Disclaimer: Everything relating to the world of Velgarth, and the kingdom of Valdemar, is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey. Original characters, the plot line and the general outbreaks of strange belong to etcetera-cat.

Notes: Tally ho! On with the story!

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Chapter Two.

Hear the flies swarming – Deep south – Appearances are deceiving – A gathering of shadows

The single fly buzzing and butting at the window in a persistent fashion appeared to have completely forgotten the reason it had flown into the single, dank room in the first place. Not so the rest of the swarm; they hovered and crawled around the tattered oval stain that had warped the rough wooden floorboards.

In places, it still shone wetly in the dim illumination provided by the collection of collapsed and mostly spent candles that were congealed to the floor in a precise circle that was at odds with the squalor of the rest of the room.

Intricate lines of chalk completed the candle circle and made weird and esoteric abstract shapes that may— or may not— have been inscriptions. Seven of the abstract shapes had been traced over with another substance; a liquid that had mostly dried, leaving a dark residue behind.

The air smelt like a copper temple roof on a hot summer day.

“What is it?” The voice was low, dull sounding, with a faint hint of petulance. An observer would be under the impression that the question was being asked, not because the owner of the voice was interested at all, but more that they were well aware that the question was expected. And that there would be consequences if the expected didn’t occur.

“It is the means to an end,” if the first voice carried overtones of minion, this second voice shouted top dog in fifteen common languages and additionally provided an elegantly calligraphied written announcement for the hard of hearing.

The second voice, as smooth as honey in a hive— and the danger of a fatal stinging was also implicit— warmed to the subject. “You are privileged to be witnessing the start of the future,” a self-satisfied sounding hum, “my future.”

Footsteps echoed hollowly on the rotten floor, pacing around the circle in a slow and deliberate fashion. Robes of a non-descript colour flared slightly behind the walker, the wind the billowing cloth created making the candle flames flicker and bob fully half of them extinguishing as the disturbance— combined with the lack of burnable wick— stifled them.

Crazy sinister shadows danced across the walls and into the corners in a menacing fashion.

“We have much to do, Dupe.” The second voice again; a tone that was used to issuing orders and having them obeyed immediately, if not sooner. The pacing figure stopped and tapped one foot on the floor for a moment, before its head, hidden in the shadows of a deep cowl, nodded once, decisively. “Another hunt, tonight; let the darlings know.”

“Yes, Mistress,” the minion voice; resigned, with a thin patina of fear at the last command. A faint creaking of floorboards, followed by a pained sounding groan as the room’s single door was pulled open wide enough to allow a single, slim figure, backlit by the light that streamed in from the corridor, to exit.

The hinges groaned a second time as the door swung closed.

The robed figure stared down at something cradled in its hands. “Oh yes,” it whispered to itself softly, we have much to do.”


This is all some messed up drug trip, Michael tried to convince himself. It can’t be anything else. Ralph spiked my coffee with methadone or lysergic acid and I’m lying on the break room floor, drooling.

Michael’s eyes drifted to the wooden beaker lying on the floor a short distance away. It can’t be anything but a drug hallucination. He insisted silently. After all; the collection of costumes, the highly trained white horses, the plethora of ren-faire rejects?

It had to be a dream.

Absolutely. This is a dream. I am going to kill Ralph slowly when I wake up; slowly, and with angiotribes. The young man grimaced to himself and sighed loudly, before relaxing enough to bang his head against the smooth, pale green coloured, wall with a dull thud.

Michael closed his eyes and stared at the darkness behind his eyes for a long moment as he tried to calm down. Chucking the cup at the horse that had been entirely too fascinated with him had been satisfying… but only briefly. He was still, after all, stuck in this room that smelt strangely like the hospital.

I thought drug trips were supposed to be more interesting than this?

Actually… Michael opened his eyes and inhaled deeply; this room smelt a lot like the hospital. That was strange— he knew that the sense of smell (like hearing) was one of the most open to external stimulation, even if the owner of said senses was off in la-la land— so, by all rights, he should be smelling burnt coffee and socks, with a faint hint of popcorn and disinfectant. That was what the break room at City General normally smelt like.

This raised an unpleasant possibility. What if I’m not lying on the break room floor tripping? Michael wondered uneasily. What if I’m lying on the floor of Resus, tripping? Or, even worse; what if I’m lying on a bed in Resus, tripping? I am so fired.

Groaning loudly, Michael thumped his head back against the wall again, harder this time.


Further contemplation of being redundant and branded a drug addict was cut off by the sound of the door to the room opening. Initially, his eyes just flicked over to the doorway (Michael had semi-settled on a kind of aloof outward disinterest in his surroundings. Unless they were damned white horses, then he’d throw something at them), but then he found his attention dragged back as two creatures entered the room.

The second one was a young man— if pushed, Michael would have said he was in his early twenties— wearing some kind of green robe effort that actually resembled a surgeon’s theatre gown. If, you know, surgeons had a thing for Medieval re-enactments. He was immediately dismissed, however.

This was because the first thing through the door was a wolf.

A wolf the size of a small pony.

And it was staring at him.

Michael froze. Now we’re getting to the crazy part of the drug trip! The bit of his mind that insisted on being an internal monologue for everything announced gleefully.

The rest of his mind, and his vocal cords, managed, “Mmmwwa—!”

That made the giant wolf cock its head to one side and stare at him with renewed interest. It’s probably deciding where to bury the bones, the internal monologue piped up.

Shut. Up. Michael told himself firmly, in the small portion of his mind that wasn’t currently involved in making him sound like a complete idiot.


Like that.

The young man said something, and stepped between Michael and the huge wolf, turning to face the wolf, his hands on his hips.

“Hunheee?” Michael managed. It almost sounded as if the man wearing green was reprimanding the wolf. This really was turning into a truly random pharmacological experience.

A pharmacological experience that only got more outré when the wolf flattened its ears and both it and the young man started looking like they were having a conversation. Why not? The local members of the equine fraternity seemed to make a point of acting bizarre, so why not the canidae as well?

The young man finished his… conversation? …with the wolf, and turned back to face Michael, who managed to stare at him blankly. The young man started talking again— at least, Michael assumed he was being talked to; the green-man’s mouth was opening and sounds were coming out of it.

I have no idea what the hell I’ve taken, but damn my imagination’s having a field day— Michael sighed to himself as the young man pointed at himself and produced a set of sounds that sounded like a mumble followed with a sneeze. Maybe that’s his name?

Pasting a slightly worried smile on his face, Michael nodded; he may as well go with the flow and hope that this whole crazy thing got itself over and done with.

Mumble-sneeze smiled encouragingly, then gestured to the large wolf; who was apparently called something that sounded like a purring cat that subsequently choked on something.

Michael gave a strained smile, nodded as if he understood and silently began shouting at himself to wake the Hell up!

Purr-choke was still staring at him, its head on one side. It twitched an ear, and Mumble-sneeze paused in mid-babble to stop and stare at the wolf. Then he started talking to it again.

Wake up! Michael told himself firmly. Wake up now!

Mumble-sneeze appeared to be losing whatever argument he was having with Purr-choke the wolf. This fact was borne out by the young man sighing and wandering across the room to retrieve the wooden beaker that was still lying on the floor, beneath the window.

Walking back across the room, Mumble-sneeze placed the beaker on the table, next to the water jug, then continued on to the door; which he pulled open and had a brief conversation with the guard standing outside.

Since Purr-choke was still looking at him, however, Michael was only vaguely aware of this. Mainly, his attention was all about the giant wolf that was probably going to eat him.

The inside of my head sucks, Michael concluded, his attention still fixed on Purr-choke. Where’s the girls in bikinis? The lottery win? The Mustang? Instead, I get Renaissance fair rejects and the back catalogue of Animal Actors. God.

Mumble-sneeze vanished out into the corridor, then reappeared a moment later, carrying a wooden tray.

The wolf shuffled out of the way; although it still kept on staring at Michael in what he considered to be an offensively carnivorous way, and Mumble-sneeze sidled past it to place the tray on the bedside table. His expression was faintly triumphant. He said something that sounded like a cat coughing up a hairball, and pointed at the tray.

Michael slid his gaze away from Purr-choke (with difficulty; who knew when it would decide to have him for lunch?) and looked at the tray. It contained a wooden bowl, a second wooden beaker and a wooden spoon.

The contents of the bowl looked like a bloody hairball that had been put through a blender.

A groan. First (and so very definitely the last) drug trip of his life (except for that one time with the Night Nurse, but that didn’t really count as he’d had a temperature of a hundred and four and a half, thought that his flatmate’s Yucca plant was a Russian spy, and that he was James Bond) and he’d managed to hallucinate himself gruel.


The inside of my head sucks big time.


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