Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Shadows and Light

Dearest Em,

You missed another corker last night, let me tell you; made one of your infamous cocktail parties look like a school picnic. What with the horrendous storms that raged across the Grid, the sudden bouts of swooning suffered by several of our travelling companions and some strange dislocations, it was eventful even by our standards.

It started well enough, with everyone gathering at the Circus to await Oolon's arrival in the Cabinet. He was what Miss Saltair described to me as "fashionably late" (although I'm sure she also said that was what ladies did, not gentlemen) but Miss Seisenbacher kept up the side for the ladies by being later. It was a rare old gathering, let me tell you.

Believe it or not, that's Mr Mesmer. Apparently he's been so concerned by the odd transformations occurring to his friends upon entry into Tanglewood that he decided to place his brain in a big jar. The theory goes that only the bodies are affected, not the mind, so if the body isn't there, he can't be turned into something small, cute and fluffy. Its a sufficiently daft theory that it just might be right, but he's such a card.
Of our other companions, we were graced that night by the presence of Miss Rothschild, Mr Chaplin, Miss Virrginia Tombola, Terry, Alfonso and Miss Seisenbacher, who sadly had to leave on unexpected business before we launched (though her skirt had left far earlier, much to her consternation).

It seemed that Oolon knew someone on an island and had a reason for going, but I'd managed to miss the details somewhere along the way (probably hunting for the teapot; do you know where he's hidden it?). The flight was mostly uneventful, with a few bumps and jolts signalling the arrival of the storms. Still, we landed without incident. Er, mostly. The doors did jam and we did sort of end up stuck in them, but a good shove from that husband of mine freed the blockage and out we spilled into the courtyard of a fairytale castle (and thank goodness Burt was napping at the time, or it could have been very embaressing).

Apparently this is the home of a Mr Pendragon, a Lightsmith that Oolon has worked with on several occassions in the past. If it was the past; maybe it was the future. No, better not start trying to figure that one out, it always gives me a headache. It was quite a bit like home and there were mushrooms, too.

And can you see the rays of light? Oolon says that they're Mr Pendragon's friends and that he gives them life by talking to them. So Mr Pendragon has to be some sort of magician to be able to talk to light. The beams and rays were so pretty and sparkly and added to the overall sense of otherworld in this place. So, as you might imagine, it was a little disconcerting when Oolon announced that we shouldn't split up or wander off alone as this was a dangerous place to go poking about. If what happened later hadn't happened, I would have accused him of just doing that because he likes to worry me and Terry, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

We did all split up anyway because its just in the nature of these things, as you know. Virrginia discovered a very odd dungeon underneath the castle, full of boats and oars and dummies with wings and she went off for a paddle about. Terry shot off across a bridge outside the castle and Oolon wandered off as well. I had another dizzy spell (but no Mr Whittlesea this time) and poor Mr Chaplin suffered some sort of dislocation in place while I was catching my breath. I'm beginning to wonder if all this gadding about leaves a person open to odd effects and increased susceptibility to storms. I should really have a chat to Oolon about that, provided we find him again.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Miss Rothschild became very animated at an aetheric message she had recieved from Oolon, who was concerned for Terry's safety. The mannequins were very creepy, so I was immensely glad to leave the dungeon and go back into the sunlight. Not that we were there for long, because Terry had managed to find herself in some sort of underground catacombs with a big pretty swirly thing at its heart.

It changed colour and everything. Terry was transfixed by it and she said it spoke to her, which really wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. After all, we're both pretty senstive to these things. Not that I heard it, but she's not given to fibbing. We weren't the only people amazed by the pretty thing; for once, there were other travellers (just as confused as us) - Miss Mathy, Miss Dryke and Mr Lowey.

I think Oolon was thoroughly enjoying himself when Burt captured this frame. I kept it because it struck me that he looked like a tiny little star baby safe in the womb of time, a comment which elicited much dismay from our friends (who thought it was a little risque) and a big sigh from Oolon (who I don't think realised that anyone had seen him playing).

Miss Rothschild was thoroughly enjoying herself as well as she had made a new little friend, a lifeform that we named a Babybling. She called hers Mathilda and seemed to be getting along famously with the little creature, who followed her about like a shiny puppy. Several of us managed to attract the attentions of these delightful beings, particularly Terry, who ended up with quite a gaggle of them.

There was also a very sumptuous tent in the cavern, which was pretty puzzling (you can see it behind Mathilda). Why on earth would anyone want to camp down there in the cold and damp? I suppose it is a good vantage point for the ever changing pattern of lights on the large orb, but I can't see why you'd want to stay for too long. Humans are such contrary creatures.

After a bit of hunting about, we managed to find another way out of the cave system but it was a bit wet. Terry and I could fly out and Mr Mesmer had his portal, but poor Miss Rothschild was stranded as we couldn't be certain that it was dry water and wet water has such a terrible effect on her. Very fortunately Alfonso managed to secure a boat (I have no idea where he keeps these things, but he always seems to find something appropriate no matter what the circumstances) and made good everyone's escape from underground. And we had the added delight of Virrginia's yellow gentleman friend coming to keep us company as well.

Oolon led us on around the marvellous parkland; I must say, Mr Pendragon really knows how to manage an estate. There were allsorts of curiosities scattered about it to delight the Victorian mind; giant clocks, observatories, ponds, burning bushes and another swirly thing. This one was blue and flat and sadly very disappointing to stand on for all its prettiness; I had hoped for a least a tingle in my toes when I clambered into it, but it was just a very clever optical illusion.

We wandered a bit more, then Oolon announced that he had located Mr Pendragon. Well, he could communicate with him, but neither he nor I could work out where Mr Pendragon actually was, so I went to find him. He's very nice, as long as your not flammable; Terry and Virrginia described him as hot and then got all giggly, so I take it that they weren't referring to his temperature?

Dear Miss Rothschild had become most distraught, as Mathilda had taken poorly and gone all black and smokey. Oolon was also becoming very distracted as well and began to hurry us back to the Cabinet far sooner than I would have expected. Do you know he brought us here to deliver a beehive? All things considered, it may turn out to be a very costly delivery.

Now I know you'll be pleased with me as I'm remaining calm and objective, just like you said I had to. But things could be very bad, very bad indeed. I managed to get back into the ETD with no problems, as did Mr Mesmer; and Miss Tombola and Alfonso did so reasonably easily. But Miss Rothschild ended up on a tropical island with a shark for company (a big one) and Terry didn't appear for an absolute age. She told me later that the Cabinet momentarily vanished from the castle courtyard before she and Oolon could enter it. When the Old Girl reappeared, she didn't have much power left (inside we had no idea that we'd landed again at all) and she'd had to run and fetch a Babybling, which Oolon used to power up the doors. Terry thought that Oolon was right behind her, but something must have gone wrong and he never appeared at all.

Alfonso and Virrginia tried but failed to make head or tail of the console controls, so we couldn't go back and we couldn't go forward; we couldn't land either. It was all a bit of a puzzle. Miss Rothschild tried to talk to Madame (as she calls the Old Girl), but she wasn't listening and seemed to be just as bemused as the rest of us. Terry and me were pretty certain we'd be alright hanging about in the aether because of our natures, but we really couldn't be certain that it was safe for the humans (and the disembodied brain) or Miss Rothschild.

Terry decided that she should be able to pull us through to Mayfair, one by one, using her natural talents (I can manage one or two, but I'm only little and Terry has far more experience of these things), which she promptly did. Everyone arrived safe and sound, thankfully, and Mr Chaplin reappeared as well, a bit tetchy and most put out by both his missing the adventure and Oolon's disappearance. Virrginia, Alfonso and Mr Mesmer had attempted to make some alterations to the console while they were waiting to be rescued (something to do with more steam), but the results were not to their satisfaction. Everyone was in a very dour mood.

We had hoped that the Cabinet might have made her own way back to Mayfair once she was a little lighter, but that didn't seem to be the case. We knew that Oolon hadn't taken his transmat bracelet with him, because Alfonso had found it on the workbench in the ETD and we were all very concerned as to how he was going to find his way home. We got a nasty shock when we discovered that the charging apparatus had also vanished from the gardens and Terry began to wonder if Oolon had "left" without her. Virrginia was most worried that he wouldn't be able to feed himself properly wherever he was, but Alfonso pointed out that Oolon's pockets were bigger on the inside and there was always cake to be had (although I do hope he doesn't try to eat any of those moth-eaten old jelly babies he has hanging around in there).

It became clear that there really wasn't anything further we could do, so we decided that we should all go home and try to get a good night's sleep. I have to admit that I'm worried but do you know, I don't think anything truly awful has happened to him. For a start, I think I'd know. And secondly, he promised. He said he wouldn't go off alone again to try and face the darkness and I believe him. However else he might behave at times, his word is something he holds true to, no matter what. It won't stop me from looking for him, but he'll come home. And if he doesn't, I'm going to kill him.

You go and get yourself a nice martini, and I'll let you know as soon as we find anything. And if you find him first, I'd appreciate it if you could send the butterfly back so I can put Terry's mind at rest.

All my love,


Tuesday, 27 March 2007

When Worlds Collide

Dear Virrginia,

I know how you like to come along on our little jaunts, so your presence was very much missed on our last excursion. My, what an odd day that was. It didn't start well, what with the Old Girl throwing a wobbly right off the bat. Oolon insisted that there was a rational explanation for it all, of course (something about time rotors being out of alignment; you're good with cogs, does that make sense to you?), but somehow our poor, dear mode of transport just didn't seem to be in the mood for a day trip.

Still, she had a little joke at our expense for making her come out and play. I don't think we landed when or where Oolon had intended, for he insisted that we were some time in Caledon's future (more green goo as well, which does seem to be becoming a bit of a feature of our forays). If it was the future; time did seem to be behaving very strangely here, as I'm sure you'll appreciate by the time you've finished this letter.

A large sign announced that we were in Nakamura and I have to say that it did look very modernish. There were big blocky buildings, like the ones we saw in Toxia, shiny silver trams that didn't use steam (but still attacked any pedestrian within reach) and giant metal men guarding the train tracks.

I should have realised something was very wrong as soon as we arrived, but I have to admit that I wasn't quite myself. Not long after we ventured from the safety of the Cabinet's control room, my head began to spin and I felt very giddy. I remember asking Oolon about our location, but I don't remember hearing the reply; everything faded from my sight and all I can remember, quite perversely, is a large grey archway hovering over me and Mr Whittlesea's calm and gentle voice in my ear. I am informed that I vanished for quite a few minutes, leading to a hurriedly mounted search and rescue expedition.

Where I went, I don't know, and I'm even more mystified as to how I got back. It wasn't magic, I do know that, because it didn't smell right. I did think for a little while that one of the swirly creatures (you can see it in the blocky building picture) had kidnapped me, but it turned out to be one of Mr Mesmer's devices and he promised he wasn't playing tricks on me. Mind you, he didn't fare so well, either - he turned into a ball of light at one point.

After a brief sit down to collect my thoughts we attempted to use the tram system, which proved to be just as capricious as it's Caledonian cousin. Alfonso, Oolon, Terry and Mr Mesmer managed to get on the silly thing alright, but I slipped and ended up falling between the carriage and the platform. By the time I'd sorted myself out and dusted myself down, the blinking horror had rolled away and I had to trot along behind it as fast as my little legs could carry me.

This place seems to have a disproportionate amount of giant creatures living in the locality. Look at the size of this rabbit! You could feed the entire Caledon army on that beast for months. Just don't tell Em or Miss Paris that I said that.

As I chased after the confounded tram, I emerged from a very scary dark tunnel into this place. Now this is more like some of the kingdoms where I hail from, so I was a little surprised to see it in Caledon's future. It was at this point that I really began to wonder if we were when we thought we were. Still, nice and colourful and the flowers were ginormous.

Alfonso, bless him, came to look for me as soon as he had a chance to get off the nasty shiny tram and he confirmed that things were even stranger than we'd previously thought. Despite once again there being no-one about to talk to, I could sense the presence of living creatures nearby (not the bunny, there was no mistaking him). There were ruins (and goo) but there was definitely something and when I screwed up enough courage and popped over the broken walls, there was Port Seraphine (a regular shopping haunt of mine). But that didn't make much sense; how could we be in Caledon's future but not be at the same time?

Mr Mesmer summoned Alfonso and me at that point to use his swirly thingy (a portal he called it), so that we could rejoin Terry and Oolon, who had continued their explorations elsewhere. It tickled.

Time took another twist on the other side of the whirling door and we appeared to have walked into Nakamura's past (even though you can still see the future blocky building in the background). It was so much more tranquil and green here, but it's presence just added even further to the confusion. I have to say, I think that time is all jumbled up together in Nakamura; not that I'm an expert, but I don't see how else you can have the past, present, future and magical all in the same place at the same time.

I was feeling very weary, so when Oolon suggested a shopping trip around the otherwise very intriguing shops I felt I had to decline (see, told you I wasn't myself). We went back to the place we had left the Cabinet, but she wasn't there. It was almost the last straw, I can tell you, but Oolon insisted I shouldn't worry and the Old Girl did indeed pop back into being a few seconds later. I clambered inside and settled down on the chaise in the Bar (its ever so comfy) and promptly fell asleep. I have no idea when everyone else came back, but I awoke in our tent at the Circus.

And there you have it; as I said, a very odd day. Still, I hope that won't put you off joining us the next time we pop out for a bit. It would be lovely to see you again.

Your friend,


Track Travels

The lag storm had left the air clear and bright; perfect for continuing on. The little Wind-Whittlesea Steam Dynamo was soon back under full steam and puffing away happily. As the boiler pressure slowly evened out I checked the ornithopter for damage, but thankfully Miss Tombola had built the little craft nice and sturdy and everything appeared in good order.

Taking to the air once more, I came upon two very modern looking stations in quick succession, but still no sign of rail transportation, or as was becoming usual on the Mainland, people.

A careful hand was required on the crafts controls as the blazing red lettering of privacy wards lurked at the edge of the track.

High up above to my left a more familiar looking balloon hung in the air, while ahead a wheelchair hung above the railway line from a cage. For what purpose, I cannot say…

Passing a spectacular tree house that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Tanglewood I came upon the buffers marking the end of the line and had to pull a sharp roll and turn to narrowly avoid a privacy barrier that had sprung up ahead of me.

From the rail map I knew the track must continue on not far ahead, but how to reach it was the question. I continued West, skirting the privacy field until I hit a raised road and a break in the field that let me continue Northwards.

As the burning bands of the fields vanished along the roadside to my right, I was able to turn back onto my original route just in time to catch the start of the next section of track.

A little way beyond the buffers I caught my first sight of a Mainland train. Although of a wonderfully streamlined and modern design this one appeared to have fallen afoul of some kind of problem as it hovered several feet in the air, it’s engines and wheels churning away at nothing. I landed and attempted to right it, hoping to put some of my days as a circus strongman to good use, but the engine would not budge.

I set off once again, hoping that the rest of the Mainland rail network had not been afflicted by a similar problem. Having come all this way it would be a shame not to be able to ride a Mainland train. Undaunted, I pressed on. If nothing else the rails still proved a good navigation aid.

Thankfully, I was not to be disappointed. There, pulling into the station ahead of me, was a seemingly fully functional Mainland train…

Friday, 16 March 2007

Riding the Rails

As Fuschia busied herself with needle and thread making a lovely frock for Oolon’s Birthday party, I really thought I ought to get back to my explorations of the Northern Continent. It seemed like so long since I was there and checking back over my journal it had indeed been quite a while.

I tinkered with the Etheric Transfer Bracelet Oolon had been working on in his lab for some time (I think partly so he didn’t have to keep ferrying us backwards and forwards between Caledon and the Mainland) and after a brief dislocation I was back to the spot Oolon had picked us up from several weeks ago.

On our last visit Fuschia and myself had followed a railway line to the “Hobo Hub” in the hope of finding some form of rail transport; however there had been no sign of any functioning trains (other than the tiny one Fuschia had found and the ones under construction at a main terminal we had passed through earlier). Thinking back to the map on the wall of the Prim Mining Platform, this particular section of track was marked with a dotted line…Perhaps it wasn’t fully operational yet?

Operational or not it would prove a good route to follow and should, I hoped, lead to an in-use train line eventually (presuming that was what the solid line on the Prim Mining Platform map indicated).

For this express purpose, I had brought along one of Miss Tombola’s wonderful ornithopters. In no time I had the boiler up to full pressure and steaming and was soon on my way.

It’s amazing how much easier a balloon is to control than a flapping, flying machine. Miss Tombola always makes piloting this device look a breeze as she pirouettes through the skies of Caledon, threading under it’s bridges and around its towers. Sadly I do not quite have her skill, but after a little bit of looping, spinning, rolling and heading in the wrong direction, I soon had the measure of the craft (well almost).

The scenery along the line was astounding and I am letting most of the pictures speak for themselves. This will truly be a spectacular rail journey once the trains are running.

At first things started out quite normally with beautiful windmills and stations awaiting the arrival of the first train.

Things began to get more unusual after passing the sign pictured below (and despite its warnings there was no sign of a missing bridge – although the edges of the sign were quite sharp!).

Next to the sign was a shop selling all manner of wonderful slippers, that I’m sure would appeal to Fuschia and Emilly. Although I’m not sure how comfortable or practical they would be.

As I flapped my way above the rails, I was even more sure Fuschia would enjoy this place as giant mushrooms could be spied between the trees surrounding the cuttings and embankments.

Although she probably would not have been quite so happy to see this creature lurking on the side of the tracks. However, as with many of the Mainland creatures, this one didn’t move or react at all as I swished passed.

From this notice, it appears as if I had just flown through a region called “Imperial”; it may warrant further study by any Caledonian naturalists following in my wake.

As I rounded a blind bend on the track I came upon the sight of a marvellous floating island, water tumbling down from the plateau into a pool then beyond that into a cascade.

And not much further, on giant flowers and plants. No doubt grown to such huge size by the spray of the cascading water from the magical floating island.

A statue and temple-like structure loomed to my left and as I circled for a better look, I caught sight of a lag storm approaching from the East and felt the Ornithopter buck and twist below me as the grid winds increased.

I knew I had to get onto the ground quickly. This looked like it was going to be a bad one. The landing was a little bumpy in the ever worsening conditions and as the sky split with the storm's full fury I dragged myself and the ornithopter into the shelter of a huge obelisk to wait it out…