The Radicalist sat on the desert rock. The heat shimmered through the air all around him, and now and then he lifted a clear inch off the dead expanse of the Marble Plains.
Beside him an encrusted bowl sat, waiting for the boy to come and take it away as he did every day. In the morning the bowl would return in the hands of a maiden, full to the brim with gruesome scraps. Thus, it had been for centuries.
Next to the Radicalist sprawled realms of paper. In a clearing amongst the paper forest lay an ordinary ball-point. It was said that one day the Radicalist would pick the pen up and begin to write, as no-one ever had before. That evening the boy came as usual to take the bowl back to the caves. As he picked up the bowl he gasped. Underneath the bowl was a piece of yellow paper. On it were written four words.
His mind stunned, the boy stared aghast at the old man. He had his eyes open. He was smiling. The boy could see also that he was quite, quite, dead.
Paper in hand, bowl flung aside, the boy raced back to the marble caves.
As the bowl hit the surface of the cold, hard marble it disappeared with a deadly, silent snap.
Across the bare, scorched desert of Araal, across the Shrake infested waters of the Med, across the fertile, green clothes of many a jungle Smaal had journeyed. Starved and broken he had frozen by night, boiled by day. He had wandered blind, crawled and scraped his life from the ground, and now he stood, triumphant, on the verge of the legendary Marble Plains. His feverish brow glistened in the sun and he stared like a blind man across the ever changing plain.
“Never,” he croaked, “Never has a Smaal before seen this.”
As he began to melt into the surface of the Marble his thoughts smashed through the Silver Crystal:
“Never,” proclaimed Le M, “Have I seen such a pathetic conglomeration of little children,” he sneered.
“You’ve waited centuries for the Old Faggot,” gasps from the crowd, “to do something, and now it happens you go hide under your beds! You’re supposed to be Priests! Priests ha! Why don’t you shape up!”
Le M flew away in a torrent of rage, shoving any priests who got in his way out of it.
“What a load of wet blankets!” he exclaimed in the privacy of his own quarters. Then he noticed Smaal in the crystal. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get lost! Go on, shove off!”
Small remained motionless in the crystal. He could not move.
“Oh, damn it. I suppose I’d better get you out then. Come on.” Le M kicked the crystal, spat on it three times and said: “CRUD!”
The crystal rippled. Out sprang a filthy man with shredded clothes.
A voice spoke. Smaal realised that this finely robed man was trying to communicate in guttural contortions. He probed gently into the man’s mind. So strange, so alien. He grasped the rough end of this ‘language’ then identified himself.
“I am Smaal,” At that the robed man erupted into a spasm of incomprehensible gutterals. “Good God, what has happened to him?” thought Smaal. He thrust into Le M’s mind. What he discovered left him confounded.
– So they have a legend too!
Kiljoy had never had a warp before. He had seen people in their cars disappear, and he had seen people suddenly appear in front of him, but he had never “jam-jumped” himself.
It had been an ordinary, rather boring morning. He had got up, shaved, donned his overalls, had some coffee and cornflakes, then got into his rusty Renault 4. He had just pulled out of his driveway. Then it happened.
Blinding light all around. The amazed feeling of exaltation. Then silence. That exalted feeling was suddenly squashed flat.
“Something’s wrong,” muttered Killjoy. He opened his eyes.
All around was Marble.
“The Sacred One is here! The Sacred One is here!”
The crowd roared the chant.
Le M was very, very panicky. He read the ancient words again, hoping they would change. They didn’t. Frantically he turned to the ancient and modern destiny-seeking methods.
“What are you doing?” came Smaal’s voice.
“Go drown yourself,” came Le M’s predictable answer. He remained bent over his books like a vulture over the desert. “Look,” said Smaal pointedly, “I don’t like you. I don’t like your attitude. I have travelled for half a century to find you, and this is the reception I get!”
Le M laughed hysterically and said, ,
“You come from the crystal!”
As far as he was concerned, that was that.
“What is the crystal? How does it work?”
As Small walked towards it, Le M stamped thrice on the floor. Two grossly muscled guards walked through the bead door.
“Take him away,” said Le M Simply.
Small looked about in astonishment as the men dragged him out. He could have killed them but felt it would have done little good at this time. There was something different about this little pearl of a community. Something in the people; they all looked used and worn out, like some child’s discarded doll. Their eyes- so calloused and worn. As he was thrown into a concrete cage a peculiar insight entered his mind.
– Everything here is round!
Kiljoy climbed slowly out of his car. It was undamaged. He scratched his smooth mane of hair in puzzlement.
On impulse he knelt down and tipped his tongue on the marble. Jam! It tasted of jam! He touched it again. Hamburger! “Jeese, if I could get this back home…”
He pulled out his penknife and hacked at the culinary rock. In about five minutes he had snapped all four blades. “Damn!” Then he thought, “My ring!” He pulled it off and ran over to a marble outcrop. The diamond crumbled to dust.
“Curse you to hell!” he bawled. He banged a fist on the car in frustration. The car disappeared. Blip! Half a second later it reappeared fifty metres away.
“Hey, come back!” He ran towards it. As he approached it, it moved off again.
Thousands of metres above Kiljoy, an observer would have seen a rather disturbing occurrence. The surface of marble shifted malignantly. Out of it a rank, virulent message arose like a patch of mould. It read:
THE TIME IS NIGH
Kiljoy chased his car.
Smaal has changed his opinion of the Marble Caves community. It was no longer obscure to him. The marble plains were cursed, defiled, rotting, stinking evil. Yet it was so subtle in evidence that its corruption has almost eluded Smaal. And now it was obvious, a gaping pit over which he was hanging precariously. He could feel the whirlpool force of hubris events dragging him down. He knew the end would be soon, and he realised the Le M knew this too.
Perhaps there was one narrow ledge of escape.
“But what can I do, imprisoned like this?”
The car continued through the desert in ungainly hops. However, Kiljoy was fit. He was catching up. He lunged at the rear bumper and grabbed hold.
The car hopped again. Kiljoy crawled across the roof.
Kiljoy flung himself through the open window and collapsed into the driving seat.
“Whew!” he gasped. His clothes were damp with perspiration.
The car smashed through the West corner of the concrete cage.
Smaal was stunned. Then he realised that this was his ticket to freedom. He flung the car door open.
“I’ll need some help! Come on! Follow me!”
Kiljoy gaped then said, “Right!”
He clambered out of the car. Smaal’s memory led them through the shadowed, dusty passageways to Le M’s room. Two burly guards blocked the way.
“You will not p…” The guard was cut short as a blow of stone to his larynx killed him. Almost as soon as that blow landed, the other guard fell to the ground, his rib-cage crushed.
Smaal and Killjoy burst through the beads into Le M’s room.
“You shall not have the crystal!” Le M stood, blocking their way to the frantically flashing stone. Fire crackled from Le M’s fingers. Smaal dodged the fiery torrent, then lunged forward at incredible speed. At the same time Kiljoy’s fist flew towards Le M’s contorted face.
A sparkling shield materialised in front of Le M. Kiljoy’s knuckles snapped as they smashed into the magical barrier. Smaal’s blow slammed into it. His momentum powered him forward and all three of them stumbled towards the pulsing silver monolith. It sucked them in, welcoming.
The Radicalist sat on the desert rock. The heat shimmered through the air all around him.
He opened his eyes, smiled a wide smile, gave a little chuckle then walked off into the distance over static marble. That evening the boy came as usual. The Radicalist was gone. Underneath his bowl was a piece of yellow paper. On
it was written simply this:
“The circle is broken.”
Paper in hand, bowl flung aside, the boy raced back to the marble caves.
As the bowl hit the surface of the static marble it shattered into billions of pieces, each one a new possibility.
The Imagination skipped lightly from rock to rock, untamed and mighty in the glorious light of the Dawn of Time. It flexed, and a million images flashed through it, shaped it. It grinned mischievously then reverted to its naked power, a purple gleam in its eye,
Its huge body crested the dunes, it flowed in the sea, flew in the winds, it was everywhere and everything…
Then one day, the Imagination came across a mirror. It looked into the Marble Plains and immediately standardised itself, took on uniform, and shackled itself to reality.
And then it realised what it had done, and wept when in saw itself in the mirror, unchanging as the Plains
themselves. Furious, the Imagination thrashed and smashed at the chains that held it. But the more if fought, the stronger the chains became, until they pinched its skin.
Then it turned once more to the Marble Plains, saw itself, and hurled itself at them, smashing them into countless pieces which exploded into time. Its energy spent, the Imagination burst into a pillar of flame which out-heated the hottest sun.
Then it diminished, and its ashes were blown in the wind, and whoever touched or perceived, any single grain was blessed.
The night was fresh. The moon shone down beneath the clouds and made Chini think of day, and of lovers. Chini was walking around the Tarmak lanes. He had felt like a walk. He was already lost.
Chini loved the night. It hid some things and made all of his other senses much sharper.
Suddenly the Earth shook and Çhini felt the tarmak beneath him move. He was thrown by the ground, which was bucking and writhing under his feet. As he staggered trying to regain his balance, something happened, like a switch being thrown, but he didn’t know what.
As the rumblings quietened Chini found himself in a field just off the road, the grass was soft and dry, and he just lay there while clouds reeled past the moon silently. Then he got up and immediately stopped; there was something in his pocket that shouldn’t have been there. Something hard, and lumpy.
Chini put his hand gently into his packet. What he touched was cold and hard and greenish, but it immediately changed, into string, then leather, then mud, then bloody, oozing flesh, then cold, hard and green again. It shocked his hand, and he pulled it out with such force that he wrenched a tendon.
Pain flooded from his arm, red hot, but almost pleasurable after the vile, nauseating touch of the green rock. There was no place for hesitation, Chini tore off his trousers and flung them feeling the weight of the stone as he did so, as far as he could. The trousers sank quickly in the air and were no longer distinguishable in the moonlight from the grass. Chini dashed out of the field and ran and ran and ran until he collapsed.
He raised his head and there, before him, stood his nice little cottage. Gratefully he lurched up the garden path and into his house. As he flopped down into an easy chair the foreign sensations of the stone
vacillated through his brain.
When he woke up the next morning he had a hangover. He took some pills, but they did no good. By midday he had recovered a bit and decided he would forget the whole incident
Much later he turned the television on. There was a girl with her back to the camera, standing alone in an empty, cobwebbed attic. She turned around and looked intently at Chini. There was marble in her eyes. Chini watched, transfixed. His brain screamed in horror, and the girl spoke:
“You,” she said quietly,”Come.
“No!” he vocifarated, but it was too late.
Frozen to the heart, Chini was swallowed up by the rock in the girl’s eyes.
2: The Prison of Eternity
There was no time, and the time was infinite,
“Since I can do what I want,’ Troley addressed the colourless walls, “and I have an infinite amount of time to do it in,” Troley balanced on his head, then continued, “I shall waste as much time as possible, between doing things.”
Just to prove it he left the room walking on his hands. He had perfected the art of not being very good at walking on his hands, so it was thousands of heartbeats later that he returned, this time with a tin of paint with a paintbrush balanced on it clasped in his teeth. As he walked on his hands he said, “Ouch… ouch… ouch… ouch, ”
His fingers were croaked and bent, deformed by the hard soles of his safety boots,
“One day,” said Troley, “I will break my fingers in exactly the same places and straighten them out,” He added, “With a clamp.”
After opening the tin of paint, he stirred it, taking long pauses to sit and stare at the colourless walls, while the paint slowly dried on his hand.
Finally, after debating which end of the paint brush to use, then compromising and deciding to use the edge, he began painting.
To use the edge of the paint brush he had to tip the paint over the brush (as the tin wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the brush horizontally,) then smear it onto the colourless walls, which immediately gobbled up the magenta undercoat hungrily, leaving a patch of colourless wall behind.
Then Troley found a piece of dust, which he carefully sealed in a plastic bag and labelled it ‘Piece of dust no. 520016753 ’. One day he was going to stick all the pieces of dust together and make a model of his shoe, or how he imagined somewhere else might look like. He returned his attention to the wall. He took two steps back. Something was happening.
“No!” he cried, ‘Too fast’. Too fast! Stop! Slow down!”
The figure of a man with his hands reaching up as if held at gun-point appeared, at first his outline only gently suggested, but gradually the shadows grew deeper and the figure emerged, then stopped, still half buried in the wall. It was slightly green in tinge.
Troley left the room and slammed the door. Unfortunately, the preceding events had snapped his already half-bent mind, which acceded happily from precarious sanity into madness.
3: The Showmaster
“When I get the temptation,” said the Showmaster, “To do something irrational,” the crowd stirred in anticipation, “I always do it, then think about it afterwards!” The crowd in the massive arena roared. It had been a good night. Even the couples snogging in the darkened areas of the arena paused to laugh.
Simov disappeared from the stage. The crowd gasped admiringly, for that was Simov’s trade mark.
“Simov the Disappearing Showmaster” his banners proclaimed. Backstage, in the castle built onto the old stone amphitheatre, it was warm, and meat and wine smells filled the air, along with sweat and conversation. The fire crackled in its huge fireplace and a boar roasted on a spit. The hall was huge, and it was full of people, performers and those fortunate enough to be invited backstage. Simov appeared directly in front of the fireplace, gaining everyone’s attention. They clapped furiously then returned to their conversation or whatever else they were doing. Simov smiled then stepped down from the fireplace and astounded spit-boys into the crowd of people.
Shellare immediately caught his eye. She was obviously out for a good time and didn’t care who knew it. Simov waved at her and she sparkled in reply, and when she had extracted herself came over and kissed Simov with fake passion on the lips.
“Trying to make everyone jealous?” asked Simov rhetorically. Shellare smiled, took him calmly by the pants and towed him gracefully across the room to the door. The crowd parted for them, heads turning. When they were out she slammed the large door behind her.
“I had to get out of there,” she said, “Someone’s trying to kill me.”
They now stood in the shadily lit corridor. Unlike in the Hall, the ceiling here was low, to emphasise the Hall’s hugeness when you entered. It was hung pleasantly with coloured veils, some with lights behind in alcoves, creating a pagan, oriental air about the passage. Incense lay in ornate pots and lamps, along with other unidentifiable spices and musks.
“Who’s trying to kill you?” asked Simov, as unbelievably as he could. He looked around warily.
“It’s the Mitschcult. They left a skull-worm in a jar in my room last night.”
“The Mitschcult?” Simov was angry. ‘What the hell are they doing here? I thought we heard the last of them when they all got arrested in Thidaz!” He then muttered some obscenities and turned to Shellare. ‘Well, what have you done to annoy them this time, huh? Which prince did you seduce and rob?” She turned away tearfully,
“If you must know it was Azjazz.”
“Azjazz Azjazz the Plonker!” expostulated Simov. ‘Were you out of your mind? How pissed were you! How much sop did you have? Azjazz… ” Simov stammered, blasphemed, then continued, “Azjazz would have been locked away ten years ago if he wasn’t the Caliph’s son! You must be out of your mind.” he gesticulated wildly, “I’m not having any more to do with you!” and he strode off down the corridor.
A phalanx of guards marched around the corner in front of him. He turned quickly on his heel.
As he went past Sheilare she kicked him in the balls with all her strength. He gasped, wretched, and tumbled to the floor in agony. When he opened his eyes the Caliph’s Chief Advisor was standing over him sneering down his beak-like nose.
‘Well there we have,” he said in his best nasal-superior voice, “all the evidence we need to lock you away to rot for the rest of your life in the Caliph’s deepest, darkest dungeon.”
Simov looked at Shellare and she sparkled at him. He shivered, and his bones turned to water. He saw the green rock in her eyes, and disappeared, without the stage flourish, but with the adrenaline of sheer panic and fear in his blood.
As he disappeared he felt Shellare grasping after him, but he shook her off. Disappearing was, after all, his trademark.
When he rematerialised he thought he was in the nether-world. It was totally dark, palpably black. He could sense no walls or any form of dimension around him, only the smooth, neutral floor. His head span momentarily. It had been a large jump. Not very good for the health. Then Simov perceived some sort of green glow. At first, he thought it must be his eyes going after the jump, and that the black was also due the jump affecting him. He squeezed his eyes shut and counted to ten. When he opened his eyes, the green blur was still there. Stretching his arms out in front of him Simov crept towards the green. Suddenly it dawned upon him that the green blob was not just a blob, but a man. He was directly in front of it. The green glow showed the man’s features and clothes in eerie shadows that never stood still. The man appeared somehow to be half embedded in the wall, like a statue cut in half and the front half glued to the wall.
“How the hell did he get there?” said Simov in awe. He touched the green delicately, and as he did so, a number of very strange things happened.
He saw Shellare looking for him, the deadly Marble in her eyes. He saw the Imagination chained, desperately writhing to break free, to the Marble Plains, and how they sucked things in like a gruesome black-hole. He saw Troley, cursed and Imprisoned by the Marble Plains’ warping of reality, gone mad.
And he saw the figure stuck in the wall step out and stand facing him.
Light returned. Simov the Disappearing Showmaster found himself face to face with an extremely agitated Chini. “Aaagh!” screamed Chini, clutching his head. He fell heavily to the floor.
The Showmaster looked around him. The room was about twelve paces long and five wide. He could see no door.
Then he bent down to Chini, made sure that his back or skull weren’t broken and that his pulse was steady, then
attempted to wake him.
After thirty seconds of steady slapping the Showmaster lifted Chini’s eyelids.
Green light blazed up at him furiously, knocking him backwards so he hit his head on the floor.
“Ow,” said the Showmaster, His head was spinning again. He felt the lump on the back of his neck.
Then he noticed a puddle of magenta near his foot. He looked around
The wall was bleeding. Tears of magenta oozed out of the four walls.
By now the Showmaster’s mind was so stunned by all this strangeness, the room, Shellare, that it seemed distant and unrealistic. Thus he stood there gormlessly while the paint slowly crept up the walls.
Then Ghini gagged as he choked on the paint, gasped, sat up and spewed.
Glad you’re feeling better,” said the Showmaster, recovering some of his sense of reality. “I’m the Showmaster. You can call me Simov.”
“I’m Chini,”said Chini as if he wasn’t sure.
The two shook hands. Chini was covered with paint and paint was now trickling out of the walls and had risen rapidly up to their knees.
Chini looked around him bemused.
‘How do we get out?” he said at last.
“Get out of what?” said the Showmaster.
‘Oh I see,” said Chini,and closed his eyes. They both concentrated.
The Showmaster cast a ‘Hello’ at Chini and their minds met.
The room and the paint shuddered. The scene flickered, and suddenly mere was a door. The door smashed to pieces, the paint flooded out and disappeared completely. Chini collapsed against the Showmaster, who he now knew intimatey.The Showmaster, who was used to that sort of thing, sat him against a patch of colourless wall until he recovered,
They both went to the door.
Be careful now,” said the Showmaster. Chini walked smoothly through the door. The Showmaster followed. As he walked through, the door snapped shut.
The Showmaster was shivering and sweating with fear. The heel had been chopped off cleanly, exposing his skin.
It was the Showmaster’s turn to collapse.
“It nearly got me,” he gasped, and later, “We must be more careful.” The corridor stretched off for twenty places in both directions, then rounded corners simultaneously.
The Showmaster looked fearfully in both directions. This way,” he said.
They started off down the corridor. Suddenly the Showmaster jerked to a halt and frenetically thrashed Chini back. He seemed to be peering at an empty patch of air.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a quill. He held it and advanced it slowly along the corridor, sparks flew out. The Showmaster withdrew the quill slowly and carefully. All that had passed beyond a certain point in the corridor I been chopped off.
Showmaster jerked around and rushed down the corridor in the opposite direction.
“Don’t move!” he yelled to Chini. When he had gone halfway down the other end of the corridor he saw what he was looking for. The top two thirds of the feather were suspended at the height and the place the Showmaster had poked it in the other half of the corridor. The showmaster carefully paced from where the feather was suspended, to the place where the door had been, and from there to where Chini was standing.
“The same,” he cried, “We’re trapped again!”
He carefully drew in chalk a line across the floor where the two magical barriers were.
“Skullshield.” he murmered, “Skull shield.” By now Chini had vaguely grasped what was happening.
“You mean if we step across there,” he knodded towards the chalk is, “We’re gonners?”
“Worse than that,” said the Showmaster. “We’ll be suspended on the opposite end of the corridor forever. I know
where we are now.” There was desperation in his voice. “The Prison of Eternity.” After a pause said thoughtfully, “I wonder where the inmate is. ”
As if on cue there was a scream and a strange man rushed at them from both ends of the corridor. There was a blinding flash and a silent explosion. In the middle of the corridor the charred bones of a human crumbled to dust as they hit the floor. Where the barriers had been, the walls floor and ceiling were charred their substance bubbled momentarily from the heat. Bits of wall pinged and whizzed off as it cooled down.
“Hell’s teeth,” said Chini.
“A machine,” said the Showmaster pointing to the charred sections of wall, “No psychic reverberations. It was just pushed from the wrong direction.
“Oh,” said Chini. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
They walked to the end of the corridor and passed around the corner. In the room thousands of green things wriggled out of the wall and crawled or rolled across the floor, but they sank in it before they could reach the door. They squeaked feebly as the floor absorbed them.
As the last of them bled out of existence the room warped, and Troley emerged from the floor, sane and hungry. “Bloody hell, ” said Troley, trying to rub his stomach and his head, both of which were a mite unstable, at the same time. Then he got up, jerked indecisively at the junction, then ran after Chini and the Showmaster.
5: The Game
General Genocide, Major Disaster and Corporal Punishment playing were all playing rotary chess. In the comfortable, pleasantly lit living room, in front of the log fire which Corporal Punishment fed another log or some coal now and then, stood two chessboards on two identical tables. On either side of each table was a comfortable chair.
To the left of the fire sat Major Disaster and Corporal Punishment. To the right, General Genocide dozed peacefully in his chair. Corporal Punishment mumbled to himself fiercely (as he imagined). Major Disaster fidgeted nervously. He was waiting for Corporal Punishment to make a move.
Corporal Punishment stopped mumbling for a moment and looked sideways at General Genocide. When he saw he was sleeping an evil little grin lit up his face, and he reached out to the board and carelessly moved a castle forward.
Then he jumped out of his chair, flopped down in the one opposite General Genocide and shouted as loud as he could (and in his best military voice),
“Corporal Punishment reporting as directed SAAAAAHH!”
At the ‘Saaaahh!’ General Genocide jerked awake and glared at Corporal Punishment who said quietly,
“It’s your turn sir,”
“Oh, you’ve had your go at last,” said General Genocide nonchalently. He peered hortily at the chessboard and flicked a bit of biscuit which had somehow got there into the fire. He raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“I don’t recognise this arrangement,” he thought,” I’m losing. I bet Çorporal Punishment has been cheating.” He glared sharply at him. “Have you been cheating?” he demanded.
“No sir, “said the Corporal somewhat, abashed, ” It’s impossible to cheat. You see, we all swap places…” he was cut off.
“Yes, I see, “said the General. ‘Turn around.”
“W…what?” stammered Corporal Punishment.
“Yes, I said turn around!” ordered the General. The Corporal turned slowly around in his seat and looked at the mantlepiece.
General Genocide shuffled the pieces noisily around the board. He put his Queen back on, and completed his rooks and castles, and left Corporal Punishment with only his king and a few pawns.
“You can turn around now,” said the General.
The Corporal did so. He was very annoyed. General Genocide was winning now, and he had cheated, blatantly abusing his rank. General Genocide smirked, got up and sauntered to the other table. Major Disaster looked at him in astonishment.
“Your move, ” General Genocide rapped at him like an order. Major Disaster jerked nervously, knocking a few pieces over.
“You clumsy fool!” shouted General Genocide, “Are you trying to cheat as well? Pick them up and put them back where they were!” Major Disaster reached out a shaking hand and managed after a few tries to put the pieces upright and more or less in their squares.
To his satisfaction General Genocide realised that Major Disaster had released the pin on his bishop. Major Disaster moved a pawn forward ineffectually. He got up and sat in front of Corporal Punishment on the table. Corporal Punishment ignored Major Disaster and carried on glaring at General Genocide who totally ignored Corporal Punishment and settled back to sleep. Corporal Punishment tossed his head back contemptuously and said, loud enough for General Genocide to hear clearly,
“Cheating indeed.” Then he turned his gaze to Major Disaster. Major Disaster had meanwhile reverted to a state of semi-dormancy and sat with his eyes open but unfocussed. He was dreaming of the meadows of Austria, the sweet, fragrant pastures of the mountains. He could hear goat-bells tinkling… but no, that was Heidi.
“Oh damn,” thought Major Disaster, “That’s spoilt it now,” and he was so upset that Heidi and her goats were immediately stricken with hideous cancer which ate away at them horrendously quickly until only dust was left which blew away in the wind. “Oh well,” said Major Disaster in his dream.
Then, in the distance down below him he saw a man rushing towards him. He was obviously very annoyed about Heidi and her goats and was going to kill Major Disaster with his shiny axe. Unfortunately, Major Disaster couldn’t move, and he whimpered to himself as the man got closer.
“You killed her! You killed her!” he cried, gaining ground impossibly fast.
Suddenly he was standing over Major Disaster, axe high above his head.
“No!” screamed Major Disaster, and at last he was able to movê. He grabbed the man, who looked strangely like Corporal Punishment, and wrestled with him for his life.
“Have you gone mad?” barked Corporal. The chess board crashed to the ground. General Genocide sprang up and went over to try to pull Major Disaster off Corporal Punishment whom he was attacking wildly.
The three of them rolled about the floor, Major Disaster fighting wildly, his eyes half closed.
Suddenly out of the clamour the phone began to ring. General Genocide heard it first, and immediately tried to disengage himself from Major Disaster’s vice-like grip on his legs. Eventually he gave up and
dragged himself along by his arms towards the telephone. Corporal Punishment had sat up sharply and smashed his head against the heavy, marble mantlepiece, and he was now more dazed than Major Disaster, who was being gradually woken up by the telephone ringing and by being dragged along the floor. He released his grasp and lay uncomfortably among the chess pieces scattered around the place.
As General Genocide went to answer the phone, Corporal Punishment gazed transfixed at a chess-piece which had fallen into the fire. It was the black king.
“No!” he cried and reached into the fire to take it out.
At the same time General Genocide was picking up the phone.
Major Disaster jerked rigid.
General Genocide screamed in agony and dropped the phone. Corporal Punishment smiled vacantly. In his hand the chess piece still burned.
The room was filled with a terrible noise. General Genocide disappeared up the telephone like a vacuum cleaner. Corporal Punishment was engulfed in black flame.
Major Disaster screamed, and half of him caught fire while the other half disappeared down the telephone.
The screams faded, and the terrible noise which could have been grinding, leaving the room as empty as space. The chess-pieces were green and wriggly, and the mantlepiece had disappeared.
6: The Door (kills sleep)
Chini and the Showmaster wound their way through the impossible snake-like twists of the corridor.
“We’re going nowhere,” said Chini
“Yes,” confirmed Simov, “but slowly.” he appraised.
Suddenly they rounded a corner and found themselves in some sort of art gallery.
Strange and mostly disturbing pictures lined the partitioned
room. Chini climbed up one of the partitions (they barely touched the ceiling) and reported that the room, partitions and all, seemed to go on indefinitely. Chini was about to climb down the other side when the Showmaster cried him to a halt:
“No! Stop!” he cried. Then, before he could explain, Troley came rushing around the corner out of breath. He leaned against the wall, hands braced, against his knees. When he could talk he raised his head to the astonished duo,
“I’m glad I caught you before you went any further. The Gallery is full of hidden perils.”
Chini climbed down, on the right side. Ignoring Troley for the moment Simov addressed Chini,
“When you bent down below the barrier I saw it move,” he said as if that was a perfectly satisfactory explainaion. “That’s right,” said Troley.”Allow me to demonstrate.”
He approached a ‘painting’ of a pair of gaping jaws.
“I sky pie,” he said.
The room was filled with prescient tension, and there the jaws gobbled Troley up in one gulp.
The room was still for a moment, but not really, as if somewhere very near lots of sinister things were happening.
For some reason both Chini and the Showmaster’s attention was directed simultaneously at an image of some wild- looking raggedly-dressed humans who were worshipping à sculpture of a human statue. They were in a cave, and the figure was carved in marble. It burned gently.
Then the marble image grew and grew, swamping thé picture, until it burst from the wall and stood before them.
The marble bent, flexed then shattered, scattering pieces everywhere. Troley emerged.
“Good, eh?” he said.
‘Who made this place?” said Simov, slightly awed.
“Nobody,” replied Troley,”although it had something to do with the Marble Plains,” he said. Then he jerked his head around to examine a picture on the other side of the gallery.
“Oh dear,” he said, obviously an understatement. He was examining a picture of a living room. It was very untidy, and where three figures could have been there was marble. Where the mantlepiece should have been a strange creature was suspended in mid-air. It was a bit like a big cat, black as night with green-glowing eyes like coals. It had huge fangs and serpent wings and numerous other mixtures which swapped and mutated around the creature’s body, giving it a deadly, unfathomable air. From it an unnatural wailing noise emerged and filled the room and its occupants’ minds.
“Got.. to.. look away,” gasped Troley, and did so, breaking the spell. Chini and Simov were also released.
Troley was gaping at something behind them.
“Bloody hell,” whispered Troley. While they had been held by the painting a solid, reinforced wood/metal door with deep-set features and complicated, sturdy locks and bars had appeared, opening outwards to the corridor they had just come down.
However, above the door was a sign, or rather a sign post. The sign read, ‘Marble Plains this way’.
There was no other way out, or in.
Suddenly Chini, Troley and the Showmaster all felt very, very sleepy, they crumbled to the very ground where they stood and slept, while the paintings grinned and the door occasionally rattled.
7: Troley’s Dream
Troley dreamed that he was living inside a can. The inside of the can was clean and had never been used. Each day he would try to climb the smooth sides of it to the teardrop of sky in the roof of the can, but he couldn’t make it, because the sides were too slippery, and the hole seemed further away each day.
One day he just gave up and lay on the floor, and suddenly viscous brown sweet sticky liquid started pouring through the hole.
“Bloody hell,” thought Troley,’This is disgusting! Yuk!”
But he found he could swim in it and before long the opening was nearly within his reach.
He stretched out his arms to grab the edge of the hole. The edges were incredibly sharp, and blood trickled down his arms and body from his cut hands, and into the brown liquid where it bubbled and gushed.
Finally, he pulled himself out and into the glorious sunlight.
But it was neon. And he was in another, much larger can. And all, around him he could see hundreds of other cans like his, covering the floor of this new, big can, and people were emerging from those cans like pupae, and standing in despair, hands bleeding.
Then through the hole in the gigantic can came a huge silvery robot bee with eyes that shone like glee. It was a terrible creation, for its size had left it starved and constantly needy for nourishment and energy. It sucked people’s brains out and left them, then when its nerves were tingling with power it came back and ate the dead corpses too.
But it made straight for Troley, and everybody saw that. They turned in horror to watch.
However, instead of sucking his brains out the bee gently hooked its legs around Troley and made as fast as it could for the hole in the can. The people below him cried out, but they didn’t know what to say.
They emerged from the can. There were more cans, more people, and they were in an even bigger can. The bee flew as if it was desperate to leave, which it was, because as soon as it had done this task it could return to its feast.
So, they flew on, faster and faster, past more and more people and huger and huger cans until when Troley looked down the people looked more like insects, and then they went through more cans, bigger, huger, until their sides were lost, and the people formed a seething mass like a carpet…
Troley blinked. There was a bolt of green light from the sky which struck the ground and spread like a wave, presumably to the very edge of the can, and there was no mistaking the surface it had created: the Marble Plains.
The bee deposited Troley gently on the Marble Plains and disappeared down a hole which closed up silently.
“Well?” shouted Troley, “Is that it? Is that what you wanted me to see?” He spat with disgust on the Marble Plains and to his horror discovered that they were no longer static.
“Damn,” he cursed, “Damn, damn, damn!” he shouted at the Plains, but nobody heard. He started to run.
Troley felt like he had been running for days. The heat beat down upon his face. The hot desert sun beat down on his face.
“Yes,” he thought, “This is how I always imagined it to be.” And drew little satisfaction from that. Then he thought he saw a dot on the horizon. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, but it was still there. Time passed, and Troley forgot the dot, but when he noticed it again it was nearer, and it was the door, he remembered it from the Art Gallery!
So, he kept his eyes on it and ran towards it. However, as he got nearer he felt the marble beneath his feet change, and become like mud, impeding his progress. The mud-marble was up to his waist, and he was moving slower than a crawl. The door was a stone’s throw away. Then he could no longer move, the marble was too thick. To his disgust he felt it hardening around him.
“Help!” he shouted, “Help me!” Behind the door Chini and Simov were panicking. They had woken up to find Troley seemingly dead, his face pale, and had discovered only a faint pulse to assuage their fears. His eyes were still shut.
“I daren’t even attempt to awaken him,” said the Showmaster, “It might kill him. ”
He and Chini looked at each other sadly. Then they heard a shout: “Help!”
“Someone’s crying for help!” said Chini. He looked at the door. “From, behind here! It’s Troley!” He began undoing all the locks on the door. Then he discovered a little hatch and opened that
instead. Thrusting his face into it he peered out. He could see… nothing. Troley could see Chini, he waved, and gulped in horror as he felt Chini’s gaze pass through him.
“He can’t see me!” he thought.
Meanwhile, behind the door, Simov tore Chini away from the hatch. He pointed at Troley on the floor.
“Look!” he whispered, “He’s starting to fade!”
And he was right. Chini rushed to the hatch.
“Troley!” he shouted, “I can’t see you, but you must come back! Your body’s starting to fade!”
“Yes, I know, I can feel it,” replied Troley, “But there’s nothing I can do. The Marble Plains have got me. If I don’t get back to my body, it’ll fade, and I’ll be stuck in the Marble Plains forever.” The thought, appalled him and he gasped hysterically, “For God’s sake help me! I don’t want to die like this!”
Chini told him to hang on and faced Simov.
“It’s all right,” said the Showmaster,”I know what to do. Tell him we’re going to finish him off quickly.” He held a knife in his hand and looked ready to use it. Chini rushed to the portal.
“Simov’s going to kill your body! He’s got a knife!” An angered cry arose from the mist which had risen up outside the door.
The Showmaster held his knife by Troley’s head.
Troley’s eyes blinked open and he threw himself at Simov as if he meant to kill him.
“Don’t!” said Simov,”I saved you!”
Troley stopped. He put his hand to his head and gazed at the door.
“Bloody hell,” he said.
8: The Creosote Brothers
Hub and Treb walked the Marble Plains. They didn’t know where they were. They couldn’t remember how they had got there, but they knew they were there, and that they were dying. The Marble Plains, shifting malignantly beneath their feet, had acted like a slow cancer on their bodies, turning them gradually into stone.
“Hub,” said Treb as they shuffled along, side by side in their rags. “Yes Treb?” said Hub.
“Are we there yet.?”
“No, I dont think so,” said Hub. Living marble stretched from horizon to horizon, without feature.
“It’s just that I can’t go on much longer. My bones are turning into marble.”
“I know,” said Hub. Suddenly he halted, peered into the distance. “Wait a minute. What’s that?” he said.
“What’s what,” said Treb.
“Over there,” pointed Hub.Treb looked,but all he could see was the heat-hazy air rising off the Plains.
“I can see something,” Shouted Hub, “I can see it! We’re nearly there!”
With that he started running off into the distance. Treb followed, although his joints ached, and he could see nothing.
‘Wait for me!” he shouted.
9: The Showmaster Breaks Back
For the first time, as he considered the situation carefully, the Showmaster considered jumping out, which he was certain was possible. Nothing and no-one had ever stopped him from disappearing before.
“I’ll just jump a few metres over there, ” he thought. He held his breath, concentrated and ‘ping’, he was gone! “Bloody hell,” said Troley.
But the jump wasn’t instantaneous. He found himself floating in an empty ether. He could not find himself, nor the Art Gallery. Panic flooded through him, and he realised the foolishness of what he’d wasn’t dealing with the normal world, reality, space and time it, but the warped, psychotic physics generated by the Marble Plains.
In the darkness he felt himself buffeted by huge forces, intrusions the normally calm ether he had previously experienced, though only through a vague image, as the transition was normally instantaneous.
He felt various forces trying to suck him in, and with relief he saw the ‘windows’ Troley had used in the art gallery and dived into one of them.
He emerged in the living room. The phone dangled uselessly the chess pieces were scattered all over the place, and the hideous beast above the mantlepiece glided down to face him.
It transformed continually in front of him, wings, talons, tentacles,
jaws, and thousands of permutations of indiscriminate limbage and form. Its eyes, which seemed the only constant feature, glared green and laughed at him.
The transformations grew more intense, the creature was about to strike.
If he moved, the Showmaster was certain he would be struck down. He had no weapon or defence. He was powerless against this awesome creature.
The creature mutated, faster and faster, until the air cracked and hummed with its transformations.
The Showmaster saw, or rather felt it reaching out for him, and out of the blur of movement features emerged,
and he recognised Shellare.
“You didn’t think I was that powerless and simple that you could escape me that easily. And now you will pay!”
A choking stench reached out for the Showmaster, and he jumped, but it was hard, incredibly hard, and he felt himself
weaken as his poor mortal body was deprived of air.
~ Shellare had been ready for this, but he dived at the picture, a move which should have crushed every percipience and left his mind and being shattered, but he was the Showmaster after all, and he felt his powers reaching new levels as he made contact with the barrier separating the picture from reality, and he struck the dimension door where there was no path, his senses screamed and he smashed through the glass in front of the picture and entered his body again which tumbled to the floor. But he was alive.
~ Shellare had been ready and blocked his jump, but he saw another, more dangerous way. To Shellare’s astonishment he turned away, for his mind had been stretched beyond endurance and found a new level, and he could see the boundary of the picture, where it pulsed with energy, separating the picture from reality.
He threw himself with all his energy and a mighty shout of incantation at the barrier. The Marble Plains blinked, and in that fleeting moment Simov broke through the illusion and returned to the gallery, where his body stood on the brink of death. His spirit entered it and he collapsed to the floor, stunned.
~ Stretching his consciousness until he could see hidden places, he saw the Marble Plains, but there was no way there; so he turned once more to the room, and he could see the gallery, pale reality beyond the picture, and then he launched himself with body and mind, his intent to break free from the picture, and illusion, and return to the gallery where his body stood on the brink of death.
All Troley and Chini saw was the Showmaster shimmer, his body freeze. Then nothing happened for a second, but they felt the prescient tensions build up again to a scream like a jumbo jet.
Then the picture of the deserted living room lit up like a firework and seemed to explode from the wall, leaving a gaping hole out of which something moved faster than the eye could follow.
Then the room returned to normal (except that the monster had gone) and the Showmaster collapsed to the floor.
“This is getting out of control,” said Troley,”It’s got to stop.”
“I want to go home,” moaned Chini.
Suddenly there was a crescendo of noise as every alarm in the place went off.
The noise was deafening. Even Simov stirred, his poor brain driven to consciousness from where it had been lying, licking its wounds in the darkness.
The reason (or reasons) for all the noise was Hub and Treb. You see, what Hub and Treb had seen was actually something, and not just a mirage.
After a long time, they had come to an area cordoned off by thick, blood-red cords and ornate supports, just like in a museum.
In the area were lots of sheets of paper, and a pen in clearing in their midst.
Above this area a sign floated, and again it lookèd exactly like a museum sign, which would have meant nothing to Hub and Treb who had neither been to a museum, nor ever even heard of one, and would not have remembered anyway, such was their plight However, they could read its writing. It read:-
“HERE LIES THE SPOT WHERE THE OLD RADICALIST SAT IN ANCIENT TIMES. (HUR HUR)”,
…and had a big arrow pointing down to the clearing amidst the paper. Once the two had read the sign, it spun itself around neatly. The other side, which now faced them, read,
‘WARNING: THIS AREA IS STRICTLY NO ENTRY. TRESPASSERS WILL AND HAVE BEEN.”
“Will and have been what?” thought Hub and Treb simultaneously.
Hub and Treb stood facing the sign, and their faces suffused with
anger at the cruel injustices perpetrated upon them. “I was a young man,” yelled Treb hoarsely, “and now I’m old,” he cried terribly. At that they both seemed to snap inside, and they wrenched the barrier and its ornate posts and trampled on the yellowed sheets of paper, kicking them around in clouds. And that was what set the alarms off. (But Hub and Treb hardly noticed them. They tore paper and bent the ornate posts and swung them around by their cords, and Treb broke the byro in two.)
Troley, Chini and the Showmaster broke through the door, away from the terrible noise, and burst onto the Marble Plains.
The noise of the alarms now pierced the brains of Hub and Treb and they bowed and scraped fearfully, thinking the vengeance of the Plains was upon them.
Once he had taken the situation in, Chini went and closed the door to shut all the noise out. He was careful to make sure all the latches were off, so he could open it again.
“Oh sod,” moaned Troley, “We’re back here again,” but the ground seemed firm enough and Troley relaxed a bit.
The Showmaster was talking to Hub and Treb. This was extremely difficult because for a start they couldn’t understand a word he was saying, and Hub and Treb, although they looked human, were not. For some reason, they had been changed when they had entered the Marble Plains.
After a few minutes the Showmaster gave up.
Then all was quiet, and all five of them stood gazing blankly at the awesome, barren Marble Plains, glittering in the sunlight.
Then Troley and the Showmaster started talking seriously.
“It is possible to go somewhere on the Marble Plains,” said Troley, “But it’s very difficult, and mostly a matter of luck.
However, we can speed things up a little a little.”
A mischievous grin spread across his face.
Out of his pocket he produced what looked like a fish-knife, with a wooden handle and matching sheath.
But when he opened it, instead of a normal blade it had a strange incredibly thin piece of wire which hummed
evily. A nauseous smell drifted down like a veil and dulled their senses like an old black and white film.
Put it away!” said Chini faintly, although he wasn’t very far away, however Troley ignored it and he was now
grinning. The Showmaster also seemed somewhat less affected and as Troley bent down, Simov did the same, watching intently.
Troley stabbed the stiletto into the Marble Plains.
Painfull light shone from the place where the dagger entered the Plains. Troley and Simov seemed to be haloed in the light, which pierced the shadows of the knife but didn’t dispell them.
Troley seemed to be struggling painfully with the knife, and Simov now also gripped it. The turmoil increased, and Treb and Hub walked slowly into the light, and they felt it cleansing the poison from their bones.
Chini was left on his own, outside the group, and he sank to his knees in the powerful radiance, and thence to the ground.
But as he did this a harsh wind swept across the arid Plains, and it was freezing and cold and cast ice into the hearts of men and even the plains themselves were stilled from their malice.
Mind and thought ceased on the Plains, and there was cold, nothing else save the faint symbiosis of the humans and the Marble Plains; for the Marble Plains clung desperately to the spirit and comradship of the Summoned, and even though it loathed it the feeling was buried with all other thoughts in the ice and the need for survival. And the Summoned fed on the vast reserves of energy beneath their feet, and though they moved not oxygen reached their brains and they lived.
Thus it was with all the rubbish the Marble Plains had sucked in, and other people too. If one knew how to get to them there were, in fact, vast tracts of junk; old gloves (odd pairs), vacuum cleaners, empty cigarette packets, lipstick, straw, pens, toilet rolls, old toys, wigs, cars, there was acres of the stuff. The Junk could also be reached via a cupboard in the Prison of Eternity. Troley had once found it, but not wishing to die he had not entered. By the time he was mad he had forgotten about it.
Now all the junk was frozen solid, merely by what moisture there had been in the air. The odd waterbed was, of course, now an icebed.
Thus, for a time, the Marble Plains were again greatly diminished, though not as severely as before when the Radicalist brought them to stillness.
END OF PART 1
There was a darkness in the sky which exceeded night. It crawled into men’s brains and bodies, so they drank themselves to sleep, or fought each other bitterly, or sulked in depression. This type of night was called the Black Pool. Luckily, they didn’t happen very often. They were never talked about.
The group of warriors known as Wolfgang had gathered beneath the friendly oak tree which sat like a beard in the ten square kilometre bowl known as ‘The Gash’ or ‘Battle Plain’ in the local language. The men had already lit a fire, to try to help them forget about the Black Pool, and they talked and argued and hustled with each other while flames rose into the warm night. They were awaiting their leader. The Gash was really one huge ashpit, with nothing living on it except for the tree, which sat silently like a pillar. No wind disturbed its branches; it was called Rock and was extremely ancient. Then, in the distance, a horse’s hooves. The warriors fell silent. A shadow on a horse was approaching. The largest, strongest warrior strode half a dozen paces away from the group towards the rider. His huge sword hung by his side, and on his other side he carried a shield strapped to his arm. He wore a breastplate, and a fancy helm, but otherwise no armour. Under the breast-plate was a leather jerkin. He had on him also a dark cloak, which swayed in the wind. His face was Mongolian in lineage. It bore a moustache, and his hair was swept back and held in a rough pig-tail at the back by a bone-circlet. On his back were spears, arrows and a bow. The rider brought his horse to reign insultingly close to the warrior, enveloping him in a dust cloud raised by crossing the bowl. When all was still the warrior spoke in a hoarse voice,
“What is your name?”
The rider replied, his voice like the rasping of worms,
“Sorvast. There are two,” He turned his visage to the tree. There was a rustling of movement as the warriors turned also, and saw another dark rider, previously unnoticed, sitting on its horse beneath the tree. The big warrior turned to face the first rider again, who answered his unspoken question. “She is my sister, Bule. Bule of the Fountain, in the City. She is needed here tonight. Tonight, we go out. Onto the plain,” There was fidgeting among the warriors, mumbling. The big warrior, named Kahn, snorted. “Do not show contempt. You do not understand. It is the Black Pool. We must go tonight, it is foreseen. Your job is to lead the men where we would go. Now we leave. The two horse riders galloped off across the bowl, raising dust cloud behind them. But it, and they, soon disappeared into the glutinous night, and the
warriors were left alone, feeling vulnerable, talking nervously amongst themselves. Kahn snorted again and strode back to the men. The fire had gone out.
2: The City
The city existed in much the same way as a crippled, ailing old man. Things, people, food, passed into it, this smashed and decrepit thing, and were made use of, and what was left was passed out; it imitated life, but it was listless and machine-like.
The city was, however, vast. It was, its inhabitants considered, immortal, and its soul passed through the ages unchanged, a mere platform on which houses were built and knocked down, bonfires lit, urine passed, battles fought. The city was a shambling wreck, a limpet on a barren wasted rock. Food was scarce, (except for those in charge of handing it out), tempers were short as were lives; there was always someone dying. Dirty people had dirty children who died or lived dirtily and who ate dirt and met other dirty people (or lived dirtily alone). The whole city had a grey/brown aspect. When it was hot the city was engulfed in clouds of dust (insects also plagued in clouds in the hot season,) and when it was damp the mud was everywhere.
The city was a bizarre mixture of extremes. The old city, with its towering blocks looking like waffles poking up in the air, with its squat, square, pointy, angular buildings (it was in these places where the majority lived), and perhaps across a field or a collapsed area or a canal or a road or past a big wall there could be the new city. The new city was like a phantasm from a drug-induced nightmare. Luckily the garish colours were coated thick with dirt, but every morning before the sun rose thousands of paid cleaners would go around with high pressure sprays, and by sunrise the whole range of luminous, clashing colours would be exposed for the rich dwellers there; but within a few hours the colours would be covered again. All the cleaning was for nothing, however; the long-established tenants made sure they were never up until a few hours after sunrise.
When these buildings had first been built, people had flocked excitedly from miles around. But the shapes and colours were hideous, they seemed to thrum nauseatingly. Nobody went to see them a second time. It was said that the enthusiastic architect had come for week to admire his work but after that he was only seen infrequently, and turned completely mad, standing on the tallest building howling at the moon when it was full.
Sarum, the inner city, lay on that vital river, the Mosque, which was the main artery of the city. It was down this river that traders came in huge, silvery ships which rose high above the water, as did the city. A number of the population had, in fact disappeared on these ships, and never been heard of again. Nobody seemed to know anything about the ships or their occupants, who were rarely seen, or where they came from. To most people, curiosity was a luxury they couldn’t afford, along with soap, although there were, of course, numerous rumours, for example, <
“They are giants, these people, and when they leave here their ships sprout wings and they fly to the moon, where they live. I’ve often seen them flying by at night.”
But some people did know What was Going On. One such person, whose job it was to run the city, was Faltimaar Crust 3rd. He lived in the new city of course, in a sort of crescent-shaped building with various odd lumps partly obscured by the dirt and was in charge of something which he had forgotten the name of, but he was nevertheless conscientious and hard working.
“This damn city is so dirty,” thought F. Crust as he sat in his cushioned limo, gliding above the streets and poor people as he was driven to work. “Perhaps I should get on to the…the…” he was looking for some words to describe the health and hygiene ministry, which had long since ceased to function. “Oh well,” he sighed and pushed it out of his mind.
The sun shone brightly on the filthy architecture. Mr. Crust altered the polarisation in order to keep his limo dim inside.
“Can’t stand bright lights,” he mumbled.
“What was that sir?” asked his driver politely.
“Noth…” began Mr.Crust, then “None of your business,” in a horty voice. He decided to take a violent dislike to his driver. “You bastard,” he continued.
He got to his work place, a banana-shaped building which went deep into the ground, and walked up the stairs, which he had been doing since his accountant had died in the lift a week ago. He was extremely unfit and fat, so he hated it, but he didn’t want to die suffocating in a lift.
When he got to his floor (without seeing anyone else as usual) he walked along the pale corridor- to his offices. He was panting and sweating profusely. When he got to his door he tried to open it but it wouldn’t budge. He gave it a little push. It gave a few centimetres but something inside the room was in the way and preventing the door from opening inwards.
So Faltimaar took a few steps back and rammed the door. His being extremely heavy, and the door being extremely weak, it gave way with a sharp crack and it and Faltimaar tumbled into the room. He had a soft landing however, because the room was chest deep in paper. It flowed out of the now open doorway. Gusts of wind sometimes sucked it out of an open window.
“Good Lord,” exclaimed F.Crust, “How on earth did all this get out? Where’s my secretary? Miss Gleeglow! Miss Gleeglow!” he called. The office was silent. Mr. Crust looked in some of the other rooms. There was nobody.
“But who’s going to run the city?” he asked himself out loud. He sat, forlorn, head in hand on the sea of paper.
There was a faint scratching noise. Then, incredibly, the mass of paper began to move. At first Mr.Crust thought it was the wind. But the rustling increased until it nearly deafened him, and he tried to stand up and run away but he sank deeper and deeper into the paper and all the time the noise increased as the paper sucked him down, writhing and whirling like a possessed thing.
There was silence. A few sheets blew in the wind. The red-tape, the sheaves of paper, claimed another life.
Meanwhile, in the Old City, the man-eating paper had exactly zero influence. In a decaying block of flats lived the Bucket Brigade Clan, a colony of electronic whizz-kids from a long-forgotten age. They lived in dirty flats with fire-alarms, colour TVs, stereo hi-fi systems, remote controls, timers, oscillators, spectrum analysers, ana-digi converters, cordless telephones, fridge—freezers.
Unfortunately, none of this worked as there wasn’t any electricity, and hadn’t been since a sudden unexpected, unexplained power cut over fifty years prior. But that didn’t matter. The circuitry had to be waxed, polished, each component cleaned, and the cases too.
Thus, the community had subtly, and unobserved by its members, changed over the years. Its older members remembered soldering kits and designing amplifiers and repairing radios; but the new generations designed non-siliconising cleaning agents, they ware chemists and mechanics, they knew little of Darlington transistor pairs or feedback or valves.
But Harald Mutor could remember those days clearly and hated what had become of them.
“Move to the city-centre,” he would say, and everyone would reply that they were perfectly happy as and where they were thank-you very much, they didn’t listen. However, one morning Harold stepped stiffly into the dining room of their flat quarter and came up with an unexpected previously unheard comment. He said,
“I’ve been listening to this building. It is unsafe. It’s falling down. I am moving out after breakfast.”
“You can’t leave,”
“The building’s fine!”
“Why, only yesterday I was saying how sturdy it was looking,”
Harold only replied,
“It is not sturdy. It is going to fall down. I’m moving out.”
So, the old man packed his most prised circuit boards and by early evening (it took him so long because he didn’t move very fast, being an old man) he stood at the foot of the skyscraper, its ugly face with its blank-eyed staring windows towering above him. The whole family had come to watch him leave, and once more to try to pursuade him not to; but he had remained steadfast throughout this barrage of cajoling.
“Harold, ” said mother, “Please don’t go.”
However, Harold turned his stern, creased face away and a tear fell down it.
“You must come with me now,” he said, “or you will all die.”
The Bucket Brigade clan were nonchalent. Then young Vanic stepped forward.
“I will come with you,” he said, “I’ve already packed.”
“No Vanny!” cried his mother. He turned to her and said,
“I must go.”
So, the clan watched the old man and Vanic as they picked their way across the rubble strewn plaza which was surrounded on all sides by monstrous blocks. By this time everyone in the area knew, and heads
spied out the blind windows here and there. To the left, next to a gap in the encircling flats caused by the collapse of a section which happened about thirty years ago, some members of the Pentax clan were using up valuable film, leaning out from balconies and windows, photographing the whole scene.
The B.B. clan waited a few minutes then went back into their flat for supper.
After supper there was a faint rumbling and their block of flats sank magnificently into the ground. Then there was silence, and more heads poked out from the other blocks, to see the pile of rubble and the silent dust cloud
3: The Mystchcult
“Mn-nah, mnah-nah, ” said the Yongar Chefprest. He was sitting bolt upright in the ‘Lortel’ cafe, gripping his knife and fork in tense fists. People stopped eating and talking to stare at him. Buie and Sorvast came into the cafe and sat at the same table as Yongar.
“The barbarians are ready,” said Sorvast, “The signs are right. The city will return.”
“Motorcar,” said Yongar, and laughed disparagingly.
“Call the waiter,” rasped Buie.
“Waiter!” said Sorvast. The waiter came along, head bowed like a whipped cur. He was very nervous.
“You are too humble,” said Sorvast turning to Bule.
“Do you recognise me?” asked Bule intensly.
“Then you know that I feed people to the fountain?”
The Mystchcult used black magic and modified it too. They warped reality. These were facts, although they were not careless with their powers. The true bred inner-city dwellers however, in their extreme ignorance and stupidity, refused consciously and unconsciously to believe in the Mitschcult.
“Superstition blah-blah,” they would say. The Mitschcult generally ignored the high-city hallucinogenics, but they preferred to feed arrogant high-city people to the fountain, although they even tried to pretend that it wasn’t really happening to them. They kept this pretence up right until the fountain grabbed them, and then, as the pain seared their brains, they realised, and then they were sucked up and after that nobody knew. These frequent disappearances were explained by high-cits as,
“He went on one of those silver ships,” or,
“I think she decided to retire.”
The Mitschcult held nothing but contempt for them.
4: The Man from the Head
The Man from the Head arrived unexpectedly in the High City one day. He carried with him an empty, semi-translucent briefcase and wore an old vest underneath a trench coat, with black leather army boots and indeterminate grey trousers which looked sort of padded.
“He doesn’t look as if he’s came from the head,” people would say, but he had the badge to prove it.
One evening, at a particularly wild party encompassing two or three residences The Man from the Head, who was completely pissed, gathered together an unruly mob who were also completely pissed, and together they boarded one of the huge silver ships, cast off, and drifted off down the river.
Meanwhile, back at the capital, the party raged on. The music could be heard for miles around. The buildings themselves were packed full of people.
Lortel, Cavern King, was unfortunately for him standing next to a speaker. He had just met a rather pretty girl and was trying to talk to her. The press of people meant he could not, however, move to anywhere quieter. In the end he just threw the speaker out of the window where it dangled still blaring out noise.
“That’s better,” he said to the girl, “My name’s Lortel.”
“My name’s Noslos,” said the girl. For some strange reason Lortel suddenly took a dislike to the pretty girl, so he threw her out of the window. She landed in the lap of a viking two stories below on a balcony.
Lortel decided the place was much too crowded. So, he launched himself at the crowd of people hoping to start a fight but they just kicked him and swore at him, so he climbed out of the window and taking advantage of the hideous, impossible architecture he climbed up to the next floor, narrowly missing being peed on by a crazy Scotsman who was peeing out of the window because the toilet was blocked.
“Fire! Fire!” shouted Lortel as he climbed over the windowsill. People screamed, and the room emptied.
“Ah, that’s better,” said Lortel, observing the smashed, empty room. He rummaged around and after a bit he found an unopened
can marked ‘Bier’. He opened it, drank some, drank some more, finished the can, went to find another one and was disappointed. Instead he found a round, sensible girl who had one redeeming feature; a beautiful, curved nose and a Lancashire friend.
“Come with me,” said Lortel. He went out of the room, into a passageway and down some steps into the kitchen. Here amongst the debris lay the pretty girl, Noslos, in the huge arms of the Viking.
“I only come here in the winter,” he was telling her, ‘The locusts in summer have far too many calories.”
The girl, who had green arched shadow-painting emphasising her starkly pretty face nodded seriously. She was in love. She saw Lortel and threw a bottle at him, as a passing thought.
Lortel passed quickly through the kitchen, pausing only to grab a bottle of something alcoholic and to smash a few pieces of crockery.
Lortel and the girls left the party, but the two girls went back and left Lortel alone on the beach.
“Down on the beach,” said Lortel
Lortel stared melancholically out to sea, then, fascinatingly, as if in a dream, a huge
silver ship hoved into veiw. It emerged into Lortel’s view from where the bay curved out of sight
and looked to him in the dim light it as if it were emerging from the coast, perhaps from some tunnel. The boat was lit up and music echoed across the water from it, beckoning.
Lortel looked quickly around. He picked out the fastest looking boat, dropped two ugly, worthless plastic tokens which he had somehow got hold of into a nearby man’s hand (who Lortel thought actually owned the boat) who stood open mouthed as Lortel said, “Thank you”, and whizzed off in the boat.
Lortel found out quickly how to operate it and was soon speeding towards the huge silver ship.
5: The Rain
The rain came on the city and washed the muddy smiles from people’s faces. The children played in groups around the tumble-down city and the mounds of fallen rubble. The children played in the rain, came inside and sneezed and coughed a bit (not as if they were ill, but hopelessly as if resigned to being eaten by the plague) and then died. All across the city, the rain brought death, and there was nothing anyone could do. There was no need to cough or sneeze, the plague came silently and cast as its only constant sign acute depression and melancholy. As a newscaster proclaimed over the newly installed inner-city only tele-networks, “The recent rain has, it seems, a considerable propensity to the deceasement of humans; that is to say, it kills people. Personally, I would suggest perhaps an umbrella, or wellingtons…”
Then one day, a week after the start of the rain, it stopped.
The frightened survivors came slowly out of their homes onto the shiny streets and demolished back-sides of the city; and then they all knew what they had to do. They made for the city centre. By early evening some four million people were gathered around the gates to the inner city. From there they could see the hideous, bizarre colours and shapes of the inner-city which the death-rain had mysteriously exposed. They could see carcasses and bones of people who had come out into the street to die. The crowd was silent. Nobody moved. For they could see also that the city had been deserted, perhaps as little as a day ago.
The people of the inner-city had left on the huge silver ships, ‘For the better life in the west’, as they had been told by the Men from the Head. For as the rain exposed their hideous city more and more people left, even braving the rain, forming a long queue down to the docks where the silver ships lay. And now all the ships had gone.
The survivors of the rain knew that there was no more life in the city. It lay across the earth like an oily rag. Those who didn’t want to die slowly, seeing the last days of the city as they lived theirs would now leave, and turn their backs on the city forever. This a great many did.
Having seen the heart die, they would now move outwards, past all the familiar landmarks to the great wastes beyond.
Spirit In The Blanching Sky
In the Hallofthemountainking in the land of Thermobdgenemb, beyond the glass sea of Crines and the City, in a tall tower surrounded by machinery and spells sat Fgle Yregrem, the ’Polycuboid’ of the kingdom.
He had lived up to this just having made a machine which killed time.
“Hmm…” he mused, poised in front of his monster. “Guard” he called,
“Yea?” grunted the guard, poking his head inside the door. Fgle pressed a start button. The time killer rumbled and jerked to a start. The Guard screamed and fell down dead. The machine started warp the wall of the room, but Fgle turned it off quickly. The wall snapped back to its original place.
Fgle examined the guard. He seemed perfectly unharmed, except for fact that he was dead.
“He ran out of time,” thought Fgle to himself, and wrote to that effect in his notes.
Then he remembered the wall and examined that. It was exactly the same, except for some strange hyroglyphics which had mysteriously appeared near its bottom.
Fgle transferred them carefully into his notes, hopefully to decipher them at some future date.
He made a slight alteration to the machine, disabling it temporarily, then went to the door which led to the long spiral staircase down to the main Halls. When he had got to the bottom, and was walking along a minor corridor (this particular corridor, like many others, was being taken over by administration) when he bumped into P.p.p Igenit who said,
“Ah, Fgle, how’s that, time thingy going?”
“You mean my Multicausal Temporal Distortion-Negatoid Initiator?” he asked, and as Igenit was about to answer added, “Or M.C.T.D.N.I. for short?”
“Yes,” enunciated precisely Ppp lgenit.”That’s the one,” he said more normally.
‘Well I hope you do too,” said Fgle in an offended manner “Good-day to you,” he said sharply and walked off huffily.
Ppp. Igenit stooped a moment longer, mind boggling, and then shrugged and carried on walking as before.
Fgle, who was a lot sharper than a lot of people, and sharper than a lot of people besides, examined the notebook he
had pick-pocketed from Ppp Igenit and then tossed it away finding it uninteresting.
He got to the door he had been going to and kicked it open.
The Vice-Thingumy’s Secretary jerked awake and knocked a pile of carefully sorted documents from his desk with his feet which had been resting on it. He saw it was Fgle and bent down to pick up the papers, scowling.
“I have created the machine you desired,” he announced, “But unfortunately it kills people too. I will work on it, if you give me more time,” he said, then chuckled at what he had said, “Ironic,” he thought, “that last bit.” Then aloud, “It just needs tempering down a little. At the moment it is just too efficient. It kills time so well that people just don’t have any left and die.”
The Vice-Thingumy’s secretary had been prepared for Fgle’s self-indulgent visit. He just refused to follow protocol and procedure. He came bursting in here. So, he put on his calmest, most Fgle-irritating face and said,
“Sorry Yrégrëm. Not my department anymore. Try the Valentine-in-Soup department.”
“What is this? Monster! Een-ahh bentine?” exclaimed Fgle, then he calmed down a bit and after a few violent officer-lengths of pacing said,
“The Prince wants his toy. I have to make it. You wanted progress reports. I give you them. You sort it out.” He turned to leave the office. “Maybe I will feed you to my machine, eh? you wouldn’t like that, I can tell you.”
He spat on the nice new carpet and then slammed the door shut,
The Vice-Thingumy’s secretary stared after him, a horrorfull expression on his face. He stood frozen.
Had Fgle just… just threatened him? He had! Him, the Vice-Thingumy’s secretary, threatened by a mere crackpot scientist/magician; but who knew what went on in that
turret of his? The V.T.S. gasped, grabbed his report which he took in person to the Vice Thingumy, who, as it happened
was not in. (He seemed never to be in nowadays, but things were happening strangely recently). So, the V.T.S. left it on his desk which for some odd reason was out in the corridor.
“Very strange,” muttered the V.T.S., and went to find something to eat.
2: The Prince
The Royal family themselves occupied a good deal of Thehallofthemountainking. Or rather, their junk did. The rooms, with their delicate plaster and decorations, the finely crafted wooden chairs and tables, years old, clocks, whirly solar-system orreries of bronze, clockwork, all these beautiful things, now lay broken and discarded. Most of the junk was broken plastic shoes, magazines, lipstick, toilet rolls, empty cartons, chocolate boxes, crushed hats worn for a day; there was even an old sink.
The Royal family, the direct descendants of the Quadjfetopamps who had lived in the Hall for centuries were nothing more than tramps.
It was the latest generation that had messed everything up. The two Princesses, aged 24 and 31, and the Prince at 34. It was these three who broke the font on the day of their Christening. These three darling children who had gutted a good thirty rooms filled with ancient culture with fire, deliberately of course. As teenagers they had driven their mother to an overdose of pills, and their father had turned grey and died soon after.
Then things got worse. These children (for although they were now past their teens they were, and still are, children,) had then all the freedom they wanted; the rooms once filled with beauty were quickly overpowered as the three set to work turning their living quarters into one big pigsty.
It wasn’t that they were evil: they just had such an irrepressible capacity for destroying things, everything they touched.
Unfortunately, they were weak willed, and Drutgib had them wrapped around his little finger. Drutgib was feared and hated (and respected) all over the hall. It was he who now had the ultimate power of the Crown in his hands. He had slowly insinuated himself into power. The ‘Angels of destruction’ as the royals were called naturally had little interest in affairs outside their rooms (except for the kitchens) and were content to let Drutgib get on with it so long as he obeyed their foolish whims. Mostly he got off by giving them toys and things to break. They were, as Drutgib found at his peril, extremely susceptible to boredom.
Recently, in light of this, he had been trying to get some education and sense of culture into their heads, but they resisted persistently and got dangerously annoyed at the boring lecturers and books Drutgib supplied. They demanded something exciting.
Fgle Yregrem had provided a number of ‘really exciting’ toys for the Angels. There were his classic innovations like the ‘Destroyer’, a large machine, tank-like, which was armed with numerous clubs and sledge hammers and projectiles and what it did was destroy things, very spectacularly, which maybe gave the Angels some sense of kin-ship. Of course, they came up with the idea of setting it on itself, which it did, to the raucous, hysterical laughter of the Angels.
“It just smashed itself to bits!” the Prince would say and roll about with helpless laughter.
The rest of the occupants the Hall were pleased to hear this as the one time castle and had shown signs of imminent collapse in certain places. But this wouldn’t have mattered that much, it was so big no-body would have noticed much if a few rooms collapsed, as they did now and then naturally.
Fgle had had other successes; his flying vegetables, his water balloons, his funny fireworks, his bounce machine. Recently however he had produced nothing. The petulant children nagged and nagged and were told he was working on something ‘Really thrilling and mega-exciting, Maan’.
But that had been weeks ago. Drutgib was under a lot of pressure. So eventually he went up to the turret with some guards and ordered Fgle to produce his machine immediately.
“But it’s not read…” started Fgle in full protest; to Drutgib’s faint surprise he soon, however, relented, and the guards
carried the heavy, featureless hunk of metal all the way down the steps and through all the corridors to the Angel’s quarters.
They could hardly contain their excitement.
Fgle smiled, pressed a button, and stepped back. The box, which was in between him and the Angels and a relieved but with-a-slight-nagging-worry-in-his-head Drutgib, heaved and clanked. The angels, jigging with excitement, screamed and
disappeared completely. Drutgib followed suite.
Fgle manacled his wrist in a handcuff which had its chain attached to the box. The walls of the room started to wobble impossibly. The effect spread to the floor, and when it reached the box the whole lot disappeared, including the box, including Fgle.
Only Iskypie saw it go.
Then there were the strangers.
Apparently, many years ago, before Drutgib darkened the Hall with his shadow, huge silver ships had been sent to cross the unknown distances of the glass sea of Crines to discover what was beyond. One day, before it was realised that Drutgib, the Prince, the Princesses and Fgle Yregrem had disappeared, they started coming back.
Crowds of people came to watch them arrive.
‘There is,” said the Man From the Head at a public address, “a huge city, away, far away, in the East. It is set on a river but extends far into the continent. Or island,” he added after a pause. “However, the city seems to be dying. Its administration has collapsed under… mysterious circumstances,” the crowd shifted uneasily, “and its people are decadent. At the moment they pose no military threat, they have no ships or army,” the Man From the Head wondered if he should mention the Myschtcult, and thought better of it.
They had a few members aboard, in fact. These troublemakers had patted aside all attempts to control them as easily as if they had come from a child.
They quickly sorted themselves a room and took it over. As it happened it was one of the cooks’ rooms, and he was very upset and smashed the door open before anyone else knew about it.
When he entered the room, he found it impossibly dark, darker then the darkest night, except for three figures bent over an orange glow. He was drawn irresistably towards it and after what, seemed like hours of walking (even though his room was small, almost cramped) he was next to the three hooded entities.
They seemed not to notice him, but he felt as if he was being forced to look deep into the orange glow. When he did, he saw the shape of a human skull and then a blinding force overwhelmed him and smashed his brain into relatively safe unconsciousness.
From then on diplomatic, relationships had not been all they should. The cook was found, presumed drunk, outside his room and nobody believed him until three shrouded figures were found in the engine room, tampering.
They had already succeeded in partially dismantling servo-regulated engines, apparently without the aid of tools. “Impossible,” the Chief Engineer had said, “they must have nicked some,” but he was wrong.
So, the three figures, who had as yet remained silent, were conducted meek and mild to the brig, until when they were halfway there they all simultaneously decided they would rather go somewhere else, much to the astonishment of the guards whose weapons seemed completely ineffective and were broken when used as a barrier to prevent the figures moving. Broken, just like that.
In fact, the three figures, Yongar, Sorvast and Bule were finding it extremely tiring. The further away from the city and their Comrades they got, the weaker they became. But they could manage, for now.
When the rest of the people from the City were asked they replied, somewhat mystifyingly,
“Don’t believe a word,”
“Rubbish blah blah,”
Except for Lortel who said,
“They are the Mytschcult,” and would tell them nothing else, even when threatened with torture. He seemed, contrary to the others, to be scared and respectful of Mytschcult: “I will not utter their names,” he pleaded, and he was left alone.
So, the voyage continued, and the Mystchcult were left alone and the Mystchcult left everyone else alone. The cook was
re-located and given a bigger, better room to keep him quiet.
The Mystchcult spent most of their time in their room, but they could sometimes be seen, lurking in the shadows, watching, observing.
However, the problem was, what to do with the thousands of refugees? For the moment they were led through the strange crowds up to the Hall, where there was plenty of space. They were put in a remote, tumble-down area with limited access to the rest of the Hall and told to wait and be patient.
The Mystchcult disappeared strangely and a search was put on but called off again as useless, which it was in the huge, cavernous maze of rooms in the Hallofthemountainking.
Yongar Chefprest, Bule and Sorvast made straight for the quarters of the Angels (who had disappeared). Iskypie, observant servant, was the only one who saw them go in, and he followed them until they came to the roam where it had all happened.
But they didn’t go in, and there was something agitated or nervous about their movements that no man had ever seen before. They turned back, apparently after a silent conversation among themselves, and headed instead for the turret where Fgle had done all his work.
They seemed to know exactly which way to go, and soon reached the door to Fgle’s room. They opened it cautiously and creeped in.
The room was, simply, an incredible mess. How Fgle ever managed to move around it to fetch things, let alone build anything, was a miracle. But he had, and among the mish-mash of steel girders, cogs, drive shafts (and oddly a number of ornate pots, which sat in an altogether tidier section of the room and seemed to have been taken good care of), Fgle’s huge book collection, and thousands of unidentifiable objects which littered the floor, his desks and work- surfaces, were numerous skeletons and half-completed/salvaged components from machines of mind-boggling complexity and construction. These the three studied intensely, and even seemed to get some of them ‘working’ if that was at all possible considering the gross obscurity of their purposes.
It took them a good few hours but working methodically and obviously to an inter-relating plan to avoid checking some things out twice (or three times), they went through the whole room observing things, testing, looking for patterns and clues.
Towards the end of their sojorn Sorvast gasped and the others immediately rushed to his side to see what he had found. They were looking at the mysterious hieroglyphics on the wall. For they could read them. And their meaning was
Tremble with fear all who read this Ha ha har (merry/evil laughter)
The Plains were asleep
Now they have been awakened
If you tread that path
This is to let you know
Lifetimes of torment await you
On the Green Fields, the Marble Plains
They will cut you down.’
Yongar was pale and gulped when he had finished reading and stood erect.
Then all three joined hands and closed their eyes, and stood like that for half a day, silently conversing.
When they opened their eyes, daylight shone into the room and filled it with dazzling light; and there was fresh hope in Yongar, Sorvast and Bule’s eyes.
The foul night floated through the open window where Lortel, Cavern King, looked out from the unfashionable end of the Hallofthemountainking over the dark, silhouettes of houses, across harbour with its milling boats and the odd light like a lonely firefly, and up at the dark, cloudy, moonless, starless sky.
The palace lay at the top of a very steep hill and overlooked the harbour, sitting there like a squashed bug, watching, silent.
In another part of the palace Lortel could hear some sort of celebration, and if he craned his neck out the narrow window could see a snatch of light coming from the party room (or one of them) below him, in fact a long way below him was an overgrown courtyard, with grass between its marble flagstones and ivy çrawling along its walls. Beyond that Lortel could see more vegetation, perhaps an abandoned garden, which had an odd protuberance covered with vegetation poking out of it, perhaps a tree, (it was in façt a statue of Gronk the P‘a, an infamous member of the Quadjfetopamps, who had once pulled the table cloth off the table at a formal banquet in attempting to demonstrate the Theory of Conservation of Momentum), and beyond that the massive palace resumed, a clash of architecture and building techniques.
Lortel craned his neck to see how the party was going. From his uncomfortable vantage he could see clearly a drunken lady enthusiastically taking her clothes off, clumsily in time to some tune as Lortel imagined, to reveal her beautifully tanned body. That was all he could see through his narrow portion of window, this lady, dancing on top of a table. Lortel thought he could see other people on the table too, but he wasn’t, sure.
Suddenly he grew determined to join in the party. He crept down rows of fellow exiles and came to the strange, out of place doorway (it had sort of imitation-classical columns each side with intricate peristyles). Here he paused then poked his head cautiously around the door. To his pleasure the burly guard was collapsed on the floor, asleep and clutching a bottle.
Lortel moved out. Then Clang! He kicked an unseen empty with his foot. He froze, blood pounding through his head. The guard didn’t move, the night continued to be friendly in its stunned silence, except for odd motes of music which drifted in now and then from the party.
Lortel, now eagerly anticipating the party, again jerked still as he heard footsteps from behind him. He dived into the shadows in the hall he was now in.
“Lortel?” called a woman’s voice quietly. It was Ylasla. Trust her to have noticed his leaving. Anyway, he liked Ylasla, even though she was too sentimental sometimes. So, he stood up and came out of the shadows into the distant light cast by a torch outside the hall they now stood in.
“I’m going to the party,” whispered Lortel. He offered her his hand and she took it. Together they crept through the semi-lit corridors, towards the racket of the party.
Iskypie, who was too clever for his own good, had realised in some form or other the demise of his masters and so had taken power for himself. He was now the main man in the Hall. He was already muscling in with his mob and would soon be in full control.
Iskypie, unlike Drutgib, hated the administration and was having it systematically assassinated.
Tonight, it was Ppp lgenit’s turn. He was, however, not unaware of this turn of events and even as Lortel and Ylasla crept towards the party he dozed fitfully by the side of his bed, a poker in one hand and an interesting knife in the other.
Anticipating his assassination, he had prepared thoroughly for his defence. A piece of string, attached to a doorknob, would set off two huge, funnel like blunderbusses mounted firmly on a table against the wall. His windows were open, but he had slung lengths of barbed wire with small bells he had stolen somewhere attached to them out of both the windows and sat in the corner where he had a clear view of both the windows and the door.
Iskypie had watched these ridiculous preparations with a smile, and where he had an easy chance to have Igenit killed as he clumsily obtained his hardware, instead waited, as his integrity permitted until Ppp. was ‘fully prepared’.
Then one of his agents lured a drunk, disreputable woman away from the party to Igenit’s room to ‘play a trick on him’. Unmercifully he told the drunken slag to go in and give Igenit a kiss and something else better left un-named, while he promised to go and spread it around, so crowds of people could catch them at it. It didn’t have to make sense; the woman accepted the plan readily (and drunkenly).
“Surpri…” she began as she opened the door, the guns blasted off and shot the woman through with lead, blood oozed from her wounds. Igenit leapt up, at first elated at his victim and would-be killer, then sickened as he saw who it was, but Iskypie’s agent had been standing too close and had also been caught by the blast. He staggered forward, razor in hand. Igenit smacked him over the head with his poker. Meanwhile another agent ran up, having been assigned to finish the job should the first agent mess up. He meant business and slashed at Igenit’s throat. Igenit barely dodged, leaping back. He made a lunge with his dagger and to his surprise it sliced through the man’s leather armour and slit open his guts from neck to waist. Spurting blood and bodily juices the man crashed to the floor.
“Now what?” thought Ppp. Igenit.
There were three bodies on his floor, blood everywhere, and his bloody knife hummed and shone strangely. He wiped some of the blood from it and put it back in its ornate sheath. The knife was basically made of some unidentifiable
white material, handle, blade, sheath and all, and Ppp Igenit imagined it to be bone or ivory, but it was far too sharp for either and it was finely crafted and jewelled, with strange patterns and perhaps symbols or lettering along its beautiful blade. It had been passed down to him from his father, and his father be for that, and so on. We shall learn more of the knife later, and who made it.
Now Igenit had blooded the knife and rendered human flesh with it with his own hands, he was instantly changed.
He felt strange, though it was less noticeable once he cleaned the blade and put it away.
And then, inspired, or mad, or both, he pulled up his carpet at one corner and was less then amazed in his new persona to find a trapdoor there, previously undiscovered. He went down it, careful that when he closed the door the carpet fell back into place.
Meanwhile Lortel and Ylasla had come down an old stairway, past occupied couples, to the party. But no sooner had they got there than there were hoarse shouts, screams, and the party staggered drunkenly to a halt.
“Murder! Murder!” screamed one woman.
“Everybody stay calm and don’t move,” asserted a large, bearded man, and was promptly knocked down by the wave of people fighting for the exit.
‘There’s nothing to be afraid of! You animals!” shouted the man, fighting his way up from the floor and smashing his fists into any available face.
But there was nothing he could do, or anyone. When the room had cleared, Lortel and Ylasla were left standing alone, knee-deep in mess. Lortel was annoyed that he’d missed all the fun, but Ylasla wondered what was going on. She went to have a look and after a while heard voices coming from a certain room. She crept up to it, poked her head around the door and nearly cried out loud. There was blood and bodies everywhere. It was Ppp’s room.
Iskypie was surveying the scene sourly, while two henchmen scoured the room. They didn’t do it very well and found no clues to Igenit’s mysterious disappearance.
One of them went out of the window and got caught in the barbed wire.
Iskypie adresséd the other one, ignoring the pain cries and ringing of bells coming from outside.
“He must be found. Spread the word. Kill him.” Then he added, after a slight pause, “Oh, and don’t forget to torture him first for being so much trouble.”
He smiled an evil smile and walked out, without noticing Ylasla, or Lortel who was in another room.
Ylasla rushed away to find Lortel once they had gone, but when she got to the room where he had been there was only a ragged old man, studying flie
5: The Radicalist
He stood poised there, eyes wide as if astonished, while a medium sized fly buzzed dazedly around. Some sort of mirrored, metallic device dangled over his face, attached by a thin strip of metal to his headband. It made tiny whirring noises and flashed interference patterns. On his back he had more devices which dangled out of a scruffy rucksack.
He appeared not to have noticed Ylasla but he spoke, still staring into space, with a hoarse croak which was entirely characteristic with his tramp-like appearance (if you discounted the Hyperscopic Sighter elongated over his face and the other extremely expensive hi-tech equipment in his sack).
“The flies, you know, are very important. Yes, very important,” He shuffled forward a few paces and then gave Ylasla a look which chilled her bones, although she wanted to laugh at what he said, “They are not always… quite what they seem,” He added, “You see.”
Ylasla was about to ask if he had seen Lortel, when the old man said, “Your friend, you know, Lortel, if he had watched the flies he might be here now.”
“How did you know he…,” began Ylasla then decided not to ask. “What has happened to him?” she asked anxiously.
“My dear,” said the man, “I’m not sure,” and looked compassionately at her. She was just thinking that he might be some help after all when he started on about flies again. “The flies are like…. like sparks of thought in a brain,” he said poetically. Then a dark shadow passed over his face. ” If Lortel has been… taken, ” he shuddered, “the flies will lead us to him. If not the flies, then those three,” he indicated behind Yiasla.
Sorvast, Bule and Yongar Chefprest stood silently in the room, sources of tranquility amongst, the stormy mess of the room. Ylasla gasped and made a protective sign to ward off evil spirits. The old man smiled in greeting and said,
“Ah, so you are here at last. I have waited a long, long time,” As he said these words it seemed that the full weight of his years fell on him, and, he looked impossibly old and haggard. But the effect passed, and the old man smiled again. “I see you have been looking and thinking too. Thinking hard,” Then he grew serious. “But something else has happened. This woman’s friend here, Lortel, Cavern King, has disappeared.”
“No, I haven’t. I found this one, locked in a room. He doesn’t, say much,” Lortel had appeared out of a side door. Behind him came Ppp Igenit.
The three Mystcult howled with surprise as their eyes fell upon the dagger. And Ppp. felt uncomfortable, the hand that had touched the dagger itched and the dagger itself seemed to burn into his thigh where it hung from his belt.
To the Mystcult, a fearful legend had just walked in the door. Or its bearer had anyway.
The Krall, the killer knife from ancient times when the potent Moguls had devastated the Mystcult, reduced them to hiding in caves, taken them back, a hundred years of progress in their art. The Moguls had made knives like these, very few though, which had been carried by their most powerful leaders. To the Mystcult the Moguls had been barbarians, unleashing untamed energy through the blades of their weapons, channelled by their coarse, un-subtle minds. But the possession of this knife by a human indicated one fact; the Moguls, great in build, warriors who by virtue of their simple minds could harness the dark power much more effectively, if less skilfully, than any Mystchult, had declined. The great leaders had passed away and the ‘under-race’, the humans, had taken over.
This is what Sorvast, Bule and Yongar understood, although a huge era was unknown to them, being merely the ‘dark period’ of their history when Moguls ruled. But here was a slice of that past here before their eyes. And it was obvious to them that the Mogul Krall bearer had used the weapon, killed with it, and was now dependent upon it, although, he did not know it, his mind had already been enslaved by this fiendish weapon. The Mystcult could see its mark upon him and could see how it was pushing him even now to kill them. But he seemed quite strong, he may yet master the dagger of Morgül-Khanei, fifth most powerful of the Mogul in his time, out-evolved by the human society with its vices, specifically alcohol, which had brought a short end at the age of 301 to the normal thousand-year life span of these giantish people.
Hundreds of miles away the city sat on its pile of trash and burned. The refugees had burnt it as they filed slowly out, pausing in their flight to patiently set light to this city that had betrayed them.
Perhaps, as the flames roared across the deserted plains and ate into ancient wood not of this age the city howled and groaned, all its pains and trials and errors combusting in livid flames and tumbling silently into the atmosphere, hanging there like a huge bin in the sky, and onto the warm, ashy earth.
And perhaps, when the fire finally went out days later, some alien mind peered out of its weird eyes onto the fields of ash and rubble and various walls and towers which had survived and heard strange, mechanical whistling noises and a hollow whooshing in the sky. Who can tell?
Meanwhile, the Unhomed stood on a nearby hill, some Skag Top, watching until the last of the flames disappeared. When they did, the Unhomed waited until the sun peeped her pale face through the heavily clouded sky to reveal for the last time to these people their one-time city, standing as a field of greyness with dark lateral and horizontal lines, marking ditches and walls.
Thus, they left the city forever, sitting in a pool of its own stale blood.
However, in a graveyard somewhere in the city, two finger gripped the cold earth. A blob of colour, like spittle on a pavement, a huge person crouched by his own grave, breathing with disgust the foul, glazed air that now hung over the city. He gazed over himself a few times, his meagre belongings. His eyes rested on his plain metal/leather scabbard, and then froze on the bone-white gold-emblazoned haft that protruded from it. His krall-sword! The Mogul roared joyously, awakened by the footsteps and bleeding from his thousand-year sleep. He hefted the sword, feeling its balanced weight and swung it blazing with golden shards of light, dripping off its blade at the thick stump of a nearby tree. It sliced through it with little loss of momentum and he carried it through its arc to crash its way through the top of a grave stone, growling hungrily. Feel the power! After so long, re-awakened stronger than ever! He swung it at the corner stone of a nearby building, brought it hurtling down, the sword responding with black and gold waves of power, the Mogel in ecstasy as the energy roared beneath him, riding it like a surfer on the wave crest.
And then it was over, the power gone, Mahr-Ihr-Mogel (or Slickfoot as he was known in human slang) left drained and weak. He would need to rest, and eat, before his task. “What task?” he growled, his mind blurred. But the task was there, inconspicuously lurking in his mind, prodding him. For now, though, it would let him sleep. After that it would let him eat and then spur him to his purpose, this the first and greatest Mogel-Lord, demi-god, white blade wielder, Goeg Elbard, Slickfoot the Slash.
The Box came like a ray of sunshine to the Marble Plains, shocking its way through the ether and smashing a large hole in their surface which immediately healed. Drutgib and the Angels went screaming past Fgle into the opaque, nonchalant sky. They carried on falling up, but Fgle was attached to the Box which sat heavily on the pale glassy Plains. His arm was sore from where he had sped past the box, only to be jerked back to earth, Fgle watched as the figures in the sky grew smaller and smaller until they disappeared. Where they would end up, he didn’t know- he hoped it was somewhere horrible.
He looked around him. Living marble, everywhere. He could sense it stirring beneath him.
“Did I do this?” he thought, “What is this?” then his attention was drawn to the box. Its metal shell squirmed and
contorted uncontrollably, it looked like it would split. It formed recognisable shapes, flowing uncomfortably from one to another: a huge metal bird, a television, a toilet, and many strange contraptions and complex mathematical forms Fgle half recognised as being functions he had inadvertently programmed into the box.
Then the box formed the shape of a tall, tall man. It retained this form.
“I am Sin,” proclaimed the box. It strode, ungainly, to Fgle and picked him up as if he were a toy.
Then the colossus started to run. At first, it seemed not to move, but its feet pounded against the marble until the whole Plain rang, and it chanted a strange song in time with its steps:
The Plains are strong
Their length is long
I am steel, silver magic
When I die
The Plains will be
My Grave Stone
Fgle, perched on its shoulders, wrapped his arms about him. It was very cold. As he slipped into unconsciousness he noticed the sun had been getting gradually brighter, through the clouds of vapour.
Troley’s mind cast about him in uneasy sleep. He dreamed he was talking to an old man with piles of technological equipment buzzing away on his back and stacked behind him on a trolley. A fly buzzed lazily around his head and he gazed at it as if through an instrument dangling from a wire in front of his face as he said,
“Fly fly fly,” He then paused, and continued, looking at Troley, “Pull us through when the time comes, lad. You’ll know what to do. This won’t hurt a bit,” He turned to the fly and sprayed something on it- it buzzed wildly around and strangely enough bumped into a stool knocking it over. The old man gazed passively at this, then turned back to Troley. “You can do it,” he encouraged, “Oh, and, look out for that inventor- on his metal thing,”
“What a load of old rubbish,” thought Troley in his dream, but the old man was gone.
Then Troley found himself floating disembodied over the Marble Plains (He thought, “What, a strange shape,”).
He could see a blackened scar on them, and some nearby caves, where people once might have lived, but now they were rubble-strewn and blasted, deserted. He could see the piles of paper, lying on the ground, and a byro also.
Then he remembered that cold blast of nothing; what had happened? His companions and the Plains, frozen to the heart. But now he could feel the desert sun beating down, feel new powers at work, disturbing the ether.
The Plains swirled beneath him. He saw a large muscled humanoid, mind a boiling black pot, wielding a white blade with ferocious power. He saw the box transformed, racing to carry Fgle Yregrem to them before the Plains awakened fully. He experienced the huge city for the first, time, its momentum powering through time and space, how it was jury-rigged to the Marble Plains. He felt the presence of the other white-blade wielder Igenit, and the Mystchcult, spinning their webs of intrigue, aloof and powerful. He saw all this and said,
He was awake, lying on the Plains. Next to him lay Chini and the Showmaster, and, inexplicably, a toy jeep and a frog. Troley put the jeep in his pocket and the Showmaster made the frog disappear, finding it in Chini’s ear with his conjuror’s flourish.
But the Marble Plains were awake, and from the distance came a heavy thumping noise. The ground shook.
In Thehallofthemountainking the Mystchcult felt it was at last time to act. They began to chant, hands joined. Their brothers far across the sea answered and they all felt the power build. The old man raised his head in supplication at this and opened the door for Ylasla and Lortel and Igenit. They were part of it, they were deep within its folds too. Then the Morgel Lord Mahr-Ihr-Mogel thrust into the chant, pushing it further and further towards the brink. His power, distinctive,like the tast of whisky, burning and strong, towered above them dragging them on until Lortel and Ylasla, unused to this sort of thing, felt as if they would be snuffed. But they felt the old man, the Radicalist of the Marble Plain, carry them on, sheltering them.
The waves of energy built up, until they were like a huge tidal wave, crashing across the planet. And then they felt the Marble Plains.
At first it was like a dull buzz in the mind. This grew to a headache, as they approached. Now Troley and Chini and the Showmaster Simov and Fgle on his beast were part of the chant. They stood in a group, the yellow sheets of paper waving in the electric wind building up. The Plains groaned and gasped beneath their feet and… they rose gloriously, feet a few centimetres above the ground.
The minds of the Chant were now also filled with the horrible, ghastly, hellish cries of the Marble Plains as they were pushed, forced, cajoled, incremented, encouraged, steered to their destination.
Mahr-Ihr-Mogel stood in the city, and the black power flowed from him in a torrent. He was riding the wave, the tidal wave of force, and he could feel the Marble Plains approach like an anticipated orgasm, or his death.
Finally, the very substance of the air and ground screaming in agony, the Plains intersected astonishingly with the betrayed city. Marble gushed like water. Slickfoot the Slash felt the final crunch and was himself captured in the marble as it engulfed the city, moulded into place.
The Chant cried its final note…and they were there, the city was there, the New City.
Troley, Chini and Simov were standing in the Marble City. The marble was no longer malignant, but held energy and the promise of great things, a new spring in the city, with flowers of living marble.
But in the centre of the City, there atop a great column of marble, stood a figure, large in build, and wielding a white sword.
– THE END –