0007 – Gareth: Captivity, Part 4

Gareth could barely contain his excitement as he counted the words of his story. Every instinct in him told him that this was a time to be hasty, to hurry forward to the brilliant payoff of his endeavour, but one mistake here could be extremely costly. Sermomancy stories had to be at least a thousand words. Karl had made a habit of ensuring each of his – at least, the ones Gareth had been privy to – were always precisely one thousand and one. Gareth wasn’t sure if this was to be on the safe side somehow, or just another of Karl’s egotistical little flourishes, but he had aped the habit out of caution.


This time, he had brought the string and the skewer upstairs, and written with them ready on the study desk. The rapid beating of his heart was making his hands shake, and he had to calm himself with slow, concentrated breathing in order to punch the holes in the lined paper correctly.


A blank cover sheet was attached. Knots were tied hastily. It was time to see if his experiment would pay off.


Gareth meticulously washed all the black ink out of the quill, and dried it thoroughly on the blotting paper. Steeling himself, he immersed the tip in the small vial of precious red ink, and poised it above the spotless cover of his pathetic little book.


He closed his eyes. The knowledge that the language he was about to write in was divined rather than simply invented made it harder to channel, somehow.


“Bugger it.” Gareth said aloud. He went for it.


O LIBOR GRAN’SWET ASST IN’OFFNE


This time, as he completed the words, traced slowly in his best handwriting, he felt a shuddering sensation make its way up through his whole body, all the way from his toes to the tips of each and every hair on his head. He had something here.


Gareth stood up with such force that the mere force of his skinny legs hitting back against the study chair knocked it over, tilting it back against the bookcase with an awkward thunk, its propped-up front legs nearly tripping him over in the cramped little space between the desk and the shelves. He didn’t care. Now was the time to give himself an essential tool. A tool that would let him escape this cottage, with any luck. A tool that might even help him find Karl, and at least ask him why.


He held the book out in front of him. Making a serious expression, and raising his other hand in a grandiose gesture, he spoke deeply and loudly.


O LIBOR GRAN’SWET ASST IN’OFFNE!


The effect was immediate.


The book in his hand felt red hot. He gave a shout of surprise, letting go. When he returned his gaze to it, the book was still in the air, precisely where he had held it, suspended by nothing at all. It was open now, its pages flapping as if blown by a great wind, or rifled through by swift, desperate, searching fingers. The story had barely covered three sheets of the lined paper from the study drawer, but the book that hovered before him now seemed to have hundreds upon hundreds of pages, its flimsy paper cover gone, its yellowed leaves bound in thick, hard covers finished in neat, dark green leather.


The final page turned. The back cover slammed shut. The book hung in the air for a moment, face down, and then gravity came back in force. The volume fell at speed, hitting the desk with a loud, blunt noise, and flipped over on its spine, its front cover gently falling shut upon a tome that was now neatly aligned with the desk’s straight edges, facing Gareth perfectly, the correct way up and ready to read.


Gareth approached gingerly in the settling silence. The book had no title, but its cover was adorned with a symbol he had never seen before. It was a circular motif, with openings at the top and bottom, with the top opening being larger by some margin. Within the circle was a mess of fine detail that hurt his eyes when he looked at it. It reminded him of a field of stars, of a waterfall, of the sun and the damp earth, but he couldn’t have said why. He found he couldn’t look at it for very long before he had to screw his eyes shut, and turn his head away.


Whatever he had made, it was certainly magical, he reasoned. But would it function like the book in his hastily-scrawled story?


There was only one way to find out.


Gareth looked directly at the book. He opened his mouth to speak, but then decided, instead, to see if there was anything written inside it already. He gingerly pulled open the front cover.


The only word in the entire book, right in the middle of the first page, was “OUCH.”


Gareth couldn’t help but laugh. He decided to experiment cautiously, seeing if the words could change before his very eyes.


“You can feel pain?” he asked.


The word on the page was completely stationary. Gareth stared at it for a while, and then quickly shut the front cover, held it closed for half a second, and then opened it again.


“YES. AND I CAN ALSO FEEL IMPATIENCE. SO DON’T ASK ME QUESTIONS AND STOP ME FROM ANSWERING THEM, LIKE YOU WERE JUST DOING.”


Joy surged through Gareth’s heart. He had done it. He had successfully practiced Sermomancy. All told, it had proven to be surprisingly simple, once he put his mind to it. He had simply reasoned it out.


What a poser Karl was, he smugly thought to himself, as he felt himself completely and unexpectedly black out.


If Gareth had still been conscious and able to open the book he had left on the desk, he may well have read the words “OH FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE” printed in large, clear letters on its first page.

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