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The Disappearing Island (Chapter 3 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: At the end. Publishing this chapter a little early for any of y'all trapped inside during the Polar Vortex. Stay warm!

Strathlachland, Scotland, Year of Our Lord 1854

Carlos sat in his father's study, staring out the window. His father sat behind his desk; his mother, in a chair beside Carlos.

He wasn't listening to either of them.

“I'm sorry about this, lad,” his father was saying. “If there were any other way....” He trailed off.

Carlos sat, still as a stone. A couple of his father's old hunting dogs had padded into the room to keep their masters under observation. One, lying curled up next to Carlos, perhaps sensing his agitation, pushed his grey muzzle into Carlos's hand. Carlos smiled slightly and scratched him behind the ears.

His mother reached over and touched his arm. “Your brother made some foolish promises to Miss Temperance,” she said, quietly.

“Rafael has been known to do that,” Carlos said bitterly.

“He left a trail of broken hearts from here to London,” stormed the Baron. “But he tangled with the wrong family this time. Lord Hatrack: he's got control of some debts.”

“We are indebted?” asked Carlos. He wondered why he hadn’t heard this information prior to this.

Angus chortled, though it sounded bitter. “Not us, lad. Your uncle.”

“Uncle Malcolm?” asked Carlos. Ah, that made sense. His father's younger brother had been, as far as Carlos believed the family stories, a bit like his own brother many years ago. Aside from the ladies, gambling was another of his vices, and that was the one that had tripped him up: he had long since run through his inheritance, and only kept on his feet through the Baron of Strathlachlan's generosity.

“So, I am doubly screwed,” said Carlos.

His mother gasped, but Angus only shook his head. He pulled out three glasses and filled them with a rich amber liquid from the crystal decanter on his desk. He pushed two glasses towards Carlos and his mother. Carlos took up the glass and upended it.

“Now, lad, that's sipping liquor!” scolded the Baron.

Carlos slid the glass back on the desk, and the Baron refilled it. “Show a bit of proper respect this time,” his father warned him.

Carlos didn't reply. The family crest was up above his father's desk. A ship at sea. The St. George Cross. A dragon, its tongue licking fire.

Carlos's mother left her glass untouched on the edge of the desk. “Understand, Miss Temperance is a fine young lady.”

“She knows her duty,” agreed the Baron.

“She will agree to a loveless marriage in order to keep up appearances,” Carlos spat.

“You may come to … appreciate her more,” said his mother.

“Carlos,” said his father. “We know you're a special lad. I've always said that. I couldn't be prouder to know that you'll be head of this family after me, that you'll continue my line.”

Carlos glared at them. “I'm not special,” he declared. “I only ever wanted one thing: what you have, with each other. But now you've denied it to me.” He rose.

“Carlos!” warned his father.

“I need to stretch my legs,” said Carlos stalking from the room. The dogs padded after him. He made his way to the back door, mindful of running into their guests, and let himself out, no clear destination in mind. The sky was dark, which matched his mood. He strode out towards the moors, his mind racing. There was silence for a while, the only sound Carlos's angry, beating heart.

“You intend to walk all the way to Edinburgh?” came a voice.

“And to London beyond,” snapped Carlos, turning on his brother. “How the hell did you find me?”

Rafael grinned. As was often remarked, he very much resembled his older brother, although he was not quite as tall, not quite as dark, and definitely not as possessed of an analytical mind. He was, in many ways, a somewhat paler copy of his sibling. “You always end up out here when you're agitated.”

“Rafael, what have you done?”

Rafael hopped up to sit on the stone fence that bordered their path. “It wasn't my fault! How was I to know Uncle Malcolm was at it again? He was always a great tit.”

“Give me one reason I shouldn't grab one of father's hunting rifles and shoot you!”

“You should thank me.”

“What?” Right now, Carlos badly needed to strangle someone, and Rafael was seeming a better and better candidate with each moment.

“Brother dear, in the two decades of our acquaintanceship, you have never shown the slightest interest in any person of the female gender. How is it you intend to carry on the family name without a suitable mate?”

Carlos found he couldn't look at his brother. He dropped his eyes, making a great fuss about patting a dog. “You've more than made up for my supposed lack of interest,” he muttered.

Rafael hummed, knowing he'd struck a nerve. “So, you see? I've hooked you a very decent fish.”

“She's not a fish!”

“But from a good family. She's not bad to look at. And agreeable. A little light on brains...”

“Rafael, she can't even carry on a proper conversation.”

Rafael looked baffled. “You really expect to be speaking to your wife?”

Carlos seethed. “Yes! I expect my life's companion will be able to converse!”

Rafael rolled his eyes. “You're being unreasonable again, don't you think?”

Carlos, not for the first time, imagined his hands tightening around his brother's throat. And then, abruptly, he sighed and leaned back against the fence next to his brother.

“Carlos,” said Rafael. “Dear brother. It's fate. And you can't resist fate. You're going to stay here, take a proper wife and have many howling children, and grow fat and content. And one day, you'll take on the Barony. It's what you were born for. It's what you were made for.”

Carlos wanted to argue, but he hadn't the words. He gazed out over his father's estate, his estate, a sinking feeling in his heart.

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

Carlos stood frozen, his eyes fixed on the incredible five-headed dragon that towered above him. The dragon was an element on his own family crest, but he had never in his entire life expected to actually encounter one. The entire room reeked of brimstone.

“I will burn you to ashes!” warned the green head as the monster reared up, spreading its leathery wings, and spitting fire.

“That's-” sputtered Carlos. He drew himself to his full height. “That is not polite.”

“Feel the beating of my wings, as I slay you, foolish mort-”

Suddenly, the dragon slapped its own face. “Now, you cut that out, green head,” warned the central, blue head. As the green head moped, the blue head turned to Carlos, extending a scaly clawed hand. “Hiram McDaniels, candidate for the hand of fair Prince Cecil,” he said.

“Uh,” said Carlos. He glanced over at Cecil, who nodded encouragement. Carlos shook hands with Hiram.

“May I present Dr. Carlos Gutierrez MacLachlan,” said Cecil.

“You gone and brang a doctor, Prince Cecil?” said the blue head. “I hope you ain't ill?”

“No, I am fine. Dr. MacLachlan is staying here for a time, so I thought I would show him around our quaint little town. You'll be at dinner, I suppose?” he said, leading Carlos off.

“I'll be there!” said the blue head cheerily.

“The world will end in fire,” whispered the purple head.

“Uh, Cecil,” said Carlos as they walked along the bright, high-ceilinged corridor. “You do realize that Hiram McDaniels is, er, a dragon?”

“A five-headed dragon, to be precise,” said Cecil. “But you should see the other candidates.” As if in answer to Cecil’s comment, they came upon some more figures, milling in the hallway. “Oh, here we are. Carlos, this is Mr. Marcus Vansten. You remember the message he sent to my transmission?”

Carlos was brought up short. Mr. Vansten, at least, was a normal man. Carlos could see this very clearly, as Vansten was standing before them, naked as the day he was born. A number of mechanical men – attendants, Carlos assumed – stood around him. Unlike Babbage, these were splendidly appointed. One was completely plated in gold, another in silver, a third in platinum. Their eyes were rare jewels: diamonds, rubies, emeralds. Carlos couldn't help but glance back at poor Babbage, who tooted steam a bit forlornly he thought next to his preening brothers.

“Hello, Mr. Vansten,” said Cecil. “May I present-”

“Prince Cecil,” snapped Vansten. “Why has dinner been delayed?”

“I'm sorry,” said Cecil. “I just finished my wireless transmission, and I was showing Carlos-”

Vansten tapped on his pocket watch. It was solid gold. Of course. “I have things to do. I'm very, very rich.”

“Um, yes. Well, we'll-”

“And make sure my steak is cooked in put vegetable oil! My body is a temple!”

“I'm certain it is.”

“And no wheat! Or wheat by-products!” Vansten stepped forward, wagging a finger in Cecil's face. Carlos also stepped forward, pushing down Vansten's errant hand.

Vansten glared at him.

Cecil tugged on Carlos's arm. “Well, we must run. We're going to see Mr. Wilcox, to ascertain that he is ready.”

“Welllll, see that you do,” said Vansten as Cecil pulled Carlos away.

“How did he ever get into the running as your husband?” Carlos asked as soon as they were out of earshot.

“Oh, he probably bribed somebody. As you could clearly see, as a candidate he is … somewhat lacking,” Cecil added, arching an eyebrow.

Carlos broke into a smile. “Yes, not very impressive, is he?”

“Though it is a bit drafty in these corridors.”

And so, as Babbage tromped after them, they made their way down the broad corridor, arm in arm, giggling like a couple of school boys.

Cecil paused before a double doorway. “I should warn you, Mr. Wilcox doesn't always take kindly to being disturbed.”

Carlos laughed. “I believe at this point I am prepared for anything.”

Cecil knocked, but upon hearing no response, opened the door. They entered a large, high-ceilinged room. It had the look of a studio, with many wide windows, but all of them had been obscured by thick, dusty black drapes, so despite the artificial lighting it was very dark inside. Carlos was immediately struck by a number of unusual sculptures that dotted the room. They were monstrous figures, with many, slitted eyes, and long, slender tentacles instead of limbs.

“What is it now, Cecil?” came a wan voice. Carlos had been so distracted by the strange artwork that he hadn't noticed a young man slouched on a couch in back of the room.

“Mr. Wilcox, may I present Dr. Carlos Gutierrez MacLachlan.”

The young man, Wilcox, made no move to get up. “Oh. He looks dreadfully ordinary, doesn't he?”

Carlos ignored the insult. “Are these your works?” he asked.

Wilcox rolled his eyes. “Well of course they are. There isn't anyone else in this dull town capable of such things.”

“They are quite unusual.”

“Well, I don't expect such as you could comprehend them.”

Carlos turned around. “I have a university education. I am a qualified medical doctor, and the ships naturalist aboard the HMS Vigilant. I doubt there is much you could produce that would be beyond my poor powers of comprehension.”

“You could not even speak their name, lest you go mad,” Wilcox warned.

“The Great Old Ones, you mean?” asked Carlos.

Abruptly, Wilcox was no longer slouching. In fact, he was no longer on the couch. He was, instead, standing in front of Carlos, clutching at his lapels, wide-eyed. “How do you know about the Great Old Ones?”

Carlos brushed off Wilcox and crossed his arms. “I could ask you the same question.”

Wilcox glanced over at Cecil, who told him, “Dr. Gutierrez MacLachlan is a learned man. Now, are you quite ready for dinner? We fully intend to start without you.”

Wilcox’s features, which were not pleasing in the best of times, formed themselves into a moue. “I shall collect myself and get to the table.”

“Splendid! Come along, Carlos.”

A thought occurred to Carlos as they sped along the corridor, and he had a chance to spy his reflection in one of the mirrors. “Cecil, I can't go to dinner in this state!”

“What are you talking about? Your hair is perfect!”

Carlos pointed to the mirror. “I'm in a state! These are the clothes I was wearing aboard the Vigilant to do surgery. They're hardly proper for a royal dinner.”

“Nonsense!” said Cecil. “We don't stand on formality here. Besides, this is less like a dinner, and more like … a picnic!”

“A picnic?”

“Yes, a picnic! Or maybe a tea party. Yes, a nice garden tea party. Come along, I'll show you!”

Cecil led Carlos out some French doors out to a patio area. True to Cecil’s word, there was a long table set up underneath the trees in the middle of a pleasant garden. Servants – both human and mechanical – fussed around arranging place settings. Carlos had been to a number of fancy dinners, but he had never seen such an assortment of strange cutlery as was arrayed on the table. Each place setting had no less than a dozen different pieces of silverware arranged beside and above it. There were objects that looked like corkscrews, and other implements that resembled eyelash curlers.

There was an old woman already seated at the dinner table. She was tiny: her legs didn't quite reach the ground. She wore glasses thick as the bottom of a crystal decanter. Her dark eyes refracted as large, inky pools.

Behind her stood some very unusual attendants. Carlos at first took them for yet more of the mechanical men, as they were too tall to be human. But one lazily flapped its gossamer wings and he somehow immediately knew that they were angels.

They were both holding little pieces of soft cloth, and were polishing up silverware.

“Josie!” said Cecil. “I'd like to present-”

“Carlos! My angels told me you were coming,” said Josie. Her voice was warm and scratchy.

“He fell through the gate,” Cecil told her.

“You are Miss Josie? I'd really like to get back to my ship,” said Carlos. He hadn't thought of it all day, as so much had happened to him, but now suddenly he remembered the Vigilant, and all of his obligations out in the world. “But the portal I fell through appeared to be closed.”

Josie looked back at the angels. They flapped their wings languidly, and nodded. “The portal will open again presently. Seven days,” she said.

“What?” asked Carlos.

“Return to where you fell seven days from now. That's when it will re-open.”

“Are you quite certain? It's on a schedule?”

“Well, of course. Magical things tend to happen in sevens!” She steepled her hands, and frowned. “Or – I don't know – it could just be a union thing.” One of the angels nodded, and placed a tiny, shining fork down at Josie's place.

“Thank you, Josie,” said Carlos, although his heart was sinking. The captain might stay for a day or even two to seek him out, but he was certain they would have cast off again after a week. And then where would he be: escaped, but stranded alone on an uncharted island.

Some more people were filing into the dining room. “Prince Cecil, may I speak with you!” called Miss Hidge, who appeared to have reconstituted since her disappearance. Cecil excused himself, and hastened over to speak with her.

Carlos found that Josie was regarding him, staring through thick spectacles. Carlos cleared his throat, thinking of something polite to say. “The situation with Prince Cecil’s marriage is very unusual to me,” he finally told her.

“It was time. The stars are in alignment, and it is time for Prince Cecil to wed,” Josie told him as the angels continued to polish the silverware.

“But you cannot see the stars from within Nightlantis,” said Carlos who immediately regretted his intemperance.

Josie smiled. “But I know they are there. As you know your species adaptation takes place, even though you cannot see it happen.”

Carlos shrugged, wondering how much of the outside world Josie knew about. “I cannot argue with you.”

Josie opened the sugar bowl and took out a cube of sugar with a delicate pair of tongs. A small animal poked his head out of the bowl, snorted, and pulled the lid back on. “So tell me, Carlos, what do you think of the candidates?” Josie asked. “I presume you have now encountered all of them.”

Carlos sat down next to her. “I am afraid, ma’am, that I am not impressed with these individuals,” he said, keeping his voice low lest any overhear.

“Aren’t you? And why not?”

Carlos sat up straight. “You will have to excuse me: my culture and customs are quite different from yours. However, I do not believe that any of them have Prince Cecil’s best interests at heart.”

“And you do? You who have known him less than a day?”

“I can’t claim to know him perfectly,” said Carlos. “But I believe he has … a kind heart. Certainly, there is someone else who would be a better match.”

“You have found such a companion for yourself, Carlos?”

Unthinkingly, Carlos touched the pocket in his jacket where he kept the letter folded up. “I-“ he stammered.

“It's time, ladies and gentlemen,” said Miss Hidge, clapping her hands. Carlos noticed that Cecil was suddenly by his side. Carlos stood up abruptly, nearly knocking over his chair.

“Where in heck is the mayor?” boomed Hiram McDaniels.

“She's caught on fire. This happens to mayors all the time! As the mayor's assistant, I have that capability as well.”

Carlos was poised to ask Miss Hidge whether they might have a demonstration, but Cecil jerked his head, and Carlos ended up following him to the other end of the table. Looking back and forth, Cecil surreptitiously snatched up a couple of place cards as they walked by. He then placed them side by side near the end opposite Miss Hidge. “Look! Such a surprise, we're sitting together,” he said. Babbage politely pulled two chairs back, and Carlos sat down next to Cecil.

A servant came up and poured wine for the both of them. At this point, Carlos was only mildly surprised to see that the servant happened to be an eight-foot-tall rabbit. With a word of “cheers,” Carlos drank it down and held up his glass for another. “A week!” he moaned. “Josie says I must wait a week for the portal to re-open. I don't see how my ship will stay around for an entire week searching for me.”

“Oh, I wouldn't worry. Time passes more slowly outside than it does down here. You may have only been gone for a few minutes now!”

Carlos arched an eyebrow. The wine was good, though a bit young. He swirled his glass. “Time passes differently here? Really?”

“Yes, I think it has something to do with the clocks.”

There was a clanging and clinking and stomping and tromping a general commotion as more people filed in and got themselves settled at the long table. Hiram McDaniels, what with five heads and a good ten foot wingspan, had taken up a whole end of the table and six place settings all by himself. Marcus Vansten of course brought his shiny mechanical men with him, although he'd neglected to bother with any clothing. Henry Wilcox slouched in at some point as well, though the effort he spent glaring at Carlos seemed to have worn him out, as his slumped over his place setting and said very little throughout the dinner. Even so, the table was long enough that there were several empty places. Carlos only wondered about this for a bit, though, as one of the servants suddenly announced, “Time’s up, switch places!” And so began a mass shifting of everyone going at least one place to the right. As Cecil had placed them next to a stretch of empty places, both Cecil and Carlos got fresh setting, but some people weren’t so lucky. Wilcox ended up at the place of McDaniels’s orange head, which was much the worse for wear.

“The first course!” one of the servants announced, once everyone was settled. “Mock turtle soup!” The servants began dishing out a fragrant soup.

“I’ve never had this before,” Carlos told Cecil.

“It’s a delicacy. Mock turtles aren’t easy to catch!”

Carlos dipped his spoon into the liquid, and was surprised to bring up a pocket watch. He took it out and shook it. It was still ticking.

“You’re an idiot,” said a voice.

“What?” asked Carlos. The voice seemed to come from his soup dish.

“Coming all this way,” said the dish. “And then falling down a hole.”

“Oh, you got an especially mocking version,” Cecil told Carlos. “Allow me!” He leaned over and glared at Carlos’s soup. “You lack salt.”

“What?” asked the bowl.

“And you’re hardly savory.”

“I have been expressly seasoned by only the finest chefs!” countered the soup.

“I should have advised Carlos to try the profiteroles instead. It would have been a more flavorful first course.”

Carlos stared. The soup had started bubbling, and now appeared to be dribbling out of the bowl into the saucer. He scooted back so as not to get hot liquid on himself.

“Oh, don’t try crying, we won’t listen to any of that!” Cecil told it. He leaned over with a napkin and dabbed at the side of the bowl. “Now, there, there.”

“I was only trying my best,” sobbed the soup.

Cecil motioned to the tall rabbit, who retrieved the soup and took it away. “Mock turtles act like bullies, but they’re really just insecure,” he said. “Oh, look, here is a Nightlantis speciality!”

The servants had brought out another bowl, and this time set down a box made of cardboard. The side of the box carried an illustration of a pyramid, and the logo, Flaky-Os. Cecil opened the box and shook it over his own bowl and Carlos’s. Some little rings poured out. Carlos picked one up and peered at it. “See?” said Cecil. He took one from his own bowl, tossed it up, and caught it in his mouth.

Carlos, peering around cautiously to see if anyone was looking, repeated the gesture. “Oh, these aren’t bad!” he said. It was sweet and crunchy.

“I like them with milk and sugar,” said Cecil, pouring out some fresh milk from a nearby pitcher. “And I prefer them to the imaginary corn flakes.”

“Imaginary corn flakes?” asked Carlos. Cecil pointed across the table, and he saw where Hiram McDaniels was peering into another box, this one labeled, “Mind Flakes.” There didn’t appear to be anything in the box, which was causing much frustration to several of Hiram’s heads. The green head finally spat fire at the box.

“Oh, toasted imaginary corn flakes. That’s a good idea,” said Cecil, measuring some sugar on his and Carlos’s Flaky-Os. “Now, take my advice and hurry.” Upon saying so, Cecil, raised the bowl to his mouth and began drinking his cereal. While Carlos wasn’t as bold, he did lean over and take several big bites.

“Time to switch!” hollered a servant, and, with Cecil taking a last big gulp of his cereal, he and Carlos moved again to fresh places on the right. This time the unlucky Wilcox, who was still following McDaniels, found himself at a place where the chair had been broken and all of the utensils melted.

The main courses were coming around. There were many too choose from, so Carlos followed Cecil in asking for roast goose and jelly, which contained few surprises, although the jelly tended to wriggle off if you didn’t stab it with a fork.

Vansten asked for some of the game pie, which turned out to be filled with broken badminton paddles. He got a string caught between his teeth, and had to have one of his robot servants pluck it out. McDaniels was attempting to eat some picked oysters, but it seemed they hadn’t been pickled very much at all, as they were all running around the table (which was rather odd, as oysters hadn’t any legs). He would occasionally aim a blast at fire at one, but his aim wasn’t terribly good, and he only ended up singing off Wilcox’s eyebrows.

They had just finished a fine dessert course of sticky plum duff when once again a servant cleared their throat. Carlos grabbed his cup of saloop, ready to run to another spot, but instead, Miss Hidge pinged a spoon on her glass and asked for silence.

“Now it is time for a few words from the candidates,” she said.

“I need to win,” pronounced McDaniel's blue head while his orange head blew on his cup of fried eels. “I'm the candidate … who cares!”

“What do you care about, dear?” asked Josie, who was now sitting opposite, although McDaniels's presence seemed to agitate her angel companions.

“I care about our children! And our children's future.”

“I've seen some of your children,” said Carlos. “I met a small group of them down on the lower levels.”

“Tamika and Barton,” said Cecil.

“Yes, Tamika and Barton and their friends. Do you care about them, Mr. McDaniels?”

The dragon's green head spat fire, which caught the tail of the tall serving rabbit. The rabbit squealed and ran out of the room. “Not those children,” grumbled McDaniels. “I don't care at all for those children.” He leaned forward, his scaly neck extending. “They got a most unpleasant look to 'em.”

“Sooo,” said Carlos. “You care for children in general, but not in particular?”

“Yeah. I don't for those children, in general or in particular!” He mused. “Maybe spit roasted?”

Carlos cringed.

“I am obviously the best candidate,” said Wilcox, who was struggling to collect all of his blueberry tarts in a butterfly net. The puff pastry was lighter than air (possibly because of the addition of helium, Cecil told Carlos) and so they tended to float away with any breeze. “I have the superior aesthetic sensibility!”

“I could buy you out,” insisted Vansten.

“My objets d’art are not for sale,” Wilcox maintained.

“What if I said I’d pay a thousand guineas for them,” said Vansten.

“Still no,” sniffed Wilcox.

“What if I said I’d let you keep your head,” growled McDaniels. Wilcox let out a shriek and let his turnovers escape, where McDaniels downed several of them with an especially well-aimed puff of flame.

“I am clearly the best candidate,” Vansten interrupted. “I don't see why anyone else is even bothering.” This caused McDaniels to flap his wings in agitation, which upset several place settings.

“But you can't even dress yourself,” said Carlos, somewhat intemperately. (He had probably drunk more than his share of the wine at this point.)

“What do you mean?” asked Vansten.

“Your deficiencies are rather on display,” said Carlos.

Vansten puffed up. “Well, you have shown yourself up for the fool you are! These garments are woven of only the finest imaginary silk, from John Peters's farm at the edge of town.

Carlos leaned forward. “You really haven't had occasion to read the tale by Anderson, ‘The Emperor's New Clothes?’”

Vansten, for the very first time, dropped his look of self-confidence. “Er, no. Is that, by chance … in a book?”

“Yes, of course it's a book,” said Carlos. He noticed the sounds of tinkling glassware and silverware on china had ceased, and looked around the table at an array of frightened faces. Everyone was staring at him, including Cecil. “I'm sorry, but don't people here read books?”

There was a moment of uneasy silence.

“If everyone would please listen!” trilled Miss Hidge. Everyone winced. She once again pinged a silver spoon on a wine glass. McDaniel snatched the spoon away from her and, before one of his more sensible heads could intervene, it was gobbled up by his green head.

Several figures dressed in elaborate ceremonial robes now marched in tight formation out into the garden by the table. Carlos at first took them for military, but they did not seem to be carrying weapons. They were also not the robed figures Carlos had seen down below. In fact, as they approached it became clear that they were all dressed as playing cards. Everyone at the table began to talk amongst themselves.

“Who are they?” Carlos whispered to Cecil.

“The City Council.”

“And … why are they dressed like that?”

“You don't want to know.”

“As the stars are in alignment,” Miss Hidge continued. “By order of our Mayor, the Right Honorable Pamela Winchell, and undersigned by the City Council, it is time for our Voice, His Majesty, Prince Cecil, to be wed. The candidates will complete three tasks. At the completion of the three tasks, the winner will be selected by an unbiased jury, our City Council members, from amongst those candidates who are both still living and retain most of their limbs attached.”

Carlos cringed, and downed some more of his wine.

“The tasks shall begin … now.”

Suddenly, everyone started to pay attention. “What's the matter?” Carlos whispered to Cecil.

“No one knows what the tasks will be until they're announced.”

“They're different every time?”

Cecil nodded.

“At this time, I would like to announce the first task,” continued Miss Hidge. Meanwhile, some of Miss Hidge's servants bore out a long, paper-wrapped package. They set it in the middle of the table. “This came to us through the inter-dimensional portal out in back of the llama farm.”

“Nightlantis has a llama farm?” Carlos whispered to Cecil.

“They're really alpacas, but we're not picky.”

“They're much nicer anyway,” said Carlos.

The servants unwrapped the paper. A number of identical objects fell out.

“For the first task,” continued Miss Hidge, “you must demonstrate your adaptability by putting these objects to their intended use.”

Each of the candidates grabbed one of the items.

“Impressive,” remarked Vansten. “A most impressive model of … this thing.”

“I've seen better,” scoffed McDaniels's blue head. “Many a time!”

“It looks so ordinary,” sniffed Wilcox, who stared into one end.

“What is it?” asked Cecil.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“It's a firearm, Cecil,” said Carlos. He snatched away the rifle Wilcox had been clutching: the artist had been staring down the barrel and fingering the trigger. “And you’re going to blow your damned head off, Wilcox.”

“This here is a gun?” asked McDaniels’s blue head.

“It’s a hunting rifle of some sort, though I’m not familiar with the design.” Carlos carefully sighted down the barrel, pointing it away from the table. He clicked a lever upwards and opened the breech. “It’s loaded,” he mused, snapping it back together.

He made to hand the gun back to Wilcox, who waved him off. “I want no part of this!” Wilcox insisted. “Firearms are not a wise aesthetic choice!”

“Here, go shoot someone,” Vansten told his mechanical men, handing the gun off to them. They bent metal heads over the device. “Maybe an angel, they’re a good target.”

Josie’s angels hummed their disapproval. “I don’t believe that would be a good idea,” said Josie, who was contentedly sipping her saloop.

“I wouldn’t mind a pair of wings above my mantelpiece,” said Vansten.

In reply, McDaniels flapped his own leathery wings, and his purple head roared at Vansten.

“Wait, wait. You don’t have to shoot a person,” said Carlos. “Here.” He picked up one of the empty plates from the table. “Allow me to demonstrate.” He handed the dish to Babbage and whispered to the mechanical man. Babbage, tooting that he understood, strode several paces away, and then when Carlos yelled, “Now!” tossed the plate high up into the air. Carlos aimed the weapon and fired.

The dish shattered, the shards raining down on them.

There a moment of silence, and then applause from around the table.

The City Council was silent for a moment, turning their backs to the crowd at the table. They bowed their heads together, and then a few of them shuffled to the front: 8 of hearts, 9 of spades, 6 of diamonds. The applause from those seated at the table increased.

“Oh, look! You had very good scores!” Cecil told Carlos.

“What?” said Carlos.

“Wait, we can do that,” said Vansten. “Shoot a dish,” he ordered is servant. The gold-plated platinum mechanical man swerved and aimed its rifle at the table.

“Wait!” yelled one of Miss Hidge’s assistants. As everyone screamed and dove for cover, the mechanical man fired, shattering the big tureen in the middle of the table that had held the Beef Wellington.

As the parties at the table dug themselves out, the City Council conferred again. This time after the shuffle, 6 of hearts, 8 of clubs and 3 of diamonds came to the front.

“Only three of diamonds?” yelled Vansten.

“You ruined a perfectly good tureen,” scolded Miss Hidge.

“He smashed a plate,” said Vansten, pointing to Carlos.

“Yes, but it wasn't full of food,” said Miss Hidge.

“Wait just a darn tootin' minute, I can do this too!” roared McDaniels. He tossed a plate high in the air, and then his purple head breathed fire at it, roasting it to a crisp.

The City Council conferred once again: 10 of spades, 8 of clubs, 3 of hearts.

“Three o' hearts?” yelled McDaniels.

“You didn't use the gun,” sighed Miss Hidge. “Then we have our three candidates, running in the following order so far: Mr. McDaniels, Mr. Vansten, and Dr. MacLachlan.”

Carlos was up on his feet as the table broke into applause. “What?” he said. “I'm sorry, what about Mr. Wilcox?”

“You fired the gun,” Josie reminded him.

“But … but I can't be a candidate!” Carlos protested.

“You don't want to be a candidate?” Cecil asked him, his eyes pleading.

Carlos sat back down to quietly speak to Cecil. “It's not.... I can't, Cecil.”

Cecil appeared to be blinking back tears. It tore Carlos's heart apart. “It's all right. I understand,” said Cecil, patting his arm. “You need to get back.”

“I need to get back,” Carlos repeated.

“So, am I to understand you are withdrawing your candidacy, Dr. MacLachlan?” asked Miss Hidge.

“I-” said Carlos.

“I will blacken his heart with my fire,” whispered McDaniels's purple head.

Carlos was silent. And then, scowling, he grabbed three plates off the table and tossed them out to Babbage. “Babbage!” he shouted.

The mechanical man deftly caught each plate and then tossed them up in the air, one after another. Carlos raised the rifle, causing everyone at the table to dive to safety once more, and with three quick shots, shattered all three.

The City Council shuffled and dealt: 10 of diamonds, 10 of clubs.

Queen of hearts.

“I- I formally announce my candidacy,” Carlos told Cecil.

Cecil's smile could have lit up an entire subterranean town.

“I hope you will be comfortable here,” said Cecil.

After dinner, Cecil had taken Carlos by the hand and led him across the garden to a small guest house on the edge of the grounds. But not before Josie and her angels had loaded him down with several pots of leftovers from the banquet, “In case you should get peckish tonight, dear.” He was now carrying them all, clumsily, in his arms.

The lights over the town had dimmed. Carlos guessed they did this for the nighttime here. He looked over at Cecil. His light eyes and silvery hair looked otherworldly right now. “Your hair reminds me of the moonlight,” said Carlos, feeling a little stupid as well as rather drunk. As a newly announced candidate, he had endured a number of toasts in his honor.

Cecil smiled, his eyes brightened. Carlos felt his heart flutter. “Really? I've never actually seen the moonlight,” said Cecil.

“I suppose you haven't.” Carlos considered this for a moment. “Funny, the stars determine your destiny, but I suppose you've never seen them either, have you?” But he has stars in his eyes, Carlos felt himself thinking.

“No. But I'd like to! I'd love to go outside, and have adventures. But I guess it's not my fate.”

“I've been told that my fate is to stay home and grow fat.”

“So, how are you faring at that?”

Carlos chuckled, juggling the tureens of hot food, feeling suddenly clumsy. “Well. Good night.”

“Good night, Carlos,” said Cecil. He turned to go, but then seemed to have a second thought. “I'm- I'm very glad you're a candidate.”

“So am I,” said Carlos, before he could think about it. Cecil smiled, and walked off, and Carlos watched him.

Carlos turned towards the door, but hesitated. There was silence all around him. He looked down at the pots of food. “This is far too much for me,” he announced to no one in particular. “I really wouldn't know what to do with it all.” He knelt down and placed the food on the ground near his door, and then, without a look back, entered the house, shutting the door behind him with a determined thump.

For a very short time, as little as a breath, there was silence.

And then the patter of very quiet feet, as the pots and tureens were gathered by many small hands, and silently whisked away.


Notes on this chapter: the character of Henry Wilcox is taken from the Lovecraft story, The Call of Cthulhu. As you may have noticed, apologies are also owed to Mr. Lewis Carroll.

This entry was originally posted at http://tikific.dreamwidth.org/143367.html. Please comment there using OpenID.



( 2 rants — Rant incoherently )
Jan. 8th, 2014 12:26 am (UTC)
Okay, I wasn't paying attention to the dates. he got engaged 2 years before meeting Cecil?

Ever read any Xanth books? Your mock turtle soup would fit right on there.

Is Carlos already married then? He might be. Not that it would matter in Nightlantis.

Oh, you were doing Wonderland. Gotcha. Mad Dinner Party. Well Xanth is fucking weird too, though probably too... I dunno, maybe cheesy? for your taste.

This seemed really short, but the little bar says I'm wrong.
Jan. 8th, 2014 12:48 am (UTC)
Okay, I wasn't paying attention to the dates. he got engaged 2 years before meeting Cecil?

This will be cleared up a little next chapter, but in short, Carlos's engagement was announced, and then soon afterwards, Captain Cochrane showed up and offered him the position of naturalist aboard his ship, and Carlos skipped town before marrying Temperance Hatrack. Engagements could be long affairs back then, as could sea voyages: for example, Charles Darwin was gone for 5 years aboard the Beagle.

Yes, I read a couple of Xanth books a long time ago!
( 2 rants — Rant incoherently )