The small goblin peered out from a trunk that lay on the ground. It was hollowed out by animals, using it for shelter during the winter days. There, a small pile of bones in the corner where whatever animal had been here last, had eaten as its last meal in the make-shift shelter. The goblin’s name was Stanley and he wore a dark grey tunic and had the hood pulled up over his head. There were two holes on each side so his small, pointed ears could poke out.
Stanley looked around carefully. He examined the tree tops and looked into the dark crooks of the forest. When he figured it was safe, he ran out of the sleeping trunk to a little collection of mushrooms. He pulled a small blade from his waistcoat and started clipping the fungi off at the stalks. He tossed them in a small sack and suddenly looked up. It wasn’t a noise he heard, but an aroma he smelled.
‘No…’ he whispered and started running back towards the cabin.
It took some time to get back, as the goblin was only the size of a small cat. He stopped briefly to climb a small tree; clambering up the branches and looking as far as he could. He saw a bird take flight, squawk and disappear over the mountains. Stanley shook his head. He looked worried. Turning towards the cabin where his master lived, he could see billowing smoke coming from the chimney.
‘Oh no…’ He slid down the tree and ran.
The front door of the cabin was jammed open with a bag of sand. A tear in the side had made it pour into a small mole hill, right in the entrance. The Tarrcrow peered through the gap in the door and saw his goblin friend running at full speed towards him. Without even asking the question, he knew something was wrong.
‘They’re coming!’ Stanley gasped, his lungs empty of air.
‘It was only a matter of time,’ the Tarrcrow said, its beady, black eyes nothing but swirls of ink.
‘You have to leave. Pack your things and get out of here… They’ll kill you.’
The Tarrcrow looked at the small goblin. Stanley flicked his hood off; sweat beaded down its face.
‘No matter where I run, or where I hide… they’ll come for me.’
‘You don’t care if you live or die?’
The Tarrcrow went to the cupboard and pulled out three jars of liquid. One was yellow, one red and one blue.
‘It’s not about living or dying, Stanley. It’s about standing up for what you believe in.’
‘The Everdark,’ Stanley said, solemnly.
‘Stanley,’ the Tarrcrow said, leaning down, his beak gently touching the ground in front of the small goblin. ‘Your work here is done. You’ve protected the forest from my cursed feet. You are free to go.’
‘I won’t live. And you needn’t come back. You’re free.’
‘I’ll fight with you,’ the goblin pleaded.
‘No… it’s not your fight. You must go back to your city… They will more than likely need you in this time of peril.’
The goblin thought for a moment, bowed and ran towards the corner of the front room. He opened a door and disappeared inside. The Tarrcrow moved the sand bag and swung the door open wildly. The forest around the cottage was swarming with thin, demented creatures. All the morbid monsters were hunched over and walking on all fours. They had the snout of a canine and the extremely long ears of a bewilder-goat. Their fur was mismatched in colour and missing in patches. Whatever had created them had done so quickly, and with one purpose.
‘Come out, Crow!’ one howled, appearing form the cover of the forest.
The Tarrcrow stepped outside and where he walked, a small fire started, exactly the shape of his foot print. The giant crow held the jars under its wing and quickly counted the shadows moving amongst the tree line. There were too many. He looked over his shoulder and saw the goblin in the doorway. Stanley waved, with a tear in his eye and the door was swiftly shut.
‘Where is the monkey boy?’
‘He’s not here. He came and went on his way…’
‘You’re hiding him.’
‘No,’ the Tarrcrow said, knowing perfectly well there was no use in arguing. ‘If you’re master had any foresight they would know his whereabouts by now… Saboo is not hard to track down.’
‘Tell us where you sent him.’
The Tarrcrow pulled the first jar from under its leathery wing. It held it up and let the sun charge the yellow liquid.
‘Find him yourself. Your master sent the assassin Chupacabra… and you should know by now it was killed. There’s your first clue…’
The horrors became restless, shaking their awkwardly built frames.
‘There’s no time for this… Kill it!’
The Tarrcrow arched its wing back and lobbed the jar into the air. Multiple horror hounds leapt from the dark recesses of the surrounding forest. The jar spun in the air, the liquid inside sloshing around. The lead horror charged the crow, nabbing the giant bird around his leg. The jar fell to the ground and shattered into a hundred pieces. The liquid exploded into a blinding light, sending searing rays outwards like the spokes in a wheel. Light tore through two horrors, killing them instantly. They fell to the ground in a mess of stitched skin and rancid hide.
The Tarrcrow tried to kick the hound off, but its teeth were made from shaved bone. He felt his feathers tear and its skin rip. Blood squirted from the wound. Another hound latched onto the Tarrcrow’s right arm, then another went for the throat. He pulled the blue jar from its nook and smashed it on the ground near his feet. A whirlwind appeared, sucking up three of the horrors, tossing them into the air and spinning them around until they became sick. It flung them far and wide. They crashed into the trees, breaking their necks and dying instantly. The crow pecked its long beak at the hound on his foot and soon it died, still with its teeth still sunk in.
More emerged from the darkness. Then more after that. The Tarrcrow was surrounded by shaggy, bony creatures of dark magic.
‘Your time has come, bird. Tell us his whereabouts and we may spare your life.’
‘I knew my days were numbered once the dark magicians cursed where I walked,’ the Tarrcrow said, his voice shaky. ‘But I thought I would die for the greater good. For the cure. For the land. Not at the hands of make-shift animals built to serve a master.’
He slipped its hand into its underwing and pulled out the red jar.
‘I can say I’ve served a purpose and left Saboo in capable hands… Tell your master his days are now numbered.’
With his final words, the Tarrcrow lifted the jar up and hammered it against the ground. The jar broke apart and a great, cyclonic, ring of fire engulfed the surrounding woods. The fire leapt high and large, burning everything in its wake. The cottage turned to ash, the trees crumbled and the horrors melted into oblivion.
The Tarrcrow returned to the dirt of the forest… the forest it had once protected.
The Mirror Man
Saboo sat against a crumbling brick wall and watched the vendors set up their stalls for the daily commerce. His hands were in his side-bag, where he was holding the Mask of Ebb. Looking down at it his face stung. He grimaced and rewrapped the mask in the cloth he had taken from Lawless’ house. He stood up and looked around. He had been in Spooners Lore for two days, sleeping by the fountain until a vagrant, smelling of alcohol, tried to use it as a urinal.
He stepped out into the morning sun and was almost run over by a cart carrying cabbages out of the small city.
‘Watch out!’ the blind driver grumbled.
The night before, when Saboo had found a small bridge to sleep under, he had witnessed a group of strange people marching through the city centre in the middle of the night chanting for a wizard that had blended into the populous of the city. They had upturned bins and had woken the occupants of the stores to search their houses for the miscreant. As far as Saboo could work out, the wizard had several warrants for his arrest and used dark, illegal magic.
Saboo made his way to the side alley where a local eatery gave out small portions of food to professors and warlocks who worked through the night in their viewing towers and watched the progress of the comet as it came and went. Saboo lined up with the rest of them, but when he got to the front, he was pushed away.
‘Pirate!’ The grumpy food dispenser shouted, pointing at Saboo’s tattoo. ‘This is for the people who have earnt it… Now scat!’
Saboo, with his tail between his legs, left the alley for the backstreets of the city. He looked at the tattoo on his arm. It had healed and his fur was starting to grow back. His stomach rumbled and he headed out into the twisted metropolis.
Spooners Lore wasn’t a big city, but the way it was built was astounding. The streets spiralled around a centre where there was large monument made of wands. They were all burnt and scorched together, from some great war that Saboo had never heard about. There was an equal mix of horrid, criminal types lurking amongst the streets, disguising their faces and wearing odd masks. Then there where the upper-echelon business creatures, dressed with scarfs around their necks and carrying expensive clocks and dials. Their pockets jingled with spare change and they made the noise louder, daring anyone to pinch them. Generally, the place was a hub of magical traders, soul-exorcism handlers and general positive mages trying to come together to form a safe haven.
Saboo’s stomach grumbled again, this time loud enough for a civilian walking near him to snap a quick glance at him. He had come here to find a way home, but had not met a single person in two days who would answer his questions. He was starting to think he had been guided in the wrong direction. He coursed his way through the streets, getting odd looks from passers-by. He tried to hide his tail the best he could, however, it was a bit awkward to walk with it tucked in beside his leg.
There was a fork in the road, one street sign read; Hawkers Pavilion – Magical Traders and Fair, and the other side read; Blackbird Avenue – Travellers Unique and Rare Food Bazar. Saboo saw the word ‘travellers’ and began to walk down the slight incline in the road. It was paved beautifully and intricately. The large houses on either side had built in shop fronts. There was less noise away from the centre, but the shadows crept and followed, not only between the stores and alleyways, but also high up, through the windows and mezzanines. There was an elderly woman pushing a cart up the hill. She was snorting and moaning and muttering to herself under her breath. Once she reached the top, close to Saboo, she stopped and wiped her brow with an old rag.
‘Broth?’ she said, her words sounded like straw going through a meat mincer.
Saboo approached carefully, eyeing the old woman. She popped the top off a large pot and the smell hit Saboo’s nose and his mouth instantly watered. Floating on top were dumplings and vegetables. The smell was divine.
‘Only 5 Pecos a serve. Only 5!’
‘I don’t have any money,’ Saboo replied.
The woman grunted and heaved the heavy cart handles back onto her shoulder and started heaving the wagon back over the hill.
‘Wait!’ Saboo said, running after her. He reached into his bag and pulled out the Mask of Ebb. ‘I have this… Will you trade?’
Saboo held the mask outwards the woman glanced at it over her shoulder. She dropped the cart suddenly and the cutlery clanged together. She wiped her eyes with rag and stepped towards Saboo.
‘Where did you get this?’ she snarled.
‘Someone gave it to me,’ Saboo answered, now somewhat regretting showing it to her.
‘Stranger from a stranger land you are… but aren’t we all? You look tired and starving. I will give you this food for that mask, under one condition… you don’t tell anyone you had it, or who you gave it to.’
Saboo gently angled the mask back towards his chest.
‘You know what this mask is?’
‘The Mask of Ebb… missing for quite some time. The Mask of Flow is in this very city… the two together… well…’ she rushed around the side of the cart and filled a large bowl with broth. She added dumplings after dumplings and pulled a large coco-juice from the ice box. She offered it to Saboo.
As hungry as he was, he knew he had made a mistake.
‘I’m sorry… no. I’ll have to keep the mask. Would you know of anywhere around here that could get me back to…’
The woman lunged forward, dropping the broth and the juice. It smashed against the floor, spilling everywhere. Her fingers wrapped around the mask and her eyes shot open, pure white and without pupils or irises.
‘Hand it to me!’ she snarled like a wild animal.
From the darkness sprung a hooded figure, a large wooden bo-staff twirled in the air and thumped against the woman’s abdomen. She was flung backwards and rolled along the ground. The mask fell to the cobblestones pavers and the hooded figure picked it up. Saboo took several steps back. The figure didn’t lift their hood off their face, but stared with yellow eyes. It looked down at the mask, then back to Saboo. It handed it to him.
‘Spooners Lore isn’t a dangerous place… unless you start waving around an extremely rare, magical artefact.’
Saboo took the mask and put it back in his side bag.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I don’t know why I offered to swap my mask for food… it was…’
‘You’re hungry, that’s why you did it. Come with me to my shop, I was just about to prepare breakfast myself.’
Saboo was reluctant to follow. He stood his ground for a moment and looked down the path to the Travelers Unique and Rare Food Bazar. There were more food carts down amongst the interconnecting roads.
‘You can go down that way, but you don’t have any money. Nor do you know anyone.’
‘I just need to find a way to get to…’
‘Monkish City,’ the hooded figure said, the voice neither male nor female.
‘How did you…?’
‘Without sounding forward; I’ve seen you here for the last few days, sleeping under bridges and eating things out of the bins. We don’t often get Luna Lukkos here… in fact, you may be the very first one.’
‘My city is under attack and I need to get home. But I don’t know where I am or how I can get back quickly.’
‘I do,’ the figure said. ‘Now let’s stop standing here, out in the open waiting for trouble and get to my shop.’
The figure flung its long coat, making it swirl and fan out. They marched quickly down a side alley and out of view. Saboo rushed to catch up. He hadn’t even had time to make a decision if he was going or not, but he found his feet moving fast after the hooded figure.
They swerved and parried down several alley ways, and down the next street. It was much quieter and barely any shops were open. Several people were hanging their washing out, strung high above, from building to building.
‘Here,’ the figure said, pulling keys from their side pocket.
Saboo looked up and saw the sign; Bard’s Mirrors and Antiquities. It was an old, faded sign that hung from equally faded and rusty chains. The door was pushed open and the figure slid inside. Saboo followed carefully. Inside the shop was dimly lit. The first thing Saboo noticed was the number of mirrors everywhere. There must have been nearly a hundred just in the front room; of all shapes and sizes. Some were long and wide, some were short and skinny. Some were in frames, others were cut haphazardly. They weren’t stacked in any particular order, or had price tags on any of them. They were scattered with almost careless abandon. Saboo stepped around and over the mirrors to follow the stranger to the rear room.
‘Is your name Bard?’ Saboo asked, losing the figure in the darkness momentarily.
A candle was lit and the stranger’s face was suddenly thrust into light. Their skin was grey and their eyes glowed a strange yellow. They had a slit for a mouth and no nostril holes.
‘My name is Mondo Bard. The store is actually named after my father, he died several years ago.’
The rear room had more mirrors, all smaller than the ones in the front room. Some were hung on the exposed brick walls. To the right was a chimney, the fire was out and the coals were cold. There was a table with half built frames and a long bench with two deep sinks full of water.
Mondo put the candle on the table and poured water into two ceramic cups.
‘You said your city is under attack?’
Saboo drunk swiftly from the cup, taking the entire contents down in several large gulps.
‘I was taken by the Calavera witches. They are the ones that gave me the mask. A fortune teller told me they put a curse on my city.’
Mondo turned and looked at the empty fire place. He stared for some time.
‘It makes sense now.’
‘Something stronger is at play here. The Everdark has passed and someone, somewhere used it to their advantage. The witches you speak of… they are karmatic. What they give in negative, they must give in positive.’ Mondo turned to Saboo. ‘Someone has hired them to curse your city, to destroy it, then to take you far from it… but they gave you the mask.’
‘That’s why I need to get home.’
A shadow moved in one of the mirrors along the far wall. Saboo leapt back, jolted in fright.
‘They know you’re here!’ Mondo said, flinging his hood back over his head.
Mondo grabbed Saboo by his arm and ran into the front room.
‘Picture a mirror in your city, any mirror.’
‘What?’ Saboo said, watching as the mirrors started to fill with grisly shadows.
‘I can send you back… through the mirrors. I normally need more time to prepare, but you have the mask. It will help get you there, but you must wear it.’
‘But it burns.’
‘You’ll die here if you don’t.’
Saboo yanked the mask from his bag and looked at it. A long, grey hand came out of the closest mirror and tried to nab the mask. Mondo kicked it away.
‘Whoever is behind this is strong, now put it on.’
Saboo lifted the mask to his face and placed it on gently. The searing pain tore at his flesh, digging into his skin and reopening old scar tissue. He shrieked and convulsed in agony. Mondo grabbed his hands and closed his eyes as the shadows started to crawl out of the mirrors.
‘Picture a mirror or you’ll end up somewhere you don’t want to be.’
Saboo sifted through his brain, but he came up blank. Then he remembered a piece of mirror he used for his traps outside the Monkish City.
‘Okay,’ he gasped. ‘It’s small… and outside of the tree city.’ Tears rolled down his face.
‘It will have to do,’ Mondo swung him around violently as several shadow creatures pounced on him. Saboo was thrown into a long mirror. As soon as he hit it, it turned to liquid and he was swallowed whole.
The shadow beings all rushed to the mirror, but Mondo snatched it quickly and threw it onto the floor where it smashed into a thousand shards.
‘You’ll never find him now,’ Mondo said with a grin.
The shadow creatures all turned their eyeless sockets towards him.
‘You will pay for that,’ they said in chorus and slunk back into the mirrors from which they had come.