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A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf: Section Twenty Three

       Last updated: Monday, August 9, 2004 00:05 EDT




    CHAPTER [whatever]. In Which...

    By the end of their long journey to the lowest tier in the Stacks, the earlier atmosphere of disharmony and discord among the three savants had quite abated. Indeed, it might be said they were filled with high spirits and good cheer.

    "Nothing like a brisk walk through a library to make one feel alive!" exclaimed Uncle Manya.

    "Indeed so!" agreed the mage. Moments later, the savants were wending their way through the lowest tier in the Stacks. The massive collection of sado-masochist tomes surrounding them was the object of casual inspection. In the brief exchange of views which followed, oddly enough, the savants dwelt on neither the ethical nor the psychological aspects of the matter, but on the question of whether or not pornographic literature represented the ultimate in bad taste and worse prose. Uncle Manya and Alf felt it was so, while Zulkeh argued, based on obscure ontological principles, that somewhere in the Universe there must exist a more grotesque form of literature.

    Moments later, they descended into the basement below the lowest tier. The copies of Bridges of Madison County contained therein were briefly perused, whereupon Uncle Manya and Alf immediately confessed their error and hailed Zulkeh for his perspicacity.

    Espying the porthole on a far wall, Zulkeh advanced and made to remove the wooden lid which obscured the glass. Alf, huffing a bit, suggested a brief rest before undertaking the final task.

    "I'd like to catch my breath first, if you don't mind, Zulkeh." He seated himself heavily in a chair at a reading table in a corner of the basement and motioned to the other chairs located nearby.

    "Please! We're all a bit tired from that journey, and I don't see where there's a hurry. Whoever that fallen angel is, and if he's there, he'll keep a bit. He's been there quite a while, you know."

    The suggestion, it was clear, cut across the grain of the mage's natural energy (some would say, perhaps unkindly, self-aggrandizing impatience), but, after a moment's hesitation, he shrugged and took a seat.

    "As you say, the eternally condemned former cherub is not likely to disappear now. Assuming, of course, that he is there at all."

    "Whew!" exclaimed Alf, after seating himself. "You know, I do love walking through stacks, but—the Stacks!"

    Fanning himself, Uncle Manya remarked: "I understand now why you wouldn't let Shelyid come along. Quite thoughtful of you, Zulkeh, I must say. Can you imagine the poor dwarf staggering under that immense sack all this distance?"

    "Bah!" oathed the mage. "My loyal but stupid apprentice would have managed the feat quite handily, I assure you. Not only is he inured to the task from long habit, but he is, as well, astonishingly hardy for one so diminutive."

    "Then why'd you make him stay behind?" asked Alf. "It can't be for the reasons you told him—the 'fell perils of the realm of words', I believe you said. Why, this entire adventure has been a jolly jaunt, if I say so myself. The lad's been through quite the bit more dangerous escapades, by all accounts."

    For a moment, Zulkeh appeared a bit non-plussed.

    "Yes, yes. Well!" After a moment. "A confession, gentlemen. My reasons for leaving my apprentice behind were indeed, as you have so shrewdly deduced, somewhat at variance from those which I publicly stated. It might be better to say—inverse to those stated."

    "Pardon?" queried Alf.

    Yes! 'Twas true, and all Alfredae present were abuzz! The wizard was most definitely nonplussed—indeed, he actually scratched his chin with embarrassment!

    "Ah, me! I see I must make full confession. 'Twas in this manner, friends. In actual fact, I knew from the first that our journey to the realm of words—the which, let me assure you, has a multitude of environs which are perilous in the extreme!—would be restricted exclusively to a promenade into the Stacks."

    A snort. "And where else would we go for purposes of research but the finest library in the known and knowable universe? No, no, 'twas the Stacks our destination from the very beginning, and well I knew it. And well I knew as well that the Stacks contained no possible danger—"

    "The sphinx!"

    "—leaving aside the possibility of an encounter with a pitiful sphinx, the picayune peril of which encounter has been utterly exaggerated in the popular mind by the much-publicized woes of that indescribable oaf, that mind-boggling moron, that hebetudinous --"

    "Oedipus Sfrondrati-Piccolomini."

    "—indeed! No, no—and here I must apologize for not having acquainted the two of you (who are, after all, despite your respectively heretical and maniacal views on practically all subjects, fellow scholiasts) with our destination aforehand, but, you see, I was much determined not to allow any hint of the predictable ease—say better, pleasure—of our jaunt to the Stacks to come to my apprentice's attention, for then, you see, the mulish gnome would have insisted upon accompanying me and I should have been forced into a most unpleasant scene. No, no. Better to have done what I did, even though, it grieves me to admit, I was forced to utter certain statements which were not in entire accord with Reason and Truth."

    He fell silent, his visage reflecting both his chagrin at his self-confession and his mordant pride in so self-confessing. Nowhere on his visage, however, was there a reflection of the fact that he had not, in actual fact, confessed. As Uncle Manya was the first to point out.

    "So then exactly why didn't you want the little chap along?"

    Zulkeh frowned. "But I have already explained!" He waved a hand. "Oh, perhaps not in so many words, but surely there is no possibility of misinterpreting my statement that my reasons were inverse to those stated?"

    The faces of heretic and maniac alike reflected utter confusion.

    "Bah!" oathed Zulkeh. "'Tis as plain as the nose on your face. The reason I didn't want the dwarf along is because of the unspeakable perils! The prodigious risks! The unforseeable hazards!"

    "But—what hazards?" queried Alf. You just got through saying—"

    "The hazards, risks and perils which the maladroit midget would inevitably bring in his train!" cried Zulkeh. The wizard wagged his forefinger vigorously. "Oh, yes! You have no idea, my dear heretic! You have but briefly known my loyal-but-stupid apprentice—and Uncle Manya has made an even more recent acquaintance with the dwarf. Dwarf, did I say? Nay! Say better—black hole of disaster! Aye, that's the phrase! Even like the microscopic singularity does the gnome sweep into his orbit every catastrophe and ruin, drawn there as if by an unseen, unknown, but mighty and irresistible source!"

    He tugged his beard. "'Tis uncanny, 'tis truly a thing of wonder, the capacity of my stupid-but-loyal apprentice to transform the simplest, safest and sanest endeavors into mad adventures and grandiose extravagances. Where any other would find a port, Shelyid will find a storm. Lies there a hidden reef by a lee shore in a hurricane, Shelyid will unerringly find his way there across the broadest and most tranquil of oceans—and drag all with him in his train!"

    He threw up his hands. "You cannot imagine! 'Tis a thing of wonder! An affront to all reasonable concepts of probability and chance! I tell you—'tis true! The midget is Accidence personified!"

    "Zulkeh, please!" cried Alf. "I admit the little fellow's on occasion given to thoughtlessness, but you exaggerate beyond reason."

    "Think you so?" demanded Zulkeh. Peremptorily, he waved a hand. "Do not mistake me. He's a well-meaning lad, is Shelyid, I should be the first to say it. Not a malicious bone in his midget body, not the one. Indeed, some might say he personifies Good Cheer. But—"

    The wagging forefinger of certainty.

    "—do not think for a moment that had the dwarf been with us, that our pleasant experience in the realm of words would have been transmogrified into a veritable saga of derring-do and desperate deeds. 'How so?' you ask. By means impossible to predict! Anything! Anything could have happened—and would have, be sure of it! We should have mysteriously plunged down a hole and found ourselves in sudden battle with unimaginable assailants! Then! Who knows? No doubt a malign behemoth of legend should have swum into our orbit. Followed by who knows what other insane escapades? Caught in a storm at sea—'tis almost a certainty, that—and then!—to be sure!—stranded and adrift in despair! Oh, yes—anything! I misdoubt me not we should have found ourselves..."


    "And now, 'tis time!" spoke the mage. He arose and strode to the porthole. 'Twas but the work of a moment to remove the wooden lid. Pressing his face to the glass, Zulkeh peered intently into the gloomy depths beyond. With the keen eye of a scholar, he scanned the scene now revealed. After a moment, a strange admixture of sentiment was revealed in his face. One the one hand, exultant elation; on the other, deep disgruntlement; and, overlying all, a sense of profound and stony satisfaction.

    "You have the oddest look on your face, Zulkeh," commented Uncle Manya.

    "Sure do!" agreed Alf. "Looks like exultant elation mixed up with deep disgruntlement covered over by profound and stony satisfaction."

    "You are most perceptive," spoke the mage. "I am exultantly elated because we have succeeded in the purpose of our expedition and have thus advanced, in a single giant bound, my quest to determine the nature of the great catastrophe looming over civilization which the cunning of my science has discerned in the dream of dotard king."

    His eyes, now fairly ablaze with exultant elation, ranged downward, examining some object at no great distance from the porthole.

    "Even here, directly below my vision, lies the undoubted object of our search. I behold a great bronze casket, bound with seven hoops of iron, the which are in turn covered by that rare and ineffable material which the ignorant call Solomon's Wax but which the cognoscenti recognize as the fabled Ambergrue, a substance used only by God Himself, and then only when He finds it necessary to seal up abomination for eternity. The initial supposition which this object inevitably brings to mind is at once reinforced by the placard which lies upon it, the which reads, in blazing letters of lambent flame: here lies one, now nameless (Re: Catalogue, Fallen Angel, Anonymous, #883), who hath so affronted the Mind of God that he hath been sealed up herein that he might suffer eternal torment."

    "That's a clue, all right," agreed Uncle Manya.

    "Indeed," spoke the mage. "Hence my exultant elation." The exultant elation in his eyes was immediately displaced by the scowl of deep disgruntlement.

    "This selfsame object, however, is also the source of my deep disgruntlement. For its presence here indicates that, once again, the miserable antediluvian monstrosity has been proven correct in its wild and boastful claims."

    The scowl grew deeper. "These claims are based on no discernable logic or cunning beyond the by-all-rights extinct beast's inhumanly precise optical acuity, the results of which—"

    Twitter, twitter.

    "It says: of course it's inhuman. It's not human."

    "—the wretched fossil persists in broadcasting to the world at large—"

    Twitter! "Praise be!"

    "—in that odious and insufferable twitter."

    The mage heaved a great sigh. "Hence, my deep disgruntlement, the which is occasioned by all confusion cast before my science."

    Zulkeh gaze now ranged upward, and all about. Profound and stony satisfaction of a sudden enveloped his entire mien.

    "At the same time, as I gaze upon the entire scene which presents itself before me, here in the uttermost depths of the Tongue Trench, the deep disgruntlement occasioned by the confusion cast before my science is at once dispelled with satisfaction at seeing that selfsame science so wondrously ratified in its transcendent wisdom. A satisfaction which is, on the one hand, profound, in that all which I foresaw has come to pass; and, on the other—and by that selfsame token—stony, in that all which I see before me is madness, lunacy, chaos, impossibility, contradiction and confusion."

    "What do you see?" demanded Alf.

    "I see my stupid-but-loyal apprentice Shelyid enmeshed in the most absurd concatenation of catastrophes. Encased in what appears to be a diving helmet, the dwarven dolt is engaged in mortal combat with the fabled Glottal Stop of the Deep, compared to which insensate behemoth the feared Kraken is a nullity, a combat made yet more mortal in that the cretinous gnome is simultaneously beset by a swarm of Great White Diphthongs, the which are exhibiting all the classic symptoms of the ravenous feeding frenzy to which the horrid predators are notoriously prone, and—"

    Here his gaze ranged upward to the limit of vision along by the porthole.

    "—by the descent from above of what, based upon the classic descriptions by such authorities as H.G. Laebmauntsforscynneweëld I can only presume to be an invading force of extra-terrestrial aliens."

    The mage's mien grew stonier.

    "My stupid-but-loyal apprentice is further handicapped in his effort to fend off the combined fury of every conceivable monstrosity of legend and speculation in that his principal focus of attention is quite obviously his frenzied effort to rescue the personages of the harridan Magrit, Les Six, Gwendolyn Greyboar, young Harry Kutumoff and another individual whose identity I cannot immediately determine as my view is occluded, which personages, for reasons which defy all rational explanation but which reasons, when given at a later time, will surely boggle the mind, find themselves sealed within a transparent diving bell at the bottom of the Tongue Trench, themselves engaged in a ferocious struggle with the poisonous acronyms which append on every interior surface of the diving bell, a struggle made all the more desperate in that, on the one hand, judging from the blue pallor on every face, the diving bell has apparently almost exhausted its supply of oxygen, and, on the other, by the pre-occupation of Magrit and Gwendolyn with their ministrations to the final occupant of the bell, the one whose identity—ah! I see her now!—it is the maiden Polly Kutumoff—"

    A moment's pause. His satisfaction grew stonier.

    "—or rather—it failed only this!—the former maiden Polly Kutumoff, judging from the unmistakable signs of advanced pregnancy which are, it goes without saying, impossible in that the girl was in no such state when we saw her last, which was but yesterday, and 'tis well known that the gestation period—"

    His satisfaction grew stonier.

    "Ah! I mistook me! It failed but this! She is even at this moment giving birth! Yes, yes—even at this moment Magrit is holding up the new-born babe—"

    His satisfaction grew positively obsidian.

    "No, no! It failed but this! The child bears the unmistakable likeness of his undoubted father—"

    Here his satisfaction was like unto the Rock of Ages.

    "—my loyal-but-stupid apprentice, Shelyid."

    In a rush, Alf and Uncle Manya raced to the porthole, pushed Zulkeh aside, and crammed their faces to the glass.

    "Shelyid, look out!" cried Alf. "The monster behind you! Whew! That was close!"

    "Whew!" echoed Uncle Manya. "That is the hairiest newborn babe I ever saw."

    They turned from the porthole and stared at Zulkeh.

    "We've got to do something!" they cried as one.

    "Bah!" oathed Zulkeh. "Is the advance of science to be diverted—ah, malediction!" He danced a sudden jib of fury, shaking bony fists above his head.

    "Confusion, thy name is dwarf!"

    After a moment, the mage took a deep breath and sighed.

    "Well, then, so be it," he spoke. "I shall need your assistance, my comrades in misfortune. 'Tis a grave and perilous undertaking which lies before us. I speak of the necessity, simultaneously, of casting down a multitude of monsters mythical and macrocosmic, extracting a gaggle of witless geese from a diving bell at the very moment when its oxygen has expired, effectuating an exit from the bottom of the Tongue Trench, than which no abyss in the known universe is deeper, mollifying the indignation of the foremost family of the Mutt at the defilement of their daughter—"

    Uncle Manya coughed.

    "—and, last but not least, assuaging the unbridled outrage and fury of the foremost family of the Mutt at the fact that their now-ruined daughter is doubly disgraced in that the bastard is a gnome."

    Uncle Manya burst into a fit of coughing.

    Zulkeh bestowed upon him a sudden smile.

    "Do not despair, maniac. The situation could have been much worse. Think what might have happened if I had allowed Shelyid to accompany us!"

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