Wit’s World: Never Was, Chapter Eleven by Elizabeth Watasin

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The voice came from above. Em froze. She glanced at the sidewalk. She spotted the moon-shadow of a young girl who stood at a perfect right angle upon the wall. The drop of her long hair and dress were the only indications that gravity still acted upon her body.
Em inhaled, and watched the girl’s shadow move. She heard the deliberate, slow scrape of a boot’s heel upon the wall, as if the movement were meant to emphasize right then that she was allowed to hear it. Fey Dently, the Vampyre who could walk on walls, had been following her the entire time.
“I mean no harm,” Em said, finding her throat dry. “I only came to find my sister.”
“The blonde version of you, with the Tomorrow sword?” the Vampyre asked.
“Yes.” It took all of Em’s will to not look up. In the storybooks, Fey was territorial and confrontational; to look at her might be taken as a challenge. Em did her best to remain respectful. “I’m sorry about your father,” she said sincerely.
Fey did not immediately reply. Instead, Em heard the sharp turn of Fey’s heel as she spun on the wall. She felt the Vampyre’s scrutiny. Her heart beat frantically from the sudden thought that Fey had taken offense.
“Thank you for your conciliations,” the Vampyre said crisply. “You must leave now.”
Em nodded and turned away from the dead man in the window. She faced where she could see the Towne’s docks. She continued her walk down the sidewalk. Fey walked above her and no longer concealed her footsteps.
“You speak to an invisible entity,” Fey said. “Are you in communication with something living?”
“Yes,” Em replied. She kept her eyes ahead. “I use a phone. I’m in contact with a friend . . . in the place where I’m from.”
Em heard Buck take a shallow breath, hanging on her every word. She wasn’t sure if he could hear Fey through her tiny mike but he was aware that something was going on.
“Ah. The real world. You come from my Papah’s place.”
“Then this place is not real? In comparison?” Em asked curiously.
“I call your place ‘real’ only because that is how the humans can understand it. This place, which is my place, is just as real. It is merely different.”
“Different rules,” Em realized.
“Yes. But the rule that death is your kind’s fate remains the same. Take my hand.”
At the imperious command, Em came to a stop, startled. A young girl’s white hand was extended down to her. The wrist was covered by a black sleeve. The fingers were slender and the nails white. The nails had a sheen of silver, and though they were not pointed, Em felt that those nails could be deadly.
Em reached up and placed her hand in Fey’s. The Vampyre’s touch was cool, but as familiar in contact as any girl’s hand. Em grasped it firmly. They began walking again. Fey turned a corner and Em, trusting her guide, did the same, away from the street that she thought led to the water.
“The Towne citizens have zealously built traps to protect the Towne proper from the waterfront. The road you were following led to a tromp-l’oeil. You would have fallen into the hole it concealed. I’ve heard you speak to your invisible friend. You believe this is the safe place my Papah had intended.”
“It’s not?” Em said in concern. “What’s going on?”
“Our reality is influenced by intentions,” the Vampyre said. She traveled along the building walls swiftly. Em quickened her pace to stay by her side. When there were alley gaps, the Vampyre leaped between the buildings. Em jumped, as well. Their clasped hands made them an odd couple as they hurried.
“When the intentions are dark,” Fey continued, “bad things happen. Pirates now attack our Towne, and they are due to arrive soon. You must leave now.”
    “If intentions make things happen, is this place a wish-fulfillment dimension?” Em asked.
The Vampyre snorted.
“One does not merely wish.”
“Who is sending the pirates?”
The waterfront was rapidly approaching and Em thought of Pip’s mystery man. If it were possible to make anything here, it would seem just as impossible to win at a conflict.
“We don’t know and that’s not your concern. ‘Pip first,’ as you have said.”
“How are things made real, here? Can you make things real?”
“I am of this place. I cannot. The pirates do not attack the ferry that can take you to the isle,” Fey said, ignoring Em’s first question. “They only want to invade the Towne. Trust the boat, it will be safe.”
“Please, how does one make things real?”
The Vampyre stopped abruptly, and Em nearly walked ahead with Fey’s hand. She looked up.
Fey stared back with large, silver eyes that caught the moonlight and reflected it. They shined like a cat’s. Em could not look anywhere else.
“You have the power to make things reality here, Emma Daring. By will alone. But keep in mind; my Papah’s sole passion was to create this Towne. With his death he made it real.”
The Vampyre released her hand.
“Time to fight,” Fey said. “Trust the boat. But not the man who lives on the isle.”
She crouched, the action so swift Em barely registered the movement. Fey leaped. She sailed through the air, her body parallel to the earth. She was across the wide harbor street in a blink. Landing on the side of the building opposite, she immediately ran up the wall and disappeared over the rooftop.
Em pressed both hands to her chest.
Buck spoke in a rush.
“Em? Is she gone? Was that who I think it was? How did she know your name?”
“My name?” Em said distractedly. Fey’s last warning was an alarm bell ringing in her mind. “She . . . may have read my note,” she realized.
She tore her eyes from the rooftop and looked to the water. A black ship with black sails was on the lake and swiftly approaching. It flew a black flag of crossbones. Em ran to the pier and saw the waiting ferry below. It was a decrepit craft, listing to one side and already filled with Puppetron passengers. As she neared, the ghoulish passengers in tattered Victorian clothing stared at her. The ferry rocked gently on the moving water.
“Boat,” Em said. Her fear of water returned. She clutched her locket.

* * *

Buck gripped his armrests and waited for Em to continue. When she was reduced to monosyllables he knew she was either deeply preoccupied or fighting panic. It was definitely the latter. Despite Em’s earlier bravado at the mention of boats and Buck’s willingness to play along, she was succumbing to her water fear again. His books, magazines, and tapes were useless right then in helping Em walk out of Darque Towne but he could try.
“Em, nix the boat. Let’s follow the waterfront. Pip said the park was laid out pretty much the same, right?” He drew on what he remembered from Amazing World. He imagined himself standing in Spook Town. “Face the lake,” he said. “Take a right and follow the edge. It should lead to the border of Astraopolis. I’ll find you another way to Mystica from there. I’m sitting on plenty of Astraopolis info, we can’t go wrong.”
He could hear Em take a deep, slow breath. He took that as a sign that she’d heard him. When he’d been holding his own breath, trying to figure out who Em was talking to, he realized it was Fey Dently, or more accurately, the Puppetron Fey Dently. He had heard enough of the conversation to know that trouble was coming.
“Em. Pirates,” he reminded. Like a good HQ, he needed to get his agent back on track.

* * *

Em stared out at the lake that was partially shadowed by Darque Towne’s eternal night. Beyond the shadow was the bright blue, sunlit water and further still was the pastel serenity of Mystica’s isle. Pip was there.
“I’ll trust the boat,” she said to Buck. She quickly crossed the rickety wood dock. A black cat Puppetron hissed at her, protecting its fish skeleton. The equally skeletal boatman in his ragged and baggy clothes grinned up at her, the upper half of its face shrouded with a hood. The Puppetron passengers continued to stare from bony faces.
“Buck, there’s a boatman. With automaton passengers. Should I just get in?”
“Hang on.” Buck had found a fold-out Dently illustration. “What you’re looking at is the Ferry of Lost Souls. Wayne Wally thought the ferry might prove too slow for Amazing World and had it changed to the black swan boats we know today. Anyway, there should be a token-dispensing machine to your right.”
Em saw it; a Victorian pay box requiring a nickel. She pulled a coin from her bag and fed the machine.
“It will give you two gold coins,” Buck continued, “which pays your passage on the ferry. Give ‘em to the boatman.”
When Em retrieved her coins she hurried back to the boat. She carefully placed them in the boatman’s outstretched, trembling, skeletal hand. He popped one into each empty eye socket and grinned. Em descended the ladder and stepped down into the decrepit craft before she could change her mind. The boat promptly sank down and filled with water.
“What?!” Em cried. The boatman had already pushed away. Em ran across the leaking floor and kicked off from the stern. She leaped wildly for the dock’s ladder. Before she could fall into the water she caught the rungs with both arms, her body impacting. She ignored the pain and heaved herself up.
When she had climbed to safety she saw the Boat of Souls continue on its slow, precarious way, tilting to one side. Some of the passengers began to play instruments.
“Em?!” Buck shouted in her ear.
“The boat leaked,” she said, gasping. “I couldn’t do it.”
“Em, I’m sorry! It says here in the ride proposal that the boat would be leaky but I had no idea that —”
A boom sounded behind her. When she turned she saw the black pirate ship with tattered sails swiftly invading the midnight waters of Darque Towne. It fired at the dock, its aim falling short. The tilted Ferry of Lost Souls continued through the powerful splash and spray from the cannon ball. The ferry passengers played on. The ship fired again and the cannon ball flew straight for Em.
A fat-cushioned armchair tumbled through the air and impacted with the ball just as she flattened to the dock. The misdirected ball crashed into the lake. Water splashed up and hit her. Bits of splintered wood and cushion stuffing followed.
“Fey,” Em said. She couldn’t spot her but she was certain Fey was defending the Towne from a rooftop. She saw the armchair’s matching sofa soar above the water and land upon Puppetron pirates approaching in a rowboat. It sank the boat, the pirates waving frantically.
“What?” Buck said.
“I’m going to the second plan.” She took to her feet and hurried back down the pier. She stopped short when a crowd of ghastly Puppetrons in dour Victorian clothing approached, threatening her with household tools. One held a noose.
“Pirate,” they moaned, pointing at her. The ship boomed again.
“And there’s a lynch mob,” Em added. “The Towne folk think I’m a pirate, too. Buck, I need to leave by another Gold Gate in order to get into Astraopolis. Is that correct?” She hurriedly followed the shoreline, passing sinister pier storefronts. There was a saloon with a piano merrily playing, a Chinese opium den, and a tattoo parlor. A fog began to roll in from the lake. She veered around a gallows and did her best to ignore its swinging, grinning pirate corpses.
“Yes, just head for Astraopolis. The gates connecting the two lands should be there. Lynch mob? That doesn’t sound like Edward’s style!” Buck said.
“It’s not. But his Puppetrons think independently. Their Towne was threatened by pirates. This was their answer.” The fog thickened. Em hoped she wouldn’t fall into any of the traps Fey had mentioned. The shuffling mob behind her could still be heard, moaning their accusation of “pirate.”
A pirate stepped out of the fog in front of her and Em whipped up her mace can, spraying the menacing figure. To her embarrassment and dismay, mace did not work on Puppetron pirates.
“Arrrrrrr,” it said, the spray dripping from its one eye. She sidestepped the automaton and fled.
“I’m fogged in. I’m disorientated,” she said. She was feeling along the walls of the buildings.
“There must be something that can guide you.” Buck looked at his Astraopolis book. “The Nightmare Clock makes an ominous gong sound but the Tomorrow Clock gives a clear chime. It should sit right there at the Astraopolis border and sound every fifteen minutes!”
Em nodded. She already heard the Nightmare Clock several times while wandering through Darque Towne. She paused to listen. There were the nearing shuffles of ghoulish Puppetrons, their various implements dragging on the stone. She ignored them and held her breath.
The Nightmare Clock sounded. Beneath the gong of the Darque Towne clock she heard the crystal sound of Tomorrow. She turned to her right and moved swiftly under the hazy gas lamps and through the thick, rolling mist. She ran right into a wall.
Em fell on her behind from the impact. Her forehead took most of the blow but she was still stunned. While she shook her head of stars she felt clumsy hands fumble for her in the dark fog. A rope brushed against her face.
“Pirate,” moaned the Puppetrons standing above her.
“Dullards!” Fey said. “This is not a pirate!”
Em felt strong hands snatch her up. The Vampyre dumped Em on her shoulders in a fireman’s carry and ran from the mob. When Em suddenly felt herself tilting, gravity threatening to pull her headfirst into swirling fog, she realized that Fey was running up the side of a building. She was anchored to the Vampyre by an arm and a leg with only Fey’s iron grip to trust. Her sense of perspective was jarred again when Fey landed on a rooftop and resumed running. The bouncing threatened to empty her stomach.
“Why didn’t you stay on the boat?” Fey said angrily.
“It leaked! I have a fear of drowning!”
“Ah. I despise the touch of water. I can understand.”
Fey leaped. The shrouded air whistled around them. The fall continued down. Em felt her stomach hit her throat and dug fingers into Fey’s back. When Fey finally landed the impact drove Em into the Vampyre’s shoulders. She exhaled in a painful rush. Fey took the force of Em’s weight effortlessly and stood up.
“I will leave you on this rooftop. When the pirates are taken care of, I will put you on the train. It is not safe for you here.” She bent to let Em down.
“Wait! I have a Gold Key. Please, just take me to the gates, the ones leading to Astraopolis. I can get to Mystica from there.”
“A Key makes all the difference.” The Vampyre said. She sounded surprised. “Never lose it, Emma Daring. Even if I tossed you over the gates between the lands you’d only end up back in here. That is how the gates work.”
“Then a person would be trap — “
Fey resumed running. This time when the Vampyre leaped and their trajectory led down, Em was prepared for the plunging drop. Once they landed, Fey set her on her feet. They were surrounded by fog.
“Come with me,” Em said.
“If I did, my Papah’s Towne will end up burned down. I’d like to come. It would be good to see us rid of that man at last.”
“Who?” Em searched the dark and could almost see Fey’s silver eyes. “And why do you say that?”
“Emma Daring, we have a tyrant. Someone gave you keys. Why else are you and your Tomorrow sister here?”
Fey suddenly left. Em was alone in the fog and darkness and could see nothing.
The sound of a cannon boomed in the distance.
“Em?” Buck said.
Em threw out a magician’s flash.
The fire in her palm briefly illuminated the turnstiles of the gates and two mysterious female figures above.
“Fey got me to the gates,” she said. “But I’m still fogged in. I need to find the gold one.”
“Go for the center. It’ll be bigger than the rest.”
She found it by touch. She searched until she found the key insertion. It was the Carny Man’s eyes.
After completing the turns, Em waited for the gates to part. She risked one more magician’s flash to see the figures above more closely. One wore the long gown of Moon and the other wore the raiment of Sun. The Sun Maiden’s sword was poised to stab the chest of the Ash Maiden. Above them were words.
Em ignited another magician’s flash. Before the fading flare of her light the metal sign read:
TOMORROW PIERCES THE HEART OF NIGHT
Something clattered hard against the gate next to her and she jumped. It was a battered, rusty frying pan.
“Pirate,” the Puppetrons moaned in the mist behind her. She rushed through.
She emerged to sunshine and silence, the technological beauty of Astraopolis laid out before her. She ran a few yards more into the polished courtyard before stopping on a patch of grass beneath the Tomorrow Clock.
Behind her, the entry gates gleamed in the sunlight, the thick, dark fog on the other side rolling against them. She no longer heard her pursuers but knew they were somewhere in that opaque night.
“Em, you okay?”
“I am now,” she said. The air was no longer cold or clammy, but as mild as pleasant midday. She shivered.
“No thanks to me, you mean. I am really sorry about the boat.”
“It’s okay,” she said shakily. “You didn’t know this place had become corrupted.”

end Chapter Eleven

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