In the painted darkness of the cathedral, the Dr. coughed
‘Um. Hello?’ he spoke into the darkness, and the darkness spoke back
‘Hello – o – o – o?’
‘An echo.’ the Dr. sighed.
‘Echo – o – o – o.’ The darkness sighed sadly back.
‘Okay – ay – ay – ay’. Said the echo. There was the faintest of sounds; a rustling as of a paper Hare hopping over sand, that grew fainter and fainter until at last it was gone.
‘Excellent.’ Doom said, alone once more. He reached up to absently scratched behind his ear, and in doing so, materialized a hand. And also an ear.
‘Advance and be recognised, Mortal.’ a mighty voice crowed in the blackness.
‘Where to?’ asked Doom.
‘What?’ demanded the voice.
‘Where to?’ repeated the Doctor. ‘I can’t see anything.’
‘Oh.’ said the voice, its pomp and majesty diminished. ‘Yes. Of course.’
A light came on, and the Dr. materialized eyes. Something which had he known he’d done, he would perhaps have regretted. A giant Crow was perched a top a giant desk, and behind the desk was slumped the cobweb clothed skeleton of a giant. In its dusty hand was a dusty black quill.
‘Is that better?’ crowed the Crow
‘In a sense.’ grimaced the Dr.
‘Good, good.’ nodded the Crow. With the tip of one wing it readjusted the brass bound spectacles on its beak.
‘Now then.’ it continued, puffing up its chest and smoothing its ruffled feathers ‘Come forward and be recognized, Mortal.’ When nothing happened and Doom stayed put, the bird deflated and looked around.
‘Well come one, come on.’ it said. ‘Step into the light my dear boy. Lets have a look at you.’
The Dr. walked towards the desk and the pool of orange light.
‘Euych’ squawked the bird. ‘How grotesque! Where’s the rest of you?’
‘Erm.’ The Dr looked around. ‘There was only me, I think.’
‘I’m talking about you!’ said the bird. ‘One does not simply turn up to death wearing less than half a body! Where is the rest of you!’
‘Eh?’ the Dr. looked down at his hands. Or rather, at his hand. It had four fingers, a thumb, assorted knuckles, joints and flat bits, but where there should have been a wrist, there was – a hollowness.
‘Argh!’ said the Dr. But only because he felt it was appropriate. ‘Um. Where’s the rest of me?’ he asked.
The Crow shrugged, which is easy to do if you have wings. And then it consulted a clipboard, which isn’t.
‘Are you a god, wizard or transcendental being?’ asked the crow.
‘Er. I’d know if I was, right?’
‘I assume so.’ said the crow. ‘Are you ever possessed of the urge to smite lesser beings?’
‘Isn’t everyone?’ replied the Dr.
‘And have you? Ever smited a lesser being?’
‘Well, I once shot a Were-cat with a ray gun. And this other time I turned a fire breathing demon I’d only partly been responsible for summoning into a mouse. Also with a ray-gun. Oh, and I constantly foil my arch-nemesis’s plans to bring me down through the judicious application of wit and a good wardrobe. Does that count?’
‘Ah.’ sighed the crow ‘You’re a mad scientist.’ It pecked at the clipboard. ‘Which explains quite a bit. Now, do you see the giant behind me?’
‘Big chap? Long on cobwebs, short on skin?’ replied Doom
‘The very same. His name is Ammas, and he records the deaths of, well, the Big Things. Galaxies and Gods (with a big ‘g’), races and ideas. He sends them all on their way. My name is Um, or so I was told.’ The crow looked uncomfortable
‘There was a bit of confusion though, and no one’s really sure. However, I call myself Um, and that will suffice for now. I deal with men like you. Suns and worlds and lesser things. Don’t ask me about the desk, and no one mentions the horse.’
‘What horse?’ In the soupy blackness, something shouted neigh. It sounded distant, and unconvincing.
‘Why is there a horse?’ asked the Dr.
‘I stand corrected.’ said the Crow. ‘But that’s irrelevant. Now, the trouble is that you’ve left your body behind. Not your corporeal body, but the idea of your body. It’s supposed to come with you when you die, but you appear to have left it somewhere else. It happens from time to time when mortals meddle with death. You create a vessel you think will hold you, but it never quite works. You leak out, you see.’
‘Of Reality. That old thing has more holes in it than a sieve. Trouble is, I can’t send you on incomplete. It causes friction further on down the line. Now, we could reincarnate you, but that’s always messy and tends to do more harm than good. So, what I need you to do is manifest a new body.’
‘I like the sound of reincarnation.’ said the Dr. ‘Can I go back as a goat? There’s some one I want to scowl at.’
‘No.’ Squawked the Crow. ‘Now, in order to manifest a new body, all you have to do is think about what your corporeal body looked like. Don’t try clothes. Clothes are tricky. Once you’re body starts to form, necessity’ll to the rest, and the process’ll speed up.’
‘A head needs a neck, legs need feet. You’re body will fill in the gaps. It’s a hard process, and it’ll take a while, but – ‘ The Crow was cut off by a loud ‘pop’
‘Baa-aaa’ said the Dr.
‘We both know you weren’t a goat.’ Snapped the Crow. ‘I don’t know how you did that, but undo it at once or I’ll send you into the afterlife as you are.’
The Dr. scowled up at the giant crow. Which is easy to do if you’re a goat. There was a second ‘pop’ and the Dr. stood upright.
‘Much better.’ said the Crow ‘A tad unlikely, if you ask me, but I can see you’ve got the hang of this manifestation thing. Now. If you hold still, I’ll send you on. Ready?’ The Crow clawed off it’s spectacles.
‘Wait!’ cried the Dr. ‘I have a question.’
‘Just the one question?’ Sighed the Crow
‘Just the one question.’ Said the Dr.
‘Fine.’ Said the Crow ‘But if you ask me what purpose there was in life, I’ll be forced to peck your eyes out.’
‘Clothes.’ replied Doom. ‘Why are clothes tricky?’
‘Oh.’ the Crow settled itself back, clearly relieved ‘I thought you were going to ask me something religious. Thank god you didn’t. Ha!’ it laughed at is own little joke.
‘Well anyway.’ it carried on ‘Clothes are tricky because, unlike the body which is a part of your mind, and so capable of filling in its own detail, you have to hold every part of the cloth in your consciousness, you have to be constantly aware of and believe in every stitch and weave and button hole. Most can just about manage a loincloth, but the second you forget about it, it vanishes.
This is a holding place for the dead. Reality is thin on the ground.’
In the distance, the horse whinnied again. It sounded closer.
‘I see.’ said the Dr. ‘Well that’s all I really needed to know.’
‘Very well,’ said the Crow ‘are you ready?’
Doom nodded, and the bird leapt. It unfurled its wings as its body rose through the air. It beat them once, twice and opened it’s beak.
There was, if anyone had cared to hear it, the faintest of popping sounds.
The Crow twirled in the darkness above the light cast by the desk lamp. It flew like no bird ever has; swimming almost through whatever passed for air in this place at barely passed as a place. It turned it’s body down, and plunged towards Doom.
The Dr. looked up, all unaware of the acrobatics above him. He waited until there was a flash of light, a shimmer of orange on the oily feathers of the Crows enormous wings. Ten feet above his head, the Crow closed in on him. In it’s beak a vortex that lead to the place beyond.
There was a flash of silver as he raised his arm. A bolt of green energy shot from cylinder in his hand, and the Crow vanished.
A tiny mouse with black feathers fell to earth beside him. It lay un-moving on the formless black ground, and the Dr. nudged it with a toe. There was a second ‘pop’ and the transmogrification gun vanished. Doom shrugged, and walked further into the light. Cloth flowed out of nowhere around him and draped itself over his naked skin until at last a suitably billowing coat of fine black cotton reached his ankles.
‘Yeah I am.’ He said to himself, brushing an imaginary speck of dust from his sleeve. There was the sound of galloping hooves, and into the light, a creature clattered. It was like a horse, but with antlers and a scowl. It looked at the Doctor through oddly intelligent eyes.
‘Neigh.’ It said ‘And if you think you climbing on tackle out, forget it. And you’ll want a saddle. Only women and eunuchs ride bare-back.’
Fire, like an orange flower caught in instantaneous Spring, bloomed in the valley below the mountain. The Mayor screeched, and the 105mm guns of the Worldsvilles armed forces opened up; a distant pop, pop, pop followed by a sinister, low pitched whistle as the shells fell to earth.
Crump, crump, crump. The bombs dropped in seemingly random locations, and though the aim of the gunners was woefully dire, the power of the explosions, nearly a thousand meters from where he stood, was felt through the earth by Shavis. His head felt as if it was splitting apart, as if a pebble of solid, white hot madness was burning a hole in his brain, infecting his thoughts with a directionless, desire-less hysteria.
He turned at the sound of hooves bearing down on him, ducking out the way of a great, clattering nothing.
The Goon sighed and knelt in the shadow of the robot. He pressed his forehead hard against it’s metal leg, the pressure easing the hateful pain with a duller one of its own. As he pushed, blood trickled down his face and around his snout, dripping gently into his protruding lower lip.
Crump, crump, crump. The bombs fell to earth as still more whistled through the air. If anything, their aim was getting worse…