Chapter 3 : Old Brown Shoe
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“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome once again to another installment of everyone's favorite tale of Stubbery, I Am the Walrus. Our performers are unusually energetic, and really raring to go tonight. Of course, I thought I saw one of them with a vial of Invigoration Draught. But no matter, this promises to be a sensational evening of entertainment as things really heat up for our daring adventurers.
“Once again, the author reminds us that I Am the Walrus lyrics were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
“So, grab a cold beverage, claim yourself an armrest, and enjoy this evening's provocative chapter.”
Old Brown Shoe
“Eight Karshapanas and two Drachs,” Kanwal translated for the clerk at the local apothecary.
Rolf dropped what he hoped was the correct number of coins into the man's hand, and thanked him. He thought he heard Kanwal translating the thank you, but he couldn't be sure. All he was really paying attention to at that moment was uncorking the vial in his trembling hands, and curing the headache that had been slowly intensifying all day. By the time they rejoined Luna out front, the potion had, mercifully, begun to take effect.
Luna suggested getting some lunch, so they began to walk through the village square in Pracinajnan looking for a place to eat. Though the pain had stopped, Rolf's head was still heavily laden with the bits of information, and partially complete thoughts that cycled round in there. A Hobgoblins song, Atmospheric Collision, hopelessly stuck in his head, created a raucous backdrop for fleeting images of things like the poem, the grave, the rock face, his old Turnip Records t-shirt, and Kanwal. The latter being the most confounding, his mind got stuck there for long periods of time.
He suspected that Luna and Kanwal were in a similar state, as neither of them had spoken much all day. For the most part their conversations had only occurred at necessary intervals as they struck camp, and hiked back into Jhansi to hire a ratha. A dull undercurrent of awkwardness had permeated everything they had done that day.
Eventually they stumbled upon a small cafe. Lunch might have seemed to be a painfully drawn out affair had it not been for the fact that no one ate very much. As they finished Rolf began to sense another, 'What do we do now?' conversation approaching.
Kanwal folded his napkin and cleared his throat. “My friends, there is a religious site near here which I do not get to visit very often. The temple there is—forgive me, that is unimportant. I have a lot on my mind at the moment.” He paused as a wry smile broke over his lips, “As I am sure you may understand. Anyhow, what I am trying to say is that I would like to go there for the afternoon, if you do not mind. I know it is an imposition.”
Rolf shrugged, “Sure, we could do that.”
“No, I am sorry, I meant that I wanted to go alone. It is nothing personal, I just feel as though I need some time by myself. I realize how much that is asking, and I assure you I would not do it unless I really needed to.”
After several seconds went by hearing no objection from Luna, Rolf spoke up, “Please, go ahead. We'll be just fine.”
They made arrangements to meet him later that evening, and he quickly bid them farewell. The two of them lingered at their table over a bottle of wine after Kanwal left. They had been dating for just over ten months now, but he still felt a sparkling sort of thrill whenever he was alone with her. This little surge of delight was just enough to snap his mind out of its murky lump of thoughts long enough to remember that he had been waiting for this opportunity. “What do you think is going on with Kanwal?”
“I thought I saw a wrackspurt near him earlier. I wasn't sure whether they effected Muggles or not, but apparently they do.”
He hadn't realized until that grin spread over his lips how hard he had been clenching his jaw. “I was thinking more about what he is hiding.”
“Mm.” Luna gave a wide eyed nod. “I have no idea what it is though.”
Rolf threw his hands up in vindication. “But it's obvious, right? And is it just me or does he seem to know exactly where he's going, but it's like he's leading us around just to have us on? Like he knows exactly where all these—these things are, but he's trying to make us think he's as clueless as we are.”
“He definitely has a distinct sense of purpose in all of this. I've been wondering about that actually. It doesn't seem like he only wants to act as a guide, you know? I mean, he was rather interested in the Hobgoblins last night.”
“Now that you mention it, it did seem like more than a casual interest.” Rolf sipped his wine while he contemplated Kanwal. “How can we trust a man who is obviously lying to us? And let's not mince words, that's exactly what he's doing.”
She tilted her head, “As dishonest as he has been, I really don't see him seeking to harm us.”
“Right, but it's the fact that it seems so far out of his character that's bothering me. Why would a man like that lie to us?”
“Perhaps he's not sure if he trusts us.”
He furrowed his brow. “With what though?” He sat back in his chair and picked up his wine, watching the legs of alcohol slither down the side of the goblet. “Perhaps it's not us he intends to harm.”
Luna sighed. “I'm not sure that fits either. And another thing, whatever his intentions are in leading us, we do seem to be getting somewhere.”
“It would only take a nudge in perspective for me to think we were getting absolutely nowhere, yet still I agree that in whatever strange way it may be, we are getting closer to Stubby.” Rolf downed the last of his wine. “Well, what do we do?”
He would have sworn he actually saw her center of consciousness leave her eyes, sit in the quiet core of her being for a minute, then return with the answer, “We need to find out what his interest in this is. If we can't get a straight answer from him, I think we should let him lead us a little while longer, until we at least have a more informed inkling one way or another about his intentions.”
He sifted her words through his head several times but could find no fault with any of them, and so he agreed.
Leaning back in his chair, he gazed out at the horizon. It took him a moment to realize that he had not looked around properly since they arrived. Pracinajnan was nestled in the dense tropical forest of the western Ghats, near a place Kanwal called Sabarimala. It was a far cry from the desolate hills of the Bundelkhand. Situated at the top of a wide slope, the view from the center of the little magical settlement was nothing short of spectacular. A velvety canopy of trees blanketed the valley below them, then continued up over the neighboring hills, and on into the mountains until it faded into mist. After the headache and the mental build-up to that conversation, the sight of that vast forest rejuvenated him.
It dawned on him that he was alone with the woman he loved in an incredibly beautiful place. 'What am I doing sitting here?' Dropping a few Karshapanas on the table he stood up. “Well, my lady, would you like to have a look around?”
She stood and took his arm. “Of course.”
The main square was lined with stone buildings of every shape and size. Some were small with pointed white tops that looked like dollops of whipped cream, others resembled narrow step pyramids, while still others were stout angular buildings nearly half a block long. All of them were embellished with detailed carvings. It seemed as though every column and corner he passed bore the image of an ancient face, or a magical creature. With burgeoning flower beds and clean coats of paint on the buildings, it felt like an ancient ruin come alive; though somehow Rolf got the impression that the city had not been revived, but rather had been continuously alive for thousands of years.
The humidity was so thick that the air itself seemed to cling to his skin, and he could feel the moisture in his lungs as he breathed. In the afternoon heat, it was absolutely brutal. He cast a Cooling Charm over the both of them, but the dampness lingered in his clothes, and his trousers rubbed painfully against his legs as he walked.
Luna paused to look at an elaborate sari in front of a large clothing store.
“Let's go inside.” He already had his hand on the doorknob. She serenely stepped through the door as he held it for her.
The store was neatly split in half with a side each for men and women. Luna immediately wandered into the racks of elegant saris. Rolf eyed the men's side apprehensively, confronted with the familiar dilemma of wanting clothes but not wanting to shop, and decided to follow Luna for the time being.
He couldn't recall ever having been so completely surrounded by such a multitude of colors and patterns. The way the long flowing garments were hanging he couldn't make heads or tails of what they were supposed to look like on a woman. Somehow his attempts to figure out which pieces went where lead to him imagine himself trying one on, then subsequently getting severely tangled up in it.
He had been hopping up and down in his mental sari when the saleswitch startled him. Embarrassment pricked up in his cheeks. Though the woman had no idea that she had just interrupted a thoroughly humiliating mental escapade, he could not fully meet her gaze. Fortunately he could easily fake eye contact by focusing on her bright red bindi instead of her eyes. The measuring tape slid off of her shoulders, and quickly went to work as she stepped up to Luna.
She said something else in a language he thought he had heard Kanwal speak at some point. Luna smiled and shook her head calmly. The woman nodded in understanding. Taking Luna by the arm, she escorted her away, leaving the measuring tape to chase behind them in frustration. As Luna disappeared into the saris, he became painfully aware that he was standing around in the women's department, and had no choice but to proceed to the other side to look at clothes for himself.
Before long a young wizard with a measuring tape showed up to help him. After another brief exchange, establishing the language barrier, he lead Rolf back to the far corner of the store, where glossy tangerine curtains created a small dressing room. Swinging aside one panel for Rolf to step in, he held up one finger and then hurried back into the maze of racks. His measuring tape whisked through its routine, and sped off behind its owner. Rolf took a seat on a small wooden stool, and waited.
The saleswizard returned with a bulky armload of fluid garments that he could barely see over the top of. With some difficulty he began hanging them all around the curtain rods. Rolf wanted to object, but he could only gawk awkwardly at the gaudy array. Hanging up the last ensemble, the saleswizard stepped out and closed the curtain.
So there he was, alone with a horrifying selection of things to try on. He felt pretty much like a lost Crup when it came to fashion, so he often looked for dress clothes that matched his hair and eyes. He gingerly tugged at the hems of a few things with two fingers, trying to determine what sort of garments they were. It appeared the man had brought him mostly lungis, and wide billowy trousers that pouffed under at the bottom. At last he spotted an outfit that he grabbed outright, and pulled down. He was pleased to find that the chocolate brown silk trousers were loose, but neat and straight. They came with a dark blue kurta with brown embroidery. Praying he would not have to do so again that day, he tried them on.
Standing in front of the mirror outside the dressing area, he realized he wasn't really sure how these things were supposed to fit. They didn't seem to him to be either too large or too small, and they were exceedingly comfortable. Triumphantly he marched back into the dressing area to pack away his old clothes, beaming at himself for having avoided the torture of extensive clothes shopping. He had a handful of gold ready when the young man returned.
Several minutes, or half an hour later he was yawning against a stack of turban fabric, when Luna finally emerged from the ladies side. Rolf perked up immediately. She was wearing a steely grey sort of half-blouse, with a line of silver beads dangling at its hem, just below her breasts. A long piece of a rich grey-blue fabric, with a miniscule silver pattern woven in, was draped around her, forming a long skirt. One end of it swooped up across her belly, over her shoulder, and down again, finally fastening to a cluster of silver bangles at her wrist. The colors were stunning against her alabaster skin. Rolf also couldn't help but notice the way it clung to her hips, exaggerating the curves of her thin figure, and quite a lot of her midriff was exposed. He lingered there for a long moment, just taking her in.
“Oh, you got some too. They're really nice.” She stood there quietly, then cocked her head to one side. “Are you feeling all right?”
“What? Er—yes, of course.” He took her hand as they started out the door. “You look beautiful, by the way.”
“Oh?” Her eyes shone bright and wide. “Thank you. Did you know that dandelion wine can cause a spike in pheromone production at high elevations?”
“Not until I met you.”
Talking and laughing, they carried on down the vibrant thoroughfare. Some of the buildings didn't have signs, and the ones that did they couldn't read anyway. Occasionally they would linger outside of one for several minutes, trying to guess what it was. He was vaguely aware that people might be looking at him strangely, but it didn't really matter.
The circular plaza was surrounded by five oblong gardens. Five roads snaked out in between them, and then looped back around. From overhead Rolf thought the whole settlement must look like an enormous flower. They started down the first road they came to. Several paces in, the toe of Rolf's boot caught in a missing chunk of pavement, nearly sending him headfirst to the ground. He rolled his eyes. 'No wonder people were looking at me like I was daft.' In his rush to finish shopping, it hadn't occurred to him that his clunky hiking boots probably looked ridiculous sticking out of his silk pants. Luna was still wearing hers as well.
Though he really didn't care how he looked, and thought she probably wouldn't either, he felt he was obligated to point the situation out to her. Dreading the possibility of more clothes shopping he stammered, “Er—Luna? Do you think, maybe, we should to go back and buy some different shoes? These might look a bit, you know, funny in our new clothes.”
Luna shrugged. “I don't care to. People have never been shy about pointing me out as an oddity. It doesn't bother me. Besides, my boots are comfortable.”
'And that is why I love you.'
The road led them out in between a stately garden full of carefully manicured trees, and one running wild with tall fluffy looking flowers. They both instinctively turned in the same direction. The fiery blooms were nearly waist high. A narrow dirt path cut through them, leading to a tall stone structure in the center of the garden.
From a distance he couldn't quite tell what it was. It looked like some sort of odd statue, or perhaps a fountain. As they drew nearer to it he saw that it was a large rectangular pool, with four stone columns looming over it from each corner. Rolf stepped closer, agape. Every inch of stone had been painstakingly carved into a multitude of some of the most bizarre looking creatures he had ever laid eyes on. A rabbit's head and torso with two long lobster claws instead of legs was squished in on top of a goat with fins and a beak. Next to that was a chicken with antlers and a lizard tail, and amidst all of that was a tiger. Rolf leaned in until he was inches away just to make sure, but it was just an ordinary tiger. This pattern continued on every column and along each wall of the pool, inside and out. Every so often among the mismatched creatures, a perfectly normal one would appear.
Despite the highland breeze, the water sat untouched, eerily motionless in the stone pool. He moved in to get a better look at it, when Luna clamped a fast grip on his wrist.
“Don't go near that water.” She pulled him back a few steps. He looked at her questioningly, and she continued. “Trust me, I've seen things like this before. You don't want to touch it.”
She was beginning to cut off his circulation. “All right. I believe you.” It took a minute of vigorous rubbing to coax all the blood back into his hand. “Have you seen creatures like that before?”
“Never. I wouldn't even know where to begin classifying most of them.” She walked around to the other side.
Rolf laughed. “Yeah. What on earth would you call these?” He knelt down near the base of one column. “Like this one here is a Hogamoola Birdcub.”
Luna erupted with a peal of laughter. “That was a good one.” Still shaking, she managed to raise an arm to point in front of her. “And there's a Unigribbler Stingiphant.”
He wanted to see what she was pointing at, so he scampered over to her side, giggling like a child. One look at that elephant, perched on one fat toad's leg, and having a great stinger where it's trunk should be sent him into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. Lightheaded and clutching his sides, he sank to his knees. Somehow he managed to catch his breath long enough to choke out, “And there's his friend—the Fishfooted Gonk.”
The ridiculous names continued until they were both sprawled out breathlessly in the flowers wiping tears from their eyes. Rolf's sides groaned painfully as he stood up. Luna sat up with dainty orange blossoms clinging to her hair. He extended a hand to pull her up. Her feet were crossed at odd angles as she rose, throwing her off balance. As she swayed into his chest, he caught the small of her back in his free arm.
Rolf had always loved looking into her eyes, but in that moment there was something startlingly open and alive about her as she looked up at him, her face still sparkling with laughter. It was like looking through her, straight into her honest soul. She was so close to him.
Gently he dabbed one last tear from her cheek, before catching her soft lips in his. She responded to his kiss with an earnest passion that made his stomach drop. He clutched longingly at the back of her blouse, and it was all he could do not to tear it off right there. Groaning with frustration, he finally pulled back from her.
“We could carry on if you like,” she began with a grin, as she smoothed her sari, “But I think we ought to start heading back to the village.”
They took their time walking back. As they came up around the loop, a colorful orchard came into view. Rolf shuddered as he recognized the purple fruit they had encountered outside the ratha depot in Delhi. A small cluster of the trees grew near a bulge in the road. In the heart of their collective shadow he spotted an odd lump on the ground.
“Lumos.” Even with his wand lit he had to step almost fully into the center of them to make out what it was. The sight paralyzed him. There on the ground lay the grotesquely mangled corpse of a large dog, recognizable only by the shape of its head. A strange mossy vine had consumed most of its rear end, and was slowly advancing over the rest of it in long bushy tendrils. Bile stung in his throat, and, finally finding his legs, he stumbled backward out of the trees.
Luna reached out to steady him. “What's in there?”
He swiftly wrapped his arm around her waist and started forward, still trembling inside. “Dead dog.”
She looked back at the copse of trees. “Shouldn't we bury it?”
“Hm? Oh, there was some sort of plant that looked like it was feeding on it.”
She nodded. “Best to let it have its meal then.”
Rolf desperately wished he had not looked at it. The sickening image haunted his mind's eye, needling at his soul. Not even Luna's tranquil countenance could soothe it away fully. He stared down at the dusty pavement until something red flashed into his peripheral vision.
It took several seconds before his brain trusted what his eyes saw. Its golden tail feathers flared up in the sunlight as the phoenix flexed its awesome wingspan across the sky. He had never experienced phoenix song before, but as the ethereal melody echoed through the hills he was sure he would never hear anything more beautiful for the rest of his life. It penetrated him clean through.
It circled over them twice before it changed course, and soared off into the mountains. Rolf finally noticed they had both stopped walking. His knees were a little weak, and a fresh sort of feeling bubbled up inside him. Luna looked up at him in awe.
“Was-” he paused, scrunching his brow, “Was that a wild phoenix?” He knew it was, but he could think of nothing else to say, his vocabulary had run dry.
She nodded solemnly. “Something you were feeling must have resonated with it. It wouldn't have sung otherwise.”
She slipped an arm up across his shoulders, and started him forward. He longed to pull her in tight against him, but they had to continue walking.
He barely noticed when they slipped back in among the crowds in the lively plaza. A stout man sat playing a sitar on a small dais in the center of the square. The air was filled with the delicious scents drifting off of the flower stands, and out of restaurant windows. However, none of these sensory delights were nearly so entrancing as the rare jewel beside him.
Rolf's hand drifted down her backside, and he was caring less and less whether or not it was concealed by her sari. For the second time on this trip he cursed himself for not having arranged a room for the night. 'You would think a fellow would learn.' Luna leaned into him, pressing the side of her breast against his ribs. With a twang of panic he stepped behind her to hide his midsection.
“Isn't that the pub where we said we'd meet Kanwal?” She was pointing at a short green building with a yellow domed top.
“Yeah, it is. We're a bit early though.”
Calmly she grabbed his arm, lead him into the noisy pub, and proceeded straight to the back.
“Wait, where are we--”
Retaining her grip on his wrist, she turned the knob on the door to the public toilet.
Without giving himself time to think, or even to be shocked, he jerked the door shut behind them. Instantly she flung her arms around his neck, and he was once again blissfully lost in her. It was tight with the two of them in there, but it didn't matter. Rolf wanted to be as close to her as physically possible. Her hair smelled of flower petals and fresh air, and he drew the scent in to the bottom of his lungs. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a voice was mumbling something about 'public decency', but he couldn't really hear it over Luna's kisses as they smoldered down his neck. The bracelets slid easily over her slender hand, and the sari fell away.
dripping from a dead dog's eye,
crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess
Boy, you've been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down
Rolf was still double checking that his clothes were on correctly when Luna lead him out of the loo as casually as though she had simply gone in there to wash her hands. They spotted Kanwal at a round table on the far side of the room, and he waved to them. 'Did he just see us come out of there?' Rolf tried to keep his eyes fixed on the ground as they walked over, but just the same he felt as though everyone in the place was staring at him. He sat down with a stiff greeting, and Kanwal summoned a waitress to bring them some drinks.
“So I see you two have been shopping.” Kanwal politely asked what else they had done while he was away.
Rolf's cheeks flared up hot and tingling, feeling like the word 'SEX' was flashing on his forehead. He fumbled his glass halfway to his mouth, and bobbled it several times before finally catching it in his lap, two thirds empty.
“Well after we went shopping, we took a stroll though the square,” Luna began while Rolf pulled out his wand.
As he cleaned himself up she explained about the gardens, and the stone pool made of bizarre creatures. By the time she got to the part about the phoenix, Rolf began to panic about what came next. He waited until she finished a sentence about a barrel full of tentacles they had seen on their return trip through the village, then jumped in, “Let's not go on and on about ourselves now. How was your trip, Kanwal?”
Kanwal pressed his lips together and nodded. “It cleared my head very well, thank you. It sounds like you did not find any leads on Stubby, am I right?”
Rolf gave a small gasp and looked at Luna out of the corner of his eye; she was also wide eyed. They had forgotten that Kanwal would expect them to have been looking for clues. “Well—er—no. No we didn't. Did you?”
He furtively glanced around the room. “Actually, I got here about an hour ago, and earlier there were two women sitting at that table,” he gestured to the adjacent table, “They were talking about a strange man who had been seen out in the forest several weeks ago.”
A knot tightened in the pit of Rolf's stomach. He got so hung up on the words 'I got here about an hour ago,' that he didn't pay attention to the rest of what Kanwal said. He was certain that Kanwal noticed his discomfort, as he politely looked away, turning his attention to Luna. For some unknown reason, Rolf couldn't bring himself to look Luna in in the eye either. He blushed even deeper when he heard her voice.
“Do you mean just anywhere in the forest?”
Kanwal answered just a hair too casually, “Well, they did not mention anything specific, but there is a Magical Research Facility out there. My son had a stint of work there after he finished school.”
“What makes you think the Research Facility has anything to do with this?” she pressed him.
He shrugged. “Nothing specific really, in fact it may not have anything to do with this. It was merely the first thing that came to mind, when those women mentioned the forest.”
They both looked back to Rolf. Grudgingly, he forced himself to look up at them. He snuck in a steadying breath before speaking. “Er-Kanwal, my friend, l-let's just get it all out onto the table here, okay? We have no problem going into the forest if that's what you think we should do, but we just want to know the truth. I mean, it's obvious—”
Both men jumped as Luna's sudden cry burst the mounting tension. Kanwal snapped his head around the room, while Rolf just stared at her expectantly.
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt. Two men just walked by. I swear I've seen them before. Near the ratha depot in Jhansi, I think.”
Kanwal leaned in towards her. “Really? What did they look like?”
“Tired. It looked like they wanted to come in here as they walked by, but they just kept going.”
Kanwal nodded politely, “What about characteristics that would help to distinguish them from other people?”
Luna calmly continued, “They looked European, or possibly American. One of them was very tall with short dark hair, the other had blonde hair and a bit of a beer belly.”
“Hm. I believe I might have seen them as well.” Kanwal sat back, his brow creased with thought. “Strange that they would come here.”
Rolf glanced out the window at the bustling plaza. “I'm sorry but, why is that strange?”
“Most magical tourists prefer a well known mountain resort elsewhere in the Ghats. This place? There is a magical school near here, and the wizards in this area tend do their shopping here. Apart from that, and people making pilgrimages to Sabarimala, Pracinajnan is not a well traveled place.”
Rolf chewed on that, while absently reaching out to pick up a pint glass that was no longer there. He quickly found a waitress to remedy the situation. Taking a long swig of mead, he remembered what he had been saying to Kanwal, before they were interrupted.
Luna peered out from in between a paper umbrella, and the rim of a hollowed out pineapple. “Perhaps they were lured here as pawns by members of the Rotfang Conspiracy.”
Kanwal paused with his glass resting on his lips. “I beg your pardon?”
Though it would seem a bit abrupt, Rolf though it was imperative to jump in here, before she could offer an explanation. “Kanwal? I don't mean to be rude, but, as I was saying before—“
Silencing Rolf with his hands, Kanwal frowned apologetically. “My friends, I do want to explain a few things to you, but, I am sorry, I do not think it safe to do so here.”
Rolf blinked. “What? Why?”
“You saw those men. Who knows if there are others?”
“Wait,” he began warily, “You don't think those guys are following us, do you?”
“I do indeed,” he proclaimed, setting his glass down for emphasis. “I did tell you there were others looking for Stubby.”
Rolf dragged a frustrated had through is hair. “Yes, but what makes you think those men have anything to do with it?”
Luna clasped his hand under the table. “Well, we know it is out of the ordinary for them to be here. And think about the size of the population. Even if they visited the same cities as us just by sheer coincidence, what are the odds that one of us would spot them not one, but three times?”
'Oh, why does she always have to make so much sense?'
With a loud huff, he acquiesced, still wondering if Kanwal might have been exaggerating his suspicions in order to dodge the conversation.
they are the eggmen,
I am the walrus, goo goo g' joob
He turned to Rolf inquisitively, “If you are not convinced, perhaps we could remain here for awhile and try to draw them out. I understand the food here is excellent.”
“Well, I suppose we need to eat in any case.”
In the absence English menus, Kanwal handled the ordering for them. Outside, the sun was sinking behind the horizon. Beaded lamps flickered to life overhead, their soft glow danced across the table. Before the first course was served, the waitress brought over a tall bottle of amber liquid, along with three small glasses. Kanwal poured out a round.
“It's arrak, distilled locally” he explained as he handed them out. “Go ahead. Try it.”
Apprehensively, Rolf let a sip trickle across his palate. It reminded him somewhat of a spirit he had tried once in London. He could feel the burning alcohol vapor wafting around in his mouth, and attempted to wash away with a larger sip of the liquor. The fermented sweet flavor seared its way down his esophagus, making him cough a flood of tears into his eyes.
“Strong enough to grow a lotus in your belly button, eh?” He chuckled brightly.
Though he was not at all sure he wanted anything growing in his belly button, by the second course he was throwing back entire shots in a gulp. On and on the dishes kept coming: soups, tender meats in spicy sauces, fresh breads and fruits, fragrant rice, savory vegetables, and cool salads. He felt as though he barely got started on one before the next arrived, which was a shame as he very much wanted to finish every bite of them.
With each new course another cork flew. By the time a tray of sticky pastries came out, they were all three rosy cheeked and boisterous. Toasts were raised right and left. They drank to Stubby, to adventures and to love. They also drank to pants, wine, chairs with tall backs, Bank Holidays, and smoked meat.
They indulged the hours away until a single bong sounded from the clock behind the bar. Rolf slumped down in his chair attempting to discretely lower his waistband off of his distended belly. Kanwal was absently staring at the vacant chair across from him, and Luna looked as though she was half way into a coma from the excess of food and drink. The waitress came by to let them know that there was a vacancy in the hotel upstairs. They would have to share one room, but they were all too full and sleepy to complain.
There was more than a little groaning as they began climbing the stairs. Rolf's legs felt so heavy that he had to sing in order to motivate himself onward, but before long they were all happily face down on a bed, dreaming.
“Well Ladies and Gentlemen, here we are again at that point in the evening when we must bid you all adieu. We do hope we've provided you with sufficient joy to bask in while you eagerly await the next chapter.
“At this point, it should come as no surprise that the author has a few additional notes for you all.
“She would like to thank Georgia Weasley for the pheromonal inspiration.
“Also, she tells us that the city of Pracinajnan is a fictitious settlement, and that the name comes from the Hindi words 'pracina' and 'jnana' meaning 'ancient wisdom'.
“Everyone here would like to express their heartfelt thanks for joining us this evening. We are all terribly excited to carry on with the next installment, and hope to have it ready for you very soon. Until that happy day, thank you, and good-night.”
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