Sunday, November 28, 2004

Chapter 38

Seamus felt the sharp sting of the whip across his face, felt his body staggering backwards from the blow. He heard a gasp from Cassidy and a scream from Gabriela, but they sounded faint and far away, muffled by the sound of waves.

Waves? What waves? Where was he? The surface below his hands and knees was rocking and his vision was blurred. He put a hand up to his face and felt blood. Shakily, he rose to his knees, not wanting to trust his balance to his feet, and gradually focused his eyes.

He was on a tarpaulin stretched across a lifeboat, looking out onto a vast expanse of blue ocean. He heard a snarl behind him and turned around to see a hyena growling over the carcass of a zebra at the other end of the boat. He was back in The Life of Pi, just like the very first time he had bibliomorphed. This time though, the orangutan was gone, and the hyena had its eyes fixed on Seamus.

Seamus crouched back down on his hands and knees and looked around for anything that could be used as a weapon, but the lifeboat offered nothing. He wished he had had a chance to grab something from one of the rats before he had ended up here. There had been plenty of spare weapons laying around Cluny's headquarters. But then, even as he thought it, he felt something cold and hard beneath his hand. He looked down and under his palm saw the handle of a long dagger.

He barely had time to be surprised at the fact that he had managed to materialize something from an entirely different book before the hyena lunged at him. He twisted his body away just in time, swinging out wildly with the knife as he did so. The hyena got a gash in its shoulder, and missing Seamus it went scrabbling across the slick tarpaulin, losing its balance. It regrouped quickly though, and turned around to leap at Seamus again. He was better prepared this time, waiting at the edge of the tarpaulin close to the water. As the hyena came at him, he leaned in towards the center of the boat and twisted around to plunge the dagger with all his strength into the hyena's shoulder. The hyena fell, and with an extra shove it fell off the boat entirely and into the water.

A few sharks still trailed the boat, following the dripping blood from the zebra, and the hyena's splash caught their attention instantly. Within seconds, it had disappeared in a swirl of bloody water and thrashing fins.

Seamus pulled back from the edge of the boat and sat panting for a moment. Then he heard a movement from beneath the tarpaulin, and from the other end of it, he saw the large black and orange head of a tiger emerge and sniff the air. Seamus held very still. He had been lucky to get rid of the hyena, but he didn't care to try going up against a 450 pound Bengal tiger. He had to get himself out of there while he still had some breathing room, before he was attacked again.

He tried to concentrate. Cluny's tail was clearly far more than just a whip, now that he had been possessed by the evil force that was after Seamus. Rather than merely wounding him, it had thrown him into different book, where he was evidently supposed to be killed. But it didn't seem to have taken away his powers, as evidenced by the knife that he had materialized. And if he still had his powers, then he could bibliomorph himself back.

This is all fiction, he thought, and I can control it. I am no longer on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. I am back in the Church of St. Ninian, where I will rescue Cassidy and Gabriela from Cluny the Scourge.

The tiger had emerged completely from beneath the tarpaulin now, and had turned around to see Seamus, its eyes hungry. An ominous rumbling began in its throat, but as it did, Seamus' view of the world shifted and folded like a piece of paper, then reopened.

He found himself back on the stone floor with Cluny standing over him, tail in hand, laughing mercilessly.

"Hyenas and tigers aren't enough for you, eh?" Cluny said, and cracked his tail down over Seamus again, catching him across the shoulders as he tried to shield his head with his arms.

This time, Seamus found himself up on top of the Cliffs of Insanity, in The Princess Bride. A long sword, made for a six fingered man, sat heavily in his own small, normally digitized hand. The man in black, masked and with his own sword drawn, was advancing on him.

Seamus tried to defend himself as best he could. He had actually taken fencing lessons for a year in college but they might as well have been croquet lessons for all the good they did him. There was absolutely no way they could have prepared him for what he was up against now. He could tell that the man in black was just toying with him, though, a bit disappointed at the unchallenging mismatch of skill levels. He was still using his left hand, and Seamus could have sworn he saw him yawn even as his blade flicked in and out like a striking viper.

Seamus was pushed steadily back towards the cliff's edge. The man in black drew blood a few times, first from the wrist, then the shoulder, then the cheek. But they were minor cuts, carelessly inflicted. And then Seamus found himself pressed up against a rock, looking down at a thousand foot drop to the sea below. Their swords were locked at the hilts, and he was pinned. The man in black finally spoke.

"As another excellent swordsman once said to me: You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."

"You seem a decent fellow yourself," replied Seamus, recognizing the line. "I hate to die." His mind was racing.

"You cannot win, you know. Your swordsmanship is frightful."

"I know."

"Then why are you smiling?"

"Because I know something you do not know," said Seamus, reaching slowly down towards the ground with his free hand.

"And what is that?" asked the man in black.

"I am not Inigo Montoya," said Seamus. And with that, he simply pulled the cliff out from under the man in black.

The man in black fell in complete silence, with a stunned look on his face, and was quickly lost to sight. Seamus clung to his rock and replaced the cliff. He had surprised himself somewhat, as well. But really, he figured, it stood to reason. If everything there was truly fictional, there was no reason to limit himself to pulling daggers out of thin air. Anything was possible. He gripped the sword he was still holding.

"Back to Cluny now," he said. "And I'm taking the sword with me."


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