Sunday, November 28, 2004

Chapter 37

Cluny the Scourge had changed. He was still the immense warrior rat with the whip-like tail and the fearsome claws, but he carried himself differently. When Seamus and Cassidy had been brought in, he had seemed tormented, confused, a once powerful leader finding himself in the mysterious grip of something unknown. That Cluny was gone now, and Seamus could tell that the same body was now occupied by the force that had used Big Jake to create the Book, that needed his power to destroy the world, and that had kidnapped Gabriela to lure them back again for another attempt.

"I was wondering when you were going to show up," Seamus said, still standing with his hands bound behind him. He shot a quick glance at Gabriela and Cassidy, tied up in the back corner of the room, and hoped he sounded braver than he felt. "That was a pretty low trick, kidnapping Gabriela just to get at me."

The new Cluny laughed at him. "Yes, I knew you would see through the plan," he said. "But I also knew that you would have to fall for it anyway, so what would it matter? Besides, my Book was destroyed by you and your meddling friends, so you can hardly grudge me a little revenge."

He snarled on the last word and spun around to the corner where Cassidy and Gabriela were, lashing out with his tail. Cassidy threw herself in front of Gabriela, giving a muffled cry of pain as the whip cracked across her back.

"Stop!" Seamus shouted, starting to move forward. But Cluny swung back around to him and shoved him back up against the wall.

"Let them go," Seamus said, quieter now that he was face to face with Cluny again. "You've got me now, so you don't need them. Send them back home."

"Now that I have you," Cluny corrected, "it hardly matters what happens to them. And once I take your power from you, there won't even be anything to send them back to – at least, nothing significantly different from what they'll have here. You've seen my plan, Seamus. You know what will happen."

He let it sink in for a moment, then continued.

"You may have thought that your friend with the axe solved all your problems for you. He was merely destroying himself. The Book was simply an object, a creation. I could not even create it myself – it had to come from the life energy of Professor Jacob Steele, known to you as Big Jake. It was unfortunate that he found enough strength left within him to come back and interrupt us just when our little meeting was going so well. But he thought the Book was everything and he destroyed that, without realizing that the power behind it was unharmed, just as you were unharmed, Seamus, even when your journal was thrown in the fire.

"It was, of course, convenient for me that you let Gabriela take that harmless looking little book from my lair in the library. I must thank you for that – it made the next step quite simple. You see, all the books down there were under my power, simply from such sustained proximity. This meant that, even lacking my own physical form in your world, I could still exert my influence through them, much as I did through your journals, though I was limited more by each one's particular story.

"But even with that limitation, it was enough. Combined with a child's fertile imagination, it was an easy matter to lure your little friend down to her 'secret fort,' where the combined forces of all my literary minions were waiting for her. She does not have the talent of bibliomorphing on her own, of course, but we were able to use the vivid images already in her mind to pull her into her story.

"This Cluny character turned out to be quite an excellent choice, as well. I was able to let him basically handle the captures on his own. And now that I am borrowing his form, it should be very handy for getting you to cooperate."

With that, Cluny's long tail shot out towards Seamus, wrapped around his arm, and drew him in close. "Yes, I think I shall quite enjoy this," sneered the rat. Then he threw Seamus back to the floor against the wall, knocking the wind out of him.

"You can still give in and help me voluntarily, you know," Cluny went on. "But it doesn't matter much if you don't. I can always take it from you by force."

Seamus caught his breath and tried to think. There had to be something he could do. Then he remembered walking through the forest with Fezzik and Cassidy, and his experiment with the journal and creating the holocaust cloak. He still didn't have the journal of course, but he had been able to bibliomorph without it. Perhaps there was more he could do on his own as well.

He closed his eyes, trying not to pay attention to the rope digging sharply into his wrists behind him. He imagined his arms free and unrestrained, visualized himself writing in his journal. The ropes loosen, then fall off of me, leaving my hands completely free.

There was a pause, just long enough for Seamus to worry that it wasn't going to work after all. Then the pressure on his wrists was suddenly released, and the ropes that had bound him shuffled to the floor in a loose pile. He gasped as the blood rushed back into his hands and he clutched them to his chest.

"I see," said Cluny, as Seamus struggled to his feet. "You don't want to give in. You think you can stand up to me. No matter. We can do things the hard way, if you prefer."

And with that, tail of Cluny the Scourge shot out, lashing Seamus full across the face.


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