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Mundementia One: The Book of Going Forth
part 3
by J.(Channing)Wells


"I don't believe it." I say, clutching the cold and condensation-flecked sport bottle before me, as I sit, head low, on the worn wooden Pedestrian Mall bench near the Video Kiosk.

Feeb simply looks at me, worried-eyed.

"I mean... it was a bad concert, yes." I say, admissively. "Uncle Jeremy never should have taken me there. I was probably too young for that sort of thing."

"No-one's _ever_ old enough for that kind of treatment, Charles."

::Sick! Sick, perverse, and... Augh!:: CORVID shakes out its feathers in agitation.

"Rawr." Says Buddy, frowning slightly at CORVID.

"Frink." Says Luke, attempting to make peace between the two.

"_BUT_," I say, attempting to wrestle control back. "_But_, I mean, Come On! They're only the... the... I mean, it was only a V... a V..."

"'Village People.'" Says Feeb, under her breath.

"Right! A Village People concert. People used to go to them all the time!" I sip from the bottle, my hand trembling slightly. "I mean... I guess I don't really _remember_ Uncle Jeremy taking me to the concert, even through the Shroud, but..."

"Poor child. Completely blocked it out." Says Feeb.

::Smut.:: Remarks CORVID.

"RAWR!" Says Buddy.

"Hush, you two." Says Feeb. "Charles is recovering from a very traumatic experience."

"So." I say, still jittering. I put the bottle down on the bench, where it begins leaving a wet ring. "What's the bottom line, here?"

"Well, Charles, it appears as though... er..." She pauses, in thought, then continues. "It appears as though you have, among other things, a _vast_ and terrifying fear of... er... well..."

Feeb takes a breath.

"An irrational fear of Poorly-Done Gay Camp." She finishes.

"Rawr." Says Buddy.

"That explains your reaction to the Lyle module." She continues. "His voice and mannerisms seem to have been inspired by somewhat sophomoric and desultory stereotypes about homosexual behavior. Presumably, these fell close enough to the mark to trigger your long-suppressed memories and fears."

"I don't believe it." I say, head still low. "This place just gets worse and worse every day."

::Welcome to Moral Corruption, Mister Glass. Don't bother hanging up your coat, as it will simply be purloined by scurrilous ruffians within a matter of minutes.::

"No." I say, grouchily to CORVID. "I don't mean that. I mean, _this_. Mundementia One. I'm damn sick of it all, Feeb. I Really, really am."

Feeb simply looks at me. "I'm sensing a lot of pain." She says, after a time.

"What led to that brilliant flash of insight?"

"You're not even ranting and raving anymore. Ranting and raving is a good sign for you, Charles. It means you're letting off steam. I haven't been worried, really _worried_ about you, until this very moment. You're starting to act like a pressure-cooker, and everybody knows how little use _those_ are around the kitchen."

"Well." I say, snidely. "Nice to see you're finally catching up. _I_, " I tap my chest, "Have been worried about me this whole FREAKIN' time!"

::Clearly a euphemism for more smutty language.::

"You shut up." I growl.

::Just doing my job.::

"Stop." I remark. "Stop."

::But... It's my _function!_:: Says CORVID, mildly.

"Fuck." I say, casually.

::Now, Mister Glass...::

"Fuck." I say, rising off the bench, my eyes on the little black bird-bot.

::Mister Glass...::

"FUCK!" I say, spitting the words like peppershot. "FUCK! FU--"

"CHARLES!" Shrieks Feeb, with a note of horror.

I look up, peeved. "What?"

Feeb's face is acid. "Have you _forgotten_ why we have a Censorship Device in the first place, Charles? YOU, you moron, VERY NEARLY invoked yourself right into Ashraak's hands! He would have destroyed us all, right here, on the spot! That was four cuss words _right in a row_! One more, and we'd have been TOAST!"

My cheeks are tight. My facial tick begins again.

"I hate this universe." I say.

"Frink...?" Says Luke, timidly, from behind a bench.

"I... _HATE_... THIS... UNIVERSE!" I scream.

"Perhaps it's just because it's Tuesday." Says Feeb, helpfully. "Most people have a hard time with Tuesdays."

A thought slices my brain open with the precision of an electron ram. Tuesday. _Tuesday_. The unreliable little mental planner which I keep in my head, the one whose helpful little reminders have been well and truly suppressed, stomped on and ground into tiny flecks by the overwhelming overwhelmingness of my environment thus far chooses this moment to do the mental equivalent of tapping on my shoulder with a pencil and saying "Uhm."

"Ohno." I say.

"What." Says Feeb.

"TUESDAY?!?" I imprecate.

"Yes. Yesterday was Monday. Today is Tuesday. Generally speaking, these sorts of things have a pesky habit of leading one to another if they aren't nipped in the bud."

"Shit..." I say, rummaging around, looking for where my watch has gone to. "Shit. Shit..."

"Watch it..."



"Goes for you, too." I find my watch on my left wrist. "Fuck!" I say again.

"Charles, whatever _is_ it?"

My eyes bottom out, filling the place where my stomach once was.

"I have a _paper_ due..." I say, quietly.

A moment of silence.

"Is that all?" Says Feeb, scoffing and screwing up her face at me.

"WHAT do you MEAN, 'IS THAT ALL'?" I say, my heart thudding. "It's _only_ worth about fifty percent of my grade in the course! Of course, knowing _THIS_ goddamn reality, they... er..."

I try to think like a native for a moment, while hastily searching for my little reminder slip in one of the pockets of my windbreaker. "Knowing this reality, it will be worth my _entire_ grade for the course, based on... er... the fact that I am on the University's 'accelerated graduation' plan!"

"Actually, that sounds pretty typical." Says Feeb.

"ARGH!" I say.

"So...?" Says Feeb.

"I was _GOING_ to pull an all-nighter after the Berlioz Concert Sunday Freaking Night!"

"And...?" Says Feeb.

"AND DIRECTLY AFTER THE FREAKING BERLIOZ CONCERT, I WAS EATEN ALIVE BY BEETLES!" I exclaim, producing this specific sentence for what must be the first time in the history of the English Language.

"Charles." Says Feeb, gently.

"And then, THIS all started!" I say, waving my hands around me madly. "This, and YOU and," I gesture at Luke, "Him! and Buddy! and... and... ALL OF THIS!"

"So, you're saying... you forgot to do it?" Says Feeb, perfectly deadpan. It doesn't even garner a response from me.

"I gotta ask for an extension..." I murmur, to myself. "Feeb, quick. Where can I find a University Phone Directory? I need to get a call off to Doctor Somnolent of the History and Social Sciences department."

"Well, I happen to have one right here." Says Feeb, pulling it out of her holdall.

"Great." I say. "Now--"


I look up. "What?"

"Charles, I'm sorry, all the phones on campus have been kidnapped."

A moment of silence.

"_*WHAT*_?!?" I say, displaying mild dumbfoundment in the same manner that poleaxed cattle tend to.

"They've gone missing. Poor little dears. Took our eyes off of them for one moment, and *poof*, they're gone. We're hoping for the best, of course, but you know how these things go."

I stare.

"Didn't you notice that during our assault on the SFTSB that there were _no telephones_ at the teller stands?"

"Er." I say.

"Charles." She says. "_Surely_ you remember the old cliche, 'You can't take your eyes off a piece of telecommunications hardware for even a second without it getting ripped off or something.' But what most people don't realize is that in reality, it can actually be literally _true!_ Normally, of course, this isn't a problem."

I stare.

"Unfortunately, just this morning, the 335th Local Chapter of the UoFwWT failed by a slim margin to arrive at mutually satisfactory ends during eleventh-hour negotiations with representatives from the City of Hoderund, saying, regretfully, quote, 'die, pigs, die.'"

I stare.

"That's the local Telephone Watcher's Union, see. Saw it on the news this morning. Without people to sit and watch the city's telephones, all of them, that is to say, the phones, were probably kidnapped shortly after the breakdown of talks."

I stare.

"No ransoms have yet been posted, and no groups have stepped forward claiming responsibility for it; it's the generally-held consensus that it was, most likely, the Bermudans. Hostage Negotiators are standing by."

"Standing by... what." I croak out.

"Oh." Says Feeb, blinking. "I do hope they thought of that."

A brief moment of silence.

"Charles, why are you staring at me like... that...?"

More silence, for a long, long time.

Finally, a voice escapes my throat.

"Fuck you all." I rasp. And I start off. On my own.

"Charles!" Says Feeb.

"STAY AWAY FROM ME!" I yell, turning, still making tracks away from her position, walking backwards. "You just _STAY_ away! I'm NOT PLAYING these STUPID GAMES ANYMORE!"

"Charles, these _aren't_ games!" Says Feeb, with a note of despair. "This is _deadly_ serious! Have you forgotten about your having been contracted on by the Fire Sporks? Charles, It _starts_--"

"_I_ don't _FUCKING_ CARE!" I say, exploding.

::Watch your lang--:: starts CORVID, but it stops when it sees the look on my face.

Luke picks up a cue. "Frink." He notes, pragmatically.

"And _You_ shut up, too, you little vocabularyless monkey!" I shout, rounding on him. "You can go back to Peru, or wherever the hell you come from, for all I care."

"Wheeooo." Says Luke, looking at me wide-eyed and narrow-mouthed.

"Reggie was right about all of you." I continue, backing away through the crowds of downtown pre-lunch shoppers, my lips gathered into a snarl. "You're all just _distractors._ Trying to ground me here in StupidLand. Trying to make sure I focus all my attention and effort on participating in your ass-backwards little plots so that I never end up coming out of this thing. Well, I'm _SICK_ OF IT! YOU HEAR ME? SICK! SICK! SICK!"

I back into a presence behind me.



"There ya go." Says the voice of a smiling salesperson.

I whip around, the whites of my eyes very clearly showing. My breath heaves in my chest.

"$49.95, today only, thanks for sampling." He grins amiably and winks in a leprechaunish fashion at the rest of our little gathering. "That's right, genuine 'Archangel Jean' brand cattle prods. Bite down on one of these suckers, it'll leave you unable to coherently express for the remainder of the hour. Lots quicker than getting your facial muscles frozen, getting drunk on egg nog, or staying up to an ungodly late hour on suicide watch. Just one tiny little buzz, 's all it takes! Perfect for families with very small children. Come one, come all. Sir, Madam? Cattle Prods? Free trials, today only."

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACH!" I scream again, after I have calmed down.

Then, I turn around and grab the hapless street vendor whose wares I have inadvertently sampled by the lapels of his pastel blazer, and I scream into his face again, same deal, twenty-six A's, a C, and an H.

"Charles..." Says Feeb.

I scream at her, still holding the street vendor.


I scream at him, too.


Scream, scream, scream.

I have snapped. Finally, totally, and completely.

I drop the cattle-prod vendor onto the brick pavers of the Ped Mall.

I scream at everyone, one last time.

I take off running.




::Mister Glass!::

"Hey hey hey! No need to get worked up! Now I know what you're thinking, these must be some foreign job, eh? Well, lemme tell you right now..."

I respond to none of them. There is no pursuit. None could even hope to follow my mad run. I am shaking free the shackles of their painful company with every step, each long running stride through the crowds of Hoderund taking me farther and farther away from their maddening presence.

I go.

Going Forth into the world.

Gloriously, wonderfully, alone.

* * *

Eventually, my running slows, and stops.


I don't even know where I am. Somewhere on campus, of course. But for once, for _once_, I am alone. And it feels _great_.

A little Mad Irishman Charles dances around in my brain, jigging and singing and swigging deep of the stout and smashing cups against the mantel, and as the bubbles from his mad celebration froth around in my throat, I am hard pressed to contain my gleeful cackles.

I smile as I listen to the birds twitter to each other in the trees. Peace. And quiet. No one jabbering away in my ear. No "frinking." No nothing. Just me, alone in the peaceful crowds upon crowds of students. Sure, we ignore the weirder-looking ones, yes we do, precious. It's my _God-Given Right_ to ignore people if I so choose. Especially clearly hallucinatory ones. They will fade, as time goes on. I _know_ who and what should exist in my world. And at last, I have been given the right to make such decisions on my own.

I sigh, happily.

"Ahh." I say, then, smiling, beginning to walk more easily, the tiny soreness of my cattle prod attack working itself out of my muscles as I go.

I walk. And as I walk, I locate myself in my mental map.

Yes! Of course. The Quadrangle. The Quadrangle of St. Cristobel's University. The oldest part of campus, bordered by the nicest and most austere buildings the university has to offer. Composed of two distinct lawns, the West and the East, each with its own distinct character. The West Lawn is more open, with greater expanses of soft grass, perfect for napping or quiet studylike academic pursuits. In the center of the two lawns is, of course, the Old Capitol Building, an ancient place of government for the State of Kansas that was long ago purchased and refurbished by the then-infantine SCU. It is the perceptual, symbolic and emotional center of our campus, and it looks nothing like the vast marble-blocked Midgaardian Temple which is rather inexplicably sitting right in the place that it should be, but that doesn't really matter, because it _really is there_, and it in fact does _not_ look like the vast Midgaardian temple that I am now perceiving that it looks like, because I'm wrong, or at least my eyes are. Any similarities that is has to the original Old Capitol Building are purely coincidental, of course. And that includes the high, cupola-domed bell-tower that rises gloriously upwards, like a pair of hands clasped in prayer to some unseen deity...

I look up.

There is glass, ancient and beveled glass, beneath the dome of the cupola tower. Though lucent, it is ridged and furrowed in marvelous glyphic patterns, rendering the casual observer unable to catch even a glimpse of what might lie behind it. In addition, this marvelous workmanship causes the glass to catch the bright Fall sunlight as a score of princesses might a score of doves, and then to softly fold it in twain and release it back into the world in the form of glittering and pale rainbows. But for all its stupendicity, it is... very clearly, in fact... a bank of _windows_.

Yes. There is a room at the apex of the bell-tower, beneath the dome of bright summer gold.

And if its very _windows_ are that spectacular... its contents must needs be... well.

Still dazed, I reach out to a randomly-selected passer-by.

"Excuse me." I say, dreamily.

"Yes?" Says an oddly familiar voice.

"Excuse me." I say, waxing rhapsodic. "But... That is a _beautiful_ set of windows. What," I gesture, grandly, "on heaven or earth lies in the room at the top of the bell-tower?

"That?" Says the voice. "Oh, Tha'd be the office of Her Magisterialness, Queen Voria the Star-Bender."

"I had thought as much. You have but confirmed my suspicions, good passer-by, and--"

"Wasn't always up there, of course." Continues the voice, marching over my poetry like a regiment of ducks. "The office now held by the Queen of Amber was formerly located in the Hall of Financial Gain, p'raps because it was thought that it would be most theosophically appropriate to have the office of the University's chief executive in the same building that housed the Revenue Collection Office, which was, and still is, of course, the very heart and soul of the University itself."

"Thank you." I say, a bit more firmly. "That was--"

"The collection of money has always been a principal goal of the University, you understand. Evidence of this priority can be found even today; why, just look at this week's University Motto! 'Sputum Glia Cogita, Bidet Portmenteau.' Which, translated literally from Western Precursor, means, of course, 'We put stuff in your head while cleaning out your wallet.'"

"All I had wanted from you," I say, "Was the nature of the room that lies behind those remarkable windows. Anything furth--"

"That all changed, of course, during the Tuition Riots of 1909. His Highest Lordship Rawlington Oberon-Hunter-Pierce, predecessor to the present Queen Voria, mandated, because of the inherent _danger_ of actually letting the students have direct contact with the executive body of the University, that the Highest Office be moved to the Bell-Tower, accessible only by Private Elevator, which itself is only operable if one triumphs over the Twelve Deadly Challenges and subsequently manages to find a way past Oliver, the gargantuan Hound of Heck, and even _then_, the elevator won't budge even a smidgen unless--"

"ENOUGH!" I shout. "Varlet!" I add.

The random passer-by shrugs and walks off.

"So. That's Voria Starbender's office." I murmur to myself.

Then I stop.

"No." I murmur. "Mary Sue Coleman. President of SCU."

Damn! Getting distracted from the Truth is frighteningly easy.

Let me start over here. Okay. We've covered the West Lawn. And the Old Capitol Building. But I am neither of those places. In fact, I am on the other side of the Old Capitol Building, the University's East Lawn. It fronts Moniker Street, right adjacent to Hoderund's Downtown quarter, and as a result, it is a far more active and vibrant place than the West Lawn. Students are everywhere, laying around on the grass, chatting animatedly in tiny clusters, playing Frisbee, fornicating, whatever. Everywhere, chipper and bright young academicians can be seen striding purposefully towards their Bachelor's Degrees and beyond. Writers and artists and philosophers and teachers and pale, bloodless people stuck to the walls of the buildings, held in place by resinous spittle, coughing up...


"...kill meeee..."

Blink. Blink.

Focus gaze.

"...kill meeee..."

I stand in shock for a moment, looking upon the hideous spectacle.

She is there, plastered against the faux-marble concrete of MacKay Hall, home of the University's Natural Sciences Division. Her olive-drab clothes, what little I can see of them past the sticky, glass-like alien secretions which hold her in place, are tattered and torn.

She regards me with glazed eye.

"...kill meee..."

"Erm." I say. "Ah, er. Miss?"

"...killll meeeeee..."

"Why?" I blurt out, blinking confusedly. Hallucination, Charles. Remember what Reggie said. A Hallucinatory State, brought about by an allergic reaction to anti-edemetic drugs following my inadvertent interruption of a convenience-store holdup. Yes. That's all this is. A bit of cheese, a crust of bread.

She perks up.

"Why?" She says.

"Yes." I say.

She blinks. And looks at herself. "Isn't it obvious?"

"Er..." I reply, looking left and right over my shoulder, my eyes wide and fearful.

"Well." Says the odd woman, as though I had answered, "No! May I please have an explanation?" "Y'see, there was this alien thing, you know. Little thing with legs and a tail. Lept up and plastered itself on my face and buried its eggs in my body cavity and..."

"That's horrible!" I said, not quite knowing what else to say.

"Tell me about it. Worst thing is, now I'm a human breeding ground for more of these alien thingamagiggers. It's supposed to be excruciatingly painful. They, like, erupt out of your chest or something."

Sometimes, there _is_ nothing to say.

"That's why I've been asking people to kill me. Ya know, it's the sort of, 'oh, I'm going to die in excruciating pain sooner or later, so I might as well have somebody else do it than have the little alien guys rip my chest open,' you know?" She shrugs, idly. "Anyhoo, _I_ think that it sounds better if I do it in the weak, breathy voice. Whadda' you think?"


"Okay. Who would you be more likely to kill. Someone who said it like this... '...kiiiillll meeeeee...'? Or..."


"Or like this. 'KILL ME!' Whadda'ya think?"

"I'm supposed to kill you?" I say, grasping at straws. I begin looking around for an emergency phone to call Campus Security.

"Sure!" She says.

"I will do _no_ such thing!" I say, continuing my search.

"Oh well." She sighs, and begins fishing around in her one exposed pocket with her one exposed limb, eventually coming up with a cigarette pack. With unusual dexterity, she flips out a single smoke.

"I'll probably end up killing myself anyway, with these things." She says, nonchalantly. "Awful things. Don't know why I don't quit. You hear the Surgeon General now cites secondhand smoke inhalation as being a principal causative factor for sudden unexplained bodily mutation? Scary shit."

She nimbly whips a Bic Disposable out of her pocket, and lights up. "Still, helps me to relax."

"Mm hm." I say, nodding carefully.

That accomplished, she begins digging around in the extruded resin for a while. "You know," She continues, "the great thing about being alien fodder, you can feel pretty damn free about taking part in whatever vice or vices you feel like." She pulls a small waxed-paper sack out of the resin, from which she removes a cream-filled chocolate eclair. Showing a surprising level of manual control, she alternates, with her one free hand, bites of the pastry and puffs on the cigarette. "I've been eating these little buggers like there's no tomorrow."

I fumble with my words for a moment. "That... er, might be the case, don't you think?"

She shrugs. "Oh, you know, you feel that for the first few days, the constant gnawing horror thing. But, like, after a while it starts getting a bit more run-of-the-mill, you know."

I give up on finding a phone for Campus Security.

"How long have you been up there?" I squeak out, finally.

"Couple weeks." She says. "I'm beginning to wonder whether or not those eggs are ever going to hatch, you know." She gestures with the eclair, and ends up dropping the cigarette. "Bugger." She says. "Mind getting that for me, hon?"

Wordlessly, I do so.

A few more moments pass in her eating and smoking and my watching.

"So." She says. "You gonna kill me?"

"No!" I exclaim.

"Oh well." Another drag on the Marlboro. "Most people aren't all that interested, eh. I'm not insulted or nothing. But if you _do_ know anyone who _might_ be interested in killing me, just send them around this way. I'll be..."

A pregnant pause.


She chortles, merrily, to herself.

I clear my throat.

"You are a very, very spooky woman." I state, my eyes wide.

"Do you think that increases people's fear and loathing for me?" She says, perking up brightly. "Can always hope to snag someone in just on the gut-reaction factor, you know."

"Er." I say. "Well, I mean..."

I gather myself together.

"If I ever _do_ find someone, I'll be sure to send 'em your way." I say, with more confidence than I feel.

"You do that. Say, if you do find anyone, give 'em a copy of this." She fishes around in her pocket and comes up with a sheet of paper, which she tosses to me, blandly. "Standard contract absolving you from any legal obligations upon deciding to kill me. The usual legal formalities, but you wouldn't believe what pissants the lawyers get over stuff like that. Haven't had time to pre-type it, unfortunately, so you just fill in my name at the top, hear? That's Toni Studebaker, Toni-spelled-with-an-I." She winks at me.

I put the nice woman's contract in my pocket. "Will... do." I say. My brain is, once again, on hold.

"Thanks." She says. She crams the last of the eclair into her mouth, and shifts her attention away from me, on to solicit other passers-by, her mouth full of pastry crumbs.

"Kiww mweee..."

A beat.

As I was saying. The University East Lawn. A good place to...

I mean...

A nice place to spend some time just...

I mean...

It's a...

Oh, hell.

I gotta go find Doctor Somnolent.

And I am, indeed, resolved to do just that. Something however, makes me pause.

It's a quiet noise, an innocent little noise, the noise that a gerbil with a very tiny spoon would make if trapped inside a hollow glass brick. It goes like this.



Sounds like... a pocket watch. Or something. I can't quite place the source, where the sound is coming from, or why exactly I'm hearing it at all. But I am.


Oh well.

I shrug, and I turn to go, just as the great bells strike Noon.

* * *


Slowly, and precisely, the Dark Fellow winds the last threads of cotton batting around the end of the stain-tipped needle and sets it gently into a waystop pouch on his black silken bandoleer. Equally methodically, he removes his watch, and, with a soft (pping) he opens the cover. Almost. Almost.

Face hidden in enigmatic shadow, Ominous looks up at the Bell Tower of the University from his comfortable spot in the Governor Oak, dead-center of the south quadrant of the East lawn. _Everything_ in Hoderund moves and turns on the whim of the great iron bells of L.U.D.D.D.Amber. The operators of the Bells are connected, via portable telepathic links, with the Counting Monks of New Zealand, the most accurate and precise religious order on the face of the planet, members of which spend each and every day in solemn meditations on the Mantra Of Counting. When they were discovered, in 1992, by a confused Hernando Magellan (a distant scion of Great Ferdinand, who had at the time been searching for a new Trade Route to his favorite mini-mart) they were found to be even more regular in their incessant and vocal counting off of the seconds of each day than the conventional decaying-isotope measures that were so in vogue at the time. Granted, at that time, they were discovered to be such by Hernando alone; because of a freak avalanche at perhaps the least opportune of all times (for Hernando) the knowledge of the Counting Monks did not reach the outside world until early 1994, when a then-quite-mad Hernando devised a cunning scheme to propel himself using alcohol rockets over the massive snowslide that had sequestered him in the Monastery of Counting for two long years. Hernando spent the next year in intensive psychotherapy in Auckland, and when the doctors finally got him speaking in any other words than, quote, "Stop The Bloody Counting Already," he was able to relate his fascinating tale.

Naturally, such an earth-shattering discovery was embraced quickly by all individuals horribly concerned with accuracy and perfect timing, and the price of Portable Telepathic Link Devices soared as more and more people struggled find a way to exploit this wonderful new resource, but everything was conducted in a remarkably civil fashion save for a few brief skirmishes with the Legion of Crazed Public Transportation Officials, who justifiably viewed the Counting Monks as a bane to their very existence. Thankfully, there was little blood shed, mostly because of the LCPTO's inability to be on time for their own critical War Planning meetings, and everything ended up working rather swimmingly, save for the fact that so many Portable Telepathic Link Device Terminals now crowd the ancient Gothic halls of the Monastery of Counting that the Monks have been forced to relocate to a nearby Mobile Home Park, but, in all fairness, they _were_ given a nice big R.V. to cloister themselves in, which suited them just fine, but Hernando Magellan, living in the plot immediately next door, was less than thrilled. Mister Magellan left New Zealand shortly afterwards, heading for greener pastures in Luxembourg, and now pulls down a six-figure salary as Chief Executive Vice President In Charge Of Thinking Up Silly Names For Convenience Store Chains for the "Suck n' Spurt" corporation, so that's all right then.

The Dark Fellow flips shut the case of his shining pocket-watch. From here on in, the Noon Bell would be his guide.

A strangely gnarled, positively _inhuman_-seeming hand, wrapped in black silks, vanishes again into the shadowy folds, and the shining tube of the blowgun emerges. Working with quiet precision, Ominous reveals several more attachments from other hidden pockets, and with soundless, greased threading-actions, he attaches them to the blowgun.

A matter of seconds now.

One end of the tube vanishes into the umbrage of his hood. The tiny cotton-wrapped needle, tipped with black ruin, enters the other. With a quiet flicker, the attached targeting-computer flits into life, motile lines of green fire spinning across a glass dreamcatcher-like HUD attached to the far tip of the tube. The lines waver and swirl, and then snap into position, like mongeese, upon the windbreaker-clad figure of Herr La Guardya, far below.

One puff.

One minute away.

One more death.

The seconds pass in ecstatic silence, like the scance heartbeats before dawn on Christmas Morning.

And finally, there is no time left.

The bells of the University clear their iron throats.


Charles Madison Glass sits helplessly in his sights.

There is no question. There are no second thoughts.

Ominous Darkfellow _strikes_.

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