I walked over to the door where Creepy Junior stood. At least, I thought, this guy might be a bit more forthcoming than his old man and his old man’s apparent Wheel of Time universe counterpart. “Let me guess,” I said. “You suddenly found yourself in our front garden near an eldritch portal of swirling mystery,” Creepy Junior looked politely blank. “A swirly wibbly thing in the air.”
“Yes, I did,” Creepy Junior said, and stroked his wispy grey-streaked beard. “I’m afraid I crushed a sort of twiggy thing that I thought might have been a plant, but on reflection might have some grander name.”
“That’s alright, there’s nothing alive out there,” Creepy said brightly. “Hello there, young lad. Mister C of 9, this is my son,” he went on proudly, then – to his credit – barely paused, “Winona.”
Creepy Junior blinked. “My name is Xathrabian Bunklet,” he said in a dignified voice, and straightened his glossy green-on-green robes and his incredible ruffly green assistant court historian hat with its big iron spike. He looked to be somewhere between twenty and five hundred years older than Creepy, which made Creepy’s fatherly bluster even more unsettling, but it was the sort of age that was difficult to pinpoint. He’d dried out, bleached like driftwood, and sort of just … stopped levelling up, at some point. Possibly because he’d realised levelling up wasn’t doing it for him. I tried to figure out if he was older than he’d been when we’d met him in Xix, but that too was impossible to judge. Xathrabian cleared his throat and looked at Creepy through cold, blue, half-lidded eyes. “But my mother did call me Winona when I was a babe.”
“Winona’s still a babe,” Creepy and Mister C of 9 asserted in disturbing concert.
Creepy Junior – or Winona, or Xathrabian – glanced at me. “May I ask, what-”
“What’s with dad and weird-robed bonus dad?” I asked. “I’m still trying to figure that out,” I looked at Mister C of 9. His dusty black garment hung perfectly still despite his excited fidgeting and desperate coke-guzzling. “Along with why he seems to be wearing a – wait, hold on,” I interrupted myself, turned to Creepy, and pointed at Winona. “This isn’t you from an alternate universe. This is your son from when you went to an alternate universe.”
“Yes?” Creepy said. Mister C of 9 lowered his sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose and scrutinised me questioningly, and I shuddered and looked away. As I’d suspected, he had no eyes behind the sunglasses.
“It just doesn’t seem to fit the pattern,” I said. I was also pretty sure the Xix timeline had accelerated away from our own long since. The last time we’d gone there, the ‘Xix Federation’ had been at such a near-transcendent level of advancement we hadn’t even been allowed in. Winona, and ideally all his line, must have vanished from that world aeons ago. Which meant … well, I didn’t know what it meant. Yet.
“Two arrivals is hardly a pattern, Chuck,” Creepy pointed out. “And they both come from fictional universes – Xix and Chaggabaggawoggaland are both high fantasy trope-rich environments made real-”
“Is your name Chuck, then?” Winona asked.
“No,” I said through clenched teeth. “It’s Hatboy. It’s Chuck in his world,” I pointed at Mister C of 9, then pointed at Creepy. “Your dad’s just being annoying.”
“That fits,” Winona acknowledged. He looked like he was carefully cataloguing and cross-referencing every piece of information, and I reminded myself that as much as he might look like Creepy, he wasn’t. He was an assistant court historian and long-term survivor of an extremely dangerous and subtle fantasy regime that had been converted by my idiotic super-sidekick to adherence to the Evil Overlord’s Handbook. Before a mighty barbarian hero had converted it to following the Book of Yoru, that is. Either way, he was Creepy with a methodical and analytical mind, and that was even more horrifying than a Creepy with no eyes and a – yes, I confirmed at another glance – a dead black sword capable of killing you gruesomely with a mere scratch concealed under his robes. “And the world where Creepy is Mister C of 9 and Hatboy is Chuck,” Winona continued, “is called … excuse me, Chagga…?”
There was a weird swirl of absolute darkness up near the ceiling. No, not darkness – something so absolutely other that my eyes and brain filled it in with darkness, but it wasn’t darkness. It was absence of both light and light’s absence. Seeing it, even as fleetingly as I did, made me feel vertiginous and giddy. Although I was standing on the floor and looking up at it, I felt like I was on the edge of a bottomless chasm, and my brain whispered jump…
A skinny, long-blonde-dreadlocked figure fell out of the blob of nothingness, crashed heavily on the table with its upper body, and semi-pinwheeled to the floor in a tangle of limbs. Even in that split-second, I noticed two things.
First, I noticed that the figure was female, although still Creepy-esque in physical build so the difference was really academic.
Second, I noticed that the clothes the figure was wearing had an all-too-recognisable buckles-and-leather-bindings motif, as well as a dirty grey and stencilled-black-serial-number colour scheme.
The blobby cloud of extra-dimensional whatever-it-was vanished, leaving the four of us alone with an inmate of a prison for the criminally insane.
I looked at the straps and the torn cloth around them, and amended my assessment.
An escaped inmate of a prison for the criminally insane.