Situation vacant Chapter Four
Posted: 27 August 2004
Word Count: 1167
Lantira. Castle Bardshelm Spring 5454 Tempus Parallel
When Ruth stepped over the crystal it seemed that one moment she was in a plain white walled room with no doors and the next she was tripping over the lip of a stone edged doorway into a circular chamber furnished with old fashioned wooden settles, a large table bearing a decanter and some glasses and, in an enormous fireplace opposite her arrival point, a roaring log fire. The whole decor was distinctly Disney medieval.
Definitely a dream.
Immediately in front of her stood Amariel but now the pretty young secretary had been transformed into something very different. Ruth, shocked to her core, resorted to what she hoped was cool sarcasm by remarking “And what are you supposed to be – some sort of fairy godmother?”
Amariel, now resplendent in a set of six-foot high opalescent wings, which were beautifully set off by a few discreet wisps of gossamer, refused to rise to the obvious bait in her tone. “Actually I’m a fairy goddaughter. Ruth, I’m sorry to rush you but could you move out of the way of the portal before Thomas comes through – he has a tendency to misjudge the height of the step and can land rather heavily. Why don’t you pour yourself a glass of wine and have a seat over there until Thomas gets here.”
Ruth wandered unsteadily across the room and, although her internal clock said it was only eleven thirty in the morning, poured herself a very generous glass of wine and downed about half of it before she focused on her surroundings once more. For a dream, the wine tasted very real and very good.
Although she was still clinging to the dream theory, she felt it was becoming more and more like a nightmare. Up until this point things had happened too fast for her to feel any great degree of anxiety, but now that she had time to catch her breath she started to consider the plight she was in.
Firstly, she was obviously somewhere a long way from London on a Monday morning. This was confirmed when she looked through one of the three narrow windows in the room and saw the sun sinking below a forest of trees that stretched as far as she could see. Secondly, she realised that she was in the company of some rather strange people. She couldn’t bring myself to articulate the words ‘fairy’ or ‘magic’ in any serious sense but the evidence of her eyes was before her. What had been a possibly imagined nimbus around the girl’s shoulders in London was now a very definite, very solid set of rather beautiful wings.
“Thank goodness – this must be Thomas coming across now,” said Amariel as she moved towards a full-length mirror on the wall opposite Ruth. “He’s taken a long time. I hope everything is all right.”
As she spoke the portal flashed like a camera going off, and a dark shape hurtled from the light sending Amariel tumbling backwards to finish as a tangled heap of legs, arms and wings against the base of the table. Obviously winded, Amariel got to her feet and clutched her middle with an expression of pain on her face.
Ruth stood stunned by the window for a second or two before bending down to the still shape that had landed at her feet.
It was a large black cat, about twice the size of a Labrador dog. The cat lay with its eyes closed, it’s ribs moving rapidly up and down as it struggled for breath. There was a strong smell of singed fur and she could see blood seeping from a wound in its neck.
“Oh my...! What is it? It’s hurt!” Ruth looked up at Amariel who was limping across the room towards her.
Amariel, her face stricken, crouched down beside the animal and put a hand on its neck. She bent her head down and spoke urgently into the animal’s ear “Thomas, Thomas, can you hear me? Are you all right?”
The cat stirred and one eye flickered open. It gave a deep groan and whispered, “I’ll be all right in a minute, just let me rest for a while.”
Ruth looked at Amariel “This is Thomas Dextermann?”
“Yes it is – I’m sorry, we have a great deal to explain to you but I must be sure that Thomas is all right before I can tell you what is going on. So much depends on him.”
Amariel busied herself making the great cat comfortable. She inspected the wound on his neck and pronounced it merely a superficial scratch. As she worked she kept glancing around the room and felt under the body of the cat as though she were searching for something.
“Are you looking for something?” Ruth asked, “I can help if you tell me what it is.”
Amariel glanced up at her, concern written across her features “ It’s the Locus crystal. Thomas should have brought it with him but I can’t find it anywhere.”
Thomas stirred and opened his eyes “I had to destroy the Locus. It was a major crystal. Fey could have used it to get here. She was breaking through too quickly. She caught me with an involuntary biomorph spell before I could finish my follow-on cantrip on the Locus crystal. I just had time to shatter the it as I transited otherwise she would be with us now.”
Amariel looked shocked “But that means that we can’t re-cross until we get another major Locus crystal made and keyed. That could take weeks.”
“I know, but it was better that I destroyed that crystal than I allow the Sorceresses to get even the merest foothold here.” Thomas was obviously slightly better and was slowly getting to his feet. Standing unsteadily on four huge paws he uttered some words that made no sense to Ruth. She stepped back, feeling behind her for the support of the table as his shape started to change. His body lengthened and he rose onto his hind legs. His limbs assumed the proportions of human arms and legs. His face altered and the black fur was replaced with the clothes he had been wearing when Ruth had seen him in the office.
“It’s definitely time I woke up” Ruth thought, but try as she might to get her mind back to reality, nothing around her changed. Her heartbeat increased and she began to breathe quickly. Classic symptoms of a panic attack, she knew, but there was nothing she could do about it.
She tried to move across the room to one of the settles but her brain couldn’t seem to communicate with the rest of her body. The room spun around her and, as if from a distance, she heard Thomas cry, “Catch her,” as a multitude of colours swam in front of her eyes, became a tunnel of gloom and finally turned to a blissful darkness.
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