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"Go Ask Atropos," she laughed, reading the title of the book aloud. "Weaving in Traffic. Threadbare and Forlorn. Hooking for Hookers. Knits of the Round Table." She grinned in sheer glee, pointing at more of the giftshop's options.
"It says here, darling, that the wool is gathered from alpacas who are fed by apples from the orchard," the gentleman perused a book on the grounds and history of this place.
"Alpacas can't survive on just apples," the woman contradicted. She reached into the skeins and felt the yarn with a practiced hand. "Soft," she said, approvingly. She bent over and checked out some of the coloured strands.
"It's not a history of alpacas," he groused, but his humour won over. "Chez Crow Does Crochet?"
"I didn't see any alpacas. I did see the apple orchard."
"All you saw were rabbits, dear."
"They were black."
"They were snappy dressers." She stood back up with her selections. "Oh, and these, too," she said, passing a set of large knitting needles to the woman behind the counter. She slid out a credit card from her wallet. "Dear, did you want anything else?"
He smiled and set down a couple of books on the counter. "Oh, a bottle of the Black," he said, wrapping his arm around his companion.
"Just a moment, Mrs..." the woman squinted at the card. "Mayhem?"
"It's from the French 'mahaigne,'" Mrs. Mayhem smiled.
"Meaning 'injury,'" the gentleman (who happened to be Mr. Mayhem) suggested. "Old family name. We really should get around to changing it, but it seems so..." he took a step away from her, gesturing as if he could pull the right word from the atmosphere.
"Appropriate," Mrs. Mayhem said, taking the card away from the woman behind the counter. She tucked it into her purse, and then leaned against the counter. A moment later she slammed the knitting needle deep into the woman's hand. "Now, tell us, where is the rug?"
"The? What? You just...? The?" the woman sputtered.
"Dear, I will do much worse than that. It is your choice as to whether or not it proves fatal. Answer our questions with alacrity, in detail, and with accuracy, and I might leave you some fingers."
"Alacrity means with speed. Quickly," Mr. Mayhem offered, always helpful.
The woman held her uninjured hand over the other. "I don't know what you're talking about! I swear! If I knew anything, I'd tell you as...as fast as I could." She stretched back as far as she could, a seepage of blood running over the glass of the counter, her palm still pinned by the blunt needle.
"I fear she is telling us the truth, my precious," Mr. Mayhem suggested.
"Oh, I know she is. I am just disgusted that an artifact of its nature attracts so many ignorant caretakers. Furthermore, I am displeased that Mother seems to have gone missing in search of it." For emphasis, Mrs. Mayhem pulled out the needle and plunged it back into the clerk's other hand with inhuman speed and strength.
"She was often distracted by the scent of old enemies. This place has many protectors, or we would have stumbled across it before, my love. Let the good woman go; she is innocent enough." He placed a loving hand on her shoulder.
"Innocent enough," she repeated. "Josephine Catoptria, the injuries done you are nothing but a terrible accident with the broken glass," she broke the counter with a shattering sound that might have been heard by the girl at the desk, but was more likely attributed to something at the bar. "They will heal with vigour. So I have suggested to you by your Name. You shall not remember myself and my love as anything but guests of the hotel." She sighed. "Am I forgetting anything?"
"I'd still like that bottle of Black."
"Hmmm." Mrs. Mayhem made the appropriate motions and said the right final words to set the light spell in place. Mr. Mayhem helped himself to the bottle of wine, as Josephine Catoptria, a young woman not being paid near enough to put up with such madness found her way back from the depths such as the Mayhems had often consigned their victims. She was one of the lucky ones, with only a lasting pain in her hands to show for their visit.
"Bring me a bottle of your best!" Mr. Mayhem was feeling magnaminous. Having stored their purchases in their room, it was time for dinner. He poured for Mrs. Mayhem, and then himself, in that order, sloshing deep red wine in the glass to let little droplets as dark as blood fall across the ivory tablecloth. He stared at it and smiled. Mrs. Mayhem laid a gentle hand on his, and ordered her steak, bloody. She made the knife in her silverware dance around her other hand a few times.
"The waiter looks good enough to eat," she murmured.
"Lean and stringy," Mr. Mayhem corrected. "More a new york strip steak than a tender sirloin."
"I wasn't thinking literally."
"For once," Mr. Mayhem clinked his glance against hers with a laugh.
She shared in it, and looked around. "This is an interesting place."
"You didn't follow that up with your usual, my love."
"You often then say, `I wonder how many will survive.'"
"Ah, indeed I do. Alas, the wards here are riddled."
"Riddled with holes, my sweet? That does not seem so steep."
"Riddled. Like puzzles, dear. Some drift within time, some call ancient adversaries against each other, some weave stories."
"Ah, stories!" He thought about it for a moment. "Just stories? Tales of murder and bawdy doings?"
"Pay attention, love. Weaving was the operative term in that case."
"Well. Woven. Like a rug?"
"Exactly like a rug." She smiled and gestured for the waiter to indeed pepper her salad.
"I thought we should have dressed as Persian merchants, seeking a thread of fate."
"You mix your mythos, my dear. Greeks. You meant flying carpets. Besides, the political climate is not good for the Persian look. That's enough, boy. Any more and I would have to slaughter you and feed you to the dogs."
The waiter decided this would be a good time to visit another table.
"And the knitting needles? Alpacas?"
"A whim of the moment. Besides, I was thinking I might hook a blanket together on the flight home. Junior does need something to warm his feet."
"And blood turns so cold, so fast," Mr. Mayhem reflected on his youth. He noticed they had another server, this one hesitating only long enough to ask if there would be anything else before leaving, after resting their plates on the stained tablecloth. This happened so often when they went out! One would think that with their manners and their credit, they'd get better service.
"Tell me about the rug, Mr. Mayhem?" She curled up in his arms, licking the blood off the knitting needles.
"The Rug of Manakiel, it is rumoured, shows one of the portals to, well, it is a terribly nasty place, my dear. Active only in moonlight, it shows the runic keys to three doors of the netherworlds. It was woven with the hair of an angel, and painted with the blood of a devil, and used for seven times seven years as a welcome mat in Faerie."
"Oh, surely not all those things." Her lollypops finished, she turned to him, pulling the covers up.
"It is rumoured, my dear. You cannot believe everything you hear. I have heard quite a few outlandish tales, after all."
"And some of them are true, are they not, love?"
"Nothing is more true than my love for you, sweet, dearest one."
"If I ever thought different..."
"Perish the thought. I am true even in your dreams."
In her dreams, she saw the rug. She saw a man in a tuxedo, a black monocle seemingly cartoonish on his face, huge demonic wings bated and rested, like the entrance of a balrog. He rose up from the rug and into the fog of darkness. Words were spoken, familiar to her ear, but her brain could make neither head nor tails of them. They sounded like, "Once upon a time." A small green imp sat on the rug, making as if he were wiping his behind on it with malicious glee. He ran off. An old man with a long beard tapped his cane upon it, as if sounding it out. Runes burned across it, and a doorway opened in midair. The old man hesitated, then stepped through. A young man with long crystalline horns bounded out of it, riding a creature half dragon, half unicorn, all myth. The darkness behind the rug billowed up in black, oily clouds, and made the scene fade.
"Perhaps, my love, we should seek an easier target. There is something strange about this place."
"As you would, my precious." Mr. Mayhem kissed his wife as they walked out the doors, feeling for once as if fate had been kind.
other references included but unspecified