under the direction of
/ / / / / / // Chapter 11: // / / / / / /
"Where is she?" Spencer said it as they neared the east entrance to the castle. It was clear the castle had not yet been attacked by the fury Belisse was sure to be in when she got there. The real question was: Why hadn't she yet been there?
The Bobblin ladies saw the spots on Spencer's and Paul's shirts and smiled, nodding. One of them put a black dot on Tiffany's shirt. She turned to make a protest, but Spencer motioned for her to no worry about it. They entered the castle and headed immediately for Raymond's chamber. Now, they needed to warn him about Belisse, and hope that he will give up the children in exchange for their saving of his life.
* * *
"Have you come to kill me?" It was the question King Raymond asked them as they burst into his study.
"No, we've come to warn you. A great warrior is coming to kill you."
"Why warn me about it? I already know."
"Well, you can't just sit there! If you don't escape now, you'll never be able to help our friends! Aren't you going to do something?"
"No. I'm not." He raised his head to look at them. It wasn't King Raymond. The face was not quite the same.
"You're not King Raymond."
"No, I'm not. I'm here to give him enough time to escape."
Belisse threw open the door, and it hit against the opposite wall with a BANG and some flying splinters. The door was now cracked and bent down the middle.
"Have you come to kill me?" the Bobblin looked up at Belisse, looking almost royal. Belisse's eyes were open wide, her mouth small.
"No, I've come to kill the king. Where is he? You'll tell me now, I trust."
"Wait five minutes, and then I'll tell you. Until then, I won't."
"I'm not going to wait five minutes. Belisse lifted the knife-ended spear she'd taken from one of the guards she'd met with on the way up to the chamber. "Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to get your legs removed with one of these?"
"He's gone to the island in lake Pooh-bah. It's just a few miles north of here. There's boats already there."
* * * *
"You weren't... really going to hurt him, were you?" Tiffany said to her as they were walking in the direction of Lake Pooh-bah. Belisse, who seemd outspoken about everything else, didn't say anything. The lake was big, bigger than they had expected. They couldn't see the other end of the lake. They couldn't see any island, either.
"Tricked." Belisse was frowning. "How do we know there's even an island out there?"
"Well, we're going to have to find it." Tiffany walked up to the wooden platform extending into the lake, and saw that there were no large boats, only rowboats, tied to the dock. "Here, let's take one of these."
"That's no good. They're too small. We'll take two." Belisse walked up to the dock and untied the knot holding one of the rowboats.
They decided that Spencer and Beliesse would be in one rowboat, and Paul and Tiffany in the other, because that way one boat wouldn't have more rowing power than the other. "Well," Paul said hopefully, "If there's only little boats here, it can't be that far, can it?"
* * * *
The first hour of rowing was a happy one, they were taking turns and laughing and talking in between the boats. At the end of the first hour, they were now in the middle of a lake whose depth could not be determined, and whose shores were only barely visible on two sides, and could not be seen on two others.
A fog came up on the lake. The fog was so thick that even though they were only feet away from each other. They were shouting back and forth to each other, trying to make sure that the didn't lose each other, or worse, crashed into each other. It seemed to Spencer that every time they called to each other, they were getting further and further away...
Finally, it was obvious they were drifting apart. Belisse tried to turn the boat and head back to wher Tiffany and Paul were calling, but there was some sort of current preventing her from closing the distance. She shouted instructions to Paul and Tiffany, who were unable to follow them and so were unable to close the distance, either.
As the voices faded, Belisse had more and more trouble figuring exactly where they were coming from, and finally, their calls went unanswered, and they could hear nothing except the motion of the water around them and the noises they themselves were making. The fog was every bit as thick as it had been when it first came upon them - complete and immediate.
The next hour was spent calling names - first to those in the other boat, then to each other. Belisse said Tiffany and Paul were stupid and couldn't follow directions, and Spencer kept saying she really didn't know and they might have had the same problem she had, and it wasn't doing her any good to be so bossy.
The next hour, hostility not forgotten, but at least out of the way, Belisse asked a question that absolutely starteled Spencer: "can you tell me more about where you come from?"
Funny thing was, he could. He answered her every question about where he'd lived and what he'd done with stories that made her laugh - her laughter was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard. She begged to hear more and more about the streetplays he'd been to, and said that it had been something she remembered from her time and people, but she never got to see one, she was always too busy training for her position as guardian.
"Hey, I know, you can come back with me sometime and see one of ours. I'm going to.. at least I was going to, I didnt' get to show up yesterday... well, maybe sometime I'll be starring in one, and it'd be cool if you came and saw it."
"That'd be nice." Spencer now saw the Belisee a hundred and eighty degrees from the one he'd first met. She was patient, kind of giggly and full of smiles. The fact that their friends were nowhere to be found did't seem to bother her. When Spencer brought it up, she said "Oh, I think we'll find them soon enough. Just have to wait for the fog to clear up, is all."
The fog had cleared up some time ago. It was now difficult to see because it was nighttime, and there were clouds over the stars and no moon to be seen.
A distant blast of light and color jerked Belisse to attention, and immediately she picked up the oars and put them in Spencer's hands, saying "Row. Quickly."
Spencer became alert, too. "What's wrong? What did you see?"
"I saw land." Spencer turned around. A torch was burning, high in the air on a distance castle. Another was being lit as he watched. Spencer pulled on one oar and brought the boat around. He put the oars in Belisee's hands.
"You row. You're faster. I'll guide you."
"All right, I'll row." Belisse then pulled, and pulled again, takign a pace twice as fast as the one she'd used before, but on the same, precise rhythm. She smiled at Spencer, then closed her mouth and stared pulling.
In ten minutes, they were at the castle. Belisse stood up, a little difficult becuase her arms were quite tired, and Spencer got out of the boat after her, finding it hard to move himself because he was so hungry and thirsty. In the motion of the water, Belisse said she should she could see Paul's and Tiffany's boat. In ten more minutes, Paul and Tiffany were on the shore, too.
"Please don't kill Raymond," Tiffany was starting, "If you kill him then I..."
"I don't intend to kill him. I want to help you and your friends get your memories back. Spencer told me a lot about you, and about who you were. If you never get those memories back, it won't matter that the Bobblins won't have control of our land."
"Wow." Paul slapped Spencer on the back. "I don't know how you did it, but thanks."
"Come on." Spencer was pointing to the castle's entrance. "Let's go find him."
/ / / / / / // Chapter 12: // / / / / / /
"There they are!" Guards appeared from behind the corner. There was some noise as the call to arms was recognized. Three more guards joined the two that were already standing there.
"We're not supposed to let anyone in, much less you. Now you come with us and there'll be no more fuss."
Belisse wanted to stay and fight them, but everyone else ran, and so she ran, too. Down skinny little hallways and through progressively shorter passageways they ran, and the guards were not interested in stopping their pursuit.
Tiffany slipped on something and lost her footing, but did not fall. The guards caught up to her, but the others didn't stop running. In the struggle she threw out a fist - she knocked one of the Bobblins clean out. "Way to go Tiffany!" Spencer shouted, and Tiffany herself was so amazed at what she'd just done that she didnt' notice until it was too late that the remaining guards had each grabbed an arm and a leg and were carrying her off. The two groups disappeared from each other's sight and hearing.
"We'd better get her back in the bowl and have King Raymond get rid of her memory again." Out of the shadows came a figure in a dark cloak. He was easily twice as tall as the Bobblins there. "I'll handle that. Bring her here." The man took of his cloak - the Bobblins did not need to see his face; they knew who he was. He draped his cloak over Tiffany so that it covered her completely, then he instructed the Bobblins to drop her on teh count of three.
"One... Two..." One of the bobblins made a noise of surprise - he was no longer holding Tiffany's arm, just a fistful of black fabric from the cloak. The man put his cloak back on, and left the Bobblins staring at him as he walked the short distance to a nearby staircase and began climbing the stairs.
* * *
"Won't you please sit down?" King Raymond was sitting at the head of a long table - there were armed guards on either side of him. The table had been set for him and four others. "My other guest will be here shortly. I know you're hungry, if it were my choice I wouldn't feed you, but I'm the one under orders now.
"That's right. My superior has agreed to join me on this island, and he's said that you need food and water. So there you go."
Paul and Spencer were a little reluctant at first, but Belisse told them it was probably all right, so they started eating alongside her. "I'm curious to meet your king. Who is it - the King of all Bobblins?"
"Oh, his title is of an even higher degree than that. King of all worlds. He's the big man on top. The head honcho. The king of..."
"That's enough, Raymond." A tall man in a dark cloak entered the room, stepping soundlessly and gracefully over to the unoccupied seat and taking it, then beginning immediately to eat what was already prepared.
"It was you!" Belisse stood up from her chair. "Stop eating, boys. This was the man that imprisoned me in that cave." She turned and pulled a golden spear off a display on the wall and pointed it at the man in the dark cloak. The man in the cloak stood, too.
"That was the idea. But you're not going to be any good if you're still hungry. Go ahead; it's a little gift from me. Don't eat too much, though, or drink too much either - best to keep your reflexes sharp. What about them?" Belisse was looking at Paul and Spencer, who resumed eating. "I've entered my friend Raymond into a magical contract. If he loses his fight against those two, he must give them the secret of returning their friends memories and the secret of returning them to their homes. If I lose my fight against you - well, the benefits are in the loss, aren't they? Finish up. I'm just as eager to sort out trouble on this world as you are to get revenge, and as they are to get their normal life back."
The man's face became visible as he ate another bite - Paul nearly spit out the water he was drinking. It was the man they'd seen on the U-train! "You really are everything you said you were, arent you?"
"Yes, I am. Now finish up." The man took off his cloak and folded it neatly, laying it on the back of teh chair befor he resumed eating.
They spend another minute or two eating, then one by one they stood and walked to the other end of the room. Belisse was carrying the spear. As the man stood they saw that he was carrying with him a sword. He pulled it out - he had some trouble getting it out of the scabbard. He held it in front of himself, and though he himself looked confident, the blade looked like it didn't know what it was doing. Raymond turned to Paul and Spencer.
* "Pillow fight." Gordon whispered.
* "Brilliant!" David whispered back, excitedly.
"Now, the thing my superior had decided on for a fight is with this weapon. He pulled three pillows off a different display of weapons, tossing two to Paul and Spencer. They caught them and looked down at them in disbelief."
"I'm sure you're not familiar with it. It's a very ancient weapon of my people. For centuries we've used it to settle disputes. Apparantly my superior doesn't value this matter over a simple little dispute. But what do I know?"
King Raymond took two steps back, and stood at the ready, pillow held high.
And so the fighting began. Belisse fought, as she did everything physical, with an incredible preciseness and energy that could not be matched. Her adversary, no longer looking like a novice of the blade, was able to parry her every attack. But he was not able to make any attacks of his own. She was winning.
On the other side of the room, Raymond was holding his own against Paul and Spencer. It was clear that Raymond had really practiced and knew how to use the pillow as a weapon. Paul and Spencer, though, had been in many a pillow fight themselves, and though their knowledge of pillow fighting didn't amount to the same level of skill, two against one in any fight is always more than twice as hard. They, too, were winning.
It was a single crucial blow to Raymond's condition that began his downfall. Their pillow fighting had taken them down to the other end of the hall. Raymond was now moving backwards to continue to fend off two attackers; he was headed right for a chair, standing free of the table and at the level of his knees. How such a chair got to be there no one knew, but such things were no longer considered unusual.
Belisse, too, was heading in the right direction. Her fight with the man in the dark cloak had taken them out of the hall entirely, and into a more open side room, which terminated in a wide staircase. Belisse was pushing him further backward now, her spear occasionally getting close enough to scrape across the fabric of his shirt, but nothing more. A sudden noise stopped them both for a moment.
Raymond was on the ground; he'd tripped over the chair. The game was won. Raymond threw away his pillow and pulled something out of his pocket - neither Paul nor Spencer saw what it was.
"So, you've lost. Tell us how to save our friends." Paul put down his pillow and looked down at the fallen Raymond, who looked little more than irritated.
"Come closer, and I'll tell you." He was smiling; though it was not clear what it was behind his back, Spencer wasn't about to get close enough to find out.
"No, you tell us now, where we stand. You have to. It's a magical contract."
"Do you know the penalty for breaking a magical contract?"
"No, I don't. What is it?"
"This." A loud rumble shook the whole building, and seemed to coem from somewhere above. It was as though lightning had struck the castle. Spencer thought he could hear a woman's voice, singing, then a quartet of voices, a toneless, vibrating chord.
Both Paul and Spencer had shot their faces upward at the sound of the first rumble. When Paul looked again at Raymond, there was no Raymond at all - his clothes were there, but they were filled with an orange dirt, which was spilling out onto the floor. Paul could see the handle of something that was underneath the clothes. He reached cautiously over and pulled it out from underneath where Raymond had been. It was a knife.
It took a few seconds for Spencer to realize that anything had happened at all. He looked at the knife in Paul's hand, and asked, "Where did you get that?" Paul pointed at the pile of clothes and dirt, which had lost all semblance of a human shape.
What Spencer felt then was not fear or sadness or anger. He simply knew that it had been the man in the cloak's fault, and it was now his, Spencer Tibits's, responsibility that the secret of the bowl be returned to them, as was promised. He turned toward the noise of the fight goign on in the side room. Stepping up on the chair which Raymond tripped over, he stepped from that onto the table itself, then he jumped off and started running.
What he saw was a fight he was no longer aware was already being won. Belisse was moments away from pushing the man down the stairs when Spencer ran at him from the side, jumping and trying to tackle the only thought on his mind. The man's left hand flew out - Spencer flew right past him and landed on his shoulder.
Surprisingly, Spencer was unhurt. He stood up and grabbed at the man's head. The man pushed him in front of Belisse's approaching spear, and she was forced to cut her attack short. The man then pushed Spencer into her arms, raising his sword. Belisse pulled her spear up just in time to block the thrust that would have been the end of Spencer; his blade knocked the spear back with such force that it swung back and hit Belisse in the head - she stumbled and fell.
The man raised his sword again. Spencer dived out of the way of the approaching blade. His left arm was already sore, so this landing left him out of comission for a few seconds more than the last did.
What entered Spencer at that moment was a seed of survival. He rolled over and grabbed the spear laying next to the unconscious Belisse; he pulled it in front of himself, stopping the powerful blow that came from the man with the cloak. One end of the spear flew back - and it hit the ground, ringing loudly. Spencer swung upward - the man took a step back. Spencer then threw himself forward, first in a sitting then a standing position, using all the range this spear offered him. The shining spear was heavy, and so took both of his hands to swing, but he seemed to manage.
He was taking wild swings, and the man seemed flustered, unable to hold his ground. Spencer's seed of survival was slipping fron him; he was beginning to lose the speed with which he'd been attacking. During one of these later swings the man's sword flicked out and blocked. The spear came rought out of Spencer's hands and clattered to the floor. Spencer lost his balance and fell to his knees.
Spencer looked up. The man was standing over him, his sword ready to cut Spencer in two. Spencer himself was not fully comprehending the situation.
"Aha! Whoa." The man and lifted his sword one last time to bring it down on the now defenseless Spencer; his heels were halfway over the edge of the first stair; he fell backward, losing grip on his sword. Back, back, back he bounced. Spencer felt a kind of chill run up his spine as the man came to rest at the foot some 10 stairs lower. The sword he'd carried had come to rest near the top, about two stairs down. Spencer was not aware of this; neither one moved for at least a minute.
Belisse stepped around Spencer hurriedly, telling herself that it was her fault that Spencer was now dead. When she looked at him and saw him alive, her eyes began to shine with tears. Then she turned to see where the man had gone. He was still at the bottom of the stairs, and hadn't yet moved. She took two steps down and handed Spencer the man's sword. Spencer took it and stood up. Paul came running in with the knife at the ready. Belisse picked up her spear, and the three of them marched down the stairs toward the now-defeated Master of Worlds.
/ / / / / / // Chapter 13: // / / / / / /
"So, you have triumphed at last."
The man was now sitting, looking up at the three circled around him, all three weapons pointed toward him.
"You promised us the secret of the bowl. Raymond didn't make good on that promise. You have to." Spencer seemed the only onle capable of talking, and so it was he that spoke for them.
"I didn't make any deals with you. If you didn't get what you wanted from Raymond, that's not my problem."
"We're making it your problem." Belisse took center stage, pointing the spear at the man's throat. "Give the secret up. I know you know it. Give it up or suffer the consequences."
"It is not in my power to restore the memories of those children. If there was a secret to the bowls, it died with Raymond."
"I don't believe you. You'd better tell me, or I swear I'll kill you!"
The man looked at her for a second. Spencer and Paul had lowered their weapons, and they were now looking at her, too. She was only looking at the man. It was now her battle.
"There's nothing you can do." The man did not smile or frown; he was merely stating a fact. "Nothing, that is, except make good on your promises."
"You promised to kill me just now, and before that, 400 years ago."
* * *
Spencer and Paul gasped. Had she really done it? Had she really killed him? She took the spear and ran him through - then she took the sword from Spencer and stabbed him again. Spencer and Paul pulled her away, and convinced her to stop, that he was already dead. She'd said he didn't look dead enough, but it was obvious she'd gone crazy. They left the weapons and headed downstairs. There was nothing left to do now, except head for shore again, leave, and try and resume life as normally as they could, not knowing what it would be like.
They walked down the empty halls in apparant suffering. What they'd lost they couldn't explain all at once; what they'd had was hope, and something to do. Whether they'd lost all hope, they couldn't say, but there was nothing left to do.
The sea of lights shining from Bobblin valley were easily visible from the other side of the lake. It was also easy to see the lights of the castle on the hill nearby. When Spencer and Paul threw open the front door of the castle, though, they didn't see any of these things. What they did see was the man, dressed again in his cloak. He walked into the castle, taking three steps past them before turning around.
"You thought it was going to be that easy?" He laughed. The entire castle gave a great leap. It nearly knocked the four of the moff their feet; it seemed not even the man with the cloak was expecting it. None had steadied themselves entirely before the castle lurched again, and, bending over, the man said, in the tone of someone who'd just seen a trespasser, "Get out!"
Spencer hesitated a little, then ran out of the castle just as it took another leap. Paul and Belisse followed. Spencer was pushing teh boat into the water as teh other two got in; they left and Belisse started pushing away from the island.
The castle gave one final lurch before its towers toppled - everything came down as though it had been a house of cards, bricks falling on bricks, caving the entire structure in on itself. The torches fell, one by one. Most landed in the water. One was caught - it was the man in the cloak that held it. Belisse tripled her pace and they made their way swiftly away from the falling structure and its horrible master.
When the three of them were quite gone, the man in the cloak said, "Get up, you two." he was smiling, and the sound of his voice belonged on an old friend speaking to his compatriots.
Something stirred from the rubble of the castle. Two somethings, actually. The man picked up one of the stones with one hand - his fingers sunk into it. He threw it out at the water - it dangled in the air in a featherlike manner before hitting the water - and floating atop it. The stone was not stone at all - everything that had fallen appeared now to be made of styrofoam.
"C'mon, get up!" the man pushed the blocks away from the stirring piles. Two men were there. One was dressed in a lab coat. The other, in clothes four times too baggy. "It's time to put things back in order."
The three men smiled, looking in the direction of the city and where the Paul, Spencer and Belisse were headed. Gordon turned back around and pulled two bowls out of the rubble. One belonged to Spencer's mother, which he handed to David. The other was filled with water. Gordon poured the water out of the bowl, and said "Kids." before cracking the bowl against a rock near where the other rowboat was tied.
"Brilliant!" David said, in a kind of reverent enthusiasm.
* * *
"You can't realy blame yourself, Spencer." Paul was trying his best to comfort Spencer, but it was becoming harder to do so as the futile and sad nature of the situation became almost too much for him, too. "And honestly, what are we doing here anyway? This place is too weird to be real. Everything that's happened, why should we even believe it? A weird country full of green men, the entrance to it is part of the bottom floor of your school?"
"How can it not be real?" Spencer was wiping his eyes; it seemed he was over the worst of it. "I saw my sister, she was real, but she didn't remember me. Now she's been crushed in that falling castle, and she would have been safe, and just fine, if we'd just forgotten about her like everyone else!"
"Yeah, that, why do you think we didn't forget like everyone else?"
"Because we're stupid?"
"It didn't seem to me like we had any choice in the matter. Don't you think there was some reason we did all this?"
"Sure there is. We had to try and save our friends. We didn't forget because we weren't supposed to. Maybe that guy that was your mom's friend that gave her the bowl, maybe he was helping us, because we had to try. If your sister was forgotten in our world, she'd be a lot worse off. At least in the collapse she's going to survive and get out. You don't have to think what you're thinking. She's strong and smart. She might have escaped before the collapse and made it not before we did!"
"Yeah, Spencer." Belisse put her hand on Spencer's head as she said this; he pushed her hand away.
"Just get us out of here."
The rest of the ride was spent in silence; there was no fog and from the lights of the city and castle they were able to guide the boat back to the dock where they found it.
"So, you going to come with us?" Paul was the one that spoke up, Spencer hadn't even thought of asking the question - of course Belisse was coming with them; without her, why were they even heading home?
"No, I don't think so." Belisse finshed tying the boat and started walking toward Bobblin Valley, its lights twinkling and diminishing in these late hours. She turned to face Spencer directly. "I saw what they did. I've got to stay here until the Bobblins no longer have a place here. As much as I want to be happy, and stay with you and be in your world, I know I can't let these guys stay in power, and to let that rotten Jones keep stealing kids from your world. When I'm done here, the first thing I'll do is join you. But I can't until then."
"All right." Paul was the one that said it; he hoped that if he agreed Spencer wouldn't say anything. Spencer did, quietly, but neither Paul nor Belisse acknowledged that they heard it.
* * *
The streets of Bobblin Valley were interesting to walk through at night. With Belisse there they were not worried for their safety, and everything was wide and empty without the usual crush of Bobblins about their diurnal lives. Every street seemed a metaphor for the current situation of its travelers; no one to rescue it from its helplessness and lonliness, empty and sad. In the dim light from a malfunctioning streetlamp their faces looked as grey as the pavement, not so much from actual color as from expression.
They passed the shop where they'd seen the Bobblin streetplay, but in the entire place, there was nothing to indicate that it had only been a couple of days ago the place had been packed with bodies, a real bumper crowd; now it looked worn-out and dry as an old, unused ditch. Paul pointed, but stopped himself from saying anything.
Belisse was still with them; she wanted to see them safely to their subway car. Spencer was still not looking at her or speaking to anyone. To him, she represented the sister he lost, and the girl that didn't want to be found again.
Arriving after some walking at the station, (Paul was practically famous for remembering directions) they saw immediately there was something strange going on. The station's lights were all on; there was a notice posted on the door they entered:
Bobworld three-day service:
2am train $3.50 12pm train $14.50
Sphere (schoolchildren dimension)
at: 11:15 12:15 1:15
2:15 3:15 4:15
Advance Tickets Available
When they entered, they heard voices. Not all of them were adult, Bobblin-sounding voices, either. When Paul turned the corner, he nearly fainted. Spencer came closer. Belisse kept him from dropping to the floor like a stone.
One one side were two hundred Bobblins looking for a cheap ride back to the Bobblin homeland. On the other side were eleven hundred East Oaks students looking for a cheap ride back home. The clock on the wall read 1:50.