Sunday, January 17, 2016

Book 5, Chapter 20, In Vale The Air is Thin

I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is funny, but that quoting the best bits stopped being funny a long time ago. Sometimes, you've just got to get a new joke.

From Leah Quincy Creates, although as far as I get the Tumblr stuff, it's someone else's costume.

All hail the glow cloud!

Book 5, Chapter 20, In Vale The Air is Thin 

According to an incredibly cute map on the wall of the restaurant, which was exactly the kind of orange-upholstery, booths-and-bar arrangement Charlotte had imagined, the Home Comfort Inn Okavue was just off the A8 exit, on Oakvue’s Main Street. It was two blocks in one direction from the Municipal Beach on Crystal Lake, and three blocks (and just across the Lazy River) from an Acme factory.

Boring, in other words. Only the fact that the exit ramp led back to the Yellow Brick Road let you know that this was Babylon, City of Man, and that the Acme factory probably did make mail-order catapults that for some reason wouldn’t shoot at roadrunners. 

Emily Neilsen, still in her incredibly cool, totally-not-high-school-dress-code costume, was standing at the table. In her hand, she held a shiny metal thing that looked like a compass (the ones you draw circles with) that had decided to bud a bunch of new compasses, but had lost interest half way through. On the table in front of her was a thin sheet of copper plate on a spread-open copy of the Babylon Times (“All the News That’s Fit to Exist”), and, beside it, a spray can of shiny paint. 

As Charlotte watched, Emily laid a metal ruler on the plate, counted along it, and then put one of the points of her compass thing to the measurement, then fiddled with her compass-thing until severalof the other points were touching the plate, then began to turn the knob on the end of the compass. 

The free point on the compass thing began to cut the copper. Thin shavings of metal floated free, as Emily drew a bewildering, although pretty, pattern of intersecting curves and loops. 

Rose began to talk, but Emily stopped, held up a finger to her mouth, and shushed Rose, who’d let her Tatammy Fatigues hood down, but still had her strawberry blonde hair tied up. 

A moment later, the pattern, whatever it was, was done. “Now this part is cheating,” Emily said, as she reached under the table.

Rose looked like she was hoping that it was her turn to talk now, but a look from Emily shushed her. Emily laid a paper over the plate. The paper was cut in the same pattern as the plate, and Emily carefully aligned the patterns so that only the scratched metal was exposed. Then she taped the edges of the paper to the plate, and, finally, swept her spray can over the plate Finally, the pattern, whatever it was, was done. Emily picked up her spray can and sprayed it with quick, confident strokes of the wrist until the entire paper was soaked. 

Then she quickly pulled it off. The copper plate was still shiny and copper-y, but the pattern Emily had cut with her compass thingie was bright silver. “So, okay, you guys owe me approximately a million allowances in arts supplies now.”

“Ooh,” Dora said. “Me likie.”

“Even the copper?” Emily asked, tilting her head at her cousin. “I’ve never thought it was your colour, Dor’.”

“Even the copper. It’s beautiful.”

“Thanks,” Emily said, “Hopefully, it works.”

“So,” Rose said, finally bursting to talk. “This is the dimensional transport spell that’s going to get us to Vale of the Thin Mountains in the dimension where those blue raiders come from.”

Emily nodded. “The Old World.” 

“And once we’re in Vale, the police are all going to be, like, “Oh, look, teen runaways from some loser dimension hoboing it up. Not in our city, you don’t. Right through this Door and you’ll be back with your parents getting your backsides tanned before dinner.”

Emily gave Rose the look that went from a girl with a Dad you might want to run away from, to a girl who didn’t actually have parents at all. Then, “Yeah, basically.” 

“But why?” Rose grabbed her ponytail, like she did when she couldn’t figure something out, and she was wearing her hair out and tied up, which wasn’t often. “I thought it was super hard to do a dimensional transport to Babylon. It was a huge thing that you and Rafaella even have a portal through to this place from Philadelphia. When we were doing that investigation in the Library of Babylon last year, you couldn’t help us because reasons!” 

“Yeah, but the reason we got that portal is so that Rafaella could meet with her supporters in the White Fleet here! And then they have to get home, which is why we’re set up to do a portal to the Old World.”

Charlotte looked around the restaurant, tried to imagine a bunch of near-naked blue warriors in helmets and swords, sitting at one of the tables. Maybe one of them would order the Yarrh Pirate Special. No, wait, they’d probably be, like, super-old politician types. She flashed on another image, in which they had white beards, like Papa Smurf. And old man pot bellies and saggy muscles all hanging out of their fighting harnesses. Yuck. 

“Is that why Rafaella is so pissed she won’t even come over to talk to us? Because the Fourth Sword of Aphasium followed us here, and now he knows where it is?” Charlotte asked. She tried not to show that she was still seething at being called a ‘kiddie.’

“Yeah,” Emily said. “Now we’re going to have to find a new place to meet, set up new portals. So that we can hang out here and eat fries –which are, like, 3.5 out of 10, tops—while Captain A says that he can’t declare for Rafaella until Captain B does, and Captain B says that he can’t move until after Captain A does. So, you know, worst tragedy ever.”

“Hunh,” Bruce said. “You know, if I were a Captain of the White Fleet, I wouldn’t exactly be keen on revolting when my Pretender wasn’t even finished high school.”

“Exactly!” Said Emily. “But, various old people are, like, you’ve got to lay the ground work, establish relationships, build a political organisation, blah blah blah.”

“Actually,” Rose began, ignoring the way that Dora was elbowing Brian like she’d just won the Rose-is-pedantic bingo for the day, which, actually, she probably had, “If Rafaella’s uncle was secure enough to arrest her supporters, he would. He probably has a good idea of who they are, and even if he gets some innocent people, well, that wouldn’t stop Stalin, for example. If he can’t do anything short of catching them hanging out with Rafaella, that means that he’s still insecure. These meetings probably help keep it that way.”

“That’s probably the thinking,” Bruce said, nodding. “Also, I assume I wasn’t hallucinating or dreaming when I saw Rafaella hand the Fourth Sword of Aphasium his rear end. That’s got to count for something, right?”

“Maybe in a political system in which the right to executive power is not only hereditary, but apparently bound up in the exercise of individual violence,” Twelve said. “It’s beyond barbaric. I hope they do things better in Vale.”

“It depends on whether you think being run by a mysterious voice that talks out of a glow cloud in a temple is a better form of government,” Emily answered.

“Well, it might be a step forward from government-by-duel, but it’s no anarcho-syndicalist collective,” Twelve groused.

“Ding,” Brian said. “Two demerits for Sociodor for quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

For a moment, it looked like there might be an outbreak, until Charlotte glared the boys down. No-one was saying “Ni” around here.

“We can change the government of a million-year-old city state later,” Charlotte said. “I just want to get home for dinner. We’re having pizza tonight.” She looked around at her friends. “What? Just because we’re ethnic doesn’t mean that we can’t have pizza.”

“Don’t look at us,” Dora said. “You’re the one who’s all about rediscovering her roots. C’mon. Next thing you’re going to tell us, it’s going to be Peking Duck pizza.” 

Charlotte felt a blush creeping up her cheeks. “Duck pizza with hoisin sauce and scallions. It’s a big thing in Singapore.”

“Ooh!” Brian said. “Am I invited?”

“No-one’s invited,” Rose pointed out. “Remember what Rafaella said? We’re going to be well past afterschool curfew by the time we get back to Philadelphia. And we’re going to have to explain how we got mixed up in that fight with the raiders instead of letting adults handle it. I hope everybody’s ready to be grounded.”

“In a totally not-fair way,” Dora protested.

“Exactly—“ Twelve began.

Emily held up her hand. “We can’t have the White Fleet tracing you back to our dimension. They know that Rafaella has an interest there, and they obviously suspect that she’s living there. Rafaella tried her best to make it look like you guys are enemies. Helping you would just screw things up. Sending you through Vale means that the White Fleet won’t know how you got back to Philadelphia. Who knows? It might even help. And if the ‘kiddies’ are late for supper, well, Rafaella really, honestly is mad at you.”

“What about you, Em?” Dora asked.

“Well, if you had any sense, you would have stayed in Rosa’s control room.”

That was too much. “We had no idea those darn raiders were so tough!” Charlotte protested. “Or that there were so many of them!”

“You should have!” Emily said, sounding angry. “The Fleets raid into the V’hanian Empire! Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?”

Bruce put himself forward in that way he had, sort of shouldering his way back into the conversation. “Or what powerful allies they would be for us, the next time Istvatha V’han invades us?”

“Exactly!” Emily said. “So don’t queer the deal. Kids.”

Charlotte glared at Bruce, reminded all at once of all the reasons she was angry at that square jaw, those deep, penetrating eyes, those thick lips and high cheekbones and the dark, thick, wavy hair –Angry! Angry, angry, angry!

And then she was distacted by a sudden motion of Emily’s hand, and by a bright flash of light above the copper plate, and then somehow the restaurant tilted and stretched so that the plate became a door right in front of her, big enough to dive through with her arms spread wide, and a distant, bell-like voice that sounded halfway between Emily and an old-fashioned, wind-up watch alarm, said, “Hurry, hurry, hurry through!”

Charlotte took a step forward, just a little step, and yet, somehow, her foot stretched right through the plate. It was the kind of thing that happened when your brain was short three or four dimensions worth of perspective to understand what was going on, May had once told her. 

And she was standing on a metal beam. In mid-air. Wait, no, “mid” would be down there somewhere down in the giddy distance where a plunging waterfall of water from somewhere nearby disappeared into clouds that spread to the horizon so very far away and so very far down. This was “way.” As in, way high up in the air. For a moment, Charlotte could barely control the impulse to throw her hands out in search of some kind of support, but Charlotte’s kung fu instincts took hold. She had to hold her centre of mass steady: move it, not her limbs. 

“Everyone else okay?” Bruce asked.

Charlotte looked around. Bruce and Rose were strung along behind her on the beam, with Dora, Brian and Twelve all hovering over it, their various flight powers kicking in. Bruce had turned slightly around and put a bracing hand on Rose’s arm, and Charlotte, amazed, firmly clamped down on an emotion that was totally not jealousy. 

Of course Bruce knew that she was good on a tightrope, never mind a six-inch-wide beam, and had worried about Rose, the only one of them without flight powers or acrobatics skills. Of course.

Also, there was something wrong here. Something that registered on her Eight Dragon Spirit senses. Charlotte swept her hands out, encountered the invisible railings where her instincts told her they were. One narrow pole on each side, four feet above the railing, and out in a kind of triangle profile. She put her hands on them, just to show where they were, then looked around.

Below, the clouds still stretched, as far as she dared stretch her head to see. But to her left, they piled up against the ramparts of a mountain range, rising impossibly far below, and rising still higher above her. It was from those mountains that the waterfall burst. It looked gigantic, and, once she got her perspective, it was gigantic. 

Closer at hand, above and below them, were more of the beams, some horizontal, some sloping, some vertical, like a complicated spider web of shining metal. At this height, they were empty, hanging in the air like the one Charlotte was standing on. But, far below, though not nearly so far below as the clouds, there were people on them. The number of people, barely more than specks, increased as the beams converged on a floating city, a mass of towers and bridges suspended in the beams.

And, high above them, at the apex of the sloped beams and the vertical beams, was another mass. Not a city, this one, but more a thickening of the beams until they formed a solid mass, shining in a bright and yellow sun.

Vale, Charlotte thought. And, second thought. Sunlight or not, it was cold. Third thought. She was short of breath. Could anyone even breathe up at the top of the web. 

“So,” Charlotte said. “Anyone want to go down and meet Lolth?”

“Nerd,” Dora said.

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