The Farce of Heaven, Part 12

They stood on the impressive but tactically unsound platform and watched the draghkar, raken and animated storm clouds gather in the air over Cairhien. Janica reflected vaguely that making a highly conspicuous shape against the skyline probably hadn’t been a great idea when dealing with an enemy that used the One Power.

“Natael’s right, there seem to be Shadowspawn among the enemy that I haven’t seen before,” Moiraine said, looking out at the hostile force with saidar-assisted vision and an occasional glance through the rudimentary telescopes made by Kin Tovere. Given the weakening state of her Power-wielding abilities, this was about the limits of what saidar could do for her with any reliability. After a quiet moment of contemplation, she turned to the others, and fixed Debs in particular with an unimpressed glare. “That is, I have seen them – they’re more of your bloody friends, just like the gleeman said.”

“Ach,” Debs muttered, upset at the sight of her apparent countrymen throwing in their lot with the enemy, even though it had been clear for some time that the Seanchan and the Darkfriends were in cahoots. “Mebbe they will’nae attack us ef they see me with ye.”

“That’s a good premise to pin our lives on,” Moiraine snorted, “or we could just get the Ghul out of here.”

“Yeah, what she said,” Forsaken_1, who had read the books and immediately forgotten almost everything in them, clearly recognised the new Cairhien skyline as something wholly wrong, and wanted no part of it. Down below, Someshta was already climbing back into the gaudy little Tinker’s wagon, and beginning the long and frustrating process of getting Contro to do the same. The army they’d led west over the Spine of the World had been decimated by the Green Man’s terrible attempts at reforming the Aiel nation, and most of them hadn’t seen the force arrayed against them, distracted as they were by all the amazing trees and rivers. Even though most of the former had been stripped or torn down, and most of the latter had been re-routed towards the distant enemy fortification, they were still astonishing to the Aiel. All in all, there were definitely better places to stage an assault, places with a far higher chance of success and far less risk of awful, awful things happening to them in the process. “Maybe we should liberate some other country first, and sort of work our way up to this one.”

“What do you lot know about all this?” Moiraine snapped, after looking into the telescope for a few fuming moments. “How did this happen?”

“Look, the Forsaken were always going to return, and build their armies and descend on you with Shadowspawn out of the Blight,” Janica attempted to defuse the situation. “This was a historical inevitability.”

“Gosh, is that what it is,” Moiraine growled, looking back into the telescope as if unable to believe what she’d seen in it last time. “A historical inevitability. And there I was just thinking it was my home town getting transformed into a Shadowspawn production line. Light, but I’ve learned a lot today.”

“Shall we leave?” Forsaken_1 asked plaintively.

“Or we could just wait for the Shadowspawn to come in range of Nancy Sidesaddle’s ta’veren effect,” Loial said, his fuzzy ears wibbling with anticipation and one giant hand already straying for his notebook. “They might well decide not to attack us after all.”

“Or they might accidentally kill every single one of us with a single arrow, and leave Nancy standing,” Janica replied.

“Suits me,” Shannon growled.

“My poo-hole itches,” Vamps remarked, and began to scratch and chuckle vigorously.

“Right,” Moiraine started for the ladder. “I’m out of here.”

Muttering and arguing amongst themselves, the retinue of the Dragon Reborn made their way back down to the ground and prepared to make a tactical withdrawal. Maidens of the Spear were sent out to spread the word to the rest of the Aiel, many of whom might be tempted to stay and fight this insurmountable foe in spite of the fact that it would be the death of them. Three of the Maidens fell down the same hole, each one breaking her neck but not dying, and Moiraine called Shannon a cunt. The nervous Tovere bustled around and ordered his assistants to pack up and make ready, using a turn of phrase that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a conversation between Moiraine and a Wise One.

The Cairhienin refugees from whose number they’d plucked the lensmaker were still milling around looking stunned and dazed, and nobody could really blame them. From what little anybody had been able to gather, the Shadowspawn attack had ended about twenty minutes after it had begun, and most of the citizenry were now awaiting a nasty death in slave-pens along the banks of the river Alguenya, which was now a major halfsword manufactory.

Without any dissenting voices, the edges of this mob of refugees were already on the move, heading away from the city and back along the Aiel’s path towards the Spine of the World. The Green Man, it seemed, had finally resorted to just picking Contro up and putting him in the wagon, the happy Tinker’s babble not pausing for a moment. Cow and Bela were doing their best to pull in two different directions, perhaps planning on breaking the wagon traces and freeing them of their mind-warping master forever, but Loial moved carefully closer to them and did his best to make the unruly animals behave themselves.

“Where are we going to go now?” Someshta asked, from his accustomed place bundled up in the back of Contro’s wagon, looking for all the world like a weirdly-arranged pile of shrubbery.

“Away from those raken for a start,” Janica replied, glancing over at the long-dressed blurs that were the Wise Ones. They were easy enough to distinguish simply by the way they shouted. “We’ll dig doon and come up with some sort o’ plan.”

“We’ve got a decent head start on them, but it will still be difficult to outpace them for the time it will take us to find a defensible place,” one of the interchangeable clan chiefs – Janica thought it might have been Jurani, of the Red Shields, but she’d long since stopped caring and was in fact beginning to suspect that the Aiel swapped names and job descriptions at secret meetings, just to annoy her – pointed out grimly. “We should send a party to delay the enemy. The Car’a’carn must not be taken.”

“We’re not going to be able to do much about those och-begorrah-ing flying motherfuckers,” Moiraine remarked, snapping her fingers at Forsaken_1 and pointing to her saddlebags. The Warder dutifully picked them up and carried them off towards the Aes Sedai’s horse. “In fact, the whole thing’s a cluster-”

Moiraine’s profanity was cut short by the Cairhienin defence web, an experimental procedure designed to slow the enemy, cut off escape routes from the city and inflict the maximum of damage with the minimum of effort and expenditure.

All around them, mainly at chest-height but some as high as the sparse, burned-out treetops, little flashes of blue light began winking on and off. The effect was quite pretty, like party-lights. They would appear in a tiny vertical slash, spin into nothingness, and wink out in an identical stripe. It only took Debs and Shannon a moment to recognise the phenomenon as myriad tiny gateways opening and closing, and Moiraine was just a second behind them. The Aiel and assorted riders moved into the glittering nebula of gateways, which was pulsing and drifting gently with illusory movement across their intended escape route.

Seconds later, the screaming began. Branches began to tumble from the trees, horses flailed and fell with minuscule blades carving their way through flesh and bone, and all over the hillside, people began collapsing. Behind them, the tower gave an ominous clunk, and timbers began to groan towards collapse.

Kin Tovere screamed and clutched his upper arm as a tiny gateway slid open just under the skin and his movement tore it into a deep, surgical incision. Beside him, his assistant Jol wasn’t so lucky. His eyeball popped with a great splurt of blood and jelly, and as he fell the tiny revolving blue light carved upwards through his brain. He landed, thrashed, and his fingers flew across the clearing as his hand crossed the path of another gateway at ankle-height before he finally lay still. Still squealing, Kin fell to his knees.

“My glasses!” Janica cried, dragging Debs across to the inventor and grasping saidar without thought. Tovere gasped as the little damane weaved Healing by pure instinct, sealing up the severed arteries and the microns-thick slice in his shoulder-blade. Off to one side, Cail was running for safety, but stopped suddenly and clutched his arm, just moments before it dropped off at the elbow. “Stay still!” Janica cried. “Stay away from the lights!”

But they were everywhere. The bright wagon trundled past them, Cow and Bela not even trying to bite or trample the people they overtook, so great was their desire to vacate the premises. Cow had a stippling of little vertical cuts in his flank, Bela looked to have a split lip, and they were both looking just about ready to stampede. Loial was trundling rapidly alongside, wide-eyed and trying in vain to protect his pocketfuls of books with his massive hands. From inside the wagon, mild Old Tongue curses and the sound of violent pruning could be heard.

“Ha ha ha!!!” Contro exclaimed from the driver’s seat. The reins in his hands were no longer connected to the horses, and the colourful wood of the wagon was dotted with gashes and spirals of shaved-off paint. “Where are we going? What’s happening anyway?? Ha ha ha! Look, that fellow only has half a head!! You don’t often see a person with less than a whole head, and I think he’s gone to the toilet in his pants too! Funny that! The toilet part of his head must be in the missing part!!! Ha ha ha oi! My ear!”

At that moment, just a few feet from where Janica knelt beside Kin Tovere, a brilliant blue stripe about twenty feet in height sketched itself down through the air. It was, for anybody interested, very close to the world-record in terms of gateway size, the previous record being set by an Aes Sedai circle in the Age of Legends working for a corporation named Sharom Travel. Debs saw in an instant that its opening would probably cut the horses and Vamps in half, and while that wasn’t necessarily a total disaster, it would add more problems to their already loaded plate. Without stopping to think, she jumped to her feet and ran to the wagon, pulling Janica roughly along behind by the neck.

The vertical slash reached the ground, shuddered for a moment, and began to revolve. Debs pulled a waxy-looking statue of what looked a little bit like Elvis Presley out of their stash in the back of Contro’s wagon and, snarling, braced the cuendillar object hard up against the opening gateway. Her heels sunk into the ground, her biceps rippled … and the swivelling hole stopped in its tracks. The cuendillar grew cool under her fingers, and a soft whistling noise began to come from the towering slash.

Something went thwap.

 


 

In the heart of Cairhien, Angamael looked out at the testing grounds to the northwest with great interest. The site was several miles away from the city itself, and away from any important industry or trade routes, but they had quite a good view from the fabled topless towers. Thanks to the One Power, and a couple of useful weaves shown to him by the ever-helpful Chosen and Aes Sedai, the experimental defence web was quite clearly visible.

Assorted sources had informed him that enemies were closing in from the east, most probably the Dragon’s Aiel from the Spine of the World, but of course he’d been expecting that, and had already mobilised a large number of Darkfriends, Shadowspawn and Seanchan. There was no harm in also testing the new defence system’s capabilities at the same time, of course … but just in case the unforeseen should happen, he’d ordered his forces to mass and ready themselves at a safe distance, and not push the attack until the defence web’s effectiveness or otherwise was well established. Any accidents that occurred would, at worst, compromise the distant testing site, not the majority of his Cairhienin forces. That was just common sense. And placing the testing ground a long way from anywhere important was also smart. These girls were using gateways, albeit small ones. Opening gateways between enemy territory and the nerve-centre of one’s operations … that was just silly.

He could have held off on the experimental offensive weaves, of course, but it paid to encourage creativity in the troops, and they were currently eager and excited. Not even an accident would dampen this, while denying them the opportunity to try might have unpleasant consequences.

Their weaker channelers – novices, Accepted, and some of the more hopeless and annoying Aes Sedai – were formed up, each one performing the Travelling weave they’d recently been taught by the revered Chosen. None of them could do much in the way of offensive weaving. Fireballs and a bit of squeezing-in-bands-of-Air was about their limit, and most of them couldn’t open a gateway much more than a couple of inches across. But Angamael had had this idea.

It was amazing, a little bit of experimentation with captive Cairhienin showed, just what sort of damage a gateway the size of a pin-head could do if it was opened up in the centre of a running person’s skull. And it used so little Power, even an Aes Sedai novice could make fifty or a hundred of them while juggling light-balls simultaneously. They had a lot of slack-jawed drooling lobotomy-victims currently waiting for their chance to assist in the new weapons program now, but most of the test subjects had died. Eventually.

None of the novices down in the testing ground, Angamael was pleased to see, were currently juggling balls of light. So far as he knew, nobody had ever gotten anything useful done by juggling balls of light. But they were opening and closing gateways for all they were worth, oh yes. He’d considered getting one of his lieutenants to teach the weakest and most dispensable – who were, amusingly, the most eager-to-please thanks to the high command’s new policies of encouragement and teamwork – the art of unpicking weaves. If he could get a few of them to unweave gateways of this size, he’d have access to another very useful weapon. One with almost pinpoint accuracy. Still, that was a thought for another day. He looked down on the collection of channelers and their bright little accompanying swarm of blue lights with a proud smile.

A little to the rear of the Aes Sedai, a small group of immense, looming forgers stood and shuffled their unformed feet with bovine impatience. Aginor had altered a contingent of the massive entities for use in the new manufactories on the dirty black banks of the river Alguenya, and had made the welcome discovery that once established in a new forging routine much like their old task in Thakan’dar, the ‘longing’ did not affect them to any great extent. Even so, if they were taken away from the forges for any length of time, they would begin to degenerate. They’d lost contact with their first prototype, Smith, over in the Two Rivers, but weren’t sure why. Aginor had insisted mildly on a new test group, and the forgers he had subsequently altered were eager to head out and destroy the last Nym. They could smell its proximity, and it flung them into the sedate, slow-minded forger equivalent of a foaming rage.

The forgers weren’t exactly efficient, but Aginor enjoyed souping them up, and Angamael knew it was a good idea to keep your mad genii happy and, above all, busy. In the meantime, Aginor was also thinking up new things, and de-regionising forgers helped him concentrate. And the giant boys certainly packed a whallop. This team had been assembled to go through a single large gateway assembled by a makeshift circle of a couple of dozen Accepted, and four nervous Cairhienin men who had been identified by the Chosen as having a very weak spark. They’d been encouraged to learn, but Angamael hadn’t wasted time and effort and halfmen to convert them. They were just meat, for the time being, and added strength to the circle, allowing it to extend into larger numbers and therefore make a large enough gateway to admit the forgers. With any luck, the lumbering giants would help cut off the enemy’s retreat, and might even succeed in taking out the core group including Dragon, Green Man, and assorted channelers, in the process. Then the main body could come up from Cairhien and test their new trollocs and fades and swords. Aginor was still experimenting with new water, new settings, and new combinations of DNA, musculature and recombinant genes. The happy results were threefold – they were getting more powerful trollocs, they were getting more halfman-throwbacks as a result of the experiments, and the fades they were getting were also stronger.

Angamael’s smile widened into a great, gleaming mad grin. Even from this distance, he could see the tiny gateways opening and closing, winking in and out of existence in little squirts of blood, brains and foliage. And the group-hug of the big-gate circle was obviously warming up. Between the humans and the forgers, a huge shining blue line scrawled its way through the air.

A few seconds passed, and Angamael’s grin faltered. The channelers working on the main defence swarm were doing very well, but something really weird was happening at the big gateway. The forgers – all of whom were named Smith, just like their adventurous precursor, because it was just easier that way – were moving hesitantly forwards, but the bright vertical slash didn’t seem to be revolving out into a hole. Angamael wondered if maybe he was looking at it from the wrong angle.

Then he quite clearly heard something go thwap, although by the time the sound reached his saidin-enhanced ears, everything else had already happened. All the gateways in the testing ground blazed bright red for a split-second, then vanished simultaneously. An echoing shudder ran through Angamael as he felt the One Power surge impossibly through every living conduit across the length and breadth of what the Seanchan called Chaggabaggawoggaland – if not through every channeler on the face of the planet. He felt an immense boiling itch within his very cells, and knew that every channeler inside the testing site had been burned out. It wasn’t likely to worry them, though, because less than a second later the entire site was enveloped in a blazing white fireball. He could make out weaves in the flames, Earth and Spirit and great whorled knots of Fire, and the thwap that reached his ears at about that very moment was drowned almost immediately by the roar of the detonation and the tinkle of breaking glass across the northwest quarter of the city.

Angamael stared at the seething cauldron of red-hot slag that had once been the Cairhienin defence web.

“That’s … interesting,” he murmured.

 


 

“Reet,” Debs settled herself to the floor of the tent and folded her arms in a businesslike manner, making sure they were folded above her breasts. This hurt her shoulders a little, and made Forsaken_1’s eyes look as though they were about to pop out of his head, but it had the desired effect of distancing herself from the braid-gripping, sniffing, highly irritating women of Jordania. “Let’s review.”

“I still have an owwie,” the Dragon Reborn pointed out.

Vamps’s list of complaints had grown still longer in the strange attack, when he lost a fingertip and suffered brief internal bleeding due to an opening gateway in his thigh. Janica had grudgingly Healed him, but the inspiration of panic had left her, and the complicated process of Healing had become increasingly difficult. She’d finally linked with Moiraine and let the aggressive near-stilled Aes Sedai take the lead, and they’d spent the majority of their retreat-in-shambles dashing back and forth Healing the less devastatingly injured folk, while Someshta also did what he could. The Green Man had been trimmed neatly in several places, but was still in good health, and his own healing abilities were extraordinary. As for the worst cases, it was left to Loial, Mat, Lan and, in one unfortunate case, Cow, to put the brutally-injured people out of their misery. Luckily, the frightening attack had ceased as soon as the big gateway-line had gone red and then vanished, a phenomenon that had been followed by the sensation of drawing far too much saidar, a sensation felt by every woman in the group – and a similar feeling had been quietly reported by Vamps and Jasin Natael as well – and the sound of a distant explosion. A ragged black cloud of smoke had then risen to the east. They’d made good their escape, putting several more miles between themselves and Cairhien, and as far as anybody could tell, they hadn’t been pursued by the massing horde of Seanchan.

“Nobody gives a flying fuck in a hurricane whorehouse about you or your owwie,” Moiraine grunted.

Janica raised her voice and took up the chairwomaning where Debs had left off. Given time, the Aiel Wise Ones would begin taking the meeting into their own hands, and things would end with oosquai and bad language. “They’ve got most of the Seanchan and all their animals. They’ve got almost all the Aes Sedai out of Tar Valon, and the entire Blight and everything in it. Oh, and as of now they have Cairhien, and all the Forseeken are working taegether,” she looked around without seeing an awful lot. “Am I forgetting anything?”

“If you are, I don’t want to know about it,” Amys growled. She was still sitting in the far corner with her hair in pigtails, and as usual the rest of the Wise Ones ignored her. Her position was only slightly more exalted than Aviendha’s gai’shain servitude, after her unpleasant authority-clash with Janica several weeks previously.

Sorilea seemed to be of the same opinion, regardless of its original source, and she didn’t add anything to the list. The rest of the Wise Ones followed her lead, and nobody else in the tent really mattered.

“And what have we got?” Janica went on, although she didn’t particularly want to. “We’ve got a bunch of Aiel, many of whom the Green Man has turned to pacifism…”

“Sorry,” Someshta rustled from the doorway.

“Hey,” Forsaken_1 spoke up in the brief lull. “I just had an idea. Do you think we could do the opposite?” he looked around at the dubious female faces. “If we told the True Aiel Story to the Tinkers, do you think they’d go militant?”

“Fuck’s sake,” Moiraine snapped, “that’s the dumbest … fine, let’s try it.”

“Moiraine Sedai is right,” Loial rumbled from his position in another corner of the tent, of which he occupied a large fraction. “What is the worst it can do, after all? They are already completely non-violent.”

“The worst it can do is turn them violently against the Aiel and the Aes Sedai in a mad quest to regain their former glory,” Janica remarked, “and I wouldn’t go ruling it out just yet. The moment we think we know what the worst that can possibly happen is, something worse could happen. But we could try it, we need all the help we can get and if Aram can convert … never mind, Aram’s just a story I heard about once. So,” she went on quickly because she could feel Moiraine’s scowl, “what else do we have? We might have Tear, unless things have gone to Ghul there lately. We’ve got the Dragon, the Car’a’carn and, if we do it right, the Coramoor as well.”

“But we don’t need the Sea Folk,” Shannon added, “because Shadow Monkey has rendered them pretty much useless by using gateways. We might have been able to use them to cut off the larger part of the Seanchan invasion force, but he’s probably stopped them in their tracks and delivered them all safely to the coast by Travelling already. We could use the Sea Folk channelers, and that means Shadow Monkey probably wants them as well.”

They’d taken to talking about ‘Shadow Monkey’ since getting in contact with Cyberwollf via the Aiel Dreamwalkers and the Wolf Dream. They didn’t exactly have a perfect communications system ironed out, and Tel’aran’rhiod was “all fucky” lately, according to the Wise Ones, but they did the best they could. And it was as good a term as any for the mysterious spanner they’d found in the works, a spanner that was simultaneously wrecking their own plans while turning the Darkfriend war machine into a well-oiled engine of devastation.

“Thes theng tha’ jus’ happened wi’ the geetwee, though,” Debs said thoughtfully, “I danna knae eff-”

“Would somebody shut that fat slut up and put somebody who can speak properly back in the fucking chair?” Sorilea snapped. “For the Light’s sake, I’ve had a gutful.”

“Debs is right,” Janica said diplomatically, “this thing with the gateways – if it wasn’t a coincidence – might mean that Travelling is too risky now. So we’re back to other means of getting around. So the Sea Folk and their prophecies might still come in handy for us,” she raised her hand and ticked off another finger, while she was thinking about it. “We’ve got a powerful ta’veren to top off our Dragon ruse, but she could do as much harm to us as good.”

“He,” Shannon stressed, but nobody listened to him. “He could do harm. And really would like to right now.”

“We need to build an opposing force to equal the one our enemies have built up,” Janica went on, “and we need to make it up out of all the things that are left. And at the same time we need to stop Shadow Monkey from recruiting the same forces from underneath us,” she glanced at Vamps, who was easily recognisable by smell and movement if not wholly visible to her at the time. “And we have to do it all before Puddin Taim dissolves entirely. Is that about it?”

“What sort of forces do we have left?” Moiraine asked querulously. “There’s the Whitecloaks, who will never fight side-by-side with channelers even if they see what’s happened to Cairhien. There’s a lot of good mettle left in the Two Rivers – this new Manetheren we’ve heard so much about,” she added, glancing sourly at the sul’dam and damane, “and there might be another crop of channelers to be found in the Two Rivers too.”

“There’s also the Kin, if we can get to them before the Aes Sedai in Tar Valon do,” Janica said, ignoring Moiraine’s guilty little twitch. “And we have the wolves…” she hesitated. “But none of these will work together unless we push them, and get very lucky in the process. We need to think outside the lines. There’s Shadar Logoth,” she hazarded. “Maybe just as bad, but definitely against the Dark One.”

“And there’s Shara, and the Isle of Madmen…” Shannon added. “We could Travel there and build some forces.”

“And Tel’aran’rhiod…” Loial contributed.

“An’ Earth,” Debs added. “We’re gonna have tae cheat a wee bet.”

“Where’s Mat?” Forsaken_1 asked suddenly, the randomly crossing pathways of his brain accidentally resulting in another bit of on-topic information rising to the surface – the second in as many minutes. “Isn’t this about the time he was supposed to go off and become a general with a whole lot of military experience? We could use that right now.”

“He was supposed to be fighting Shaido,” Janica shook her head. “Against that lot in Cairhien, he’d just become a trolloc’s main course, with a lot of seasoning,” she took a sip from a handy wine-bag. “We can zap the Aes Sedai and return them to normal, if we can think of some way of delivering a static tickle-tum jolt to all of them, more or less simultaneously, without Shadow Monkey finding out about what we’re doing, and without their stupid rubber costumes messin’ things up.”

“Ha,” Forsaken_1 snorted, “in your dreams.”

The Wise Ones, sul’dam and damane stared at him.

Forsaken_1 preened, naturally assuming they were admiring his rugged good looks.

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The Farce of Heaven, Part 11

“Uh! Uh! Yeah! Yeah! Turbo-fuck! Woo!”

Shannon and Asmodean stood in one corner and looked at the Dragon Reborn as he humped the ornately-embroidered couch pillows which, while they were ornately-embroidered, will not be described in any more detail.

“You’re lucky I was watching you discretely and masturbating through that little curtained-off niche over there,” Asmodean said conversationally. “If you weren’t such a classically-proportioned woman with whom I always endeavour to be in the same room, unseen, while you’re naked, you might have had a nasty encounter.”

“I still did have a nasty encounter,” Shannon snapped, after staring at Asmodean for a moment in stunned silence. “With y’all! Why’d you have to go tell me somethin’ like that?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Asmodean waved a hand airily, “I just felt that you ought to know, after these many weeks.”

“Weeks!”

“I felt obliged to thank you, for all the long, chilly evenings you have made a little warmer for me,” the Forsaken said, “the long evenings when I’m sitting in a quiet corner behind a little weave of secrecy, manipulating myself with flows of air and water and – yes – just a touch of fire, gritting my teeth and squinting my eyes at your-”

“Quit it!”

“I can’t,” Asmodean’s face was sweating. “You remind me of my mother – the sexual subservience of whom for which I cast in my lot with the Great Lord of the Dark, for all that I tell everybody it was about the music – and I like to think about using Compulsion on you to make you think you are a toilet, the way I did with her, and then spend a good hour sitting on your face, with my heels drumming your ample bosom and hips, reading the incoming dispatches…”

“What’s wrong with y’all?”

“…and of course once you’re out of the room I have to dig through your discarded clothes, many of which are still grimy and sweaty, and I pull on Great Lord help me it’s ta’veren I have to get out of this room a shift or a pair of stockings-”

“I don’t wear stockings!” Shannon roared. Vamps didn’t look up from his activities.

“Really? I do,” Asmodean confessed in a desperate babble. “In fact, I don’t just enjoy dressing as a woman, I want to actually be a woman. I’ve talked with Aginor, using a middleman of course, and only in the most roundabout of ways, and he thinks it might be possible to actually make a man into a woman, though it likely wouldn’t be possible for him to learn to channel using saidar but it really depends on the genetic markers and the hormone balance in question. Then there’s the alternative of allowing myself to die, and having the Great Lord resurrect me into the body of a woman. It is not, of course, a very workable plan, but I have entertained thoughts of making it your body into which I am reborn, on those frequent moments I find myself alone with you, watching you when you do not know you are being watched, seeing the exciting things a man could do to a woman’s body, had he but access to it…”

“And he always takes our watching-spot,” Quincey complained.

“Yeah,” Alexander agreed. “Not that he ever notices we’re in there with him.”

“…I have always wanted to tell you, and see if perhaps you could be convinced to … did somebody say something?”

“No,” Quincey said.

“Oh,” Jasin Natael scratched his head in puzzlement, then blinked and tried to return to his careening train of thought. At that moment, blessedly, Puddin Taim came to some sort of sudden and unspectacular climax.

“Well,” the Dragon smirked widely at the soggy pillow. “I never knew I had it in me.”

“A sentiment I’m sure a lot of women have shared, over the years,” Asmodean replied smoothly.

Vamps grinned. “Yeah!” he blinked, and scowled. “No!” he smirked. “I mean yeah.”

“I’m outta here,” Shannon turned to leave.

“I’ll follow you at a distance, breathing heavily,” Asmodean replied.

Shannon hurried from the room. The lace-ruffled gleeman followed, still babbling so hard about his shameful perversions and numerous grossly intimate violations of privacy that he barely paused to drag in a ragged breath every thirty seconds or before continuing. He was purple in the face and reeling on the verge of passing out. Quincey and Alexander exchanged a glance. Muffin Vamps stretched out on the pillows and picked at a sore on the back of his hand, giggling quietly.

“I’ve never been so glad to not be a gholam,” Alexander said.

“Fuckin’ A,” Quincey agreed. “That woman does the most outrageous things to the Pattern, and I’d much rather keep my breakfast where it is.”

 


 

“Your name’s Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith.”

The creature – for there was no other word for it – nodded its awful puckered coal-scuttle face. Its eyes gleamed.

“Yez.”

“Meatballs.”

“Yez.”

“And you’re a … human, I suppose is what you’re going for?”

“I godda glan’j’lar problem.”

“Yeah you do.”

“D’jou call me a hick?”

There was silence. Even without making any noise, Mister C managed to express the essence of a snigger. Chucky turned and glared at him. Mister C slurped on his moonshine and hung casually against the bar with a jaunty expression on his face. There was no hope of assistance from that quarter. Chucky sighed, patted his pockets and cloak for weapons or a shiny thing to distract the monster that was meant to be a human, and began formulating a plan. It was essentially an ad-lib, into which Chucky hoped to fit a bagpipe solo, a bit of running, a Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith-shaped hole, and possibly a snack.

“Yeah,” he said, “yeah I called you a hick.”

“Maybe we’sh’d step oudzide.”

There was a little sighing sound of reverence from the crowd, and the Winespring Inn suddenly began to drain as people filed out by the enlarged door and through the windows. The general mood seemed to be one of a crowd about to witness a good jolly old-fashioned bit of wedding entertainment with lots of violence and crunchy bits, none of which would belong to them. There was animated conversation and jostling for position once the Inn was cleared, and Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith shouldered his way out through the door with a final piggy-eyed blink in Chucky’s direction. Chucky squared his shoulders, cracked his knuckles, and pulled his bagpipes into play-position.

“Right, you giant definitely-not-human motherfucker,” he said toughly. “Time to-”

His bagpipes went ‘whoo’.

He looked down at the bag under his arm, and saw that somebody had considerately stuck a barbecue fork through it on their way out the door. It would take three hours and half a sheep to fix. He hadn’t even had a chance to play them since the skanky fox people had repaired them the last time, and they were punctured already.

“Oh man,” Chucky lowered his head despondently. “I’m history.”

“Really?” Mister C of 9 was still tied to the bar. “You look more like cookery to me,” Chucky sighed again, and started for the door. “Do me a favour, Chuck?”

Surprised at the halfman’s audacity, and reflecting that maybe in the current situation a better term for the guy might be ‘quarterman’, Chucky turned back. “Hm?”

“Untie me and carry me out to Dina al’Fresco’s little sitting-outside-at-a-chair-under-an-umbrella-while-eating area? I’d like to watch.”

Chucky shook his head in disbelief, and walked out.

Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith was waiting outside, in the middle of a wide circle of onlooking villagers. It was unsure, on the information available, whether the circle was so large to allow everybody a good view, or because nobody wanted to be too close to the splatter. Chucky morosely assumed the latter, and shuffled out into the middle of the circle. Silence descended again, but this wasn’t the silence of horror, so much as the silence of three hundred people drawing breath for such howled phrases as, “good shot, Mister Smith!”, “ooooh, that’s gonna leave a mark!” and, “oh Light, his ribs are sticking out of his arsehole, that’s not normal!” Chucky furiously racked his brains for something to say in order to get out of dying. After a couple of seconds he racked his brains for something to say before going out in style, instead.

He hoped it would all be over quickly, and he’d wake up sitting at his computer. This was all only an artificial environment of some sort, after all. Sure, it smelled bad on the inside, and everything was very realistic – except for the seeming acceptance of Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith as a human being – but it wouldn’t extend to a drawn-out, clubbed-to-pulp and permanent death, would it?

Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith advanced slowly, raising an enormous twisted hand preparatory to destroying the gleeman forever, when inspiration struck.

“With me dies the greatest tale ever told!” he cried. The crowd looked at him without interest. Smith’s hand began to descend. Not fast, but like a tree. It didn’t need to be fast. “The tale of Lord Luc and how the Horn of Valere was lost and he found out where it was and how to use it!”

“Hold, Billy!”

There was a general murmur of discontent, and mutters of, “we’ve heard all the Lord Luc stories already,” and Chucky dared to take another breath. And another. He dared to look down, and decided that in a little while he might dare to find himself a new pair of pants. Then he looked around to see who had spoken.

As he’d hoped, it was Lord Luc. Or Slayer. Or whoever the guy was meant to be. Chucky wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but Slayer wasn’t it. Sure, the guy was resplendent in his Lordly attire and swagger, but there was something just a little bit strange about him. Sometimes, from certain angles and when he was turned in a certain direction, he seemed to be black-and-white, or slightly under-exposed. At one point, he walked behind someone and came out the other side looking like an animation from an A-Ha music video.

Why this should be, Chucky wasn’t sure. He wished he’d paid more attention to the storyline featuring Slayer. In fact, the less likely it seemed that he was about to die and the more thought he gave the whole situation, the more Chucky wished there’d been a Slayer storyline, instead of a half-dozen throwaway paragraphs about the dork through the entire bastard novel series.

“Hello there,” Luc said, striking a pose in the centre of the circle and swishing his double cloaks. As Perrin had said earlier, Lord Luc was indeed posing as a gleeman. His fluttering patches were mainly silks, velvets, velours and gold-thread, and the overall effect was of a christmas tree after the tree had died, but he undeniably looked the part and made Chucky look rather country-poor in comparison. A glance around the audience confirmed Chucky’s suspicion that he had no chance of playing the country-poor card to his advantage. Of the onlookers, only Perrin Goldeneyes Aybara looked remotely sympathetic, and even that was a stretch given that he had apparently invented, and was eating, popcorn.

“Hi,” Chucky said. “You must be Slayer,” he waited a moment, for dramatic effect, and wasn’t let down. Lord Luc gasped and looked around guiltily, went monochrome again for a second, and began to stammer. “I mean, the famous slayer of the, um, Worm of Wherever,” he went on smoothly. “The gleeman Class of ’56 basically graduated on your stories. You’re a legend. But I wouldn’t want to bore you,” he went on meaingfully. “Not after you’ve chosen to bless this town with your presence. You, a great Lord and all,” he paused judiciously. “Wink wink.”

“I see you’re well-versed in the classics,” Slayer said, twirling his moustaches. Chucky tried to remember whether the guy had had moustaches a couple of minutes before, and as he thought about it, Slayer went completely out-of-focus and faded to a greyscale so faint he was almost invisible. For a second, he was actually a stick figure with a bunch of scribbled notes floating around his head. Nobody seemed to notice. “Maybe we should talk things over in private, before giving these people the show of their lives.”

“That’d be great,” Chucky said, blinking rapidly and shaking his head to clear it. Lord Luc’s clothes popped into sharp focus and glorious Technicolor and the weird Min-viewing note scraps vanished, but the man inside the clothes remained weirdly Take On Me-ey. “I was just, um, well,” he gestured upwards at the immense glowering shape of Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith.

Lord Luc turned, looked, and smiled brightly. “Ah, you’d run afoul of my page-boy, Billy. He has a glandular disorder.”

“I noticed that almost immediately,” Chucky said, and several things suddenly snapped into place in his mind. “Page-boy, eh? Not bad work for a forger.”

“It’s an Aginor Bio-Weapons Corp. experiment in progress,” Slayer said in an undertone. “You must have been surprised to see one so far from Thakan’dar, eh?”

“Oh,” Chucky nodded. “Oh my stars, yes. Surprised,” he looked up at Smith with a tremulous smile. “No hard feelings, eh Billy?” Billy grunted, and Chucky continued hopefully. “That’s a nice necklace you’re wearing, now that I notice it. What’s it made of?”

“Acorns,” Smith replied with an evil little grin.

“Well then, no harm done,” Lord Slayer said, and faded into black-and-white for a moment while he turned to address Smith and the rest of the crowd. “Chucky’s our friend, there’ll be no gross slow-motion squashing and carcass-stomp today,” there was a general groan. “Let the wedding recommence,” he went on, turning back towards Chucky. “My fellow gleeman and I shall repair to the inn, to discuss our entertainment schedule. The greatest tale ever told, eh?” he clapped Chucky on the shoulder. “About me and the Horn of Valere, eh?”

“Yeah,” Chucky said weakly, as they headed back towards the Winespring’s expanded doorway. “yeah, alright.”

“And you knew the story of the Worm of Wherever, too,” Slayer marvelled, and faded almost into nonexistence for a split-second and the notes returned. ALSO LORD LUC, one read. SLAYER / HOPPER … LAN IN DISGUISE? read another. Then they were gone again. Chucky wondered, in a flash of insight, whether this was because the Slayer that had existed at this stage of the story had been a character completely unformed by the author and with no real definition or purpose. It would make sense. Actually, now he came to think about it, it was pretty obvious.

He became aware that Slayer had stopped talking. “Hmm?” he said, distracted.

“I said, I don’t even know that one.”

“I took an extension course in making up bullshit stories when I was in gleecollege,” Chucky explained, “you should hear my Yoru chronicles.”

“They were you?” Slayer exclaimed as they stepped inside. “There I was thinking he was actually a figure out of hist-”

They stopped and looked down.

Mister C of 9 had obviously decided to make a run for it while everybody was busy. Chucky would have liked to believe that his old partner in crime had been trying to get free so he could somehow rescue the gleeman from the ol’ gross slow-motion squashing and carcass-stomp, but on extremely brief reflection it didn’t seem likely. He was either headed for a window, or the back fields, or the river. He’d had great difficulty freeing himself from his helpful ropes of verticality +2, but had succeeded by some wiggling of his baby-hand and studious gnawing. His skinny body and dwindling supply of protruding extremities had also helped him.

Then, of course, he’d fallen down and been unable to get back up, because he had no hands or feet. So he’d slithered a little way along the bar, and that was about as far as he’d gotten. He looked up at the intruders with flat hate in his sunnies.

“Is that your halfman?” Slayer asked mildly.

“Yeah,” Chucky sighed. “He’s the groom.”

They stood looking down at Mister C for a while. Mister C wriggled and said a bad word.

“He’s super fucked up,” Slayer declared.

 


 

Upon returning from their little adventure at the evil menagerie elephant show of Valan Luca, Dr. Nick and his companions were amazed to find their campsite in such a state. Which is to say, the Ogier were amazed, Cyberwollf wasn’t, and Dr. Nick was irritated.

They’d taken the wagon and its slumbering contents with them, for fear of what people might think if they found three comatose women in the back of it. As it happened, they needn’t have worried so much about leaving them at the campfire, and perhaps a little more about what might have happened if Luca’s patrons had stumbled onto the little trove while they were filing bandy-legged out of the arena.

Anyway, the wagon was no longer quiet and unassuming and discreet. In fact, parts of it seemed to be on fire, and other parts … yes. Dr. Nick knew that texture effect. A lot of the wagon seemed to be liberally doused in ooie-blooey.

Nynaeve was sitting in a nearby shrub, crying bitterly. Min was wandering around with a glazed expression on her face, and the recently returned auditioners were horrified to see it wasn’t just a figure of speech, but that her face was coated in the same stuff that covered the rear end of the wagon. Elayne was sitting up in the shredded remains of the wagon-bed itself, holding Birgitte’s unconscious head in the crook of one arm, Gaidal Cain’s in the other, and the jizz-soaked mug of a third person nestled softly in her lap. She looked weary but determined.

“What’s happened here?” Dr. Nick asked, with a cold, heavy feeling of complete defeat in his soul.

Bit by bit, between Nynaeve’s hysterical blubbering and Min’s face-wiping, eye-scrubbing fit of hysterics, they managed to piece together exactly what had taken place.

As the drugged tea had started to wear off – Dr. Nick started to curse himself for neglecting to top the girls up before rushing them away to rescue the Ogier, then realised that he didn’t need to curse himself, he was already nicely cursed as it was – the three most irritating women in the universe had found themselves fading in and out of Tel’aran’rhiod, unable to control their stability, and had eventually ended up trapped there. Without knowing how much time was passing in the real world, they had wandered around aimlessly trying to figure things out.

Then something had happened. Nynaeve seemed to think they’d been attacked by one of the Forsaken in a nightmarish disguise. Min had thought it was something else, and that it had been disguised as something quite nice in comparison to what it really looked like. Whoever or whatever it had been, it had dived towards them screaming something, and they’d only managed to escape because Birgitte, Cain and the guy they had dubbed Peeseearr had jumped in at the last minute and carried them out of the way. They’d chased one another through the rooftops of some unknown town for a while, Nynaeve shooting fireballs and Birgitte shooting arrows and everybody screaming, when all of a sudden they’d been attacked from the opposite direction.

This time there was no disagreement whatsoever. It had been a giant flying penis, and it had bowled them all over and gone straight for the Forsaken, or the Tel’aran’rhiod monster, or whatever it was. There had been a brief, dark period about which nobody could – or would – remember anything, then an explosion, and they’d woken up to find the wagon on fire, their surroundings drenched in man-batter, and Birgitte, Gaidal Cain and Peeseearr torn out of the Dream and brought whole and dying into the real world. Elayne had promptly bonded all three of them as Warders, while Nynaeve and Min went even nuttier than they had been already.

“Well, that’s nice,” Dr. Nick said, mopping distastefully at a puddle of blooey with the sleeve of his cadin’sor. “So, wherever we’re headed, at least now Nynaeve’ll be a bit quieter and Elayne will have these guys to look after, and we’ll have a bit of expertise at the helm. It’s, like, three times better than just having Birgitte,” he glanced at the small, mousy, damp-looking comatose form of Peeseearr. “But what’s his story? He doesn’t look like much of a Hero of the Horn. What’s his name?”

“Oh, we just called him Peeseearr because it was easier to pronounce,” Elayne explained, her voice and manner still vague and disoriented from the drugs and the concussion. “I don’t know if he’s a great warrior or a strategic genius or anything like that, he just ran very fast and talked a lot, even while we were in disgusting peril.”

“Can you remember his actual name?” Dr. Nick asked, the sickly leaden feeling in his soul only increasing.

“PluckyComicRelief.”

 


 

“What exactly are we looking at here?” Janica said, glaring around aimlessly.

The damane and her sul’dam were standing with a miserable-looking Dragon Reborn, several uneasy-looking Maidens of the Spear, a pissed-off-looking Nancy Sidesaddle, a pissed-off-enough-to-make-Nancy-look-cheerful-looking Moiraine, an absent-looking Forsaken_1 and an embarrassed-looking Jasin Natael, on top of the wooden tower they’d ordered built overlooking Cairhien. It wasn’t a well-built tower, because trees had been quite hard to come by, and people with the engineering skill to build a tower with were pretty scarce too, but it was good enough to give them optimal view with minimal seasickness. In the far corner, Kin Tovere and his two helpers, Jol and Cail, were fussing over a pair of telescopes. But they really weren’t necessary. Everything that anybody would ever want to see in and around Cairhien was already clearly visible.

“Ehmm…” Debs looked out over the greater Cairhienin metropolitan area, and tried out several versions of an answer to Janica’s question. None of them were really very appealing.

“Bloody, burning ashes and fuck,” Moiraine summarised succinctly.

Cairhien was gone. Most of its walls had been torn down, especially those facing onto the nearby river, which was now running thick and black under a sky leaden with pollution. The woods within a mile of the city were gone, feeding newly-made furnaces and cookpots, and most of the city’s houses had been pulled down and replaced with great fenced areas like paddocks. Only instead of sheep or cows, these paddocks contained people, obviously collected in the ‘Seanchan’ raids all the way through the Jangai pass and probably elsewhere as well. Giant grey shapes, visible even without the aid of the telescopes, moved slowly back and forth around the furnaces and forges, sometimes dragging the tiny struggling shapes of people, sometimes crossing to the river with an armload of spindly black swords, sometimes just standing at the fences and poking at the prisoners with mild, tireless curiosity. From some of the new structures, in a slow but constant flood, the unmistakable shapes of trollocs and myrddraal were filing into the city centre, where smithies were clearly producing more conventional weapons and armour.

“Lukes leek the Ferseeken’ve gotten here before us,” Debs settled on, but secretly thought Moiraine’s had been the better call.

“It’s Thakan’dar, y’all,” Shannon said, crossing to the engineers – giving Natael, Debs noticed, a wide berth in the process – and peering through the telescope as they made final adjustments to it. “They’ve done gone built theyselves a new war machine right here, an’ they’re already in production. And what do we got?” he glanced over his shoulder. “Apart from Scratchy, I mean.”

“I didn’t expect the Darkfriends to move this quickly,” the foppish gleeman said, looking down over the facilities with eyes Debs was sure were being enhanced with saidin. “Aginor’s obviously stepping up his plans, and the production lines around Shayol Ghul aren’t enough anymore. They’ve got friends helping with the work, too,” he pointed at the flying shapes in the air above. “Those Seanchan you’ve been talking about.”

Moiraine glared suspiciously at the poorly-disguised servant of the Great Lord of the Dark, and sighed aggressively. “I don’t suppose it will do me any good,” she gritted, “to ask you where you learned all this.”

“Common knowledge,” Asmodean said, examining his fingernails. “Aginor has a great deal of weapons and inventions for the war effort, and most of his plans have never so much derailed as been delayed. He’s obviously out and about and returning to business, business he left off at the Sealing of the Bore. If you look at those big smoke-producing buildings near the central business district, you’ll clearly see the Aginor Bio-Weapons Corporation logo on the chimneys.”

Janica peered into the second telescope, and sighed.

“This is hopeless,” she said. “Kin, do you think you could make some of these lenses – only make them smaller, and put them in a frame that I can wear?”

“Over your eyes?” Tovere smiled uncertainly. “I could never grind lenses so fine, it would take the use of the One…”

“Spackle?” Forsaken_1 finished hopefully.

“Power?” Janica corrected.

Tovere looked longingly over the side of the tower, as if contemplating a jump for freedom. “Maybe.”

“We can talk about it later,” Janica said, rolling up her sleeves. “I may not be able to see much, but unless I’m very much mistaken, they’re about to attack.”

Posted in Kussa mun hopoti? | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The aki’Pedia Presents:

This morning, while waiting for Panda Egg to publish, I sat here and put a whole bunch of my different alien languages into the aki’Pedia’s Lexicon Page.

This isn’t all of my words and phrases, and it’s definitely not all of my languages, but these are the main ones for now. The rest, I will add in later.

I also have several letters of the actual Xidh alphabet to convert into online format and put up somehow, but that will also have to wait.

Right now, I’m going to bed.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Panda Egg: Cracking Soon

panda egg1

It’s ready! The paperback is in review and Mister Thorn is wrestling with the e-book as we speak. By the end of the week, all should be in readiness. All that remains is to see if my copies arrive in time for the Pandamonium Party on the 23rd of November.

Gabriel has done an amazing job as always, and – due to a bit of creative sharing and re-use – he was generous enough to offer me this cover free of charge, which was very welcome news at this time of year.

The overall joined-up three-panel short story anthology piece is also looking more and more incredible. Here they all are: Deadshepherd, The First Feast and Panda Egg.

group

Already can’t wait to see what the next anthology cover looks like, and there’s at least The Last Days of Earth to publish before that. Steaming ahead with that one now.

So, for those of you still keeping track of this (and I may just be shouting at my assorted mental passengers at this stage), here’s how Phase Two is progressing.

phases_large_20191112

Still plenty more letters in the alphabet, as Jean-Luc Picard might say.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

The Ballad of Big Shooey, Part 7

Magdus folded his upper arms, planted his lower fists on his hips, and gave an appreciative whistle. In spite of really, really not wanting to be, he found he was impressed.

“Mighty pretty,” he congratulated Stansgaard. “Don’t quite get how it proves you’re a Vahoon and I’m not an idiot, but she’s mighty pretty.”

“You should have seen her in her prime,” Strangle said sadly. “She’s lived the cora laar since then, sorry to say.”

“What is she? Shuttle? Fighter? Doesn’t really look like either one,” Magdus circled the elegant nose of the ship and the heavy, scarred block of … well, some sort of engine component, that arguably detracted somewhat from the overall aesthetic. He knew pretty when he saw it, but would be the first to admit he didn’t have much experience with starships. “She’s not a prototype like the Þurskip. They didn’t make any more prototypes after the retrofit started.”

“No,” Stansgaard replied. “She doesn’t have a classification. Not one you’d recognise. She’s one of a kind.”

“The Fleet only builds vessels of standardised classifications…” Magdus said, then paused. “She’s not made by the Fleet at all,” he whispered. “Is she human?”

“Ah,” Stansgaard smiled sidelong at Magdus, then went back to looking up at his ship. “That’s where we begin to get to the point.”

“Praise be.”

“Humans didn’t build her,” Stansgaard said. “Humans didn’t build a lot of the things they have down there. In fact, they didn’t really know what they had. Which made it all even more convenient for us – politically speaking.”

It was actually easier to accept that some other non-Fleet dumblermar had constructed the vessel than to countenance the possibility that the adys oko had. Let alone some fantastical ancient ancestors thereof, as some of the Fleet xenopologists were fond of speculating. But that still left a very pressing follow-up question. “Then who did build her?” Magdus demanded.

Stansgaard made another of those curiously rehearsed-looking gestures. Let’s put that line of discussion on hold for the moment. “She’s been the source of the Fleet’s eyes-closed plausible-deniability inspiration,” he said. “For the retrofit. Getting you back into Cursèd’s Playground as quickly and tidily as possible.”

Magdus took note of that you. There were strict agreements about where the Worldships of the Fleet flew. Not even the Blaren were questioning that. Not even the Separatists. Some had tried. Some had gone against the Fleet’s decision. The aki’Drednanth had put an end to it. Not that there’d been much fight left in anyone, after the First Feast.

If Strangle was harbouring some intention of defying Fleet protocols and policy, Magdus didn’t want to know about it. “You reverse-engineered the Worldship relative field generators using this?” he asked. If he squinted, he could sort of see it. The ship did have large grey-black bumper extensions that could have been some kind of relative torus. To be honest, they looked retrofitted onto this ship too.

“To an extent. Of course a lot of it we figured out on our own, and we’ve been steadily improving since the commissioning of the Þurskip. Certainly things have progressed in – pardon the expression – leaps and bounds since Margan Karturi’s first disastrous attempt. I mean, we don’t destroy solar systems hardly at all when we decelerate out of relative speed now.”

Magdus spared Strangle a narrow look. “I thought all the Þurskip data came from Earth,” he said, “not a weird secret prototype. And certainly not from Margan’s time.”

“A certain amount was made possible by the science corps and the Vanjing think-tank,” Stansgaard agreed, “but scaling up for Fleet requirements … it may have escaped your notice, but we have a bit of a power generation problem that the humans don’t have to worry about.”

“Because they’re living on a giant slab of pure energy,” Magdus grunted.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was pure, but yes,” Stansgaard said easily. “Bridnaks will only get us so far. Which is why this is as much about the transpersion plant as it is about the relative generator. Getting the Worldships moving without turning them into giant ghost-filled geodes like the Shoo, or needing to tow a second Worldship full of Bridnaks behind each one,” he gestured at the ship. His ship, Magdus was prepared to accept for the time being. Although it seemed preposterous that any non-officer, non-aki’Drednanth, would just be given such a thing. Even a Vahoon. “She’s the convenient template we’ve used so we didn’t need to go begging to the humans or admit to ignorance too much. Imagine the shame, the ignominy.”

“Doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“We jest, but it’s the simple truth,” Stansgaard said seriously. “The Fleet Council of Captains will allow us to commit just about any violation of the Twin Species Social Code in the name of avoiding being beholden to the monkeys. As long as nobody asks. Nobody questions. As long as they don’t have to ever see their dirty deeds held up in front of their pristine innocent faces.”

At least he was back to saying us, Magdus reflected. The less said about the rest of his pronouncements, however, the better. “Can you be demoted from Vahoon to Blaran?” he asked. “This conversation is starting to sound like a good way to find out.”

“Ah yes,” Stansgaard said, “I did sort of imply that I was about the get to the point about that whole Vahoon thing, didn’t I?”

“You did very heavily imply that,” Magdus said, “and we’re none of us getting any younger.”

“A little cruel, coming from a Primer,” Stansgaard said with injured dignity, “but I’ll allow it. Very well. What would you say if I were to tell you, Magdus Foylaa, that I am a Vahoon – that it is the quite literal truth? That the legends are simple fact? And that, at the same time, they are absolute shooey from beginning to end, and I am just a regular – albeit clever, and admittedly a bit on the ungainly side – Molran?”

“I’d say you were clearly dragging your feet in circles around the damn point,” Madgus said, “in the hopes that I would figure it out based on the clues you’re dropping, but it looks like I’m destined to disappoint you.”

“Ah,” Stansgaard put on a mournful expression. “Disappointment may be my lot in life, it’s true. I’ve done my best to come to terms with that.

“Very well,” he repeated, brightening, and turned back to look up at the bizarre, lovely, damaged vessel. “I will cease to drag my feet around the point, then, and I will do so using my ship as an illustration. But first, if you will indulge me just one more time … tell me, have you heard the human myth about the Sun Thief, and Zed of the Silent Spaces?”

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Farce of Heaven, Part 10

Puddin Taim sighed happily, stretched, and scratched the back of his neck. He scratched and scratched and scratched, delighting in the sensation, delighting in the fact that nobody was around to stop him from doing it. Nynaeve was off somewhere, Moiraine was shouting at the Wise Ones, Debs and Janica were shouting at Moiraine, the Wise Ones were shouting at everybody … he scratched until he felt warm, thick liquid trickling down his spine, his teeth bared and low mutters escaping his stiff white lips.

Eianrod had been more or less abandoned when the Seanchan or the Shaido or some other people beginning with ‘s’ had come through, but Debs and Janica said there were signs of attacks elsewhere. The Maidens of the Spear wanted to go out in patrols and find out who was rendering the countryside uninhabited. Vamps wanted to tell people stories about the Maidens, sex stories, so people would be impressed. So far, Puddin had stopped him. Vamps hated Puddin a lot, and wanted to kill him with balefire. As soon as he found a way of hitting himself with balefire, he would.

He could not, however, rule out the possibility that he’d already found a way, several times, and then balefired himself to a point before he’d figured out how to balefire himself, thus no longer balefiring himself and forgetting how to balefire himself. This was clearly a problem that would only be solved with more balefire.

Even though it was a little town and the residents hadn’t been too choosy about packing up neatly when they left, Puddin had been given the finest quarters that could be found, as befit the Car’a’carn. Vamps thought they could probably do better, maybe including a little harem-room. When he’d suggested having a large group of Maidens in the merchant’s house with him, they had been very pleased, as was only natural. But then Puddin had ruined everything by suggesting a selection of representatives from all the septs and Clans, and Debs and Janica and Moiraine and the Wise Ones had agreed. The Maidens had been bitterly disappointed, because they all wanted him. Sexually. It was yet another annoyance to lay at the twitching, charred, balefired feet of Puddin God Damn Taim.

The guards and the attendant gai’shain respectively nodded and lowered their eyes when he approached. He nodded back, adding a little swagger to his steps. He even managed to ignore the seething, chittering mass of bugs that seemed to be crawling over one of the white-garbed Aielmen. In fact, it hadn’t seemed that there’d been an Aielman in the clothes at all. Just bugs.

Shrugging off the nasty sight, and raising his hand for another good scratch, Vamps pushed open the door to his rooms.

“Bguh!”

The merchant woman, Nancy Sidesaddle, was standing in the middle of the room, flabby and white and naked, evidently caught in the middle of admiring herself in the mirror. It occurred faintly to Puddin – very, very faintly – that Nancy was in fact a person he knew. Another girl named Shannon, perhaps. He wasn’t quite sure, and hadn’t been ever since he’d made the mistake of asking Contro to explain it. Maybe she’d been checking out her new body, taking advantage of her supposed privacy to see how all the various bits worked.

Puddin was mortified at walking in on a woman in such a state, but his time was over, and the Day of Muffin Vamps was dawning. He grinned in an exceedingly charming way, and advanced.

“Git the fuck away from me y’all!” Nancy screamed coyly. She backed away, trying to cover herself with her hands, but even though she had very large hands for a woman, the rest of her was larger still. Cutting to the left in a feint, she dodged and ducked right, skirted the room and made a dash for the far door. Vamps gave chase.

He caught her in the corridor, about ten feet from the main bedroom. She was standing, hands on knees, puffing and shaking her head.

“I’m too durn tubby,” she panted. “I can’t run no more.”

Muffin Vamps reached out for her, and coherent thought ended.

 


 

There was silence in the wagon as Valan Luca reviewed the notes he’d made in the course of the entirely disturbing interview. The notes were either an extremely complicated shorthand or – and Dr. Nick was beginning to suspect this was the case – Valan Luca was completely illiterate, and insane, and had just scribbled random doodles on the sheets of paper while the others were talking, and was now pretending they were notes and that he was reading them, and if anybody pointed this out, Valan Luca would probably try to bite them.

Coarshus shifted uncomfortably on the pillow he’d been offered while he sat on the floor. The wagon itself shifted uncomfortably on its axles as the weight of the four Ogier upset the delicate balance.

Valan Luca was a matrix of sexually-transmitted diseases, held together by hair wax and gold earrings. He twitched, and scratched his genitals, and occasionally spat into a soggy handkerchief and paused to examine the contents before resuming his twitch-and-scratch routine. He was one of the most disgusting things Dr. Nick had seen since entering the Wheel of Time universe, and considering that among his first experiences had been a mad gholam on a feeding frenzy, Valan Luca occupied some pretty lofty real estate.

“So,” the tragically raw and unedited man said eventually, “your group is heading in our direction, and want to travel undetected, and you want to be a part of my … menagerie.”

“Yes,” Dr. Nick confirmed, not at all sure this was the case but aware of the glowing, innocent earnestness of the four huge morons behind him.

“And your group consists of…” Luca pretended to peer at his notes, but discretely glanced over the top of them and did a stock-take of the applicants, “four Ogier, an Aielman, and a giant wolf,” he pondered for a moment, and added, “and three comatose women in a wagon.”

“Right.”

“Right,” Luca paused to scratch. “And you wanted to be a part of the menagerie because the Ogier heard the crowds and thought it sounded like fun, and came to watch, but then you decided it might be even better to join in as part of the act.”

Dr. Nick, having lost this particular battle with narrative drive, nodded. “Yes.”

“Yes,” Valan Luca pondered for a moment, then put his notes down and pulled out his handkerchief. “I think you – hrkk – might have – gbltooeyh – gotten the wrong idea – pt – about this menagerie,” he said, and spread the handkerchief open and put his eye up close to it. He twitched, almost inserting his nose into the vile clots. “We cater for a very … select audience.”

“Even so,” Frendli – not having picked up the agonisingly familiar vibe to Luca’s voice that Dr. Nick had recognised without any difficulty whatsoever after a lifetime of experience – leaned forward eagerly. “Even so, your audience cannot be so grand that a group of Ogier would not be of any interest to them,” his ears drooped. “That is to say, in my opinion they could not be, if I do say so myself. Ogier are well-received by nobles and common folk alike, and while I do not know your audience-”

“You certainly don’t,” Luca said, not unkindly. He was addled with syphilis and numerous other things that made the syphilis seem like the charming one, but he wasn’t so far gone as to offend a creature that was ten feet tall and could tie a knot in an iron bar. “We specialise in animal shows. We’re a menagerie, after all, not a circus.”

“Cyberwollf is a very intelligent wolf,” Wyse ventured, as Dr. Nick started to think furiously about how to get away.

“Yes, but we already have a dog show,” Luca pointed out. “Clarine has a wide selection of dogs, many of them as large as your wolf and far more savage-looking. That adds to the entertainment. We have Latelle with her bear, and we already have several miscellaneous acrobats to fill in. And of course, to steal the show, we have Cerandin and her giant boar-horses. If you think you can add to that, I’d be only too happy to take you on.”

“But four Ogier,” Wyse persisted, while Dr. Nick looked at the windows and discounted them as an escape route. “We can sing trees into wondrous shapes, and make the grass grow, and amaze everybody with-”

“Can you make the trees fuck?”

“And we can astonish the … what?”

“Well,” Valan Luca put down his notes and folded his arms, “we’ve got quite a show, and I doubt even an Ogier can better what a boar-horse can swing. No offence, I’m sure. But even if you all piled onto one of your comatose women, or did a sort of multi-act with all three of them, it might be a bit of an anticlimax. And I don’t think you could do it,” he glanced at Hoarni. “Except maybe you.”

Wyse, Frendli and Coarshus stared. Cyberwollf stared. Dr. Nick continued to plan an exit.

“Of course,” Luca went on consideringly, “a lot of people around these parts are veterans of the war, and there’s a lot of hard feeling about the Aiel even today. And with the rumours of the sand-chewers crawling back over the Spine of the World for another slapping, things are very tense right now. If the four of you are offering to take turns with the Aielman, and finish off with a humourously-shaped tree or the wolf or something … but no, that wouldn’t work.”

Dr. Nick’s backside unclenched and he stepped up his departure schedule.

“The wolf’s a female,” Luca concluded. “We could finish off with the bear instead, at least until you get into the flow of things, and then we could move on to the boar-horse. Do you think you could do that?”

Wglm,” Dr. Nick said, every orifice in his body clenching simultaneously.

“Four nights on, three nights off, naturally.”

Zgfw.”

Hoarni leaned forward and raised a hand diligently.

“Are there any female boar-horses?” he asked.

“Sorry to waste your time,” Dr. Nick jumped to his feet and ducked through the gap offered as the Ogier leaned. “We’ll be on our way now. Didn’t realise this was the arrangement, we’ll just stick to being audience members, we’ll get out of your way now.”

He jumped out of the wagon, straightened his cadin’sor and took a deep, relieved breath of the admittedly unpleasant air. There were a lot of animals in the menagerie, and their excrement was probably the source of the most pleasant smells. He didn’t like to think about the rest of it.

Cybes joined him, a knowing look in her eyes.

“What? I’m not going to be a performer,” Dr. Nick snapped. “Not after the crap I put up with on that Sea Folk boat. And if the Ogier still want to see the show, well … okay, I can’t deny I’m just a little bit curious. Can’t you imagine?” he tried to spark Cybes’s enthusiasm. “An elephant show!”

Cyberwollf sighed.

“No, I can’t imagine it either,” Dr. Nick admitted. In the near distance, there was a loud trumpeting sound, an audible splash, and a cheer. “Hey, maybe they’re rehearsing.”

Cybes gripped his sleeve in her teeth.

“Aren’t you even the slightest bit curious as to how it, you know, works?”

“Woof woof.”

Dr. Nick snatched his hand away while she was barking, and took a prudent couple of steps to one side. “Was it two barks for ‘yes’ or two for ‘no’?”

Cybes growled. The door of the wagon opened again and the Ogier began to awkwardly push themselves out, like removals men negotiating a grand piano out of a hatchback. The decorative little house-car rose significantly on its wheel-rims as the four giants disembarked. They stood around the Aielman and the wolf, ears down and faces miserable.

“Right,” Dr. Nick said before any of them could start bumblebeeing. “Now that our little trip to the circus is over, can we get on? Preferably before master Luca changes his mind about my pull with the local rednecks?”

“It sounded like such fun while we were listening to it from a distance…” Frendli mumbled, wringing the already-tortured material of his Illian shirt in his hands.

“Maybe, since the girls are already asleep, I could do one show and see how it goes down…” Hoarni added hopefully.

Dr. Nick would have put it to a vote, but he knew the three dependable Ogier would wait until Cybes voted before making up their minds to do the same thing as she was, and that would just leave him and Hoarni looking like perverts.

“Okay,” he said, trying to muster a little dignity. “Can we at least agree that the circus wasn’t as fun as it sounded from a distance, and that it’s not the sort of cover we need to get closer to Tar Valon without being noticed?” he looked around. “Or we can wait here,” he went on, “and talk it over a bit more.”

“That’s okay, master Riviera,” Wyse hastened. “We shall think of another disguise, I am sure.”

“We can wait if you want,” Dr. Nick insisted.

“There’s no need.”

“We’re almost out of drugged tea, and I’m sure the ladies will be fascinated by this whole escapade.”

To his satisfaction, that got everybody moving.

 


 

“Rosie Cotton, Rosie Cotton…”

Chucky, Mister C, Logain, Perrin and Berelain sat and watched Bran al’Vere go through his ritual performance, pretending he didn’t know every single female human being of marriagable age – and not a few of the quadrupeds – in the Two Rivers area, along with their addresses, and the location of their bedroom windows in relation to those of their parents.

“No … can’t say as I know any Rosie Cotton,” he concluded, even going so far as to pull down a large tome of village history and leaf through the final few crispy pages written before literacy had deserted the shores of Old Manetheren more or less permanently. “Nobody like you say, really.”

“Nobody at all?” Logain said, casting a concerned look at his master, who seemed to be fading away into a sweaty little white shadow.

“Well … of course … unless you mean…” al’Vere hesitated theatrically, and glanced at his wife. “There’s always Rosie Cauthon. That might be who you mean.”

Marin al’Vere twitched. Chucky wasn’t really paying attention to the transaction, being far more engrossed in a couple of the other members of the household at the time, and convinced that the whole thing was just more of Mister C’s ineffable silliness. But he still realised something shonky was going on.

“That’s her,” Mister C of 9 said, from his position reclining on Bran al’Vere’s most expensive couch with all his butchered limbs spread out and slightly elevated to ‘assist the healing process’. He was extremely conspicuous and obviously non-human, but nobody seemed to notice. That was because, Chucky reflected, they were all unwashed hillbillies. “That’s the one. We’ll want to kick things off as soon as possible.”

Bran and Perrin exchanged a glance.

“I can … perform the ceremony, my Lord Goldeneyes,” Bran said diffidently. Chucky waited for Perrin to protest about being called a Lord, but his relationship with Berelain had obviously stopped him from being such a whiny pain in the ass. For that matter, Berelain seemed a lot less annoying than he remembered as well. In fact, something about her reminded him alarmingly of Janica. They were in the al’Veres’ house, which had been transformed into the Lord Aybara’s manor until such time as an actual manor could be built, and Perrin didn’t even seem uncomfortable with that. He was still the big, gap-toothed simpleton Chucky had come to know and not-quite-hate back at the Gentlemen’s Club, but at the same time there was something about him that said, ‘if you call me a gap-toothed simpleton I shall pull off your scrotum and stamp on it while you scream and bleed’.

“But she’s-” Marin al’Vere started to protest, and was brought up short by her husband’s elbow in her midriff.

“Fetch her,” Mister C said, waving his protohand feebly.

There was another moment or two of consideration, and then Marin, lips pursed disapprovingly, headed out to fetch Rosie Cauthon with all possible haste.

“And let the Lord Luc know that there is to be a wedding,” Bran called after her, “and tell the Women’s Circle and the Council, and-”

“What do you take me for, Bran al’Vere?” Marin snapped. “Of course I shall tell everybody.”

“So,” Chucky said cheerfully, “Lord Luc is still here, I take it?”

“Yes,” Perrin replied, looking a bit uncomfortable. “He arrived a while ago, only shortly after we did ourselves, and he’s made himself quite useful. Him and that … friend … of his. Actually,” Lord Aybara hesitated, “he’s sort of acting as a gleeman. He’s not as good as you, though,” he added hastily. “He doesn’t know any stories about Yoru. Actually, he mostly only knows stories about Luc.”

“Ah,” Chucky nodded. “Sort of like Vamps. And then there’s this Slayer guy. You said he was a problem? In the Wolf Dream? I seem to recall you mentioning him.”

“Yes,” Perrin frowned. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. Down, get down, get off. Yes, thank you, there’s a good … chap,” Chucky had learned the hard way, in the first couple of minutes of his stay in the house of the Lord Aybara of Mayene, that the wolves lolling around the fireplace did not take kindly to being called ‘dogs’, and took even less kindly to being called ‘doggies’.

But they did take kindly to tickle-tums, which was one thing all canines seemed to have in common, with the possible exception of Darkhounds. Chucky didn’t know anything about Darkhounds. He didn’t relish the idea of giving them tickle-tums, in any case. You’d have to be a certified nutbar to even try.

Now, he leaned over in his chair and began administering a tickle-tum to Runs While Pooing In The Oak Grove, or whatever the wolf’s stupid wolf name was. He was about to make some more remarks about Lord Luc, ask about this ‘friend’ of his, and perhaps link him with Slayer and from there to Sharky, just to get Mister C’s attention, when Marin al’Vere returned with Rosie Cauthon.

“Whoo,” Chucky murmured, eyeing the newcomer and then turning to his companions. “Now that’s a chairful,” he murmured under his breath, so only Mister C could hear.

Mister C favoured him with a dirty look from his sunglasses. “You’re one to talk.”

“Maybe I am,” Chucky allowed magnanimously, “but at least I’m only one to talk. Marrying her might count as polygamy.”

Rosie Cauthon was so fat, it seemed impossible that both she and Debs were currently existing on the same plane of reality and there was enough matter left to make planets and stuff. She also had a nose with nostrils that pointed straight outwards, eyes about a foot apart, webbed fingers, and only one tooth. In a world of disgusting inbred horrors, she was a masterpiece.

While Marin was fussing in the doorway, readying Rosie with a little bouquet of flowers (and Chucky had never been so relieved that his bouquet-catching days were over, at the thought of accidentally snagging that clump of weeds and being introduced to Rosie’s potential twin sister), Bran filled the wide-eyed spectators in on the colourful history of the Cauthon family.

Matrim Cauthon and his sisters were only one branch of the tree, it seemed. The other branch, a branch even the Emond’s Fielders referred to as The Ugly Stick, was one nobody really liked to talk about, and indeed kept well-hidden as much as possible. Rosie was the result of an early-teen union between Abel Cauthon and his own sister, a now-dead behemoth with tentacle hands and feet and the ostentatious name Ektherthyth Ekthtreme Cauthon. Abel hadn’t, and Rosie had been the result.

Logain was looking a little green, but at a nod from his Great Lord he stood up and readied himself for the fulfillment of merciless narrative causality. Mister C generously offered to be the best man, as long as he didn’t have to get up, and as long as the rings were small enough to fit in his tiny little foetus-hand. Since Rosie had webbed fingers, of course, and everybody was in a hurry to marry her off, there were in fact no rings required. Bran took position near the fireplace, and Chucky concluded Rubs Balls On Carpet’s tickle-tum in time to stand decorously while the Lady Berelain Aybara led the blushing – or perhaps vapour-locked – bride up the metaphorical aisle.

“Psst. Loggers,” Chucky hissed, and extended his hand. “Congratulations, and good luck.”

“Thank you. I – gah!”

Chucky snatched his hand back and shook it briskly. “Damn it, sorry, those fucking wolves, I … Loggers? Logain?”

Logain had pivoted on the ball of his right foot, spun, bobbed between Bran al’Vere and the fireplace and skirted around the wall to freedom. And he’d done it all at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light.

“What was that?” Mister C snapped. “Where did he go?”

“Lef’ at dur altar agin,” Rosie slurred with ponderous unhappiness. “Jus’ like las’ time, when Cenn Buie’s brother woke up.”

“This is all very irregular,” Marin al’Vere said disapprovingly. “What are we to do now?”

“Isn’t it the tradition-” Chucky started.

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

“…that if the groom runs off-”

“Shut up.”

“…the best man goes through with the marriage?”

“Oh, you cunt.”

The Aybaras, the al’Veres and Rosie all beamed. So, too, did the lounging wolves.

“Come on, Mister C,” Chucky prodded his reclining friend. “Take one for the sake of the storyline.”

 


 

In an amusing twist, the Lady Morelin Sedai was nowhere near Chaggabaggawoggaland at the time. She was, in fact, relaxing in the nice little apartment she and Shannon had rented in Manhattan, with the aim in mind of being even closer to the action for the next time Chucky came to New York, and still manage to skeeze out of meeting him.

It was nice and quiet and peaceful in the apartment without the chubby, sulky presence of Shannon around, glooming and sighing about how nobody read his posts. Since the two of them had gotten together, they had achieved the mathematically impossible and posted less than zero times, as if the combined mass of their lack of input had made a black hole in Usenet and actually sucked up some of their messages. Since the sucked-up messages were Shannon’s unfinished stories and nobody had read them anyway, the whole amazing event hadn’t been noticed. Which was a shame, because it would have made Stephen Hawking jump out of his wheelchair.

Even considering this, Shannon had managed to complain about how boring the group had been, and how little they appreciated his efforts. He’d complained about this a lot, verbally rather than in text, where his complaints might have actually registered as posts to the newsgroup, and finally Morelin had gotten annoyed with it and volunteered him for the Wheel of Time Experience, which he had won, and that got him out of her hair for a while.

She hoped he was having fun, wherever he was.

Morelin was enjoying the solitude in a way most of her rabid followers in the cyber-slut world would have found very disappointing – by sitting on the couch, reading a paperback. And she was even wearing pants. The only sound was a ticking clock on the wall, and the endless drone of traffic outside.

And then a polite cough.

Morelin looked up. An extremely skinny, extremely under-dressed man stood in the doorway, looking embarrassed.

“Afternoon, miss,” Cooper Two said, hands on hips. “Your door was locked. Can you come and open the deadbolts for me, so I can get my clothes?”

 


 

The reception for the wedding of Mister See of Mayene and Rosie Cauthon was a colourful and noisy affair. The people of Emond’s Field were celebrating the injection of new liquid into a gene pool that had long since relinquished all claim to the lofty title of ‘pool’ and was now struggling valiantly to maintain ‘eyebath’ status. Mister C was mourning the fact that the aforementioned liquid was his liquid, and that he was too limb-reduced to make any sort of getaway unassisted by Chucky. And Chucky was in no fit state to offer assistance, celebrating as he was the greatest and most amusing gag he had played on Mister C since the fabulous Coke? No, This Is Pepsi gag of 1998.

“So,” Chucky said expansively, leaning back against the bar of the Winespring Inn, fluttering his freshly-washed cloak and securing his bagpipes over his shoulder, “what are you going to do? The ol’ Dave Lister ‘I just want to slip into something more comfortable’ trick? The Edmund Blackadder ‘I’m afraid the bride is not a virgin’ trick – which incidentally you can count me right out of in the help department? Or will you go for your classic?” Chucky grinned nastily. “The Mister C of 9 ‘I should have told you before, but I’m from Queensland’ trick?”

Mister C of 9 slurped angrily on his moonshine. Perrin had taken pity on him, and crafted a hat with a whisky bottle on the side, and a piece of hollow reed bent around from the neck of the bottle to the halfman’s mouth, so he could drink unaided. Mister C was doing so, slugging down neat hooch as if it was water. He was strapped to the bar so he could stand there without feet, but even if he’d had feet it was doubtful if his verticality would have been guaranteed by that time.

“Ung of ese ays, Hatgoy,” he gritted, “ung of ese ays. Oo ill reap the irl-ind.”

“I’m sure I will,” Chucky agreed happily. “In the meantime, get used to talking through that straw. You’re going to need a lot of whiskey.”

Behind the gleeman a huge man spun around, sloshed his giant clay pot of beer foam over Chucky’s cloak and bagpipes, roared with laughter, and slapped him on the back, causing him to spill his own dreadful booze onto his favourite Guinness shirt. “Blood and ashes, gleeman! Can’t hold your drink!” he laughed.

“Hick,” Chucky muttered, and returned to his anticipatory perusal of the wedding feast menu. It was amazing what these farmwives could rustle up at a moment’s notice. He wondered how much of the meat was trolloc.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“You called me a hick.”

Chucky shuffled his feet, aware that he was without backup. Normally the old ‘nothing’ trick worked. The hick would believe nothing had actually been said, and move on. This hick, however, was proving very persistent. And some of the other nearby hicks were pausing in their conversations and looking around.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Oh? Who were you calling a hick, then? Him? Or him? Or his wife?”

“Oh for fuck’s…” Chucky sighed. “I didn’t say hick. I said…”

“You said hick. I heard you.”

“But not to you.”

“Who to?”

“To … him. Him over there. It’s an old joke, he doesn’t mind.”

Even the old ‘point vaguely over there’ trick didn’t work. “Who, specifically? What was his name?”

“His name? Oh, his name was, uh, his name…” Chucky glanced at Mister C for support, then rolled his eyes at his own stupidity. Mister C was looking on eyelessly, handlessly and footlessly, with a big grin. “Um, his name is … Billy … Joe-Bob … al’Peterson,” he ad-libbed desperately, and looked down at the menu in his hand. “Meatballs,” he added, then topped the whole thing off with, “Smith.”

The whole room fell silent, and there was a frightening sound of chairs scraping back and people ducking down behind tables. A murmuring, whispering, Western-salooney sort of noise filtered through the silence.

“He called Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith a hick!”

“He couldn’t!”

“He wouldn’t dare!”

“Not Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith!”

“A hick!”

A wide aisle opened up between Chucky and the Winespring Inn’s front door which, he noticed all of a sudden, had been widened and made a good deal taller since the last time he and Mister C had raised the roof with their tale of Druss. Then the widened, heightened doorway was eclipsed by a giant, craggy shape.

“I’se Billy Joe-Bob al’Pederzen Meadballz Smith,” the impossible looming shadow said, its voice as slow and inevitable as death by chess. “Whadz going on?”

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That New Hellboy (a review)

My esteemed friend and associate Mr. Bloom of the excellent Toisto site loaned us this movie on Blu-ray. I don’t think he’s fully reviewed it on Toisto but he did have some good things to say about it and encouraged us to take a look.

I won’t go so far as to disagree with my lad Mr. Bloom here – the good things he had to say about the new Hellboy movie are definitely things I concur about. Overall, though, I think we’re going to need one more reboot.

Here’s the thing.

I enjoyed the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. Like, all three of them. I don’t know that I loved them, but I enjoyed them. They had Bruce Campbell in them. They were fine. And the Amazing reboot came so hard on their heels and just stank up the place so much, I didn’t even bother watching them for a long time. I don’t think I’ve actually seen either one all the way through, just some bits with the electrical guy (was it Denzel Washington? Fuck me). Anyway, this isn’t about Spider-Man. Not really.

Then when they rebooted Spider-Man (I know, this isn’t about Spider-Man, I’m getting to that) again for the Avengers story, I was back on board and realised that yes, they got it right now, this is Spidey as he’s meant to be.

Same shit with Hellboy, only even more so. Because while I was mildly entertained by the Raimi Spider-Man movies and was there for Bruce, I really liked the Del Toro Hellboy movies and was there for Ron, Doug, Selma, and pretty much all the actors and characters and the story in general. It was, if not perfectly accurate to the comics (with which I am unfamiliar but I trust my sources), then at least a pretty spot-on film adaptation. And I can’t say a bad word about Del Toro’s vision. Every movie he touches turns to golden nightmare fuel of the most wonderful kind.

So, this movie is basically Amazing Hellboy. It felt like a movie they were making just to hold onto the intellectual property rights, even if that’s not what was happening. An attempt was made, as they say on the Internet these days. And now we can sit back and wait for the Dark Horse Expanded Universe re-reboot which will, once and for all, get it right and allow me to watch a Hellboy movie without saying “I miss the Ron Perlman ones.”

Because this wasn’t that. I knew, as soon as the metaphorical curtain went up and we were back in fucking King Arthur’s Britain and Merlin was there, that this wasn’t that. This was the one we had to have before we get to have that.

But still, for all this lengthy and whiny preamble, it wasn’t a horrible movie. It had some glimmering moments of greatness. It had some visually stunning scenes (particularly the attack of the apocalypse-monstrosities in the last ten minutes). It had, of course, a lot of hilariously brutal mega-violence and a certain amount of swearing. Which, you know, fine.

They were pretty damn amazing, for a few seconds. And there were a few others throughout the movie and some really nice visuals. Very Del Toro even if he wasn’t involved.

David Harbour, who we know and love from Stranger Things (and I didn’t even know it was him until I read about it later, I could not have picked it) did a pretty great job. No, he couldn’t do as well as Perlman, because Perlman has become the only possible movie Hellboy, until some as-yet unforeseen Tom Holland equivalent appears and makes us realise Perlman was kind of a Maguire. But he did a good job anyway. I am unfamiliar with the comic, like I say, but I think he got closer to the original comic character, and he was close enough to a raw version of the Perlman movie Hellboy that it was satisfying for a Perlman-Hellboy fanboy to watch.

Nope, still can’t see it.

He just didn’t have much to do, sadly. Just a lot of being thrown around and stabbed, then walking it off, then being bashed some more. Raimi would definitely have made Bruce Campbell do this shit. He got maybe two chuckle-aloud funny lines in the whole movie. The dialogue was bad, and the overall screenplay was a mess. I blame the writers for the former but not the latter, by the way. I feel like they did the best they could with a set of demands they could never have met. But it wouldn’t have killed them to give us better dialogue. They had David Harbour and Ian McShane. Ian McShane, for God’s sake!

You know what would be cool, and what I will be pretending was the case until further notice? That Hellboy and American Gods are part of the same universe and Professor Broom was Mister Wednesday all along, and we’re building up to a crossover. The mythos and worldbuilding wouldn’t even need to be changed!

There were a few other characters in it, chiefly Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan (medium? Psychic? Witch?) Milla Jovovich as Blood Queen Nimue, and Daniel Dae Kim as Daimio. All of whom did the best they could with the material they were given, but were definitely let down by the material they were given.

“Why don’t we put her in charge?”

I was interested to read that Ed “Frances” Skrein had turned down the role of Daimio because of the whitewashing issue, incidentally. I think he made the right call, for several reasons. Daniel Dae Kim did a decent job with a not-particularly-compelling character, and everyone’s happy. I would have been disappointed to see Skrein there, he’s typecast for me now (after Deadpool and Alita) as a love-to-hate type of sneering jerk.

So, yeah. There it was. A messy and over-crowded set of plot events and scenes (just going the Spider-Man Homecoming route and taking out the origin story that was directly cribbed from the old movies anyway would have been one less set of scenes to follow), an absolutely stupid Chief Baddie’s Minion (whose story folded into the other characters’ back-stories nicely, but would have been better if the minion character himself had been literally anything but Bebop from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and a whole lot of pacing and dialogue issues made this a splattery bit of meh for our Sunday evening. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I award this movie an Amazing Spider-Man out of a possible Marvel Avengers Spider-Man.

Posted in Hatboy's Movie Extravaganza | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments