"Honey? Are you alright? This is the third day you've been in there. I'm really starting to get worried about you..." Barris pleaded to Mila/
The door opened a moment later. Mila's tired looking face emerged just enough to give Barris a peck on the lips. She handed him a painting similar to the ones lining the halls.
"Hang this one up honey. Would you?" she asked him.
"That walls are full of them Mila. What's gotten into you? This is serious." Barris said to her keeping a look of intensity on his face.
"Then hang it in the halls downstairs. I'm just finishing another." she said as closed the door.
Barris examined the painting she'd handed him. It looked similar to the others, a cage with a solitary occupant. He took the painting downstairs with him to the back hall. He found an unoccupied space where he proceeded to hang the picture.
"I don't know what's gotten into you Mila, but I'm going to find out." Barris said aloud as he found his way into the living room and sat down dialing his cellular phone.
After a few moments of ringing a familiar voice answered.
"What do you want Barris? It's been a long time." Shaela answered the phone.
"Nice to hear from you too, Shaela. Look, I've got a bit of a problem here. It's about Mila." Barris said to the red headed Night Wytch.
"So why would you call me? You two never call me anyway. So why now?" Shaela asked him.
"Look! Besides the fact that you live a bit of a distance from us we've been kind of busy you know." Barris responded defensively.
"Oh alright. What is it then?" Shaela asked.
"Mila had locked herself in her studio. She's been in there for three days painting pictures of people in cages. Our walls are practically lined with paintings of people in these cages." Barris replied.
"She's an artist Barris. You should have known what you were getting into when you hooked up with her." Shaela reminded him.
"I know that. We've been together for a year now and I know here very well! She likes her private time to paint or sculpt and I never bother her. I just wait for her to come to me when she's done. She's never been gone this long. Locked up three days in her studio? She's not eating or sleeping. She's just painting. There's something wrong and I think that it's of supernatural origins. Seeing as you're a bit of a specialist in matters like these, I thought that you might have an insight." Barris reasoned with her.
"Hmmm... I just tried calling Nelony. About an hour ago. She's been acting a little bit strange herself. I talked with her yesterday and she said that someone was taking the birds and locking them up. Making them work for their food." Shaela told him thinking about what he'd said.
"Well I'd say that sounds just about right. She sounds quite like herself. Perhaps she could organize a bird union or something..." Barris said with a hint of sarcasm.
"Barris! She's off a little! You're saying the same of Mila. Maybe there's a link between the two problems?" Shaela asked him.
"You're the expert. I mean the only magic I know is a card trick that never works." Barris said to her.
"Alright. I'm on my way. I'll pick you up and we'll go see Yirfir and Jasmer at the Sanctum Of The New. Be ready. I'll be there in half a minute." Shaela said as she hung up.
"Wait... I need to..." Barris began but the line was already dead.
As he pocketed his phone the ripples in the air began to appear as the portal opened in the living room. A moment later Shaela stepped out.
"Are you ready?" Shaela asked him.
"Well I'd like to get my shoes on if you could hold onto your whiskers for a moment." Barris said as he stumbled sliding his shoes onto his feet.
"Just hold onto my hand." Shaela told him as she stepped into the portal.
There was a brilliant flash and then complete darkness. Barris' marveled at the passing lights and colors of portal travel stepping a moment later out into the Atrium of the Sanctum Of The New.
"Jasmer should be up in the archive room. Yirfir is probably tending to the Librum Universalis Codex. Let's see if we can find Jasmer." Shaela said leading the way.
Barris followed her through the elaborately decorated stone halls of the Sanctum. Vines covered the walls as did detailed carvings and magical inscriptions in a language that Barris did not recognize. Barris saw something move from behind the vines.
"What was that?" Barris asked pointing to the vines.
"What was what?" Shaela turned to look.
Barris looked around scanning the walls. Then something poked him on the top of the head. He looked up but by the time he had, it had disappeared.
"Xenshi? Xushu? Stop playing around. I know its you..." Shaela said aloud suspecting that she'd known the identity of the mischievous presence.
She felt a tap on her back. She spun around only to find the presence was gone by the time she'd turned to face it. Again she felt a tap on her back. This time she turned half way and then turned back to the same direction she'd been facing.
"You caught me Night Wytch. It is good to see you again." Xenshi said to her, her long black hair tied up in an elaborate bun.
"I can't stand you! Why do you come here!" Xushu said as he floated above Xenshi's head, inverted.
"It's good to see you too." Shaela said to them putting her hands together and tipping her head to them.
"Ahhhh... This is the Barris one. The one that Mila's been telling me so much about. You're too funny, aren't you?" Xenshi asked Barris.
"He's a vile and hating odorous pit viper!" Xushu said floating above Xenshi.
Barris checked his armpits giving them a sniff.
"Not too bad though a tad bit clammy. As for the pit viper part..." Barris started.
"Don't worry about Xushu. He's the mean one today. Sometimes it's Xenshi. Sometimes it's Xushu. They trade up all the time. They're spirit folk from China. They've been with the Sanctum since the beginning." Shaela explained to Barris.
"Well in that case, I am very honored to meet you Xenshi. You're as tremendously beautiful as you are graceful. A sight for weary eyes. As for you Xushu you maggot eating dung scraping weevil, you deserve to fester in a latrine. Did I say that right Shaela?" Barris asked.
"You say it perfect. See? He is very funny. I like." Xenshi said to her brother Xushu.
"Barris is the name they give to discarded bed pans in hospitals for those with chronic flatulence!" Xushu spewed and frothed at Barris.
"Why thank you. I think. That's rather good. I've got to remember that one." Barris replied.
"Do you know where we can find Jasmer?" Shaela asked Xenshi.
"He's up in the archives with Jexelen and Jeong Soon. Yirfir is down in the Librum Universalis Codex with Lady Soong and Athandra. We're just on our way there now." Xenshi told Shaela and Barris.
The group traveled up the stairs together and into the archive hall. At the far end of the stone chamber sat Jexelen beside Jeong Soon. Across from them Jasmer sat as they discussed something.
"Logistically speaking we need to expand the guard of the midspace. We need more patrols for one thing or at least an Esper capable of remote scrying." Jasmer said speaking to Jexelen and Jeong Soon.
"I agree with that entirely but we cannot afford the people right now. We're already short on Elementalists as it is. Only twenty five graduated last year and we're only expecting another forty this year. Maybe Jexelen can supply some Espers...?" Jeong Soon looked to Jexelen questioningly.
"I've got enough Espers to cover half of the area that you want to start patrolling. Half of them aren't specialists in remote scrying so we'd need to use indigenous life for their eyes." Jexelen responded looking to her notes.
"Excuse us for interrupting. We've got a problem that you might be able to help us with." Shaela asked the three sitting at the table.
"We're discussing a matter of grave importance. Be quick about it." Jasmer replied to Shaela.
"Barris and I have noticed some unusual behavior from Mila and Nelony. We think it might be related. It could possibly have origins in the weave." Shaela explained to them.
"What sort of unusual behavior?" Jexelen asked Shaela showing some concern.
"Mila appears to be obsessively producing similarly themed paintings continuously. Little food or sleep. Nelony has been saying bizarre things about the birds and how they've been kidnapped and are being forced to work for their food. Her words by the way." Shaela told Jexelen.
"We too have noticed some strange things. In the moon on Aerth. At night, the moon has a slight taint in color. If you look towards its right edge as it faces the Aerth. This is what we call a masked tear. A mark that the moon bears when something is very wrong. She is crying. The spirits tell us this way." Xenshi explained her observations.
"You saw the masked tear?" Jeong Soon asked Xenshi.
"She never sees anything! She's as crazy and blind as a bat!" Xushu fumed from above her head.
"Yes, I saw the tear last night and the night before." Xenshi explained.
"Then this is serious. It may be linked to Mila's and Nelony's strange behavior. We must consult the Librum Universalis Codex." Jeong Soon advised.
"We could also try sending a kerchief up in a rocket you know. Let's hope the moon doesn't need to blow her nose." Barris suggested though the room remained silent making Barris even more uncomfortable than he already was.
"Thanks for your help. We're on our way to the Codex." Shaela told them.
To be continued...
200 Sherbourne Street Apt 701
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Single six years and going.
Copyright © 2016 Brian Joseph Johns