Episode 68: Gretchen: Ascending the Tower by Jim Davies

I didn’t let on to Dichall and Eve how tired I was. It was terribly cold, and even tucked
into Waffles’s fur I shivered. And I was draining my spirit to keep my moth familiar Emerson alive. Still, we had a job to do.

I’d been through worse.

I allowed myself to go into a trance, feeling the slight bounce of the dog walking in the
snow. I reached out with my spirit into the woods around me, feeling around for the geopattern that would bring us into another world.

There it is.

I sensed the wild magic of the area in every stick, every rock, every snowflake around
me, like tasting the rotten core of an apple. My spirit touched that dark magic, linking with it, but not letting it in. It was a careful balance.

I pictured the locus we’d visited before. The cat. The tower with the unnatural gravity.
Vivian. Her captor, Magnitrude. My eyes still closed, I felt Emerson quiver and the world turn inside out. “We’re here.”

I opened my eyes to a dark forest that looked, on casual observation, identical to the
forest of Gatineau hills. But I could feel by the prickling of my fur that we were in Pananima, and the Mundane World was behind us.

Waffles opened his eye and slowly moved forward. The night was dark, the moon a sliver
behind milky clouds. None of us spoke, for fear of alerting the mindless brutes of Pananima’s animal world.

We soon passed elements of rudimentary civilization. A well. An outhouse. When we
entered the town proper, Waffles slowed down even more. We all sniffed the air and proceeded cautiously, mindful of animals and magical denizens even more dangerous.

Waffles crept through a narrow alley between two buildings. At the end he looked both
ways, seeing an empty street. Eve touched my forearm and pointed at a nearby wall. Embedded in the wood of the building was an organic eye, looking down at us. It blinked. The wall was looking at us.

I reminded myself that the magic that fueled Pananima was that of life, and that things we
take for granted as inorganic in the Mundane World could be active agents, working with us, against us, or with a detached indifference.

We made it to the base of the tower without incident, a welcome stroke of luck on this
convoluted mission.

We sniffed the air at the entrance, detecting scents of Gombree, Magnitrude, and, faintly,
Vivian, but none of them very close. Waffles walked up the ramp to the interior, twisting
uncannily to place us on the outer wall of the tower once we were inside. I adjusted the magical glasses hooked onto Waffles’s collar to make sure they wouldn’t fall off. The metal was freezing to the touch. This locus was just as cold as the Mundane World.

As we ascended, the scent of Magnitrude and Gombree strengthened until we found
ourselves just outside the room where they were arguing. We were close to Vivian’s room, if my memory served, but there was no hallway around this room. We would have to wait and find a way through.

Eve leaned toward me and Dichall. “I don’t remember this room. Maybe there’s a route
without being seen? If it’s really crowded with stuff?”

“I could use Emerson to look…” I remembered Magnitrude complaining about insects. It
would be a risk. But she and Gombree seemed very focused on each other…

I sent my spirit into my moth familiar and I saw through her eyes. I had Emerson fly in
through the door that was slightly open.

The inside of the room was cluttered, like much of the tower. I had Emerson fly under a
table and settle on the stone floor to watch what was happening.

Magnitrude had dropped her glamour and appeared in her true form. Her bulging body
reclined on a moldy chaise lounge. Her feet, clawed like those of a huge eagle, rested on a

She waved a long, boneless arm in the air for emphasis. “I feel I’ve been on my feet for a

Gombree held his green hands in front of him. “Mistress, yes, I’m sure it’s been very hard
for you. I haven’t had time to get your foot cream—”

“What have you been wasting your time doing, then, you lowly fungus?”

“Cleaning the basement.”

“Why would you waste your time doing something so pointless? You know the basement
dirties itself. It has a mind of its own!”

“You asked me to clean it a few days ago. I try, but it keeps producing more junk.”
Gombree gesticulated, perhaps trying to describe the junk in gesture.

“I asked you to clean it days ago, and here you are. The basement is still dirty and I don’t
have my foot cream! I have a mind to turn you out to the fell wolves of the forest, like I did to your sister!”

Gombree dropped to his knees and begged. “No, Mistress Magnitrude! Please, no, I’ll get
your foot cream!”

Magnitrude was in such a state of distracted anger that I felt confident that Emerson
could fly around without being noticed. I flew him along the floor, trying to keep him out of sight.

“You’ll get it, all right, and then you’ll come back and work your hands until they are
sore, rubbing it into my feet!” Magnitrude stretched and cracked the talons at the ends of her legs for emphasis.

I scouted a route through the room that Waffles might be able to use that offered minimal
exposure. If Magnitrude was sufficiently distracted, we might be able to sneak by.

“When do you want me to go, Mistress?”

“Now! Kaldaxoo curse you! You’re as stupid as a concussed bullfrog.”

I flew Emerson out of the room. Through his eyes, I saw Waffles, Eve, Dichall, and my
own body. I landed him on my shoulder.

I came out of my trance and was back in my own body. “Gombree is about to come out. Get in the shadows, there!”

Waffles scrambled into a corner behind a small shelf just as Gombree came in, grumbling
to himself incomprehensibly. He proceeded to spiral down the wall of the tower.

I covered my nose to block Gombree’s formidable odour. “Did you hear their

Eve and Dichall nodded.

I leaned into Waffles’s ear. “There’s a way through that room. You’ll have to turn left as
soon as you enter, crawl under a table, and then creep along the wall. Make your way under the chaise that Magnitrude is on and we should get through undetected.”

Waffles looked up at me with his one eye and nodded. He walked to the doorway and
slowly poked his head in until we could see inside. Magnitrude was groaning, eyes shut, opening and closing her hideous clawed feet on the chaise.

The dog padded in and crawled under a side table just to the left of the door. There was a
low shelf, and his body rubbed against it. We three mice lifted the magical glasses with our
bodies to prevent Magnitrude hearing it scrape. As he got out from under the table it rocked. The potted plant on top of it wobbled, making noise. Waffles stepped behind a chair and stopped.

We could not see Magnitrude from there; we could only hold our breath and listen. Her
breathing stopped, and we heard the chaise creak.

Is she sitting up?


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