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Mundementia One: The Book of Going Forth
When last we left our hero, Charles Madison Glass, he was speeding towards a poison-tipped appointment with destiny...
Or rather, a poison-tipped appointment with destiny was speeding towards him...
'Poison-tipped appointment with destiny'?
Aha. There we are. I pronounced that wrong, I think. "Needle." There we are. A poison-tipped needle was speeding towards him with the relentless haste of an oncoming train.
Actually, that's a pretty poor metaphor, as well.
Let's see. How about "A poison-tipped needle was speeding towards him with the relentless haste of a poison-tipped needle fired from..." Well, a blowgun, I suppose.
Yes. When we last left our hero, Charles Madison Glass, a poison-tipped needle was speeding towards him in exactly the same manner that you might expect of a poison-tipped needle that is speeding towards someone after having been fired from a blowgun.
The tip of the needle, of course, as has been noted, is coated with liquid death.
Well. I mean, it's not as though someone found the old fellow and put him in a juice extractor, scythe and all. So that's not right either.
It has the power... to... kill.
I guess that's safe. The needle, tipped with poison, has the power to kill people because it is poison.
Look, this is just getting silly. All this started out of some misguided attempt to keep you, the reader, adequately informed of the exact goings-on of the universe, or at least, the portion of the universe about which I am now writing. However, in the interest of accurate reporting, I have now killed my ability to write in descriptive language. And it's hurting the both of us. I'm sorry.
Perhaps we need counseling.
Now, I _know_ you've said that counseling isn't an option. Goodness knows, our financial situation is bad enough without additional expenses. And, goodness also knows, my mother and father never did it, and look at how badly _they_ wrote to each other. But this is the nineties, Dear reader, and we have access to trained professionals that can help us in situations like this.
I've taken the liberty of making an appointment for us.
Hold on! Dear reader, calm down, I _know_ how you feel about this sort of thing! I know you're busy!
I _know_ that tuition is taking up most of your funds right now. Honey, I _know_! But she works for the City Free Clinic. They understand, over there, about specific difficulties that people like us can have. And I swear to you, she's just as qualified to give us joint counseling as most of the private-practice psychologists in the area.
Dear reader, please. Listen.
We knew there were going to be rocky times ahead of us in this story. I know, our families don't see eye to eye on a lot of issues. But, Dear reader, we started out on this together. And I want it to stay that way.
Did you know that _fifty percent_ of all stories nowadays end in bored disinterest? _Fifty Percent_. Dear reader, I _don't_ want that to happen to us. We had something _real_. Something _true_. GOD DAMN IT, Dear reader, I thought that we were both feeling something great and noble, something that would transcend all these bullshit statistics and... and... numbers. And now, I look at you, and I wonder, where did it all start going wrong? What could I have done to prevent this?
Dear reader, I don't believe that it's too late for us. I think we can recapture the magic that we once had.
I'm committed to this.
How about you?
I'm... I'm glad you feel that way, Dear reader.
Oh, god... I'm sorry. Just give me a moment.
Dear reader, could you please pass me a Kleenex?
Oh, my. Dear reader, you don't know how much this means to me. To _us_.
At any rate.
When last we left our hero, Charles Madison Glass, he was speeding towards a poison-tipped appointment with destiny with all the relentless haste of a one-joke scene gone wildly out of control.
Well! It looks like it's curtains for our hero, eh? Very little chance of escape, hm? Well, never fear, Dear reader, because this is only Part Four of Book Two, and it seems wildly improbable that I would put my principal protagonist in a situation wherein death would be utterly inevitable, no matter how much like that it might _seem_ to you at this moment. Rest assured that there is a highly clever attempt already underway to save our hero from the extremely perilous peril that he now finds himself in. No indeed, do not fret overmuch about poor Charles. For despite the fact that death appears, right now, to be the only conceivable omega point for the series of events which have been set into motion, our hero yet has a few tricks up his sleeve that will be, I assure you, great fun to observe as they unfold.
Here they are now.
* * *
* * *
Oop! Oop! Did you catch it? Did you catch it?
We'll play it again for you. Watch closely. Don't blink.
* * *
* * *
Did you see that? Wasn't that _amazing_?
Let's play it for you one last time. This time, we'll slow the film down, just in case you didn't manage to see it either of the other two times. Now. Watch Charles very, very closely.
* * *
Charles Madison Glass, Herr La Guardya de la Duche Verdue, spins around, even as the landscape of the University East Lawn fades into indistinct airbrushed tones all about him. Birds all about skitter to an achingly slow-proceeding near-halt, almost-frozen in mid-time. The incessant ticking of the pocketwatch emanating from somewhere in the indefinable realm of not-quite nearby grinds to a dirgelike drone.
A look of surprise crosses the young man's face, followed shortly thereafter by a look of relief.
"Reggie!" He says.
For indeed it is Doctor Benjamin "Reggie" Harte, a man first seen by Charles deep within the steaming heart of an ancient forest in the Late Cretaceous Wing of Capitol Centre Mall, and last seen by Charles in an intensive-care hospital bed in the Saint Cristobel's University Hospitals and Clinics Post-Surgical Ward, back in the world that Charles considers "real." He is dressed in old Victorian scholarly garb, complete with black cloak and mortarboard, and he carries his signature onyx-tipped spike-cane with his traditional cheerful aplomb.
"Charles. How good it is to see you."
"Reggie! God, I'm happy to see you too! You wouldn't _believe_ some of the shit that's been going on... lately..."
A pause while Charles regards Reggie, whose eyes are fixed on a point above and slightly to the left of Charles's right shoulder.
"Reggie..." He continues. "What are you looking at?"
"Nothing, Charles. Nothing." He says, tearing his gaze away and subsequently resting it lightly upon Charles himself. "I shan't waste your time with small talk. We've made several breakthroughs with your condition that I think you'll be really pleased with."
"_Great_." Says Charles, hungrily. "Tell me."
"Soon." He says, his gaze again wandering anxiously. "But not now. We must go elsewhere to discuss."
"Fine." Replies Charles, a bit bewildered with this whole business but wishing to be as pleasant to Reggie as is humanly possible. "Can we stop for a sec at my dorm room so I can dump some of this crap I've been carrying around?"
Reggie gets an odd expression on his face, and his eyes flit again to the point-that-is-not-quite-Charles. "Yes!" He says, finally. "Yes, whatever! Let's just go, shall we?"
"Okay..." Says Charles, peering strangely at him.
"Come along." Moving quickly, Reggie taps once with his stick upon the poured-concrete of the walkway, and a crackling globe of golden electricity gathers around the onyx sphere, which expands to encompass both figures, who are for only the briefest of moments silhouetted against the razor glare.
There is a sound like a tiny stick snapping.
The crackling electricity fizzles away.
And as it fades into the aether of mystical transport, our hero, Charles Madison Glass...
* * *
Did you catch it that time? Good.
Oh yes. One last thing.
* * *
With a faint and wholly disappointing "tink", the poison needle (of which such fuss was made earlier) impacts one of the ponderous cement blocks that compose the bulk of MacKay Hall, approximately two feet to the left of professional alien-breeding ground Toni Studebaker, right in the middle of one of her carefully practiced long, pitiful, drawn-out vowels. Sensing a means of death close at hand, her sharply-tuned reflexes spring into action, grabbing desperately at the tiny cotton-wrapped spike. Alas, she is too late, and she watches with bemused consternation as the needle falls wantonly to the ground and is promptly stolen by a passing squirrel.
"Oh, bugger." She says. "That could 'of been a good one."
* * *
We re-join part four of Mundementia One, Book Two: The Book of Going Forth, already in progress.
* * *
Room 4410, Currier Hall Dormitory. Center of my scholastic universe.
I am unloading my stuff.
It feels good. All the detritus I've picked up over the course of this last... day. All coming out. My own private vomitorium. Lovely, lovely stuff. A whole black bag full of tiny boxes with glowing red lights, all piled haphazardly upon the little phone-desk (sans phone, of course) that I'm so lovingly familiar with. Each and every little damn Indicator. Bahahaha. Stupid bastard things.
I am ignoring my room, for the most part, because most of it is clearly delusional. My own bed is perfectly fine, of course. It's made, somewhat haphazardly, dressed in an old comforter that my mother gave me on the occasion of my leaving for College. My own closet space is perfectly fine, as well. A few unquestionably clean garments hanging on bent wire hangers from the bar. A few unquestionably dirty garments heaped into the laundry basket. And then, of course, there's that indiscriminate and slightly-folded pile of things that exist in a Heisenberg state of not-really-clean but not-really-dirty-either, which I will certainly get around to wearing again one of these days.
All that's perfectly fine. I am choosing to ignore Luke's half of the room. His bunk, above mine, is clearly _not_ a cute widdle Lemur-Den, surrounded all about by an intricate webwork matrix of wooden dowels, that would not be perfect for climbing. Similarly, there is clearly not a big hanging lamp with attached ceiling fan suspended by a chain from the (not) sky-muralled (not) vaulted ceiling placed in an optimal position for swinging around on. The posters which he has plastered all over his area of the wallspace are quite patently not of young, nubile-looking, scantily-clad prosimian creatures, excluding such diverse elements as lorises, pottos, and bush babies, and his closet is, frankly, absolutely _bare_ of a vast arsenal of nasty and complicated-looking weapons which do not wink and flash status lights at me in a horrid display of latent firepower.
There are no neon-glowing caffeinated soft-drink advertisement signs, either.
I am humming, quietly, to myself.
I've already changed out of my old jeans, and placed them upon the Schrodinger's Laundry pile. Sure, I was wearing them while trekking through the dirt and the mud of the Late Cretaceous, but then they got washed pretty well by Maa'at-HICE's rat tribesmen, so... well, they go on the pile. I'll wear them again. Today, in honor of my finally being able to break out of this damn hallucination, I have removed one of the clean pairs from the bar, and have put it on. Likewise, I have taken one of my clean sweatshirts (embroidered with the emblem of, well, L.U.D.D.D.Amber, but it's _supposed_ to be S.C.U.) and, because this is a special day, I've fished a clean pair of underwear from my sock drawer, instead of performing my usual legerdemain in turning them inside out.
Meanwhile, Reggie has been standing nearby, almost-but-not-quite fretting at me. And yes, I did tell him to turn his back while I was changing my clothes. Currently, he is inspecting the small waterfall that does not adorn one wall, not-falling cheerfully into an unusually large pond of koi.
"Intriguing." He mutters. "Goldfish."
"They're not there..." I say, in a singsong fashion, dumping yet another red-glowing Indicator onto the pile.
"That's the spirit, Charles." He wanders back over to my position. "Quite a lot of things you have to unload, there."
I look at the black hold-all. "That's the weird thing." I muse. "These things seem to be a bit bigger on the inside than they are on the out."
"Hm." He says. Then, "How much, er, more, is there?"
"What's the rush, Reg?" I frown.
"Oh, nothing." He says, airily. "I'd have thought that you, amongst all people, would be in a hurry to get where we're going."
"Just hold your horses, 'Kay? I'm trying to unload some simultaneously metaphorical and physical baggage." Here's that damn little fruit skewer that Luke was eating mango off of last night at the Warthog. It gets clattered onto the pile as well. More indicators...
"Charles," he says, "It doesn't really matter what you're carrying. This isn't your real form. You're not actually burdened by any of this."
"No." I say. "It's a metacognitive dream state. I know. _Ergo,_ these _things_ represent ties to the _modus irreal_. Don't you think I would best be rid of them?"
"Possible." He says, conciliatorily, but antsily. "Look, Mister Glass..."
I do not hear him, engaged as I am in unpacking my tote. "We're almost finished here." I say. And I'm right; deep within the hold-all, only two objects remain: the cylindrical water-balloon and the Invisible Pepsi can. Sighing, I reach into the dark rucksack.
My hand contacts the water balloon, and I remove it.
It slips from my grasp, and falls with a wet "sploop" to the floor.
I reach down to pick it up. It falls again.
"Charles!" Says Reggie, genuinely perturbed now.
"Just a second." Another abortive attempt.
"Look," he mutters with increasing spite, "There's only so long we can dally here. Your 'friends' are probably searching for us even now."
I look up. "Feeb?"
"_NEVER MIND_ the how!" He growls. "Finish up!"
Blinking curiously at him, I reach again for the water balloon. Again, it slips through my fingers.
"LEAVE IT!" He bellows, in a brief fit of frustration. He seizes me by the arm, and jerks me back towards the door of my dorm room.
He opens the door, having reached it just a moment too late.
From the open portal, a black, airborne shape streaks into his face.
::AWK!:: It shrieks. ::AWKAWKAWKAWKAWK!::
"Bedamned BIRD!" Bellows Reggie, batting at it. It disengages, and darts away.
"Bloody hell!" I say. "CORVID!"
::Mister Glass.:: It says, sternly, alighting on the towel rack. ::Your pitiful mind is not even capable of cogitating how much trouble you are in right now with Mistress Phoebe.::
"Out of the way." Says Reggie, raising his stick. "You have no business here."
I blink at Reggie. "Reggie, what the hell is going on?"
"Nothing you need concern yourself with, Charles. Come along. Time is--"
::Don't listen to him, Mister Glass.:: Says CORVID, smugly. ::Phoebe was correct in her suspicions after all, I see.::
"Charles, Come!" Says Reggie, twitching, at the door.
"Just a second!" I say. "You're starting to piss me off." I turn to CORVID. "All right, you filthy beast. For the hour or two that you've been in existence, you've caused me nothing but stress. Either you tell me right now what the hell is up, or I disregard you completely from here on in. Understand?"
Reggie peers at this exchange with stern eyes, mindlessly composing his black robes and straightening his mortar-board. CORVID ruffles itself out, and speaks.
::HE,:: It gestures, with one iron wingtip, ::is lying to you.::
"_Quiet._" I say. I turn again. "Explain."
::Doctor Benjamin Harte.:: Says CORVID, in a clipped tone. ::Professor of Meta-Realitical Magics, College of Theurgy. El-Yew-Dee-Dee-Dee-AMBER. Hitting somewhere close to the mark, Doctor?::
"Don't listen to it, Charles." Murmurs Reggie, moving catlike away from the door, back towards the koi pond. "It's part of the sickness."
::Feh!:: Snorts CORVID.
"It's trying to hold you back. Trying to bind you here to this reality."
::And _HE's_ attempting some form of malfeasance to your person!:: Awks CORVID. ::Charles, I bring this directly from Phoebe!::
"Oh, and _she_ knows best, does she?" I spit.
::In this case, _Yes!_::
"The Phoebe Dimmesdale _you_ know wants the best for you, Charles." Purrs Reggie, quietly. "The Phoebe Dimmesdale you know would never seek to keep you here in dementia. Tell me that I'm mistaken."
::DOLT!:: Screeches CORVID. ::This _IS_ the Phoebe he knows!::
"Is it?" Says Reggie. "Charles, is what you've experienced over the course of the past--"
"Day." I interject.
"--Day, really indicative of the world that you want to be living in? Have the actions of this 'Phoebe' been anywhere near those of the young woman whom you grew rather, I dare say, fond of, over the course of your first year at Saint Cristobel's? Is this, in short, the life you want to be leading?"
"No!" I say. "Of course not! Jesus, I hope you're exercising your 'Let Me State The Obvious' gland here, Reg."
"Of course I am," he purrs.
"You need to trust me, Charles." He says, quietly, his eyes soft.
::DON'T LISTEN TO HIM!::
Reggie turns to the bird, his arms outstretched, palms up. "Little creature, what _possible_ reason would I have for wishing ill upon your friend?"
::He's experimenting on you, Charles! Mistress Phoebe doesn't know all the details yet, but it should be patently obvious even to a sophomoric nincompoop such as yourself that he's trying to use your power towards his own ends!::
I snort. "My _power_? Listen, you maladaptive piece of silicon, you can heap all the freaking titles onto my name that you want, it doesn't change anything. Don't you think that if I _actually_ had even a fingernail-clipping's worth of this supposed 'Angelic' power that you and Feeb keep claiming that I do, that I would have _used_ it by now to make you all LESS BLOODY ANNOYING TO ME?!?"
::You're a rarity, Charles! You're an Angel in Confusion! Mistress Phoebe says that--::
"It should be obvious to you by now that Charles does not _care_ what 'Mistress Phoebe' purportedly says or does not say. Am I correct, Mister Glass?"
"Damn straight." I say. "C'mon, Reg. Let's go."
::Charles, you nitwit! What proof has he offered?!?::
"I have a diploma." Says Reg, modestly. "It's in Medicine."
"Yeah! I bet he does!" I say. "Top that, you bastards. I haven't seen anything better coming from either you _or_ the entire damn Feeb collective. Reggie, I believe we have business matters to discuss elsewhere?"
::You insignificant cheese wedge! _We're_ the status quo! We don't bear the burden of proof!::
"Oh, parliamentary procedure now, eh?"
::Standard Debate Logic!::
::Why, you slope-browed-thick-headed--::
"Gentlebeings..." Insinuates Reggie, peeking nervously at the wall clock.
"Earless-toothless-brainless diode-fused refugee from the--"
::Ugly bag of mostly-wat--::
"I'm sick of this shit." I spit. "Leaving now. Reggie?"
He shakes his head. "I'm sorry Charles. The time we've wasted with this... thing... has forced me to alter our plans. There's no time now to get to where I had hoped we would. Quickly. Drink this." His hand rummages under the robe for a moment and emerges with a small opaque phial. "I had hoped to do this under better circumstances, but we've almost lost our window."
"What is it?"
::CHARLES, DON'T!:: With a gangling leap, CORVID propels itself off of the towel rack towards the tiny cylinder held in Reggie's off hand. Sharply, Reggie raises the onyx-headed cane, and in a thunderclap, a searing, multifarious curtain of golden lightning surrounds us. CORVID is blasted backwards into the mirror at the washbasin stand, which shatters in bright shards all about the awful thing. It falls, jerking mechanically, into the little sink.
"You cannot realize how satisfying that was, Reg."
"Pleasantries later. Drink now."
"What is it?" I repeat.
There is an electrical fizz from the sink. ::charles...::
"Medicine. This phial represents a cutting-edge cortical steroid which we've already technically introduced into your neurovascualar system. If everything goes right, we should have you back to normal in no time flat."
"Yes. Our research has shown that, in cases like yours, there's a process of biological acception which is, frankly, rather dicey. We're hoping that introducing your own psycholimbic system to a hypothetical construction of the drug will help ease your transition."
"Sounds weird." I murmur.
"Look, I can get you the bleeding statistics, if you like." He says, looking sternly at me. "But the nutshell is, efficacy data supports this series. It's your choice, of course."
Reggie motions as if brushing at a fly, the curtain surrounding us contracts to a narrow shell around his person, and, in a flash, another bright paroxysm of electricity sparks to the sink, crackling antagonistically with the water dripping faintly from the tap.
"Drink. Your 'friends' should be almost here, and we can't afford any more delays."
"F'you say so, Doc." I take the vial from Reggie's outstretched hand, reaching tentatively through the shifting lines of his electrical cocoon. A moment's struggle while I fiddle with the childproof cap before beating the damn thing, and then, without a moment's hesitation, I upend the contents into my mouth.
Suddenly, everything is... really, really nice!
Real nice! First time in over... a day!
The bed over there is nice, and so is the waterfall leading into the koi pond. There's a lot of pretty neon signs around, the mirror over the sink is broken in a really fetching pattern, and, wow, look at these pretty posters! And there's a nice man standing right over there, who made it all possible!
"Groovy!" I say.
"Come along." He says, nicely, grabbing me nicely by the arm and shoving me nicely towards the door of the nice room.
But then, something else nice happens!
The door bursts open!
"YEEEHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Cackles a beautiful young woman with wild, flowing hair at the threshold. A cute little monkey-like thing, moving simultaneously with the door, leaps into the room to the ceiling light, sets it into a big rotating swing, and uses its momentum to catapult him towards the closet. Rustling noises ensue, and I take a moment to savor them.
"And you thought we would remain ignorant to your fiendish scheme forever, didn't you! Little did you know that Charles" (oh, that's me, by the way) "would let slip your name to us, allowing us to easily peg you, after a cross-ref with SCIENCENet, as a thaumaturgic researcher on the Nature of The Mundane Shroud!"
My other friend snarls nicely. "You're too late!" He whips a tiny, rune-encrusted stick from his academic robes, and, laughing in deep _basso profundo_, he snaps it like a twig!
Mystical Forces fail to accumulate!
The young woman cackles some more. "HaHA! We have neutralized your emergency escape clause!"
"But..." stammers the nice man, "...h-how did you know?!?"
"Very simple. Buddy?"
"Rawr!" Says a medium-sized dinosaur, peeking in from the hall. He clutches in his sickle-like claws a sheaf of pinfeed paper.
"This is a copy of your Graduate Dissertation on 'Dastardly Schemes and How I Would Get Away With Them!'"
He gasps, seemingly despite himself. "How on Earth did you find that? I wasn't even a tenured faculty member when I wrote it!"
"Very simple, Doctor! Obscurity is no longer an excusable barrier in the location of old research, now, through the magic of the Internet! A simple twenty-second download told us all we needed to know."
"Damn!" He swears, nicely. "In forcing my hand, young one, you have gravely erred. Now, you leave me no other choice than to do this the messy way!" With the speed of a cute little fluffy bunny, he whips the onyx-headed cane up and around in a broad circle of sizzling ozone-scented fire. "Prepare to face my wrath!"
"Prepare to EAT _SCIENCE_, you DICKWEED!"
He laughs, disarmingly. "You imbecile. My _mana_ is already in focus. You have _nothing_ that you could even possibly bring to bear in time."
"True." She says, perfectly composed. "Luke?"
"Frink?" Comes a small noise from within the closet.
The man's head turns...
There is a thunderous noise.
The nice man staggers, sizzling sparks from his _magickus interruptus_, as a hard rubber slug caroms off his chest, smashing into one of the nearby neon signs. A baton round! Probably fired from a riot-control gun. Non-lethal! How nice of the shooter to be so considerate!
However, the man is not an unlarge man in his own right. And while that slug probably smarted like the Dickens and sent him stammering backward to boot, it looks as though it will only be a matter of about three balancing-steps in order to set him right again.
He is, unfortunately for him, only about _two_ steps away from the rim of the koi pond.
He stands there, suspended for an endless moment, one foot straight ahead and one abutted smartly against the cheap plaster rock of the pond rim, his arms flailing wildly amidst the nimbus of golden electricity which he had summoned around himself.
He falls, with a pleasant "splush" noise.
Almost instantly thereafter, there is a rather loud noise that sounds a lot like *BZAAT*. It's... not unpleasant in its own way. It does have some sinister implications, admittedly, but I'm in far too good a mood to be contemplating them right now.
The cute monkey-thing leaps from the closet over to the koi pond, his eyes wide and worried. Mouth slightly agape, he peers down into the water.
"Frink..." He breathes, after a moment.
It's at this point that I get the feeling that lying down would feel good. So I think, hey, why bother to try and make it to the bed? Collapsing on the floor would be just as good. Thus determined, I fall limply to the black-and-tan tiles with a satisfying thud.
"Great Scott!" Shrieks the young woman. "What happened?"
A faint, buzzing mechanical whine floats up from the sink. ::drank... something... from... a vial...::
"SHIT!" She says.
"He's been drugged!"
"Good Idea!" She says, searching wildly around. "Where the hell is the phone in this room?"
"Frink..." Says the monkey-thing, covering his face in his hands.
"Oh, yeah." She says, biting her lip. "Forgot."
"RAWR!" Bellows the dinosaur, rushing off down the hall. "RAWR RAWR RAWR RAWR!"
"NO!" Yells the young woman, rushing after him. "Buddy, Don't! The last thing we need right now is Campus Security to come barging in here and..."
There's more talking, I think. And don't get me wrong, it's really rather nice. But also nice to me right now, amongst other things, is the prospect of slipping willy-nilly into blissful unconsciousness.
I do so.