Have you ever wanted to read about a group of students who fight against Paranormal Christmas Trees, two Scottish journalists who solve crimes and two children braving their way through a world of pirates and danger? If yes, you sound like my kind of person!
Welcome to the Cultured Yeti, a blog dedicated to short stories filled with the bizarre!
In the Realms, knights dare the crypts of the fallen dwarf kings of Dellzoom, seeking glory and treasure. Rogues prowl the dark alleyways of teeming cities such as Rarelyspring and Baldur’s Fence. Clerics in the serve of gods wield mace and spell, questing against the terrifying powers that threaten the land. Wizards plunder the ruins of the fallen Netherese empire, delving into secrets too dark for the light of day. Dragons, giants, demons and unimaginable abominations lurk in dungeons, caverns, ruined cities and the vast wild places of the world.
The Fellowship were haunched outside a kobold cave, broad swords in their hands. There was Plappy, the dual sword wielding dark elf with a goblin slave, Port, the Welsh school child druid, Merla Greenbottle, the halfling rogue with a mysterious past, Sile Cobaltcrusher, the human warrior, and cheeky gnomish bard, Asquith Luwin. The five of them were debating whether or not to set up camp- the orange suns were drooping behind the imposing Gauntylgrim hills- when Plappy dropped quite the bombshell.
“Guys, I’m just saying, I need to consume flesh every night otherwise I’ll die.” She said, as if it was the type of thing one regularly brings up in conversations.
“According to the brief, we’re an accustomed fellowship who have been working as sellswords for the underworld of Rarelyspring for years.” Asquith pointed out. “So, we already knew that.”
“I’ve got,” the rustle of paper, “five rations left over.” Merla suggested.
“Got to be living flesh, or at least recently dead.” Plappy said. “Sorry, guys. It seemed like a good flaw when I was writing it.”
“How about your goblin slave?” Port said. “We could kill him.”
“You’re meant to be a druid.” God said, the heavens shaking. “You should be protecting all forms of life. Sile, being the warrior, should be suggesting this.”
“My flaw is that I’m a pacifist.” Sile said.
“A pacifist warrior? I give up.” God sighed, and disappeared again.
“I’ll kill the goblin.” Plappy sighed. The scrabble of a twenty sided dice. “Is it Dexterity or Strength modifier?”
“How do you want to kill me?” The goblin asked, God speaking through the scaly mouthpiece.
“I want to push Stabby, my short sword, through your neck. If that’s alright.”
“That’s a Melee attack, so Strength.”
She did a quick bit of mental arithmetic. “What’s your Armour Class?”
“That’s a hit.” Another roll. “Hit points?”
“Five after Asquith cut my arm off.”
“He was annoying!” Asquith protested.
“Well, you’re dead now. I’ll just feast on your flesh and then,” Plappy did just that, coating her face in a crimson smear, and then drawing a small white handkerchief to clean up, “on with the adventure.”
“Can I set fire to that bush over there?” Port asked.
“Why?” God asked, now speaking from the heavens.
“Because there might be animals in there and I don’t like animals.”
“You’re a druid. You’re meant to protect all life.” God replied.
Port shrugged. “Can I do it anyway?”
God sighed. “Fireball’s a cantrip so sure.”
Port threw his hands out and released a ball of fire. The trees exploded into an orange blaze. This alerted the small camp of guard Kobolds and Mindflayers to their presence. Fifteen Kobolds ran out, their scaly skin spiked with horns, their eyes large bulbous, their tails interchangeable with their scabbards. They all carried spears. Behind them were three Mindflayers, Lovecraftian masters of Psionics, their faces covered in beards of flailing tentacles. They weren’t very angry; they were bloody furious.
“For God’s sake, Chris!” Steven cried then cursed. Out of character. Again. Why couldn’t he ever remember these things?
“Let’s have a quick break there.” God said from above. The Half Remembered Realms dissipated and was instead replaced by M9. M9 was located in the main block of Gilliam High School in the North West of England, a land of exciting and intriguing misadventures such as the annual Blackpool in Bloom competition and the ever psychologically arresting drama that was popping to Sainsbury’s. Chavs dare the tanning booths of badly photoshopped models. Muggers prowl the Primarks in search of victims to follow down dark alleys. Traffic wardens in the serve of bureaucrats wield tickets and law, questing against the terrifying powers that park outside Burger King for too long. Drag queens, tall people, benefit scroungers and unimaginable abominations (visitors from Fleetwood) lurk in hospitals, cafes, tram shelters and the vast wild shopping centres of the town.
The Gang were sat around a game board in M9, a Geography classroom that Mr Coin had commandeered to run his Dungeons and Dragons club from. There was Freya, the Time Controlling superhero Tempus, Chris, who could turn into Captain Jaffa Cake but thought an exciting DnD character would be a Welsh schoolchild with a hatred of animals, Sophie, the Physics loving Lucky Cat, Ali, the CW copyright violating Flish, and overly tall Summoner, Steven. They were playing Dungeons and Dragons and, at least two out of the five of them, were absolutely loving it.
Children of the atom, students of Computer Science, nerds misunderstood and stereotyped by the teachers and students they have sworn to protect, these are the geekiest heroes of all! The Gang!
“So, anyone want a drink?” Mr Coin asked. His Dungeons and Dragons club, which they were having to attend because Miss Francis had been suspicious of their superheroic activities (see the Winter Highlighter), was held every week on a Wednesday. This was only their second week; the plan was to do three weeks and then say they’d all been struck down by severe flu that was triggered by the mention of fantasy role playing games. This was Chris, Freya and Ali’s plan, but Steven and Sophie were having to go with it, much to their dissatisfaction. “I’ll see if the Upper School is still open; there might be biscuits!”
“What drinks are there?” Freya ventured, knowing that now she’d asked that question, she was going to have to ask for a drink no matter what.
“Tea, coffee, Radnor Fizz. I might even be able to get some orange juice if you want to go wild.”
“I could do with something a bit stronger to get me through this.” Ali muttered.
Mr Coin somehow heard this and replied, “Me and you both, Miss Grant. What with the way Chris is playing.”
They all laughed and asked for their drinks; Ali and Steven on Radnor Fizz, Sophie on an orange juice she probably wouldn’t drink for fear of spilling it, Freya going with tea and Chris pulling an orange Sainsbury’s bag from his rucksack and revealing he’d brought a bottle of water inside it.
Once Mr Coin was gone, they relaxed a little. He was definitely the grooviest obscure fact knowing, probably drug addicted, Physicist in the school- “Mr Andrews is groovier but not as likely to be a druggy,” Sophie pointed out- but he could be a little overbearing, especially when engaging his passion; Dungeons and Dragons.
“So?” Sophie said. “What does everyone think?”
“I think I could be at home making a revision guide right now.” Chris replied.
“Oh, don’t be such a spoil sport.” Steven shook his head. “If we find the sunsword, we can slay Strahd once and for all and finally the people of Baldur’s Fence will be free of tyranny. They’ll love us!”
“But the examiners won’t when we don’t know what carbon capture is.” Freya pointed out.
“Do we even need to know what carbon capture is?” Steven asked.
“He’s only asking that because he doesn’t know what it is.” Sophie said.
“No I’m not.” Steven paused then added, “What is it?”
“It’s when they pump carbon dioxide underneath fields instead of into the atmosphere.” Ali said. “I know that because I’ve been revising.”
“I’ve been revising!” Steven protested. “Just… not necessarily the right bit.”
“What?” Chris frowned.
Sophie laughed. “He revised Unit 2 instead of Unit 1.”
“What, seriously?” Ali grinned.
“It’s an easy mistake to make!” Steven cried. “And, anyway, we’ve got a Unit 2 exam soon enough so I’m just ahead.”
“You’re such an idiot.” Sophie added, shaking her head.
“I’m not an idiot! I have a +2 intelligence modifier.”
“And I have a +2 strength modifier but I couldn’t pick up a car!” Chris argued. “Well, not unless I’ve eaten a Jaffa Cake.”
Elsewhere, Mr Coin was working his way down M-Block corridor. He rubbed his hands together malevolently in that way that only evil villains could. He had concocted a rather complex plan on how he could capture the five heroes, involving an electric violin, endless repeats of QI and the zeroth law of thermodynamics but in the end it hadn’t been necessary. Miss Francis had saved him all the time in the world. His ginger facial hair curled in smug satisfaction.
On the day of the explosion, he’d been teaching a class of Year Seven students. The idea repulsed him, how dare they be so young, but he’d got on with it. He’d been in the process of explaining Everett’s multiple world interpretation- it was meant to be a Biology lesson but he didn’t want to be accused of boring the students to death- when the radioactive explosion had launched him across the room, smashing him into the far wall. When he woke up in the hospital bed, he felt fine. The doctors analysed him, said there was no apparent damage except for a broken nose. It was when he’d got home that he realised what powers he’d gained. That night, as he’d sat there in his basement, fragmented until he barely even remained, the voice speaking to him, grinding into his mind. The Camel God, whispering his instructions. He wanted to return and who was Mr Coin to refuse a deity his demand?
He needed a way to communicate with the Camel God now, to tell him the trap was sprung. If he had time, he’d create a portal, a small one, just to share the message. It was the only way they could talk inconspicuously, unless he wanted to tear a hole in the fabric of reality. He’d have to invent something for it, some easier method of communication.
“Hey, Jon!” Cried a voice from up the corridor, with it gave the pad of hearty footsteps as the speaker approached.
Mr Coin stopped and wished the explosion had given him the power to incinerate people with nothing more than a thought. Realising wishing would get him nowhere, Coin turned and smiled. It was Mr King, the school’s Principal. “Ah, Marcus. How can I help you?”
“I was just wondering if you wouldn’t mind signing a card for Mr Andrews?” Mr King smiled. “It’s approaching four months since the explosion.”
“Yes, yes of course.” Mr Coin sighed. “Is he showing any signs of waking up?”
Mr King shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I was speaking to the nurses at the weekend. They’re thinking of moving him to a different facility, clear up the wards. The good news is that he isn’t on a ventilator, just in a coma. If it was anymore than that, well, they’d have to consider switching it off.”
“He’ll pull through, Marcus.” Mr Coin said, scrawling his best wishes onto the card. “He’s a stubborn old sod, is our Mr Andrews. He’ll be just fine.”
“I hope so.” Mr King said. “I’m going to do an assembly on it next Monday, which you’re more than welcome to attend if you’d like.”
“I’ll try to make it.” Mr Coin smiled, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to. By then, the Camel God would have risen and the world, as they knew it, would be over. As he walked off, Coin chuckled to himself. The Camel God had told him how to construct his instrument, the Doorway Aligner, via secret whisperings in the dead of night. He would collect it from its hiding place in the new Science Block and then he would begin his conquest of the multiverse. The Convergence could begin.
“What’s taking Mr Coin so long?” Steven frowned.
“I’m not complaining.” Ali said. “If we have to do any more RPGing tonight, I think I might roll attack on myself.”
“Are you really not enjoying it?” Sophie asked. “I love it.”
“It’s just not my kind of thing.” Ali shrugged. “How about you two? Freya? Chris?”
“I’m indifferent.” Chris said.
“No, you’re very different, Christopher.” Steven grinned.
“It’s alright,” Freya said, “but I wish I could be at home revising. We’ve got so many exams and I want to be prepared.”
“Come on, Frey!” Sophie replied. “You’re like the cleverest person in the room, no offence you lot, in the school even! A couple hours hanging around with your friends isn’t going to make a difference.”
Freya laughed, a really cynical laugh. “I’m really not that clever.”
“She says, having never got anything lower than a Grade Nine.” Steven exaggerated his point, but only just.
Freya scowled at him then sighed. “If Mr Coin isn’t back in half an hour, I’m going. I’ve got Biology to revise for tonight and if I don’t keep to my schedule, I’ll get behind.”
“You think you’re behind?” Ali said. “Steven’s revising Chemistry for the Biology exam.”
“Oh shut up!” Steven cried. “It was an easy mistake to make!”
At that point, the door exploded open and Mr Coin ran in. He was wearing a trailing cape of shimmering purple and had blue and red goggles, not unlike the ones that Sophie wore as part of her Lucky Cat costume, over his eyes. In his hands, he had what could only be described as a gatling gun, but with each barrel containing a glowing crystal. There were electrodes on wires trailing off the handle of the gun and connecting to his forehead.
“Praise the Humped One.” He whispered and squeezed down on the trigger.
The heroes leapt up, Ali smashing the table out of the way with the force she gained from her increased speed. Steven summoned a shield and Sophie changed the probability of the blast hitting them. “Freya! Freeze him!” She cried.
Freya raised her hands, concentrating as much as she could, summoning the powers she’d gained from that explosion. The powers were difficult to control; she had to grab hold of the reality around them, command an entire dimension. She reached, between the planes of existence, trying as hard as she could, allowing the energy to flow through her, but it didn’t work.
Time did not stop. A bright flash of energy flowed from Coin’s Doorway Aligner. The world around them seemed to warp, seemed to bubble, then there was a bang and they were gone…
The light was golden as it shimmered between the leaves, sparkling across the ground and glinting on the dew. Shadows were cast every which way, long black straps resulting from the reaching claws of the trees. A rabbit hopped along, minding its own business, its buck teeth nibbling on the blades of grass and the finer plants, the greater delicacies that nestled amongst the vegetation. Its ears were long, its fur grey, its tail fluffy. It was having a perfectly ordinary day.
Then, quite suddenly, there was a strange humming in the air. Its fur began to rise, as if a acetate rod had been rubbed against it and transferred electrons. Its eyes widened. If it had a pair of eyebrows, it would have frowned.
There was a bright flash of energy, lightning bolts striking off in all directions, and then the air seemed to warp. Large bubbles spread out from the air, inflating, growing, and then there was a bang. The rabbit was blasted back through the forest. It blacked out for a few seconds but when it regained consciousness, it wondered if it was not still dreaming. Lying, on a huge blackened patch on the floor, were a group of teenagers.
One of them sat up, blinked a few times and then picked up the sword to his side. He clambered to his feet, despite a slight dizziness in his head, and turned around, pointing his sword between the trees, worried that Mr Coin might still be waiting for him. When he was sure that he wasn’t, he shouted, “Guys! Get up! I think we’ve teleported or something.”
Sophie sat up. “Teleportation is impossible, except for with individual particles (potentially), and even then you need a entangled quantum states and we haven’t been put in trucks to be driven to wherever the heck we are.” She paused. “It was a lot simpler when Mr Andrews taught me.”
“How many science lectures has he given you?” Steven frowned. “You’re like a little Brian Cox but with better hair.”
“Despite the hair comment, I am still more offended than I have ever been in my life.” She said.
“He natters to her in Tutor.” Freya said. “They’re best friends.”
“I am no longer offended!” Sophie exclaimed. A massive grin crossed her face. “Me and Mr Andrews are best friends.”
Steven knelt down and grabbed Chris’ arm, pulling him up. “You alright, Captain?”
“I’m not the Captain unless I’ve eaten the Jaffa Cake.” He sighed. There was something despondent in his eyes. Steven decided to mention it later; they had more pressing matters to concentrate on.
“Where are we?” Sophie asked, looking around. They were stood in a clearing, large trees of thick brown oak rising up around them. The ground was covered in grass, black streaks spreading away from them. There was a fried rabbit just beyond the nearest trees, looking at them bemusedly. Sophie wasn’t entirely sure how she could tell the animal’s emotions but she suspected it was something to do with the wrinkling of its adorable little nose.
“I don’t know but I’m doubting it’s Beacon Fell.” Steven said, looking around, frowning. “That gun that Mr Coin had, could it have been a teleporter? He’s a physicist by degree, isn’t he? Is it possible the explosion could have given him the intellect to build one?”
“It’s unlikely.” Sophie shrugged. “According to current ideas, the only way teleportation could be carried out would be by taking two particles, and we’re talking atomic particles, it’s almost totally impossible to teleport a molecule, never mind a person, never mind five people! Anyway, you take your two particles, entangled them at a quantum level, then you have to move them apart, keep one particle in, say, Lab A and move the other to Lab B. Then you hook the two labs up with a phone that provides all your information and shizz like that. Then you transfer your information and some physicsy magic happened and, boopydeboop, the particle at B takes on the role of the particle A and…” She trailed off, as she saw the others were staring at her, slightly perplexed, slightly bored. “Basically, no. It’s really fudging impossible, and there’s no way he could fire some teleporty magic out of a gun.”
“I’m not going to argue with Professor Hawking over there,” Steven said, “but I can summon stuff with nothing more than a thought, so perhaps conventional physics should be ignored for now?”
“Whatever’s happened, Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in M-Block anymore.” Chris said, pointing up. “Look at the sky.”
“What about it?” Steven asked as they looked up, but then he saw it. “Oh, good golly gosh.”
The blue sky was perfectly blue, perfectly cloudy, but perhaps a little too sunny. Why, you might ask? Well, dear reader, this was because the sky held two suns.
“That’s a bright idea.” Sophie whispered.
“Guys, I’m so sorry.” Freya said. “I’m so, so sorry. This is all my fault! If my powers had just freaking worked like all yours, we wouldn’t even be in this mess.”
“I summoned a sword, Freya.” Steven said. “I brought a sword to a goddamn super science fiction cannon fight!”
Freya smiled for a brief second but shook her head. “The point is, if I just had more control over my powers, the five of us would be arresting Mr Coin and getting to the bottom of this, rather than just, just standing around here!”
“No.” Chris said. “The five of us aren’t just standing around here. Where’s Ali?”
They looked around and realised. The Flish was nowhere to be seen.
Birds twittered to each other, unaware of social media. The sun dazzled against a running river, twinkling and splashing over glittering stones, beset with quartz. In the woods, elves probably played, singing sweetly amongst their furry companions. The scene could have been a picture in an English Language exam, with the caption, “Write a description of this summer day’s scene.” To put it more bluntly, it was six hundred goggling tourists, three car parks and a garden centre off being a British natural beauty spot.
That is, of course, all true but for one small factor. There was a rock face, against which a waterfall of frothing white hydration roared on its way down to form the river. The spray from this water fall leapt through the hair, forming cross arched rainbows beneath the glare of the two suns. And this wasn’t the problem, indeed, the waterfall was as picturesque as the kingfishers and the flamboyant plants and the singing trees and the flowing river.
No, the problem was the gigantic tower of darkness that jutted out of the rock face like a pitchfork from a vicar’s chest. From its base, magma oozed like blood and from its peak, ravens and bats shrieked into the gloom of the tower’s dark recesses. It was the type of property that would leave priests needing exorcists, estate agents needing councillors and girl scouts delivering cookies with a tip and a, “Hope you’ve had a nice day!”
Deep within the bowels of that Lovecraftian construction, as much a tribute to gothic architecture as it was to darkness as a whole idea, was the grand hall. It was a chasm of a room, the walls cast in shadowy flames, black darkness flickering across engravings of ancient battles. The floor was a cold stone, the type that sent shivers through the spine, and in places it was strewn with straw. Besides that litter, there was also the presence of huge spouts of machinery, all cogs, levers, pulls and steampunk macgyvering. In the far distance, there was the sound of an electric violin playing but, despite its gloomy horror, that sound was far too modern to fit in.
Ali was sat in a cage. She was not a bird, so she did not appreciate that. The cage didn't have a seat, nor even a bed. Just a bit of straw. She wondered if the room had been a stable once, or perhaps it was run by scarecrows. Deciding that was probably not important, she set about trying to escape.
Her powers still worked fine, but despite all the acceleration she could must, there just wasn't enough force to smash through the bars. By the time she'd come to this conclusion, however, she'd smashed her head into the bars far too many times and felt slightly dizzy.
Summoning what little strength she had left, Ali pushed her back against the bars directly opposite the doorway. She concentrated on the door frame, tensed her muscles and then exploded into a haze, flying forward in a purple flash. Her shoulder smashed into the door way, exerting enough force on the lock to snap it. The door swung open and she stumbled out, just managing to slow herself enough to avoid smashing into the table in front. Solidifying again, Ali looked down at the top of the table. "Say hello to my little friend." She said to herself, picking up the gatling gun that Mr Coin had brandished. It was quite bulky and pleasantly sci-fi, with each barrel holding some sort of crystal and electrodes coming off the top of the gun, out of what looked like a small computer. There seemed not to be a safety- she'd seen enough American television to understand guns- so she picked it up and slid her finger into the trigger.
“I wouldn’t try that if I were you.” Said a voice from the far side of the room. She turned, pulling the gun with her as she did, and saw who was looking back at her. Mr Coin, in all his glory. It wasn’t for how malevolent he looked, she would label him a prat.
At the far end of the chasm of a hall was a stained glass window. It was positioned so that the sun shone through it in just the right way to project huge purple and golden glimmers in every direction. The image matched that of Mr Coin, descending down the three circular steps below the stained glass window and in front of what looked like an organ. He had the pan up to his neck, the bow carving back and forth, creating an incredible sound. The other sides of his neck were covered with huge Dracula-esque collars. A purple cloak spewed down from around his neck, forming a pool of glorious silk around his brogues. He wore a waist coat with his blue trousers, as he always did, except these looked a little more professional than the ones he wore on a Wednesday, Period Three.
His cloak trailing behind him, Coin marched forward, still playing his violin, stalking until he reached Ali. The fiddling reached a crescendo and then, with a dramatic squeak, he finished and lowered the instrument. He fixed Ali with a stare, his ginger facial hair glinting in the light. “Let go of it.”
“Or nothing.” He said. “It only works for me, so you’ll just be stood there like an actor in a sci-fi flick, pretending to shoot.”
“Guns aren’t biometric.”
“It isn’t a gun.” Mr Coin shrugged. “It’s a Doorway Aligner.”
“I thought every teacher was an English teacher?” She frowned.
“Well, evidently, you weren’t in teacher college when they taught how to market stuff.” Ali said. “That’s the worst name ever.”
“It’s not bad! It’s really cool!”
“It sounds like something from Classic Doctor Who.”
“Exactly! It’s so cool.” He paused and sighed. “The youth of today, no appreciation for the finer things.”
“What is it?” Ali asked, looking it over and then placing it back onto the table. She had no idea how she was remaining so calm but she wasn’t going to question it; the calmness was good.
“It’s exactly what it says on the tin. It takes the doorways between the universes and aligns them, to allow for simple and easy interversal travel.” He grinned. “Clever, isn’t it?”
“But there’s only one universe.” Ali said. “There can’t be anymore; that defies the whole meaning of the universe!”
“Someone doesn’t know Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation.” He said, almost mocking. “Or inflationary multiverse theory.”
“Actually, I do.” She said. The Flash Seasons 2 and 3 had introduced the idea and a quick Wikipedia search had educated her well enough. “But that’s science fiction.”
“So was hyperspeed.”
“It still is.”
He hummed for a second. “I really must publish my findings.”
“You’re completely mad!”
“Mad? No. I am a messenger of the Gods! My work will bring about the Convergence and the ends of these frightful days.” He grinned a manic grin. “Ali, the multiverse implies that there are infinite universes but I believe that there are only three of true import. One is our own, another is this one in which we talk, and the third is the Banished Dimension, home of my almighty lord.”
“Mr Coin, you’re talking nonsense!”
“Coin?” He laughed. “Jon Coin is dead! He was drowned beneath a sea of radiation, from which I awoke. I am the vessel, the mouthpiece of the reckoning, the mechanic of the Convergence. I am Dreamweaver!”
Sophie changed the probability of there being a series of signs pointing to the nearest settlement and Steven summoned some horses. Sophie had control over her powers and so the signs included numbers indicating the distance yet to go. Steven didn’t and so they got donkeys.
It took them about an hour to ride to the village, which was apparently called Fanderling. The town looked old; the stone buildings were dressed in scarlet ivy and the wooden buildings had begun to crack. There was a street down the centre, like the village was one from an old Western, except there were too many trees around the small settlement.
It gave way to a large drop at the end, which the heroes rode towards and looked down. The town of Fanderling spread out for countless miles, into a mixmatch of various farms, all contesting for space. It was almost patchwork in its tapestry of crops. With the two suns starting to dip into a yolky set, it was almost beautiful.
“I feel like I’m in Dungeons and Dragons.” Steven said.
“I love it.” Sophie replied.
“I’m so sorry.” Freya muttered.
Chris said nothing.
“Hey, you four. Dismount your mules and put your hands up.” Said a voice from behind them.
Freya, Chris and Sophie dismounted the donkeys. Steven fell off and very nearly broke his leg trying to get back up again. Once he had however, he assumed his role of gnomish bard and attempted a Charisma check. “Hail, fellow man. How can we helpeth ye?”
In the vernacular of Dungeons and Dragons, he rolled a natural one. Chris facepalmed.
“You talk funny, kid. What’re you doing in Fanderling, and where in the name of Fharlanghn did you get those asses?”
“Are you talking about my mates or the donkeys?” Steven asked.
Freya rolled her eyes and tried to take over. She might have got them into that mess but she could sure as hell try her best to get them out of it. “Sorry about him, your liege. We bought him as a fool but it turned out he’s got enough of a brain to speak.”
In the vernacular of Dungeons and Dragon, she rolled a natural twenty. The man, who was rotund in an imposing way, let out a raucous caw of a laugh. “I like you, young girl, I really do, but you don’t answer me questions. What are you doing in Fanderling?”
“We’re looking for our friend.” Freya said. “She’s about my height, blonde hair, perhaps a little cheeky at times. It’s possible she was kidnapped by a guy with ginger facial hair.”
“And a purple cape!” Steven added.
The man’s face lit up in horror. “You speak of the Mage, Dreamweaver! Be you not his slaves, I hope!”
“Nope, we’re not loyal to him one bit.” Freya said. “We want to stop him and rescue our friend.”
“Well, I cannae help you with that, my girl, but I can tell you who might.”
“Who?” She asked.
The man peered over each shoulder, conspiratorially. “You need the hermit on the outskirts of town. She’ll tell you where you can find the Mage.”
“Sidequest time!” Steven squealed. “Think of all the experience points.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “Thank you, sir. We’ll be on our way to see her.”
“Aye, well, you four be careful. She’s a mysterious wench, and an evil one at that. She speaks of other worlds and something she calls… the Highlighter.”
“What’s… what’s the Hermit’s name?” Freya asked.
“They call her Celia. Celia N. Carpenter.”
The Winter Highlighter. They all thought, with a gulp.
Tempus and the Lucky Cat galloped across the landscape, their donkeys' hoofbeats crushing the grass it didn’t manage to part. The suns had begun to sink behind the far horizon, which was composed entirely of bushy tree tops. Orange light oozed through the trees, an amber shine permeating the thick scattering of the forest.
They didn’t talk as they rode. It made Lucky Cat think of a school trip the two of them had been on a few years earlier. A five hour drive there and then back again yet they didn’t talk once. Arguably because Sophie had been asleep for most of it, but that was neither here nor there. There was a frostiness in the air and Sophie didn’t much like it.
Eventually, the donkeys came to a stop. They were at the very nearest fringes of the woods, where a cabin of cobbled stone was slowly sinking into the shadow combed ground. A lantern hung from the left of the door, an orange flame alight, flickering against the glass surrounding it.
“How do you want to do this?” Freya asked, clambering off her donkey.
“I don’t mind. Whatever’s best for you.” Sophie replied.
“Sophie, please, I really don’t mind.”
They both paused, stuck in the ultimate battle of politeness versus complete lack of self confidence. Sophie let out a brief laugh. “This is why we need Stephen. Even if he doesn’t think things through, at least he’s willing to put his ideas forward.” She paused and frowned. “Don’t tell him that I just complimented him. I couldn’t bare him to be that smug.”
Freya let a smile cross her face. “You and Steven are good friends aren’t you?”
“We all are. All four of us.” She paused for a second. “Is this why you’re not your usual chirpy self? Do you feel left out?”
“I don’t feel left out. And, more importantly, I’m fine. Just as chirpy as ever.”
“You can tell me if you’re not.”
“I’m fine, Sophie. I’m fine.”
“Good. Let’s go kick some English teacher ass.” Sophie said and gestured to the house.
They wandered over to the hut, leaving the donkeys to graze. Sophie splayed a hand and changed the probability of the door opening of its own accord. The sound it made as it did made the whole experience just a little bit spookier. Great, Freya thought.
She tensed herself as Sophie led them in. Unlike back at the Dungeons and Dragons club, she would be ready this time. If she needed to be.
There was a sudden explosion from their side. Freya through up her hands, trying to pause time. It was like trying to click Lego bricks together. Metaphorically, she had two on top of each other, between her thumb and index finger, the studs on top leaving their circular indentations in her skin. Except, as much as she might squeeze, she couldn’t get them to click together and hold. What was wrong with her? Why was it so difficult?
Luckily for them, the explosion had come from a cauldron. Hunched over it, half muttering, half cackling Macbeth quotations, was the wizened, crooked figure of their English teacher. She looked up in terror as she saw them, a green cloud parting around her head.
“Celia Carpenter?” Sophie asked, frowning.
The old woman stared at them for a moment and then her eyes widened. “Sophie? Sophie Khan? Freya Carter? What, what on Earth are you doing here?”
Mrs Carpenter stepped around the cauldron and inspected them. Under the light of the setting suns, they could make out their teacher, if not twenty years older than they'd known her. It was unnerving to see her so different yet so similar. For Sophie, who had developed a pathological hatred of English, it was unnerving to see her at all.
“How did you escape jail?” Freya asked, regretting her bluntness the instance she processed it.
“Jail? What are you on about?” She frowned. “God, how many years has it been since you were in my class? I’m afraid my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but you don’t look a day older. Miss envies your youth, she does.”
“Miss, how did you get here? Are you working with Mr Coin?”
“Mr Coin, dear? As in Jon Coin? I haven’t seen him in years.”
“How did you get here?” Sophie insisted, becoming almost irritated by her avoidance of the question.
“You’d think me ridiculous if I told you! I don’t think you’d believe me one bit, even you, Freya, with your wonderful creative writing.”
Freya frowned. She was, although too modest to admit it, brilliant at all aspects of English, except from creative writing. Something was afoot.
“Miss, we are desperate for information.” Sophie said. “Please tell us.”
She sighed. “I promise Miss isn’t going crazy, but, well, I was talking to Mr Taylor- we still meet up for coffee sometimes, even after all these years- about a couple of the funny stories from my other set. Then, all of a sudden, the door of the cafe explodes open and a gentlemen in 3D glasses and a purple cloak comes running in with one of those guns from the First World War. What are they called?”
“Gatling guns.” Freya said, who’d watched an anime set in the First World War and was an avid History student but knew the name of the gun because she was just generally aware of popular culture.
“Yes, exactly. This man came running in and shot me. The next thing, I woke up here. I haven’t seen Mr Taylor.” She paused for a second and then said, “You don’t reckon this is Heaven, do you?”
“It’s one possible interpretation.” Sophie said. “Can’t you build some Antithetic Gear? You made the staple gun and the ninja cue cards, right?”
“What are you on about, Sophie?” Mrs Carpenter frowned. “Ninja cue cards? What?”
“She doesn’t know about the Antithetic.” Sophie hissed to Freya.
“I noticed.” Freya hissed back, then turned to their teacher. “Miss, did this man in purple give you a name?”
“He called himself Dreamweaver. He said that he’s working on something miraculous in his castle but that, as soon as the doors were aligned, he would return me to my destiny.”
“His castle? Where’s that?” Sophie asked, not knowing if she really wanted an answer at all.
Back in the centre of Fanderling, Chris and Steven had been shown to a church and asked to wait for the girls to return. Steven reckoned their plan was to ransom Steven and Chris to Dreamweaver, should Sophie and Freya turn out to be working for them. Steven didn’t mind; the church was surprisingly comfortable for its gothic stylings.
Steven got up from his pew and observed the Stained Glass windows. They appeared to show some sort of tree, a big one with various branches coming off it. It looked almost familiar. He decided it’d come to mind soon enough.
“When the girls get back, are we going to get Ali from Dreamweaver, wherever he is?” Chris asked, his eyes concentrated on the hands pursed across his knees.
“You tell me, Cap.” Steven shrugged. “You make the big decisions.”
“Cap.” He let out a slightly amused humph. “I’m not the Captain.”
“What do you mean you’re not the Captain?” Steven frowned. “That’s your thing; Captain Jaffa Cake. Like I’m the Summoner.”
“You’re the Summoner, but I’m not Captain Jaffa Cake.” Chris sighed. His face was wrinkled up in a scowl. It was the type of scowl that often graced Graphics and Computer Science lessons, when a net or a programming task was a little too much. “For God’s sake, just end me.”
Steven frowned. “Chris? What's wrong?”
“It doesn’t matter.” He said and gestured up at the tree. If there was one way he knew of getting Steven off his case, it was to let Steven talk about something that interested him. “What do you reckon it is?”
“The only thing I can think of is this thing from Thor.”
“Yeah. You know the one with the Hammer?”
“Oh. I thought you meant the number.”
Steven sighed. His mispronunciation of the ‘Th’ sound was an ongoing problem. “Anyway, in that, there’s this thing about like a universal tree or something. It has some weird ass Norse name.”
“Which you could tell me, right?”
“No, of course not.” Steven lied, knowing he could bloody well spell Yggdrasil, never mind say it. “The point is that every branch is the pathway to another dimension or something. There’s Midgard and Asgard and Niflheim and Muspelheim and Alfheim and some other ones too. I don’t see why it’s in a church window, though. And, more importantly, why is it in a church window in a forest in the middle of nowhere?”
Chris sighed. “And why’s Mrs Carpenter here? And why’s Mr Coin trying to be a mage?”
“Why are the people being so primitive to think a mage is possible? It’s like we’re in Dungeons and Dragons.” He stopped, frowning. “Oh my god. What if we are?”
“What if we’re in a game of Dungeons and Dragons?”
“But, that doesn’t make any sense.” Chris frowned. “I mean, surely that’s impossible.”
“Says Captain Jaffa Cake.”
I’m not Captain bloody Jaffa Cake, he thought, and I never will be. “You know what I mean.”
The doors swung open and Sophie and Freya came running through. “Guys!” Freya cried. “We’ve got a theory.”
“It’s brilliant. Amazing even, and you know my feelings about the differences between those words.” Sophie said, a vocal announcer of her feelings between those two words. “Freya came up with it and it totally blew my mind!”
“That is the most Clickbaity exclamation I’ve ever heard.” Chris said.
“What’s the theory?” Steven asked.
Freya grinned. “This Mrs Carpenter seems pretty much the same as our Mrs Carpenter except for two major differences. One, she’s a lot older. Two, she never became the Antithetic and doesn’t seem to be aware that there was ever an explosion to hand out powers.”
“Like a generous Stan Lee.” Sophie added.
“So what are you thinking?” Chris asked.
“We’re thinking, what if this is a bubble universe?” Freya hypothesised. “Mrs Carpenter is plucked out of an parallel universe, we’re plucked out of ours and put here.”
“And here is what?” Chris asked, frowning.
“A fictional realm.” Steven whispered. “Coin’s going by the name Dreamweaver and he’s a Dungeon Master in DnD.”
“Who did his degree thesis on Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation.” Sophie said.
“We reckon he has the power to create new dimensions, or at least step between them.” Freya said. “And if he can do that, it gives him the ability to carry out multiversal domination. We have to stop him.”
“Let’s go, team.” Steven said. “Sounds like we need to save the world. Well, worlds. Well, universe. Well, universes. Universi? Multiverses?” "Multiverse." Sophie said, rolling her eyes. "Let's save the multiverse." Steven grinned.
The four of them ran towards the door of the church, ready to do just that. If any of them had turned around, they might have noticed the last of the light glinting through the window, revealing an image that hadn’t been visible up until then. It was of the true master, the puller of all the strings, the two humped, four legged deity that held all their fates in its jaw. It was an image of the Camel God and the door of its cage was beginning to be unlocked.
The sound of erratic electric violin playing haunted the grotesque halls of Coin’s castle. It was threatened only by the faint hum of ancient machinery. Ali was a geek, there was no denying this, and so she’d dabbled with lots of different comics over the years. One such comic was Hollow Earth, the first volume of the Bureau of Paranormal Defence’s adventures. She felt like she was in that. (I’m aware how vague a reference that is, but google it - Ed)
The point was, the gigantic castle was gothic in the extreme. The walls were carved from glittering obsidian, gigantic chandeliers of flickering ember swinging above her head as she strolled. There were flaming torches sat on either side of every door, the heads of which looked worryingly like skulls. She tried her best to ignore their fiery gaze.
Realising that none of his cages could hold her, Coin had let her free. He said he knew her primitive mind couldn’t risk destroying his plans or comprehend how impossible it was to escape. She had come very close to swearing at him, but instead sped off into the far distance.
The castle was expansive, she’d give Coin that for all his faults. On Chris’ Minecraft Server, Chris and Sophie had created a huge fortress (known as Lucky Catsie’s Castle) which they’d spent hours and hours working on yet, despite all that, Coin’s castle was still more impressive. Every room was the size of a mansion, the roofs vaulted and the walls intricately carved with immense detail. Every wall was adorned with lovingly painted complexities; she spent four hours staring at an impression of a Lowry painting, only to realise that every face in the gigantic crowd had been replaced with that of students from Gilliam High.
The violin playing was growing louder all the still so Ali decided to investigate. She’d started off touring the castle at full speed, only breaking from the purple haze for momentary breaks before setting off once more. Now, however, as she began to hear her stomach grumble, Ali realised she couldn’t continue as she had been going. Instead, she walked her way to the grand hall and attempted to sneak between the huge spouts of technology. They were colossal machines, all cogs and chimneys mixed with Van De Graaff spheres and fizzing Tesla Coils. There were pulley systems hanging about that’d make Archimedes jealous. Ali didn’t pay attention to it, however, because she was too busy studying the cobbles under foot to ensure they didn’t move and alert Coin to her presence. Not that she’d expect him to be able to hear anything under the sound of that erratic violin.
As she reached the end of the machinery, Ali dropped to her knee and peered out at Coin. He was stood on the slightly raised platform at the front of the hall. In front of him, there was a huge frame beneath a velvet curtain, a golden rope ready to pull the curtain open. Light was shining through the stained glass above.
Suddenly, Coin stopped playing and placed the violin down on a table to his side. I say table, to Ali it looked more like an steampunk altar, half of it covered in a plethora of complicated levers, dials and different mechanisms. From a chair on the side, he picked up his purple cloak and slung it over his shoulders, then pulled on his 3D glasses. With a devilish stroke of his ginger goatee, he began to lecture an invisible audience.
“Tonight, we make history.” Coin said. “Oh, great lord of the Alternate Realm, for the first time since the Incident and since millennia before, I shall align the dimensions of the multiverse. The Convergence shall begin tonight and with it, the Camel God shall cometh!”
He grabbed the golden rope and yanked it. The crimson curtain fell away, revealing a frame on the other side. It was like a gigantic painting frame but strewn with coppery wires all hooked up to the tesla coils emerging from each block of technology. There was a winding lever to its side which he grabbed and began to revolve, lowering a gigantic projector from above. Ali felt like she was in a very steampunk version of the classrooms back at Gilliam High.
“Using my Infinite Doorway Aligner, I will break down the extra dimensional barriers and open a tunnel through which you, my great lord, can clamber. Your Realm can spill into ours and the ascension of humanity, of all the Multiverse’s peoples, will begin. Camel God, I summon you.”
He went to click on the projector block, presumably the Infinite Doorway Aligner, only to stop and frown. “Ali, I know you’ve been watching me all along, just as I know your friends are approaching on horseback as we speak. I control all in this realm. I know all.” He smiled, his beard sparkling. “I know that they will die just as easily as I summon the Camel God and thus ascend existence to its next plane.”
The Gang were approaching, but it wasn’t on horseback. No. Steven wasn’t quite that efficient. They approached on donkeys. He had managed to summon them a variety of Dungeons and Dragons based equipment too; swords, axes, a gigantic carpet and a Dungeon Master’s Guide that was thick enough to break a man’s skull with just one swing. They each took their weapons; Chris taking the carpet as a cape, Sophie the swords, Freya the axes and affectionately naming them Stabby and Slashy and Steven the book because books rocked his world. The donkeys groaned under the additional weight but thundered on regardless, towards the darkness of Dreamweaver’s Fortress of Shadows.
It was an imposing structure, a giant necromancer’s toothpick, protruding from the hill side like a sword from an octopus. “Any chance you can summon a diamond pickaxe?” Chris shouted as they rode towards the obsidian palace.
“I summoned a carpet earlier, Chris.” Steven replied. “Don’t push your luck.”
They rode on, brave and valiant, their donkeys winding up the jagged path that lined the cliff face and then onto the top where the trees became thin and the tower loomed closer. The path became so thin now that they had to pull into a quadrant, Steven and Sophie taking the lead and Freya and Chris behind.
“Hey, Chris,” Freya said, pulling her donkey a little closer so they could hear each other over the howling winds, “Chris!”
The illustrious leader of their small team snapped out of the dark recesses of his mind that he’d evidently fallen into and turned to her. “Sorry.” He replied. “I was just… thinking. You alright?”
“Yeah, as long as you are.” She said. “You looked like you’d just discovered the secrets of the universe.”
“Wouldn’t I look happy if I’d done that?” He frowned. “My glands would be secreting happy endorphins had I done that.”
To celebrate his pun, Chris graced her with double finger guns, only to realise how bloody terrifying such an incident is for all involved when you’re meant to be steering a donkey with both hands. He quickly took hold of the reins again.
“You know what I mean. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He said. “Just, storming a massive castle isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.”
“Yeah, but you’ll be fine. You’re Captain Jaffa Cake.”
“But I’m not though, am I?” Chris replied.
Chris sighed. He didn’t like talking to Freya because he could trust her and that opened him for all sorts of emotional outpourings. As a general rule, he wasn’t really into emotions that much. They weren’t a thing that often bothered him; sure, he got happy and laughed a lot but he didn’t let any of the other emotions get to him. It just wasn’t part of his character. (Which makes him bloody difficult to write - Ed.) “Look, you’ve got to promise not to tell Sophie and Steven. I love them both, of course, but the idea of Sophie knowing anything about my emotional state deeply unnerves me and I’m the one that Steven goes to when he’s feeling emotionally needy, not the other way round.”
“Chris, what’s this about?” Freya asked, frowning.
“Thanks. The point is, well.” He paused. “How do I word this?”
“Slowly and calmly.” She smiled, unsure how she was being so sage about the whole thing.
Chris took a few moments to get his thoughts together and then said, “Sophie is Lucky Cat, isn’t she? She can control probability anytime she likes. Same with Steven. He’s the Summoner. He can summon whatever whenever, albeit it not very well but still. There’s nothing stopping him from doing it. Then there’s Ali. She can go at the speed of sound with the click of her fingers. She doesn’t need to put on the costume. And you, you can stop time at the drop of a hat, then pick up the hat and carry it to the other side of the room before pressing play. You’re constantly Tempus. Tempus is part of you.” He sighed. “Me on the other side. I’m Chris Rogers. I’m just a computer scientist with puns and revision guides and quirkiness, right? Then, I eat a Jaffa Cake and BOOM! Captain Jaffa Cake is there, looking handsome and bold, ready to save the world. But that's not me. That’s a different guy. We can say he’s my inner persona all we like but we both know it’s not true. When Mr Phillips is showing me one of Bessie’s screens with pictures of us on, I see you, I see Sophie and Steven, I see Ali and then I see some other guy who looks a bit like me. You guys are superheroes. I’m a kid who has to become someone entirely different before I can actually do anything. Look at me now. All you guys, limbering up, getting ready to kick ass with your powers and I’m sat here useless because I haven’t had a stupid little biscuit. I’m a fraud. A liar. I might as well not even be here.”
“You would say that.”
“No, Chris. I mean it.” She said. “Jaffa Cakes aren’t biscuits.”
Chris let a smile spread across his unusually sombre face.
“And anyway, the rest of it's nonsense too. Steven, Sophie and Ali might have their powers all round the clock but we don’t.” She sighed in the same regretful strain as Steven had. It was her typical policy to listen to other people talking and only offer her opinion when she absolutely sure it wouldn’t conflict against anyone else’s. (They didn’t want a repeat of the collarbone incident* now, did they?) Now, however, Chris was in need and so it was her duty to venture her experiences. “Back in DnD club, I could have stopped that entire thing if I’d frozen time. But I didn’t. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn’t freeze time. My powers didn’t work. Then I tried again when me and Sophie went to see Mrs Carpenter but it didn’t work then, either. I don’t know if I’ve lost my powers or just my proficiency with them but I’m just as useless as you might feel right now.”
“That’s your excuse for being useless?” Chris frowned. “For giving in? Are you being serious?”
A voice in Freya’s head reminded her this was why she didn’t usually share her vulnerabilities. “Yes. Yes, it fudging is. I’ve got no confidence for these things anymore!”
“Freya, you are the best exam taker I know. Seriously, I go into exams wishing I was half as capable as you. Steven does, Sophie does, half the bloody year group does. The other half is too busy being too drunk or too high to know who you are or that they’re in an exam but that’s not the point.” He let a fleeting smile grace his lips. “The point is that when Mrs Vault is being a cow, you don’t give up after two questions. When the Maths papers are killing us, you don’t refuse to turn up to paper three because papers one and two kicked your ass. This is just like an exam, but with more psychopathic, reality altering, mad quantum physicists running around. Just because you didn’t do as well as you’d like in the mocks doesn’t mean you’re going to fail the final exam.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Of course I do.” He smiled, his voice sinking to its maximally reassuring tone. “You’re amazing, Freya. Don’t let a little thing like crippling situational anxiety and a lack of all confidence get in your way.”
“You ask me, you don’t need a biscuit to be a superhero.”
“I can’t tell if that’s you trying to be reassuring or pointing out the fallacy of the situation because Jaffa Cakes aren’t biscuits.”
“Don’t ruin the moment.”
“This is a surprisingly long stretch of path.” Chris frowned and looked up, just in time to notice a flaming boulder being flung from the top of the tower.
“Duck!” Steven screamed, trying to summon Entropy Elephant (yeah, you’d forgotten about him! So had we. - Ed) to put the fire out, but it was too late.
“Where?” Sophie frowned, then changed the probability of the flaming boulder missing them. It rolled a natural one in its range check and flew straight over them, instead crashing into the road and slinging up a spray of glowing pebbles in all directions.
“That was a warm reception.” Chris said, and resisted the need for finger guns.
*Don’t ask - Ed
Inside the castle, Mr Coin cursed. He stepped down from the platform, his cape flowing out from behind him as he did. Marching, with impeccable style, over towards Ali, he grabbed her by the throat and lifted her up. For a geek, he was surprisingly strong.
“Come on, Flish.” He sneered. “You will play your part in the Convergence now, rather than later! Oh Camel God, great lord of the Alternate Realm, hear my call! We begin our work towards the alignment of the worlds now!”
He carried her around some of the machinery until they reached the space between one of the far walls and a machine that looked suspiciously like a hamster wheel. “Get in.” Mr Coin said.
“No!” She cried. “Do I look like a flipping hamster?”
He looked her up and down. “A little bit, yeah. It’s the way your cheeks bulge when you’re laughing.”
She made noises at him frustratedly, finally managing to string together some words. “That is a horrible thing to say! There is no way I’m going to help you if you talk like that! Ugh! You horrible person.”
“Ali Grant, if you do not step into that hamster wheel right now and help me carry out my plans of multiversal domination, I will be very annoyed, bordering on moderately upset.” Realising that probably wouldn’t work, he added, “And I’ll kill your sister.”
“You wouldn’t do that, Mr Coin.”
“I am not Jon Coin. I am Dreamweaver and you will do as I say or I will spill your sister’s blood in sacrifice to the Camel God.”
There was something about the blazing eyes beneath his 3D glasses that made Ali reconsider being cheeky again. Solemnly, she stepped into the hamster wheel and began to run.
“Good.” He said. “Keep going until the multiverse is aligned and the Camel God has returned!”
With that, he melodramatically swept his cape to the side and marched down the length of the hall to a pair of very small doors. They opened under his touch and allowed him out onto the balcony that overlooked the path the Gang were approaching along. He flung a flaming boulder at them but when that failed he decided he’d need to do something just slightly more impressive. Thinking about it for a second, he decided that he had complete control over the Physics and Geology of the world they stood in. He could do whatever he wanted to it and they wouldn’t be able to complain.
With that, the Dreamweaver wove nightmares.
Around the Gang, still galloping along the clifftop peninsula, the ground began to crumble and contort. Cracks spread out, huge black scars, like two dimensional lightning strikes. From the growing fissures, dust and gas hissed in violent release. In some places, magma was thrown up, becoming lava as it was observed. Sophie thought of Schrödinger’s Volcano. Steven thought of a Boomtown Rats parody a Geography teacher had once shown him about pyroclastic flows.
There was a growling from the floor beneath them; it had already been shaking but now it positively quaked, a ripple passing through it and threatening to uproot the donkeys from where they galloped. It was followed by a tremor of immense proportions so powerfully rich, so chaotically deep that it could only be a roar. There were creatures swirling around them and they were growing stronger by the second.
“Sophie!” Chris cried. “What’s the plan?”
Before she reply, there was a rip-roaring explosion from their side and a gigantic Empire-Strikes-Back style worm monster exploded from the ground.
“Oh god.” Sophie cried. “We’ll be worm out before we even get there.”
“Now isn’t the time for puns!” Freya cried.
Suddenly, the ground on the other side of the path was beginning to rumble too. It fractured and crumbled, spewing up dust clouds full of debris. More of the worm creatures began to spew out, one head then another and another. It was like a nightmarish realisation of the elephant’s toothpaste experiment. Their bodies were long and cylindrical, disguised by evolution to look like scales but in all truth as weak as creatures that spent their entire lives away from danger could allow.
On the other hand, the massive gaping jaws filled with spindly, gleaming teeth didn’t look as if they were a result of logical evolution either.
One of the worms suddenly lunged towards the centre pathway, its mouth stretching open so wide it could engulf all four of them in one go. “DUCK!” Steven shouted at the top of his voice. The Gang threw themselves into their donkeys, the worm roaring over them, its hide rubbing against their backs. Dirt trickled down and then, suddenly, the worms were burying themselves once more in the ground on the other side, forming a huge, muscular loop over the heroes.
In such a situation, there are two possible scenarios. One is that the donkeys stop running, frozen to the spot with fear. The other is that the donkeys run quicker because they’re so terrified. It was the latter that happened, with the donkeys thundering on and neighing with anger as they did.
Despite this, the worms followed, terrible roars bursting forth from their lungs as they rampaged through the air. Some of them, arching over the path and then digging down deeper into the ground, began to burrow further and constricted around the pathway until it was torn in two. The leg of Chris’ donkey was sucked into the crush, snapping it and sending Chris, carpet and everything else sprawling.
“Chris!” Freya cried, as another worm caught sense of him and reversed its path, turning around and opening its jaw wider than Physics suggested was possible. Coin was in charge of this world; he set the laws of Physics here.
The worm roared towards him. Chris placed the carpet above his head, tried to hide himself from his unending peril. His last thought wasn’t of fear, wasn’t of the fact that Captain Jaffa Cake could probably have got him out of there. The thought was of a new friend he’d just made on the Minecraft server and how he’d probably never get to talk to her again.
Then suddenly Freya was there, stood atop her donkey, twin axes swirling through her hands. She leapt off, swinging through the air, both axes raised to the heavens, her knees bent as she sailed. The blades bit into terrible worm flesh, cutting like a hot knife through butter. The worm screamed, beginning to fit in fatal agony. Within an instant, it had lost all life and died, falling away into the dark realms from whence it came.
Freya swung off her donkey and, although she kept one hand on the reins so it wouldn’t run off, she offered her other hand to the fallen Captain in order to help him up. “I’m assuming you missed that, right?”
She sighed. “Why does no one ever see my badassery?”
Helping him up, the two of them turned around to return to the battle, just in time to see two more of Coin’s flaming boulders soaring towards them.
Coin, stood on his balcony, laughed to himself. Gas worms were one of his favourite inventions, created in a Dungeons and Dragons session during his university years to deal with a player whose immediate reaction was to set everything on fire. To bring them to life now, well, it was his greatest privilege. He threw the flaming boulder towards it, excited to see the old monster in action.
The flaming boulder hit the gas worm and tore through its flesh. Then it met the gas that acted inside it as blood. “Oh shoot.” Freya had time to say before the entire thing grew into a gigantic explosion.
“Keep riding!” Sophie shouted to Steven, even though she knew two of her friends might have died. She couldn’t think about that, she couldn’t think about them being torn apart in a huge ball of fire, their bodies nothing more than ashen remains, char hanging limply from roasted skeletons. They had to save Ali now. That was all they had left.
The fire from the nearest gas worm spread to the next and the next. The writhing archways surrounding our heroes suddenly erupted into crimson streaks of powerful amber. The heat was tangible, the sweat rolling down their faces evaporating as it did. The ground was scorched. The donkeys brayed in terror. Shock waves rolled out in all directions and, on them, the most incredible sight Coin had ever seen was carried a loft.
Chris was holding both sides of the massive carpet as it was carried aloft by the force of the shock waves. Freya clung to his back, as Physics demanded they kept their mass concentration to the same area. It worked quite well, actually, as the carpet began to act like a hang glider, delivering them through the air and towards the balcony where Dreamweaver was waiting for them.
“Hey!” Steven cried from below. “Freya!”
Freya looked down, just in time to see the Dungeon Master’s guide flying towards her. She managed to catch it, slipping it into her pocket and returning her grasp to Chris before falling. “Can you go any faster?”
“Not unless you’ve got a propellor with you.” He replied.
And with that, the two of them flew slowly towards the balcony of Dreamweaver’s castle. The Physics teacher laughed and spun, his purple cape spiralling out behind him. He was ready to finish the Convergence and he wasn’t going to let a couple of teenagers stop him.
They burst through the window as Dreamweaver made his way towards the raised podium.
“Mr Coin!” Freya cried. “Stop in the name of justice!”
“I’ll go find Ali.” Chris hissed and began to dart away, but not before draping the carpet back around his shoulders and taking the Dungeon Master’s Guide from Freya.
Dreamweaver turned, as menacingly as he could, and cried, “How do you expect to stop me, Freya Carter? I am the Lord of this Dimension, the Master of this Reality. I am Dream-”
Freya reached to her sides and took hold of Slashy and Stabby. “I’m sorry to cut you off but I don’t think your plan is cut out for this.”
“The same pun twice.” Dreamweaver replied. “I think I’ll be more imaginative in killing you.”
“We’ll see about that.” Freya replied, and raced towards him, axes brandished.
Dreamweaver threw out his hands and axes that looked a lot bigger than Freya’s appeared in them. As she approached, he swept out with one of his. Sparks bounced as the two metal heads collided. Freya stepped back, ducked a large swing and ran beneath Dreamweaver’s flowing cape. Passing behind him, unseen, she swung her axe towards him again but he was in control of his dimension and knew where she was immediately. He spun just in time to catch the attack with his axe, knocking it away and laughing evilly. “I am too powerful!” He cried, dropping an axe and using the empty hand to send a shock wave blasting through the air towards her. “You will never beat me!”
As Freya flew through the air, she had a sudden mental image. A question on Maths Paper One (Non Calculator.) Circle theorems. She’d looked at it, unable to comprehend what it was asking her to do, never mind actually do it. That night, when she’d got home, she’d revised Circle Theorems more than any other topic, probably recklessly so. It resulted in her not having a clue what to do the next day on Paper Two, when a question on angles in parallel lines came up. She revised that too, alongside Circle Theorems. Then, on the third day, she’d done Paper Three. The last question, six marks, was on both Circle Theorems and angles in parallel lines. She’d got full marks on that question. If she could do that, why couldn’t she do this? Coin wasn’t too powerful; he was too arrogant.
Freya hit the floor and snapped out of her flashback, rolling across the cobbles, bloodying her nose in the process. She sat up, cartoon birds swirling around her. Trying to get to her feet, she became increasingly dizzy but she had to. She couldn’t let him win.
He’d taught them back in Year Nine and, although he was wonderful teacher, he wasn’t a wonderful teacher of the curriculum. Sure, they’d learnt about quantum teleportation and Multiple World Interpretation but they hadn’t learnt about volcanoes and so they’d all failed their exams. Maybe now was the time to get him talking about something he was interested in. “Why Mrs Carpenter?” Freya asked, clambering to her feet. “Why did you bring Mrs Carpenter to this dimension?”
“The same reason I brought you to this dimension.” He said. “The same reason I brought Mr Jordan and Miss Boseman* and all the others.”
(*Miss Boseman was their Biology teacher who, for some reason, turned into a minator and went on burger rampages. They called her the Beefalo.)
“But what’s the reason?" Freya frowned. “Why?”
“Because the Camel God demanded it.” Dreamweaver said, obviously pleased to have an audience. “He needs an army of superpowered humans to support him ascend this world. For reasons that not even the deep logicians of the Chaos Theory can comprehend, beings who can control such power have conglomerated at Gilliam High. Other people would have been sickened by a radioactive explosion, vaporised even, but not we. We gained powers and those powers will allow the Camel God’s ascension.”
“But why didn’t Mrs Carpenter recognise us?” Freya asked. Come on, keep him talking whilst you get yourself working. It’s just like two Lego Bricks, needing to click into place. Mentally, she pushed the metaphorical, Danish playthings together with all her might.
“Because she is not your Mrs Carpenter, just as Mr Jordan isn’t your Mr Jordan. The high security prison you’ve had them sent to is unescapable, even to me, a master of reality. I had to take versions of the teachers from other dimensions, where they are yet to gain their abilities. I’m sure, however, that the Camel God won’t mind bestowing their powers once more.”
She would have questioned that last statement. Surely the Camel God couldn’t be the source of their powers, whoever he was, but it was too late. The metaphorical Lego Bricks were putty in her hands. She ran towards Dreamweaver, axes raised. He sighed and began to assume a defensive pose, when suddenly he found he couldn’t.
Click. The bricks pressed together and time stood still.
Freya ran to him and dug her axe into his, snapping it in half. The sudden force of collision knocked her concentration and time unfroze but the damage was done and she was able to jump out of the way as he tried to grab her.
Spinning round mid run, she swirled her axes and threw one towards him. He leapt up, avoiding the axe’s path as it carved through the air below his legs and she paused time with him levitating. She didn’t know how long she could hold those metaphorical bricks together, it was like there was a force inside them pushing to get out, but it didn’t matter. She was quick.
Grabbing his cape, she lifted it up and trapped it against a beam hanging from the room using her axe. Then she ran into the machinery, doing her best to hold time still but ready to let Dreamweaver swing whenever she needed to.
If only she’d looked at the portal. She might have seen the form of a demonic entity, all glowing colours and malevolence, slowly pressing to the front, seemingly unaffected by the metaphorical bricks clicking together.
Chris was unaffected by the time freeze. That was probably the best thing about being a superhero in his opinion: a level of immunity to his friends’ abilities. He ran through the machinery, terrified, heart thudding. For all he knew, Ali might be dead, might be tortured and disemboweled. He wasn’t entirely sure what he would do in such a situation but the notion didn’t really please him. He prayed to whatever Gods people generally prayed to in desperate hope he wouldn’t be presented with such a reality.
The Gods evidently answered his prayers for, instead of Ali’s corpse, he found a gigantic hamster wheel with his friend running around it. “Ali!” He cried, grinning. A frown crossed his head as he looked at the wheel. “I don’t mean to ham-stare but what’s going on?”
“Why?” She replied, her voice pained and slogged but probably from the pun rather than the exertion. “Why would you make that joke?”
“I’m just trying to lighten the situation,” Chris replied. “Can you slow down?”
“No.” She said. “I’ve tried but there’s just too much momentum or something. I can’t stop!”
“Then I’m going to have to stop you.”
“Could you eat a Jaffa Cake first? No offence.”
Chris ignored it (or rather, he allowed it to niggle at him from his subconscious rather than from the rest of his brain) and stared at the set up. The hamster wheel was built into a massive block of machinery, an axle down the centre controlling its movement. There was probably a dynamo on the other side, transferring the kinetic energy into electrical. Wires ran from a box on top of the machine to the projector like object pointing at the huge frame with the pandimensional portal in it. Despite being a Computer Science prodigy, Chris realised that he knew very little when it came to extra dimensional travel machine terminology.
If he could break the dynamo, perhaps it would jam the entire system and stop the wheel? He cursed. It was a rubbish idea and he knew it. If only he had some kind of guide to this mad world of Coin’s, some kind of rule book. Suddenly he realised the weight in his hand. He looked down and grinned. He’d always hated Dungeons and Dragons.
Stepping forward, he jammed the Dungeon Master’s Guide into the space between the wheel and the wall it was sat in. The wheel stopped moving instantly, throwing Ali into the axle and knocking her to the ground. She managed to regain consciousness for long enough, however, to clamber out of the wheel and down to the ground.
“My hero.” She said, frowning at Chris. “Superman wouldn’t have let me hurt my head.”
“I’m not Superman.” Chris replied.
Suddenly, Freya burst around the corner. “I can’t hold it any longer.” She said and exhaled. It was hard to ignore the rivulet of blood running down from her right nostril.
Time began to flow again, yet the portal didn’t die away.
“I must have generated so much electricity it began to store it!” Ali cried. “Damn!”
“We need to do something, Chris.” Freya said, although she sounded slightly dazed as she spoke.
Chris frowned. What could he do? He was just a lanky Computer Science student from the North West of England. He had no powers, no talents. How was he meant to stop a gigantic extra-dimensional machine. Then he suddenly realised. “It’s just a massive computer. I can do computers.”
“The control panel is near to the portal!” Ali cried. “Come on!”
The three of them ran out of the machinery and over towards the control panel. It was slightly more complicated than your average Windows PC but the plethora of levers, dials, displays, plungers and general stuff didn’t matter when they considered what was straight in front of them. An On/Off switch.
“Do it, Chris!” Freya cried. Inside the golden frame, the portal was beginning to swirl more and more powerfully, bright colours oozing out like a rainbow on steroids. “Quickly!”
“Stop right there!” Dreamweaver cried. There was the tear of material and he fell from where his cape had suspended him. Raising both hands, he summoned machine guns. “One further move and I’ll blow you both to Hell.”
“At least there will be something left of them to go to Hell.” Said a voice from behind him. “I’m the goddamn Summoner and I’ve summoned a Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Launcher (Pocket Edition.) This is Lucky Cat. She’s going to make it bloody certainty that only you get vaporised. So I’d put down the guns if I were you.”
Dreamweaver turned and saw, sure enough, Steven and Sophie standing at the balcony, carrying between them a huge rocket launcher with the red tip of a miniature nuclear missile emerging. Sophie shrugged. “You shouldn’t have gone on that lecture about the H-Bomb when you were meant to be teaching us about Nuclear Fission, sir.”
Dreamweaver sighed and dropped the guns. “Flick the off switch, Rogers. I’ll program it to take us back home.”
The projector like machine was called an Infinite Doorway Aligner. Coin programmed it to align only the doorways that would lead them home. It did just that, the portal firing up in glorious blue. The six of them walked through and emerged, from an orange glow on the other side, in M9, the Geography classroom where the whole thing had begun.
Character sheets and dice were scattered all across the floor from the proceeding commotion. The model of the cave system, with red paper applied to the trees Chris had burnt, was crushed and destroyed. The Gang, however, were home safe and that was all that mattered.
Mr Phillips came up when Chris emailed him, using his reiterative abilities to undo everything Dreamweaver had done. The alternate dimensional versions of their teachers were sent back to the right domains with no memory of their experiences. M9 was returned to its former glory and Coin’s portable Doorway Aligner was destroyed.
Men in black suits turned up to arrest Dreamweaver. They asked no questions and gave no thanks. The Gang didn’t mind so much; they were the heroes Gilliam High deserved, regardless of whether they were wanted.
The next morning, sat in the Upper School Dining Hall where Miss Francis had suggested they went to the club in the first place, Chris, Sophie, Steven and Freya laughed and joked about all the badassery that had occurred. “When Freya had the twin axes, though, and was going at the gas worms!” Chris cried. “Oh my, that was so cool!”
“And then the worms were exploding and it was mental!” Steven grinned. “Gas worms. Whoever came up with them must be a genius.”
“You would say that.” Sophie said.
Ali got to the doors and saw the four of them having fun, laughing. They’d had that adventure, without her. She didn’t know if she could bare to listen to it.
“Hey, Ali!” Cried a voice from behind her. She turned and frowned. Desmond Gilliam, the Big D, the grandson of the school’s founder. “You alright?”
“Yeah.” She said. “You?”
“Good, thanks. I meant to come find you yesterday but I forgot. Is it true you’ve got a Ouija Board?”
Ali laughed. “Yeah, my nan meant to buy an ironing board and she thought Ouija was the brand. Why?”
“Me and the Head Girl really wanted to have a go on one and, well, if you’ve got one, we wondered if you wanted to come, have a go with us.”
Ali looked at the others laughing and joking. They wouldn’t miss her. “Yeah, sure. You going to speak to her now?”
“I was planning to, yeah.”
“I’ll tag along.” Ali said, and walked with him, away from the Gang.
After Credits Scene:
High security prison. The walls were black, the uniforms were black. There was an atmosphere of palpable fear everywhere you went. In one of the cells was Donald Jordan, furiously scratching equations onto the walls in chalk. None of the guards knew how he got the chalk, but he did.
In solitary confinement, Celia Carpenter was reciting poetry for hours on end. It had begun to drive the staff mad, but not as much as it did when she asked them questions about real world events that had never happened. One of the guards had broken down in tears when she’d asked whether Japan still had the One Child Policy.
In another cell was the newest inmate. Jon Coin. He had kept mostly silent so far, with a distant look in his eyes as if he was staring into another dimension. Occasionally, he started rocking back and forth in his seat, shaking as he craved cigarettes and a return to the life he’d started taking for granted.
His hope was beginning to dwindle, his faith in the Camel God with it. Create the portal, the God had whispered, and all will go to plan. The world will be ascended and the endgame played. Yet, for some reason, that wasn’t what was going on. How could it just lie to him like that? He was furious, but also heart broken. And now it was trapped in the Alternate Realm with no hope of ever returning. It made him want to cry.
“Don’t cry, Jon.” Said the form that suddenly appeared next to him. It seemed to shift and morph as he stared at it, but it never lost that stunning white glow, like an ethereal messiah, a divine aurora. Coin realised it was an astral form. The Camel God’s astral form. “Craft. Craft a new world with me.”
“But how did you get here, oh great one?” Coin demanded.
“When the girl paused time, she just gave me an opportunity to step through the portal. I am not confined to the four dimensions, nor am I affected by her powers. Or any of their powers. If anything, she assisted me.” The Camel God noticed his discomfort at this notion. “Fear not. I will reward you for your efforts, as well as her. Your reward will be immortality at my side.”
“And the girl’s?”
“She will be the last of her team to die. They have challenged me too many times but I will vanquish them.”
“You’ll need a body to do that.” Coin said. “Please, take mine. I waste it.”
“I appreciate the offer, Dreamweaver, but no. You are too valuable to me. I think that I will claim the form of another…”
“Another human? Another powered human?”
“No.” The Camel God said, passing through the wall. “Another Physics Teacher.”