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The Disappearing Island (Chapter 4 of 6)

Title: The Disappearing Island
Fandom: Welcome to Night Vale/Cthulhu Mythos
Author: tikistitch
Rating: M
Characters/Pairings: Cecil/Carlos
Warnings: Cursing, sexual situations
Word Count: ~36,000 total
Summary: Carlos, a naturalist on board the HMS Vigilant, stumbles upon the ancient island of Nightlantis during a tour of the Pacific in the 1800s. There he unwittingly joins in a contest to win the beguiling Prince Cecil's hand in marriage.
Notes: Posting this one a bit early as I've got a big chunk of Sunday set aside for fangirling Sherlock.





Strathlachland, Scotland, Year of Our Lord 1854

“Thank you for accompanying me today.”

“It's my pleasure, Captain Cochrane,” said Carlos. He watched as the captain sat down on a rock wall and yanked off his boot.

“Just Tom is fine. There's only the two of us out here,” said Cochrane, upending his boot and shaking it in an attempt to dislodge the offending pebble.

“Tom, then,” said Carlos. “I must admit, I usually do not fancy hunting for sport.” He patted one of the hunting dogs, who had padded up to investigate why its masters were stopped. “But I have been known to pursue the art when I am after specimens.”

“You have an interest in natural history,” said the Captain, who sat for a time evidently contemplating his footwear. He certainly did not seem in earnest to continue their hunting expedition.

“It's an avocation,” said Carlos. “As I am affianced, I will need to pursue my profession as a physician.”

“Ah, yes. My best wishes, and all that,” muttered the Captain. He had yanked his boot back on, but now was bringing out a silver cigarette case. He offered one to Carlos, who demurred. “Yes, filthy habit,” grumbled the Captain, who then lit up. “Picked it up during the Crimean War.”

The wind kicked up. The Captain pointed. “Did you hear that?”

“I'm sorry?”

“Listen.” The two men fell silent, as the wind gusted and then died. “It always sounds different going through the different stands of trees. Marvelous, really! I'll never quit listening to the wind. Probably the sea captain in me, thinking about the wind in my sails even when I'm ashore.”

Carlos nodded.

“So, I suppose your father told you I'm soon to leave on a surveying expedition for Her Majesty’s government.”

“Yes,” said Carlos, a bit wistfully it may be added. His thoughts drifted to distant lands, far beyond his father's estate.

“We plan to go around the tip of the New World, and then we'll visit your friend Mr. Darwin's islands, the Galapagos.”

Carlos turned to stare at the Captain, wondering now if he was being taunted on purpose. He searched his mind, but couldn't think of any offense he may have committed against Cochrane. Was this is father's doings, perhaps? First he had been forced in into this ridiculous engagement with Temperance Hatrack, and now the Baron wanted to rub Carlos's face in it?

“...But he gets seasick. Seasick! Can you believe it?” Cochrane had slapped Carlos on the back, which brought him out of his reverie.

“I'm sorry,” said Carlos. “I'm afraid I rather drifted off.”

“Already asea, my lad? I was speaking of my naturalist, Carlos. He was all prepared to set sail with us, a young gentleman like yourself. Only it turns out he's of too delicate a constitution for a sea voyage! So I find myself about to shove off without my most important personnel.”

“A naturalist,” said Carlos. His mind was in a fog. “You need a naturalist aboard?”

“Just so.”

Carlos stood stock still. The dog, which had been sniffing the air, broke into a run. As the men watched, it charged across the field, disappearing into the heather. And then there was a rustling, and a flock of pheasants took wing. Without a thought, Carlos had his rifle braced against his shoulder. A shot rang out, and a bird fell. And then the sound of racing feet, and the dog had brought back the bird, safe in its mouth.

“Well, looks like we have tonight’s dinner,” said Tom, rubbing his hands together.

“We usually age them before they're served,” Carlos said absently, pulling the bird from the dog. “You need a naturalist aboard,” he added.

“We've been through this, Carlos. Yes! I need someone willing to serve as a naturalist aboard the Vigilant. Any idea who I could find on such short notice?” His face had broken into a cat-caught-the-canary grin.



An Uncharted Isle, The Pacific Ocean, Year of Our Lord 1856

Carlos sat up in bed, blinking blearily around in confusion.

It had begun innocently enough. During the night, he had encountered some trouble falling asleep. He had been listening to the clock ticking on his nightstand, and had remembered Cecil's remark about the clocks in Nightlantis. And so, having spotted a set of tools resting by the door, he had carefully disassembled the clock to find … absolutely nothing. It was completely empty of any mechanism inside. But it had been functional: he could swear he had heard it ticking, and observed the hands moving. Curious now, he had taken apart the clock in the sitting room as well. That one too was empty. And then the pocket watch he had fished out of his soup. He had then gone around and taken apart every timepiece in the guest house, only to find each and every one completely devoid of internal moving parts. The grandfather clock in the hall, which he had finished disassembling the very last, had instead of moving parts a kind of jelly inside, which appeared to sport a tuft of hair.

That had been his last memory before he drifted off to sleep. Or at least, he thought he remembered. But now, somehow, he was back in bed, and the clock beside him, which was perfectly intact, continued to tick.

The knocking on the door began anew: that had been the noise that woke him up, apparently. He pulled on a dressing gown and leapt up to answer, expecting perhaps to see Cecil at his door.

Instead, he was greeted by Babbage, who, after a quick bow, trundled in with a covered tray, which he sat on the table. “Thank you, Mr. Babbage,” said Carlos. He peeked under the cover, and was surprised to see a hot breakfast, with fried eggs and crisp bacon and thick toast and fresh butter and marmalade and fried potatoes and even some very hot, very strong brewed coffee (exactly the way Carlos preferred it).

Carlos didn't sit, but (somewhat rudely, it may be said) picked up a rasher of bacon and nibbled at it as he followed Babbage, who had headed over to a mysterious cabinet in Carlos's sitting room. The mechanical man flipped a switch. The apparatus lit up and hummed, and then, all of a sudden, a familiar voice filled the room.

“....reminds citizens that they are not allowed in our dog park. Do not go to the dog park. Do not gaze upon the dog park. If you see any hooded figures around the dog park, please ignore them. I am not to speak again of the dog park. In fact, please forget that I even mentioned it. No, quit thinking about it. Think about something else. Like gazelles!”

“Is that Cecil's transmission?” Carlos asked Babbage, who, not having the power of speech, could not reply. “I suppose I should wash up,” he said, sipping his coffee. “I mean, before I’ve breakfasted, since you've presented me with this lovely meal.” Babbage tooted, and replaced the cover on the breakfast tray, which seemed to indicate agreement, so Carlos excused himself to go to the washroom.

He had started running the bath when he heard the noise, something like a yowl, but something like a moan. He looked up into the bathroom mirror above the washstand, and was startled to see what looked very much like a grin, just hanging in mid-air. Carlos did a double take, and then approached the mirror, wiping off the steam that had condensed there.

The grin appeared to be hovering just over his shoulder, but now it was attached to the head of what seemed to be a cat. Carlos turned with a start, surprised to see that now he had a fully formed striped tabby perched on his shoulder.

“Er, hello?” he ventured.

The cat repeated the odd sound, so he scratched it behind the ears, as he was rather fond of animals. Although the creature did not sound any happier, he could feel it vibrate as if it were purring.

“Well, I need to take my bath now, before my breakfast gets too cold. I hope you don't mind.” Carlos gently picked up the cat and plucked it off his shoulder. He was somewhat surprised to find that instead of hopping to the floor, as a normal cat would, it ended up hanging in mid-air, where it seemed very contented.

“So Nightlantean cats defy gravity?” asked Carlos. Well, it made as much sense as anything else here. He determined that he would ask Cecil about it, and, after disrobing, performed his ablutions. The cat watched for a while, and then, apparently bored with the whole thing, now did the appearing trick once again, only this time in reverse. Starting from the tip of the tail, it slowly disappeared, leaving nothing but the head, and then nothing but the large smile, which finally winked out, leaving Carlos alone to finish bathing.

Carlos emerged from the bath to find Cecil himself knocking on his door. “I hope I am not intruding at to early a time?” he asked.

“No, not at all!” said Carlos, sitting down at the breakfast table. “Would you like to share some of my breakfast? Mr. Babbage was so kind to bring it.”

“Well, I've already eaten, but I do love toast and marmalade. Would you mind if I had a bite?”

“No, be my guest,” said Carlos, even though Babbage tooted as though to say, “You're being a bit of a pig, Cecil.” Cecil hungrily spread out butter and preserves on a slice of toast.

“You know,” said Carlos, “My country makes the best marmalade.”

“Rrrgh?” said Cecil, who had a mouth full of toast.

“Oh, yes. When you visit me, we'll sample some!”

“I would love to visit your country, Carlos!” said Cecil, once he had chewed through. “But I don't think I'll ever get to leave Nightlantis.”

“Why not?” asked Carlos.

“It's not my fate,” said Cecil, sadly buttering up some more toast. (He really was being just a bit greedy.)

“There's been a lot of talk about fate lately,” grumbled Carlos.

Cecil considered his toast. “So, we have a bit of time before the City Council announces the next task. Would you like a tour of Nightlantis beforehand?”

“I'm very interested in that large building in the middle of town. The very grand one.”

“Oh, uh, the library?” Cecil put down his toast and shivered. “I don't think you want to go there.”

“Why not? Is it forbidden? Like the dog park?”

Cecil's eyes brightened. “Oh, would you like to go to the dog park? It's a lovely place!”

Carlos, once again, was speechless.



On Carlos's insistence, they had walked by the library, though Cecil was careful to keep a distance between themselves and the commanding edifice.

Carlos noticed something extremely odd about it: it was a very grand design, but there were no windows and no doors. “How does one get into the library?” he had asked.

“Why would you ever want to do that? The proper question is, how do you escape!”

But then they had taken a turn and meandered over to the dog park. There were several people there, all dressed in the monk-like cowls Carlos had seen the other day. Cecil greeted them all by name. “Hi Vincenzo! Hello, Ibrahim!”

And all of them were out walking their dogs. Carlos bent over to scratch behind the ears of a hound who reminded him of one of his old hunting dogs. There were some dogs that reminded him of home, and others that only served to underline the notion that home was so very far away: one figure in particular was huffing along with a three-headed dog on his leash. The animal, which was nearly the size of a bull, at least seemed well-behaved.

“You like animals?” asked Cecil as they strolled through the very pleasant surroundings.

“I have a fondness for them. By the way, I met a most unusual feline in the washroom of the guest house. At least, I suppose it was a feline. He hovered in the air and then disappeared before my eyes.”

“Oh, you've met Khoshekh!” said Cecil. “He doesn't come out for just anyone, you know.”

Carlos smiled. If nothing else, at least Cecil’s cat liked him. “Do you have any idea what the next task will be?”

“I don't know. It's up to the City Council, and they-”

But Cecil abruptly stopped speaking when, all at once, every dog in the dog park began to bark and howl and generally cause a commotion.

Suddenly a gunshot rang out, and one of the hooded figures fell. There was panic and mayhem. Without thinking, Carlos leapt on top of Cecil, shielding his body.

Cecil wriggled out from under Carlos, and they both looked around. “Carlos, you’re a physician, go and help him!” Cecil told Carlos, pointing at the fallen man.

“Please be careful, Cecil!” said Carlos. He ran over to the fallen figure, who lay moaning and bloodied on the grass. A dog sat nearby, looking mournful. Carlos pulled open the robe. There was blood everywhere, but fortunately, it looked as if the wound was superficial.

“Am I dead?” whispered the hooded man.

“You’ll be fine, I think,” Carlos assured him.

“That’s most fortunate, because I am in arrears on my dues to the Esoteric Order of Dagon!”

“My listeners, please remain calm!” Cecil urged as men and dogs cowered around the park, full of fear.

“Begone, savage Negro!” came a call. The blood in Carlos’s veins froze. He turned around, and there was Thurston, eyes half mad, standing in the middle of the park, pointing a rifle directly at Cecil.

“I am sorry,” said Cecil, facing down Thurston, “but people are strictly forbidden from the dog park!”

“Cecil,” whispered Carlos, who was in a panic.

“Are you the one? The one who murdered my uncle, you black bastard?” raved Thurston.

Cecil calmly crossed his arms. “I do not believe your uncle and myself to be acquainted. And by the way, that isn’t a terribly courteous form of address. You, sir, are a racialist!”

“Thurston!” said Carlos, who sprang over to stand by Cecil.

“Dr. MacLachlan needs to attend to his patient,” said Cecil, holding out an arm to bar Carlos getting any closer to Thurston. Carlos glanced at Cecil, and then reluctantly retreated to tend to his patient. “And by what right do you go around shooting my listeners, anyway?” Cecil continued. “I have enough troubles with competing wireless transmissions as it is. I’ve heard there is a growing group of citizens who are now listening to the random numbers transmission instead.”

“Not us, Cecil!” ventured one of the hooded figures. “Those random numbers are boring.”

“And they’re not very random,” sulked another. They were slowly venturing out of their hiding places to come stand by Cecil, facing Thurston, who despite his mania we beginning to look unsure of himself.

“Why are you listening to the random numbers anyway?” asked a third hooded figure. “That’s not very loyal to Prince Cecil.”

“I dunno. I was tired of hearing about the City Council’s dealings all the time.”

“They’re definitely not playing with a full deck. Always nattering about Old Ones this, Elder Gods that…..”

“The Elder Gods!” roared Thurston, now waving the gun at the robed figures. “What do you know of them?”

Carlos had hung his jacket on a tree and was working in shirtsleeves to bind his patient’s wound. “What do you know of them, Thurston?” he called. “You are the one who made us aware of this island.”

“I know of him! Beneath the island R’lyeh, Cthluhu lies dreaming!” said Thurston.

Cecil heaved a sigh. “Yes, I know. Kind of a narcoleptic. Not much fun at parties, Cthulhu.”

“That’s why you’re after me!” declared Thurston.

“Why would we be after you for that?” asked one of the hooded figures.

“Because he didn’t get invited to one of Cthulhu’s parties?” asked another.

“Well, hardly worth shooting someone.”

“Depends on the party!”

“This isn’t over a party!” insisted Thurston. “This is-“ He jerked, and the gun went off in his hands.

Everyone ducked once again, but this time several of the dogs went racing after him. Gripping his weapon, Thurston bolted.

“Thurston, wait!” shouted Carlos, leaping up to give chase. But Thurston was already vaulting the short fence that bordered the dog park and fleeing into the city. Carlos lit off after him, ignoring Cecil’s shouts, and ran through then narrow streets.

Thurston ran down a narrow stairway towards one of the lower levels, and Carlos pursued him. He ended up in some unfamiliar area with much clinking, clanking heavy machinery. There were massive gears turning around, and pistons and the sound of steam. “Thurston!” shouted Carlos.

A shot rang out, and Carlos ducked as the masonry behind him shattered. He looked around, but the entire chamber was filled with gears and movement and steam and noise. “Thurston!” he yelled again. This time he heard a distinct clang. He ran over towards the sound, and found a round hatch in the floor. He pulled at it, but it appeared to be locked. He cursed, wishing that he had Babbage along with him.

He climbed back up to Nightlantis's main level and made his way back to the dog park. Most everyone had scattered to the winds, but Cecil remained, talking to a couple of the hooded figures. “Carlos!” he called, and, to Carlos’s surprise, he ran over and threw his arms around him. “I was worried about you! You shouldn’t have taken off like that!”

“I’m fine,” Carlos assured him as Cecil clung onto him. “I assure you. But Thurston got away. And he still has a weapon.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll find him,” said Cecil. To Carlos’s relief, he loosened his grip. “And the hooded figures say they’re in your debt, so if you need anything….” He pointed to the figures who remained. They nodded, and then lead their dogs away.

“That’s awfully kind of them,” said Carlos. And then, to his dismay, Cecil leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

“Thank you for protecting me. That was very brave!”

Carlos’s neck had turned bright red. “That was…. I mean…. I just….”

“Now,” said Cecil, “we have to get going. The City Council has decided on the second task.”

Touching the spot on his cheek where Cecil had kissed him, Carlos turned towards the park and looked around. “My jacket,” he said absently.

“Yes?” asked Cecil.

“I hung it on one of the trees. But I don’t see it.”

“That’s odd,” said Cecil, who looked around as well. “Well, it will be fine, we’ll just get you another jacket. Come on!”

Carlos, after looking around one more time in confusion, set off with Cecil to his residence. Babbage met them at the door to Cecil’s chambers, huffing and puffing in consternation. “Oh, Babbage, don’t fuss,” Cecil scolded. “I need to change clothes myself, so why don’t you make yourself at home, Carlos? Babbage will search the wardrobes for something appropriate.”

Carlos sat down on a couch. “All right,” he said, although he was a little fearful as to what Babbage might pull out of the Prince’s closet: although Carlos had already developed quite an affection for him, Cecil did have a rather odd dress sense. The first few selections did not ease his mind: there was a jacket that seemed to be entirely constructed of grass, and another of more suitable material, but seeming dyed to display every color of the rainbow.

“I think you’d better leave this one to Mr. McDaniels,” Carlos told Babbage, hoping that he was not seeming too fussy.

Cecil, who had changed to a dressing gown, came and sat down next to Carlos, laughing out loud. “Bring him something for a military man,” Cecil told Babbage, who tromped away. “Would you like a drink, Carlos?”

“If you are having one,” said Carlos. Cecil leaned forward and picked up a decanter that was sitting on the coffee table in front of him. He poured the rich amber liquid into two glasses.

As Cecil leaned over, his dressing gown hung forward, and Carlos noticed some odd markings on Cecil’s chest. “Cecil,” he said as Cecil handed over a glass, “I hope this is not too forward, but your chest….”

“Oh, my tattoo?” asked Cecil. He pulled his dressing gown open to reveal a purple marking shaped like a large eye inked across his chest.

“That’s unusual,” said Carlos, who couldn’t help staring. “We’ve encountered some native peoples with similar markings.”

“Yes, it’s right over my heart, do you see?” asked Cecil, and with no further ado, clasped Carlos’s hand and placed it flat over the eye. “Can you feel it?”

“Uh,” said Carlos. True, he could feel Cecil’s heart beating, but he could also feel his own thumping away in his chest. Cecil’s skin was warm, and so very soft. “I-“

There was a tromping noise, and Babbage appeared once again, holding a jacket.

Cecil dropped Carlos’s hand. “Oh, look at this, I think this is quite suitable, don’t you?” Carlos finally dragged his attention to the garment in Babbage’s clawed hand. It actually looked quite decent.

“Yes, I think that will do,” said Carlos.

“Oh, perfect. Now let’s just get you out of that shirt!” said Cecil.

“I’m sorry?” Carlos managed to squeak as Cecil began to assault his buttons. “Well, we can’t have you gadding about in the same old shirt with a brand new jacket, can we?”

And so it was that sometime later, Carlos found himself wearing a mauve silk shirt (he had refused the ruby cravat Cecil had been foisting on him on the account that it made his neck itch). He had to admit, it was one of the finest garments he'd ever worn. His parents, although they had always possessed enough money to remain comfortable, didn't believe in such fancy items.

“That shirt fits really well,” Cecil had purred, which only added to Carlos's discomfiture. He wasn't entirely certain why he was continually feeling flustered when he was in Cecil's presence. The man was forward, it was true, and tended to sit a little too close, and his eyes were really lovely....

Carlos shook his head. He tore his eyes from Cecil's and gazed around the room, at the piles of various articles of clothing which had been picked up and discarded.

And then he got an idea.

“Cecil, you have a lot of clothing.”

“Isn't it ridiculous?” asked Cecil, leaning back on the couch. “I have garments for any and every occasion, and garments for no occasion at all! But people know I like them, and give me gifts, and who am I to refuse? I really am to clothing like the Old Ones were to architecture, with all the stairways going nowhere....”

Carlos fingered a jacket that had been thrown over the back of the couch. It was an impossible color and a phantastical style, but constructed of nice warm materials. “Is it possible that you could part with any of these items?”

“Hmm? Well, I'd probably never miss the bigger part of them, to be honest!”

“Because, I might know of a situation in which they might be useful. Um, some, acquaintances of ours, you might say.” Carlos held out his hand, to more or less the height of a child.

Cecil stared for a long moment, but then lit up like one of Nightlantis's artificial lights. “Of course! Babbage, let's sort out some of my less favored clothing!”

After they were at it for a while (to Carlos's astonishment, Cecil's extensive wardrobe included some rather nice dresses, possibly gifted from people who were still under the impression he was Cecilia) they had amassed several bags of clothing, which, with Babbage's assistance, they placed outside where the garden party had been hosted the other day.

“No need for these!” Carlos said, a bit too loudly and too brightly. “Now, let's go to our meeting!” Babbage began to steam off, and so did Carlos. He had to reach back and tug Cecil along when Cecil spent a bit too much time lingering and grinning and looking around.

“Do you think they will appreciate my cast offs?” Cecil whispered.

“I predict good use will be made of them!” said Carlos, pulling Cecil along.

Thus, they arrived at the meeting arm in arm, to glares from the other candidates: one from Marcus Vansten, and five different glares, plus a snort of fire, from Hiram McDaniels. (Wilcox, of course, had already dropped out, so was probably in his chambers, looking glum.) Carlos decided that their proximity probably appeared inappropriate, and so dropped Cecil's hand, much to Cecil's apparent dismay.

Fortunately, Miss Hidge bustled into the well-appointed sitting room, accompanied by her aides, and the City Council after them, all freshly shuffled.

“Where is the mayor?” groused Vansten.

“She has degenerated into a thin, greenish layer of throbbing protoplasm, as is the right of all mayors!”

Carlos believed he would like to see this, but kept his peace.

“We are here to announce the next task,” said Miss Hidge, her voice taking on unpleasant overtones. “Which shall be … hunting a snark!”

“What?” demanded Vansten as McDaniels's green head snorted fire. “We can't fight a snark!”

“And furthermore,” said Miss Hidge, ”you will return the snark alive.”

“But what if it's a Boojum?” demanded McDaniels.

“Then you will disappear,” said Miss Hidge, who followed the comment with a most unfortunate smile. “The good news is, we shall open Nightlantis's armory for you. You may choose any implements you feel you need for this task.” Her aides threw open a heavy wooden door, and suddenly, they could see a vast vault stocked with an amazing array of implements of mass mayhem.

“What in heaven's name is a snark?” Carlos asked Cecil as the other candidates fell upon the store of weapons with a great rattling and clattering. “I am a naturalist, and I have never heard of such a thing.”

“You don't want to find weaponry, Carlos?” asked Cecil, who looked concerned.

“I would much rather be apprised of my, er, opponent first,” said Carlos. He cast a glance at McDaniels, who was now carrying a mace and what looked like a stash of dynamite, and Vansten, who had his mechanical men carrying swords and shields and something that looked like a miniature canon.



“Finding them’s no bother,” said Josie. “It’s the catching them’s the trick.”

Carlos was over at her home, which was near something called a Used Car Lot. It was a large space occupied by many incredible metal vehicles of uncertain purpose. “Are these steam powered?” he asked, glancing into a window of a large, black one with the word “Impala” emblazoned on the back.

“Nobody knows,” said Josie. “Probably one of our temporal anomalies.” She pointed upwards. There were several strings of bright flags strung across the area. “Watch the breeze. That’s how you know a snark is near,” she instructed. Then she held out her hands. One angel presented her with a silver flask, and another, a glass. She calmly poured out a drink, and set the glass in the middle of the asphalt. And then she and the angels and Carlos retreated behind one of one of the larger vehicles to wait.

“So, the snark favors alcohol?” whispered Carlos as they waited.

“Only the best Scotch. They’re fussy buggers,” huffed Josie.

“I appreciate your doing this for me,” said Carlos.

She looked him up and down, her dark eyes blown up to twice their size refracting in her thick spectacles. “Perhaps I’m not doing it for you.” An angel let out a sort of a purr.

“I’m not quite certain why I am doing any of this,” Carlos admitted.

“Do you wonder what will happen upon the occasion of a candidate winningCecil's hand?” asked Josie.

“Well, I suppose there will be a wedding?” She seemed to imply something else, but before Carlos had a chance to inquire further, she held up her hand.

“Look,” said Josie, gesturing towards the strings of flags. Suddenly, the ones far away began to flap, as if in a strong breeze. The wind picked up, and Carlos watched as flags closer and closer by began to flutter.

Josie grabbed his arm, and she, Carlos and the angels ducked down on the lee side of the large vehicle just as the wind howled and everything shook. For a moment, Carlos was afraid the vehicle beside them was going to upend and crush them: the wind was that strong.

And then, just as swiftly, the noise ceased, and all was calm.

They emerged from hiding, and gathered around where the drink had been poured out. The glass remained, but it was empty.

“As I said,” said Josie, “the trick is catching the beastie.”

Carlos smiled and picked up the empty glass. “I think I might have an idea.”



Carlos stilled the dogs. He and Cecil had talked to the hooded figures, and he had ended up borrowing a couple of mid-sized hounds and a rather opinionated little terrier. Since no one had apparently actually seen a snark, he decided that he would employ a variety of animals. He had given all of them Josie’s empty whiskey glass to sniff, so they would at least have the smell of the creature, if not any idea of its appearance.

He had chosen a wooded area on the edge of town they called Grove Park. Cecil had warned Carlos not to notice the shadowy shape that hovered there, all the while pointing it out and talking about it of course. Carlos thought it was scientifically interesting, and Cecil promised to take him to tour Radon Canyon at some point.

Carlos had, finally, banished a very reluctant Cecil, with promises that he would flee upon being confronted with a Boojum, whatever the hell that was. And then he sat in silence for a while, listening to the wind make its way through the trees. He removed the flask Cecil had given him from his new jacket and poured out a glass of whiskey, sparing a sip for himself before he corked the flask.

And then, placing the glass up on a rock, he retreated behind some bushes. The terrier whined, and Carlos smiled, scratching it behind the ears. “None for you, my friend. But you'll have a goodly hunt soon, I promise.”

The air was warm, so Carlos shrugged out of his borrowed jacket and hung it up on a branch. Then, thinking twice about it, carefully folded it up and hid it in a bush. He didn't want any thieves snatching the jacket Cecil had so kindly loaned him.

The breeze gusted, and Carlos listened carefully. The leaves rustled through each stand of trees, each encounter having a slightly different tenor. He sat and listened, quietly petting the dogs. His mind began to wander. He began to wonder if he would ever make it back to the Vigilant. Certainly Cecil claimed time worked differently here, and it wasn't terribly hard to believe. Everything worked differently here. The mayor was some sort of mystical nonentity, the Council was a pack of cards, mechanical men roamed the city, and his rival for the affections of Prince Cecil was literally a five-headed dragon.

And that was another thing: Carlos had not only fallen into some kind of portal, he had also fallen into a romantic rivalry based around another man. He imagined telling Captain Cochrane about the entire story. Perhaps the captain would listen with sympathy. There were persistent stories, which Carlos neither believed nor disbelieved, that some of the young acquaintances the Captain visited at various ports were in fact young gentlemen.

Or not so much gentlemen. The wind rustled, and Carlos snapped back to reality. There, over by that stand of willow trees. Now closer, the ash trees. Yes, moving closer.

He gripped one of the hounds by the collar. It whined, very softly. Closer. Closer.

Carlos jumped to his feet. “Go!” he ordered, and the dogs were off, howling and barking, the little terrier at the lead. The wind – which was not a wind at all – abruptly changed direction, heading off over the tall grass towards a copse.

Grabbing his knapsack, Carlos took off running after the dogs. He had never tried pursuing the hunting hounds, and soon saw why, as he tripped on roots and stumbled underneath low branches. He got his foot snagged in a hole and crashed into some brambles, ripping up both his back and Cecil's borrowed shirt. Cursing a blue streak, using a lot of the vocabulary he had picked up on his voyage on the Vigilant, he picked himself up and hurried after the sound of lowing and barking, though it was growing farther and farther away in the distance.

Bleeding and aching, he finally came to a very large, very ancient oak tree, three dogs barking beneath it, the little terrier scratching and scraping at the bark.

“Is he up there? Our snark?” he asked as he stood, flush-faced and out of breath. He peered up into the branches, but had no idea how high his quarry might have gone. He did notice that the wind had ceased. He wondered if the creature had stopped for fear or necessity: the tree was on the margin of a field, so there was no place to jump off.

Carlos had been an eager tree-climber since he was a small boy, so, shrugging his shoulders, he grabbed a low-hanging branch and pulled himself up. And then, quietly and carefully, made his way further up, unsure of what he might find at the top.

Higher and higher he climbed, with no sign of the snark. He paused, wiping sweat from his brow, sparing a look downwards, where he could still hear the hounds carrying on. The branches were growing more thin and brittle up here, and he started to worry that they would carry his weight. He wondered if he should have shed his boots before he climbed.

That's when he saw it, a slight rustle in the leaves overhead, as if by a small gust of wind. But the wind had died down. He resumed climbing, trying not to pay too much attention to the branches, cracking and protesting under his weight. There was no pool underneath him this time, he knew: no chance of a last minute rescue should he fall.

And then he came to a place where a branch must have fallen. He emerged from the canopy, and peered up at a branch just overhead, just out of his reach.

It was so terribly small, and something like a mouse. Its nose twitched as it sighted him, and for a moment, they stared at one another. “All that trouble, just from you?” Carlos asked softly, pulling his rucksack off his back. “You have nowhere to run, you know,” he added, noticing that the top of the tree was only a little further on. “Why not just come with me?” Gritting his teeth, his back protesting where he had shredded it in the brambles, he eased himself out further on his branch. Carefully and quietly, he raised a hand....

The creature hopped up, just out of his reach, and out of sight behind a cover of leaves.

“Damn!” sighed Carlos. Was it going to be all of this for a standoff at the top of the tree? He didn't think he could climb all the way to the top. Moving ever so slowly, he tried the next branch up. It crackled and bent. He sighed, and tried standing up on the branch he was now perched upon.

His head pushed through a cover of leaves, and he found himself face to face with a wriggling snark.

Its tail was being held in a mouth. A mouth that, at the present time, did not appear to be attached to a head, or much of anything at all.

Carlos stared. “Khoshekh?” he asked softly. And, as if its name was an invocation, the striped cat suddenly appeared before him, grinning and holding its prize.

Carlos stuck out a tentative, trembling hand. “May I...?” he asked. The mouth opened, and the snark dropped into Carlos's hand. He quickly shoved the little creature into his knapsack, and closed the top. “Thank you, Khoshekh! I really appreciate this!”

The cat let out an unearthly yowl, and then, lazily, disappeared again, beginning at the tip of its tail, and ending with its wide kitty grin.

Carlos was grinning himself when he made it back to the ground.



Cecil was wrapped around him with arms tight as strong as iron bars. “Carlos, I was so worried,” he sobbed.

Carlos looked around the room. Several of Hiram McDaniels's heads were now quarreling with Miss Hidge. There was no sign of Marcus Vansten.

“Did Vansten-”

“It was a Boojum,” sighed Cecil. “No way of knowing. According to witnesses, he just disappeared. When you were late, I thought....”

Carlos cupped Cecil's face. “Dear Cecil, I am completely fine, as you can see. Chin up, man! I have another victory!” He eyed McDaniels. His green head was now spitting fire. “What's gotten into McDaniels?”

“He claims he caught not one but two snarks,” said Cecil. “But the first was inadvertently roasted by his fires. He says he should get extra points, but the City Council is balking.”

“I hope they don't relent,” laughed Carlos. “Oh, by the way, unfortunately, I've destroyed your beautiful shirt.”

“What?” asked Cecil. Carlos shed his jacket, and showed Cecil the evidence of his encounter with the brambles.

“Carlos, my dear! You're bleeding!” sobbed Cecil, who seemed beside himself.

“I'll be fine, I just need somewhere to wash up....”

“You're coming with me! Straightaway!” said Cecil. “Babbage!” he ordered his mechanical man. “Tell Miss Hidge and the City Council that I've left to get urgent, life-saving medical care for Dr. MacLachlan!”

“But Cecil-” Carlos started before he was dragged away, leaving him wondering how Babbage, who despite many prodigious accomplishments, could not speak, would convey any message to anyone.

Carlos and Cecil arrived back at Cecil's large suite of rooms. Cecil at once set up a fire in the sitting room fireplace (Carlos marveled that he didn't have servants to do this for him) and then carefully washed Carlos's back and sides himself with a warm washcloth while he pressed Carlos with glass after glass of a sweet, smoky liqueur. Cecil had partaken of a couple glasses himself, with seemed to help calm his agitation. Carlos sat up in a rather comfortable overstuffed couch, the damaged shirt long since doffed, watching Cecil apply some kind of warm ointment to his scratches.

“It's probably good that you are doing this. Some of the scratches were deeper than I thought,” said Carlos, his mind warm from the fire and the alcohol and the sweet, vaguely flowery scent of the oinment.

Cecil had excused himself for the hundredth time to go get some bandages. He had returned with a roll of soft gauze. “Um, do you mind?” he muttered, and, to Carlos's amusement, scrambled into Carlos's lap to wrap the bandage around his middle.

“You have soft hands,” said Carlos.

“Thank you,” said Cecil, leaning close to pass the gauze around Carlos's back.

Carlos reached out a finger to stroke Cecil's cheek. “And soft skin.”

“Thank you.” Was Cecil actually blushing?

Carlos placed a finger under Cecil's chin and tilted his head up. He wasn't certain what had driven him to be so bold. “And your eyes are like starlight.”

Yes, Cecil was definitely blushing, dark cheeks highlighted pink. It was lovely. He clasped Carlos's hand, and placed it on the bandage. “Hold this,” he whispered. And then he scrambled off of Carlos to grab some string. He drew nearer again, but seemed shy.

Carlos dropped his hold on the bandage and, grabbing Cecil by the waist, pulled him back into his lap. “And you hair is moonlight.”

Cecil was shaking his head. “But I’ve never seen-”

“I'll show you,” said Carlos. And he realized, just in that moment, that he very much meant it. “I’ll show you the moon, and the stars, and all the other horrid romantic clichés. I wish sometimes I had read the poets instead of all those scientific papers, because I can’t say what I’m feeling right now, or what you’ve come to mean to me, even in this short time we’ve known each other. I know I can’t really compare you to the moonlight: the moon only casts reflected light, and you – you seem to have your own light source, something that’s illuminating you from within, and now I’ve tangled the words and made it all wrong.”

Cecil did appear lit from within, just then, his eyes shining so. I could be hanged for this, Carlos thought. Their eyes met for a long moment, but then finally, Cecil glanced down. “Your bandage,” he whispered, brushing a hand on the gauze, which had unraveled.

“Blast my bandages,” said Carlos. He gently tilted up Cecil’s head. And then he leaned forward, just a fraction, and their lips met.

And he was truly lost.

How long had they been kissing when Cecil gently pushed him back? Carlos had no idea: he’d lost all sense of time. “Carlos, my dear, is this really what you want?” Cecil asked.

You’re what I want,” said Carlos. “What I’ve been searching for.” He ran a thumb along Cecil’s bottom lip, which was now plump from kissing. Cecil pulled him close, and Carlos gently lowered Cecil down on the couch, marveling at the feeling of contact, the electrical charge of skin on skin. Pieces of clothing were discarded and tossed thoughtlessly away, until the both of them were bare as Marcus Vansten, and moving in sync. Carlos had never felt so close to someone ever before, delighting in every soft moan and gasp he evoked from Cecil. His Cecil. He no longer cared anything for the results of any ridiculous tasks: they belonged to each other now.

Cecil sighed, whispering his name. Carlos pushed inside him, slowly, tenderly. “My Cecil,” he murmured. “I'm yours.”

They lay on the couch, legs tangled together, Cecil’s head resting on Carlos’s beating heart, Carlos running a tender hand through Cecil’s soft, silver hair. His hand traced down to where the large image of an eye was penned onto Cecil's chest, just over his heart.

“This is to remind me that the eyes of the Old Ones are ever upon me,” said Cecil.

Carlos paused, suddenly thoughtful. “Cecil,” he whispered, “I was talking to Josie. What is going to happen to you when all the tasks have been completed?”

With an effort, Cecil pushed himself up. He looked pained. But then there came an urgent knocking on the door. Carlos hastily pulled on his pants and shirt and Cecil donned a dressing gown and went to the door.

It was Josie at the door, her angels standing in back of her, wings flapping in agitation. “Cecil,” she said. “The third task has been handed down. It’s not official yet, but I needed to tell you.”

Cecil beckoned them to enter. “What is it, Josie? It can’t be that bad!”

But the story was in her eyes. “Cecil. The third task: to check out a library book.”

Carlos tilted his head, laughing. “What? I’m sorry, that doesn’t sound so- Cecil!”

But then he was down on the floor, holding Cecil, who had collapsed to his knees, racked with terrified sobs.


NEXT

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Notes to Chapter 4: As you might have guessed, the snark is borrowed from Lewis Carroll, as is Khoshekh's weird behavior. As far as I am aware, there weren't actually any Chevy Impalas during the Victorian era, more's the pity.

This entry was originally posted at http://tikific.dreamwidth.org/143819.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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( 2 rants — Rant incoherently )
zsomeone
Jan. 11th, 2014 11:35 pm (UTC)
I misread it as shark. Wtf is a snark?

Heh, random Impala.

Oh now you're saying snipe. I thought it might be snipey.

Your Khoshekh can leave the bathroom? That's handy.

Oh no, not the library! Good thing he's been making friends (indirectly) with those kids...
tikific
Jan. 12th, 2014 12:25 am (UTC)
The Hunting of the Snark was a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173165

It's never made exactly clear what a snark is. "Snipe" was a typo, and has been corrected.

Yes, the library! O noes.... :D
( 2 rants — Rant incoherently )