Monday, November 29, 2004

Chapter 40

Now that Cluny had been put out of commission, the force that had inhabited his body was coming loose from it, and as it did so, the coherent world of Redwall and Mossflower that they had been in began to crumble. Cracks and holes began to appear in the stone floor, and pieces of the walls and ceiling fell around Seamus, Cassidy and Gabriela, who pulled closer together, watching the strange, gray mist rise and thicken.

As the mist thickened around them, it seemed to absorb everything into it. Seeing the floor about to disappear beneath them, Seamus cast his mind about for something to catch them. The first thing that occurred to him was a flying carpet, and he pulled one out of the mist, straight from 1,001 Arabian Nights. The three floated on it as the floor vanished, along with the walls, furniture, and Cluny's body.

When everything had gone, only the mist was left, as dark and thick as newsprint. Peering into it, they could see words floating through in vague, jumbled scrawls, as they had back in the Book under the library. As they watched, the words began swirling faster, spinning around them. And suddenly they were caught up in a whirlpool, clinging tightly to the edges of their carpet, unable to control their flight.

An enormous Cyclops loomed out of the mist ahead of them. Its hideous face was scarred and tattooed, and its ears hung low with gold rings. It fixed its single eye on the flying carpet like a man about to swat a fly, and raised an immense scimitar.

"Pull to the right!" shouted Seamus, jerking at the edge of the carpet. All three of them leaned hard right and the scimitar sliced through the air inches away from them. Looking back, Seamus saw the Cyclops turning its great bulk slowly around for another swing. He felt microscopic next to the enormous giant, like Alice after eating the wrong cake. Then, under his hand, he felt something.

It was a small bottle, with a neatly lettered label attached. The label said "Drink Me." Seamus looked up. The scimitar was raising for another blow. He hurled the bottle as hard and as far as he could, and it hit the Cyclops in the chest. It was so small that the giant didn't even notice it, but the bottle broke and spilled its contents. Instantly, the Cyclops shrank, until it was smaller than Gabriela, and the magic carpet was far out of its reach.

Seamus wondered if the Cyclops had been a result of him pulling the magic carpet from the Arabian Nights, but soon there were too many other things coming at them for anything to have any logical connection. It seemed that anything remotely violent that had ever been written about was being unleashed on them.

An army of orcs swarmed around them as Mount Doom shot flames all around. Seamus found Gandalf's staff and flattened the horde with a tremendous burst of white light exploding outward in all directions. Instantly, lasers cracked through the air beside them and an alien spacecraft was bearing down from the sky. Seamus threw up a glowing sphere of energy around them that deflected the beams.

He kept the force field up, as it proved equally handy for repelling a large selection of wild animals, and for derailing the train that would have crushed them. But then a dragon appeared.

The dragon's head was easily twenty yards long, and its body was barely even visible at the end of its long neck. Its jaws were open, ready to swallow them whole. Seamus saw it and was petrified, his exhausted mind suddenly empty of ideas. Cassidy saw his eyes widen, fixed on the enormous mouth about to close in on them, and she grabbed his arm.

"Dragon's bane!" she said, shaking him. He looked at her blankly. "An herb! They're allergic to it! It's in some book, it doesn't matter which one!"

"Dragon's bane…" Seamus said, seeming to come back to attention.

The jaws closed over the three of them in the little bubble of a force field, but just before the light was blocked out entirely, they saw a green, leafy plant beginning to spread over the surface of the sphere. There was a deep, booming crash as the jaws closed, and they felt an enormous tongue begin to lift them up to swallow, but then it paused, twitched.

The force of the dragon's sneeze sent them flying out of its mouth faster than they had any way of judging, and the accompanying flames burnt off all of the dragon's bane from their protective shield. They spun out of control, back in the whirlpool of mist and words.

As they tried to get their bearings, they noticed that the whirlpool seemed different now. It was no longer quite as chaotic. It spiraled downward into what seemed like a long, dark tunnel, one that looked like it could reach to the center of the Earth. They were beginning to head down that tunnel, and Seamus realized suddenly that he had been here before. He remembered falling from a Liberator bomber over Switzerland and sinking down, down, down, before waking up the next day to discover the journal. He knew what he would see down at the end of the tunnel.

And sure enough, as they plummeted down, he could make out a simple wooden door with a glass window in the upper part, waiting for them. Once he saw it, it seemed to grow clearer and sharper, though they drew no closer to it. They kept spinning downwards, always falling, never landing. Cassidy and Gabriela had noticed it by now too, and watched it, though they did not recognize it.

The door opened, revealing a blinding light within it, and Seamus heard a voice within his mind.

Here I am, Seamus. Join me. Give me your power, and reality will be ours.

He shook his head, trying to dislodge the voice, but he couldn't stop it. It continued to beckon him, threaten him, bribe him. Its message changed, but it was never silent. Seamus clutched at the side of the carpet. It was impossible to think like this. Cassidy put a hand on his shoulder.

"What's happening? Are you okay? What is this?"

"It's… down there," Seamus managed to say. "It's… pulling… me." He was feeling an undeniable urge to simply jump, to fall through the doorway and into the light and to forget about it all. Already, the protective sphere around them had dissolved for lack of attention, and the three of them were once more left with just the magic carpet to cling to. He managed to turn his head slightly, though, and look at Cassidy. Her ears were wiggling. He tried to focus on her earring bobbing up and down. Then she spoke again.

"Alright," she said, trying to keep her voice calm and steady, "let's think about this. The force that is attacking us… you… has all the literature ever written at its disposal, right?"

Seamus was looking back over the edge of the carpet again, but he nodded.

"However, it cannot come up with anything new on its own, right?"

Seamus nodded again.

"So," Cassidy took a deep breath, "it would seem reasonable that what we need to do here is the only thing that it can't do: we need to be creative." She watched Seamus, looking for feedback.

He managed to pull himself back to look at her again. The summoning voice in his head was becoming harder and harder to ignore.

"What… can…"

Cassidy kept a hand on his shoulder, and turned to Gabriela.

"Gabriela," she said, "I need you to help me think of some ideas, okay?"

Gabriela was far past crying at this point, holding on grimly to her corner of the carpet. "What kind of ideas?" she asked, worriedly.

"We need to think of something that no one has ever thought of before. We need to tell Seamus a story that's completely new. It can be about anything at all. Think we can do it?"

Gabriela nodded uncertainly. "Can it be about me?" she asked.

"Yes, of course!" said Cassidy. "I don't think anyone has written a story about you before."

"Okay, but I want to be a magic princess."

"Wonderful! You're a magic princess. What kind of magic can you do?"

"I want that, whenever I brush my teeth, it does my math homework for me."

Cassidy laughed in spite of herself. "You'll have the cleanest teeth and the best grades in the kingdom!"

The two of them crouched on either side of Seamus and began telling their story. At first it seemed as though Cassidy's idea was as nonsensical as the story they were creating. But Seamus listened as best he could, clinging to the words as they squeezed through the clamor in his mind. He began to repeat words after them.

"Gabriela… magic… princess…"

And suddenly, Gabriela was dressed in a pink gown that looked like a Halloween princess costume, and she carried a wand with a little star on the end of it. The girls continued the story, making it up as they went along. A toothbrush appeared in Gabriela's hand, and a pile of homework papers materialized on the carpet. Soon they were joined by the princess's pony, which was half squirrel, combining two of Gabriela's favorite animals. It pranced and hopped unsteadily along in the whirlpool behind them, thrashing its bushy tail.

Seamus gained strength as they went on, and his mind began to clear, focusing on their new creations. The whirlpool around them began to spin faster, and the light from the doorway below pulsated and throbbed. Then Seamus interrupted for the first time.

"Princess Gabriela," he said, his eyes still focused on the door below them, "you have another magic power."

"What is it?" she asked, looking up expectantly.

"With a wave of your wand, you can close any door so that it will never open again."


"Yes. Would you like to try it?"

Gabriela stood up, clutching Seamus' hand to keep her balance on the moving carpet, and put on her most serious face. She looked down to the door and the pulsing light and held her wand out before her. Seamus could tell she was trying to think up suitably magical words.

"Doorius Closium!" she shouted, and Seamus shouted it with her in his mind.

A streak of light flew from the tip of her wand, striking the center of the open door. Everything around them froze – the whirlpool of misty words, the carpet beneath their feet, the prancing squirrel-pony behind them. The door shuddered and then everything began rushing towards it. Seamus, Cassidy and Gabriela remained motionless, as everything else was sucked into the doorway, blotting out the blinding light that had come from it. They could hear the roar of the wind from all the motion, but could not feel it, and it did not so much as stir a hair on their heads. When the last shred of mist had plunged through the doorway, the little wooden door slammed shut with such force that it cracked down the center and vanished.

When it had gone, the three looked around themselves, realizing suddenly that they weren't standing anywhere, or perhaps were standing nowhere, or perhaps some combination of the two. Then the nowhere that the were standing gave a sudden jolt, knocking them all to their knees. When they stood up again, they were in the basement of the library.

Shakily, they all went out the door and headed up the stairs. As they crossed the building towards Project Read, they could hear sobbing coming from up ahead. Deborah saw them first and gasped. Maria's crying stopped abruptly as she spun around and saw her daughter, who ran to her arms, and then she was crying again but with relief and happiness.

Seamus and Cassidy collapsed into chairs and tried to dodge questions about what had happened. Cassidy eventually came up with a coherent story involving Gabriela accidentally getting herself locked in an unused basement room overnight. Gabriela went along with it silently. She seemed more like she wanted to just rest in her mother's arms than talk for the time being anyway.

Seamus closed his eyes and let the room fade out around him. He felt relief, yes, but also loss. Gabriela was safe. He and Cassidy were safe. The world was safe. All three of them were heroes, really, though no one else would ever know. But he also knew, could tell without even having to try it, that he would never be able to bibliomorph again.
The End


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