“It appears we may have reached the source of the vines,” Mathias said with a rather drastic touch of understatement.
Mandrake pointed ahead. “All the vines seem to come from within this large building. The windows are broken from the inside out and the big doors on both sides were forced open from the same direction. Some of the vines even forced their way through the roof tiles. Mister Mayor, what is this building?”
The mayor responded, “That is the village stables, or at least it was.”
“That is more good than bad, to my way of thinking. A stable is mostly open inside, so we should not find so many choke points as we might while tracing the vines through a house.” Mathias paused and stroked his short, neat beard. “Plus it makes sense, in a way. If these vines were planted, if only metaphorically since they are not actually living things, one would think that they must be put to the earth. In a stable our mysterious malefactor could find earth and solitude while still being near to the center of town.”
Mandrake nodded in agreement with his brother, “Excellent logic, Mathias. Now, we shall proceed to see if we can unweave this viney knot.” Mandrake began to coax the sphere to roll forward, sliding through the vines. “Mathias, I have an idea. What if we were to enclose the entire stables into complete isolation in such a way it slices off the vines from the roots?”
“I admit that my umbrellas are extremely flexible so that the area should be no trouble, but who ever heard of cutting things with an umbrella?” Mathias mused, nudging one of the vines through the bubble with an extended leg. “Then again, one shall never learn new tricks without trying new things. I see no drawbacks to attempting it. It should be safer than attempting to cut the vines away in a more standard manual manner. I believe they are just the sort of nasty vegetation that would fight back.”
“I agree. I think a clean surgical cut, all at one time, is preferable. And since it is a plant, slicing away the vines will neither endanger the core plant nor its roots. If this is something alien and lost, we can still save it and help it find a way home. Yet also, if it is a plot to harm these good people, our stratagem will bring the plant threat to a halt in one moment,” said Mandrake.
“Now, I must start by doing something a little bit clever. If you two would not mind standing a bit closer to that end of the bubble? This should take only a moment,” Mathias said, backing away from his companions and close to the bubble’s edge on his side.
Unsure what his brother intended, but trusting in his wit and insight, Mandrake motioned the mayor to join him on the side of the bubble away from Mathias. “Do not fear, Mr. Mayor. My brother is quite apt with creative solutions.”
With a clear space between the pair and the single, Mathias traced a circle around the circumference of the sphere with his poof against the surface, leaving an odd, almost puckered line until he closed the circle. Then, suddenly, what was one bubble became two, just pressed together along that line, with a barrier in between. “I do not mean to be antisocial, but this should work a trifle better if I can penetrate a bit further toward the source than our party conveyance could manage. I shall not be a tick.” With that, Mathias started to work his way into the tangle towards the heart of the vines, quickly disappearing within the green strangled ruin of the stables.
Mandrake pulled up his walking stick and twisted off the top, revealing an inner chamber. Now his poof was far too big to fit within the chamber to anyone merely observing, but moosey things tend to be more than they seem, with hidden spaces and strange scale of size, and he reached in quite easily. From inside, Mandrake pulled two tea cups and a steaming teapot. “Mr. Mayor, would you for a spot of tea while we wait? It maybe take some little time for my brother to survey the situation within your stables yonder.”
Before the mayor could answer, the vines all gave a sudden jerk. Not just the vines around them or the vines springing out from the stables, but every one of the vines through the entire wood suddenly flinched back like stepped upon tentacles, sound like a giant jumping into the biggest leaf pile in the world. Mandrake quickly shoved the tea things out of sight and started looking for the clearest area around, hustling the Mayor into motion before even deciding upon a direction.
For a long moment as the sound died away, nothing happened. Then the vines all started to slither into the stables more like a fleet of fishermen hiding in the barn were reeling in their leafy lines than so many retreating snakes in spite of the hissing sound of their retreat. Mandrake and the Mayor did not quite make it to a clear spot, imagining Mandrake could find one, and it would not make much difference if they had. The vines came whipping in faster and faster, tossing the protective bubble all over the square.
Luckily for the Mayor and Mandrake both, Mathias planned ahead when designing his umbrella. The air inside their mobile shelter turned to a thick gel. They could still breathe it quite easily but, it absorbed all the impacts and kept them from bashing against one another inside or against anything the bubble struck outside. Mandrake later said the result rather resembled a slightly clammy roller-coaster ride.
What with the excitement happening nearer to hand, it took the pair quite a while to notice what happened next. Once the vines were moving all along their impressive lengths, the trees started to disappear, too. It started with one or two of the great, leafy columns overshadowing the icy villagers in the market square. The trees vanished into the ground–branches, leaves, and all–with a great, almost liquid sound as the earth slurped them in like a licorice laces or saucy spaghetti. Then one or two jumped to twelve or thirteen. From there, the slurping spread to every pseudo plant in town.
Soon the bubble settled to the ground not far from the now collapsed ruins of the stable and its occupants sat mildly stunned, blinking in the sunshine filling the now starkly revealed ruined remains of the town. In most cases, the vines and tree branches had been all that held the buildings up.
None of the ice coated figures remained standing, but lay strewn about like discarded toys in the new setting. With a grim face and determined haste, the Mayor dragged the now gel free bubble and its occupying Moose over to examine his people, starting with the nearest.
Fortunately, another product of the unnatural nature of the crystalline entombment seemed to include a much higher durability than frozen water. None of the fallen had so much as a scratch to their surfaces much less any damage visible to those contained therein.
“Look at it this way; anyone in the collapsed buildings should be in much better shape once we get them dug out and de-iced then they could possibly have managed if the building fell on them in the ordinary way,” Marmaduke told the Mayor. The Moose clearly had such absolute confidence that all the people would be so found and freed, that the Mayor found some comfort in spite of the destruction. Somehow the damage looked much worse without the pseudo vegetation holding things together and hiding the true extent in darkness and behind leaves that he needed what reassurance he could find.
Then a thought struck the man and he spun back to stare at the moldering pile of broken boards where Mathias had disappeared. “Your brother! He was in there with the vines and the trees whipping around. He was in there when the remains imploded. He did not have any ice tomb protecting him. How shall we dig him out when we still need to stay within this sphere or be entombed ourselves? He may need help in there,” the Mayor said, placing his hands against the side of the bubble on either side of his face at head height and peering between.
“I should not worry about Mathias if I were you. I doubt very much that he took any more hurt than we. He shall work his way out any moment now,” Mandrake said, smiling.
True to the prediction, less than a minute later, the piled detritus at the heart of the devastation briefly humped up, not far from the middle and drifted slowly around in a wandering sort of pattern. It settled down for a moment, disappearing almost entirely. Then a vaguely roundish area rose proud of the surrounding rubble once again. This time, the rough dome struggled towards them like a kitten under heavy bed clothes until a rather dusty and dirty bubble pushed its way clear. Only a step or two past the edge, all the dust and dirt slipped off the surface, but neither the Mayor nor Mandrake thought to comment upon the fact. Their attention adhered much too firmly to Mathias’ new collection of companions for a self-cleaning surface to garner much notice.
Mathias appeared just as neat and tidy as he entered, but he approached the vine choked stable a solitary pedestrian. He emerged as an equestrian at the head of a small troop of mildly stunned cavalry, and small would be the key word. The horses, two teenagers, one child, and one Moose measured no more than one third their usual heights as seen through the clear, protective surface of Mathias’ bubble.
They came to a gentle halt and stood looking around, blinking in the bright sunlight until Mathias caught the wandering attentions of the other riders with a politely cleared throat. “I think it is about time we call in some additional assistance. Do you agree, Mandrake? Now that we have gotten started, it seems awfully hard hearted to leave all the rest of the people here trapped just because they need a bit of extra protection to stay free.” He patted his mount’s neck and glanced back over his shoulder at the newest rescuees. He did not mention how impossible he found it to leave them behind in the collapsed building while he escaped.
Mandrake thought a moment then turned to his companion. “Personally, I think Mathias has a point. The size of this trouble is rather larger than we thought, but these are your people. They were your homes and workshops and businesses. I remember you mentioning how much you value your independence…”
The Mayor’s mouth opened for an instinctive, automatic claim that they were more than capable of taking care of themselves, thank you very much. But then he closed it. He wanted to think before he spoke. He finally took the time to really look at the details of the disaster, now that relief and reconstruction stood close enough to blunt panic and dull despair. Even the few buildings that still stood all had gaping holes in roofs and walls. They likely had had for many seasons, letting in the weather and spoiling most of what the buildings contained.
Little by way of food, spare clothing, or even tools and materials to begin replacing the bare necessities, much less all which lay in ruins around them, would remain. Without the help of the furry strangers, he and his would have remained entombed in ice, slowly strangled by vines, and smothered under the strange trees. His town could survive on their own once the cause of the ice was removed, but there would be privation and losses, especially once winter came. There was no time to get crops in and harvested before the cold came and much of their fields would have run wild and be choked with weeds. Pride was not worth that cost, not when it only meant accepting help freely offered to deal with disaster fallen through no fault of their own.
“I must admit, it looks like we could use all the help we can get,” the mayor said, a little awkwardly. Mandrake’s great smiling response to the decision smoothed the transition while Mathias clapped his pooves together sharply.
“Let us start by finding a staging area outside town but close by. We do not know how many people and what sort of equipment might be heading our way shortly,” Mathias said. He lifted himself as high as he could without stirrups, gripping his mount with his knees so he could peer about him. After a little study and thought, Mathias waved at a wide, flat area off North, beyond the town but no closer to the blue hill than where they stood. It had not escaped his notice that the blue sheen to the grass of that hill shared the same hue as the crystal. “Over there should do, do you think?”
From that point, rather a lot happened in an amazingly short period of time. The Mooses of Moose Valley had rapid response teams organized for all sorts of emergencies. It took only a brief conversation by Moose Radio to bring them sliding in with food, clothes, shelter, protection, and a variety of other useful things to set up camp and start doing what might be done. With the rescue well in poof, Mathias and Mandrake found themselves standing at the edge of the newly constructed camp, looking off towards the blue hill which formed their original goal.
“Does,” Mandrake started to say, just as Mathias said, “Have,” and they both broke off.
After a brief, very polite squabble about who would gladly wait for the other to speak first, Mandrake tried again. “You have noticed it too; have you not?” It was not really a question. “The faint blue shade of the ice precisely matches the blue of the hill.”
“Exactly, but where here the ice only forms about fauna; there does not appear to be a, rather large, creature inside the hill,” Mathias agreed and then he revised his statement. “That we can see from here at any rate. The blue over there is much darker, so perhaps the ‘ice’ is denser and or thicker.”
“A dwelling, perhaps?” Mandrake mused.
“Or an accretion around the source of the field here,” Mathias countered.
“For the moment, they seem to have things under control here. Let us complete our journey and earn our cupcakes,” the darker Moose proposed.
“Yes, let us.” The sand colored Moose led the way to the very edge of the dome, then he hesitated on the verge of stepping through and turned to his brother to add, “Or perhaps brownies.”
As Mathias stepped through the protective dome, almost the entirety of his fair fur disappeared beneath an excellently tailored, charcoal grey suit with matching waistcoat and cover for his umbrella. The sunshine glinted off his shiny new shoes with no hint of exposed sock beneath the trouser hem and picked out the slightly paler pin stripes in the cloth. At the same time a neat fedora hid his antlers. Pale grey gloves hid his pooves with a matching scarf shielding his throat and a neatly folded handkerchief in his pocket. A faint shimmering in the air filled the gap between his hat brim and the scarf.
Mandrake stopped, still on the inside of the dome and eyed his brother critically. “What is that supposed to be?”
“It is my hazmat suit of course. We still have no guarantee that the field would not work just as well on us as it did the birds, the fishes, and the winged fowl, not to mention the people. I saw someone dig up a spade of earth and pick out the crystallized earthworms not long ago. I have no wish to wear one of those big, clumsy, hot things they use in the splashy worlds, do you?”
“I do not think I considered it one way or another,” Mandrake admitted. “I think I assumed we would travel in your umbrella bubble as we did before.”
“It is easier to get through small spaces this way. I prefer the cuts and colors from the Earthen 1930’s modeled upon an inquisitive English lord I encountered once with Marius in L-space, but you should pick whatever period or permutation you prefer. Concentrate on it as best you might and step through. The dome should do the rest,” Mathias directed. He did not set up that particular structure, but as an expert on defenses of all types he recognized the construction.
Mandrake’s suit drew upon a rather older design. His black, tall hat, cravat, gloves, and boots accented a midnight blue frock coat and subtly lighter trousers. Mandrake saluted his brother by raising his stick to touch the dark brim then waved the empty hand in an invitation to take the lead. “You are quite right. This is far more comfortable than the splashy equivalents.”
The two Mooses paced along in an easy, comfortable silence until they got a good look at the hill, when their pace slowed to a gradual halt. “That is not blue grass is it?” Mandrake asked even though he knew the answer.
“No, the whole thing bristles with crystals.”
“It does not look like such a nice place for a picnic after all.”
“It certainly does not, nor for walking upon. Perhaps we should explore the circumference before scaling the heights,” Mathias suggested. Unfortunately, nothing new showed up during their circumnavigation, and the two gentlemoosen had to climb.
Their shiny dress shoes and boots had much better traction than one might expect, but the climb still resembled more of a dance than a stroll. Even the grass slender crystals proved near indestructible and they found no flat spaces upon which to place their pooves until they reached the very top of the hill. They slipped and slid trying to find places to wedge a poof or stick, catching one another and swinging up higher with the momentum of the fall.
Mathias and Mandrake stopped a long moment to catch their breaths and admire the view standing upon a perfectly round, flat, convex crystal nestled in a dense, knee-high collection of crystals. Mathias took in a deep breath through his nose and let it out through his mouth. “You realize we explored through almost the entire surface of the dome in our efforts to reach this point and did not see anything resembling an opening?” he asked without looking at his brother.
“No, but I do think we have find the door,” Mandrake said smiling faintly. “Have you looked closely at the crystals? They are all straight lines and angles, even the ones that encased our new friends.”
“Yes, this hill is just like a geode turned inside out.” Mathias bent to look closer at the formations in front of him, supporting part of his weight upon his umbrella.
“What are you standing on, oh brother mine?” Mandrake teased.
“More crystal,” said standing up. He tapped the crystal twice with his umbrella, but the crystal seemed to drink in the sound. “Oh,” Mathias whispered, turning around slowly. “Now I see what you mean. This is made of the same crystal, but it is round. It must have been cut or otherwise shaped to fit this space. This is the door. But how do we investigate further?”
Mandrake ran his walking stick around part of the circumference. “Now, that is a question.” His tone and posture turned pensive. “The door seems to be cemented in place. Perhaps that could be the inhabitant’s version of a lock. Breaking and entering seems to be such an unmannerly start to a conversation, but if your tapping is any indication, I do not think that knocking is going to get us very far.” Mandrake, also, gave the crystal a good whack, using considerably more English than his brother, but the blow barely made a sound.
“We could try a song and dance routine.” Mathias smiled. “We might find a frequency to which the crystals will resonate, or the shifting shadows could grab the attention of someone inside.
Mandrake studied his brother closely, trying to determine if the suggestion was made in jest or in earnest. While Mandrake was awaiting Mathias input, both Moosen began to feel a deep rumble beneath their feet. It sounded like a small earthquake. And the whole hill was ringing with the deep vibration.
Mandrake and Mathias dropped flat to the door and braced their pooves on the crystals around them. Dancing their way across the crystals to the top of the dome was one thing when it stayed still. Trying to go the other way with the hill dancing beneath them would be a great way to test the puncture resistance of their hazmat suits.
Once the minor earthquake had passed, a voice rang out from inside the hill. The voice was strange, sounding like multiple people were speaking. One voice sounded low and deep, and brash as a banging hammer. The other voice was high and rang out like a glass bell. “No! No! No! No singing. No dancing. My hill. My space. My peace. Go away.”
Mandrake and Mathias looked around, above, and tried to peer through the crystal under their shoes in their efforts to locate the speaker, but they found only crystal and sky in the immediate vicinity.
“Hullo? I do apologize for disturbing you, but we are looking into some trouble your neighbors are having. We would very much like to speak with you. If you would be so kind as to come out or, perhaps, invite us in?”
The earthquake started again, seeming to be connected to the irritating or displeasure of the inhabitant of the hill.
The Moosen still lay flat on the crystal and had only to brace themselves again, but after the earthquake passed the crystal started to rotate and rise slowly upwards. After a few minutes of screwing open, the lid and the two Moosen laying upon it were swung easily to the side, and out crawled a rather large, crystalline creature with many legs, shimmering in the sun light.
“Why you!” the creature pointed a claw on the end of a long, multi-segmented leg at Mandrake and Mathias, “On MY hill?”
“My, my, my,” Mathias said slowly and softly, thinking his way through the words and trying to come up with what to say while Mandrake bowed where he sat and made introductions, filling the air and keeping the attention, giving his brother time.
Mathias carefully rose to his feet. “Homes destroyed. Tools ruined. People trapped. Your peace impinges on others’ spaces,” Mathias said finally after Mandrake wound down.
The twelve legged, almost crab-like creature waved to two legs up in obvious agitation, “My hill, first! My silence. No noise. All is good!” half yelled the creature with its multiple voices. “If they have problem. They go away.”
Mandrake stepped up next to his brother, resting both hands on the top of his cane. “I am afraid you are in error. Some of the farms you destroyed have been in their families for hundreds of years and they only noticed your hill here the morning before they were trapped in crystal. Their land first.” He paused a moment thoughtfully. “We do know some places that are silent that we could show you. We could help you move your hill. Then both you and they could have your spaces.”
“Their space for centuries?” The strange crystalline creature drummed on the top of its body with two legs. Mathias was not sure but thought this might just be the creature’s way of contemplating.
Mathias said, “Yes, centuries. You are interfering with their space and lives. And you would not want to violate their rights, any more than you want them to violate your rights to silence do you?”
The creature stopped drumming its claws on top of its own body. It stood up further on its legs, stretching up very tall indeed until it was eye to eye with the two Moose brothers where they stood on the open door. Well, maybe eye to eye, it was heard to tell with the creature because it had twelve orbs the size of sports balls of the same, featureless crystal as the rest atop its body pointing in all direction. “How move hill?” it asked slowly.
“That depends; how did you build the hill and how deep underground does it go?” Mandrake asked. “If it is sturdy enough, we could send it intact with a little preparation, but otherwise we might have to disassemble it and reassemble it in the space you pick.”
“Hill is spherical structure. My edifice is self-vessel when needed.” It was hard to tell, but Mathias thought the crystal crab sounded a bit smug.
“That will make transport quite a simple problem, I believe. Miltin is here coordinating logistics at the dome. He should be able to whip up the answer with three pooves bound, wearing a blindfold. What sort of space would best suit you for your new territory?” Mathias asked leaning casually upon his umbrella.
The strange creature’s weird multi-voice said, “Silence, solitude, and multi-bent topology is most desired.”
“I am aware that topology refers to the surface, but I am afraid that I am not familiar with the term ‘multi-bent’. Would you mind explaining, so that we can find the best fit possible?” Mandrake asked, pulling out a small green pencil and a matching notebook out of nowhere in particular to take notes upon.
“The ground, it bends in many places. Many ups, many downs, and slants in all directions. My home goes in the high place.” The creature shifted around in an elaborate curve so that several of its eyes could see what Mandrake was writing.
“Once we move your hill, all the people and animals here will go back to the way they were, will they?” Mathias asked, looking back over the ruins of the town.
“Return to me my plant generator and I shall take all my work with me. My work! My generator! Return to me or no move, no deal. Mine!” The crystal crab demanded, screeching in all his voices as if he forgot the seed from the stables until that moment.
“Lovely, one less dangerous bit of tat for which to find a good home,” Mathias said with a smile. “I will go fetch your possession and enlist Miltin’s aid for the transfer while you and Mandrake work out your destination. Back in a mo’.”
Rather than try to dance his way back down, Mathias deployed his armor strong umbrella and stepped into the inverted hemisphere to slide his way over the points while Mandrake soothed their shiny, new acquaintance and endeavored to acquire the relevant information without further histrionics.
Mathias returned almost immediately with his umbrella hooked over one arm. He held the seed suspended in the protective bubble before him. The vines and roots, which so defined the local landscape before their intervention, writhed and pulsed against the inside of the transparent sphere, but to little effect.
Another Moose trotted along at Mathias’ side. Thin, tan, wide-spread antlers rose only as high as Mathias’ thigh, so the stranger–the great slide-engineer Miltin that Mathias mentioned–had to take two steps for each of Mathias’ slow, easy strides. The extra effort did not discommode the smaller figure any. That afternoon Miltin chose to travel on all four pooves and wore his short, light brown fur bare to any passing breeze. The crystals which encased all the living matter in the area could be seen trying to form up on his fur, but his every move shook them loose until he walked in a sparkling cloud as he peered curiously about.
Miltin took in the prickly blue hill, its two crowning figures, the clear sky, the long grass, a good sized copse of naturally grown trees beyond the hill, and the writhing mass of pseudo greenery between Mathias’ pooves with equal measures of pleasant interest.
Without a word, the little Moose carefully paced out the circumference of the hill. He stopped now and again to stamp one poof or another, with his head cocked to one side in a listening attitude as if he somehow could use the muted sound to determine the shape and placement of things hidden within the earth’s dark embrace.
When Miltin came back to where Mathias stood waiting patiently, the engineer somehow bent down a broad swath of tall grass until it formed a smooth surface on which Miltin started scratching out calculations and designs with all four pooves sometimes wiping away portions to replace them with fractionally different thoughts. All the while he continued shedding half-formed crystals until they settled into his scratches and began to glow faintly.
Miltin lifted his head and tilted it to one side. He started slightly to see Mathias still standing there, studying the work with interest.
Miltin frowned slightly, the expression more in the contraction of his brow than his mouth. When he caught Mathias’ eye, Miltin flicked one ear first at the sphere and then up to where the crystal crab was growing loudly agitated, again.
The challenge inherent in trying to climb the treacherous terrain with his hands full and no umbrella for another leverage point muted Mathias’ smile for only a moment. Then it widened to a full grown grin. Mathias took the hill at a charge. He pushed off to bound upward whenever his shoe landed somewhere stable. Yet he was always ready to take a quick step with the other when he slipped. Slowly, with far more energy than the distance might require, he made way to the pair at the hill’s crest, much like a centipede climbing a hill of loose sand. And if Miltin sketched out a separate, glittering set of calculations that occasionally flickered out to echo into a faint mass which possibly caught a slipping shoe or gave a subtle push to halt a backward slide that might have tumbled Mathias back to the bottom, no one noticed so it did not count. Miltin was not even watching when Mathias reached his goal.
Almost before Mathias turned to face the crystal crab, shining blue claws snatched at the writhing mass, but the three translucent limbs slipped off the shield. With a whistling, grinding, tearing sound as if a steam engine made partially of glass derailed and crashing into a gorge, the crystal crab started to stomp his feet, all of them, though never more than two or three at any one time. “What have you done to my generator? It does not fill in the landscape but it is still working! I see it working. It may be damaged. If the things below must uncover their landscape, they should turn off the machine,” the multitude of voices yelled and cried as he ran the not stomping feet over Mathias’ sphere in an exploratory fashion.
“Your neighbors were in no condition to do any such thing, even if they knew how to do so,” Mandrake responded with frost in his gaze and ice in his voice. “This was the best solution available at the time. We are quite willing to…”
Mandrake did not finish his offer, for the crystal crab proved he did not need it. Mathias’ shield had all its strength aimed at keeping the ‘generator’ contained, making opening it from the outside rather an easy puzzle. With three eyes and four limbs focused upon the task, the crystal crab opened a nice, neat hole in the sphere.
Immediately, tendrils, roots, and vines oozed out like so many legs, crawling across the gap. Though they did not hear anything, the tingling of the gentlemoosen’s antlers let them know some signal traveled from the crab to its creation. The mass of pseudo greenery contracted again until a small, complicated collection of crystalline parts nestled in the crook of one of the creature’s limbs. At the same time, Mathias found himself cradling the torn, bent, and broken remains of one of his umbrellas across both palms.
Much too well-mannered to manifest any distress or anger at the mistreatment of his property, Mathias murmured to his brother, “I will wait with Miltin, if you do not mind,” and tipped his hat in a polite farewell to the author of all the mess and excitement.
By the time Mathias made his slow, careful way back to the ground, Miltin sat comfortably almost hidden in the tall grass. He leaned back on both extended forelegs with his head tilted back, watching a trio of small, fluffy clouds drift across the sky in their direction. No sign remained of his calculations and sigils save for a narrow unbroken circle of loosely braided grass stems just beyond the farthest points of the crystals.
“All ready for the transport?” Mathias asked, keeping his back to the blue hill.
“As soon as I have a destination I shall be,” Miltin said without turning his head. “That was unnecessary,” he added in the same idle tone.
“It does not matter.” Mathias realized he still carried the mangled umbrella like a sacrificial victim across both pooves, so he tucked it safely out of sight somewhere. “I can probably mend it, or at least use some of the parts to make a new one, or perhaps a kite.” Mathias looked out over the ruins of the town. It seemed rather silly and small of him to be distressed over the loss of one umbrella when he had many in the face of all that destruction.
Before the brief exchange could grow into a conversation, Mandrake joined the two contemplative Mooses and handed Miltin his notes, which included a proposed destination.
“He really wants to go there?” Miltin asked, standing up rather stiffly as he rearranged his hips and spine to better support bipedal locomotion.
“I mentioned the minimal atmosphere and water but he considered the lack of life or any near neighbors combined with the abundant mineral wealth well worth the lack.” Mandrake shrugged.
“Where is he going?” Mathias asked as they followed Miltin to the grass ring.
“It is an arid, inner system, terrestrial planet rather like Mars but without any Earth-like neighbors littering landers upon it or looking to explore,” Mandrake explained while Miltin wove some small, only half seen, objects into the grass ring.
“Has he gone inside his sphere?” Miltin asked.
“Why are you not using a slide?” Mathias asked, looking at the modified faerie ring that Miltin had constructed.
“Considering the complexity and intricacy of the two effects this new being has already manifested, I consider it…unwise to allow him access to the network, even so briefly. We already have imps slipping into the outer reaches; we do not need a second infestation. This is a one use, self-erasing ring,” Miltin responded without looking up.
“I cannot see him anymore,” Mandrake said answering Miltin’s earlier question.
The tiny Moose patted the braided grass almost absently. A blinding flare of light ran twice around the circle following the path counter-clockwise from root to tip, going faster and faster as it went. On the third trip around, something about the light seemed to temporarily strip the friction from each stem as it passed so that they slipped free of the braid and stood up strait, perhaps a trifle taller than their neighbors.
The strands of grass stood taller than their neighbors on both sides, inside and out. The blue hill had vanished as if it never existed, leaving behind a broad, uninterrupted meadow. Suddenly, a great rumbling, banging, and creaking filled the air in every direction shaking the ground.
The three Mooses could hear the screaming in the dome from the much tried nerves of the villagers, and they took off running back. The three Mooses knew full well that almost nothing could have happened within the protection of the dome that called for such haste, but there are some things that Mooses do. When they hear someone screaming in pain or panic they run to help.
Marmaduke, Mathias, and Miltin did not make it all the way to the dome, however, before observation and logic took over instinctive reaction. The way had grown longer and more complicated while the ground shook, and not in the way one might think.
“When the crab said that all his work would go with him when he left, he really meant it,” Mandrake said in hushed tones as the three slowed gradually to a walk, the better to take in their surroundings. All the buildings and garden walls and fences that the plant generator had marred or destroyed stood once again straight and whole.
That is not to say all the damage was gone. Laundry left on the line still showed all the wear of several years out in all weathers. Gardens and fields still ran wild, paint peeled, and probably larders and linen cupboards would also show the effect of such neglect, but at least they did not have to fear the touch of moth, mold, or mouse. It was a good deal more to work with than they had before. And finally, most wonderfully, the air filled with bird song.
“Is it time for lunch and cupcakes now?” Mathias asked, stepping into the awed moment with all the bravado of his empty stomach.
Mandrake just laughed, but Miltin declared that it most definitely was time for lunch, and if there were no cupcakes to be had, he would fetch some himself from Moosette’s bakery for the purpose.