This is a story. Like any story this story has a subject. You cannot have
a story without a subject, it has to be about something. It also has a
location. The story takes place on an island, on Arcadia. Arcadia is an
interesting place. It is divided into many different parts. There are,
for instance, the Mines, where the dwarves live under the rule of their
Duchess Kessalia, or the cliffs, where a gargoyle clan takes wing at night
under the leadership of their count, Robert. Or the lake, where the naiads
live, creatures made of water, and in control of it. Or the Plains.
The Plains, home of the sheep, and also home of the human population of Arcadia, and their count, Arno. These Plains are ruled by a council of democratically elected figures of authority, such as there are for instance the Head Poofter or the Wonce of the Treasury. (Poofter, for those that are not British or New Zealander, is a word you do not want to say in a large New Zealanders' face unless it needs to be broken.) The human population concentrates itself in the town of Ward, the capital and only town of the Plains.
And all this is governed over by someone referred to as the Master. The Master is a descendant of the firstborn, a story all unto itself and rather uninteresting in this context. You see, this story isn't about all this. It isn't about the Master. Nor is it about Arcadia. What is it about then, one might ask. Is it about the Plains? Is it about Ward? Is it about the council, or the count?
Well, you could say that.
Night has fallen over the island of Arcadia. The creatures of the night
are awake, most of those who prefer the day sound asleep. Particularly
the Plains, with its human population, are quiet. With the exception of
a few inhabitants it is a haven of relative normality on the unusual island.
At least, that's what it was. Until now.
Something is lingering over Arcadia and its immediate surroundings. Magic. Residual magic from its many magical inhabitants and the events that have taken place. Very few beings are actually sensitive enough to see it, and those who are would argue endlessly over what it looks like, but they would agree on one thing: this has to go wrong sometime. The residual magic is stacked up high everywhere but in one place. The haven of normality. Yes, the Plains.
Slowly something starts to shift. Invisibly the residual magic around the Plains becomes unstable. Perhaps it was a passing faerie, or a butterfly flapping its wings. It's not important. What is important is that large amounts of magic start flooding over the Plains like a huge invisible tidal wave, and finally crash into the library of Ward, the local town.
Needless to say, this has to go wrong...
Kessalia, Duchess of the mines, leans back in her chair and lets out
a deep sigh, staring at the map in front of her. On it is a section of
the maze-like tunnels of the mines, which she should be studying, but somehow
she's not in the mood.
"Oh, forget it..." she finally decides. She puts the map away in a random drawer and gets up.
"Maybe some fresh air will clear my head," the green gargoyle thinks, as she opens the window.
"Pardon me, my lady. Can I come in for a moment?"
The cultured voice startles Kessalia. Particularly as it comes from outside the window. Even more particularly as the voice belongs to a flying sheep.
"..." She replies. "Erm... Sure..." She adds to that.
The sheep neatly hovers inside and lands on the floor.
"Much obliged, my lady."
"Please, call me Kess," she automatically replies.
"The Duchess of the mines?" the sheep replies, startled. "I was hoping to reach the Master of Arcadia."
"Oh... Why... Did you want to see him?"
"I come from the Plains..."
"Yes, I can see that." Kessalia says, recomposing herself quickly.
"Please, this is important. I come from the Plains to warn about a terrible event that took place there."
Her eyes grow wide. "What? What happened?"
"I'm afraid I don't know."
The sheep and the Duchess stare at each other in silence for a while.
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"My lady, I am a sheep."
Kessalia falls silent. Maybe it's best to just let Master deal with this. She lets out deep sigh number 17 this evening.
"Arcadia City is south west of here. I'd bring you myself," she lies, "but I have work to do."
The sheep takes off again and hovers out the window. "Thank you, my lady," it says, as it flies into the distance.
Kessalia closes the window, sits down at her desk, takes the map out of the drawer and starts studying it again. She's had enough fresh air for now.
Meanwhile, Montgomery Robinson DHP, Deputy Head Poofter, passes through
the dark and drafty hallways of the castle of the Count of the Plains.
Though Deputy Head Poofter might be a seemingly odd name for the third
most influential man in the Plains, right after the count and the Head
Poofter, he wears it with pride. The inhabitants of Ward just happen to
have a strange sense of humour about these things. He turns a few more
corners and passes through a few more hallways until he finally stops at
the door to a room right in the very heart of the castle. This room is
the living room/bedroom/office of Arno, Count of the plains, mainly because
it is the least drafty and least cold of all the places in the otherwise
uninhabited castle. The Deputy Head Poofter takes a few moments to catch
his breath and regain his dignity. Then he pounds on the door with a sense
of great urgency.
"Count Arno!" he yells. "Count Arno! Wake up, quickly! There is a crisis!" Deep down inside Montgomery loves these situations. The excitement of an impending crises, the nights debating solutions, the... A loud thwump on the other side of the door interrupts his train of thoughts.
The door opens showing Arno rubbing his face. "I could have sworn this door opened to the other side... Oh, hi Monty." The Count pauses a moment for a profound yawn. "Another butter-shortage crisis?"
"Oh, no sir. Much worse than that!" Monty states, with a hint of excitement that his worried tone can't quite mask. Arno rubs out his eyes and sighs.
"A milk-shortage then?" He knows very well that this sort of sarcasm is usually completely lost on Monty, but at least saying it made him feel better.
"No sir. Strange things have been happening all over and around Ward. Possibly even all over the Plains. Perhaps even Arcadia itself!"
"Monty, strange things happen all the time on Arcadia. That's what you get when you live on a magical island."
"But not in Ward."
The tired Count has to admit his Deputy Head Poofter has a point there. He sighs inwardly.
"Alright, how strange are they?"
Instantly Monty starts summing up a mental list. "Well, sir, we have reports of a tree lifting its roots on passing dogs, A table running amok through the streets -We brought it into custody-, someone reported a flying sheep." He pauses for a moment. "And it was snowing in my bedroom."
Arno stares blankly at him. He mentally waves his good night's sleep goodbye and forces himself to wake up properly.
"Well, yes, there is. There was a loud crashing sound that came from the fields outside of Ward. It woke up half the city."
"I see... Well, come on in while I get dressed. We'll have to take a look at all this I suppose..."
The sheep neatly floats through one of the windows of the palace and
lands on the floor. He tisks inwardly at the shameless overdose of splendor
and looks around for signs of life.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
"Hello? I need to see the Master of Arcadia."
Still no answer. Then footsteps can be heard coming from one of the hallways.
"Ah, finally..." The sheep clears its throat and awaits the arrival of whoever is approaching. Coming through the doorway is the Master himself. He looks at the sheep and frowns.
"Did anyone call me?"
"Baaaaaaaaaaaaah," says the sheep.
The Master stares at the sheep for a few moments. "I don't remember ordering a late night snack," he finally decides, followed by a shrug. "Ah well... I was feeling kinda peckish..."
Two hours later, the sun casts its first light of the day over the island
of Arcadia. Everywhere, the creatures of the night go to rest, while most
others start their day. In Ward, however, two men have been up for quite
a while already, investigating the many strange incidents that took place
that night. Slowly, though, everything has been getting back to normal,
as all but a few of the strange phenomena vanished of their own accord.
The snow stopped falling in Monty's bedroom, the table is now just a safely
locked up piece of furniture. In a farmer's field, outside of Ward, Arno
and his Deputy Head Poofter are examining one of the last few remaining
"I never saw anything like this in me life, ya know." The farmer says.
"Neither have I," Arno admits, looking at the sight before him. Though his position as a count would probably require him to tell tall tales, he believes it's wisest to remain humble and tell the truth. It's less of a hassle that way.
"I believe this would account for the loud crash that woke everyone up," The Deputy Head Poofter states, without a hint of sarcasm. Together they look at it in silent respect for a while.
"Ya know," the farmer says, while splitting a bread and sharing it with the other two, "It kinda looks like a 'uge sheep."
"After this night, I'm rather glad it isn't," the tired count responds while gratefully accepting the bread.
"Well, 'ere's the really weird part. Listen..." The farmer steps forward and taps on it, producing a knocking sound. "Now, I 'ave never 'eard a cloud do that before..."
"I've never even heard of a cloud falling from the sky like that before," the count replies.
The farmer nods thoughtfully. "'s true," he has to admit. He takes a big bite from his piece of bread.
"Let's just be thankful it didn't fall on Ward," Monty states, "With its size, the damage would have been enormous."
The farmer quickly swallows his bread to reply. "I'm not thankful, mate! 'alf me flock's under there!"
Arno's face twists in sympathy. For the sheep, mostly. "Well, we'll see about having you compensated," he generously offers. "Alright Monty, what's left on the list?"
"Only the library, sir."
Arno stifles another yawn. "Good, let's go then. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can go to bed."
The Ward library is only a small library. For those who would be looking
for a specific book, the library in Arcadia City would probably be the
best place to go. Still, Ward does have a library, which can pride itself
on the largest collection of sheep-related books on the island. Having
left Monty to deal with the bureaucratic consequences of last night, Arno
is now dealing with this last problem alone. The librarian seemed rather
happy to see him, or anyone else for that matter. Following him through
the aisles between the bookcases the reason for his anxiety soon becomes
"This is where I found him, sir. He hasn't moved since."
Sitting on a stool is a quaint little creature, no more than maybe a meter tall... It is somewhat lizard-like in appearance, though its tail seems little more than a stump. It has a small beak and pointy ears about three times the size of a normal human ear. Oddly, it seems to have three fingers on its right hand and two on his left, while the reverse is true for his toes. It is reading a book, with the word 'NEVER' printed on the front. The oddest thing about the creature though is that both itself and the book are a little out of focus. No matter how hard Arno tries, he can't get a clear view of it.
"How long has it been sitting here?" he asks.
"Well..." the librarian starts, before pausing. "About seven months," he finally says, sheepishly.
"Seven months!? And you never brought this up before!?"
The librarian thinks for a moment, trying to find a good way to explain this. "Before tonight..." he finally starts, "Before tonight he had never been here before. And this morning he's been sitting here for seven months."
Arno stares at him blankly. "I... Don't suppose you could explain that a little better. Can you?"
They both look at the peculiar creature. It flips a page and continues reading.
"Did you try talking to it?"
"Yes, I did. He won't respond to anything."
"Hmmm..." Arno turns to the creature and assumes count-like posture. Though he hates this sort of thing, it is sometimes necessary it seems. "Good... Morning it is by now I guess. I am Arno, count of the Plains." He pauses to wait for a response.
"Please state your reasons for being here."
No response. Arno doesn't really know how to proceed from here.
"Excuse me..." He tries.
The creature looks to the side for a moment, at something that isn't there, then continues reading.
"Perhaps he's deaf," the librarian offers.
"Maybe so..." The count turns to the creature again. "Sir?" He places a hand on its shoulder. Promptly a powerful shock goes through both their bodies as electricity, magic, something arcs from the creature to Arno and back. Arno gets thrown back through the isle and slides to a halt on the carpet. The creature drops its book and looks up in shock. The librarian runs through the aisle and helps his count up.
"Are you alright sir?"
"I think so..." He limps towards the creature, examining it closely. It no longer seems out of focus, and it now stares back at him with supreme surprise.
"Who are you?" the count asks, trying to regain some of his composure. The creature continues to stare at him. "... Well?"
"Nooit." The creature's voice is soft and timid. Arno looks back at him, puzzled.
The creature looks down sheepishly. "Nooit is Nooit."
Arno frowns. "You mean... Your name is Nooit?"
Nooit nods, still looking to the ground. Arno kneels before him so he can look him in the eyes. "What are you?"
Nooit seems to be somewhat surprised by this question. "Nooit is Nooit."
"Oh..." Arno searches for a proper reply to that. "So... Where are you from, Nooit?"
Nooit looks at him puzzled. "Nooit exists."
The count thinks about this for a while, then sighs, gets up and turns to the librarian again. "We're not going to get many answers like this I think. There's probably magic at work here. I think it's time to have a little talk with the biggest source of magic here..."
Nooit jumps off his stool. "Nooit can come too?"
"You bet you're coming. She may have some explaining to do about yourself." Arno heads for the exit, Nooit trailing behind him, almost running with his little legs trying to keep up. "And by the way, my name's Arno."
"Arno," the creature repeats. The librarian watches them leave and sighs. He picks up Nooit's book and places it back on the shelves.
As Nooit steps onto the street a flood of impressions hits him. Never
having been outside the library, the little city of Ward is full of wonders
to him. There are people walking through the streets, cars driving on the
roads, buildings... Well, not doing much of anything, but still they look
impressive to someone who's never seen a building before. Above him there's
a blue sky, with some small clouds drifting through it. A bright light,
which Nooit assumes to be the sun, illuminates everything. A crow flies
from a lamppost to a tree.
Nooit gazes around in absolute awe, his eyes wide open. He walks around, looking up to the sky and the clouds and the sun and the bird. So much to see all at once! So much to hear all at once! The sounds around them fill his ears, one of them a voice shouting "NOOIT! LOOK OUT!" Nooit stops in mid-step, and is suddenly surrounded by the sound of screeching brakes. Behind him a car only just misses him and rams the aforementioned tree. Two other cars collide head-on right in front of him. Then it becomes uncomfortably silent. He has this nagging feeling that he just did something wrong...
"Are you out of your mind!?" Arno takes the word out of the drivers' mouths. Nooit looks around curiously, then looks at Arno.
"For crying out loud!" Arno walks up to him, grabs him by the arm and drags him back onto the pavement. "Look, just stay near me, will you?"
"Oy!" One of the drivers gets out of his car. "Can't ya look where yer going!?" Nooit shuffles behind Arno's legs.
"Sorry," the count offers. "He's kinda new here I think."
"'e's got eyes, 'a'en't 'e?" another driver offers.
"It won't happen again. Sorry!" He quickly drags Nooit away from the scene of the accident. It's not the decent thing to do, he knows, but he has enough on his mind right now. He'll deal with this later. After turning a fair number of corners they finally stop, much to Nooit's relief, and that of his little legs.
"You were very, VERY lucky, you know that!?"
Nooit looks meekly at him. "Nooit knows. Nooit is sorry." Then he smiles happily. "Arno saved Nooit."
"Yeah, well, Arno tired and cranky. So don't do that again, will you?"
"Nooit didn't hear the cars coming..."
"Yeah... They're electric cars. It's Danaan technology or something, which is supposed to be pretty much perfect and stuff. I'm sure we'll find some drawback sooner or later though. Now let's go." Arno takes him by the hand and drags him into walking along with him.
"Where are Arno and Nooit going?"
"Get some answers."
Somewhere near but outside of Ward there is a manor house, on a smallish
farm, where sheep and especially horses roam freely. A simple look at the
farm will reveal that these animals are not here to be made a profit off.
It is not surprising then that the owner of the house is slightly different
from most other residents of the Plains.
"The Faerie lives here?" Nooit asks as they walk towards the manor, sounding rather exited.
"Yep... And there's an important rule of thumb: whenever a faerie's nearby and trouble occurs... There's a good chance the faerie's involved."
"Nooit has never met a faerie before," Nooit replies, seemingly oblivious to the count's warning about faeries. "Nooit is nervous!"
"You're not looking up to them, are you?"
Nooit nods vigorously. "Faeries can do anything!" His enthusiasm wanes a bit. "Nooit can't do anything."
Arno sighs. "Trust me, Nooit. Faeries are a bunch of troublemakers who seem to enjoy nothing more than to make other people's lives miserable." He falls silent for a moment, contemplating his harsh words. "Well... Most of them anyway... Most of the time."
"Why is Arno so angry at faeries?"
"Trust me. I speak from experience," he replies bitterly.
"KYSHANDRA!" Arno bursts into the manor. Nooit meekly follows him inside,
as if entering a holy sanctuary, and looks around carefully, as though
just looking at his surroundings might be a mortal sin. He cringes as Arno
continues to shout out the faerie's name and starts keeping his distance
from him. Finally an annoyed and pathetic "Mmmwwrf" comes from upstairs.
"Kyshandra?" Arno replies, a bit more worried now. "Kysh?"
"Mwadoyawah?" is the second reply. Nooit blinks confused. He had imagined Faeries sounded a little more impressive. He quickly follows Arno up the stairs to the faerie's bedroom.
"Kysh? Are you okay?" Arno walks up to the bed where Kyshandra is busy being miserable. She's lying face down on the mattress, with the pillow pressed down hard on her head. Only the tips of her long pointy ears stick out, and even in the shallow light that passes through the curtains one can tell by their colour that she is not feeling well. She mumbles something in her mattress, then turns her head to look at him. From under the pillow one of the most miserable faces Arno has ever seen looks at him.
"Headache," it whines.
He crouches down and cocks his head 90 degrees sideways to look her in the eyes.
"You don't look so well."
The faerie lets out a deep tortured sigh and slowly sits up straight, wrapping her blankets around her.
"What do y- ... Shards..." She squeezes her eyelids shut and rubs her forehead. "What do you want?"
Meanwhile Nooit shyly and respectfully waits outside the bedroom. He gazes around with wide eyes at his wondrous surroundings. Which actually look pretty normal by most standards. If anything the manor feels cozy, despite its size. There are various beautiful tapestries hanging on the walls, of unicorns, gargoyles, dragons... even one of a human. Finally he spots, on a small wooden table, a few small finely crafted clay pots and jars, of several sizes and colours.
"I think you know very well what I want," Arno says, assuming count-like posture again.
Kyshandra looks to the floor with a mixture of repentance and annoyance. And mind-numbing pain. "I'm sorry," She murmurs.
Carefully Nooit walks towards the table and, his small body barely reaching the tabletop, peeks at the pots and jars. A curious gleam fills his eyes. Carefully he reaches out for one of the bigger jars.
"Darnit, Kysh. I'd expect this from almost any fae, but from you!?"
Kyshandra keeps looking at the rug in shame. "But you had so much... And I ran out..."
" But to throw the whole-..." Arno frowns. "What are we talking about exactly?"
"Your... Jar of sugar?" she replies carefully.
He looks at her blankly for a few seconds, then decides he doesn't want to know.
"I'm talking about the chaos last night!"
Nooit slowly looks over the pretty yellow jar. He cocks his head left and right, and twists and turns the jar. Then he stares at the lid.
"But I've been here all night. With a headache." She looks up to him, looking as pitiful as can be.
"But what about the running table, and the snow, and the cloud?"
"I don't know." She moans, frustrated.
Slowly Nooit's curious fingers take the lid of the jar. Promptly a bright golden powder blasts out.
"What about Nooit then!?" Arno asks, desperate for answers, and gets an odd look in return.
There's a loud bang from the hallway, followed by Nooit being hurled in, landing on the floor and skidding to a halt right in-between them. In the moment of stunned silence that follows he spots Kyshandra and looks at her with wide open eyes, the yellow jar still clutched in his hand.
"That's Nooit," Arno replies, being the first to have composed himself. Nooit sheepishly puts the lid back on the jar, puts it down and stares at the faerie some more. Kyshandra stares back tiredly for a few seconds, then slowly cocks her head and frowns.
"Nooit?" she finally replies. She moves her face closer, seemingly ignoring her pain. Nooit crouches down shyly as she does so.
"Where... Where do you come from, Nooit?"
"Nooit doesn't know. Nooit doesn't remember."
She gets out of bed and kneels down in front of him, examining him with the greatest of curiosity and dismay. Finally she gets up somewhat shakily and steps back, looking at him as if he were a ghost.
"Is something wrong?" Arno asks.
"Don't know," she says, somewhat disturbed. "Can I try something?"
Arno looks at Nooit.
"Faery won't make Nooit miserable?" he asks sheepishly.
"Of course not," she says, managing a slight friendly smile through the wall of pain. "Just stand still..."
She steps back and closes her eyes to concentrate. Arno too steps back instinctively, while Nooit just looks at the Faerie. She places the palms of her hands together in front of her face, and a slight bluish glow starts surrounding them. Slowly she pulls her hands away from each other, splitting the glow apart, and raises them above her head in a wizard-like manner. Then she thrusts them at Nooit, and just as she does so a sharp pain surges through her head. She twitches, and the slight blue glow suddenly becomes a bright blue light illuminating the dark bedroom as it hits Nooit at full force, exploding on impact into a bright blue flame.
Arno jumps back in shock. Kyshandra lets out a short high pitched shriek and clasps her hands in front of her mouth, eyes wide in total shock. "Oh no!"
"Nooit!" Arno shouts, quickly looking from the place of impact to Kyshandra and back in shock. "Kyshandra!"
"I didn't mean to!" She panics then stops and stares at Nooit, who is standing in the middle of a black charred circle on the floor, absolutely unharmed and still looking at her, with a little more surprise in his eyes than he had earlier.
"Nooit?" Arno asks. "Nooit? Are you okay?"
"Nooit!" Kyshandra shrieks as she falls down on her knees in front of the little guy and hugs him. "I'm so sorry!"
"What did Faerie do?" Nooit cocks his head curiously as he looks at her.
"I... I wanted to see what effect magic has on you," she say sheepishly, ending the hug. "But there was this sudden pain and I-"
"Why did you want to use magic on him?" Arno interjects.
Kyshandra gets up again and looks at Nooit as she speaks. "Because this confirms what I already thought. No magic exists in Nooit. No magic can exist in him. At all."
"No form of magic can touch him I think. Side effects maybe, but..." She looks confused, trying to find the right way of putting this to a simple human. "It is as if magic does not exist for him."
"Is that possible?"
"Apparently so. Nooit, don't you have any idea where you come from at all?"
Nooit searches his mind, but still comes up with nothing. "Nooit only remembers the library. Many books in the library. Nooit read most of them. Read and read and read..." He thinks again for a moment, then looks at Arno. "Then Arno was there."
"Can't you tell us anything about yourself!?" Arno asks.
"... Nooit knows many things about sheep. Nooit read many books."
The count thinks for a moment. "Well, perhaps Kysh and I-"
"Sorry," Kyshandra interrupts. "But I'm not staying here."
"What? But we need your help."
"Yes. Nice Faerie can help Nooit."
Kyshandra sits down in front of Nooit on one knee. "Nooit, I am not well. I almost killed you."
"Nooit is not dead," He replies, almost defiantly.
She chuckles at his reply, out of relief if nothing else. "No, but I'm not safe to be around right now."
Nooit looks down at the now pitch black floor, disappointed.
"What is Faerie going to do?"
"I'm going to the isle of Faeries for a while, until I'm better again." She looks up at Arno. "I'm sorry, I wish I could help."
He crosses his arms and sighs. "Don't worry about it. We'll figure this out." He smiles friendly at her. "You just get well soon, okay?"
Kyshandra gets up again, and rests her tired aching head in her hands. "Thank you. Goodbye Arno." She lowers her hands to take one more look at Nooit. "Goodbye Nooit."
"Goodbye," he replies softly, looking down sadly. With a bright flash the faerie disappears. Outside the noises of the farm die away to silence. Arno opens the curtains, filling the room with light, and looks outside.
"I guess she took all her animals with her."
Nooit walks over to the window, leaving two neat undamaged footprints in the black charred spot on the floor. He looks up at the count.
"Nooit doesn't know anything about Nooit."
The count looks down at him, and can see slight panic in his eyes.
"Don't worry Nooit. We'll figure something out."
"And this is-" Arno pulls unsuccessfully at the door of his office-,
living- and bedroom. "Oh. For some reason it opens to the other side now."
He pushes the door open to reveal his relatively humble abode. "And this
is where I live on Arcadia."
Nooit steps in and looks around. There are several sets of clothes hanging over a chair near the bed, the count's desk is filled with chaotically stacked papers and there are two piles of books lying on the floor. The only thing that is actually really tidy is a bookcase against a far wall, which seems to have been used very little. The light coming through a big skylight illuminates the whole scene. This room was designed to hold important banquets and meetings. The impressive skylight was meant to give a sterling display of the stars above, but Arno soon took the room as his own because it's the least cold. He doesn't like banquets anyway.
"Please don't mind the mess," the count states. Nooit waits for an excuse to follow. After a few seconds of silence he gives up.
"Arno lives here?" he finally asks.
"Yep. I'll clear a space on the floor where we can put a mattress for you."
Nooit starts to feel uncomfortable. A few moments of nervous silence follow.
"Nooit can't stay here. Too good for Nooit."
Arno frowns. "What do you mean 'too good'?"
"Nooit doesn't deserve so much."
"Now don't be silly," the count says, somewhat irritated. "If you call this 'much' I wonder what you'd call 'little'."
Nooit looks sheepishly at Arno's feet. "Nooit's sorry. But Nooit's uncomfortable here."
Arno let's out a deep sigh. "Nooit-," he begins, but is interrupted by something tapping on the skylight. Both look up and see a small brown dragon walking on the glass plates.
"Dragon," Nooit states redundantly.
"Yeah... It's a messenger from Kessalia," Arno says, while walking towards a small metal box on the wall with two buttons. He presses the top button and the skylight neatly slides open. "She's the Duchess of the mines by the way."
"Rock-duchess," Nooit states to himself. The small dragon flutters in and lands on an empty spot on the desk. Arno walks towards him with a grin.
"Hi there Alcor. What've you got for me?"
The dragon gives him an annoyed and hurt look.
"Erm... Sorry. Mizar? I always get you two confused."
The insulted dragon flings a note on the desk, sits down on the bed and starts to look curiously at Nooit, who looks back in much the same way, resulting in a staring match. Meanwhile the count sits down behind his desk and reads the note.
"It seems like she was worried about me," he finally says, breaking about two minutes of silence and staring. "This flying sheep had told her something terrible had happened here."
Nooit looks at him funny. "Sheep can't fly. Nooit read many books on sheep. Nooit knows many interesting things about sheep. Flying is not one of the interesting things." He pauses for a moment. "Sheep can't talk either. Nooit thinks."
"Yeah, well, nothing was the way it should be last night," the count replies, while scribbling a reply on a piece of paper. "So I'm not... Really... Surprised." He blinks at the piece of paper before him. "Hey Nooit. Did you know your name spells 'Never' in Dutch?"
Nooit shakes his head obediently. As Arno continues to write he walks over to the bookcase and peers at the books. Mizar curiously follows him and peers at Nooit.
"Did Arno read all of them?"
"All of what?"
"All the books?"
Arno stops writing. "Erm... Well... One or two I think. Parts of them."
"Oh," Is the simple reply. Nooit takes one of the books from the bookcase, blows the dust off and finds himself engulfed in a gray mist for a few seconds. Mizar bursts out in a coughing fit and flees back to the desk.
"They're only for decoration, really," Arno says defensively. "They were here when I got here." He quickly continues writing before he has to make himself even more stupid. Nooit puts the book back in place, steps back and looks at the rest of the books.
"Kess must have been pretty worried about me," the count repeats to break the silence again. Nooit seems to be thinking about something else, though.
"Why is Arno not Dutch?"
Arno stops writing again and looks confused at Nooit. "Huh?"
"Rock-duchess is Duchess. Why is Arno not Dutch?"
Nooit gets stared at for a few seconds. "Erm... I'll explain later, okay?"
Arno finishes the letter and hands it to Mizar, who snatches it from his hand in a huff. "There you go... Erm... Little buddy."
"Mizar," Nooit says without looking away from the bookcase.
"I knew that," Arno lies, then turns to Mizar again. "Now go let Kess know I'm alright, okay?"
As Mizar takes off through the skylight he turns to Nooit again.
"Now then... Let's find you a place to sleep you ARE comfortable with."
In the foundations of the castle, behind a heavy oak door, lies the
most unpleasant part of the castle: the hall of dungeons. Actually, it
is little more than a small dark passageway with a lot of doors. No daylight
shines in, and only very little of it illuminates the dungeons themselves,
through small barred windows. Arno never really saw the point of these
dungeons themselves, as the Arcadian army has more than enough cells of
their own. Besides, None of them are up to any modern standard of convenience
and the use of them would be a blatant breach of human, gargoyle, troll,
or any other rights. The reason for their existence, so he found out, is
that apparently it was felt that any castle worth its salt needs dungeons.
Slowly the heavy oak door is pushed open. Two figures, a tall one and a short one step inside. After some fumbling the tall one finds the light switch, and a few sparse lights flick on, illuminating the passageway before them.
"Well, there you go... The dungeons. The only part of the castle we haven't looked at yet," Arno, the tall one, says.
Nooit, the short one, steps in the hallway and looks around, seemingly satisfied.
"Nooit could live here," He states happily. The count sighs.
"Nooit, this is the worst part of the castle, and that says a lot. Half of these dungeons are even in danger of collapsing."
"Dungeons are good enough for Nooit. Nooit likes it," is the baffling reply.
"Because you're not worthy of the rest of the castle? This is absurd."
Nooit walks over to one of the dungeon doors. "Can Nooit have this one?"
"Erm..." Arno looks at a map of the castle he brought with him. A big red cross is displayed on the dungeon of Nooit's choice. "Sorry, that one's not safe. How about that one?" He points at the dungeon opposite to that of Nooit's choice, and takes a large amount of keys out of his pocket. One of the keys falls out, but Nooit catches it before it hits the floor.
"Arno needs a keyring," Nooit say, while curiously examining the key in his hands.
"Yeah," he replies as he tries out the keys one at a time. "I just never thought I'd be using this part of the castle."
Nooit sneaks over to the other dungeon and quietly puts the key in the keyhole. Slowly he turns it and the door unlocks with a loud 'click'.
"You know, Nooit, people are going to wonder why I ... Hey! What are you doing!?"
Arno turns around just in time to see Nooit open the door to the other dungeon. Immediately two large bricks previously supported by the closed door come crashing down. One barely misses Nooit on his left, the other barely misses him on his right. Nooit turns around and looks at Arno in shock at being caught.
"Nooit is sorry! Nooit was curious!" The middle brick comes down and lands right behind him as he steps forward.
Arno looks at him in silent disbelief for a few moments.
"Nooit... Did something wrong?" Nooit asks.
"Erm... I think someone should take a closer look at you."
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this special meeting of the Plains
cabinet." In the peculiar beehive shaped parliament building the Head Poofter
slams his hammer on the peculiar egg-shaped table once to open the meeting.
At the little end of the table sits Arno, with besides him Nooit, who seems
preoccupied with a Rubik's Cube. At the big end there is Gully MacDonald,
the Head Poofter, surrounded by Monty, the Deputy Head Poofter, Madeleine
Sterling, Wonce of the Treasury, a corpulent man called Dick Elders, the
Chief Bastard of the Peace, and finally somewhere off to the side, away
from the real important people, Mary Mulder, PR Bloke.
While the reason for the unusual titles has already been mentioned, the egg-shaped table might need some explanation. Being of a democratic mind, one of the conditions under which Arno would become count of the Plains was the institution of a democracy. For this reason the aforementioned cabinet-members are democratically elected representatives of the inhabitants of the Plains. In the same spirit Arno wished to have a round table for cabinet-members, so as no one could sit at the head of the table and dominate the meetings. Unfortunately, some people felt this would undermine the position of the count too much and resisted this idea. The egg-shaped table is the eventual compromise, retaining some of the original idea while at the same time completely missing the point.
"Now then," the Head Poofter continues, "I believe we have all met our new citizen by now. Nooit." He gestures at the little creature at the far side of the table, who looks up for a second then continues solving the Rubik's Cube for the 12th time in 15 minutes. "On the initiative of our Head Bloke-"
"Count," the count interjects. "And you really need better titles as well."
Gully clears his throat at the interruption. "On the initiative of our count this person has been sent to the Arcadia Institute for Scientific Research, or A.I.S.R. as we often refer to it, for... Scientific Research. This took place seven days ago and today-"
"Excuse me..." The Wonce of the Treasury interjects.
"I wish to file a motion that in future such decisions are run through me, as such actions can weigh heavily on our available budget. Particularly with the damage from last week..."
"Yes, thank you Maddy. A fine point which we shall put on next weeks agenda. In the mean time-"
"Now look here," Arno defends himself, "Clouds fall from the sky, tables run loose-"
"Snow falls in my bedroom!" Monty assists him.
"Exactly, snow in Monty's bedroom... And Nooit here shows up with complete disregard to the laws of probability..."
Nooit finishes the Rubik's Cube yet again and starts over.
"Yes, yes, of course I agree he had to be tested," Maddy interjects at the first chance. "I'm just saying that I would like to be included in the decision making process."
"Yes, thank you, Maddy, Arno, for your input," Gully cuts them off, "But I fear we're straying from the topic here."
"Which is what exactly?" The Chief Bastard of the Peace asks while taking his pipe from his shirt pocket and fiddling with it. A no smoking policy was established for the conference room some time ago, with 5 votes against 1.
"As I was saying," The Head Poofter continues, "Nooit here has been sent to the A.I.S.R., seven days ago. Two days ago he has been returned to us with the final results of the tests."
"Stapled to his loincloth." The count adds.
"Indeed. I will now read out to you the final conclusion of this report."
He clears his throat, looks at every person in the room in case they have anything more to say, then starts citing from the report.
"'In conclusion, the data we gathered on the subject Nooit is limited. It would seem however that the inexplicable series of equipment failures encountered during testing is a strong observation in itself, as is the disruption of half a dozen highly sensitive experiments in his vicinity. Arno, if you're reading this, you may have fun calculating the value of pi near him. In summary, I can only come to two conclusions: the first is that it is possible that Nooit manages to warp reality around him in some way, shape or form. The second is that I never want to see him here again or somebody will get hurt.' Signed by Delphine, A.I.S.R... The words 'never' and 'will' are underlined."
A few seconds of silence follow as everyone contemplates these words.
"So now what?" Maddy finally summarizes their lines of thought.
"If Kysh were still here I'd ask her for help," Arno replies. "But she's still on the Isle of Fae."
Dick stares longingly but calmly at his pipe for a moment before speaking.
"How about if we ask the little guy himself?"
Silence fills the room as its occupants try to think of reasons why they didn't think of that. Nooit looks up nervously from his Cube.
"Well?" Gully asks, looking at him. Nooit feels a slight panic coming over him.
"Nooit... Nooit doesn't know anything," he says, and tries to put in words that which he cannot really explain himself. "Nooit..." He stammers, "Nooit is," he finally decides.
"'Nooit is?'" Maddy repeats. "What kind of explanation is that?"
"Nooit doesn't know... Nooit is confused."
"You're not the only one," Gully mutters.
"Nooit," Monty asks, "Who are your parents? Who taught you to speak, to walk...?"
Nooit looks at him, his mouth slowly opening as he realizes something odd. "Nooit doesn't think Nooit has parents."
"Neither do I," Arno says. "I think he was created by whatever caused all the other problems seven days ago."
"Either that or he caused it," the Chief Bastard of the Peace states. "We cannot rule out any options. We need to know more about him." The rest of the cabinet mumbles in agreement.
"Well," the count says, "I've been thinking of having Damocles take a look at him. I mean, he's no faerie, but possibly the closest we've got."
Five pairs of eyes blankly stare back at him.
"Erm... You... Do not approve of the idea?"
They all start casually looking at each other. Finally the Deputy Head Poofter clears his throat.
"Erm... Who?" The rest of the cabinet seems visibly relieved that they are apparently not the only ones with that question. Now it is their turn to be treated with a blank stare.
"Who? ... What do you mean, who? Damocles! You know..."
The cabinet-members all look at Mary, the PR Bloke, who has so far been shyly hiding away at the side of the table. It is clear she has been volunteered to ask the next uncomfortable question.
"Erm... Sir?" She coughs nervously. "I... Er... I don't remember a Damocles... I've got a terrible memory, you see, and..." She trails off, looking with great interest at a closed copy of the Nooit report in front of her. Arno looks at the 5 of them with an incredulous stare.
"How can you NOT know Damocles? He lives in the Plains and is the High Commander of the Arcadian Army. He commands our forces!"
Dismay ripples through the cabinet as they all express their righteous indignation simultaneously. Dick stands up and slams his flat hands on the table. "Why am I the last to hear of this!?" he demands.
Maddy gets up too. "Why haven't we been informed of this!?"
Gully slams his hammer on the table a few times. The noise dies away and everybody sits down again in silent aggravation. "Now then," he starts, looking at Arno, "Apparently there has been a change in the chain of command. May we ask why we were never informed of this?"
"There hasn't been any change!" the count shouts in frustration. "He has always been High Commander!"
"Well, we have never heard of him before," Maddy states coldly.
"Then who has been commanding our forces all this time then!?"
The entire cabinet falls silent as they ponder the question.
"Erm..." Monty decides to hazard a guess. "Dick?"
Dick looks back uncomfortable at Monty. "Er... I didn't think so..." He pauses for a few moments. "I'm pretty sure I'm not."
"How about The Master?" Mary offers. Immediately the other cabinet members agree and look smugly at their baffled count.
"I don't believe this. Look at the citizen-list! He's right there," their count replies. "Under 'D'," he adds sarcastically.
Maddy takes the list out of the stack of paper in front of her and starts looking through it, with the others looking over her shoulder.
"Well?" the count asks, after a while.
"... We have a Dalliah, a Danzig, a Daniel..." Maddy reads out.
"But no Damocles," Monty finishes.
"Well," Arno says, taken aback somewhat, "Then he wasn't put on the list. Because he has an official function or something."
"There's a count Arno on the list."
"Oh forget it. This is pointless." Arno briskly gets up and walks towards the door. "Come on Nooit. I don't think we're going to accomplish much here."
Nooit jumps from his seat and follows Arno out the door, his cube in his hand.
"What is Arno going to do now?"
"I don't know... Damocles is probably off leading the army again. I'm not sure if anyone else can help."
"Then what will Nooit do?"
"I honestly don't know. We'll just have to see what happens."
Deep within the foundations of the castle, in a dark and damp dungeon,
Nooit sits on a stool, in the middle of the room, holding a small rectangular
electronic device, making bleeping noises. He is playing Gameboy Tetris.
Suddenly the red light indicating low batteries flicks on. He pauses the
game, stares at the red light for a moment, then jumps off his stool and
walks out. He walks through the passageway, through a hallway, up five
flights of stairs, through another hallway and finally arrives at Arno's
room. Slowly he pushes the door open, peeks inside and sees Arno sitting
behind his desk, reading some papers in front of him. Quietly he walks
in and towards the desk.
"Oh, Nooit," the count asks looking up for a second. "Something wrong?"
Nooit stops in his tracks for a moment gathering courage, then steps forward and puts the Gameboy on the table.
"Battery Low," he states shyly.
Arno puts down his papers and picks up the Gameboy to look at it. "So I see," he says, examining the back like an expert. "Well, I'm afraid I don't have any batteries right now." He turns the Gameboy around in his hands and looks at the display. "Perhaps you could play with your cube a bit more."
"Nooit still can't find the cube," Nooit replies.
"Well, then you probably did leave it at the conference room."
"No, Nooit took the cube with him. Now the cube's gone."
"Well, it couldn't have just vanished. It's bound to be somewh-" He falls silent and looks at the display. "Nooit, you have almost 250,000 points."
"Nooit knows... Nooit isn't good at games."
Arno gives him a blank stare. "... Well, you can still play a few more minutes on this thing." He hands the Gameboy back to Nooit. "Say, could you just play here for a minute? I want to try something."
Nooit nods, sits down on the ground and continues playing, while Arno picks up a pen and a random piece of paper. For a few minutes the only sounds to be heard are the scratching sound of a pen and the bleeping sound of a Gameboy. Finally he puts down the pen, takes a long look at the piece of paper in front of him and lets out a deep sigh.
Nooit pauses his game again and looks at Arno.
"I just calculated pi," the count continues. Nooit continues to look at him.
"It equals 4," the count states. Nooit stares at him silently, then cocks his head.
"Is that bad?" he finally asks.
"Well, yeah... The surface of a circle now equals the surface of the surrounding square."
Nooit stares blankly at him.
"Erm... The universal constant pi just changed."
Nooit stares blankly at him.
"... Never mind." The count lets out a deep sigh.
"Did Nooit do something wrong?"
"Nonono... Nooi-... You didn't do something wrong." Arno seems irritated. "It's just that the universe is all out of whack!" He runs his hands over his desk. "AND I can't find my pen anywhere!"
"Nooit can find another pen."
"No, never mind," He leans back in his chair and sighs. "I really don't feel like doing this right now."
"Why does Arno do it then?"
"Cause I'm the count. It's official type stuff."
Nooit cocks his head.
"Then why is Arno count?"
The count leans back in his chair and stares out of the skylight. Evening has well and truly fallen over Arcadia, as the stars become visible one by one. He lets out a deep sigh.
"Well... When the Master of Arcadia started gathering counts to help rule Arcadia he offered me this job. I figured that if I said no, god only knows who he'd have given the position. And believe me, most of his friends hold very little respect for humans I think."
"So Arno is only count because other people were worse?"
"That about sums it up. This is really only a temporary thing of course. I'm not going to do this for the rest of my life."
"Who will be count then?" Nooit asks, attempting to grasp the concept of a non-Arno count.
"I don't know... Probably Damocles or Kyshandra. Speaking of which, I can't seem to contact Damo anywhere. Seems like anyone who could help left."
"Nooit likes Faerie. When is Faerie back?"
"When she feels better, I presume. Meanwhile we'll have to do without them..." He leans back in his chair again and closes his eyes. "I'm not cut out for this..."
"Nooit thinks Arno makes a good count."
Nooit looks down at his Gameboy. The image fades away as the batteries finally give out.
"Block-game is gone."
Arno continues to stare out the skylight. "So now we're both bored." He lets out another sigh. "I wonder if any of the other counts have this problem."
Nooit places the now useless Gameboy on the desk.
"Arno can show Nooit Ward."
"Hmm..." A thoughtful expression crosses the count's face. "Why not." He gets up from his chair and stretches. "It's about time you familiarized yourself with this place." He pauses. "'Bout time I did too, really." He opens a drawer and takes out a simple brown cloth purse.
"What's Arno doing?"
"Well, you see," he replies, while pulling out a heavy chest from under his bed, "every... new citizen has a right to a fixed donation from the Plains' treasury." He unlocks the chest with a key from a drawer and opens it. Nooit can see coins of various sizes and colours filling half of it.
"Is that the Plains' treasury?" he asks. The count laughs.
"Goodness no. I don't keep the treasury under my bed. This is for unforeseen expenses... Like this one." He fills the purse with coins from the chest. "If you're going out, it's best to have some money on you." He chucks him the purse. He misses and it ricochets of the desk right in Nooit's hands.
"This is for Nooit?" Nooit opens the purse and looks at the shiny coins.
"Yeah," Arno replies, shoving the chest back under his bed, "Now be careful with it, it's a lot of money."
"Nooit can't take the money," he meekly replies.
"Yeah you can. We have a law for that."
Nooit opens his mouth to speak, but is cut off immediately. "Everyone got this when they got here. You get it too. Period."
Nooit nods obediently and attaches the purse to his loincloth's belt while Arno walks to the door and attempts to push it open, until his memory catches up and he pulls instead.
So far Ward has been referred to both as a city and a town. The reason
for this is that it's neither. As far as size is concerned it is somewhere
in-between, but that is not the only reason. The other reason is that for
such a small place it can get pretty metropolitan at times. There is, for
instance, an opera house that is an exact copy of a very famous one in
Australia. The house of parliament is rather impressive for such a relatively
small place, and the skyline is further dominated by the ridiculous addition
of a drafty old castle right in the middle of Ward.
This being a Saturday night the streets and especially the pubs are filled with people, laughing, drinking, having fun, or crying, still drinking and not having fun. Nooit steps through them with an exited look on his face, looking at all the people, the cars, the buildings, basically everywhere except where he's going. Not that this matters much, because even though most people don't even see the little guy, whenever they're about to trip over them they suddenly see an old friend and change directions, stop to tie their shoelaces or trip over something else entirely. While the count has great difficulty keeping Nooit in his sights, he doesn't have much trouble keeping an eye on the open circle this creates in the crowd.
"Nooit!" Arno shouts. Nooit comes running back to him like an excited puppy, his arrival accompanied by the cheerful jingling sound from his purse. A nearby passer-by's ears perk up as his eyes shiftily turn to the source of the sound running past him.
"Nooit is coming!"
Nooit screeches to a halt next to Arno, who has stopped at a small ice cream parlor.
"What flavour do you want, Nooit?" the count asks. Nooit stands on his toes and looks through the display window at all the different coloured types of ice cream.
"... Can Nooit have pink ice cream?"
"Of course," the count replies, then turns to the woman behind the counter. "I would like one strawberry ice cream for Nooit there, and, err... A vanilla and chocolate one for myself."
"I'm sorry sir," the woman replies, "We don't sell vanilla ice cream."
Arno looks at her oddly. "No vanilla? Are you sure?"
"Never had any vanilla here. Never needed it."
The count gives her a blank stare. Meanwhile, the passer-by, a tall skinny man with hair that seems to resemble straw more than it resembles hair, has inconspicuously shuffled closer to Nooit, who is still quite taken in with staring at he various colours of ice cream. He stares greedily at the purse dangling from Nooit's belt.
"What do you mean, you never needed it? Every ice cream parlor has vanilla."
"I'm sorry sir, but we don't. You are the first to ask for it, actually. Now if you would just like a chocolate ice cream..."
Carefully the man crouches down a little, eyeing the purse like a hawk. He slowly reaches out for it, fingers outstretched.
"Look, can I talk to the manager of this place? Cause this is ridiculous."
"Sir, this is an ice cream parlor. I'm the only one here. And I've worked here since it was opened, and we do not sell vanilla."
"But you have strawberry, walnut, nutmeg, chocolate, lemon..."
The man snatches at the purse just as Nooit turns to Arno and yanks his shirt. He curses under his breath.
"Maybe Arno can take the yellow ice cream," Nooit says, pointing at the lemon ice cream. The man inwardly curses the lemon ice cream, while Arno makes a disgusted face.
"Erm... No thank you Nooit."
"Look sir, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to pick another flavour."
Nooit turns back to look at the ice cream again, and promptly notices an arm swiping past him making another failed effort to grab his purse. He turns further to look at the owner of the arm, which is a tall skinny man with straw-like hair that grins nervously at him.
"Errrr..." He says. "Hey there Nooit." His voice is not very low pitched, but gruffy all the same. "I was just trying to get your attention..."
Nooit blinks at the man.
"Er... The name's Galen. I know where I can get some vanilla."
Nooit's face lightens up. "Nooit'll go tell Arno!"
"No!" Galen says, louder than he had intended to. He cringes and looks up at the count, who is too caught up arguing the need for vanilla ice cream to notice anything.
"Let's not disturb your friend there. I'll take you there and you can get him all the ice cream he'll ever need."
Nooit takes another look at Arno then nods obediently.
"Goooood... Now follow me."
Galen walks away with a grin and disappears into the crowd, followed by an empty circle.
"Where are Nooit and Galen?"
Nooit looks around the deserted alley. A wall closes off the far end. There are no doors or windows. Even the moonlight does little to illuminate to this place. If Nooit had known that this place was commonly known as "Muggers' Alley" he probably would not have entered it. He turns around to face Galen, who appears to be blocking his way out of the alley.
"Where are we?" he replies, an evil smirk adorning his face, "Let's just say this is where I work..."
Nooit's ears droop as Galen advances towards him.
"Nooit wants to go back now..." He says softly, fear dripping from his voice.
"Of course," Galen says maliciously, "there's just the little matter of a small fee..."
Nooit shyly clutches his purse protectively and looks up at Galen with big eyes. Galen stretches out his open hand.
"Now be a good little reptile and hand it over..."
Nooit slowly steps back, his heart pounding in his throat. The only escape route appears to be through Galen. He quickly looks back to make sure. The wall would be too high for a human to climb, let alone someone like Nooit.
"Don't you want to go back to your friend?" Nooit swiftly turns to look at his Galen again and starts backing away further and further as he talks.
"You can, you know... All you have to do is walk out of this alley..." He gestures at the open end of the alley, the streetlights making it seem like the light at the end of a tunnel.
"Now, when you think about that for a moment..." He produces a concealed knife from his boot.
"... It's really not that much to pay..." He points the knife at Nooit's throat. Cold sweat covers his trembling little body. "... Is it?"
Nooit takes another step backwards eyeing the knife, and finds himself with his back pressed against the far wall of the alley.
"Hand it over..."
On top of the wall an old black cat lies slumbering. Old as it may be, it still manages to fiercely defend its territory from all intruders. A younger red cat knows this, but still it tries. It defiantly strolls across the wall and sits next to the old black cat. For a moment it seems that nothing happens, but then the old cat lunges at its rival with a high pitched scream. Below, a startled Galen looks up and aims his knife at the cats. The moment he realizes what happened, he hears small footsteps running away from him as fast as they can. He curses profusely, swings around and runs after Nooit.
"Nooit?" Arno looks around the ice cream parlor. "Nooit? Where are you?"
He walks outside leaving his strawberry-chocolate ice cream on the counter
and looks around trying to spot any empty circles in the crowd. He sees
"Nooit!?" He looks around, worried. "NOOIT!?"
"Is there a problem, sir?" A deep, noble voice speaks behind him. It sounds much like the voice of a fictional hero, from a time when heroes were heroes and not tortured souls seeking revenge, or half-insane lunatics, or wimpy college-kids trying to fight the forces of evil and pass exams at the same time. Arno turns around and is faced with captain DeLancy as he stares straight into his square chin.
"Sir?" DeLancy asks, recognizing his count.
"Oh... Erm...We've met before, haven't we?" His count replies. "... Lancelot?"
"DeLancy, Sir," DeLancy states, jumping to attention, standing even straighter if at all possible. The other five members of his patrol squad follow suit. "Is there a problem?"
"Yes. Yes there is, actually. A friend of mine is missing."
"I'll send out a search party right away, sir." DeLancy briskly turns an exact 180 degrees. "JONES! PERRY! VANW-"
"Excuse me," The count interjects, somewhat timidly. DeLancy swings back around his axis to face his count again.
"Would you like a description of my friend first?"
DeLancy stares out silently into the distance for a few seconds.
"Well... Yes Sir, I believe that may help us increase our search party's efficiency. Good thinking, Sir."
"Thank you," Arno replies, remembering intelligence wasn't DeLancy's strong point. In particular when they met DeLancy had him removed to make way for the count. This probably was a very embarrassing moment for him, though he has never expressed anything other than diligent devotion to his task, perhaps even more so after his initial faux pas. Neither of them has ever mentioned the incident since.
"Now then... The subject's name is Nooit,-"
"Yes Sir, Nooit."
"He is a lizard-like creature,-"
"Yes Sir. Lizard-like Sir."
"According to the A.I.S.R. exactly 99 centimeters tall,-"
"99 centimeters, Sir."
"He has no hair,-"
"Yes Sir. No hair, Sir."
"Will you please stop that?"
"Yes Sir. Stopping, Sir."
The count gives him a look.
"I've stopped, Sir."
"Right," the count says, almost not believing him, "The special thing about Nooit is that he seems to live on the edges of the probability-curves..."
He receives a blank look in return.
"Erm... This means that around him unlikely things seem to be more likely to happen. Look out for signs of that happening."
"I am done now."
"Oh, right! Right, Sir. We'll get right on it." He swings 180 degrees around his axis again. "ALRIGHT, LISTEN UP MEN," he bellows out. Several passers-by move to the other side of the street. "WE HAVE A REPORTED CASE OF A MISSING PERSON! SAID PERSON IS: LIZZARD-LIKE, 99 CENTIMETERS TALL, NAMED NOOIT! AFOREMENTIONED INDIVIDUAL ALSO DISPLAYS THE ABILITY TO MAKE THE UNLIKELY APPEAR LIKELY. WE SHALL SPLIT UP INTO TWO, THAT IS TWO GROUPS CONSISTING OF THREE PERSONS EACH." He takes a deep breath. "JONES, PERRY, V-"
DeLancy swings back to Arno again. "Yes, Sir?"
"I'd like to come with you."
"... Of course sir. That... Goes without saying."
"Right, can we go then?" The count looks around impatiently. "I'm rather worried about Nooit."
"Yes sir, we can," DeLancy says, following this up with a slight hesitation. "... Just one thing, sir..."
"How tall is 99 centimeters?"
Nooit skids around the corner into the empty street, his legs carrying
him as fast as they can. Behind him Galen does the same, though with more
noise, the noise mainly being words best not repeated. He quickly looks
down the street. It is deserted. If he can catch the little critter now
no one will ever know. He quickly catches up with his pray, stretches out
his arm to grab him and trips over a loose tile in the sidewalk. He crashes
down and skids to a halt on his belly as he watches Nooit get away from
him again. Not being easily deterred he jumps up and continues his pursuit.
He chases Nooit as he turns another corner, and quickly catches up with
him again. He takes a flying leap at Nooit, interrupted by the news of
a newly discovered Arcadium deposit flying in his face in the form of the
Arcadia Times newspaper. Again he skids to a halt on the sidewalk belly
down face first. Pulling the newspaper out of the way he watches dejectedly
as Nooit runs off into the distance... Right into another dead end alley.
Deciding to make the most of this amazing change of luck he forces his
aching body to get up one more time and runs after him into the alley.
Nooit looks at the chain link fence in front of him, breathing heavily from panic and fatigue. It looks high. Very high. Behind him the footsteps stop. He quickly turns around and sees how Galen closes off his route of escape.
"Give it up, critter," Galen barely manages to squeeze out between his heavy panting, "there's nowhere for you to go now."
Nooit looks back at the chain link fence.
"You'll never be able to climb that thing in time. Make it easier on the both of us, huh?"
Nooit stares at Galen, then back at the fence.
"Oh come on," Galen says in a tired voice, "just give it up, will you?"
Suddenly Nooit runs for the fence. He jumps in it and climbs up as fast as he can. Behind him he can hear the footsteps of Galen closing in on him much too fast. He looks back in panic and sees Galen jumping at him with a wild look on his face. He closes his eyes, braces himself and...
Nooit hangs from the chain link fence, eyes closed, braced for impact, but nothing happens. After a few seconds he carefully opens an eye and looks over his shoulder. The alley is empty. Nooit lets go off the fence, drops down and looks around. Galen is nowhere to be found.
Somehow this is not as much as a relief to him as he would have thought. He nervously steps through the alley back out on the street and starts wandering around, looking for help.
The Bloody Irishman is an interesting place, to use an understatement.
It is one of the most unsavory pubs in Ward. In fact, it is the
most unsavory pub in Ward. In fact, it is the only unsavory pub
in Ward. Here, the less respectable part of Ward's population gathers,
to be among themselves, to swap and sell information, to drink and to gamble.
The clientele mainly consists of people who know how to take care of themselves.
If there's ever someone who doesn't, he won't be there for long. Occasionally
someone wanders in, in his or her innocence. Usually tourists, or deeply
naive citizens of the Plains. Or Nooit.
Nooit looks around somewhat uncomfortably, not feeling at home in a crowd. There are several tables in the pub, each one of them in use by people holding cards in their hands and moving money around. No one seems to pay much attention to him. This makes him feel somewhat better. He walks up to the bar, climbs on a barstool and looks around. The bartender's busy cleaning glasses, his back turned to him. Not wanting to be a bother, Nooit decides to pay close attention to a small bowl of pretzels until he gets noticed. He sticks his three-fingered right hand in the pile of pretzels and fishes one out with one finger in each hole. Slightly amused by this he sticks the pretzel in his mouth and starts chewing, before trying this with his two-fingered left hand. Again his fingers fill all the holes of the pretzel.
Next to Nooit sits a lady with long straight black hair. She too takes a pretzel, munches on it and raises her hand. "Yo! Barkeep!"
The bartender puts away the glass he was cleaning and turns to the lady. "Yeah?" he states without a hint of politeness. The lady stares back at him for a moment.
"Another beer please," she states.
"Hmf," the bartender replies. "And for yer friend?"
Nooit looks up and instantly feels hot with embarrassment. The lady looks to her side to see who the bartender's referring to. Then she looks down too and spots Nooit.
"Oh... He's not with me," she says, curiously examining the creature for a few seconds before looking back at the bartender again.
The bartender turns to Nooit while filling a glass of beer. "Hmm. Well... Can I get ya anything anyway?" Inconceivable as it may seem, somehow he manages to make this sound like a threat.
"Nooit... Would like milk, please."
The bartender gives him a stare until the cold beer from the overflowing glass running over his fingers snaps him out of it.
Nooit nods. The bartender examines the little creature more closely. It's not so much the unusual appearance of Nooit that bothers him. It's the fact that he looks like something that doesn't carry around money. A general rule of thumb in his experience is, if it doesn't look human, and it isn't familiar, ask to see money first.
"I could get ya some from upstairs..." He gives the glass of beer to the lady and routinely takes the payment off the counter. "But ya can pay for it, right?"
Nooit nods and shows him the purse. He then proceeds to pour out its contents, spilling out a standard Ward start-up capital on the counter. The murmur of people talking in the background suddenly disappears for the most part. The bartender drops his towel and the lady quietly chokes on her beer.
"I'll... Get you a glass of milk," the bartender says, eyeing the pile of money. "Oh... And th' name's Duke. Nice to meet ya."
"Duke," Nooit repeats as the bartender leaves through a door.
"Psst, hey." The lady sitting next to him hisses at Nooit. "Maybe you'd better put that away, before someone sees it." She gives Nooit a friendly look, then looks around the pub with a look that would suggest death threats in case anyone gets any ideas. A few of the standing customers decide to take a seat, while some others feel it necessary to put some miscellaneous objects away. She turns around again and starts munching on another pretzel while Nooit obediently starts putting his money back in his purse.
"So," the lady says, and swallows the pretzel, "what's your name?"
"Nooit," Nooit simply answers.
"Ah. What are you doing here Nooit?"
"Nooit is lost. Nooit is looking for Arno."
"Arno? He's the count here, right?"
"Then why don't you got to that great big castle in the middle of the town?"
Nooit blinks then looks at her with wide eyes. "Nooit didn't think of that. Nooit hasn't been in Ward very long."
The lady grins. "Heh. Neither have I. I'm a tourist. I thought I'd check out the town by myself a bit." She takes a drink from her beer then looks around. "Can't say much for the locals so far..."
Nooit puts the last coin back in his purse. "Who is Pretzel-lady with then?"
"Pretzel-lady!?" She shoots him a warning look that completely misses its target. "My name is Mika. Mika Yuki."
Nooit just looks at her with a non-comprehending look. "But who is Pretzel-lady with then?".
Mika lets out an annoyed sigh. "I'm with a tour group. I was bored so I thought I'd take a look around the island."
"Oh. Nooit has only been in Ward and Arcadia City. Nooit was tested."
"Yeah, erm... What are you anyway?" Mika decides to ask bluntly. Nooit looks back oddly.
"Nooit is Nooit."
The bartender walks back in with a glass of milk in his hand and plonks it on the counter before Nooit.
"There ya go... Erm... Nooit, right?"
Nooit nods and searches through his purse for what might be the proper payment. He finally decides upon a largish shiny coin and hands it to the bartender. His eyes grow wide for just a short moment, then he bites his lip and grins.
"Yeah... For you, that'll do." He quickly puts the coin in his pocket. Behind Nooit a few people playing a game of cards take note of this and start a hushed discussion.
"Say, err," the bartender starts, unable to fight his curiosity, "mind if I ask ya what y'are? I mean, I've never seen 'nything like ya."
"Nooit is Nooit," Nooit states again, while attaching his purse to his belt again, wondering why this concept seems so hard to grasp for so many people.
"... So nyah!" Mika adds, earning a look from the bartender.
"'Ey Nooit," one of the men sitting behind him yells. "Me an' me mates 'ere are playing a game of poker. Wanna join us?"
Nooit turns around to look at the four players. They collectively display their most friendly grins on their poker faces. "Nooit doesn't know what poker is," he replies.
"It's a card game," one of the other players says helpfully.
"Nooit isn't good at card games."
"That's okay, Nooit, mate," the first player says. "We'll teach ya a few tricks."
Nooit considers this for a few moments. "Okay," he finally decides, and hops off his barstool.
"Glad to have ya on board. Mah name's Jonesy, this 'ere's Steven, this is..."
DeLancy strides through the streets of Ward, head high, chin forward,
alert look in his eyes and followed by his count and two of his patrol-squad
members, much like a mother duck and her little ducklings. Arno too looks
around, for as far as he can see around DeLancy's broad shoulders, spying
for any sign of Nooit, or anything unusual for that matter. Suddenly and
without warning DeLancy stops. The two soldiers do the same while the count
slams into DeLancy's shoulder blades, who himself seems to react to this
much the same way as a tree being hit by a leaf blowing in the wind. He
looks down the street ahead of them and a thoughtful expression crosses
"Why have we stopped?" The count rubs his hurting nose and looks around DeLancy down the street.
"That there's the bad neighbourhood," one of the soldiers helpfully points out.
"Ward has a bad neighbourhood?" Arno frowns at this new bit of information.
"Yes, Sir," the other soldier answers and points at the old castle right in the middle of Ward. "These streets lie right in the shadow of the castle for a large part of the day. It's more night than day here, really."
"So nobody wants to live here and so criminal elements seek refuge here," the first soldier finishes off the explanation. The count half considers saying that he knew all that of course, but decides against that.
"I... Wasn't aware we have a crime problem," he says. "Dick never told me about this."
"We have no crime problem, Sir." DeLancy's cognitive processes have finally ceased and he is now talking to the count's back. "We keep everything under control."
Arno turns to face the captain. "So we can move on then..."
"There is too much risk involved for you, Sir."
"But it's under control."
The count and the captain stare at each other for a while. Finally Arno decides to give in. "Could you explain this to me, please?"
"Sir, by order of the Chief Bastard of the Peace we have managed to contain most if not all criminal activity within the streets before us." He pauses for a moment bracing himself then forces the words that follow through his throat. "It is a... Practical solution to the problem."
"You mean... You never go in there?"
"Barely, Sir." DeLancy's eyes spit a foul look into the street ahead. Meanwhile a realization hits the count.
"Nooit is in there."
"Sir?" DeLancy replies, confused.
"DeLancy, where is the place you'd least like Nooit to be?"
"Down there, sir," DeLancy replies, pointing down the street.
"Then that's where he'll no doubt be. Come on, there's no time to lose," the count says, and waits for someone else to go first.
"... YES SIR!" DeLancy bellows. He strides forward and leads the way into the bad side of Ward.
"'m tellin' ya man... 'f 'e 'as 'nother four aces, e's 'istory."
A generally bad atmosphere can be sensed around the table at which Nooit is sitting. Clearly the game hasn't quite gone the way the more experienced players expected. So great is their frustration that a few eyelids and corners of the mouths on the poker faces are twitching ever so slightly. The main reason for this can probably be found in the pile of money on the table, with peeking from behind it a pair of eyes belonging to the small reptilian creature holding five cards in his three-fingered hand. Nooit looks at the man making the threat and wonders what he just said. Meanwhile Duke, the bartender, reaches down under the counter and picks up a remarkably worn out baseball bat, which he gently lays down on the counter.
"Now, ya lads know 'ow much I dislike violence," he says, "Roight!?"
Judging from their reaction the players seem to know.
"Nooit," Jonesy asks, "ya wouldn't 'appen to 'ave another four aces, would ya?"
Nooit looks at his cards one at a time, then peeks over the pile of money again and shakes his head meekly.
"That's good. Cause ya see, the first time we jus' figured ya were lucky... Second time seemed a bit unlikely, but we coul'n't find no cheating from yer part." He pauses for a moment, trying to remain calm. "Now, the third time, well... " He starts gritting his teeth.
Meanwhile, unnoticed by the crowd, which is more interested in the interesting developments of the poker game, Arno carefully peeks through the door opening.
"There he is!" he whispers. He turns his head around. "DeLancy!"
"Yes S-" DeLancy says, when he notices where his count is. He quickly runs towards him. "Sir," he whispers, in as far as DeLancy can whisper, "I must ask you to step away from that door."
"What?" the count asks, surprised. "Why?"
"Sir, this is the Bloody Irishman," the captain explains, while the two soldiers join them, "It's a pub, Sir, used as a location for buying and/or selling contraband or stolen goods, gambling, prostitution, conspiracy to administer bodily harm..."
"Wait a minute... Why haven't you shut it down then?"
"Official policy Sir... Keep them where we can see them. Though if I may speak frankly, Sir, if I had my way-"
"But Nooit is in there!"
"Is he, Sir?" DeLancy peeks his square-chinned face through the door and quickly scans the interior. True enough, a creature fitting the description given to him earlier is sitting on a chair gambling. One of his gambling mates has stood up and is talking to him in a forcedly controlled manner. DeLancy also notices a young woman with long straight black hair who doesn't quite seem to fit in with the rest of the clientele. She seems to be minding her business eating pretzels at the bar while the rest of the crowd is looking at the poker game. Obviously she's a lost new citizen, or a tourist. It wouldn't be the first time...
"... So," Jonesy concludes, "I believe ya can see why we're all a tad upset with ya and yer eternal four aces, can't ya?"
Nooit looks back meekly and guiltily. "Nooit is sorry. Nooit is not good at card games."
Jonesy closes his eyes and mentally counts to ten. "But ya don't 'ave any four aces now, 'ave ya?"
Nooit shakes his head.
"Gooood..." Jonesy says, as friendly as he can under the circumstances. "Well then, show us yer cards, matey."
One by one Nooit puts his cards on the table and thusly forms a royal flush.
Deafening silence fills the pub for a few seconds while four pairs of eyes glare at him. Then one of the players slowly gets up, picks up his beer mug hurls it at Nooit, who just bent over to pick up a fallen coin. The mug flies over his head and hits a man sitting behind him leaning on the table straight in the face, knocking him backwards to the floor. His friends instantly get up and walk threateningly towards Nooit's table. The other players all get up too now.
"'Ey! Ah din't mean to 'it 'im! Ah mean'tah 'it 'im," the man defends himself, pointing at Nooit.
DeLancy quickly turns around and addresses his soldiers.
"Jones. Perry.... Prepare for a raid." In an instant black cloth shoots out of the diamond shaped disk on their back and wraps itself around them, forming a black jumpsuit, followed by the gold armour plating typical of Arcadian militaries.
"Well maybe we think you oughta lay off the little guy too," one of the friends of the knocked down man says, pointing at Nooit.
"And maybe we think ya oughta mind yer own business," Jonesy replies.
A baseball bat sails down in between them and hits the table with a loud slam. "And maybe I think ya all oughta sit down b'fore I 'ave ta 'urt ya," Duke, the owner of the baseball bat and the pub, says, casually looking from left to right to make sure non of the offenders feel left out. It seems that both parties can agree to that compromise as they all move back to their seats. Just then a deep noble voice is heard outside.
"RIGHT MEN! WE SHALL ENTER THE PREMISIS ON THE COUNT OF THREE! ONE! TWO! THREE!"
DeLancy comes literally bursting through the door, followed by Perry and Jones. Within an instant the pub is filled with chaos as the soldiers throw themselves on the crowd, half the crowd throws themselves on the soldiers and the other half of the crowd throws themselves on the first half. Chairs, bottles, mugs and pretzels fly around. Two men are caught up in a vicious fight. They lunge at each other with all their might, they duck, they dodge, they hit and kick. One man lunges out at the other, who ducks away, and he hits Mika straight in the face. For a moment she looks at both of them with a bemused look, then the look turns to one that could kill, as she kicks the ducking man in the face before hurtling herself at the man who hit her.
Arno looks on from outside, trying to find Nooit within the chaos. Meanwhile Nooit is standing in the middle of all of this, looking around in a bemused fashion. A chair flies just past his right, catching a knife that was hurtling towards his back. On his left two men drop to the floor with their hands around each others' necks. He steps aside and so narrowly avoids being squashed under the table that comes down on the two men. Unable to find his friend, Arno gathers all his courage, steps inside and is almost hit by a man thrown by Jones flying past, bowling over two others that were about to jump the count.
"Better be careful, Sir!" Jones yells out over the noise of the fight. Arno nods quickly and runs further into the pub, staying as close to a wall as he can. He nervously scans around for Nooit or any incoming objects or people and crashes to the floor as he trips over an unconscious body. As he lies on the floor he can see Nooit through the forest of legs stepping around through the chaos in a confused fashion. As fast as he can the count crawls towards him.
"Arno!" Nooit gives Arno the most grateful look he's ever received. "Nooit is frightened! Galen told Nooit Galen had vanilla ice cream, but-"
"Later Nooit! We have to get out of here!" Arno grabs Nooit by his hand and drags him through the crowd towards the door, waving his free arm on front of him as if to wipe away anyone in front of them.
While Arno drags Nooit to safety, DeLancy spots Mika, the young woman he had seen earlier, sitting on her assailant's chest beating him senseless. He rushes towards her, yanks the man out from under her and slams him into the nearest wall, probably never realizing that he did the guy a favour.
"Are you alright, ma'am!?" he asks. Mika looks him over and smirks.
"I am now," she says and pauses for a moment. "Hey... You single?"
Arno and Nooit look at the Bloody Irishman from a distance. Inside they see the silhouettes of the fighting crowd through the door opening and windows while they can hear the screams, shouts and crashes clearly as they echo through the street.
"Well," Arno says, hesitantly, "I suppose DeLancy has everything under control..."
Nooit just looks at the scene with curiosity, trying to figure out the meaning of control in this context as another customer comes flying out the window and runs back in through the hole in the door.
"Anyway, let's not get in their way, shall we?" the count continues. He takes Nooit by the hand again and quickly and silently leads him back to a more pleasant part of Ward. "Now, you were saying about this Galen..."
Nooit and Arno silently sit on the side of the fountain in the middle
of the town square, in front of the odd beehive shaped parliament building.
It is late by now. Shops and pubs are closed and most citizens have gone
to bed. Night has well and truly fallen over the island of Arcadia. The
creatures of the night are awake, most of the creatures of the day sound
asleep. A peaceful silence lingers over the town and they only hear the
calming sound of clattering water behind them, something which they have
taken advantage of to calm down from this nights' events. Both look up
at the parliament building, it's silhouette looming up in front of them,
for no particular reason other than to have something to look at.
"Why is the parliament building called a parliament building?" Nooit quietly asks. "Nooit saw no parliament. Only the council."
The count thinks about this for a moment. "Well, you know... When Arcadia got resettled I demanded that the Plains be a democracy, so... I think the Master got carried away a bit. He does that sometimes."
"Arno didn't name the parliament building?" Nooit asks.
"Nope... And I didn't pick the council members' titles either. Or did you think it was my idea to have them called poofters and wonces?"
"Not really," Nooit replies, "but why did Arno want a democracy?"
The count stretches his legs and back letting out a soft groan. "Well... Why not? Keeps people from living with my mistakes I guess."
Nooit looks at him and frowns. "Now the people of Ward live with the people of Ward's own mistakes?"
Arno chuckles. "I guess you could say that, yeah. I just try not to get in their way too much."
They both fall silent again as they listen to the soothing sound of clattering water, each occupied with their own thoughts. Arno looks up at the stars and wonders about life, the universe and everything. Nooit looks down and wonders where his Rubik's Cube could be.
"How do you do that?"
"What you do... The... Strange stuff."
Nooit stares at the ground and thinks for a while.
"Nooit doesn't know." He lets out a short barely audible sigh. "Nooit knows nothing about Nooit."
"Surely you know something about yourself. I mean... You now your name..."
"You kinda know what you are."
Nooit nods again. "Nooit is Nooit."
"Yeah, something like that. So... What else do you know?"
Nooit looks down glumly. "Nooit knows nothing."
Arno opens his mouth to speak, but stops when Nooit continues.
"Nooit doesn't know who taught Nooit to speak. Nooit doesn't know who taught Nooit to read. Nooit doesn't know where Nooit came from, who Nooit's parents are or whether Nooit has parents. Nooit doesn't know if there are others like Nooit... Or whether Nooit is alone..."
Nooit looks up at Arno, who's looking back at him.
"Nooit wonders too."
The count nods. "I see... Well, don't worry, we're helping you out now, right?"
Nooit keeps staring at the ground and nods slowly.
"Which reminds me, you still have the money I gave you, right?"
Nooit blinks and looks at the empty purse on his belt. "No... Nooit left the money in the pub."
"Nooit! That was your starting capital!"
"Nooit is sorry. Nooit wanted to get it, but..."
"Never mind." The count sighs. "We're going to have to go back for it. I can't give it to you twice you know..."
Nooit drops off the side of the fountain onto the ground. Arno gets up too.
"Nooit wants to go to bed," Nooit says wearily.
The count yawns. "So do I. So we'd best just get this over with. I assume DeLancy has taken care of any criminal elements in the area by now."
Twentyfive minutes later they are back in the bad side of Ward. Both look at what an hour ago had been the location of the Bloody Irishman. There is nothing there but an empty spot of land, with no sign that it has ever been used. There's no wreckage from the fight, no foundations, just a plot of land on which pale withering grass is growing.
"Perhaps DeLancy confiscated the pub?" Arno asks, knowing very well that this is almost as unlikely as a pub vanishing into thin air. Nooit cocks his head at the sight before him.
"Nooit doesn't think so..."
"Neither do I. Let's get out of here, I'm afraid we may not get our sleep this night."
Half an hour later the count is facing four very sleepy looking council
members. Only Monty seems to be somewhat enthusiastic, a state of mind
that impending crisis always seems to bring out of him. Arno sometimes
wonders how he'd react to the end of the world. He'd probably be elated.
The other council members seem to lack any and all signs of enthusiasm
whatsoever. After reading the hastily assembled report their count had
handed out their mood actually seems strangely hostile. The only one not
showing any of these signs is the P.R. Bloke, but only because she isn't
there. After waiting an extra five minutes, checking his watch every 15
seconds or so, the count finally decides to start without her. He clears
his throat and faces the four council members, who are quietly mumbling
"Gentlemen... And lady..."
Gully, the Head Poofter, gives him a sideways glance and continues to finish his conversation with the Chief Bastard of the Peace. Monty is still reading the report given to him while Maddy is staring out in front of her, her body apparently more awake than her mind.
Dick nods thoughtfully at something Gully has said and starts fiddling with his pipe, while Gully reaches over to Maddy to exchange a few words with her. Monty stifles a yawn and continues to read, occasionally frowning. Arno leans on the table with both arms looking at something behind them with great interest before giving it another try.
Monty looks up at the count from the report and clears his throat. The other three council members look up and first look at him, then at Arno.
"Erm... Thank you..." the Count says. "Now, I assume you're all up to speed on why we're here?"
"Because you couldn't get any vanilla ice cream?" Maddy answers.
"Come on, no need for sarcasm, Madeleine. This is serious!"
"I would agree," Gully says, "however, I'm afraid we may differ in opinion on what we find serious."
"Meaning what?" Arno asks, having a pretty good idea of what is meant here.
"Meaning, if I may be so bold," Dick says, looking up from his pipe at Gully for confirmation, "that... Well... You are the only one noticing these changes." Gully and Maddy nod in agreement, while Monty shifts uneasily in his chair.
"No, I am NOT the only one noticing these changes," the count says, frustrated, "Nooit notices them too!"
An uncomfortable silence comes from the other side of the table.
"... You don't believe him, do you?" the count asks, almost accusingly.
"Well, sir," Monty says, leaning back as if to hide himself from attention, "I'm afraid Nooit's credibility might be somewhat..." He searches for the right word. "Lacking?"
"Indeed," Dick adds, "He has only been on Arcadia for small number of days, and..." He frowns at the pipe in his hand and wipes off a smudge before putting it back into his shirt pocket. "We really don't know much about him. Nor will he tell us."
The count gets up and turns a slight shade of red with frustration. "But he doesn't know himself!"
Gully takes a deep breath. "What my esteemed colleagues are trying to say here I believe, and I do hope I'm not merely speaking for myself and interpreting their comments to fit my own perceptions..." He looks around for any objections. "... Is that aside from Nooit you are the only other person noticing these alleged changes. Yet you are also the person spending the most time with him. One might wonder why our newest citizen chooses to spend so much time with what is essentially the most powerful person in the Plains. Politically speaking, of course."
The count looks at them with an incredulous expression. "You don't think I'm making this up, do you!?"
More silence comes from the other side of the table.
Maddy takes the report in her hands and reads from it. "So far you have claimed the disappearance of a High Commander we never had, a criminal who, as Dick tells me, does not appear in any of our files, vanilla ice cream," She pauses meaningfully here, just staring at him for a few moments, "... And my personal favourite, a bloody Irishman."
The count lets out an annoyed sigh. "The Bloody Irishman is a pub. Or it was a pub, I don't know, it's gone now."
Dick folds his hands in front of him. "Where is Nooit now?" he calmly asks.
"He's in the castle. Asleep I would imagine, after what he's been through."
"Then look at it from our side for a moment, please," he continues. "A little green man appears out of nowhere, his arrival coinciding with many other strange events. A few days later he moves in with our count, who soon after starts calling nightly emergency meetings about people and things we never even heard of disappearing."
This time it's Arno's turn to remain silent.
"What would you say if you were in our place?" Maddy asks.
He sits back down again and sighs. "And still, I know all these things have existed. Damocles is my friend. I've been to the Bloody Irishman." He rubs his face with his hands and breathes in deeply. "I am not going crazy."
"We never suggested you were," Gully says.
"Then what are you suggesting?"
"We are merely suggesting that you would do well to be careful with Nooit, as well as that you do not close yourself off to alternative explanations to your problem."
The count stares at the table. He knows he's not going to win this argument. He knows they are right. He also knows he is right.
"It would not hurt, though, to start an investigation into the matter, would it?" Monty finally says. "Just to be on the safe side."
"I believe I could live with that," Gully says thoughtfully. "And I believe our count would feel the same way, so I feel we can consider a majority of votes to exist for this proposal?" He looks around for any objections. His colleagues are too tired to object. "Very well. This night at two thirty AM it was decided that a full investigation will be launched investigating... The... Matter at hand."
"What about Mary's vote?" the count asks tiredly.
Again, silence follows from the four council members. Finally Monty softly clears his throat. "Mary?"
Arno groans and drops his head on the table. After laying there in silence for a while he gets up and walks to the door. "I don't think there's anything more to discuss. I'm going to bed." He opens the door. "Oh, and I want a message sent to Arcadia City about this first thing in the morning." Not even waiting for a reply he leaves, closing the door behind him and leaving the council members to sit in silence. Finally Dick takes his pipe out of his shirt pocket and stares into it.
"I fear we may have a problem," He says.
Nooit looks at Arno lying on his bed. He's still wearing his clothes from last night, lying on top of his blankets practically face down on his pillow. Nooit tentatively places his hand on Arno's shoulder, then, when he gets no response, starts rattling it wildly.
"Mwrrrwhat!?" The count's head shoots up from the pillow and looks around. "What's going on... Oh... 'Morning Nooit."
Nooit steps back while Arno sits on the side of his bed. He lets out a deep yawn and looks at Nooit again.
"What'd you wake me up for? Don't you know what time I went to bed last night?"
Nooit points to the clock hanging on the wall. "It's past noon. Arno still needs to find the missing people and things."
The count scratches the back of his head. "Well it's not that easy, I-... Did anything more go missing?"
"Nooit doesn't know. Nooit stayed inside."
The count let's out a sigh. "Well, even if it did, I wouldn't know what to do about it, really... Not without help."
Nooit climbs on the bed and sits down next to him. "The council didn't want to help Arno?" There's an attempt at a comforting undertone in his voice.
"Even if they did, what help would they be? We need someone who knows magic. Magic is the only explanation I can think of."
"Does Arno know someone who knows magic?"
A wry grin crosses the count's face. "All too many. But none in Ward right now. Typical, they're never around when you need them." He rubs his eyes and tries to get up, but finds he lacks the willpower to do so at the moment. "Never thought I'd say it, but I wish one of them were here now."
There's a knock on the door, a rapid short one. Nooit and Arno look up at the door simultaneously, then Nooit looks at the sleepy count and jumps off the bed.
"Nooit'll get it."
He walks to the door and opens it. Behind it is a curious young woman with long green hair. She is dressed in little more than a top and a skirt. Nothing more, in fact, she's even barefoot. As soon as the door moves she steps back and starts talking. "Hey Arno. I was in the neighb-" She notices the door opens to the inside. "Hey, you changed the do-" She notices she's talking to air. She blinks and looks further into the room where she sees Arno sitting on his bed. On a hunch she looks down and spots Nooit. "Oh. Who are you?" She asks, as she steps in, all the while looking at Nooit.
"Nooit is Nooit," he replies.
"Oh, okay. Hi Nooit." She smiles a cheerful smile at him, then briskly turns towards Arno. "Anyway, I was in the neighbourhood and I th-"
"Anatidae!" the count finally exclaims in a mixture of joy, surprise and puzzlement.
"... Yes... That's me..." Anatidae looks at him oddly. "Are you okay? You don't look so good. You don't sound so good either. You sound... Way too glad to see me."
"You wouldn't believe the things that happened lately," the count says trying to hide a yawn. "I just got up, actually."
Meanwhile Nooit closes the door and runs over to Arno and Anatidae. Anatidae turns her attention back to Nooit again and examines him curiously, while Nooit does the same to her.
"Who's this?" she finally asks.
"Who's Anatidae?" he asks simultaneously.
"Erm..." The count looks from Nooit to Anatidae to Nooit again. "Hang on, one thing at a time." He gets up, groans and massages his forehead.
"Had a bad night, huh?" Anatidae asks, smiling. "You know, you should never drink more than... Erm... No, wait, that's for gargoyles."
Arno holds up his hand to make her stop talking. "I'll explain in a moment. Nooit..."
"Or was it clams?" Anatidae wonders out loud.
"Nooit," Arno says again, this time stressing the word a bit more, "this here is Anatidae. She's a friend of Kessalia's."
"Rock-duchess," Nooit says, earning a blink from Anatidae.
"Yeah, anyway, She's half-naiad, a creature made of water, even though technically such a crossbreed isn't even possible, so don't ask us how. She knows magic, at least as far as doing things with water is concerned." He turns his head to look at her. "Perhaps she can help?"
"Nice to meet you, Nooit," she says and holds out her hand, lowers it 18 inches so Nooit can reach it properly, then suddenly pulls it away again as she turns to Arno, leaving Nooit to grab thin air. "Hey! What do you mean, 'Perhaps she can help'?"
"Please, sit down," Arno gestures at the unmade and still warm bed. "But don't wet the bed, please." He promptly gets hit in the face with his own pillow.
"You've been hanging out with Kess too long," the count says, grinning. "Anyway, I'll explain everything after I made some breakfast."
Dick Elders steps through the chaos of the Arcadian Army's Barracks
in Ward. The two available cells are filled to bursting point with people,
most of which are complaining loudly and profusely about army brutality
and their rights. Soldiers are running left and right retrieving and filling
out forms and questioning prisoners. The Chief Bastard of the Peace increases
his speed and bursts into DeLancy's small office, where after closing the
door he leans against it and lets out an exhausted sigh.
"It's a madhouse out there," he says, slightly distraught.
The captain doesn't look up from his paperwork yet, but produces an amused smile. "Yes sir. It is."
"DeLancy, where do all these people come from!?"
DeLancy puts down his pen and leans back in his chair. "Said individuals were arrested through the valiant efforts of soldiers Perry and Jones and myself at the time of 0100, 1 AM in the night at 1 o'clock, on the charges of disrupting the peace, assaulting the keepers of order and additional charges of minor to gross bodily harm or attempts thereof varying per person. Sir."
Dick invites himself to a chair and sits down with a heavy sigh. "Oh, right. The fight. DeLancy, I honestly wish you hadn't done this."
"Think about it, DeLancy. You have them arrested, now what? You know very well most of them will have to be released eventually."
"With respect sir, perhaps with a few changes in the laws-"
"I haven't come to discuss this, captain. I have a much more important matter to discuss."
"Yes sir." DeLancy sits up straight to give the matter his full attention. Not many important matters are discussed with him, and this makes for a welcome change. Dick pauses for a few moments to find the right way of going about this.
"Now, captain, these people have been arrested after a fight. Did this fight take place in a pub called the Bloody Irishman?"
DeLancy frowns. "No sir. As my report states the fight took place outside." He pulls a piece of paper out of the stack of paperwork before him and hands it to the Chief Bastard of the Peace. "And I am not familiar with a pub with such a name, sir."
"Right..." Dick nods his head slowly, thinking. "Right... Captain, where would you say your loyalties lie?"
DeLancy briskly gets up and snaps to attention. "I have pledged my loyalty to the island of Arcadia and its ruler, The city of Ward, its count, its council and its people," he blabs out without letting any of the words pass through his brain.
"Right, well..." Dick takes his pipe out of his breast pocket and lights it, a thoughtful expression on his face. A smoky mist begins to fill the small office. "Those are a lot of people. Could you place them in order of importance?"
"Sir?" DeLancy asks, confused, while suppressing a cough.
"Well... Let's just say, for argument's sake, that one of the persons or groups you had pledged your loyalty to, has become a... Liability to the other persons or groups..."
"In that case I would take said person or persons into custody immediately, sir," DeLancy states with a great degree of certainty.
"But what about your loyalty to this person or group?" Dick replies, and takes a drag from his pipe. DeLancy thinks and lets out a few slight coughs.
"I... Suppose it would depend on the persons or groups in question, sir... Mind if I open a window?"
"Hmm? Oh, of course not, it's your office after all," Dick says, waving his smoking pipe around. "But can I take it then, that should the time come, hypothetically speaking, of course, that one such person or group may pose a danger to any of the other persons or groups, for instance, hypothetically speaking again-" He is interrupted by DeLancy hanging his head out of the window and having a coughing fit.
"My apologies, sir. Please continue," the captain says after composing himself again.
"Should such an event take place, hypothetically speaking, of course-"
"Would you be willing to forgo the established chain of command to protect the interests of these other groups or persons?"
DeLancy frowns, thinks, then gives him a blank stare. "... Yes sir."
Dick gets up, visibly relieved. "Good... Good... I'm glad we had this conversation." He sighs. "I may have a difficult task for you in the future, captain."
"Yes sir," DeLancy says, springing to attention again. "I appreciate your confidence in me."
"And I appreciate your discretion, captain," The Chief Bastard of the Peace says as he heads for the door. "Good day."
"Erm... Sir?" DeLancy asks. "Just one thing..."
Dick turns around again. "Yes captain?"
"What did we just discuss, sir?"
In the middle of a field outside of Ward there still lies the cloud
that fell from the sky eight days ago. The first few days the cloud drew
quite an interest. Amateur and professional scientists from all over the
Plains gathered round it with curious interest, all three of them, scaffolds
were built around the cloud trying to reach higher portions of it, until
finally one of the scientists could have a picture taken of him proudly
standing on the top of the cloud. After that interest waned. After all,
when all was said and done, it still was just a cloud, just a lot more
solid and a lot lower than usual. After this the demolition crews came.
They built more scaffolds to examine the cloud, tried to find its weak
spots, and found they couldn't find any. All of this happened to the increasing
irritation to the unfortunate farmer owning the field, as well as the sheep
crushed under the cloud. Eventually he chased the demolition crew off of
his property, who then wrote a big report claiming that in their expert
opinion it was best to wait a while to see if the thing went away all by
itself and presented it to the council together with a hefty bill. And
now it's Anatidae's turn to take a look. She stands before it, looks to
the far side of the cloud on the left, then looks to the far side of the
cloud to the right. Then she stares at it for a few seconds before finally
stating her conclusion.
"It's a cloud."
Arno and Nooit give each other a look. Or rather, Arno gives Nooit a look and Nooit just looks back.
"We got that far. Is there anything else you could tell us?" the count asks.
"Well... It's an unusual cloud. It's not supposed to do this. Say, did you notice that clouds are a lot bigger than they look when they're way up there?"
"Yeah, we noticed. Question is, can you DO something about it?"
Anatidae examines the cloud thoughtfully. "I think so. I'll do my best."
"Thanks. We don't know what to do with it, really."
"It'd make a great tourist attraction probably," Anatidae says with a smile. She closes her eyes, spreads her arms wide as if to encompass the entire cloud with them and concentrates. Slowly the cloud begins to change shape. Suddenly she opens her eyes again and drops her arms. "Yep, I can do something about it." She spreads her arms wide again. "So, you say things are going missing?"
"Yeah," the count says.
Anatidae starts making motions with her hands similar to that of a conductor wanting greater volume. "Well... I sometimes miss things too. Did you check under your bed? That's what I usually do."
"Ana, we're missing people and buildings," the count replies.
"And vanilla ice cream." Nooit adds. He considers bringing up his Rubik's Cube, but assumes she gets the point by now.
"Ah..." The cloud slowly starts changing shape. At the sides it shrinks, while it gains in height. "And no-one saw what happened to them at all?"
"No-one even notices they're gone except for us!"
"No-one!?" She turns to look at the count in surprise, lowering her arms. Slowly the cloud starts to collapse into itself like a failed soufflé. "Gee, you'd think someone'd-Oh!" She quickly raises her arms again and the cloud continues to change shape. "You'd think someone'd notice..."
The count nods. "You'd think so, yeah. So... Any ideas?"
The half-naiad slowly brings her hands together over her head. The cloud takes the form of something akin to a sphere. "Do you two have anything in common?"
Arno looks at Nooit and starts to wonder about that. "Not really... I think."
"Arno was the first person to talk to Nooit," Nooit says. Arno's eyes light up in realization.
"That's right! When I touched him, there was this... Electricity between us!"
Anatidae stops mid-gesture and looks oddly at the two of them. "Do I want to know?"
The count sighs. "When I touched Nooit, this electric spark leaped between us. I got thrown clear across the aisle!"
A second, slightly smaller sphere rises up out of the first sphere as Anatidae slowly raises her hand. "That could be it, yeah. So, this means that anything here could just disappear and I'd never notice?"
"Anatidae won't remember it," Nooit says. "As if it never existed."
"And this is where we could use your help," the count says. "We need you to convince people that this is really happening."
"Well, I could," She sculpts the second sphere into a more smooth form by smoothening an imaginary sphere with her hands, "but how do I know you're not just nuts?" She looks sideways at him and smiles widely.
"Well, for one thing, strange things are happening here. Just look at that." He gestures at the cloud.
"True," Anatidae says, while raising her arms again, making an even smaller third sphere emerge from the second sphere. She lowers her arms and steps back and looks up to admire her work. "But you being nuts is just a lot more likely."
"Come on, Ana. We don't know each other that well yet, but I could really use your help right now."
"Alright, alright... I was just kidding. I noticed there is something strange lingering here. Not sure what, really. Anyway, what do you think?" She looks proudly at her work.
"What did Anatidae do?" Nooit asks, cocking his head in several directions trying to figure it out.
"Whoops!" Anatidae giggles. "I forgot!" She points at the upper sphere and draws a smiley face in the air. A similar face appears on the top sphere. "Tadaaaaaa!" She beams proudly. "My first cloudman!"
Arno and Nooit stare silently at her sculpture.
"It's... Very nice," the count says, trying not to offend her.
"Nooit likes it," Nooit says enthusiastically.
"But could you please get rid of it altogether," the count asks, "it's really in the way."
"Aww..." Anatidae gives him a pouty look. "Oh alright." She waves a casual hand at the cloudman and it instantly turns to a vast amount of water, which drops down from such a height that the resulting splash completely soaks Arno and Anatidae, though it manages to miss Nooit completely.
"It's a water-thing," Anatidae says to the dripping wet count, and smiles. Nooit looks at the two of them and, for the first time in his existence, chuckles.
"Naiads," the count sighs to himself and rolls his eyes.
Meanwhile Anatidae notices something odd floating in the air. Or perhaps floating is the wrong word, as it floats the way a small hole in the wall floats. It looks like a small but bright point of light, barely within the visible spectrum, invisible to most mortal eyes. She squints and examines it closely. "Hmm..." she mutters to herself, "I'll have to investigate tha-EEUW! Flat sheep!"
"Sorry I'm late." The count bursts into the council chamber. The three
present council members instantly fall silent and an uncomfortable silence
fills the room. "We... Had to take care of something..."
The council members and the count look at each other for another few silent moments. Finally Monty decides to break the silence. "So, Maddy, how is your cat these days?" he asks.
"Yes," Dick adds, "we haven't heard of him for a while."
"Oh, she's doing well," Maddy says, and strains her mind to think of something interesting to add. "She has fleas again."
The count sits down at his end of the egg-shaped table and sits back.
"Well, it's the season for fleas, isn't it?" Dick sympathizes.
"Not really," Maddy says, and more silence follows. For some time after this a round of 'avoid each others' gazes' is played.
Meanwhile Nooit and Anatidae are sitting on a bench outside the council chamber. Nooit plays Tetris on the Gameboy again since they stopped on the way back to get some new batteries. These are Danaan batteries, which should therefore last longer than the Gameboy or its owner, whichever dies first. Anatidae is sitting on the bench on her knees, leaning with her elbows on the windowsill of the window behind them. She stares at the fountain outside and occasionally moves a finger. Simultaneous with the movement of the finger the falling water moves forward, backward, left or right.
"Well, this is pretty boring," she says. "What are they doing in there anyway?"
"Making mistakes, Arno says," Nooit remembers.
"Well, they're not saying much doing so, are they?"
"Nooit can't hear anything either," Nooit says and looks up from his game to see what she's doing. "What's Anatidae doing?"
"Playing with water," she says. In the mean time a small girl has arrived at the fountain and Anatidae plays with her by making the falling water reach out for her, then pulling back again. Finally the little girl's mother takes her by the hand and drags her away from the fountain in a misguided display of maternal protective instinct. Anatidae sighs and stops playing.
"Why has Anatidae stopped playing?" Nooit asks, after pausing his game.
"You know, most of my friends actually call me Ana," she tries. "It's shorter," she clarifies with a smile.
"Does Anatidae have many friends?" Nooit asks, giving no clue as to whether he just didn't get the hint or whether he didn't understand it. Anatidae sighs.
"Ana. Please, call me Ana."
Nooit stares blankly at her. "Anatidae," he finally states and looks visibly relieved for having solved this puzzle. Ana looks at him oddly, but decides it's probably best not to insist. Maybe later, when that lingering headache dies down again. She tries another approach instead.
"Nooit, did you ever hear of personal pronouns?"
Inside the council chamber Monty lets out a nervous cough. The silence has moved through the stages 'uncomfortable' and 'unbearable' and has just reached 'ridiculous'.
"Do you... Perhaps have anything to say?" Dick asks, putting the ball firmly in Arno's court.
"Not sure," the count replies. "I'm trying to decide whether or not I'm going to ask you where Gully is."
Dick looks at him calmly, determined to settle this sort of ridiculous argument once and for all. "And what function would this Gully have head in the council?"
"He's the Head Poofter. I take it you never heard of him then?"
Monty and Maddy avoid looking at the count. Dick keeps looking straight at him. "We never had such a position in the council. Nor did we have a PR Bloke."
"Monty," Arno asks, much to Monty's discomfort, "what is your current title?"
"Deputy Head-..." he says in a ridiculously tight voice. He clears his throat and finishes his reply in a more normal voice, as if hoping nobody noticed. "...- Poofter, sir."
Arno looks at the three of them. "Which one of you can explain to me the existence of the position of Deputy Head Poofter, without the existence of a Head Poofter?"
Anatidae still sits on her knees on the bench, only this time facing Nooit. "Right, Nooit, can you say the letter 'I'?"
"I," Nooit replies.
"Good. Now the letter 'M'."
"Great!" Anatidae exclaims enthusiastically.
"Now say both of them."
"Great." A big smile appears on her face. "I M Nooit."
"I M Nooit."
"I M Nooit!" Anatidae exclaims again, bouncing up and down slightly with excitement.
"I M Nooit."
"I am Nooit."
"Nooit is Nooit."
Inside the council chamber the count looks at each of the council members one at a time. "Well?" he finally asks, looking at Dick the way he'd been looking at him.
"I never really thought about it," Maddy says. "It's just always been like that."
Dick nods in agreement. "The titles were like this when we first started. I believe the Master decided upon these titles after discussing it with the earliest settlers," A sudden flash of inspiration hits him. He starts speaking louder and more quickly. "As it reflects their sense of humour it can be no surprise that we have a Deputy Head Poofter without an actual Head Poofter.
"Exactly," Maddy says, reassured.
"So that would make Monty the head of the council then, right?" The count looks at Monty, who by now feels very uncomfortable. By all definitions this situation could be called a crisis, but for some reason he's not enjoying this one one bit.
"We all know Monty is not the kind of person to lead actively," Dick says, after giving this some thought. "One could say he guides us instead," he concludes, undeterred.
"Besides," Maddy adds, "He has called most of our special meetings."
Arno gets up and walks to the door. "Say what you will, you all know this doesn't make any sense. Now, I brought someone with me to convince you. I'll ask her to come in."
He opens the door to find Anatidae and Nooit in the middle of some sort of word game.
"How R U?" she says.
"How R U?" Nooit repeats.
"How are you?" she says.
"How is Anatidae?" Nooit replies. Anatidae lets out a deep sigh.
"Nonono-" she says, before being interrupted by Arno.
"Anatidae," he says. "You can come in now."
She gets up from the bench and points at Nooit. "You keep working on those personal pronouns, you hear?" Nooit looks at her with a confused look as she walks into the council chamber. "You know," she says to Arno, "most people call me Ana."
Arno closes the door behind them, leaving Nooit alone in his confusion. After some pondering he tries "How is Nooit?", feels even more confused and eventually simply continues playing Tetris.
"So this is your expert on the matter?" Maddy asks. Anatidae sits calmly
in the count's chair with hands folded in front of her as she undergoes
the scrutinous looks from the three council members. It's evident even
to her that in her top and skirt she looks as out of place here as any
one of these people would look on the beach, but that doesn't matter. At
least she managed to tie her hair into a semi-neat bun.
"Yes it is," the count who's standing behind her simply replies, and looks at them for a moment to see who'd dare challenge that assumption. He knows full well that they are as ignorant about this sort of thing as he is. Probably even more. "Well, do you have any questions for her?"
Anatidae looks at the three council members in front of her, way at the other end of the table, hoping very much that they don't. Due to the light from the large window behind them and the relative darkness of the stuffy council chamber she sees little more of them than silhouettes, which only helps to increase her discomfort. Behind them through the window she can see the fountain, at which she decides to stare instead. It's so much nicer a thing to look at. If she strains her ears she can just hear the comforting sound of the clattering water.
"Miss Anatidae, welcome," The fat silhouette in the middle says. "Could you please list your credentials?"
She takes her eyes off of the water behind them and focuses on the people in front of her again. "Huh?" she asks. "Oh, erm... Could you repeat the question please?"
"Your credentials, please," the silhouette asks again.
"Oh, erm..." Anatidae falls silent as she thinks for a while. A long while.
"One moment. I'm thinking..."
The silhouette seems to fiddle with something in his hands waiting for her reply with nerve-shattering patience. "I'm... Half naiad," she finally replies sheepishly, not sure if this constitutes much of a credential. She decides to look the word up later.
"What do you make of the count's assertions, Anatidae?" the female silhouette asks.
"Erm... Well..." She looks up to Arno over her shoulder then looks back at the lady again. "It could be true," she says softly, and lets out a small nervous cough, "I suppose."
"You suppose?" the fat silhouette asks.
"Yes," she says with a dry throat, looking longingly at the fountain behind them. "There's something strange lingering in the Plains," she adds. "I think."
The other male silhouette, much thinner than the fat one, perks up. "What is the strange lingering thing then?" he asks curiously.
Anatidae gives the matter some thought. "I don't know, really... It's just a feeling." She rubs her forehead with her fingers and concentrates.
"Are you feeling it now?" the silhouette asks.
"Feeling what? Oh! No, I'm feeling a headache right now."
"May I recap here?" the fat silhouette asks. "You can not provide us with any credentials, nor can you describe what it is you feel lingering over Ward. Nor are you sure there IS something lingering."
"Yes," the half-naiad says with a nod and without adding anything else. The silhouettes seem to look expectantly at her for a few seconds. Then they look at the count.
"Erm... Thank you, Anatidae," Arno says. "I'll take it from here." He gestures her to get up and sits down himself. Anatidae breathes a sigh of relief and walks towards the large window at the other side of the room. She leans against the window staring at the water while behind her the discussion continues, with neither side budging an inch. She points a finger at the water and on the surface it crystallizes to small lines of ice. Within a minute an icy stick-figure floats on the water. Amused with this result she continues to expand upon it. Another stick figure, a female, a baby, a house. Soon she is completely immersed in the creative process.
The count lets out a tired sigh. "We are living on a magical island. Strange things happen all the time. Why don't you trust me on this!?"
"That is not the point, Arno," Maddy says with a sigh. The count rests his head in his head and breathes in deep.
"Madeleine," he says and looks up. Then he falls silent. Madeleine's seat is empty, and there is no sign of her anywhere in the room.
"Madeleine?" the Chief Bastard of the Peace asks. Arno slowly gets up and walks towards the empty chair. Anatidae notices the discussion has suddenly fallen silent and turns around to see what's going on. She is just in time to see Arno bend over and feel the seat of an empty chair. He looks up at the two men sitting there, then he looks at her.
"It's cold..." he says, clearly shocked.
The two men look at each other with a concerned look on their faces. Anatidae steps forward towards the count.
"What's wrong?" she asks softly, almost afraid to disturb the count from his state of shock. He looks at her with desperation in his eyes.
"Please tell me you saw her," he asks, almost pleads.
Anatidae bites her lip, not sure what to say. "Let's just see if I can find anything unusual about this chair," she finally says diplomatically. The count steps back to let the expert get to work, who closely examines the seat of the chair, then the back of the chair, then the bottom of the chair, followed by the individual legs. After a quick look under the table and another one from a distance, she knows there's only one conclusion she can draw. It is, as far as she can tell, with only a very slight margin of error, a chair. She folds her hands behind her back, spreads her legs a bit wider, breaths out through her nose and nods slowly. Soon she's going to have to say something.
"Well?" The Chief Bastard of the Peace asks.
"Erm..." Anatidae says rolling her eyes away like she was thinking. "I'm... Not certain," she lies.
"She was there," the count says, having calmed down a bit again. "Please believe me, it was Madeleine Sterling, Wonce of the Treasury," he pauses to think for a moment. "You even talked about her cat having fleas!"
Both men look away. Arno stands silently for a moment, then looks to the side at Anatidae, who looks at the chair again just to avoid looking him in the eye.
"Come on," he says. "I think the meeting just ended." He walks out the door avoiding looking at anyone. "Come on, Nooit" she hears him say through the opened door.
"It's been nice meeting you," Anatidae manages to utter nervously, followed by a curtsy and a sprint to catch up with Arno.
"Nooit, do you remember Madeleine? The Wonce of the Treasury?" the count asks as they leave the parliament building. Nooit nods in confirmation.
"But she was never there," Anatidae says, then frowns. "Erm... I think."
"Something very, very strange is going on here," the count says, quickly stepping of the steps in front of the parliament house. "Either that or I-..." Arno slowly steps down the last few steps and gazes at the fountain, which is now a large ice sculpture of a knight battling a great dragon with one hand, while saving a princess with the other. Somewhere on the side a tank is coming to the rescue, battling off a horde of space aliens. A small crowd is admiring the phenomenon.
"See what I mean?" the count says, strengthened in his belief. Nooit runs towards the sculpture to take a closer look. As he enters the crowd people just happen to decide they've seen enough and walk away, leaving ample room for him to get to the front row.
"Erm... I kinda did that," Anatidae says, somewhat guiltily. "Sorry. I got a little bored."
Meanwhile Dick and Monty sit in the otherwise empty council room, holding
a depressing discussion.
"I still don't like it," Monty says with a sigh.
"Neither do I," Dick agrees, "but we have to think of the good of all of the Plains."
"I think we should involve the Master in this."
"Of course we should. But not right now. He would not understand."
"I still think-"
"If we involve the Master, he will believe the count on his word. This will just delay matters further. We need to deal with the matter of Nooit now!"
The Deputy Head Poofter lets out a frustrated sigh. The hardest decision of his career lies ahead of him. In many ways this would be a glorious moment, a chance to make history. It doesn't feel very glorious to him, though.
"Alright," he finally decides. "We'll give him till this evening. Then we do it."
Both men sit silently in the council chamber for a while, each occupied with his own thoughts. Finally Dick bends over, picks his papers off the floor and leaves. The egg-shaped table has vanished.
Arno sits behind his desk and leans back, looking up through the skylight
at the evening sky. He closes his eyes tiredly and sighs. Anatidae sits
on the bed, looking over Nooit's shoulder with fascination as he continues
his game of Tetris to beyond a score of 300,000. The blocks pretty much
whiz down at such a speed that they are barely visible, but always seem
to end up in the right place.
"Can I play when you're finished?" she asks. Nooit nods friendly
"Anatidae," Arno asks, "is it possible it's just Nooit and me?"
She continues to look at Nooit's game. "Erm... Could be," she says without paying much attention. "Hey, he's good."
"You think so too, eh?" the count says dejectedly. "And still..."
"Or it could have something to do with that little point of light I saw." She keeps staring at the little screen.
"Yeah, well-... What?" the count sits up straight and looks at her.
"I saw this little point of light earlier today. Like it was stuck into the air." She shrugs. "I have no idea what it was."
Arno gets up excitedly. "Why didn't you say this before!?"
"It kinda slipped my mind," she says, and watches as Nooit removes another four rows. Then she suddenly looks up. "You think it was important?"
"Important!? Of course it was important! You should have said this at the council meeting!"
Anatidae gets irritated. For a short visit this sure has been a lot of bother. "Well, I'm sorry, okay!?" She gets up and walks around agitated. "I've been having a headache all day and it won't go away. You try to think straight like that."
"Oh come on... A little headache is more important than Ward disappearing under my eyes!?"
Nooit pauses his game and gets up too. "Faerie had a headache too," he says. Arno falls silent and looks at him. Anatidae is just on a roll and has no intention to stop yet.
"Look, I only came to pay a friendly visit and instead I get to do all your work!"
The count raises his hand to stop her.
"I got rid of your cloud, I talked to your council..."
"We've walked through half of Ward this afternoon..."
"But did I complain!? No! What!?"
"Nooit," the count asks calmly, "you were saying?"
"Faerie had a headache too," Nooit repeats.
"That's Kyshandra," Arno says to Anatidae.
"And I worried about what he called me," she says, having almost completely forgotten she was busy having an angry outburst. "So?"
"Faerie had a headache when Nooit appeared. Then Faerie left. Then Anatidae came to Ward and Anatidae has a headache too."
The count nods thoughtfully, a look of realization in his eyes. Anatidae looks bemused from Nooit to Arno to Nooit again.
"So... What does that mean?"
"Faerie is a creature of magic. Anatidae is too," Nooit explains.
"The only creatures of magic to have been in Ward since Nooit appeared," Arno clarifies.
"Ooooh," she says, finally understanding, "So how does that-... People are coming."
Outside footsteps can indeed be heard echoing through the hallways. There's something odd about these footsteps though. They are remarkably regular, considering multiple people are coming. Finally they stop and there's a loud knock on the door.
"I'll get it!" Anatidae exclaims and promptly trips over Nooit with a "Whoops", who's Gameboy drops on the floor and slides to the side of the door.
"Sorry Nooit," she says, and both run towards it to pick it up. Just then the door is swung open slamming them into the wall behind it. Through the door DeLancy enters, in full armour, followed by his two most trusted men. Before the count can utter a word they grab him by the arms and hold him tight. He looks in utter befuddlement at the captain, who's standing to the side looking away from him. Then the Chief Bastard of the Peace walks through the door towards him.
"Dick?" the count asks, confused, "Dick, what's going on?"
"I'm sorry Arno," Dick says, not looking him in the eye, "this is for your own good." He then turns to DeLancy. "Lock him up for now," he says, and turns back to the door.
"Excuse me, sir," DeLancy says, "but I'm afraid the cells are still in use."
"Hmm..." the Chief Bastard of the Peace ponders, "Well, we can't very well put him with the criminals. There are dungeons u-"
"I don't believe this!" Arno exclaims, his mouth wide open in incredulous shock. "When the Master gets that message he'll-"
"He won't get the message," Dick says, while continuing to look at DeLancy. "We didn't send it."
"Wha!?" the count exclaims, his jaw dropping as far as is physically possible, "You idiot! We needed him!" He struggles to get free, but the firm grips of the silent soldiers give him little chance. "Let me go!" he shouts, and notices Nooit and Anatidae taking the opportunity to sneak out unseen. To give them an extra chance he assaults the soldier on his left. The other soldier and Dick easily manage to pull him off while he watches them slip out the door.
"HALT!" DeLancy bellows at the door. "There he goes! After them!" The two soldiers let go of the count, who is grabbed by DeLancy before he can drop to the floor, and storm out the door.
Dick lets out a nervous and irritated sigh. "Captain," he says, "there are old dungeons in the foundations of this castle. Take him there, I will follow shortly."
"Yes sir!" DeLancy exclaims.
"You can't do this!" the count yells desperately, "We need help!"
"I'm sorry," Dick says, looking Arno in the eyes for the first time. "Believe me when I say that we're doing this for your own good. Once we capture Nooit-"
"You'll never catch him!" the count practically spits in his face.
"We will see..." Dick replies calmly. "Captain, I will join you in a moment."
"Yes sir," DeLancy says, and takes Arno away.
Anatidae runs through the hallway, dragging Nooit along behind her.
The metal clang of the soldiers' armoured boots echoes behind them, getting
closer and closer with every step.
"Come on Nooit!" Anatidae pants, "Run!" Nooit meanwhile attempts to stay upright and looks back to see one of the soldiers raise his arm and aim the palm of his hand towards them. With a bright flash a green plasma bolt shoots out from the weapon in the palm of his glove, and whizzes right over them as Nooit trips and drags Anatidae with him. Anatidae looks up to see the bolt blast chunks out of the wall in the distance, then back to see the two soldiers running up to them. She jumps up, grabs Nooit under the arm and dives into the nearest room, another plasma bolt whizzing past her ear. She slams the door shut and looks around.
"Nooit and Anatidae are in the kitchen," Nooit helpfully tells her as she observes the pots, pans cutlery and the large stack of unwashed dishes.
"What a weird place for a kitchen," she casually mentions as she charges through the kitchen to the door on the other side. Before she can reach it the soldiers come bursting through the first door. One of them takes aim at Nooit and is conked on the head by a large pan that fell of its shelf when the door was slammed open. The other soldier takes aim at the half-naiad, who makes a quick swirling gesture with her hand, upon which a stream water explodes through the faucet and curls itself around him before freezing up, keeping him tied up in ice. Quickly Anatidae runs out through the other door, followed by Nooit, who is again narrowly missed by another plasma-bolt which hits the racks besides the door, causing them to collapse and block the exit behind him.
"Come on, Nooit!" Anatidae gestures, already some distance away. He follows her up a flight of stairs.
"We'll hide out on the roof," she says looking back at him as she climbs the stairs. "They'll never expec-OW!" With a loud thump she hits her head against the hatch at the top of the stairs. She shakes her head for a few seconds until the world stops spinning, then a small strip of faint light touches her eyes as Nooit pushes against the massive hatch with all his might.
"Nooit is not strong enough," he says, struggling to keep the hatch from coming down again. Down the hallway they can hear the soldiers breaking their way through the fallen rack. Anatidae quickly regains her senses and puts her back under the hatch. Nooit swiftly scampers through the opening into the rooftop then turns around to hold the hatch open for Anatidae as she worms herself onto the rooftop. Just as she pulls her legs out on the rooftop the hatch slips from Nooit's fingers and slams down with a loud thump, which echoes through the empty hallways all the way to the foundations of the castle.
"Whoops," Anatidae says, "I think they might have heard that."
"The rooftop is empty," Nooit says, looking around for anything that might help them. Indeed, there is nothing there but the towers at each of the four corners of the castle, for decorative purposes if nothing else, and the large skylight of the count's room in the middle of the roof.
"Maybe hiding here wasn't such a good idea after all," Anatidae admits. "But it always works in the movies..."
"It's dark here," Nooit observes.
"... Of course, in the movies there were helicopters. What?" Anatidae looks up and only now notices that a thick layer of dark clouds have formed above them, blocking out most of the moonlight. In fact, all over the Plains such clouds have formed, covering them in depressing darkness.
"Hmmmm," Anatidae ponders, and her face lightens up. "Nooit! Keep that hatch closed!"
"What is Anatidae going to do?" he asks, slightly panicky, but gets no chance to hear the answer as the hatch besides him suddenly rises. After a moment's hesitation he leaps up as far as he can and comes down on the hatch with the full weight of his little body. The hatch slams down again and Nooit can here a few thumps and some faint swearing underneath him. In the meantime Anatidae raised her hands to the dark clouds above them and is now looking up expectantly. Nooit looks up too just in time to see a rain shower come down on them so dense one could practically swim in it. In a second the silent night sky is filled with the intense racket of vast amounts of thick raindrops coming down on the castle and its surroundings. Between the battlements, covering the entire rooftop, the water forms a shallow pool maybe three inches thick in no time at all.
"Nooit!" Anatidae shouts over the hellish weather, "Get off the hatch!"
Nooit scurries off the hatch as quickly as he can. With a wave of her arm, from left to right, Anatidae turns the water into ice, from left to right. A thick layer of ice has frozen the hatch in place. Nooit looks down to the ground only to see to his relief that his section of the roof has remained unfrozen, as has Anatidae's. Moonlight through the hole that has now formed in the clouds glistens in the sheet of ice all around him.
"Well... That should hold them," Anatidae says with an exhausted sigh. "Now we have to find a way down from here."
Nooit wobbles across the ice to the nearest battlements, holds on tight and looks down. Anatidae follows him, her footsteps melting the ice below her upon first touch, after which it freezes again behind her.
"It's deep," Nooit comments. Anatidae looks down too. She sees a field of grass to her right and slightly to her left a few trees and bushes. The whole scene is drenched with water, and true enough, it's very deep.
"How will Anatidae and Nooit get down?" Nooit asks, worried.
"Well, the problem is not getting down," she replies, and thinks for a few moments, "but getting down without going 'splat'!"
She bites her lip and concentrates on the problem at hand. "Now if there is enough water up here..." She slowly and thoughtfully raises her hand behind her back. The sheet of ice surrounding them melts back to water and rises up around them. Nooit moves closer to Anatidae and eyes the motionless waves around them. "Perhaps I could make a slide," she continues, "or stairs..." Her concentration is suddenly shattered by a loud explosion behind them. With a green flash the massive hatch is reduced to splinters by a single shot from one of the soldiers' gloves. While the waves around her crash down to the floor Anatidae looks back in shock to see the two soldiers storming up the stair and taking aim.
"Halt!" One of them shouts. The other fires a warning shot in-between their feet, where the water vaporizes with a loud hiss. He then raises his arm and aims at Nooit. Without giving it a moment's thought Anatidae grabs Nooit and jumps off the rooftop, aiming for the treetops. Nooit screams and closes his eyes as the ground races towards them at increasing speed. The water on the drenched field underneath them starts to gulf towards a single location under the trees, and as they crash through the twigs and leafs of the tree narrowly avoiding the thick branches by sheer luck the water jumps up like an erupting volcano, breaking their fall as they splash into it, through it and into the mudpool this has created.
Anatidae lets out a groan as she tries to find her bearings again. "Nooit? Are you okay?" she asks. She then looks to the side to see Nooit standing next to her, totally unharmed.
"Nooit is okay," he says, and helps her up.
"Of course you are," she sighs. "Let's get out of here, quickly!"
After a lot of staggering and wobbling the soldiers arrive at the battlements just in time to see their prey run off into the distance.
"You wanna jump after them, Ellis?" one of them asks.
"... No thank you," the other replies.
"You wanna tell the captain they escaped?" the first one asks again.
"I'm thinking, okay!?"
"Are the soldiers gone now?"
Nooit looks at Anatidae, who looks back and shrugs.
"Maybe Anatidae should go look?" he asks in reply. She gives him a contemplative look. It's true, of course, they can't hide there forever. She carefully gets up and raises her head out of the pond they've been sitting in for the last half hour. Like a periscope she turns a full 360 degrees and, with the exception of a very surprised frog, she finds no signs of life. She gets up on her feet, then reaches down into the water and heave-hoes Nooit out of his air-bubble onto the grass.
"Ward is quiet," Nooit says while Anatidae climbs out of the pond herself.
"Isn't it always quiet this time of night?" She asks.
"Nooit doesn't think it's that late yet." He looks up at the sky. "But Nooit can't see because of the clouds."
Anatidae lets the water seep out of their clothes and off of their bodies. While it crawls back to the pond like transparent worms, she decides to observe her surroundings carefully.
"You know, this place is downright eerie, really," she finally decides with a shudder. "Not a sound, very little light... And what's with the clouds anyway?"
Nooit walks onto the pavement next to the little park they'd been hiding in. Eerie would not begin to describe the town of Ward. Streetlights illuminate parts of the street, but other parts are pitch black as the lights have vanished. The rows of houses and buildings are now riddled with empty spaces. Of the houses that are there, only some still have their lights on. The others are completely dark inside. Nooit's beak slowly drops open as he takes in this sight, so much different from the night before. He looks back up at the clouds again and shudders.
"It has begun," he mutters.
"What has?" Anatidae asks, wondering what Nooit seems to be looking at.
Nooit blinks. "Nooit doesn't know what it is," he says, "Nooit just thinks that it has begun."
"Oh, okay," Anatidae answers, and tries to concentrates again on the problem at hand.
Nooit points at a dark spot on the street. "The streetlight is gone."
Anatidae looks too. It's true, this is a little odd. "Wasn't it always like that?" she asks, just to be on the safe side.
"No," Nooit answers, and can't think of anything else to add. Anatidae looks at the dark spot and tries to figure out this problem. Seemingly nothing has changed, but true enough, the lack of illumination is an odd puzzle. She tries to get her brain around this in several ways, but is finally forced to give up as her headache comes back with a throbbing vengeance. She squeezes her eyelids shut and massages her forehead.
"Let's forget about the streetlights for now Nooit," she groans, "I've got a headache the size of..." She hesitates. "... My head. I don't normally throw that much water around."
Nooit looks around glumly. "Nooit doesn't know what to do."
"Well, obviously we need to free Arno," she says. "What else?"
"Get help?" Nooit suggests. Anatidae gives this some thought.
"Okay, that and free Arno. Well... I think they'll only listen to Arno. he's the count after all..."
Nooit looks at the dark silhouette of the castle, barely visible against the dark cloudy sky. "Arno is in the dungeons."
"Yeah, I know, we've got to get him out." She rubs her eyes.
"How?" Nooit asks. Anatidae stops rubbing and starts thinking.
"Erm... I'm not sure," she says and pauses to call on her past experience. "I've... Never actually broken someone out of jail before."
"Neither has Nooit," Nooit says dejectedly and stares at the castle again.
"How hard can it be though... Come on," Anatidae says, and walks towards a random store, "Maybe we can find something we can use."
Right under the castle, within its dark and damp foundations, in one
of the better dungeons, Arno is having one of the worst nights of his life.
On one side of the door sits Dick Elders, Chief Bastard of the Peace, patient
as always. On the other side Arno, Count of the Plains, paces up and down
nervously, filled with frustration.
"Is there no way I can convince you?" Dick asks friendly, with tiredness in his voice. They've been at this all night, and neither side has budged an inch. He lights his pipe again and waits for an answer. Inside the dungeon the count sits down on his chair again and sighs.
"Is there no way I can convince you?" he replies. Dick lets out a deep sigh.
"You try to convince me, I try to convince you," he says, "surely there must be a way to settle this."
Arno gets up and walks towards the door. He peeks out the small barred window to look at his Chief Bastard of the Peace. "There is, Dick. All you have to do is listen to me. Forget what your memories tell you for a moment and look around you. And then you can tell me if it still makes sense to you."
Dick gets up slowly and faces the count. "Very well then. Go on..."
The count regains a little hope again. This is his chance. "Right, now, look, why do we have a Deputy Head Poofter without a Head Poofter?" he starts.
"Arno," Dick replies, almost irritated, "We don't have a Deputy Head Poofter."
The count looks at him with dismay, but quickly recovers from the shock. "You mean you are the council?"
Dick gives him a quick nod. "Of course."
"You alone. The Chief Bastard of the Peace."
The count pauses to take a deep breath, then drives his point home. "How long have we been a military dictatorship?"
Dick opens his mouth to answer, then pauses to think.
"I mean," the count continues, "You remember how I wanted this place to be democracy, right?"
Dick remains silent.
"Yes, I do."
"Does the current form of government here strike you as very democratic?"
The Chief Bastard sits down and puts his hand against his lips trying to think. "Well, I suppose we will have to revise our current governmental structure when all this is over," he finally decides.
"When all this is over there won't be any governmental structure left," the count says bitterly. "There'll be nothing left. Nothing of Ward, Maybe nothing of the Plains... Who knows, maybe Arcadia itself even."
"Now you are being-"
"That is why we need to get word to Arcadia City to tell them what's going on here!"
"Did you ever consider, though," the Chief Bastard says, trying to get back the initiative, "That it is all in your mind?"
"It isn't! If you were in my place you'd see that!"
"So it's all in everyone else's mind then?"
This time Arno falls silent.
"It's not," the count weakly replies. "That's all I can say."
Dick lets out a deep sigh.
"You have no business keeping me in here," the count says, more pleading than angry. "Let me out."
"We are keeping you here for your own good, Arno," the Chief Bastard says glumly, "yours and that of Ward."
The count leans with his face against the bars in the little window and sighs.
"It's that Nooit-creature that's doing this to you," Dick continues, "but don't worry, we'll catch him."
"You haven't yet then?"
"No, we haven't."
"Told you so." The count allows himself a slight grin. He turns around and looks outside through the small window in the wall, wondering where Nooit and Anatidae are right now.
"You say you're doing this in the best interest of Ward," the count says while staring out the window. It strikes him how incredibly dark it is outside.
"Mm-mm," Dick replies and nods.
"What if what I'm saying is true? And Ward really is disappearing?"
"Listen to what you're saying," the Chief Bastard of the Peace says. He gets up and looks into the dungeon. Arno turns to face him again.
"Dick, there's a no-smoking policy in council chamber, right?"
"Yes," he replies, uncertain where this is going.
"You were outvoted on this matter, weren't you?"
"Bye who?" The count looks at him with a sudden fierce look, demanding an answer.
"Erm..." Dick says, taken aback, "... By you I think."
"A vote of one to one?"
"You must have vetoed me," the Chief Bastard replies, feeling a little more sure of himself again.
"If I was going to use a veto, why did we bother to vote?"
"I don't know," Dick admits. "I believe you'd know better than me."
The count sighs. "Dick, let me talk to the Master."
"You can, don't worry," Dick replies, much to Arno's relief. "In a couple of days," he then adds.
"It may be too late in a couple of days, Dick," the count says calmly.
The Chief Bastard of the Peace sighs and suppresses a yawn.
"Is there no way I can convince you then?"
Outside, in the silence on the night, some rustling emerges from a few
bushes. After a few soft whispers, Nooit comes crawling out. As he cautiously
moves towards open field through the soggy grass, he looks around for any
signs of danger with baited breath, then jumps up in shock as a voice comes
out of the bushes behind him.
"I think it's safe Nooit." A face covered with a dark ninja hood raises up from the bushes. "Don't you?" The female figure stops out of the bushes and takes her time to assess the castle wall that rises up in front of them. She is completely dressed in black from top to toe, right down to the gloves and shoes, though on her back long green hair flows out from under the hood.
Nooit walks towards the bushes. "Anatidae forgot the bag," he says, as he drags out a large brown bag.
"Oh yeah," she answers, and walks past Nooit towards the bushes. "Oh, you've got it. Thanks." She follows Nooit back to where she came from and assesses the wall again. She nods thoughtfully.
It's a wall all right.
"Nooit..." she orders under her breath, "The harpoon gun." She holds out her right hand all the while looking up at the battlements at the top of the wall. Nooit starts to rummage through the contents of the bag.
"Nooit... What are you doing?"
"Nooit is looking for the harpoon," Nooit says with a muffled voice. Anatidae looks to the side and sees that only his legs and stump of a tail are sticking out of the bag.
"Oh, okay..." She waits patiently as Nooit crawls out of the bag with the harpoon, which has an anchor at what should be the sharp end, ties a rope to it and loads it into a rather large harpoon gun. He then picks it off the grass and promptly topples over under its weight. Anatidae decides to look up at the wall again. The battlements haven't moved. She holds out her right hand again.
Nooit wraps his arms around the harpoon gun, yanks it off the ground and topples on his back this time. With a muffled blast the harpoon is fired into the air, bounces off of the southwestern tower with the painfully loud scraping sound of metal against stone and lands on the rooftop. Anatidae stares up along the rope that is now hanging from the battlements. She walks towards it and carefully tugs it. She pulls some more until, after another soft metal sound, it won't come down any further. She gives the rope a few hard pulls for safety, then lets go and steps back.
"Nice shot, Nooit," she says.
"Thanks," he meekly replies.
Anatidae picks up the bag, puts the harpoon gun back in and slings it over her shoulder.
"You know," she says, while pulling herself up on the rope, "lucky thing you found all this stuff," she says, while placing her feet against the wall and pulling hard once more for safety.
"Nooit was looking for pliers," he says modestly. Anatidae slowly scales the wall until she reaches the top. There she climbs onto the roof, takes a moment to rest, then looks down from the battlements to see what's keeping Nooit. Nooit, she sees, is still hanging on to the bottom of the rope, neither going up or down.
"Nooit!" She yells under her breath. "Nooit!"
Nooit looks up from his climbing ordeal.
"Nooit, come on!"
Nooit summons all his strength, manages to pulls himself up one foot, then drops the same distance again as his arm-muscles give out. Anatidae sighs and starts pulls in the rope until she can reach Nooit, upon which she grabs him under the shoulder and deposits him onto the rooftop. Then she stands up straight again and assesses the rooftop.
"They got rid of the ice already," she concludes with a hint of disappointment in her voice. "And it was such a pretty sight too..."
"Nooit thinks ice on the roof is dangerous," Nooit says, as he follows her to the skylight in the middle of the roof.
"I think when all this is over I'll do it again," she continues, undisturbed. "Ah... We need the glasscutters now. Nooit..."
Nooit reaches into the bag and pulls out the glasscutters without even looking.
"Now, we need to be very quiet now, Nooit," she whispers as she takes the glasscutters and places it against the nearest plate of glass. "From now on, do not make another sound," She gives him a serious look from under her mask. Nooit nods back with equal seriousness. Anatidae carefully starts to cut a neat circle out of the glass, as wide as the glasscutter will allow.
"Why don't Nooit and Anatidae use the hatch," Nooit asks quietly.
"Because it makes too much noise," Anatidae whispers back.
"Why doesn't Anatidae break the glass?"
"Because that would make too much noise too," Anatidae whispers. "They'd hear the breaking glass..." She goes back to concentrating on her work, her tongue sticking out of her mouth slightly and moving along with the circular movement of the glass cutter. Finally, she reaches the start of the circle again. As she completes the circle it drops out and shatters onto the desk below strewing glass splinters all over the floor.
"Erm..." Anatidae says and pauses. "I'll go first," she whispers. She gets up and carefully lowers herself through the hole and drops onto the desk. She immediately jumps off of the desk and ducks behind it. After a few seconds she carefully peeks out from under the desk and scans her surroundings. All seems clear. She gets up from under the desk, brushes herself off and gives the all clear signal to Nooit. She catches him as he drops in and puts him on the floor.
"Careful," she whispers, "glass."
"Nooit thinks Arno won't like glass on the floor," Nooit says as he sneaks after Anatidae to the door, narrowly avoiding the glass splinters without even trying.
"Sssshhh..." Anatidae whispers, "We must be quiet. We can clean it up later." She puts her hand on the doorknob and pushes. "Right now w-" She slams into the door with a loud thump. "Oh yeah," she whispers, and pulls the door open. "... I hope it's not going to rain with that hole in the window."
She steps out into the hallway followed by Nooit, after he has taken another look at the hole.
"Nooit left the bag on the roof."
"What!? But I didn't get to use the night goggles yet!"
Captain DeLancy strides towards the two soldiers guarding the door to
"Any sign of him yet?" he demands from one of them.
"Hmmm... Remain vigilant, men," DeLancy says with great determination. "If the little critter's after the count, he'll have to go through you first."
"Yes sir!" both men exclaim. "Thank you for your confidence, sir," one of them adds. DeLancy shoots him a quick look that would strike fear into the heart of a dragon.
"Catch him this time," he says. Though it doesn't sound like a threat, both soldiers look like their bones just turned into jelly. Without saying another word DeLancy turns around and strides away, long gone before the soldier finally manages to squeek out a "Yes, sir."
Unfortunately they are unaware that a masked face observes them from behind a corner. The owner of the face steps back again and presses herself against the wall, then squats down to reach the ears of her accomplice.
"They think you're after the count," she whispers as quietly as she can.
"Aren't Nooit and Anatidae then?" he whispers back with surprise, equally quiet. Anatidae's eyes show a look of realisation.
"How are Nooit and Anatidae going to get inside?" Nooit asks. Anatidae gives the matter some thought. A frown appears on her face as she runs through all possibilities. Finally her face clears up and a smile appears under her mask. Without saying another word she raises a finger and grins smugly. Then she goes back to the corner and peeks at the two soldiers again. The two soldiers, both the prides of their unit, or what's left of it, stand in full attention, somewhat like telephone poles except that telephone poles bend more. The soldier on the left slowly starts shuffling his feet. At about the same time an uncomfortable expression crosses the face of the soldier on the right. Both remain at their post though, however the left soldier is now pressing his kneecaps together. The right soldier raises his right leg and bends it, rubbing it against his other leg. While the left one slowly starts to double over, the right one hops on his left leg, his eyes squeezed shut and his lips curled up.
"Hey Ellis," he wispers, almost cassually.
"Yes, Frank?" Ellis answers, or rather, squeezes out through his airpipe.
"Cover for me, will you?" Frank says. Before Ellis can answer he dashes off with his hands between his legs.
"Wait! I have to-..." Ellis doubles over completely and grimmaces. "Oh
crud," he says and runs off after Frank.
Around the corner Anatidae grins a masked grin at a perplexed Nooit.
"It's a water-thing", she says with a shrug.
"It's almost daybreak, you know..."
Dick lays back tiredly in his chair. His hands are cold and when he rubs his face again he notices that so is his face. The result of a whole night of arguments, without getting any closer to a conclusion.
"... And we still haven't gotten anywhere," he concludes his sentence.
The count sighs and looks outside. The dark clouds continue to block out most of the light from above. Dick might as well have told him it was 2 in the morning.
"Doesn't look like morning..."
Dick gets up and looks through the window in the door out the dungeon window.
"Strange weather we're having," he says, trying to take the edge of the conversation.
"Maybe it's related to what we've been talking about all night," the count replies. The Chief Bastard of the Peace opens his mouth to respond, but is interrupted by the sound of the door at the end of the hallway opening.
"Yes, what is i-?" he asks, turning his head to the door and almost choking on the last letter as he sees Nooit, the little creature that's been causing so much trouble, standing in the doorway, right behind the leg of what appears to be a masked woman dressed from top to toe in black. Overcome with shock he turns to them.
"... Who are you!?" he manages to demand.
Anatidae slowly walks towards him. "I'm your worst nightmare," she says in as tough a tone as she can muster.
"W-What do you-"
"... Not that I'm actually a nightmare, of course," she continues, "since you're not dreaming..."
"What's going on!?" the count demands uncertainly from the confines of his dungeon.
"... And the night's almost over... Oh, hi Arno!"
The count and the Chief Bastard of the Peace give each other a confused look.
"Nooit, go get the keys and free Arno," Anatidae says to her small companion, then looks back at Dick while Nooit walks over to him to take the keyring off his belt.
"Now nobody move and no-one gets hurt," Anatidae tries, again in the tough sort of tone she used earlier.
"Or what else?" the Chief Bastard of the Peace asks, having recovered from the shock a little. Anatidae falls silent.
"Erm..." she finally says, as convincingly as she can. Meanwhile Nooit has been studying the keyring carefully and picked out a key he particularly liked. He sticks it in the keyhole, turns it and with an echoing clang the door is unlocked. The count pulls the door open and steps out, looking at the hooded figure.
"Anatidae?" he asks.
She nods enthusiastically and takes off her hood. "That's me!" She grins widely.
He grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her wildly. "Tell me you went and got help!" Anatidae's grin disappears slowly, as do Arno's hopes upon seeing this.
"You didn't get help!?" he asks anxiously.
"Well, we thought you'd be much better at it than us," she says, disappointed at the count's not overly enthusiastic reaction to his rescue.
"Pipe-man is gone," a voice from below tells them. Arno swings around to find only an empty hallway.
"... I thought you'd be happy we came, really," Anatidae blabs on. "Erm... Who's Pipe-man?"
The count's shoulders drop as he lets out a deep sigh. "No-one you'd know," he says without even bothering to turn around. "Let's get out of here."
"HALT!" A loud, deep, noble voice exclaims, cleverly avoiding the cliche of the witty reply. All three turn their heads to the doorway, which is now blocked by the massive body of captain DeLancy, aiming the palm of his right hand at them.
"DeLancy..." the count tries.
"COUNT ARNO, NOOIT AND... GREENHAIRED LADY, I HEREBY ORDER YOU TO RETREAT BACKWARDS INTO THE DUNGEON IMMEDIATELY AND FORTHWITH!" the captain replies. The startled trio instantly backs away into the dungeon. He strides over to the dungeon door with a steady pace like clockwork and stands in he doorway.
"PRISONER NOOIT!" he bellows. Nooit jumps up with shock and looks at the large captain with wide curious eyes.
"PRISONER NOOIT!" the captain repeats, "YOU ARE TO STEP FORWARD AS TO BE RELOCATED TO A DIFFERENT DUNGEON!"
Nooit raises his leg to take a step. "Stay right where you are, Nooit," Arno says, in a calm tone of voice he forced himself into. Nooit looks at Arno and puts his foot back on the ground.
"PRISONER NOOIT!" the captain repeats once more, only this time irritated. He fires a warning shot at the floor before Nooit. The dungeon vibrates slightly as the green bolt hits the ground blasting stone fragments at Nooit's ankles, none of which hits him. "YOU ARE T-" DeLancy manages to say before the large brick over his head vibrates off its place and drops on his helmet. He staggers for a short moment, then crashes to the ground like a giant tree chopped down.
"Ouch..." Anatidae says and cringes in sympathy. She walks up to him and looks him over.
"Is he alright?" the Count asks worriedly.
"I think so," she says, simply looking at him, "his blood's still running just fine."
The count winces and looks at the hole over the door where the brick used to be. "That's it, as soon as this is over I'm going to have this place renovated." He feels something pulling his trouser leg and looks down at Nooit trying to get his attention. "Yes?"
"Arno must hurry," Nooit says, "Much of Ward is gone!" He looks up to him with the greatest of confidence.
"And we must hurry before we're caught again," Anatidae adds. "Besides, my headache's killing me! I want to go find some water."
"Yes!" Arno exclaims, remembering. "The headache! Come on!" He runs past her grabbing her hand and drags her along out of the hallway. Nooit jumps over DeLancy and runs after them as quick as his little legs can carry him.
"Is it getting better or worse!?" Arno asks excitedly. Anatidae groans
and staggers rather then runs along through what's left of the streets
"Worse," she whines, trying to focus her eyes on the blurryness ahead of her.
"It's working!" the count yells back almost joyfully at Nooit who's trailing some 30 feet behind them. "We're getting closer to whatever it is!" He slows to catch his breath a little. Anatidae and Nooit follow suit, much to either one's relief.
"I just hope we'll get there in time," the count pants.
In the distance a single bird carefully starts singing an uncertain song, not sure of the time of day.
"It's morning," Nooit says and looks up. The clouds are slightly lit up from the early sunlight shining onto it from the other side, basking Ward in a strange yellowish glow.
Meanwhile back at the castle DeLancy strides outside, very carefully, so as not to upset his brick-induced headache. He lets out an annoyed grunt at the bird in the tree next to him splitting his head with its song, then stares out into the streets of Ward. The escapees could be anywhere by now. He scratches his chin and looks to the ground, thinking...
"Anatidae, we've got to get going!"
"No!" The half-naiad screams, her head submerged in the fountain in front of the parliament building. "This headache's killing me!" The words bubble up and splutter to the surface into incoherent noise.
Nooit peeks over the side of the fountain to look at her. "What did Anatidae say?" he asks.
"I have no idea," the count says and leans on the side of the fountain, "but whatever it is, she can't stay here. We need her."
Anatidae looks up at him stubbornly and some more bubbles viciously rise to the surface. The count sighs, grabs her by the shoulder and hauls her out. She staggers on her feet, grabs her head, rolls her eyes and limply drops forward into the water again.
"Ana, we need you!"
She raises his head out of the water and yells at him. "Fine! Let's see you running around with a head that's about to explode!" Her voice sounds like she's broken out in tears, though they wouldn't be visible on her wet face.
"Is it that bad then?"
"Worse," she whines. "You know how when you humans go to deep under water your ears start to hurt? It feels something like that, only with my head."
"Just a little further..."
"I can't go any further!" she sobs. "It hurts!"
"Arno and Nooit need Anatidae's help," Nooit says. "Ward is disappearing."
"Well I don't see it," she says stubbornly. "It looks fine to me... Well... Except for the freaky clouds I suppose... And the headache thing."
The count sighs. "Ana, please-..." he says, then stops to stare at something behind her. Nooit turns around to look and stares too. At the location where the old castle of the count once resided, the most striking landmark of Ward, there from its very founding , is now a gaping hole in a once familiar sight. It has vanished. Anatidae blinks at the sudden loss of interest in her and follows their gaze, but doesn't see anything special. In fact, she can't see anything at all. She sighs and drops her head back in the water. The resulting splash snaps the count out of it.
"Nonononono," he says as he grabs her by the shoulders and pulls her out again. "We're running out of time."
"Only Anatidae can help Nooit and Arno," Nooit says. "Will Anatidae help?"
Anatidae looks at the little creature looking up at her almost like a lost baby seal. She closes her eyes and sighs.
"Oh alright then... But you'd better appreciate it!"
"Thank you," the count says as sincerely as he can. "... Now let's go!"
All over the plains a peculiar breeze comes up. If anyone had taken
the effort to take note, they'd have noticed that all devices measuring
wind direction slowly turn towards the same single point. A point which,
with Anatidae's help, Arno and Nooit are getting nearer and nearer to.
And as they do, the breeze turns into a slight wind of ever increasing
wind speed and finally into a storm as they reach their destination.
"There!" Arno, supporting a very miserable looking Anatidae, shouts over the force of the storm. He points with his free arm across the now empty landscape surrounding a single white building. It doesn't look very foreboding in itself, however, the small debris being blown towards it from all sides then circling it does make it a strange sight to behold.
"Of course!" the count proclaims and slaps himself in the face.
"The library," Nooit says.
"Strange weather we're having," Anatidae notes weakly. Then she looks up at the building they mentioned. Her eyes widen as she continues to stare in increasing dismay. "Oh no," she mutters, and slides her arm of Arno's shoulder to take a step forward. Her long green hair blows in the wind, as if being sucked towards the library, as she stands there, looking at the building like a deer into headlights.
"Anatidae!" the count yells at her over the storm. He gets no response.
"Anatidae!" Nooit tries, looking from her to the library back to her again. The count steps in front of her to obstruct her view.
"Anatidae! What's wrong!?"
She snaps out of her trance and looks at Arno, then at Nooit, then at Arno again with a panicky expression. She opens her mouth to speak, then swallows thoroughly and tries again to speak. "A tear!" she yells over the storm and looks back at the library over his shoulder.
"What kind of tear, Ana!?" the count demands. He grabs her by her shoulders and shakes her to get her attention. "What kind of tear!?"
"Ana!" the count shouts, "Make sense! Please!"
"A tear in reality," Nooit says, barely audible over the storm.
"What!?" the count demands, turning his head to Nooit.
"A tear in reality," Nooit repeats, "Anatidae means a tear in reality."
The count blinks at Nooit, then turns his head back to Anatidae, who stares weakly at him.
"What's a tear in reality?"
"We must seal it," she says, clearly in a different state of mind altogether by now. "If we can." She steps to the side and starts walking towards the library, carried more by the wind than by her own two feet. Arno looks at Nooit with a confused look.
"What's a tear in reality?"
Nooit shrugs helplessly and looks at Anatidae, halfway on her way to whatever she's so scared of.
"Come on," Arno says and runs after her, with Nooit trailing behind him.
Anatidae thumps against the library doors as the storm picks up even more. She groans and attempts to open them. Arno practically slams into the wall besides her, cushioning Nooit's crash as the wind picks him up and deposits him against Arno's back.
"What's inside, Ana!?" the count asks anxiously, undeterred by his newfound injuries. Anatidae gives weak thump against the door with her arm and slumps against it.
"It won't open!" she whines frustrated.
"Let me try!" the count yells over a particularly strong gust of wind. He steps towards the door and rattles it with all his strength. "Out of the way!" he shouts, then he struggles to take a few steps back in the storm. With an almost primal scream he runs and jumps at the door, the force of his impact greatly increased with the help of the storm. He slams against but not through the doors and very slowly slides down as the wind keeps him pinned against them.
"I'll try again," he says as he gets up, going against all his body tells him. Then a familiar voice makes him groan.
"STEP AWAY FROM THAT DOOR!"
DeLancy stands besides them, his left hand on the wall to keep his balance, the palm of his right hand aimed straight at him.
"DeLancy," the count says without much enthusiasm as he leans tiredly against the door. "What are you doing here?"
"I AM H-" DeLancy starts, then winces as his headache kicks in, "I am here to place suspect Nooit under arrest and to place you into protective custody, sir!" He looks sideways to Anatidae. "And she can come too!"
"Nooit didn't do anything!" Nooit yells desperately over the storm from behind Anatidae's legs.
"That is not for me to decide!" DeLancy states plainly.
"Who's decision is it then, captain?" Arno asks plainly. DeLancy falls silent as he tries to think. The count stops leaning against the door and stands up as straight as he can in the storm. He faces DeLancy.
"Who around here could have given you that order, captain!?" the count demands. DeLancy hesitates.
"... You, sir," he finally says in utter confusion.
"Captain, are you saying I ordered my own arrest!?"
"N-no sir," DeLancy stammers, his head practically spinning.
"Are you saying you are arresting us on your own authority!?"
DeLancy stammers for a few seconds, then falls silent again. "No sir," he finally says.
"DeLancy!" the count orders, swinging his arm at the doors to point at them, "Open those doors!"
"YES SIR!" he bellows. "STAND BACK!" He steps back and fires a single shot at the doors, which explode into thousands of little splinters which are blown inside instantly.
"DOORS ARE OPENED, SIR!" DeLancy shouts overzealously.
"Couldn't have done it without you captain!" Arno says. He pats him on the shoulder a few times then follows the others inside.
Nooit looks around uncomfortably. Though he isn't sure exactly what
it is, something nearby makes him feel deeply uncomfortable. He steps over
the books that are littering the floor, blown out of the open bookcases
by the storm, some of their pages torn by the force of the wind.
"Where are you going?" Anatidae asks, her head nearly imploding from pain.
"Nooit thinks Nooit knows where to go now," he replies. He makes his way through the aisles, the occasional flying book barely missing him. Anatidae follows him nerveously with baited breath.
"Nooit, I think we should wait for-..." She stops as she follows Nooit around a corner and stares wide-eyed at something in a corner. A pale but bright light, not small like the pin-prick she saw earlier, but large. As large as a grown man. It hangs in the air like it is not part of this world. A smudge on reality. Or rather...
"The tear," Anatidae whispers to herself. Nooit stares at it in awe, every muscle in his body tense. He's frightened.
"Nooit was found here," he says and points at the tear. "Nooit was reading right there." He carefully takes a step closer.
"Do you think there's a connection?" Anatidae cleverly suggests, the addrenaline now pumping through her blood suppressing the headache somewhat. Nooit looks at her, and then back at the tear.
"It's Nooit's fault," he says. Anatidae tries to think of a way to convince him otherwise, but all in all, she concludes, it seems like a reasonable assumption.
"Nooit is going to go closer to look at it," he says and carefully edges towards the tear.
"Be carefull Nooit," Anatidae says.
Meanwhile Arno has stepped into the library, followed by DeLancy. After surveying the mess he looks around for signs of Nooit and Anatidae. A creeping suspicion comes over him.
"Do you remember Nooit and Anatidae?"
DeLancy frowns, making the count fear the worst. "Yes, sir," he finally says, somewhat befuddled at the odd question. The count lets out a sigh of relief.
"They'll be around here somewhere then," he says.
"Most likely, sir," DeLancy agrees, trying to put his count's mind at ease. He follows Arno as he wades through the pile of books on the floor.
"Hey DeLancy, how did you find us anyway?" the count asks.
"I remembered from the reports that this was where Nooit was spawned. It seemed like the most likely location."
The count tries to hide his surprise. So that's why they're keeping him around!
"Good work, captain," he finally says, feeling the need to say something at least. Before DeLancy can answer a sudden bright flash illuminates the library. Outside the storm greatly increases in intensity. The windows shatter and the gale blows through the inside of the building. DeLancy and Arno are thrown into a bookcase which topples over against the bookcase behind it. Without a word DeLancy grabs the count by his colar and yanks him out of the way as other bookcases crash on top of the previous bookcase with a splintering sound. From a corner of the building they can barely make out a female shriek.
"Anatidae!" Arno yells back at DeLancy, only to notice there is no longer any DeLancy with him. He mutters some profanities under his breath and stumbles towards a bright light in the corner of the room.
"NOOIT! HELP!" Anatidae screams. She is hanging from a bookcase mounted to the wall, her legs off the floor as she's blown towards, or sucked towards, a bright light existing in the corner. Nooit is standing behind a pillar, pressed against it by the gale blowing towards the tear."Nooit can't!" he shouts back, "Nooit isn't strong enough!" Another bookcase falls to the ground, barely missing Anatidae, and slides towards the tear. Arno comes running towards the commotion from behind Nooit.
"Anatidae!" he shouts, but is then picked up by the gale and slung towards the tear. In a reflex motion he manages to grab the pillar. As his hands slowly slip away, Anatidae let's go with one hand and holds it out to her would-be rescuer.
"Arno! Grab my hand!" he shouts. Arno slips off the pillar and makes a desperate grabbing motion towards her hand, only to grab thin air. As he gets slung into the tear he sees the spot where Anatidae hung is now empty.
Nooit looks on in horror as his friend disappears into the tear. His
thoughts race through his mind. Nooit must do something. But what can Nooit
do? This is all Nooit's fault... He looks around for anything that could
help him. The roof starts making groaning noises as it is slammed and torn
by the wind on either side. With a terrifying noise the roof starts to
crack at multiple places.
Nooit has to escape, he thinks. But whereto? Nooit has to help Arno. He looks at the bright shapeless form in front of him.
Nooit is scared.
Then he notices the open bookcase lying on the floor under the tear, firmly kept in place by the two adjoinging walls of the corner. He forbids himself to think this over, lets go of the pillar and slides over the floor against to top shelf.
Arno looks around wild-eyed, his heart thumping in his throat. All around
him there's a dark red nothingness, yet there is light enough to see. To
see that there is nothing, except for the back of the man standing in front
of him. He quickly gets up and catches his breath. It's peacefull in here,
wherever here is, especially compared to the hell he just came from. The
only sound is far away background noise, a sort of deep high speed murmering
during a tuba concert.
"Where am I?" he asks, suddenly feeling too exhausted to even be worried anymore. The man in front of him swings around as if startled and both look wide-eyed at each other for a moment. It is a complete likeness of Arno, right down to his now tattered clothes.
"Oh boy," the second Arno says with a sigh. They stare silently at each other for a few moments. As Arno opens his mouth to speak the second Arno cuts him off.
"There isn't much time, please listen carefully..."
"Okay," Arno says wearilly, "it's been a weird couple of days anyway."
"It sure has been," the other Arno agrees and nods tiredly. "Look, I know, you
have a lot of questions, but please listen to me. You'll understand everything soon enough, okay?"
"Understand what? What's going on?" Arno asks impatiently.
"This is all our fault, really," the other Arno says. "Let me start at the beginning..."
Carefully Nooit climbs to the next shelf, while the wind keeps pushing and pulling him towards the tear. Holding on as tightly as he can he drops himself in the space between the two shelves for a rest. One down, four more or so to go. Suddenly there's a loud sound of snapping wood and ripping metal. Above him the roof is torn to pieces and disappears in the storm. A second wind, this time from the side, hits him with terrible force. He holds on for dear life while the books, strewn around all over the place, are lifted up and flung through the building, out the gaping hole in the roof. Nooit takes a deep shakey breath and proceeds to climb towards the next shelf.
"Now, over a week ago, we got hit by a large stack of residual magic.
Luckily there were no major catastrophies, but the force of the impact
tore open reality in several places."
"A tear in reality," Arno says, recognising this concept.
"Yes, now, most of these tears are really small and fairly harmless. The tiny point of light Anatidae saw was one of them. Erm... See, it's mostly magical beings that are sensitive enough to notice these things. Now, after a while these tears shrink and close, and these should be few problems."
"But what about the big tear?" Arno asks. "And why is-"
"Look, I said I'd explain everything!" the other Arno interupts him impatiently.
"Sorry, go on."
"Now the tear in the library was caused by us, when we touched Nooit. He was basically violently ripped into our existance, tearing up reality around him."
"It's all our own fault. The people disappearing, the things disappearing, the whole mess..."
"What's with the us and we?" Arno asks. "I remember being there only once."
"That's not important. Now, you remember that arc flashing between you and Nooit. When that happened you got a tiny bit of what makes Nooit Nooit. Too small to do anything, but enough to make us imune to the effects the tear has on our reality."
Arno tries to think about it for a while, but is immediately interupted in his thoughts.
"The tear has to be sealed!" the other Arno exclaims, then finally pauses.
"... How?" Arno asks.
"It has to be sealed," the other Arno repeats, then takes a deep sigh, "with Nooit."
"I have to go now," the other Arno says and turns around.
"Wait! I still have a few questions!"
"I've told you all we know," the other Arno says. Then a small green three-fingered hand appears before. him. He takes the hand and lets himself be pulled out, leaving Arno to stare at the now empty space before him. He gathers his thoughts. Of course, to sacrifice one for the good of all seems fair. But not Nooit. Then again, there is a lot at stake here. And as the count of what's left of the Plains, he has to do what's right for everybody. Not just his friends. But still...
"Where am I?" a familiar voice asks behind him. He swings around startledly and looks right into his own face. They stare wide-eyed at each other for a moment. Then he sighs.
"Nooit!" Arno exclaims at the little guy giving his best pulling him
out of the tear. He grabs a shelf and pulls himself up against the wind
away from the tear, dragging Nooit along with him. When he reaches the
top shelf he reaches out for what remains of the pillar, and pulls both
of them to safety behind it. He closes his eyes and lets out an exhausted
"That was horrible," he sighs, then notices the water spraying in his face. As he opens his eyes his jaws drops and a look of total shock crosses his face.
"Nooit," he says, staring out in front of him. His field of vision is filled with water. Sea-water, swirling and splashing violently under the terrible gale. He looks around. Very little remains of the library. Beyond what little is left of the walls there is water on all sides, swept up by the relentless storm. About three feet away in front of them the floor simply ends. Several meters below the waves crash against what little is left of the Plains. To his right, far away in the distance, he can just make out the new shoreline of Arcadia. At some distance books, broken bookshelves and pieces of debris fly past, circling the remains of the library at dangerous speeds, blown around by the wind.
"Where are the Plains!?" He asks incredulously over the noise of the wind. "Where are the Plains, Nooit!?"
"The Plains disappeared!" Nooit replies glumly. "It's Nooit's fault!"
"It's not your fault, Nooit!" the count shouts whiping the water from his face. "But you're the solution!"
Nooit gives him a baffled look. "Nooit doesn't know how!"
Arno takes a deep breath in preparation of what he's about to ask. "Nooit," he begins, then hessitates. Nooit looks at him curiously, wondering what he could do to help. "Nooit," the count tries again, "You're going to have to jump into the tear!"
Nooit looks at him wide-eyed, his mouth slowly dropping open. "What will happen to Nooit!?" he asks uncertainly. The count sighs.
"I honestly don't know," he says so softly Nooit can barely hear him. Nooit looks at the tear from behind the pillar, a bright smudge on reality, shapeless and of all shapes. Then the shapes all merge in Nooit's eyes, becoming one shape. It's that of himself, sitting on a stool, reading. He looks into it with a mesmerised and at the same time terrified stare.
A single piece of debris, a sharp broken beam, veers off course. Arno instinctively throws his arms out in front of his face and screams as he sees the beam hurl right at him at great speed. Nooit looks back for a split second, then makes his decision. As fast as he can, he launches himself at the tear, sails through the air carried by the storm and disappears into the bright light...
Silence... If you thought you heard silence, you ain't heard nothing yet.
For a moment of a moment, a fraction of a split second, an infinately
small moment in time, everything stops. From the terrifying sound of the
gale, of the waves crashing into the remainder of the Plains, of the swirling
and splashing of the sea, the world goes to complete silence. Just for
Arno lowers his arms slowly and uncertainly. A moment ago he saw the sharp end of a broken beam hurl towards him and death seemed inescapable. But now he feels the warmth of the morning sun on his cheek as it shines through the window of the library. Outside near the window two birds are chattering, from further away the sound of people walking, talking, and generally the sound of a town waking up float through the open window. He lowers his arms further and looks around. Rows upon rows of books surround him, many on sheep-related subjects. He gets up with a groan and turns around to look at the tear. There is no sign of any such tear. Arno stares at the places where his little friend disappeared. Nooit had done it. He had sacrificed himself for Arno and for everyone else. The count lets out a deep exhausted sigh. Nooit always did what he was told...
"Excuse me, sir," a voice says behind him. Arno recognises the voice. "Can I see your library pass?"
The count turns around and faces the librarian, who is instantly shocked to find that the person in dirty, tattered clothing, covered in bruises and a few cuts, is in fact his count.
"Sir! I'm sorry, I didn't recognise-"
"He jumped to safe us all," the count says, staring at a point somewhere behind the librarian, still gathering his thoughts.
"Nooit did. He sacrificed himself. For us."
The librarian looks blankly at the count, not certain of what to say next.
"You remember Nooit, don't you? You were the one who found him."
The librarian's eyes drift from left to right to left, looking for something that could give him an excuse to change the subject.
"Don't you?" the count asks, more anxiously this time. He now looks straight at the librarian, who takes an ever so slight step back.
"No sir," he says uncomfortably.
"What do you mean, 'no'?" the count asks, friendly but surprised. "You found him right there, reading a book." He gestures with his left arm at the corner of the library.
"Sorry sir, I fear my memory is failing me in this matter," the librarian diplomatically states.
"You don't remember him," the count says incredulously. He lets his arm drop and dangle besides his body, then turns around and looks at the place of Nooit's birth and demise. "He saved us all, you know..."
The librarian wishes the ground would open up and swallow him. As unfortunately it doesn't, a long uncomfortable silence follows.
"He must have been very brave," the librarian says trying to break the silence. The count nods softly.
"I'd like to be alone for a moment," he says, much to the librarian's relief. Without daring to say another word he scurries off, leaving Arno by himself. He rests his hand on a bookshelf and sighs as he leans slightly against it.
"The ultimate sacrifice," he murmers. He lowers his head and stares at the floor letting out another sigh. There's nothing he can accomplish here. Perhaps if he can let Anatidae look at this spot, or some faerie... Later. He suddenly feels very tired and filthy. A sign to go home. He looks at his right hand, leaning on the bookshelf, if only to have something to look at, something else than that corner. Then he perks up slowly.
On the bookshelf, right next to his hand, is a very familiar looking book. It's a pale yellow colour, and very insignificant to look at, but it strikes a cord of recognition with Arno. He takes the book off its shelf and looks at it. Its back is empty. No clue as to the contents of the book, or its author. But he gasps silently when he looks at the front of the book. It has one word written on it, in big black letters. The word is "NEVER". It's the book Nooit was reading when he appeared! The count looks the book over some more. There's nothing else on it than that one word. No author, no summary, no printer. With shaking hands from fatigue and shattered nerves he opens it to look at the first page. It's blank, except that this too has the word "NEVER" printed on it in slightly smaller letters. He turns to the next page and finds text. He forces his tired brain and eyes to focuss and starts reading.
"In the beginning, there was creation," the book starts. The count gasps and holds his breath. Something about the book, the text, makes him feel this is more than an ordinary story...
"And after creation, there came life. Life, in different forms with
different tasks. But there was a problem. Too much power in too few hands
finally led to uprising, chaos, and eventually, destruction, and much of
creation had to be begun anew. In a new way, a way in which Life could
learn, could addapt, could prosper within creation rather than at its expense.
New life was created, but this time, not fully formed. Life had to have
time to learn, and time to forget. Life had to start out small."
"And so, the first basic components of Life were seeded on many worlds. Little more than a few strands of DNA within a simple membrane. And Life understood. Life understood the universe, it understood reality, it understood itself. And as it understood itself, and it understood reality, it could do what it knew it had to do. It multiplied. Slowly at first, one became two, two became four, four became eight and on and on and on... And as it multiplied, it altered its shape, its goals, itself, and as it did so, Life forgot. Life understood less and less of the universe surrounding it, of reality, of itself. But it never forgot, nor could it forget, its most basic purpose: to learn."
"Now, the word Life has become meaningless. Life has split into countless variations of itself, from tiny to enormous, from weak to powerfull, from ignorant to intelligent. Species that are barely aware of their own existance, and species of intelligence, of knowledge. These latter species have learned the most and forgotten the most, so much so that their entire existance has come to revolve around the persuit of knowledge, the ability to understand the universe, to understand reality. Because to understand this is to be able to use reality, change it, warp it, to whatever purpose."
The count finally exhales again. "Nooit..." he whispers. He anxiously continues reading.
"One moment in time, perhaps, these species may relearn what they have
lost, and on that moment it will be clear wether they exist as part of
creation, or at the expense of it."
"The key to understanding the universe, the great secret for which all these species and all of Life are searching, is, as all great truths, a simple but powerfull one. To those who find it the universe will no longer be an unpredictable place, reality no longer a restriction, and they will be doing things that had NEVER seemed possible. And this key is simply-"
Arno reaches the end of the page and stares past the book. Whatever's
on the next page must be extremely valuable to know. Yet, he hessitates
to turn the page for some reason. Instead, he thinks over what he has just
read. If Nooit was reading this book when he appeared... He must have read
this. He must know what is written on the next page. The count takes a
deep breath and turns the page. His eyes scan accross the text towards
the top left corner, his heart beating in his throat. Then as his eyes
focus on the first word, "that", a bright lightblue spark arcs from Arno's
hands to the book. In instinctive shock he throws his hands up in the air,
dropping the book. The book vanishes instantly and something behind him
lands on the floor with a thud. Arno turns around, startled, and looks
wide-eyed at what dropped on the floor behind him.
Nooit looks up at Arno. then he looks around to his left, to his right, up, and back at the count with a questioning look.
"Nooit," Arno asks while the realisation is still trying hard to sink in, "what are you doing here!?"
"Nooit exists," Nooit replies with a hint of surprise in his voice. He gets up and looks up at the count. Slowly Arno starts to grin as his mind catches up with the events.
"Nooit!" he exclaims as he picks him up and lifts him to his own height, "I thought you were gone forever!" Nooit starts to smile too.
"Ward is safe?" He asks?
"Yeah Nooit!" the count yells, "Ward is safe. You saved us all!"
"WITH a little help," a familiar female voice says. Nooit and Arno look to the side at a smiling Anatidae, leaning against a bookshelf in her tattered black commando clothing, looking a lot better than she did 10 minutes ago however.
"Ana!" the count says while putting Nooit down. "We couldn't have done it without you. How's your headache?"
"Gone!" she exclaims happily, then looks out the window. "And it looks like it's the only thing that IS gone now."
"Yes," Arno said, "we di-... You mean... You can see things were gone? And are now back?"
"Erm..." Anatidae says and stares at the window. "Now that you mention it..."
The count breathes out a sigh of relief and leans against the bookcase. "That means we probably won't be chased around any longer."
"Good," Anatidae says and advances towards him. She looks him straight in the eyes, grins and pokes him in the ribs. Arno whinces. "Cause you owe me for this, mister. I just came by to say hello and next thing I know I'm breaking you out of prison! ... You look like Hell, by the way."
"I've been through he-"
"Are you getting enough sleep? Because you know, when you don't get enough sleep you don't get enough rem and if you don't get enough rem..."
"Sir?" DeLancy comes from around the corner of the aisle, looking very confused.
"Ah, DeLancy!" The count exclaims. Nooit quietly hides behind his legs.
The captain looks at the ravaged trio before him, then looks outside. A few people wander around uncertainly as they slowly realise what has happened the last week. One of them throws himself at other people in near-hysteria. Some people try to calm him down, others walk away or panic themselves. The count looks outside to survey the situation too.
"... Well... Something bad happens," Anatidae continues as if nothing happened, "but I forgot what it was..."
"PERMISSION TO MAINTAIN ORDER!?" DeLancy belows as he neatly turns 90 degrees to face his count.
"... I'll have to investigate that." Anatidae finishes.
"Erm... Granted," the count answers. The captain salutes, turns an exact 180 degrees and marches off. Meanwhile Anatidae glances out the window.
"Nooit is scared of Loud Captain," Nooit says as he comes out of his hiding place.
"Hey look! People are fighting outside!" Anatidae helpfully reports.
"I know," the count says with a yawn, "but I'm sure DeLancy can take care of it. Let's go home, eh?" He slowly walks out the aisle, followed by Nooit and Anatidae.
"You know, there's still one thing I don't get," Anatidae says.
"What's that?" Arno asks, just trying to get his brain wrapped around the whole thing himself.
"Well... Everything mainly," she says.
"Nooit remembers understanding everything for a moment..." Nooit says. "But then Nooit forgot."
"Speaking of which, I'm certain I was doing something very important when Nooit came back," Arno says, "but I can't for the life of me remember what it was."
"It'll come back to you," Anatidae says.
"Arno needs sleep," Nooit says and thinks. "Nooit needs sleep too," he decides.
"Anatidae'll crash on the couch if that's okay," Anatidae says and yawns as they turn a corner out of the aisle. Back in the corner, visible only to creatures of magic, when they pay real good attention, a tiny dot of light is pinned in the air. It grows larger for a moment, as if to take one last peek, and then slowly shrinks smaller and smaller untill it finally disappears.
So what happened!?
It starts with the observation that the universe and reality are the same thing. The universe is all that is around us. So is reality. Therefore, there is no difference between the two. Some people claim the universe is a living thing. It consumes itself, it renews itself, it expands, and possibly, one day, it'll die. By the same token, reality is a living thing. And like any living thing, it can be wounded, as it was in this story. Badly wounded. To make matters worse, here were now two corrupted elements running around: Nooit and Arno, who was corrupted when he tore Nooit through the fabric of reality.
This wasn't the first time this happened, nor will it be the last. Reality knows how to heal itself. When Arno got blown into the tear it intervened, giving him the information he needed to close up the tear, to heal the wound. After all, where did that information come from? When the wound was healed, everything reverted back to normal, with the exception of Arno, the remaining corrupted element. It was acceptable.
Then, however, Arno, of all people, found the book. No other person would have given much credence to the secrets inside, but Arno would have. If he had read them, Life would have known what it was meant to forget, and that frightened reality terribly as it still remembers what happened last time. Once again, it had to act, within its own limits, because even though reality is reality, it still can go around altering itself at will as much as we can bend our knees outwards or our feet backwards. The best it could do was a trade. The book for Nooit. Unfortunate, but acceptable.
For those who are concerned, reality is feeling a lot better now. Some rest and a few asperins and it'll be back to its usual jolly self in no time. There'll just be some remaining scars:
"Anatidae..." DeLancy spells out as he writes it on the form, "... None." He finishes. "Well then, miss None-..."
"Anatidae," Anatidae corrects him.
"Very well... Anatidae... Current occupation?"
"I occupy the lake," she says with a smile. Then she notices the officer's staff standing in the corner of the small office. "Oh, what's that?"
"Lake..." DeLancy spells out, then looks to see what she's pointing to. "Ah, that is my officer's staff, ma'am."
"Ooooh," she replies, cocking her head to look at it from a different angle. "What does it do?"
"Pretty much the same as my glove, plus a few more things. Now about this 'tear in reality'..."
"What other things!? What does the glove do?" she gets up to take a closer look at the staff.
"The glove shoots, ma'am. It also has a tractor beam and a shield. Ma'am,-..."
"And the staff?" She asks curiously. She picks up the staff and looks at it. DeLancy gets up and stands straight as a candle.
"Ma'am, I must ask you to put that back," he says.
"In a minute," she says, still admiring it. "Why haven't I ever seen you with it?"
The captain coughs, not wanting to admit he keeps tripping over it.
"Ma'am, please put the staff back in its place," he orders.
"Oh, okay," Anatidae says and turns it upright again to put it back, then shreeks as she promptly blasts a hole in the roof. Bits of plaster rain down on her head as DeLancy looks at her as if nothing happend. He didn't even flinch.
"Would you please sit down, ma'am?" he asks friendly as he takes the staff from her and puts it back in the corner.
"Sorry," Anatidae says meekly and sits down. DeLancy sits back down too.
"About this 'tear in reality'..."
"This is him?" the count asks as he looks at the sheep lazilly grazing
in the sun.
"Aye," the farmer simply says. "'f y'll excuse me, sir. I 'ave things t'do..."
"Of course," the count says to the farmer and watches him leave. Then he turns to the sheep again. He looks at it, feeling kinda silly, and loudly clears his throat. The sheep stops grazing and looks at him.
"May I help you?" it asks.
"Erm... Yeah... You are the... Flying talking sheep?"
The sheep reaises an eyebrow at him.
"I... I suppose you are."
The sheep nods once. "Indeed I am. I only recently returned to my home fields."
"Yeah, erm... Last time you were heard of you left Kess's office," the count says. "What happened?"
"Well, when I finally had an audience with your so-called 'Master', it appeared he did not understand me at all. In fact, he appeared to want to devour me!" the sheep says with civil disgust. "Therefore I decided discretion was the better part of valour and leaped back out the window, only to find I had lost my ability to float. I owe my life to the gardener planting those bushes."
"Was a bush enough to break your fall?" the count asks.
"I'm afraid not. However, the gardener was," the sheep replies.
"After this I was captured by the kitchen staff who forced me to spend several days under ghastly conditions in a cage with a pig." He raises an eyebrow at the very thought alone. "One might imagine that the conversations we had were far from stimulating."
"Er... Yeah," Arno replies. "But how did you escape?"
"It was fairly trivial. I regained my powers of speech moments before slaughter and was exempt from slaughter on the grounds of being a sentient creature. I flew back the same day."
"Well," the count says, wondering if any other figures of authority have to deal with things like this, "welcome back." The sheep lowers his head slightly as if to make a gracefull bow.
"Say, er... Do you have a name?" Arno asks.
"I'm afraid not," the sheep replies, "I am a sheep, after all."
"Perhaps we should find one for you then," the count says. The sheep gives him a thoughtfull look and his face wrinkles slightly as his creative juices start flowing. He starts grazing again chewing every bite carefully, milling the grass through his mouth as his thoughts are milling through his head.
"I wish to be named Keebler," he finally decides.
"Keebler?" The count gives the sheep an odd look.
"Yes. Keebler," it replies with great certainty.
"Well... It's your name."
"That it is," the sheep says and continues grazing.
Nooit steps into the public hall of the parliament building. At the
other side of the hall there's one counter, with some 6 people waiting
to be served. Above the counter there's a display that says "Now serving
number 41". Nooit looks around for a ticket-dispenser. Arno had told him
about this. He finally locates it to his right and reaches up to grab a
ticket. However, even standing on his toes he can't quite reach it. He
slumps down again to normal posture and sighs. Meanwhile a couple walks
away from the line past Nooit.
"You said you'd bring your wallet," the woman says to the man, as she discards their ticket on the floor near Nooit.
"I didn't. I thought you would!" the man argues as they walk out the door. Nooit bends over and picks up the ticket. A ping draws his attention to the display, which now says "Now serving number 42". He looks at the card in his hand. As it's number 42 he runs towards the counter.
"Number 42!" the civil servant shouts when nobody appears at his counter. A small green three-fingered hand reaches up from below and places the ticket on the counter. The civil servant gets up and looks down, straight into the face of Nooit looking up.
"Oh... How may I help you?"
"Nooit wants to become a citizen of the Plains," Nooit says.
"Very well," the civil servant replies. "Name?"
"First or last name?"
The civil servant blinks and just types the name Nooit in the computer.
"It says here you're already registered."
"Arno registered Nooit while Nooit was away. Nooit needs to register personally now," Nooit says.
"I see... Name: Nooit... Race?"
"Nooit," Nooit replies again.
"Nooit is Nooit."
"I see," the civil servant says, trying to remember the protocol for these kind of situations. "Occupation?"
Nooit thinks about this for a while. "Nooit," he finally decides.
"Right," the civil servant says, typing it all in the computer so someone else can sort it all out. "Last place of residence?"
"Why am I not surprised? Do you have any special skills?"
Nooit thinks about this one again. "Nooit is Nooit," he then replies, beaming.
The civil servant types it all in the computer with a sigh and gets up to look at him.
"Welcome to the Plains, Nooit."
Nooit nods and happily walks out again. The civil servant sits down with a sigh and presses a button on his counter. A ping follows from over his head.
Kessalia, The Master, Kyshandra, Delphine, Damocles, Mika and Robert are
copyrighted to their respective owners. Anatidae is also copyrighted to
Kessalia. All other characters are copyrighted to Arno Jacobs. This was the
boring copyrights announcement, I hope I did it right. Many thanks go in
particular to Kessalia for goading me into doing this and being supportive,
proofreading and spellchecking, and to Jessie, Mika and Kyshandra, also for
support and proofreading.
Arno Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org)