I looked around. It was dark, and a bit chilly – pre-dawn, I judged. And, as I had more or less suspected, it was a forest.
There was the usual mix of small and large trees, and these ones did not appear to be of the emergent-sentient or self-growing kind. As I’d suspected, those characteristics had just been a result of one universe’s matter attempting to express itself in another universe’s environment.
Still, I opted not to say ‘tree’ or ‘leaves’ – let alone ‘defoliate’ – for the time being.
Creepy was sitting in a little clearing, squatting over what looked like a pentagram drawn in salt, with a bowl of dark liquid in the centre. He looked up when he saw me – most likely – appear out of thin air.
“Where have you been?”
“Don’t even start with me,” I growled. I stepped towards the pentagram. The clearing was illuminated cheerfully enough by the dribbly candles set at each junction of the arcane symbol. Behind Creepy, on one side, I could see the angular bulk of my region-stabilising bio-recorder. On the other, I saw a little stack of books. “Did those transport as well?” I pointed.
“No,” Creepy said, rising from the pentagram and dusting himself off. He waved a hand, gesturing deeper into the forest. “There’s a big stack of books just over that ridge, beyond the edge of the woods. I grabbed these from there,” I squinted at him, and I must have been close enough for him to see it in the light of the candles. “I’m not being sarcastic,” he said, all innocence. “There really is a big pile of books. Most of them seemed to be blank, or filled with gibberish, but one of them – this one ‑ ” he leaned over, picked up one of the books, and held it out, “this one had all sorts of weird stuff in it. Incantations. Histories. A record of transference events between our world and this one. All sorts.”
“Where did you get all the paraphernalia?”
“There’s a town not far from here. It was late afternoon when I got here. I reconnoitred. I info-gathered. I put all the pieces together.”
This sounded a bit more like the Creepy I knew and tolerated. “Well done,” I said. “But apparently there wasn’t anything else in this book about how to get back? Just how to call, and get your hapless sidekick to join you in the trans-dimensional oubliette?”
“It’s all well in hand, Hatboy,” Creepy said serenely.
“So why did you need me here?”
Creepy looked injured. “Not much point going to another universe and then coming back,” he said, “if all I got on my return was a whole lot of complaining about where-have-you-been and where’s-my-region-stabilising-bio-recorder-gone. And besides, we need to close this door if we want to safely use our television again.”
“True,” I conceded, and peered at the pentagram. “Is that blood?” I asked. Creepy’s ‘not a where, so much as a who’ remark was beginning to make sense.
“I’m reliably informed that the person I’ve been communing through was a really bad guy,” Creepy said. “Sold out that town I was telling you about. It’s going to be swallowed by some kind of Swamp God, then this whole universe – maybe the entire multiverse – will follow it down the drain.”
“That’s pretty dramatic,” I said. “Must be Christmas.”
“That’s what I said.”
“This guy is – was – trying to destroy the universe?”
“Nah,” Creepy said, “he was just a council official who skimmed some funds and looked the other way a few times. He was directly responsible, but not really intentionally. Anyway, it’s just his blood. He’s not dead. Magic wouldn’t work if he was.”
“But I guess we want to get out of here before the Swamp God does destroy the universe,” I said, then unwillingly added, “or maybe even stop it from happening.”
“Not our department,” Creepy said, and raised the book, “but all the answers are in here and it’s our job to make sure they get to the right person.”
I scowled at this. Obviously there was far more going on than I’d originally suspected, and Creepy either knew it and wasn’t telling, or – far more likely – he didn’t know and was making it up. “Okay,” I said, giving the region-stabilising bio-recorder a quick checking-over and finding it more or less in one piece, “so did anyone else appear? I tried one other time and didn’t transport, so something else must have.”
“Some guy,” Creepy said with familiar vagueness. “Red outfit. He said something about having work to do, and ran off.”
“Red outfit?” I squinted. “It wasn’t ‑ ”
“The Claus? No,” Creepy shook his head. “No, it wasn’t him. We got rid of him. No, this guy was more like a … superhero spandex type guy. Looked like ‑ ”
That was when the man with the wagon-load of books appeared.
He hauled the wagon into the clearing, pulled up with a deep sigh, and rested on his staff. He was an imposing fellow, and even by candlelight I recognised him immediately.
“Is that … is that the Saint?” I blinked.
“Well well,” the Saint said, looking around the clearing and chuckling at Creepy’s failed attempt to crouch down behind the region-stabilising-bio-recorder. Not even Creepy could hide behind a clothless umbrella. “You lads are a long way from home.”
“I’d say the same about you,” I said, “except for all I know, you live here.”
“Not me,” he said, “I just have a little job to take care of. It’s all coming together, you see. All the disparate strands. We’re in the centre of it. Some of us by necessity, others…” he shrugged, “others by accident.”
“That’s us,” I said, glancing at Creepy. It seemed he’d been caught completely off-guard when he had been transferred here, and had not even been carrying an axe. He was unarmed and, I noticed, not even holding the book anymore. Not that fighting the Saint would have done much good anyway. He had ways of turning fights upon themselves. “Accidental heroes.”
“Indeed,” the Saint said, and glanced at the pentagram. “Well well,” he repeated. “I can see I’m going to have to do something about this.”
“Oh yes?” I said, with as much attempted bravado as I could muster.
The Saint smiled. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
TO BE CONTINUED, CHRISTMAS 2015