Chapter Nineteen – Evil In Spectrally Uncertain Clothing

Now leave we of the noble tale of Maid Sweetheart and the Basilisk Xaos, and turn we to the matter of its Master.

It was just another clothes shop, in a harmless little Location of Spatial Uncertainty. This was not, of itself, a particularly distinguishing condition in that exotic continuum known as Suburban-American-Retail-Space; but frankly this bit of work had characteristics that set it a teensy bit apart from the crowd.

The Shopkeeper was a sinisterly handsome chappy with swarthy skin, curly black hair, and a somewhat chequered though distinctly glitzy business history. Where, you ask, did Yasser Arafat get that hat? Was it not at that ultra-recondite but fashionably demotic booth known as "Gorgeous George" Nadir's Gentleman's Tailors? Nay, hold, stranger, methinks you are confusing him with Zealous Zev Rambam, outfitter extraordinary to the Stern Gang of old and their latter-day admirers. Or possibly the magisterial Gyula of World of Horthy, whose unerring dress-sense and sage sartorial advice did the boy Kossuth and Central Europe so much good in Hungary c. 1848? Or...

Suffice it to say, Historical Musely researches after the fact have traced a line of remarkably similar establishments right back to prehistoric Finland, where a certain Ahti and Kylikki Salo appear to have been allowed to run up an unfeasibly large tab on suspiciously little security. (And we find it very significant that no-one has ever been able to pin down the exact colour of Gilgamesh's kilt, either; but that is a matter of sheerest speculation!)

Be these things as they may, it is clear that Mr. Noah Lafitev – current proprietor of that very Clothes Shop of Spatial Uncertainty – was the upholder of a long and illustrious commercial tradition, and generally something just a little bit special.

As proof whereof, the plain and even uncompromising "LAFITEV'S – Men's Tailoring & Budget Suit Hire", which not so long ago had been purveying trousers and jackets to male partygoers with positively gay (though, on a personal level, almost aggressively straight) abandon, had now somehow taken on the aspect of


, a boutique that could not possibly have become any more gigi had Maurice Chevalier himself risen from his unquiet grave to sing Thank Heaven For Little Girls in front of it. The vats of Colour out of Space in the back rooms, and the blown-up photos from sixty-year-old British newspapers with headlines like 'SPAM' AFFAIR ROCKS COUNTRY, were a further clue to the fact that Mr. Lafitev was a tailor of particularly uncommon distinction.

BING-BONG! In walked a slim, attractive, twentyish brunette of likewise uncommon distinction. Given the cosmic significance already ripely hinted at for this boutique, it should say much that its owner's large ears pricked up instantly at her advent. For here, verily, was the awaited key to a thousand ancient prophecies, and the reduction of the very Universe to utter and ruinous chaos, wherein the Shopkeeper and his associates should feast unendingly upon our very souls, and lots more sad crap of this general description!

If, that is, the Shopkeeper's thoroughly infallible plan involving Xellos, the Doctors, the Black Sun Posse, and an ancient device of the Nine and Ninety's, inexplicably failed to bring about said situation within the next handful of hours. But given that it involved Xellos, the Doctors, and potentially Zaqqum and the Nine and Ninety into the bargain, mere infallibility was not enough to leave Mr. Lafitev holding his breath in these matters. So he trotted out his fallback plan anyway.

The Scarf of Spectral Uncertainty. Soft as the Milky Way, iridescent as an oil-slick, corruptly magical as all get-out, and one of Lafitev's better creations if he did say so himself.

The lady gasped.

She was, inevitably, captivated.


With the superhuman powers allotted him, he foresaw every step of the long game ahead. After the lady's father had finished his term in his own... unprecedented... fashion, the forthright and outspoken Congressman Kucinich would be a shoo-in. And after Kucinich had finished doing unto America that which he had once done to Cleveland, Ohio, the daring and confident President Schwarzenegger would likewise be a shoo-in! And once the survivors had dusted themselves off, so would incorruptible and imperturbable President Nader!! And once those voters not entirely incapacitated by rigor boris had zombied their way to the polling-booths, who would they elect in revenge but the Nader-Nemesis's fairest scion, that promised child of the Imperial Dynasty of America in the sacred Prophecies of Naotalba, the very puppet of the Scarf of Spectral Uncertainty who should become Empress as Lafitev's hapless tool, and under whose reign black stars should rise and HOLY CARCOSA RETURN TO RULE THE WORLD WITH MICKLE TERROR FROM THE UNKNOWABLE DEPTHS OF INFINITY, B*W*A*H*A*H*A*H*A*H*A*H*HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!


"No," the proto-Empress decided judiciously, "I don't think so. Haven't you got anything a bit more, like, exclusive?"

<Egyptian Arabic>
"What the %£$@9ing #'£& do you mean, more exclusive, polypsucking infidel Giaour trollop fit only for dogs (excuse the expression) to piss on in the street?!?"
</Egyptian Arabic>

"I'm sorry?"

"Well, I have to tell you, I was moved to quote a saying of my old Yiddisher momma which translates roughly as: Mazel tov, a connoisseur, a blessing on your head! But, lady, I have got to ask this so I can rip the face off my delinquent supplier and feed it to him down his one intact channel: what do you mean, this is not exclusive?"

"Like, the novelty fabric," she explained kindly. "Because if he told you it was an exclusive order, maybe you need to have a word with the nice British guy at G A Node's round the corner?" She made a moue. "He had some very nice... skimpies... in that, but he said they were reserved, even from members of the Imperial Family." She giggled. "Don't you just love that dry Brit humour? Gee, I'm glad he wouldn't sell it now! Well, good luck, Mr. Lafitev! Be seeing you!" she lied, and made her escape from the inexplicable and, yeah, well actually completely extraneous impulse that had sent her here in the first place.

Noah Lafitev seethed. He'd have changed her into a colony of tubeworms for two piastres, save that his powers were somewhat limited on this present plane, and he still had certain hopes for what the I.D. of A. might manage Chaos-wise on their own account. But he had wanted to puppet the Azathoth-damned Empress, not just vaguely to count on her being an unmitigated megadonkey when the time came! Humans were so unreliable about things like that...

G A Node's, was it?

Noah Lafitev knew exactly who was extracting the micturition.

He stormed out of his fashionable boutique, thus instantly transmogrifying it into the Dullsville IRS Cheerleading & Morris Dancing Boosters Club, and made for G A Node's in a manner like unto a particularly surly cruise missile's.

As she exited the opening, Eloise gasped, catching sight of the little group at the castle gates.

"Walter! Ruthie! What are you doing here?"

Walter filled Eloise in on events back in Sweetheart [mercifully snipped for reasons of sanity].

"The Trousers... disappeared?" Eloise said finally, when he reached the end of his story.

"They'll be back," Danel prophesied gloomily. "Probably with lots of evil gloating and supercool powers, and possibly some allies..."

Danik's, Arthur's and Lancelot's ears pricked up at that.

"What, like the evil beastie in the forest?" Gordon said.

Danel nodded.

"And it's not likely to be Mr. Farnsworth, is it?"

"Probably not..."

#Is it just me, or does anyone else remember the castle not being so... um, grey?# Ayna peered closer at the outlines dancing within the walls. #And... are those things doing garage?#

Xeffy joined her. "I dunno. Looks like techno."

#...No, it's garage. Looks like the SKoLD's still going...#

Eloise shuddered. If Walter hadn't had the presence of mind to fuse the two storylines together, she dreaded to think what would have happened.

She noticed the two young men in spandex – spandex? Here? – exchange glances at Ayna's comment.

"Somehow, I don't think I want to manifest through anything reflected on that..." Anya remarked from Xeffy's shadow.

"Let us repair within the castle's firm walls," Fastolf declaimed, "that we might more truly share our knowledge, confront our foes, and perhaps discern some method of removing the box of tricks from operation!"

"Er, I think we could help with that..." Xeffy and Anya said as one.

Then they double-took.

It's quite hard for a shadow to double-take; still, Anya managed it.

As they entered the castle, and the big group began to break up into smaller groups...

"Waow!" Embericles said, catching sight of Allie. "Talk about uber-babe magnet! Hey, Nyss, what d'ya say to a menage a trois?"

"I say you're all mine, light of my life, and I wouldn't share you for the world." Nyssaias contemplated Allie. "A short-term lease, on the other hand..."

"They were always like this, weren't they?" Imran remarked to Allie, whose cheeks were starting to pink.

Allie nodded.

"And they love embarrassing Allie." Yokoi put in. "Don't ask why."

Embericles shrugged. "Hey, the kid's got potential. Shame to see it go to waste. Especially with her looks."

Allie pinked rather more.

"Has anyone noticed there are nine of us here...?" Tessa said.


"Allie, Carrie, Cassie, Dom, Embericles, Nyssaias, me, Yokoi, and..." Tessa glanced over at Electra. "...her."

The others carefully avoided looking at Electra.

"You think maybe... nah." Yokoi said.

"Spit it out."

"Well, nine is a special number to us – well, us, dunno 'bout her..."

"Six, if I guess right." Allie supplied.

Yokoi nodded, and continued. "So you think maybe... something's gonna happen?"

"We shall see." Cassie said. "The future is open."

"Isn't it always?" Carrie said.

"Right," Eloise said. "First, we check on Sandra and Seventh. Then we settle the SKoLD once and for all – and then, perhaps, deal with whatever's coming after us. Whatever wants to use the Sampo."

"And then?" First said, as if he knew what she was about to say.

Eloise took a deep breath. "Then we let Electra make her choice."


:::Sweetheart! What is it?:::

:::Tell the others. Xaos – the Trousers – is dead.:::

Eloise breathed a sigh of relief – tinged with a little guilt. Only a little, but still...

:::It was long in coming.::: Sweetheart said. :::If not for he and his 'master', He would not have died.:::

Eloise nodded. She understood... but still and all, she was a pro-fun troll, and to kill anyone felt like a defeat.

:::The 'destroyer's' still out there, though.::: she sent.

She felt Sweetheart's affirmation. :::Yes. He – or his avatar – still walks my worldlet. And I believe that when he comes for the Sampo, he will bring... servants.:::

:::That's right!::: Eloise realised. :::You need to be of this world, this plane, to work it!:::

:::And so has he taken on form.::: Sweetheart said. :::I am not sure whether such as he can be destroyed... but he has taken on form, he can be faced – and defeated.:::

:::...Do you know what form?:::

:::I fear not. I know he is here... but he is a blind spot in my awareness. I cannot pinpoint him.

:::Use your time well.:::

:::We will.:::

She took a deep breath, and went to tell the others.

Danel's eyes widened. "You mean I finally predicted something wrong?"

"Er... I'm not all that sure that's a good thing." Gordon told him.

"It is." Danel replied. "I can see foreshadowing coming a mile off – and as for plot twists... But this one..." He shook his head, grinning. "Didn't see this one coming at all..."

"The evil beastie's still out there, though." Gordon said.

"And he'll turn up with supercool powers, some allies... not sure about the gloating, he may just decide to do the whole 'threatening presence' thing..." Danel considered. "Hmm... hasn't really changed that much."

"Joy." Katherine said flatly. "So where were we?"

"Er... I think we found Seventh," Gordon said.


"Out cold next to the SKoLD."

"How do you know?"

"I just tripped over him..."

Dominic and his expedition, which included Space Arthur and Lancelot, were just about to enter the crystal castle when Morgan turned an outside corner, Sandra floating behind.

"There you are!" Morgan charged up to Arthur. "Did you get my message?"

"I've been a world away," Arthur said.

"The SKoLD runs on the power of myth," Morgan explained. "Defeating it in the nick of time will only empower it."

"We know," said Dominic.

"Defeating it by conventional motifs," Morgan amended. "Defeat it we must, but as unconventionally as possible, and/or by distracting it along the way with unconventional subplots."

Familiar with the works in which Space Morgan appears, Dominic now witnessed a unique momentary lapse of her self-assuredness, as she reached for Arthur's hand – with tenderness.

"I'm your only enemy to go undefeated through most of your reign," she said, "but before that I was your first love and the mother of your only child."

"Morgause is the mother of Mordred in the tales," Dominic said, despite a genuine exercise of will not to interrupt this moment with pedantry.

"Marion Zimmer Bradley," Morgan rebutted.

"Joan Wolfe," Arthur said. "I like 'The Road to Avalon' because she keeps everyone but Agravaine from being a bad guy."

"The movie 'Excalibur'," Lancelot added. Dominic surrendered.

"And I said unconventionality is what we need." Morgan took Arthur's other hand. "I've been all that to you, and now we're reconciled, which is also unconventional."

Dominic sucessfully suppressed his reaction this time, for Morgan was hesitating again. Arthur had the blank look he gets when he knows what someone else is going to say. Dominic thought he knew too.

"We must consummate our reconciliation," Morgan said.

"You're my half-sister," Arthur objected, along with several others.

"All the more unconventional," Morgan said. "This is the manner given to us to assist in defeating the SKoLD and its master, Arthur."

"You have been complaining about not getting any action," Lancelot reminded him, then turned bright red at the unintentional pun.

Noah Lafitev, as we must still call him for the benefit of the not-so-fic-predictive and/or differently unspeakable-cosmic-blasphemies-aware amongst our gentle audience, made his wrathful way around the corner to G A Node's. The neighbourhood cats hissed, mewled and fled at his approach, and the tame dogs cowered and whined; but by the time he had reached his enemy's establishment, he was being followed by two stray mutts, twenty chittering rats, eight agitated squirrels, and a rabid skunk on the run from the agents of a highly fashionable perfume house. Their joint and several attempts to lick his hands the moment he stood still seemed in danger of causing public comment, and warned the outraged businessman that his psychic zipper was coming embarrassingly undone. He pulled himself together with a mighty effort; sicced the rats onto the dogs; geased the squirrels to go nibble on someone's nuts; and furnished the skunk with a hot tip concerning an upcoming vacancy in the State legislature. These needful chores accomplished, Lafitev stared coldly at his enemy's latest redoubt.

G A Node's for Women. And yes, there it was, the familiar seashell motif bigger than life, repeated variously between the various cocktail-dress- and lingerie-clad mannequins of the window-display. The mannequins had been rendered with an eye-catching and almost salacious attention to detail. Faint and unseemly strains of doubtful, Dionysiac harmony oozed out from under the smoked-glass door.

Lafitev shook his head suspiciously. This was hardly in the senile old sod's usual idiom – any more than was the direct and highly undiplomatic interference with his plans for the Imperial Dynasty. If there were no rules amongst the Powers of Chaos concerning such matters, there were definitely understandings, and this intrusion of Underwear of Knock-off Spectral Uncertainty into his plans broke all of them. Essentially, China had just hacked into the CIA's Things To Do (Urgent) (Top Secret, Keep Out, Yes You Too Mom!!) list, and published the complete doings on the World Wide Web. Bad feeling was ensuing, as under such circumstances bad feeling so often will.

Noah Lafitev gathered his eldritch powers about him, and passed the dread portal with intent to start a substantial barney.

"Hey, big spender! Hey, big spender!" Shirley Bassey sang from entirely too many loudspeakers in the dimly-lit shop. "Spend a little time with me!"

"Sosban bach, sosban bach!" rang the door-chimes, not that the education of a Noah Lafitev equipped him to recognise the only true and authentic national anthem of that land so eloquently and hauntingly hymned by an unbreakable chain of bards stretching all the way from Taliesin to Max Boyce.

"Nodens, you hoary old bastard!" Lafitev raged. "Come forth! Out! Shoooop!"

A tall, virile-looking fellow in the evident prime of life bounded out from the back room. He bore a superficial resemblance to Lafitev himself, with his swarthy skin and thick black curls; but he was more burly than elegant, and his eyes were sea-green and not black; nor would the Prince of Evil Shopkeeping be caught dead in a broad-striped black-and-turquoise shirt tastefully undone to the waist, for the better public display of bronzed, hairy, and bemedallioned chest. "Now, Nygel Attercop, I ask you, is that any way to be speaking of a bloke's Da?"

"It's Noah Lafitev here," said Prince returned, with deadly dignity, "and I came not to bandy words with his idle spawn, but to call to account the vacuous Lord of the Great Abyss himself, who is taking the piss out of my principals and must cease and desist with extreme prejudice. Oy!" he added, vaguely conscious that his persona was not taking the strain over-well.

"Well, that'd be me now, wouldn't it?" The Welsh Wonder grinned, showing perfect though queerly nacreous teeth. "See, Da's gone onto his well-earned retirement, and he's passed me on the business. Gwyn ap Nud, at your service. So what can I do you for, then?"

"Why," demanded Lafitev, between his teeth, "did you think you could get away with warning off the Imperial Heir-Presumptive of America from my Scarf of Starry Wisdom?!"

"Oh, sorry about that." Gwyn's expression became sheepishly affable. "I was just trying to screw up your monkey-business with the Xaos and all that. Never crossed my mind you'd try the same tired old trick for something else, until our luscious little shrublet walks into the shop with a geas on her plain as the nose on your face and starts giving my Underwear of Spectral Uncertainty the eyeball. Hard on me to put her off!" He leered jovially. "Still. I know a good Repairer of Reputations, now you've put yourself in the market for one..."

"I am otherwise engaged, I have a universe to annihilate over the next few hours. But don't think this is – " Lafitev did a double-take. "If you would have peace between us, dog, answer me swiftly: what did you do with this sleazy bit of copyright infringement?" He cast a terrible and meaningful glance around the little store, in which displays of just such lingerie were conspicuous by their absence.

"Sex bomb, sex bomb!" Tom Jones clarified from the speakers.

"Well, they'll reveal all when used by Muses in a delectable double-act of the Dance of Successive Unveiling, won't they now?"

"I meant their enchantment, shmuck!"

"So did I, boyo." Gwyn sighed lustily. "If you mean the spell, though, it's the same thing. Principle of Similarity, see? Someone isn't going to be too thrilled when she finds out who was whispering in Rassilon's ear when he went over to clockwork, and the rest of the True History..."

"What in Iblis's infernal intestines are you talking about? – Schlemiel!"

"Oh, you soft sod." Gwyn was incredulous. "You do remember who else is in there? You know, Miss Miffed Muse -5,832,398,233? Twice-Bereaved, Cold-Heart (No Relation To Any EDA), She Who Is Become Mourning?" He facefaulted. "Bloody Norah, you didn't know, did you?"

"Oh, this is too good!" sneered Lafitev. "Thanks for that. There's a soul I've been particularly looking forward to rending into its warp and woof and serving up bolognese to a colony of hyperactive Zoogs. It'll be worth a little extra complication for the sheer spice of it. Shlep, shlimazel, shmo!"

"Teach Yourself Yiddish In 24 Hours, was it?" returned Gwyn bitterly. "Run along then, Nyree Dawn Porter, unless you'd care to buy some pantyhose or something. Never surprise me if you did."

Lafitev turned triumphantly for the door. "Who do you take me for, shwa – Xe— ?"

"Sosban bach, sosban bach!" said the doorchimes. A further look at the prospect below them bucked them up so far that they proceeded all the way to the bit where the cat scratches little Johnny. And small wonder, either.

"Is there anyone here expecting a message from Xellos the Trickster Priest?" demanded the short sylphine redhead in the cerise cloak, who was no part of the reason for the door's reaction.

Gwyn ap Nud leapt out from behind the counter like a randy billy-goat. "And how may I help you, ma'am?" he demanded of her ludicrously over-endowed and leatherily underdressed companion.

She folded her arms across her remarkable mammary development, and said loftily, "Oh, I'm just tagging along to make sure my anorexic junior associate delivers the message and gets payment in full..."

"I am he, gentle shiksa!" Lafitev smiled ingratiatingly.

The redhead glared up him suspiciously. "And what does that mean?"

"It means he's probably going to call you a bagel next," Gwyn muttered disgustedly.

She ground her teeth, decided to get the matter over with and walk away as quickly as possible. "Xellos says that he worked your double-bind with the coat and trousers, but a third force summoned up Zaqqum against you."

<Egyptian Arabic>
"Zaqqum, I'll give that Trakenising *$%$-bitch zaqqum to eat all right, and fire to drink, and grease her £&$£ing !$@* for the better ^$*%)£ation of tentaculate @£&%s with the lard of that animal it is not right to mention in mannerly company!"
</Egyptian Arabic>

"Excuse me, but I don't speak that language." A definite undertone of strop was entering the redhead's voice.

"I do," said Gwyn hastily, having placed the new arrivals at last, "and believe me, girlie, it isn't an advantage just here and now..."

She took a deep breath, and resumed, "He says he talked her round into a mutual non-intervention pact, and got her to 'quit Sweetheart' and withdraw from the whole affair, in exchange for his doing the same." She frowned. "Oh, and if you wonder why he didn't just destroy her local aspect, he says to ask where you last saw the... Yellow Sign." She put her hands on her slim hips. "Message ends!"

"She's completely out of it? MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!"

"Hnh," returned the more statuesque of the messengers, unimpressed. "He also said that you would reward us richly at the delivery of the message."

"Surely," said Lafitev. "Your message so pleases me, that only the highest and greatest reward befits it. Is there anything you think higher and greater than leaving with your lives intact, your hearts unwithered, and your souls unconsumed? If so, feel free to ask for that – instead...!"

"Hee, hee, hee, hee, hee!" Tall-dark-and-busty had the most annoying laugh with which any of those present had ever been afflicted, not excepting those personally acquainted with the Ghoul-Hyena of Chaos. "The little man wants to cheat us..."

The redhead was less amused. Her eyes flamed like burning roses, and she began to make mystic passes in the air. Noah Lafitev smiled, and licked his lips.

Gwyn whipped out a big branch of hazel, and thwacked all three intruders with it distractingly. "Not in my bloody shop!"

"Oh, really?" The redhead smiled up at him with disarming sweetness. "And why shouldn't I?"

"Well, first, even if you Dragon Slave the cheap bastard, all you will do is fray the local Very Fabric of Reality, and piss off the Other Gods, and trash the property values for miles around. And he'd probably enjoy it anyway." The messengers looked somewhat undecided. "Second, because I am partial to small but perfectly formed visions of elfin loveliness, and I ask you is it fair to make me summon down the all-consuming fury of the Great Abyss upon that very lady who has already stolen all hope from my heart with a single flash of her immaculate fangs?" The redhead briefly blushed and dimpled before this onslaught of overwhelming cheese. The leather girl looked frankly disbelieving. "And thirdly, I am one of the Three Generous Men of the Island of the Mighty, and I'll pay off his whole account to the tune of free meals for a month at the restaurants, hotels, and low dives of your choice. Now, do we have a deal, then?"

Xellos's messengers nodded in awed, hypnotic unison. The Shopkeeper of the Great Abyss had just indicated that he knew who they were, and still thought he could stand them meals for a month. Here was either power or sheer o'erleaping hubris before which the high Gods Themselves need not shame to quail.

"And as for you," he warned Lafitev, "try hassling any ladies in my shop, boyo, and it's you and me outside and to blue blazes with the consequences!"

Lafitev sneered, at which he was notably better than learning new languages and idioms. "See you later, schnitzel! Now that my minion has cancelled Nyssa's accursed spawn out of the equation, I need subtlety no longer. Now I care nothing for your Underwear of Stolen Intellectual Property, nor the raddled hag whose toyboy's blood my Xaos drunk in the time of myth! For a thousand forms have I, and one in special against which not all the Gods and Muses of your weak worlds dared battle in days gone by; and now in the TARDIS's worldlet I may rise up in it again, and none shall stand before me, and unlife more hateful than death shall devour Terra and Gallifrey and all your precious property values, nyaargh nyaargh nyaargh nyaargh nyaargh!"

His form began to shiver and melt, and hints of unspeakable things chittered and drooled in the violated air around it. "And mine is the victory, and Terror Antiqua shall devour all to the sweet flutings of the Other Gods about the unspeakable throne of Azathoth, when the Sampo rips this quivering overripe world open to the naked terror of ultimate entropy, whose messenger and soul I am; then tremble, weep, and lament eternally your folly in opposing me, FOR I AM

_*/#    NYARLATHOTEP, THE CRAWLING CHAOS!!!!!!!!!!!!    #/*_


And he faded out of G A Node's for Women, his form still mutating, and no longer even remotely resembling humanity. His parting words hung with dread and eldritch force on his listeners' astonished minds, long after their echoes had died away:

"But your friends can call me... Typhon!"

There was a long silence. The little redhead finally broke it, mouthing broken syllables from where she lay blinking and starfished on the floor:

"I can't believe he used a blink tag..."

Her companion was more practical. "So he's about to destroy the Universe, is he? I knew that "free meals for a month" offer was too good to be true!" She prodded the Welshman in the chest. "I hope you weren't expecting to fob us off with such a transparent trick!"

"Oh, it went rather well, I thought." Gwyn smiled at her dazzlingly, though the charm might have come through better had he been able to point his eyes in the direction of her face. "If Lady Zaqqum's done what my old Da would have done in her shoes, I think he's in for a rude awakening. Tell you what, then. I'll lay you – lay you – "

The redhead got up, rose on tiptoes, and slapped his face. "Excuse us!"

Gwyn shook his head bemusedly. "Sorry, Miss Inverse, I... I seemed to lose track of the conversation for a moment. Must be the stress. Anyway, I'll lay either of you... thirty to one that the Universe will still be here in a month, how about it?"

The leather lady immediately went for her purse.

"Naga! Nnnnghh! He can't lose!"

"Well, of course!" The magnimammarious mark sniffed, and replaced her purse with a scornful little laugh. "That's obvious!"

"About that money." Miss Inverse's expression was that of one who has reached the point of being ready to fireball everything in sight, quite possibly including self, if pushed one inch further.

"No problem, now." The Generous Man brought out a queerly iridescent and spectrally dubious wallet, and extracted from it an Osmium American Express Card, available only to those so miasmically, stinkingly super-rich that the IRS actually has to pay them tribute. "That should last you a month or so, I reckon."

"Are you sure that will cover it?" Naga had heard the rumours of such talismans before, but she was also a girl who knew her own gormandising talents to a nicety.

"Well, it bloody should, it's drawn on the Great Old Ones' Milky Wayan expense account!" Gwyn flicked through the other things in the wallet, throwing the more repellent ones to the floor and stamping on them, and handed the redhead another bit of plastic. "Go on, then: just because I like you."

"His library card???" Wheels turned visibly in the diminutive necromancer's head, and she flashed a short and extremely saccharine smile at her benefactor. "Thank you very much, Mr. Node, it's been a pleasure meeting you, er, come on, Naga, there's some things we need to attend to..."

"Finally she notices," grumbled Naga, patting her bare midriff in a meaningful and powerfully restaurantotaxic manner. The messengers withdrew from Gwyn ap Nud's with celerity, ignoring Tom Jones's hopeful intimations from the loudspeakers that it wasn't unusual to be loved by anyone.

These, however, appeared to awaken melancholy yearnings within the Shopkeeper of the Great Abyss, at least once the Grammary Grrls's rear views had ceased to monopolise the cosmic profundities of his mind.

"So, now. Zaqqum again, is she? And out of the game like me? I wonder, now..." His bushy brows drew together. "Lord of the Great Abyss. Lady of the Plenum. Well – it might work, at that!"

It was not the first time such thoughts had passed through the transmundane noddle of Gwyn ap Nud; but, for all of his macho bullshitting, he had always hitherto been a little bit too shy to introduce himself to the Mistress of Dreams and Ashes. Besides, she'd been knocking about forever with that Saes git of a Steward. But if she was bowing out of a game he was still involved in... there couldn't be any Musely connection there any more. Not that she was that likely to be anywhere he could reach her... but, still...

"What the Annwfyn!" Gwyn declared, with sudden resolution. He strutted over to his desk, and withdrew with elaborate casualness that Little Red Book which magically contained the current contact details of all telecoms-enabled females upon whom his fancy had lately alighted. Volume S-Z. To his unspeakable surprise and delight, there between 'Zapper O'Callaghan' and 'Zara Phillips' was the very entry he sought. 'Zaqqum, the Desolation Beyond Time – 05555-55555-7298740934 (not available from Svalbard, New Guinea, or Theydon Bois)'. His mighty heart beat a tad faster, as he dialled the number up.

She answered, too.


"Gwyn ap Nud speaking, Lord of the Great Abyss and heir to my old Da Nodens, you know the chap?"

". .... ....... ...."

"Well, listen, I hear you've done your bit against the Crawling Chaos in this kerfuffle, and I've just finished doing the same, and, well, you know, I've heard a lot about you, and I, I've always thought I'd like to meet up some time, isn't it?" Gwyn bit his tongue.


"Well, thing is, I was wondering if you were doing anything this evening, then?"

"...... ....."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, mortal illness is a bugger isn't it? Was it that lad did it for you? I'll have him if it was. Hope you get better soon, then..."

".... ....... ..... ............... .... ......, and lots more in that thrilling, sad, brittle voice with a Universe's seductive richness behind it: get a grip on yourself there, Gwyn boy!"

"Heh. Had me worried for a minute, you did! Look, I was thinking, what with my Abyss and your Plenum and all, I thought we might get together, compare a few notes over some beer or wine and a nice slap-up meal, and maybe let our hair down a bit, you know, all work and no play and that, and us sharing an interest in dance as well the way I've heard it, I mean, you know, not being pushy or anything, ah, yeah, well, just have a chat and a few laughs, you know?"

Gwyn began estimating how long it would take him to beat his immortal brains out against the counter.

".... ..... ..... ..... ..."

"Well – yeah! Of course. Right, we're on then!"


"Hwyl nawr, then, and, ah, Source bless you! See you at TTR!"

".... .... ......"

"Yes!" Gwyn ap Nud punched the air giddily. He did some funky dancing to the merry sounds of Catatonia until his excess feelings had finished boiling over, before heading stairwards to make his pre-dately preparations. On the way, he stopped briefly by the phone to cancel his engagements for the evening:

"Gwythyr bach? Yeah, Gwyn here. Listen, tell Cordy sorry and all, but I shan't be able to make the darts match tonight. Yeah, well, give her my love... I know you will, you dirty dog! Well, that aside, get us in a few 180s, and raise me a glass, and I'll see you both next week maybe. Yeah, I expect I will. Okay then, bye now..." And without further thought for his best friend Gwythyr, or Creiddylad the Most Splendid Maiden In The Three Islands Of The Mighty And The Three Islands Adjacent, Gwyn ap Nud bounded upstairs to set himself up for his hot date.

Which in no way comes into our story, but whose existence may explain several otherwise apparently gratuitous events in previous episodes.

Elsewhere, in the worldlet, Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos in the form of Typhon the Destroyer was preparing to annihilate the party and the cosmos. What can I say? Some people are just plain bad!

Chapter Twenty – Past And Future Principles

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