Read Reality Bites Online

Authors: Nicola Rhodes

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fantasy - Contemporary

Reality Bites (20 page)

BOOK: Reality Bites
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‘That’s great – Alcazar,’ said Tamar.

‘Wait a minute,’ interrupted Stiles, ‘
The
library of Alexandria? The
actual…
? Oh never mind.’

‘Yes, the
actual
library,’ said Alcazar. ‘I am its custodian. And I got the job on my own. Tea?’

‘Yes, you said,’ said Stiles. He shook his head at the tea. ‘If this is the Great Library of Alexandria, shouldn’t it be … wasn’t it?’

‘Burnt down?’ said Alcazar. ‘Part of it was. This is the new annexe, finest teak, those shelves.’  He ran a hand along one of them and coughed. ‘Urgh huh huh. Dust! Yes well, I built most of this, updated the books and so on, I got this job on my own, you know?  Sure you wouldn’t like some tea?’

‘You know, you don’t look like an Alcazar,’ commented Cindy.  ‘You look more like – like a Eugene.  I used to have a dog called Eugene.’

Alcazar or Eugene bristled.  And bristled, and bristled some more, until he was the size of a small car and covered in scales.

‘What the …?’ began Stiles.

‘Mesomorph,’ said Tamar. ‘Shape shifter. Well you didn’t really think it was going to be that easy did you?’

Stiles sighed. ‘No, I suppose not.’

Eugene, as they would call him from now on, subsided into his incarnation as a small furry man.

‘So, what do we have to do to get past you?’ asked Tamar.

‘Well now, it’s a battle of wits, isn’t it?’ said Eugene.

‘Can, can you look like anything?’ asked Cindy.

For answer, Eugene transformed into a tall muscular handsome man.  ‘Is this what you had in mind?’ he winked. ‘Cutie.’  Cindy giggled.

‘Or perhaps something like this.’ He changed into a pretty good facsimile of Denny.  Cindy winced and took a step back.  Tamar frowned.  ‘How did you know …?’

‘Pretty basic mind reading,’ said Eugene.  ‘I got this one from you,’ he added unnecessarily. 

‘Mind reading?’ said Stiles to Cindy. ‘How are we supposed to win a battle of wits with a mind reader?’

Tamar heard this.  ‘I think that’s the point,’ she said sourly.

‘Ha!’ said Eugene.

Tamar bristled in much the same way as Eugene had and became a dragon.  ‘Or,’ she said. ‘You could just save yourself a lot of pain and show us the exit.’

Eugene became a huge monster with a shark’s head.  ‘Don’t think so sister,’ he said. Tamar winced and subsided. Eugene grinned; with his sharks head, this had a pretty sinister effect.  ‘I got this job on my own you know,’ he said, predictably.  He really did seem inordinately proud of this fact.  Like it was such a great job!

Tamar squared her shoulders and did a pretty good impersonation of Beelzebub as illustrated in “Dante’s Inferno”.

Eugene laughed.  ‘Met him,’ he said. ‘If the real thing didn’t scare me, you’ve got no chance. This is fun; I’ve never had a Djinn in here before.’

‘Former Djinn,’ said Stiles. Eugene ignored him and turned into an enormous bottle.

Tamar actually screamed, before she could stop herself.  It was a surprisingly high pitched girlish scream.

Stiles clapped his hands over his ears. He gripped her arms. ‘Get hold of yourself – former Djinn, remember?
Former
.’

‘Right, right, thank you,’ she calmed down.  ‘We’re going to have to change tactics I think. This isn’t working.’

‘Oh do you think not?’ said Stiles, sarcastically.  ‘I thought it was going quite well.’

‘Huddle,’ Tamar ordered.

‘Well,’ said Stiles. ‘I don’t think we can scare him anyway.’

‘The problem is,’ said Cindy.  ‘We don’t really know whether he can actually harm us in these forms he can take on.’

‘I think we have to assume that he can,’ said Tamar.

‘So we have to figure out what he wants.  Maybe a bribe?’ said Stiles.

‘Oooh a corrupt copper, I like it,’ said Tamar.

‘What do
we
have, that he could possibly want?’ said Cindy.

‘He seems to like
you
,’ said Tamar, grinning slyly.

Cindy was horrified. ‘You
wouldn’t!

‘Of course we wouldn’t.  Don’t be silly. On the other hand, I don’t think he’s really dangerous, and he
can
be anyone you want him to be.’

‘No!’

‘Okay, so what
do
we do?’ asked Stiles.

‘I don’t know,’ Tamar shrugged.  ‘Ask politely?’

‘We could try it, I suppose,’ said Stiles.

Eugene interrupted them.  ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘I’m bored.’

‘So, Eugene,’ said Stiles.  ‘How about we talk?’

Eugene laughed and transformed into a sinister hooded figure holding a large scythe.  He indicated the chess set.  ‘How about we play?’ he said.

 

It was decided that Stiles should play him, since he was the only one of them who had played before.  ‘Don’t forget he can read your mind,’ cautioned Tamar.

‘Bit of an unfair advantage,’ said Stiles, but he did not seem too worried.

They sat at the board. ‘Do have some tea,’ said Eugene.

 

‘The fact is,’ Eugene was explaining while waiting for Stiles to move,  ‘I was supposed to appear to you in this guise and offer to play you for your freedom, but you caught me off guard with your book shoving.  Still I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Oh dear.’  He made his move. ‘Check.’

‘Oh damn!’ said Stiles, glaring at the board.  ‘So it’s the traditional game with Death is it?’ he made his move.’

‘Oh yes, I don’t know whose idea that was, but the actual reaper, was too busy to do it, so they asked me, I got this job on my own. Your move.’

Stiles moved.

‘You should take your time more,’ admonished Eugene.  He was frowning at the board in a puzzled way. Eventually he moved.  ‘More tea?’

‘Oh I don’t think so,’ said Stiles. ‘I think we’re done, check mate.’

‘What? Well, that’s never happened before.’

Tamar and Cindy whooped jubilantly.

Stiles grinned.  ‘My game’s poker really, and since I had the advantage of
knowing
that you could read my mind – well, you can see … You know, you’re not really a very good player.’

‘I never needed to be, before this. I got this job on my own you know? Oh well, a deal’s a deal. This way.’

‘That was brilliant,’ said Cindy.

‘Masterful,’ agreed Tamar.

Eugene, now restored to his former total lack of glory, pushed a large bookcase aside to reveal, unsurprisingly, a passageway.  It was almost properly labyrinth like, in that the walls were made of large blocks of sandstone and there were the mandatory gargoyles and torches in brackets creating eerie shadows.

Tamar looked both ways down the passage.  ‘Which way do we go?’ she asked without much hope.

‘Eugene shook his head.  ‘No idea,’ he admitted.  ‘Sorry, I’ve never been out of the library, I got this job …’

‘On your own?’

‘Yes, did I mention that before?’

‘Once or twice.’

‘Why don’t you come with us?’ said Cindy (of all people.)

‘What, why?’

‘Well, aren’t you – lonely? You said you’d never been out of here.’

Eugene thought about this.  ‘Well, I suppose, but who’s going to …’

‘Who cares?’ said Cindy. ‘Come with us – it’ll be fine.’  She smiled at him.

‘Er,’ Eugene blushed under his fur and tugged self-consciously at his collar.  He stared at his feet.  ‘Y – You really want me to come?’

‘I never say anything I don’t mean.’  She leaned in toward Tamar. ‘He might come in handy,’ she hissed. ‘After all like you said, he can be anything.’

Tamar nodded. ‘Good idea.’

Eugene was watching his furry feet as he twisted them around each other. 

Cindy brought her face close to his and batted her eyelashes in a well-practised manner. ‘Well?’ she said.

Eugene gulped.  ‘Okay, yes!’ he said decisively. ‘I’ll come, I hate this job anyway; my brother got it for me.’

* * *

‘One more try,’ thought Denny, ‘and then I’m giving up.’

He swung down from the cliff face for the third time. The roc was waiting for him; she flapped her massive wings in fury and squawked at him; she was creating quite a dust storm. 

Denny sighed. ‘Okay, Big-Bird, bring it on.’ He lifted into the air, as the roc rose up after him; he dived, grabbed the egg and leapt out of the nest.  He did not get very far; she had his ankle in her beak, and it was so hard to concentrate through the pain. 

‘Why didn’t I just wait and let Tamar do this?’
he thought. 

He had decided to gather the ingredients for the summoning of Ran-Kur to save time when they got back. 
If
they got back, but he was not letting himself think about that.

Back to the current problem, the roc had a pretty firm grip on his ankle, and he did not really blame her, he
did
have her egg, and he was in danger of dropping it.

He thought for a second, then he dropped it.  The roc let go of him immediately and soared after it, but Denny was quicker, he grabbed the egg, and the roc went spinning off into space on the back of a small whirlwind.

Phew,
the phoenix feather had been easy compared to that.

He checked his list and ticked off – lavender, phoenix feather, bay leaf, fairy dust? And now the roc’s egg.  Almost done, good. 

He was, of course, just trying to keep busy, in between patrolling the streets and writing lugubrious songs. The flat was a disaster area, but it never occurred to him to tidy up or to mend the broken windows and front door.  When the landlord had come round after complaints from Mr. Whinger and other residents about the noise – and the smell, he had turned him into a statue, which was now festooned with dirty socks. Denny found this highly amusing. In fact this trick was handy on the streets, the city was now dotted with new “statues” all sporting fangs and surprised expressions.

He was even going into work occasionally (Bo had apparently not noticed the funny weather and had continued to open; the lack of customers was no change). Anything to fill the empty hours. He was avoiding going to sleep; his dreams lately had been disturbing, mostly involving the men he had killed.  He even saw their faces when he was awake sometimes, which was weird, since he had not seen their faces at the time, at least he did not think he had. He was not too sure of anything anymore .

 

~ Chapter Twenty Five ~

 

T
hey went left and trusted to providence.  Eugene had changed, at Cindy’s suggestion.  She thought that he might need longer legs to keep up.  He took the point and was now the handsome, muscular man that she had admired, which, of course, was exactly what she had had in mind.

To Stiles, he now looked disturbingly like Finchley, and he suspected that Eugene was well aware of this.  Tamar was just glad that he did not look like Denny; she was missing him enough as it was.

Eventually they came to a fork in the road, so to speak.  This time they decided to go right, so as to avoid potentially going in a circle. Although, as Tamar pointed out, they would probably end up where they were supposed to anyway sooner or later, no matter which way they went; there was a kind of inevitability about this quest that was growing on them.  At the end of this passageway was a door.  The gargoyle above the door was extremely unhelpful.  ‘Dunno.’  Was his uniform answer to every inquiry, even when Tamar threatened to smash him.  Still, he probably did not count as a guardian, and was obviously mentally challenged. They went through the door. The blast of heat that met them almost convinced them to turn back. Below them was a river of molten lava and above them were sheer slopes running to a point; they were standing on a narrow ledge looking up at a small circle of sky.  They were in a volcano.

‘Okay, bad idea,’ said Stiles, let’s go back.’

They turned back, but the door was gone.

‘Of course it is,’ sighed Tamar.

Cindy was tugging her arm. ‘What are those?’ She pointed upwards.’

Tamar squinted. ‘Birds?’

‘Damn big birds,’ said Stiles, doubtfully.

Whatever they were, there were a lot of them, circling above them, apparently enjoying the heat.  Some were evidently flying upside down – basking.

‘Salamander dragons,’ said Eugene, dully.  ‘Babies.’


Babies?
’ said Tamar.  ‘So, where’s mummy?’

‘What the hell are Salamander Dragons?’ said Stiles.

‘Rare,’ said Eugene, laconically.

‘Some sort of cross-breed?’ suggested Cindy.

‘Who cares?’ said Tamar. ‘How do we get out of here? Can you see an exit?’

‘Up there,’ said Cindy, unhelpfully.

‘Eugene?’

‘On the other side.’  He pointed; there was indeed an opening on the other side of the cone. The question was how to get there.

The ledge did not run all the way around, and there was a total lack of a helpful bridge.  Tamar tried to manifest one, but it crumbled immediately.

‘Sorry,’ she said.  ‘Geology’s not my speciality. I don’t know what to make it of.’

‘Can’t you teleport us across?’ asked Stiles.

‘Oh I never thought of that,’ snapped Tamar, acidly.

‘There’s no astral plane in magical places, ‘said Cindy.

‘Fly us then?’ persisted Stiles, ‘we can’t stay here forever.’

This was tried, but they got caught in the up-draught, and nearly choked on the ash and fumes. ‘Sorry,’ gasped Stiles, wiping his streaming eyes.

‘What are we going to
do?
’ panicked Cindy.

‘How vicious
are
those things?’ Tamar asked Eugene.

‘Adults are extremely dangerous, according to research,’ he said.  ‘But not the babies, don’t worry about them, see they’re ignoring us.’

Tamar did a remarkable imitation of the cry of the baby salamander dragons. They turned startled and swooped en mass down toward them.

As they came closer, they could see that the scales on the dragons were smooth, like snakeskin and a bright yellow colour with red zigzag stripes along the back. And their eyes were like shiny rubies.  They were slender for dragons, but had the traditional bat-like wings, except that they were bright yellow and translucent. They hovered curiously around the strangers in their midst. One of them let out a tiny jet of flame, which rolled along its flickering tongue.

BOOK: Reality Bites
7.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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