Read The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny Online
Authors: Simon R. Green
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Contemporary
He sounded as arrogant as ever, but I liked him rather better in that moment. Not that I’d ever tell him.
A hulking figure appeared suddenly before us, blocking the narrow aisle. He wore a ruffled silk shirt over knee-length shorts, and his face was painted like a debauched clown. Rattles and dollies and clutches of blood-stained children’s finger bones hung from his belt. Two ugly horns thrust up out of his forehead. He opened his mouth to speak, but Screech cut him off.
“You, on the other hand, aren’t nearly ugly enough for what you really are. In fact, your entire existence offends my aesthetic sensibilities.”
He snapped his fingers crisply, and the man exploded. Bits of flesh and bone flew over a distressingly large area, spattering the clothes of pretty much everyone in the crowd. Interestingly, although many of them pulled disgusted faces and made appalled sounds, not one of them fell back by so much as a single step; and though the general whispering rose up loudly on every side, no-one protested. I wondered if they could. Ms. Fate looked at Lord Screech.
“Nice trick. You couldn’t have used it on the werewolves?”
“Only works on people,” said Screech. “The wolves are too far from baseline Humanity to be affected.”
“Leaving aside why you’d want a spell that only worked on people ... do you think you could teach me that trick?”
“Not if you want to remain human. Though I can’t think why anyone would want to. You are such small and limited things.”
“Still kicked your arse in the last war,” said Ms. Fate.
“Children, children,” I murmured. “You’re not at home now ...”
“John Taylor,” said Dr. Fell, and everything stopped. The whispering cut off sharply, and his dry, dusty voice seemed to echo unpleasantly in the new silence. He leaned forward slightly, and I couldn’t tell if the soft, creaking sounds came from him or his awful chair. “Approach me, John Taylor. We have so much to talk about.”
“We do?” I said, not moving.
“We are both men of vision. Men of power, and of destiny. Fate brought you to me, John Taylor.”
“No,” I said. “A Fatemobile.”
I strode forward to stand at the base of the raised dais. Ms. Fate and Lord Screech had to hurry to keep up with me. I’d had enough of Dr. Fell and his corrupt court, and I wanted this over and done with. Up close, he looked like a museum exhibit. A preserved specimen of something really nasty, only kept around to remind us of past mistakes. He smelled faintly of burned meat, as though some part of his scarred face was still burning. He smiled slowly at me, ignoring my companions. I didn’t smile back.
“Dr. Fell,” I said flatly. “Not at all pleased to meet you. Sorry if it’s taken me a while to get around to you, but you know how it is ... Things to see, people to do, and complete and utter scumbags to put in their place. Busy, busy, busy.”
“Calm, polite, and diplomatic, remember?” Ms. Fate murmured in my ear. “We’re here to beg a favour unless you want to start a war.”
“Haven’t decided yet,” I said. I looked Dr. Fell over, unhurriedly. “So, from rogue vicar to crime lord. I don’t know why you people keep coming here; you must know it isn’t good for you.”
“I came here to test my faith,” said Dr. Fell, apparently undisturbed by any of the things I’d said to him. “And I fell from my high station. Sometimes it feels like I’m still falling and always will be.”
“I never know what to say when people say things like that to me,” I said. “So, moving right along ... I will be passing through your territory. I thought it only right and proper to pop in and tell you.”
“You wish to beg my permission and pay tribute?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t do the begging thing, and I don’t have any loose change on me. I’m just here to be polite.”
“You come into my court, into my domain, you speak roughly to me, and you bring with you a deviant and an elf,” said Dr. Fell, his dry, scratchy voice entirely without emotion. “You mock me, Lilith’s son.”
“Why does everyone keep going on about Mommie Dearest?” I said. “All right, my mother’s a Biblical myth, and she nearly killed everyone in the Nightside, but can we please all get over that and move on? I have achieved a great deal in my own right, you know.”
“We are aware of your sins,” said Dr. Fell. His pursed, dried-up mouth moved in something that might have been a smile. “Did you really think we would allow one such as you ... to travel unmolested in our territory?
“If there’s a sinner here, I’m looking at him,” I said. “The more I see of you and your people and your operation, the more I think you need shutting down with extreme prejudice. I will get around to you, but it doesn’t have to be now. Look the other way while I pass through your territory, and you can live to intimidate the impressionable another day.”
“Which part of
Let’s not piss off the complete and utter loony because he’s got his own private army
did you have trouble grasping?” Ms. Fate hissed in my ear. “If this is your idea of diplomacy, you should write the Diplomatic Mail Order School and demand your money back.”
“I had hoped for more from you,” said Dr. Fell. “We are both men of vision, Mr. Taylor, men who have learned to See the world for what it is rather than what most people would have it be. I had hoped, after all this time, to find a kindred soul ... but no matter.” He turned his head slightly, so that his blind eyes fixed on Ms. Fate. “You can be reconstructed, deviant, returned to what you were meant to be. You shall earn redemption here, through long and painful penance. But the elf ... is an abomination. It has no soul. Destroy it.”
Without warning or outcry, the whole crowd fell on us, arms outstretched, hands like claws. And every one of them had someone else looking out of their eyes. Ms. Fate threw down some pellets she’d unobtrusively palmed from her belt, and great clouds of choking black smoke billowed up, confusing our attackers. Lord Screech flexed his long fingers like a piano player about to attempt a difficult piece, then stabbed his left forefinger at one attacker after another. Men and women exploded, or melted and ran like candle wax, or burst into flames. People died as fast as the elf could point, but still they fought their way through the smoke to get to us.
Because they belonged to Dr. Fell, who cared for nothing but that his will be enforced. When rogue vicars go bad, they go all the way.
I was tired, my head hurt, and I could still taste blood in my mouth, but I needed my gift again. If only so I could stop Screech killing people who might yet be salvaged. So I concentrated, forced open my reluctant inner eye, and fixed my Sight on Dr Fell. Everyone has a secret fault, a hidden weakness, a spiritual Achilles’ heel, and it didn’t take long to find Dr. Fell’s. I reached out in a direction I sensed as much as Saw, and found the mirror that Dr. Fell had stored there; the original mirror he’d looked into, with his new Sight. I brought the mirror to his court, and placed it right beside him, a tall, standing mirror in a simple wooden frame. Dr. Fell’s head turned slowly, almost reluctantly, to face the mirror; then he screamed shrilly as he Saw again the thing that had made him burn out his own eyes and banish the mirror rather than See it again. He stood up sharply, the bone chair falling backwards as he faced his reflection. Everyone in the court stood very still, watching him with their own eyes.
I could see Dr. Fell’s reflection looking back at him, and it took me a moment to realise what was different about it. The Dr. Fell in the mirror still had his eyes. And as we all watched, the reflected image reached out of the mirror and grabbed Dr. Fell. He shrieked horribly as the long arms wrapped around him, and he kicked and struggled with all his strength as the reflection dragged him slowly, lovingly, into the mirror. In a moment he was gone, his screams suddenly shut off, and all that remained on the raised marble dais was an overturned chair and a mirror—with no-one reflected in it.
All around, men and women shook their heads tentatively, as though to assure themselves there was no longer anybody else in there with them. Some looked scared, some delighted; most looked lost, as though they no longer knew what to do without someone else to tell them. The six naked body-guards sat together on the dais, hugging each other and crying. Some of the foot-soldiers looked at me angrily through Ms. Fate’s slowly dispersing smoke. A few even started forward, but I waggled a finger at them, and they stopped. Lord Screech sniggered beside me.
“It’s over,” I said loudly. “Go home. Get your lives back. But ... if I hear any nonsense about reinstating the tolls and the tribute, I will come back and find a mirror big enough to hold every damned one of you.”
No-one tried to stop us as we left.
We were all the way through what used to be Dr. Fell’s territory and out the other side before the flying carpets came after us. Walker had picked up our trail. A whole fleet of the things came swooping down, brightly coloured, rippling fluidly as their riders steered them expertly in and out of the traffic that once more filled the road. The carpets could have flown right over them, but where was the fun in that? Riders fly carpets because they’re dangerous, and even in the midst of an important mission, they couldn’t resist a chance to show off their skills. This bunch were so cocky they weren’t even wearing helmets.
They crouched proudly on their flapping carpets, riding the updrafts, holding all kinds of weapons. It appeared Walker wasn’t interested in simply stopping us any more.
Ms. Fate put the pedal to the metal, and the Fatemobile leapt forward as though it had been goosed, but the carpets shot after us at impossible speed. And since they were entirely magical, their riders weren’t even bothered by the slip-stream. They shot in and out of the traffic lanes, weaving in and out of the paths of the slower-moving vehicles, closing in on us with loud hunting cries.
The first few pressed in close behind us, and bullets rico cheted from the Fatemobile’s reinforced pink exterior. Two riders swept down low to cut at our tyres with long, curved scimitars, only to recoil, baffled by the fluffy wheels. They fell back as they lost concentration, and slipped in behind us. Ms. Fate snapped a toggle on the dashboard, and the Fatemobile’s afterburner roared into life. A jet of flame incinerated both carpets in a moment, and the burning riders fell screaming to the road, swiftly put out of their misery by the following traffic. I looked at Ms. Fate.
“No-one messes with my ride,” she sniffed. “And can I just point out that you will be paying for all repairs out of what the elf’s paying you?”
I thought of what the elf was paying me. “You’ll get your fair share,” I said. “Though you may have to take it in kind.”
Ms. Fate looked at me suspiciously, then concentrated on her driving. The afterburner had given us an extra burst of speed, but the carpets were already catching up, and more gunfire raked the rear of the car, which shuddered under the impact. Somebody back there had a really big gun.
A carpet rider spotted a gap in the traffic and shot forward to fly alongside. He grinned at me through my window and produced a gun. Ms. Fate tapped the brake, and he shot on ahead for a moment. While he was busy controlling his speed, I lowered my window, reached out, and grabbed a trailing thread I’d spotted hanging from the rear of the carpet. I pulled on the thread until I had a decent length, then lassoed it around a handy lamp-post. The thread spun around the steel post often enough to hold it firm, and I gave the signal to Ms. Fate. She accelerated, and the carpet poured on the speed to keep up with us; the rider didn’t notice that his carpet was unravelling until there wasn’t enough left under his feet to support him, and he crashed to the road with a very satisfying look of surprise on his face. And was immediately run over by a horse and cart.
Two carpets descended from above, and landed on the Fatemobile’s roof. Lord Screech kicked open the rear door and swung lithely out. He steadied himself on the door rim with one hand, reached up, seized an ankle with his other hand, and threw the guy off into the traffic. Screech then pulled himself up onto the roof Ms. Fate hit another toggle on her high-tech dashboard, and the whole roof became transparent. I didn’t know it could do that. Lord Screech had acquired a long, blazing sword from somewhere. The remaining carpet rider looked like he’d rather be anywhere else, but he met the elf with a long blade of his own. The two of them duelled back and forth across the roof while Ms. Fate sent the car sweeping rapidly back and forth from one lane to the next. More carpets closed in, heading for the car’s roof. Screech ran his opponent through with a casually elegant thrust, kicked the dying man off the roof, and loudly challenged all comers to come and do something about their murdered colleague.
One of the carpet riders took the sensible approach and opened up on the elf with a machine-gun. But somehow none of the bullets could find Lord Screech. He laughed in the rider’s face, extended a single finger, and the rider’s carpet caught fire. He was still alive when his length of burning cloth hit the road; but the on-coming traffic took care of that.
There were still dozens of carpets coming up behind us and closing in fast.
I had no choice but to raise my gift again. It was like trying to lift a murderously heavy weight that got heavier with every attempt, but I did it. I reached out with my gift, searching for the spell that kept the carpets flying; only to find there was no individual magic involved, but rather a complex web of spells that would take me ages to understand and undo. So instead, I did what I should have done at the beginning, and used my gift to find the nearest Timeslip that could transport us directly to the far side of the Nightside and the Osterman Gate. I’d put off doing it because there were so many dangers involved. Timeslips don’t always go where you think they do; the time differentials are so complex you could come out the other end days or even weeks in the future. Worse still, there are all kinds of things that live inside Timeslips and prey on those who pass through. Only damned fools, certain extreme sportsmen, and truly desperate people ever enter a Timeslip by choice; but I needed this road trip to end, and end soon, before my gift burned me up completely.