Unknown Date 2479 A.R.T
Cloud had seemed to have been more distressed by the masked creature’s plight than he had about that of his butterfly and the bunnies of Little Bedlam combined and as myself, Skull and Blancmange had carried the creature through the forest he hadn’t left its side, constantly stroking a patch of fur just below its mask. Oddly, just as it had with Wonky, Cloud’s petting had seemed to have had a therapeutic, almost hypnotic effect on the creature and it had hummed and warbled contentedly beneath its iron mask as Cloud had run his fingers through its fur.
Omen, Cloud had written. I really extremely don’t want the Doll-Faced Rider to find us. Do any of your necklaces keep away Doll-Faced Riders away like they kept away the Chimney-Man?
No, I’m afraid not, Omen had written. They are however currently protecting us from tooth decay, badly lit corridors, pollinating insects, and a variety of allergies so you should think yourself lucky.
Well that’s a fudging relief! Taboo had written, making a rather inappropriate hand gesture. I’ve been worrying about being pollinated ever since we left the mountain! What a plegging ninny!
We had headed toward the plume of smoke which we knew emanated from the pinnacle of our beloved mountain but, just as had happened with the forest upon our approach, it seemed that our mountain took two steps away from us for every step we took toward it.
After a full day’s hike through the alien forest we had seemingly been no closer to our goal and Omen had expressed his fears that the hernia in reality would once again return to its original position beside the unknown ocean before we made our escape. My poorly little toe was throbbing from exertion and, as darkness had once again begun to descend upon us Horizon, who had been plotting our course through the trees, had suggested that we find a place to set up camp and rest, a proposition which I had whole-heartedly welcomed. Though I feel certain that Horizon had successfully retraced our route through the trees, I could not recall the scenery and I remember having the distinct feeling that the landscape was shifting around us when our backs were turned, a theory which had been strengthened by the absence of the jingle nut trees where we had encountered the dusters and the pizzle pears.
We had however passed through a copse of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen, a beauty so vibrant and distinct that they etched a memory so deeply into my mind that even now, some one-hundred and seventy years later I can look back on them with a clarity that defies the intervening years. The trees had been short, barely clearing the top of Blancmange’s head, their trunks and branches twisted and encrusted with pale pink crystals. The leaves, which were angular and kite-shaped had fanned out from the very tips of their branches and twigs, each of them as transparent as glass and tinted a different colour of the rainbow. The light from the setting sun had caught their leaves in spectacular fashion, casting a dancing spectrum of radiant colour across the forest floor. Insects of all shapes and sizes had abounded beneath the trees, their behaviours seemingly influenced by the patches of coloured light they cast. One insect I recall, which had been similar in shape and build to a grasshopper, had been seemingly unwilling to enter any other patch of light except for those tinted yellow, hopping amongst the kaleidoscope from one yellow patch to the next. Another insect, which had been somewhere between a centipede and a crab, had seemingly only been visible as it passed through the patches of violet light, an attribute which it had used to great effect when it had captured one of the yellow-bound grasshoppers, using its invisibility to sneak up on it before materialising in a patch of violet light with its prey in its pincers. As the sun had cast its final beams of light over the horizon and day had succumbed to night the light had caught the leaves in such a way that all of the colours had aligned to create a perfect spectrum as if a rainbow had lost its purchase on the sky and had fallen to the forest floor. This alignment had only lasted for a few moments before it had been swallowed by the darkness but it had prompted a frenzy of activity from the insect community and for a few short moments the forest floor had literally crawled with life. The air had also become thick with flies and wasps and moths, each of whom seemed to make a flight path from a separate shaft of colour and odd, maggot-like creatures which came equipped with their own fleshy parachutes, had glided down from above, all of them landing in the blue band of light. This sudden flurry of insect-activity had caused quite an alarming reaction from both Omen and Butter, both of whom had flailed their arms in panic and had run aimlessly through the miasma of tiny bodies. Never have I seen anyone fall down as much in such a short period of time as Butter did that day, her motion bringing to mind that of a bouncy ball which has escaped its owners’ hands, hitting the floor more and more rapidly before lying completely still and inert. It was at this time that Skull had relinquished his duty carrying the serpentine creature’s tail and had picked Butter up instead, hoisting her over his shoulder with ease. I’m not sure exactly how it came about but Taboo had ended up carrying Omen in quite a similar fashion, the words, Complete plegging scroot comber! scrawled across his board.
After leaving the copse of stained-glass trees and its abundance of insect life behind we had stopped beside a vast, glossy black lake which had been trimmed with more of the spectral brambles. The lake had reflected the canopy of newly born stars which had shone through the cloudless darkness, creating a perfect mirror image of the nights sky. Though the creature had not been heavy to begin with, the effort of carrying it through the trees for a dozen hours had taken its toll and I’d longed to rest. I knew that Blancmange and Skull, who had still been carrying Butter, had also shared my exhaustion, (though Skull seemed unwilling to show any sort of fatigue in front of Butter,) and so we had gently placed the creature on a bed of leaves, Cloud sitting cross legged beside it, still stroking its fur. I had endeavoured to make the creature as comfortable as possible, removing any sharp metallic leaves from its make-shift bed. Skull had placed Butter down and had taken a seat at Cloud’s side. Taking two large rocks in his hands he had set about striking the bolts that held the creature’s mask in place, attempting to break them, an activity which had prompted Butter to write, My hero! on their shared slate. The creature had shown no signs of fear and had made no attempt to escape Skull’s attentions and it had begun to chatter and sing to itself, moonlit tears still streaming from the rusty slits in its mask.
Despite the dropping temperature we had decided against lighting a fire for fear that it would attract the attention of the Doll-Faced Rider, though, looking back on it, the noise Skull was probably echoing through the entire forest anyway.