Clouds were forming over Castle Blackscar as the besieged occupants clustered grimly around that night's ration of candlewax and string, desperately trying to keep warm and dry. Then, the Lord of the castle spoke up. "Well, we've been under siege for nearly seven months now. Have any of you anything useful to report? What about you, Arsal? Have you managed to send any message of our plight to the outside world?" "Well, sir," spoke the small, balding man that replied, "We did send out half our supply of carrier hedgehogs to try and get a message out. Eight in all set out. Unfortunately, Three were eaten by villagers before they got outside the castle compound, two were ridden over by tracked vehicles of one sort or another, and the other three were last seen finding a bed of leaves to hibernate in." At this point, several chuckles emanated from a small group of bleary eyed men in the corner of the room. The Lord was quick to respond: "Well, and does the Necromance and Information Branch have anything more worthwhile to tell us?" "Yes, liege," spoke a man whom, if it were not for the rolls of fat under his chin could have been mistaken for Death on a bad night. "We are at this moment preparing a great store of magical power so that we can run our most powerful sorcerer at full operating capacity. We intend to summon some help from another reality." "Hang on, let me get this straight, instead of doing some kind of sending a very short message a very short distance to other castles, you intend to transport a whole army from another universe, with great expenditure of magic power?" "No, not exactly," came the reply, which for a moment made the old man hopeful of something vaguely sensible "We're going to transport one person through." "I think your brain's been seeing too many alternate realities already!" "No - there are reasons. Firstly, an alternate universe is much closer than any castle in this region, it's just that you have to travel at right- angles to reality. Secondly, a whole army would take up far too much power. Thirdly, it wouldn't be half so impressive to produce an army that would wipe the besiegers out before we get past the next page. Fourthly, and I have to admit, this is the clinching point in our favour - we control the magic power in this place, and if we don't get our way, you'll be relying on candles for light, and toasting forks whenever you want bread at slightly more than room temperature. Put simply - no agreement, and we cut off the supply." "Right then, all those in favour? Carried unanimously." cried Blind Len the official siege committee secretary. And so it was that later that day, Exidy, the sorcerer, was summoned to the main courtyard to perform his spell. The great preponderance of magical power being channelled into the area could be gauged by the amount of coloured silk handkerchiefs that were mysteriously pouring out of cardboard tubes, and the large number of coins appearing behind peoples' ears. A group of sages from the Department of Applied Magic, and Theoretical Prestidigitation were gathered around the sorcerer muttering unhelpful phrases such as "It's not a software problem - it's a bug in the hardware." Exidy was then deloused, and the argument continued - "Can't you get around it by using a different chant? This sorcerer hasn't been designed to run on a basically low-level chant as VERBAL - his operating system has been designed to use the very latest languages." "Does that explain the odd mumbling noises he keeps making?" "You're just jealous that you haven't been allowed to design the pyrotechnics. Just face it - you're not a graphics programmer!" and so on. At last, all was prepared. The mystic inscriptions had been made, the protective glasses of Holy GlenLivet had been placed around the edge of the pentagram, and already the software engineers were beginning to drain them. It was time for one of the most massive out-pourings of magic the castle had ever seen. The crowd bated their breath, and held aloft the mystic protection devices that had been handed down from their forefathers time, several of which were still capable of opening, and shielded their owners from the rain that had started to fall. Finally, the magic student that got the lowest pass the previous year was sent out to where Exidy stood, trailing a long, snaking magical conductor behind him. Exidy licked his fingers, and placed them across the prongs that would start the greatest flow of magical power he would ever experience. There was an expectant hush, broken only by the sound of the students running in the treadmill that powered the magical dynamo, and finally, the connection was made. Exidy stood up, and started screaming the words of power: "Oh, powers of magic that flow through my fingers, we need some great help, and not merely ringers - I stand here with my hand in the socket, so send us some aid, let it come like a rocket." There now followed several minutes which should have been the pyro programmer's greatest hour, were it not for the fact that it fell about 45 minutes short of this target. When the smoke finally cleared, Exidy was found to be sat in a corner, piteously moaning "Pretty, pretty lights, do it again.", and there was no trace of the unfortunate assistant, although people were later prepared to swear that a black, person-sized lump of charcoal had landed in their village, and had sat smouldering for several hours, before being cut up by wandering bands of artists for drawing materials. "Okay, fine, that's all the magic Exidy could hold, an incredibly fine firework display, and parts of my castle are still falling. Where's this help?" "Ah, well, there's a bit of a problem there - apparently too many people were drawing magic from the ley-grid, and so he had to submit the job for processing when the demand isn't so high. Until then, I'm afraid we won't get anything coherent from the system. But that's a software problem." said the hardware consultant, and the rest of the lord's technical advisors couldn't help disagreeing. *************************Part 2******************************* And so it was, that many days later, the heads of the Department of Practical Meta-Magical Scrying reported to the Lord of the castle that many of their number had seen a vision of the man who had been summoned to save them. They did not, of course, remind him that statistical improbabilities, such as scrying, did not have the hardened mathematical proofs behind them as current magic had, and so should not be relied upon, but merely spake thusly: "Well, sire, some of our pre-search students have been seeing things in their crystal balls." "Haven't you cut their alcohol ration yet?" "Ha ha, sir, very droll. No, they need alcohol for their more illuminating visions. What these pre-graduates have seen may affect us all. They have seen the arrival of the output of Exidy's last batch run." "Yes, some of the less useful outputs have already been appearing. Did his program have to generate so many silk scarves and handkerchiefs?" said the Laird, brushing another head-scarf from his shoulder. "Well, sir, it is inevitable when one is using such a complicated method as a self-modifying mage, that bugs will creep in and cause minor damage to the spell. What we see here is an effect of silk-worm damage. Nevertheless, what we have seen is a concrete result of his project expiring - and no, I don't mean cement handkerchiefs. We have seen the man who is to save us - the only problem being his location." "Oh, why? Is he going to appear above Exidy's crater?" (The chieftain referred to the still faintly glowing hole rendered by the action of Exidy's spell.) "No, well out of it. It's just that he's going to appear seventy miles North-East of the castle walls. It appears that Exidy's programmers forgot to take the movement of the astral field into account." "Do we have any reliable sourcerers out there?" "Well, yes, as it happens - a rather self-idolised young man who calls himself Master. He never reveals his first name, but we know his initials are B.B.C.M., and we should be able to warn him not to leave any spells on the boil at that time, and to avoid the strong magical field surrounding the entrance portal. We'll just have to hope he gets to our man before the enemy do. If you want to contact him by mail, we'll have to crank up a Post-graduate. I'll contact you when we're ready, sir." Having said the longest, and last line, in his script, Barry Scryer now leaves stage left and collects his fee. The action now moves to the Mail room, curiously the only place to allow femail conjurers in the whole of the castle. Enter a minion of Barry Scryer, the lowly seer Stower: "Hello, can I help you?" asked the attractive woman behind the counter. "Hang on, I'll just finish counting, and I'll be with you in a flash." Ignoring the possible sexist comment that could be made here, Stower waited for the operation to finish, and the tools to be cleaned of body fluids. It can be messy when you use a rib cage as abacus. "Now, how can I help you?" "I have an order from the great Barry to send this letter to B.B.C. Master, pos haste." "Certainly, I'll give it to the Network_Mailer Demon when he next appears. Is there anything else?" "Yes there is. I haven't seen you here before. What's your name?" "Oh, I'm called Janet, as if you couldn't guess." replied the shapely lady, as we fade the sound and picture for another scene shift. Acorn Master was deep in thought, or as his assistant would say, sleeping, when the Demon from the castle arrived. He woke up, however, immediately the explosion occurred. "Silly place to put a pillar," said the demon as soon as the dust had settled. "I don't know, they expect you to materialise half-way across the island, and then don't tell you the geography of the place you're going to appear in. Good thing you weren't standing there, squire." All this before the startled wizard could shake a reply from his shocked voice. "Wh..wh..wh..what do you mean, coming in here, and blowing my structural support to pieces?" moaned the young wizard as he finally gathered his wits. "Oh, sorry to hear your back's in trouble. Still, I don't see how a pillar can make any difference to it. Anyway, I've got a letter for you. 's from the great Barry." "You mean Barry O' Reef?" "No, the head of DPMMS, Barry Scryer. Anyway, must go, there's a cabal on at 7, and I'm just dying for a drink. Don't forget to make a magical 'Pass on your postcode'!" quipped the Demon, as it disappeared into the nether regions. Sadly, by doing this, he removed his own body from the position the pillar had occupied, and thereby the house slowly decided to fall. Because of the construction methods used in the house, and since the pillar was supporting the roof, the house collapsed slowly, floor by floor, and could thus be said to have broken down in tiers. Pulling himself out of the wreckage of his broken home, Acorn struggled to find the letter which had unwittingly removed all vestiges of a house on this plot [there - this story does have a plot -ED.] On reading the letter, all colour drained out of the wizard's face, as he realised what he had been dropped into. This could mean fame, fortune, and DEATH. It was this last option that made up his mind, and he rushed towards the hills, from where he could watch the arrival through a very powerful telescope, and then run a long way away from whatever came through the portal. He knew what troubles awaited people who went on adventures, he'd read Tolkien, and knew what awaited him. It is said by some that fate knows just when to deal you the most awful Yarborough, and it was obviously Acorn's term now. There was a cacophony of odd noises, the sort of thing that the BBC Radiophonics workshop could knock up in a half hour from the chimes of Big Ben, and a few electronics bits. There was a flash of bright light, of indeterminate colour, and Acorn was knocked down by a large object that landed heavily on his back. "Sheesh, I've heard of dropouts on the line, but this is ridiculous!" exclaimed the object (with a few more profanities), which revealed itself to be a short man in a pin-striped suit. "Where the [expletive deletive - ED.] am I?" "Oh [exp del]. You must be the one I was told about. Welcome to this reality. I hope you have a worse time than I'm having right now, and I most sincerely hope that you get off my back." "Ah, sorry about that. I'm just a little disorientated. Am I dreaming or something?" said the short man, picking himself up from on top of Acorn. "No, but I wish I were. You've been summoned here at enormous magical expense to save Castle Blackscar from imminent doom at the hands of the Electro-plated folk." "Fine. How do I wake up?" said the man, walking off in to the distance. "You don't. Not until you've saved the Castle, defeated the Electro- plated folk, and produced a really good story." "I'm not going to like this you know - I never enjoyed RPG's, even when I was young." "What about me then? I've been singled out by the author to escort you round this world, and make you avoid areas he hasn't created yet. You've got to be careful, or you'll walk straight into an un-formatted paragraph, and then how would you justify your actions, eh?" At this point, we shall leave them while they read the story so far, or we'll get caught up in an infinite recursion. *************************Part 3******************************* We now rejoin our two heroes, as they decide how best to avoid the plot. "So, introduce yourself, person from another dimension! I myself am The Master, although you _can_ call me Acorn." said the afore-mentioned wizard. "And I am known as Jonathan Thomas Merrihacker." said <%naiveuser> in reply. "Now then, if we've got to save Castle Blackscar before the readers get bored, we'll have to get cracking - a few of the hardened Compscis are already dropping off. First of all, we have to find you some clothes. We also need to find something that you're useful for - otherwise there would have been no need to summon you, as opposed to any other person. Can you sing or play guitar?" "No, but I can whistle the odd tune. Is that any use?" "Hmmm... Spellwhistler... let's keep trying on that count. Anyway, as for clothes - we need to get some money, and then find a clothiers. I don't suppose you have any money on you?" "Only silver dollars. Are they any use?" "Only as scrap, the way dollars have been going recently. I guess I'll have to create some gold magically. Stand back, the code might crash." After the smoke and dust had cleared, the two looked down at the pile of glistening metal beneath their feet. "Two gold coins? Is that all you could manage? They're not even very large coins - I've seen bigger quarters! I'll be willing to bet they're chocolate inside, as well!" said Jon-Tom "Oh. I must be running out of credit. Either that, or the ley-lines are being accessed by too many users. Oh well, we'll try later. Anyway, this ought to be enough to get you to the next paragraph without starving." "But paragraphs change every time another person speaks." replied our hero, as the coins melted in the on-coming light of midday. "Anyway, come back to my house - I'm sure I can fix it up - I'll just use a variant of the 'Here's one I made earlier' spell, and run the story backwardsdrawkcab yrots eht....." Fade into interior "See, didn't take long, did it? Anyway, we've got to find something that you're good at, and that can be used as magic in this world." "Well, in my own world, I was a Natural Sciences student," and then, on seeing the wizard's face fall lower than the FT index a year after Big Bang, rallied with: "But I also programmed computers." "What are these computers? The only thing we program around here is conjurors. Still, a programmer is a programmer. Have you ever hacked?" "I've been fired from three multinationals because of it!" said Jon, in a very hurt tone. "Great, great - the one thing those stuffy wizards can't stand at Blackscar is someone who alters their thaumaturges to do useful things. I mean, they could have used Network_Mailer Demon to ask for re-inforcements. Still, ours not to reason why Alun wanted to write a longer story. Presumably he's got more puns up his sleeve. Possibly next to his humerus?" joked the young wizard, to no avail, since Jon-Tom was as un-knowledgeable as the next NatSci. "Okay, forget I said it. I suppose we'd better get on with the plot. The basic outline of the next few chapters is that we've got to travel through alien landscapes, meet and have dinner with hostile creatures, and sleep in cyclopean hotels. In addition to this, we've got to meet some interesting people on the way, crack a few really corny jokes, get groaned at, impress the locals with displays of magic, train you up to full sorcerer status, and stay alive. Personally, I'd be happy with just the last. Still, the author _is_ rather insistent." said he, carefully pulling his arm down from behind his back. "Now, we have to find you a weapon, and a magical implement. Here, have this big stick." "As a weapon?" "No, that's a staff - point it at people, and try to convince them they ought to be worried about what you might do to them if they push you just that inch more. It's remarkable how good you can be, when your life depends on it. Now, this is more like the sort of weapon I picture you with." said the wizard, as he handed Jon-Tom a red painted metal shaft with a cross on it. He performed a few deft moves, and a fish disgorger, a saw, a pair of scissors, and a thing for getting boy scouts out of horses' hooves appeared from out the handle. "Pretty good, huh? I got it cheap from the Swiss army, when they were summoned for the prequel to this book. And finally, a cloak, because the cover artist says he can't draw cloaks very well, and I want to see him sweat. Now, only one thing remains - you need another idiot prepared to come on this trip with us - it improves our chances of staying alive. What we need is somebody completely unsuspecting, snide, vicious, nasty, and about as thick as the average sequoia." At this point a hobbit entered, deftly caught the ring, and rushed out after realising he was in the wrong spoof. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes then, and after a bit, half an hour. Finally, the author decided that it wasn't worth waiting any more for the characters to do anything by themselves, and made a few mystic incantations over his keyboard. There was a small purple hum, accompanied by a glowing light at C sharp, in the middle of the room. The light grew, and the hum faded, as it took on the form of a creature. "Bleedin' 'ell," it said, in a voice more accent than language - "What happened? One minute, an' I'm eatin' my breakfast, the next, an' I'm in some poky hole cut out o' a tree." the accent became uncertain, as the author tried hard to keep the number of apostrophes down to a minimum. "An' if that weren't bad enough, some berk's changing all me apostrophes into Gs! Where the gell am I?" "You are currently in the great hall of the Master." said Acorn, in a vague attempt to bring the level of the story up a tone. "More to the point, what are you?" It is at this point that the author has to try and describe a creature that, up until now, has only been an accent, with a few words hung on it. If he were Terry Pratchett, he would say something like "It is at this point that normal language fails, and goes off pleading a dinner engagement..." Sadly, he is not Pratchett, nor even Adams, merely the lowly Jones, and has to cope with a description like "squat, furry, stockily built, line-backer" and other such phrases. Were the truth to be told, he would merely have said that the creature standing in front of them was a bi-pedal capybara, but since very little of this story has anything to do with truth, and since I have doubts about spelling capybara right each time, I'll refer to him as a wombat. Readers who know me from the past will now expect me to come out with a joke such as 'what do you use a wombat for? Hitting womballs, while playing wom', or some other inanity. However, that would be far too facile for this particular story. I would, however, point out that, since there are no woms in this world, the bat is going to have to find some other food. Since he will have to be referred to in future, it might be pleasant to give him a name, as going round calling major characters 'wombats' is liable to cause offence. This particular wombat is called Jeremy, and will be referred to as Jez from now on, since this rather annoys him. Frankly, I think it serves him right for having such an awful accent. *********************************Part 4********************* Having now introduced three of the main characters, I propose that this story should now try and develop a plot. To ensure this tale proceeds hand-in- glove with public opinion, I shall just take a vote amongst the characters... okay, a bit close, but the more important characters want some kind of plot to this thing. Now, to recap on previous plot - castle Blackscar, home to all the major wizardry in this particular world, is under attack by the Electro-plated folk. To combat this unmentioned, and unseen (as yet) evil, the sorcerers have summoned help from a nearby reality, and this has turned up in the shape of Jon-Tom Merrihacker, a Natsci who will shortly have a lot of explaining to do to his supervisors. This Natsci is also apparently a hacker, and has been introduced to this story's equivalent - a wizard who goes by the unlikely name of Acorn Master. They have just been met by a wombat called Jez, and we rejoin them as they prepare for their expedition to the castle. "'ang abaht, mush - we've got to get this guy some kind o' weaponry." said Jez, indicating Jon-Tom. "I'll take 'im into the city, and we'll see wot we can nick." "Now now, Jez - I hardly think theft will be necessary." chided the wizard. "Oh yeah? Jus' look at your efforts at producin' money so far - a coupla choc'late coins. Veeery impressive, I must say!" said the wombat, and took Jon-Tom out of the building. The wizard had only one more thing to say to them: "See if you can get me a pair of Bermuda shorts - the ones with the triangle missing..." "Nah then, me ol' 'acker - we's gotta get youse some kind of equipment. In view of your height, I recommend something in the Ronnie Corbett range. Now, since you're a bit too tall for the dwarves, we're not gonna get anyfink in miffril, but there's a good chance for something from the land of the fair creatures." "You mean I'm the same size as an elf? Gosh!" "I wouldn' treat it as a compliment, mate - you'll be lucky if you don' get summat in dayglo pink, with a 'ole cut out yer backside. Anyway, lets go in 'ere, and see what I can extort for yer." and so saying, the pair entered the elven shopping mall, known to others as Elfridges, but called by the 'fair creatures' Slothsleepingin, which is the land of the forever-claiming-back-tax. As Jez rang the bell, the assistant put down his copy of 'Elf and Efficiency', and waddled towards them. "Can I help you, _friends_?" he asked in a manner slightly less smarm than the average American game-show host. "No, but yer could try and sort aht gettin' this bloke a set o' clothes, an' maybe some kind o' weaponry. Nah, 'e isn't an elf, so get him sumfink a bit less conspicuous than your outfit." "And what, may I ask, is _wrong_ with this charming little outfit in taffeta and lace?" "Well, since yer asking, I suppose it could be the plunging neckline, or maybe the shape of the sleeves. But I think the clincher has to be the neon cod-piece." Having now attired our hero in a fetching suit in the particular shade of brownish-purple known to man as puke, we follow Jez and Jon to the armourers. This is the place that many dungeoneers will instantly recognise, partly because of the large amount of weapons arranged in handsome display cabinets, partly due to the preponderance of barbarians window-shopping, but mainly due to the screams of the apprentices in the fitting room. The two characters now proceed up to the counter, in view of buying something suitable. "Have you got a razor-tipped Filofax?" said Jon-Tom, and immediately the building fell silent, as the massed ranks of body-builders, and body- demolishers edged away from him. "Wot my friend 'ere is trying to say is - 'ave you got any weapons which might suit 'im?" "Well, I'm not sure that our regular weapons would suit him - I suggest he buy a mega-phone, and merely _bores_ his opponents to sleep. But seriously, I believe that for his height and build, this weapon should be ideal." so saying, the shopkeeper handed Jon-Tom a length of wood, designed for a man of his build and experience. "Aha - a CSstaff! The low-tech equivalent of the byte-saber! How much is it?" "Nothing - just get out of here - you're ruining our image. We don't normally get people in here wearing elf garments. As it is, some of our normal customers are a bit dodgy, but we'd never persuade Conan to come in here if he'd heard about this - he gets insanely jealous, you know!" said the storekeeper, as he propelled the young man out of the premises. "Right ven, nah we've got yer summat to hit people wiv, and some cloves so's yer don't look a complete pratt, it's time to engineer a meeting wiv anuver character in vis story. Meanwhile, less go to ver pub and get rat- backsided!" said Jez, as they picked themselves up from the floor. "Less go ter my local - the Brahms and Liszt." Cut to interior of pub. Several of the city's low-life are here, largely due to the fact that the door is pitched at 5 foot 6, and cuts the high-life out a bit. Nonetheless, we find our heroes sat in a dark corner of the bar, mulling over the local brew. "Yes, of course I like tea, Jez, it's just that when you said 'brew', I thought you meant alcohol." "Believe me, guv, you don't want to try the alcohol in this place - they use it to clean the night's encrustations off the walls. Sit back an' watch the dancer - she's a personal frien' of mine." Here, I was to give a description of the voluptuous body of the pure white albino female lemming that whirled across the stage, in the animal equivalent of a strip tease, but I won't because I have a couple of strongly- feminist friends who I don't want to lose. Suffice it to say that government ministers only came to see this if they were disguised heavily - since a large proportion of the clientele are newspaper reporters. I shall, however, refer you to the original description in Alan Dean Foster's version of this story, entitled 'Spellsinger'. The orchestra played in a fury, rising finally to a crescendo, as the finally naked white form leapt across the stage, and fell screaming through the specially prepared hole in the floor. The audience cheered, applauded, and generally expressed their admiration with crude gestures implying all manner of obscene personal acts to be performed in the second half of the show. "Personally," said Jon-Tom, "I think that this sort of exploitation should be cut from bars - all she was doing was exploiting our natural reactions to her body to produce a feeling of lust. It's a terrible liberty!" "Yeah. Yer right there, mate. Let's check aht the second act to see if she exploits us any more!" "No, I insist we leave - I can't stand any more of this place, with its loud music, terrible occupants, and indigestible food. Waiter - the bill, please!" At this, the whole pub fell silent, and there was an uneasy hush. It was clear that this last comment had offended the large number of ducks in the room. The band made a short attempt to get the music back, before a large pelican flopped noisily onto the piano, and crushed the player's fingers, before resting to face Jon-Tom and Jez. The pair took out their weapons - Jon-Tom his staff, and Jez his white flag on a pole, and retreated to the back of the room, as the crowd closed in on them. Suddenly, Jon was grasped by the realisation that in no way could he escape without being violent, and steeled himself for the assault he was about to make. Jez, having been a thief for most of his life, decided to steal somebody else, but the young lady he had tried at first didn't appreciate his attempts to pinch her, and initiated combat by clouting him with her lead-lined handbag. After this, the bar became a bit of an unorganised melee, as assailants jumped in, and hit anything that came within reach. Jon-Tom flailed about with his staff, catching several people without quite realising it, and finally, he and Jez had cleared a small area around them. Jez turned to Jon-Tom, and said in a whisper: "When I yell now, turn around and jump six foot in front of you. -NOW!" and with this, stood there, as Jon turned fast, jumped six feet forward, and then slowly peeled himself of the wall he had hit, holding his nose, and with a pained look on his face. "Alright then," said Jez "While they're still rollin' on the floor wiv laughter, it's time for us to make an escape." And they rushed to the main door, leaving just as some large, and presumably lethal, object slammed into the door behind them. They ran across the street, and Jon-Tom followed Jez into a darkened alley. As they tried to enter an even darker doorway, the two were stopped by something six feet tall, and stocky with it. "Oh, you poor man," it said to Jon. "I see Jez has been using his usual trick to get out of a fight. I'd better bandage that nose for you. Come inside." The woman who spoke, it was then discovered, went by the unlikely name of Tallear, and had been a partner-in-crime with Jez for several years. The set-up, Jon learnt, was that Jez would lure the marks with promises of perversion, and then Tallear would brain them with a large club she kept secreted about her person. Quite how a chocolate bar could seriously hurt someone, Jon wasn't quite sure, but since this wasn't his world anyway, he wasn't going to argue. Especially not with someone as large as Tallear to argue against. As the conversation progressed into the night, it was discovered that she was getting bored with her job as a secretary for a research establishment, and wanted to find a career which wouldn't entail people making comparisons between her and a Valkyrie. It was then proposed that Tallear should, at least, accompany Jez and Jon on their trip to Castle Blackscar to save the world. At last I have introduced the fourth character, and those of you who have read the original book will know that from here on in, we get a bit more plot to deal with. However, I shall leave that till the next part of Spellthinger. ********************************Part 5************************** Jon-Tom and Tallear, with Jez in reluctant tow, set off for the forest home of the magician, Acorn. Sounds of argument seemed to be coming from the dimensionally enlarged tree that belonged to the Mage. "'ang on, guv, I recognise them two voices - one of 'em's 'is assistant. You really better watch art for 'im, guv - 'e can get to be a real pain in yer neck." said Jez, in the peculiar mixture of apostrophes and letters that passed for speech among the wombats. They edged nervously towards the door, and pushed it carefully. It was only several minutes later that Tallear noticed the PULL sign hanging from the door handle. Jon-Tom jerked the door open, and they could hear fully the argumen continuing within. "...but that's not the point. What _is_ the point is that I sent you out to get a dragon skin. I didn't say that it should be dried, did I?" "Vell, not in zo many vords, no, but zen again, you didn't tell me not to. Besides, I vas sirsty on ze vay home." came the Rumanian tones of Acorn's assistant. It was then that Acorn appeared to notice the group standing in the doorway. "Ah, hello to you all. I see Jez has managed to find another to accompany us on our trip to Castle Blackscar. Jon-Tom, you haven't met my assistant. Jon-Tom, the bat with the large black cloak is Zlog, a late Captain of the Vlad's own Air force. Captain Zlog, this is Jon-Tom Merrihacker. He is the extra-dimensional help I told you about." "Gut evenink, Johan-Tom. To vot group are you belongink?" "Me, I'm only a session musician - I played for the Monkees." "Ach, zo you are Rhesus positive? I ask purely from a thirst... fur knowledge, you underztand?" said the tall, dark stranger, greasing his hair back, and polishing his incisors. "I myself prefer type A, und alzo, you could do viz a bit more meat on you." "So then, Zlog, are you coming on this trip with us?" asked Jon-Tom, ever eager for extra protection where possible. "Ja, ja, I vill - I like to see vere ze action is - or, as you vould say - keep my teeth on ze pulse of life." "You're not, by any chance, a Vampire bat, are you?" asked Jon-Tom, and the more witless of the readers. "Nein, votever gave you zat impression?" asked Zlog, as he packed his coffin for the long trip. "Well, it's partly the accent, a little bit the hair style, but I think what makes it for me is those great big teeth of yours." "I don't get it - everyvun criticises me, just because I can't find a good dentist. Ja, zo I have a bit of an over bite, and maybe I am a little blood-thirsty, but zat doesn't make me Vincent Price, does it? Anyvay, it's time ve pack for zis trip of yours. I sink ve shoult take a packed lunch. I'll go get mine now." So saying, he leapt out of the window. Shortly afterwards, there was a piercing scream, and Zlog flew back in the window carrying a six by two by two foot tupperware box. Seeing their querulous glances, Zlog explained "I like big drum-sticks, okay? Now, vat for you lot, hmm?" After discussion, Jon-Tom was ready to place their order. "Two half- pound beef-burgers, a side order of fries, and I'll have a large steak." "Vill zat be viz or vizout a hammer? Ooops, sorry, I thought I vas back viz ze peasants." So saying, he set off for the Vimpy, saying that he would meet them at the Oricle. "Now then, Jon-Tom, we're going to have to find something that you can do in this world that makes you special. You mentioned earlier that you were a session musician. Which instrument do you play? Rock guitar, perhaps? Maybe the trumpet?" "No, the tambourine." replied Jon-Tom, partly joking. "Okay, Mr Tambourine man, play a song for me." continued Acorn. "Better still, let's see if we can find you a magical instrument." Acorn pressed a knot-hole in the tree, and the lift doors opened. As they went up in the lift, Jon-Tom expressed a thought he had been wondering about for some time. "With all this wood around, why don't you get woodworm?" "I'm glad you asked that, boy - you see, when I first built this place, there were colonies of woodworm all over the place. I tried getting Zlog to bite them, but they grew immune to that. Eventually, I made the bark of the tree poisonous." "You mean..." said Jon-Tom, expecting the worst pun of the story so far. "Yes, my bark is worse than his bite." At this point, readers are advised to check that nobody's looking at them, and then groan long and loud. Finished? Right, on with the story... "Here we are, the attic." "You live in a tree with an attic?" queried Jon-Tom. "Why not? You didn't query the lift, I seem to remember. Besides, where else could I put the skylight?" replied the wizard, whilst searching for something amongst the clutter of his loft. "Ah, here we are - musical instruments. We have a drum kit, a guitar, and a comb and paper. So, what is it to be? Spelldrummer, Spellstrummer, or Spellhummer?" At this point, the room fell silent, as the author exercised his divine right to try and control the plot, and the room was enveloped in a puff of smoke, a loud bang, and a bright flash. As their eyes grew accustomed once more to the normal level of lighting, the group could just about make out five SAS men carrying the drum kit, comb and paper between them. "Well then," said Acorn, after a short pause. "Looks like Spellstrummer it is. Now, this isn't an ordinary guitar, it's magical. In our universe, it is known as a blittar. The reason it is so named is that the construction industry uses them to move large blocks quickly. Without them, the blocks in Stonehenge would have to be only 25 feet tall." "Let's try it then. Unfortunately, I only know one tune on the guitar. Here goes..." and Jon-Tom launched into playing the blittar. There was a sound like 'Whhoooff', as part of the wall exploded in flames beside them. Acorn brushed his singed eyebrows, and said: "I wish they'd taught you something other than 'Great Balls Of Fire'. Still, I suppose it'll give us some defence, until I can teach you a few more tunes. Besides, it's only a seventy mile journey; what could possibly happen to us in seventy miles?" Tune in next week to find out. ***************************Part 6****************************** Jon-Tom, Acorn, Jez and Tallear, having now packed their bags, set off for the two mile trip to the Oricle. "Have you ever been to this Oricle before?" asked Jon-Tom of the young wizard. "No, but I hear the predictions are usually accurate. Now, follow me, and do everything I do - these Oricles are real sticklers for tradition." "So, which way do we go from here?" "North. Walk this way." "If I could walk that way, I wouldn't need predictions." replied Tallear, trying to lighten the tone of the trip. As they travelled through the forest, a strange feeling began creeping all over Jon-Tom. He told Tallear to leave that until after they were married, some time between the fifth and sixth books. Then the magician stopped the group, saying: "I have the feeling we're being watched." "So do I, sir. I think it could be those massive dogs over there; the ones that are about to attack us." One of the creatures howled loudly. "They're not dogs - they're wargs. Dogs go 'Woof'." A malicious gleam crept into Jon-Tom's eyes, as he brought the blittar to bear on the ferocious creatures. A couple of quick choruses, and they burst into flames with a 'Whhhooof' sound. "I suppose you think that's funny." remarked Acorn. "But at least it solves the question of what we eat tonight." and with that, picked up the roast corpses, and dragged them in the direction of the Oricle. When they arrived, Zlog was there to meet them, carrying the packed lunches for the next day. He introduced them to Madame Cyn - a noted psychic, and party-thrower. The old lady leant over the crystal ball, and muttered in a low voice: "There is a cloud across the face of the ball. It draws back, to reveal a blinding white light. It's a pleasant blue-white that I really like. Oh, hang on - that's the commercials. Ahh, here we are - the rest of this story. I can see you consulting a powerful force. I also see you meeting a strange dragon, and defending a castle against Electro-plated folk. You will also clean up on the advertising and marketing deals, making especially large amounts on the film rights. One piece of bad news, however - there will be a sequel." "So, no terrible omens? No cows lying down facing east, crows flying backwards, or Freddy Laker marketing a range of condoms?" "No, I don't go in for all this omen stuff - that's only for the people who read intestines. I'll give them this much, though - their job does require plenty of guts, and all that that entrails." At this point, the old lady fell off her chair in uncontrollable hysteria, and the group had to leave. "So, what's this about consulting a powerful force?" "I'm going to try and summon a great being, the sum of all magical power on this world." "Boss, do you sink you ought to do it? Ze strain could be enough to seriously injure you." "No, I'm afraid I have to risk it. We must know what the Electro-plated folk are planning. Follow me, and I'll lead you to where we shall summon the creature." The party followed Acorn into the woods, going on a twisting trail, until they finally reached a small sundial, old and decrepit, without its gnomon. "Its gnome must have gone off!" joked Jon-Tom. "Perhaps its a gnome-ad!" he continued, merely re-inforcing the image that Acorn had of him, as the sort of person who would write scripts for Tony Blackburn. Suddenly, there was a small 'ting' sound, and lift doors at the top of the sundial opened, and a small creature wandered out, replacing his flat cap with a red hat, and assuming a comfortable pose with his fishing rod. Acorn noticed a sudden change of expression in Jon-Tom. Journeying North-West from the sundial, they reached a magical glade. At a nod from Acorn, Zlog changed into a spangled leotard, as Acorn lay a top hat on the ground in front of him. Taking ten paces backward, he waved his white-spotted handkerchief at the hat, while saying various magical words under his breath. A great flash of light appeared, along with a large amount of green smoke. A shape could be made out in the middle of the cloud. On seeing the thirty foot long apparition, Acorn cried "Behold the great Mnixamatosis!", in a voice loud enough to wake Alex Perry. "It's a rabbit." stated Jon-Tom, in a surprising outbreak of observation. "I'll admit it's big, but it's a rabbit." "Ah, but not just any rabbit! This is the great Chinchilla Galactica - the last of its breed. Said to be the greatest magical power known to man, he is seen to be endlessly loping to the end of the universe, and the great fence to Mr. MacGregor's cabbage patch. But hush, the creature is about to speak!" "NYAAH, WHAT'S UP, DOC?" "I-I-I-I beg your pardon?" stammered Acorn, in a complete lack of comprehension. "OH DEAR, I'M SORRY - IT'S JUST THAT MY CONTRACT WITH WARNER BROTHERS MEANS I HAVE TO SAY THAT EVERY TIME I APPEAR. NOW, FOR WHAT PURPOSE HAVE YOU INTERRUPTED MY ENDLESS BOUND?" At this point, I would ask those mathematicians among you not to groan so loudly at jokes the general public are unlikely to get. "Well, actually, we summoned you so that we could find a little bit out about the plans of the Electro-plated folk." "WELL, TO PUT IT SIMPLY, THEY'RE PLANNING TO ATTACK CASTLE BLACKSCAR USING KNOWLEDGE GIVEN THEM FROM A BEING FROM ANOTHER REALITY. I'M NOT SURE WHAT MAGIC THEY ARE USING FOR THIS CREATURE, BUT ITS BRAIN APPEARS NOT TO BE ALIVE." 'I think I can count on the fingers of one foot the amount of readers who reckon this isn't a computer.' thought Jon-Tom to himself. "Is there any way you can help us defeat them?" asked Acorn. "GIVE ME TEN MINUTES, AND I'LL TEACH YON SPELLSTRUMMER A SONG OR TWO. INCIDENTALLY, WHY THE TOP HAT AND THE ASSISTANT WITH THE SPANGLED LEOTARD?" "I'm a magician, and you're a rabbit. We each have our professional integrity to keep up." ***************************Part 5 and a bit*********** Suddenly their conversation was interrupted by a gigantic rumble as of thunder, or possibly a dragon hiccoughing in a methane atmosphere, and the trees were lit up either by lightning or the afore-mentioned hiccough. The rabbit stirred nervously in his pentacle, and his six foot bob-tail quivered with fear. His black-hole eyes stared up at the sky as if he were Ford Prefect trying to get run down by a Vogon space ship, and he spoke in as hushed a tone as he could manage in upper case. "THE AUTHOR HIMSELF HAS DECIDED TO INTERCEDE ON BEHALF OF THE PLOT. APPARENTLY YOU MANAGED TO MISS A WHOLE CHUNK OUT OF HIS STORY. HE APPEARS TO BE RATHER PUT OUT ABOUT THE WHOLE THING." "Well, what can we do?" asked Jon-Tom, pleased at foiling the author's attempts at a plot. "It's not as if we can go back and do it again!" "AH, THAT'S WHERE YOU'RE WRONG, YOU SEE - THE AUTHOR WANTS ME TO DO A SORT OF A FLASH-BACK WITH YOU, AND TAKE YOU BACK TO WHERE YOU MISSED OUT ON. DON'T WORRY - IT'S VERY EASY REALLY - JUST THE TEMPORAL EQUIVALENT OF TIPP-EX (TM). JUST INHALE AT THE NOZZLE, AND YOU WON'T NOTICE ANYTHING UNTIL THE PLOT'S BACK TO NORMAL." "Vell, I'm game." said Zlog, and was immediately 'liberated' by hunt saboteurs. Finally the rabbit managed to persuade the cast to breathe deeply of the mystic gases, and they drifted off into the land of Nod. Strange visions assailed their eyes as they were swept through the time-streams - visions of worlds which were, had been, and would be once again. Worlds which could not possibly exist within any logical rules - even worlds where airport disaster movies were taken seriously. Eventually their travel was at an end, and they appeared each at their respective locations. We shall follow Jon-Tom's location, as he reaches the end of Part 4. More precisely, we join him as he enters Tallear's terraced cottage accompanied by Jez. (He's the one on the accordion) "So, Tallear," continued Jez, "We's gonna need somewhere to 'ide up in while them ducks is still after ahr blood. Is your place still safe when the 'eat's on?" "No, the gasman isn't coming to call till Monday morning. However, I can take you to a place that is safe. Wait here while I bring the cart round." "Why, has it fainted?" asked Jon-Tom, making a mental note to thank ISIRTA for the use of the pun. Suddenly his face fell, as he heard Tallear slapping the cart-horse's cheeks, and throwing buckets of water over it. Finally, the cart arrived, pulled by a large shire-horse with an ice- bag on its head. "Get in, but don't shout on the way," he said, and winced slightly. "I need to get out of Lynchmobby too - my bank didn't extend me enough overdraft for the horse-trough full of whisky I drank last night." "I suppose that explains why you're facing the wrong way in your harness. Normally, a horse should have unbridled cheek!" punned Tallear, before blowing two large aspirin into his mouth. "Jon-Tom, Jez, may I introduce you to Throbbin, so named due to his persistent hangovers." AUTHOR'S DISCLAIMER:There is no intended crudity in the naming of the horse, and any such crudity read into the name by any reader is entirely his/her own fault. Any resemblance to persons dead alive or otherwise is purely ridiculous. After having turned himself around between the shafts, Throbbin urged the cast in to the cart. "Okay, where are we going, pretty lady?" he queried. "We're going to the local branch of the intracounty association of disadvantaged self-employed artisans and underachievers." replied Tallear. On seeing blank looks from Jon-Tom, she explained: "The home of the biggest lot of crooks this side of central government." The horse clarified it finally to him: "We're going to visit the Inland Revenue. No member of Lynchmobby's police force will dare go there - they're all registered as inhabitants of Jersey." and so they set off out of the town. After two more days travel, they arrived at an unimpressive clearing, in which the only building seemed rather shabby. The picture above the door seemed to include a large and rather nasty-looking knife, and the windows were full of pieces of ham. "A pork butchery." exclaimed the horse. "What policeman would _dare_ enter such a building! Luckily, it's not a French butcher, or _I_ wouldn't have brought you here. Anyway, all out - it's time for me to part ways with the story. I might see you on my way through the next chapter, but otherwise, goodbye!" and so saying he trotted off into the page-breaks. Tallear walked slowly up to the door, and knocked on it in the secret knock learnt by all Lynchmobby children before the age of five. A small aperture opened in the door, and through it poked an exceedingly large thermo- nuclear device. "Free entry to those who know how to live life well. Half price for the under 16s, students and OAPs." said a voice in a sort of sing-song monotone. "The freedom to nick candy from babies, the freedom to mug grannies, and the freedom to kick Vending machines." "Welcome friends." said the voice, in a tone that suggested that if they weren't friends, they would regret such for the rest of their lives, or for five minutes, whichever were the longer. The door swung open, knocking Jez against the window, and the three entered the dimly lit corridor inside. Rooms peeled off in both sides, and there were sounds of large crowds carousing inside each room. "You two I recognised. Who's the skinny one?" said the voice that had admitted them. The voice belonged to quite a large bear, who seemed to have taken a great interest in poking nails the wrong way round into his club. "'im?" suggested Jez, nonchalantly. "'e's just a guy, yer know? In fact, yer could say 'e's out of this world." at which the bear put his club in the general direction of down, and resumed his patrol of the door. "Nah then, Jon-Tom, why don't you go stand in 'ere, and watch the dice game. And _don't_ get into trouble! Me an' Tallear've got a bit of business to sort aht wiv a friend." Jon-Tom obeyed Jez' advice, and, entering the room, found himself amidst a crowd of people eagerly watching a game in progress in the middle of the room. As far as Jon-Tom could see, the idea was to cover the floor in a certain manner with sets of small tiles. Jon-Tom asked the large beaver next to him what the game was about. "Well, it's a sort of strategy game. You see, whenever you roll the dice, you get to lay that many Roleps. Eventually, you connect two sides of the floor, and you win. It's a very simple example of a Rolep laying game. You can take part if you think you stand a chance of winning." Jon-Tom applied his NatSci mind to a method of winning the game, and almost immediately, he saw a route. Obviously nobody in this universe knew about the theory of games, he thought to himself, and placed himself in the next game. Game after game went Jon-Tom's way, and he eventually amassed a large amount of winnings in the lining of his cloak. Finally, it became clear that one of the players was running out of stake money, and it was unlikely that he could stay in the next round. Being a resourceful young fox, he put forward his girlfriend as stake. Jon-Tom tried immediately to quit the game, but found that anyone had to give a game's notice before quitting. He played resolutely, and won his last game. He collected his winnings, said his good- byes to the other players, and started to leave. "JUST one moment," said the slim young coypu. "My boyfriend put me up as stake. It's the done thing to accept all stakes. What's the matter with me?" "Sorry," said Jon-Tom, "it's just that I like my stakes rare, not done very much at all." Several of the crowd heckled, and it seemed that Jon-Tom had argued himself into a very sticky situation. Finally, Jez and Tallear arrived to rescue him. "It's alright" they shouted "He's with us." The three were then picked up bodily, and were thrown unceremoniously through the plate sugar glass window, which - true to cinematic traditions - smashed in slow motion, as the three bodies tumbled to the rough earth outside. "I'll say this for yer, Jon-Tom - yer sure know 'ow to make an exit." said Jez, brushing bits of Tallear off from himself. "Still, yer 'ave caused one slight problem - where the 'ell can we stay until the ducks calm dahn? It looks like we're gonna 'ave ter trog off to Acorn's place, and set off on this mysterious quest of his. Besides, we need another character to confuse the readers a bit more." and so saying, they chased after Throbbin, to try and cadge a lift to the forest. **************Part 5 and another bit***************** "I don't believe it!" said Tallear, with an exclamation mark. "It's already the next part, and that horse isn't anywhere around. Oh, hang on, here's a note." NOTE: Throbbin has gone, with his hangover, to visit a rabbit belonging to a canine acquaintance who attacked him once. "It says he's gone for the hare of the dog that bit him." said Tallear to those of the party that couldn't read. "It looks as though we're going to have to walk to the Gongwoods." They trudged onward in silence, punctuated only by the occasional comma and full stop. Finally, a question which had been drifting around Jon-Tom's mind for some time decided to escape before it died of loneliness. "This Gongwood - why is it called that?" "Because it's not large enough to be a forest." "Very funny. Why call it the _Gong_ wood?" "Because the leaves are thin metallic discs, and they ring in the breeze. I suppose you could say it's Gong with the wind." Tallear replied, and immediately fell silent, on seeing the glares the other two were giving her. For the next three days and nights, they trudged onward, stopping only to hunt, sleep, eat, and occasionally crack bad jokes. Finally, as they were about to cross a rocky slope, Jon-Tom noticed a small bag hidden underneath a rock. "Don't look now," he said. "But there's an old woman hidden underneath a rock. And a couple of yards away, there's a sack." They investigated the sack. It had obviously been dropped by a wandering minstrel, since it contained musical instruments of different shapes, sizes and colours. One in particular caught his eyes, since he seemed to remember seeing a similar instrument before. He queried it with Tallear. "That? That's a blittar. The reason it is so named is that the construction industry uses them to move large blocks quickly...hang on, haven't we had this conversation before?" "You're right, we have - we found the blittar in Acorn's attic tomorrow. If it's not there by then, we'll have broken the fundamental law of causality." "Sod causality - this is a fantasy. Anyway, have you worked out any other songs on it? Perhaps one for transport?" Jon-Tom, being a Prince fan, started to play 'Little Red Corvette'. "I'll admit it's red, and it's a little corvette, and maybe it could be thought of as a mode of transport. However, I wasn't exactly thinking of a foot-long plastic battleship. Try something else." Jon-Tom again took the instrument in his arms, and began to strum gently. The familiar melody of a Beatles' hit began to fill the plain with sound. Finally, he ceased, and asked Tallear what had been produced. "I seem to have this stub of paper, on which are printed the words 'Female single to Ryde'. However, since buses aren't about to be invented just yet, I suggest you try something a little more effective. Try conjuring up a bicycle made for two. We can fit Jez to the rack for a stretch." "That reminds me," said Jon-Tom. "how come Jez is so quiet this episode?" "I think it might have something to do with my right fist filling his mouth. Now get singing - my feet hurt." Jon-Tom began on the only song he knew which mentioned a bicycle made for two, and got as far as the first two words before Tallear stopped him, and indicated that he'd summoned what was required. "It's a L'boring riding cow! It's even got three saddles. You've excelled this time, Jon-Tom." "Hop aboard then," said Daisy "Oi take it you be wanting ter go ter the Gongwoods." "That's right. How did you know that?" "Oi'm looking over the author's shoulder. Now climb on, and we'll set off. Hold very toit please." and with that they began to move. Jon-Tom leant back in his seat, and started to play on his new-found toy. A raucous noise suddenly assailed their ears, and Tallear asked what the matter was. "Sorry, dear, Oi'm ruminating on our situation." came the reply. As they rode, Jon-Tom strummed and plucked his way through a medley of instrumental hits that he knew, well aware that any wording would almost instantly produce something very similar to what he sang. After a while, he noticed that there were some very odd, small white creatures floating in the air around him. He asked Tallear what they were. "Ah, well, that's all to do with the way the blittar works. It builds up a powerful magical charge. Those white bits flying around you are mainly bits of dandruff that have been repelled from your head. Play a little longer - you may attract some Geebees. They're a really odd species - their voices range higher than the descant, and they're never to be seen without a beard." said Tallear, neatly explaining away a difficult point in the plot. Finally, the group neared the dimensionally enlarged tree-house that Acorn called home, and they all three dismounted from the cow, who immediately set about hunting for grass. As they walked through the doorway, Zlog was there to greet them. Since this bit has already been covered, I'll skip the introductions, and assume they know each other already. "Hey boss - zose two bimbos you sent off to Lynchmobby have come back. Zey've brought viz zem a girl. If I wasn't already promised, I vould say this was love at first bite." "So then, young lady, who might I have the ...err... pleasure of addressing?" "I am Tallear of Woozy County, of the Ripecherries that ferment at night in illegal stills, third on my mother's side, fourth on my father's back, first of green hair and red eyes (especially after extended opening hours), and I am afraid of neither man, woman, beast ... nor vegetable. Wizards worry me a little." "Anyway, that doesn't matter right now - I get her in the end." said Jon-Tom, quite obviously jealous. "What does matter is that I've found out what I can do here - I'm a Spellstrummer. Perhaps now I can actually help you summon something useful." "I doubt it." replied the wizard. "Why?" "I've read the script already. Still, let's not annoy the author too much - on with the plot!" With this, the wizard started rummaging around in his drawers. Thank goodness this isn't television! Eventually, he found the chalk he was looking for, and carefully drew a circle on the floor. Within the circle, he drew some more weird designs, before standing back with the others. "Very interesting shapes you've drawn there." commented Tallear. "Yes, I used to work for forensic - I just loved drawing those bodies. Anyway, to work, young Spellthinger - play away!" Jon-Tom cradled the blittar in his arms, and started to strum across its many lines. His voice came across in an eerie swell, as he sang these words: "I really have a yen - to go back once again, back to the place where no-one wears a frown. Back to those ordinary extra-special folks, in my home town." "It's almost working - try the next verse." "No fella could ignore the little girl next door - she sure looks sweet in her first evening gown - now there's a charge for what she used to give for free, in my home town." "Alright, stop there - this song's magic has been exhausted. It now merely behoves us to find out who this young girl is. I presume she's your next-door neighbour, Jon-Tom?" "Si, I em efraid I em. I also talk weeth the seely accent, no? Where em I?" "Well toots, let me put it this way - you're in a fantasy world inhabited by demons, dragons, wizards and the like." "Sheesh, the vallium nayver gave thees eefect beefore! Let me eentroduce myself - I am Florist Intera. My friends call me Flo." said the young lady as the chapter faded out for another break. *********Part 5 and the last bit, honestly, guys.************** Having finally sorted out most of the infelicities of the plot so far, this really is the last bit of flashback - no more Part 5, I assure you. We fade back to the characters now, as they try to explain to Flo what has happened in the last ten thousand words. "Well, basically, you've just been summoned to a world where things don't happen quite the same way - there is no electricity, just magical energy. There are no traffic wardens, just dragons. Also, there are no good jokes - puns in this world are used as a highly efficient method of torture." "Yeah - vis place really is bad on vose wiv a sense of 'umour. 's even worse if yer 'appen to 'ave an accent." said Jez, ducking and weaving to avoid the apostrophes. "It's a really odd world." "When you come from the _barrio_, nothing surprises you." replied Flo. "Jes' leave me alone wiv yer for 'alf an 'our - I'll surprise yer!" continued Jez, with all the charm of a strange quark. Acorn then explained to Flo precisely how it was she had been summoned. She took it surprisingly well, and when Jon-Tom came round again, she was in earnest discussion as to how best she could be of assistance. "Well, I may not be an engineer, but at least I've passed a Turing test." "Can you fight? You seem to be quite a big errm... young lady - you aren't averse to killing a few people, are you?" "Who, me? The only female line-back in the history of Blood Bowl? Me, who grew up with a switchblade in my boot, and a distributor rotor arm in my engine? I laugh in the very face of death." HA HA HA echoed a mysteriously funereal voice from another author's story. Acorn directed Zlog to fetch suitable weapons from the cellar. He returned quickly, carrying a large assortment of very sharp, heavy, or generally ugly looking implements, which he dropped in a clear area of the floor. "Take your choice," said Acorn, determined to avoid the pun. "All these weapons are at your disposal. I myself prefer to rely on my magical abilities." "Giff me a mornink star any day." muttered Zlog under his breath. After a good deal of deliberation, Flo selected her weapon. To describe it as dangerous, deadly, or even lethal, would do the thing a dis-service. In truth, the weapon had obviously been designed with instant decapitation, maiming, and general disfigurement and loss of life in mind. It was a three foot long piece of steel, serrated on both edges, and with a pommel that could take your shoulder off if you wore the scabbard slightly to the right. Flo stood up, testing the weapon in the air for balance. A deft series of manoeuvres brought the sword through a sequence of flashing arcs around her massive torso. Every one of the assembled party stepped back in admiration, as the sword carved its way through countless vortices of dust, slicing several motes as it passed. Finally, in a sharp movement that ended with Flo holding the pommel stock still in both hands, the blade flew across the large hall, and embedded itself two feet into the solid oak wall. "I theenk I better take thee dagger." she concluded. "Anyway, meester magician, you now have another coat hook on your wall." She stood up, and attempted to put the dagger she had chosen into her belt. It was as the blade sliced through her flip-flops that she realised she was still wearing her bikini. "I theenk I need some sort of appropriate clothes. Perhaps eef we could go shoppeeng?" Jez groaned loudly, before soundly decrying that idea. "We 'ad enough trouble wiv the last trip to Lynchmobby. Can't yer magick 'er some cloves, mate?" "That won't be necessary, I'm sure," replied Acorn. "I have ample stocks of materials, and I'm sure the ladies are both superb seamstresses." The cries of 'sexist' from the readership were only narrowly beaten in volume and vociferocity by the enraged yell from Jez. "You mean we went through all that Lynchmobby bit for nuffink? You better cast some kinda protection spells mate, coz I'm after your blood!" "Is zis a private feast, or can anyvun join in?" came the reply from the famulus, as the two converged on the cowering sorceror. Yet again, a massive peal of thunder boomed out, as though a small dragon had inhaled in mid puff. The author's hand descended, rescinded, ascended, and absconded once more. All was silent in the wizard's hall again, until the two 'ladies' skipped in, with Flo modelling a snappy line in studded leather armour. "I've always wanted to fulfeel a feteesh of mine!" she cried, in obvious delight at the snug fit of the shiny leather, and the warmth of the size ten Beef Wellington boots encasing her feet. "At last I can go out and keel theengs in style." Again, Jon-Tom was resuscitated, and the wizard outlined to the assembled group the visions he had seen of the forthcoming invasion. "During the massive outpouring of magical energy that accompanied Jon- Tom's cacophony, an insight was revealed to me." "'old up," whispered Jez, "'e's become one o' them T.V. evangelists this time." "As I was saying - an insight was revealed to me concerning the movements of the Electro-Plated folk. Massed ranks are marching out of the Sheffield factories. They have already reached the fork to the Groom pass. The Le Groom gate hangs an a knife-edge, and they will spoon be upon us. All that protects us is a load of old crocks, whose place set on the table mountain is in gravy danger of being their first course of action." "Sounds like they're really making a meal of things." "Yes, and we'll be on the menu if something isn't done about the mysterious force they have supporting their side. Even the ordinary mugs have been pressed into the service. We're in a right stew. That's why we've got to cook up some way to beat them. I'll need broth of you from the other world to assist me, as we go up the Staidat'hoam river." "UP the river? Are yer crazy, mate?" "There are ways and means of surmounting every obstacle." "But the falls! 'ow yer gonna get up them? This ain't a James Bond film, yer know!" "It is a problem that has been solved before. We need to pack immediately." Several hours later, the group had packed those belongings and supplies they were to take, and had secured their baggage to the L'Boring riding cow. Luckily, this was a large cow, and I am a generous author, and so they each had their own comfortable saddle. Finally, the plot caught up with them at the Oricle, just as Madame Cyn was falling off her seat in hysterics. "Slap her out of it!" "What, hit her?" "Yes, didn't your mother tell you? You're supposed to strike a happy medium. Anyway, let's off to the glade." I intend now to ignore the party for a bit, until the summoning rite. As before, Zlog changed into the spangled leotard, and Acorn placed his hat in the centre of the glade. The summoning ritual was long and complicated, and included many poly-syllabylic words, such that I would be unfair to my word- count were I to type them here. Finally, the magical creature was summoned. "NYAAH, WHAT'S UP DOC? OH, IT'S YOU AGAIN. I TAKE IT THE FLASHBACK WENT WELL? I AM NOW AT LIBERTY TO REVEAL TO YOU THE INFORMATION YOU SEEK. HOWEVER, DUE TO MY CONTRACT, I REGRET I HAVE TO SPEAK IN RIDDLES. UNFORTUNATELY, THE ONLY RIDDLE I KNOW IS 'WHAT CAN GO UP A CHIMNEY DOWN, BUT NOT DOWN A CHIMNEY UP?' I DOUBT THAT THIS WILL HELP YOU. PERHAPS YOU WOULD CARE TO ASK YOUR ENEMY?" said the white rabbit, in a voice so loud that Richter rumbled in his grave. He twitched his dainty, four-foot long nose, smiled, and faded away. As the glow subsided from the magical glade, a stunning view was revealed, of a strange form. The creature was indescribably horrifying, and totally alien to human eyes - unparalleled except by the host of 'The Price Is Right'. "It's one of the Electro-Plated folk!" cried Acorn, for the benefit of those readers with an IQ smaller than their shoe size. Suddenly the creature turned round, emitted a shrill cry, and pointed at Jon-Tom. As it faded, its laughter could still be heard echoing through the glade. "Ah well," said Acorn. "At least we've given them something to worry about - anyone with a dress sense like yours has to be hiding something pretty awesome!" "Believe me," said Flo "That body is enough to put the fear of God into anyone! Not that I ever looked, of course." And so, we leave the characters arguing once more amongst themselves. *****Part 10 (the part after part 5 and the last bit.)****** There was panic in Badluch Keep. Everywhere this panic was felt - all the way from the high surfeitors through the menial slaves, right down to the television producers. All the Electro-plated Folk were in a state of disruption, as rumours abounded of strange magic, fish falling from the sky, of Robert Heinlein writing a book that didn't refer to any other he had already written; of the earth turning blue, the skies turning brown, and dogs turning round three times before falling asleep. Many were the tales of lost harvests, destroyed crops, and radio jamming during Gardener's Question Time. Workers bent hurriedly down to their tasks, Hunters left town on any excuse for foraging, and only the Breeders were happy. In short, I could have avoided writing this paragraph, but it helps keep the word count up. Even those who knew the truth of the matter scurried around nervously, looking over their shoulders. At least, some of them looked over their shoulders - those that _had_ shoulders, necks, or even eyes to look over,round, or with. Indeed, many a nervous courtier was found crumpled in a heap, after turning round repeatedly to see if anything was following him. In short, there was panic in Badluch Keep. Empress Itch was on the rampage. Previous to this, she had been on the Cretaceous age, and she was about to enter the Jurassic, when her adviser, Derylict, crept cautiously into her chamber. "Ah, Derylict, there you are. Lend me your spanner, I can't undo the restraining bolts on this creature - I want to get its BorisKarl off. Now, has everyone recovered yet from that terrible apparition?" said the Empress, in tones that implied that she always talked to her food while it was still fresh. "Yes majesty, all but the court golfer, who has asked the tailor for a similar outfit. I've just sent them both off for psychiatric observation." "But enough of this, how does our secret weapon prepare? Has Muskrat told you of any misfortune arising from our recent troubles?" "No, ma'am - I believe all is well in hand there. Also, our troops are drilling as they have never drilled before. The entire landscape is riddled with holes. If the enemy try to attack on pogo-sticks, we will have them trapped." "Very well. However, this intrusion still worries me. We must march immediately - even if it is only February. Advise the sorcerer to bring his manifestation with him. This time, the squishies will prevail to our might!" The Empress turned her back on Derylict, signifying that the audience was over. She gazed out across the plane before her, marvelling at the sight of the forces mustered there. "Colman's English" she thought, irrelevantly, before closing her mind to sleep. * * * * Jon-Tom woke up to a cold, fresh morning, puzzled to find that half of him was hot. Opening his eyes, he saw the reason - six foot four of Mexican woman, who was obviously half hot, half chilli. Shifting slightly, he turned to see Tallear standing over him with her sword ready in her hand. Instinctively, he groped for his staff. "Don't look so worried, Jon-Tom - it's not you that's the target of my sword this time. Come on, help me get the others up." They went round the group, ignoring all the cries of annoyance from the early risers. "Vot is ze reason for zis avakening? Ve haffn't been sleepink for more zan eight hours!" "Yes, please do explain." added Acorn. "I never like to rise until after the dew has dried off. Despite living in a tree, I'm not used to rising damp." "Yes, what ees thee problem? I have trouble starting my accent this, I mean, thees early on a cold morning." "Hasn't anyone noticed that there's an accent missing?" explained Tallear. "There aren't nearly enough apostrophes flying about the place, and all the aitches are being pronounced properly. So, where's Jez gone?" "I surmise, young lady, that, despite my assurances of a painful reprisal if anything untoward occurs, the young scoundrel has removed himself from the possibility of a future affray with the forces of darkness and evil." "You mean to say he's deserted the party." "Quite so. I suggest that I set into action one of my speciality spells - an F-19." "F-19?" queried Jon-Tom. "Yes, it's a new development from America. Don't tell anyone about it - it's the secret stealth seeker - flies low, and has all the latest counter- measures against magical radar. When it reaches its intended target, it delivers a concentrated blast of magical energy to the intended recipient of the spell, wherever he happens to be. Put simply enough for the plough-boy here, it zaps him where he stands." The magician carefully prepared a magic circle, and burnt several rare and valuable herbs before preparing to speak the final words of conjurement. "'ere, mate, what's all vis 'ow's yer farver? You castin' annuver o' vem conjuration fingies, eh? Wotcher conjurin' up nah? One o' vem gian' rabbits?" shouted Jez, more than making up for any previous lapse in amount of apostrophes per sentence. The wombat was barely recognisable under the weight of food, which would have admirably filled the entire reptile section of the Natural History Museum. "If yer do conjure 'im up again, make sure I 'ide the food first - rabbits'll eat anyfink, if vey're not involved in uvver activities, kno wot I mean?" he continued, with a wink to Tallear, who blushed almost as red as her eyes. "Actually, my fuzzy acquaintance, I was casting a spell to discern quite what region of these hills you were secreting yourself in. However, since you are quite obviously here, I suggest we set to devouring the choice morsels you have procured for us." "For zose off you who do not unterstant ze bureaucrat here, he means dig in." "First, I gotter offer up a prayer in 'onour of me patron goddess, Diana." "You mean the goddess of love and war? What would you be allied with her for?" "Vey're me two great loves - 'untin' and 'umpin'." "I heard a nasty rumour about her," added Tallear, "They say she's gone narcissistic. Apparently, it's a love-hate relationship." While the rest of the party writhed at yet another excruciating pun, Jez offered his prayer to his goddess. This 'prayer', while being succinct in its demands, was also precise in its language, and thus unprintable. Jon-Tom was quite repulsed by the food content - not even a homely E-number on the side, and certainly no instructions as to where to insert the can opener. Nonetheless, seeing the gusto with which his assembled friends were attacking the food, he decided that to avoid embarrassment, he might as well chew a bit. As he sat gnawing his bone, he realised that despite the skin being green, and the author not doing enough homework to discover the colour of the meat, the food itself was almost pleasant, its taste being somewhat akin to that of the waxed cups which fast- food shops give out with hot drinks. "Hmm, thees ees good," said Flores "But I theenk my leezard used to be a cyborg." "Yeah, vat's right - it's one o' me specialities - it's called sili-con carne." replied Jez, ending yet another part with an appallingly atrocious pun.