Sunday, November 28, 2004

Twenty-eighth Day

In which a duel takes place across various books.

Stay tuned tomorrow (I hope) for the thrilling (I hope) conclusion (definitely... well, hopefully).

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 ā€“ 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 ā€“ 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 ā€“ 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.

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."

Chapter 39

Seamus leapt up from the stone floor and lunged at Cluny the Scourge with his sword. The giant rat was unmistakably surprised, but his lightning reflexes served him well. He snatched his war standard from where it leaned against the wall and blocked Seamus' sword with the heavy staff. The ferret skull on top looked Seamus in the eye for a brief second before Cluny thrust Seamus away from him.

Seamus landed against the wall in the corner next to Gabriela and Cassidy. He saw that they had begun surreptitiously untying each other's hands while Cluny was focused on Seamus. He rolled away from them immediately, to keep Cluny's attention away from them, then came to his feet again, holding his sword at the ready.

Cluny flung his tail at him for a third lash, but this time Seamus swung his sword out to meet it. The blade sliced through and the last foot of Cluny's tail fell to the floor. Cluny howled in pain and hurtled himself at Seamus, still clutching his war standard.

Seamus tried to thrust his sword at the rat but it was blocked and wrenched aside by the staff, and Cluny's sharp claws raked his face. For a third time, the world disappeared around him.

Suddenly, Seamus found himself in a crowded train station, being jostled from all sides by people taller than him, strangers. He tried to shy away from someone brushing by his elbow but that only made him collide with someone else behind him. He recoiled again, crashing sideways into yet another person as the foot traffic continued to flow around him. A lady almost walked into him, her bright yellow jacket momentarily filling his field of vision. He absolutely detested yellow. It sickened him. He was beginning to panic.

"Hey kid," said a gruff voice, "watch where you're going, can't you?"

A hand grabbed Seamus' arm and tried to steer him out of the way. He screamed, yanked his arm free, and started running, shoving his way through the crowd. He tried to see where he was going but the crowd was like a huge, shapeless mass, and the signs around the station all seemed to blur and run together. Sweet Pastries Heathrow Airport Check-In Here Bagel Factory Paddington Station Tickets Taxis Toilets Position Closed Millie's Cookies Coffee Evening Standard. His brain was on sensory overload, he couldn't process everything that was going on around him. He felt terrified, and ready to vomit.

Finally he burst free from the crowd and collapsed onto a bench, shutting his eyes, hugging his knees and moaning. He squeezed himself as far to one end of the bench as he could, away from its other occupant, a middle-aged business man, who quickly got up and left Seamus alone on the bench.

His mind was still in an uproar. He tried counting to fifty and just barely managed to do it, but he felt a tiny bit calmer after he had. So then he counted to fifty, cubing each number as he went, and that helped a little more. After that he solved a few quadratic equations in his head, making the coefficients large so the problems would take longer. And then he recited to himself all the prime numbers from 2 to 233 from memory.

By now some time had passed, his heart was beating normally again and he had mostly blocked out the hustle and bustle of the train station around him. But something still wasn't quite right. He didn't feel like himself, and it was something more than just being frightened and confused in a new place. He tried to remember who he was and reassure himself.

"My name is Christopher John Francis Boone," he said to himself, "and I live at 36 Randolph Street, only I don't live there anymore because I'm going to live with Mother at 451c Chapter Road, Willesden, London NW2 5NG."

It all sounded right to him, only there was something not right about it also. He felt like there was someone or something trapped inside him, as if he needed to be somewhere else, or even someone else, but he couldn't make sense of it. Then suddenly he felt his entire body jerk, like a puppet pulled on a string. His vision blurred and he squeezed his eyes shut in fright.

Seamus opened his eyes, disoriented, trying to piece together the confusing sensations in his brain from the last few minutes. As far as he could tell, he had landed that time in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, but he hadn't been himself anymore. He had actually become the fifteen year old autistic savant whose story it was. That was why he hadn't been able to control himself or his mind, and it should have prevented him from getting himself out of it. So what had happened?

He looked up to see Cassidy standing over the body of Cluny the Scourge, holding in her hands a heavy wooden chair that had evidently been cracked over Cluny's skull. She and Gabriela had both freed themselves, and must have snuck up on Cluny as he flung Seamus into his most recent perils. Cassidy dropped the splintered chair now and rushed over to Seamus, with Gabriela close behind her.

"Are you alright?" she asked breathlessly.

"Iā€¦ I think so," Seamus replied. Then his eye was caught by a movement over by Cluny's body. The other two followed his gaze.

A strange mist was rising from the body. The room began to tremble.