. It had the word dreamer scribbled on the front, whatever that was supposed to mean, but I handed it to Mari without reading it further. I somehow didn’t think the words inside were intended for me.
When she finished reading it, Mari let out a long sigh. “It’s definitely time to take stock of your valuables. The twins are officially gone.”
That's it for the third entry of "Faerie Stones!" Check back next weekend for the release of part four, and thanks for reading!