Rob actually got as far as the surgery door before he bottled out. How could he tell anyone, even the doctor, that he was seeing, and talking to a character that he'd made up. That had 'straight jacket' written all over it. He told himself he was recovered anyway, seeing as he'd not seen Stepney for three days. He was sitting in the park with a kebab when he recognised Jean Docherty sitting on another bench. Rob sauntered over casually and warned himself not to ask any questions about her witnessing his 'episode' in the library.
"Rob! Nice to see you again." Jean looked up and Rob was shocked to see she had a shiny black eye.
"How did you get that?" He was getting an uneasy feeling creeping up his spine.
"Nice isn't it?" Jean rolled her eyes. "Stack of books at work."
"That's a relief. Er ... I mean ... mean it could have been worse. You know? Damaged your eye?" Rob babbled. "Anyway, you on your dinner break?"
"No. I'm off today. Actually I'm not sure how long I'll be working at the library. I could be going. Moving to another area." Jean looked rather annoyed with the prospect.
"That's a shame. You've not been there long."
"Well what can you do when the boss says jump?" Jean smiled. "I'd better get a move on. I've a few things to do."
"Nice seeing you again." Rob watched her walk over to the park gates and along the busy street. He had intended on asking her out but what was the point if she was leaving? "Probably got a seven foot boyfriend somewhere." He muttered.
"Doubtful." Stepney's voice made Rob leap to his feet in sheer fright. There she was, sitting on the arm of the park bench. As irrational as it was, Rob was relieved and glad to see her and he realised that that just compounded the fact that he'd gone off his trolley.
"Stepney!" Rob hissed and sat down quickly. He didn't want anyone seeing him talking to himself. "Stop being bitchy with the librarian." Stepney just shrugged her shoulders. "This is the first time you've appeared in a public place. It's not ideal, Stepney. Folk will think I'm simple."
"Because they can't see me. Right?" Stepney heaved. "I've been in vigil in the Temple for two days and received nothing. No divinations, no dreams, no signs. Nothing."
"Don't you go bat-shit here, but does that not suggest that it's a mistake somehow? Let's face it, Stepney, none of this makes sense."
"Doesn't make mistakes. I know." Rob said wearily. "Maybe it wasn't me you saw in your Scryers?"
"I could quite easily have come to that conclusion too. It's just not plausible though. Who else in this world would have such an extensive knowledge of mine? You said yourself, no one else knows about me except you. You can't combine that with my Scryers and deny a connection." Stepney reasoned. "I have no more information for you and what I do have is obviously not enough."
"Stepney it's not that." Rob sighed heavily. "This can't be happening. Can't you see that? It's physically impossible for you to be here."
"I'm not real. Yes you keep telling me." Stepney snapped suddenly. "I presided over two cremations today and three yesterday. The oldest one was eighteen months old. Take it from me, that was very real."
"W ... what?" Rob was horrified. He would never include something as morbid and tragic as child deaths in his project. "That's just not possible!"
"Oh will you biss off with that crap! It is possible and it is happening. If you'd stop fannying around I could take you to see for yourself."
"Right!" Rob shouted, not caring who could see or hear him. "Let's go. I've had enough of this. Come on! Take me to Lawlim. Oh and it's piss, not biss." He was on his feet with his hands on his hips. Stepney glared at him, then jumped at him. Rob yelped as Stepney put her arms round his waist and he heard the clink of metal on metal as she connected her wristbands. Rob felt dizzy, then sick, then smothered. The last thing he remembered was Stepney calling him an arse, then nothing.
Rob gradually floated awake amid the most horrendous hangover in the history of hangovers. It was twice as bad as the one he had last time and he wouldn't have thought it possible to feel so ill and not be on life support. Rob took a sharp intake of breath. The park. He blacked out in the park. The first things that sprang to mind were hospital and brain haemorrhage. He struggled like hell to peel open his eyes then seriously wished he hadn't. Even though he'd closed them again immediately, he knew where he was. He was in one of the sumptuous bedrooms in The Den, Stepney's family home in Lawlim. He knew there was a window overlooking the sea to his right, and a night-stand to his left. He knew there was a wash room leading off through a door by the night-stand. He knew there was a huge, open fireplace at his feet. He knew the walls were painted gold and he knew the furniture was solid wood. He also knew that the four poster bed beneath him had red sheets and a gold counterpane. He had to be drugged up, he just had to be. Whatever the doctors had given him had forced him into his own, screwed up head.
"Do you need the physician?" This voice made Rob yell out loud and fling himself out of bed completely. McLintock Kett was sitting on a chair by the fire watching him! "Do you need the physician?" Mclintock repeated. Rob sprang over the bed to the door to find it locked.
"Let me out!" He howled and hammered on the door in a manner that would have done Tommo proud. "I'm awake! Let me out! Nurse! Nurse!"
"It's locked." McLintock said calmly, getting to his feet. "I locked it while I had five minutes sleep and I'm not opening it for you so sit down, please."
"Stay away from me! I know who you are!" Rob darted into the wash room, which he knew damn fine was a dead end. "Wake up, Rob, wake up."
"Stepney has told me all about you and your ... opinions ... regarding Sheltion. If I'm not real, I can't be a threat to you, can I? Come out of there and I'll get you some wine."
"Wine? I need a full bloody distillery!" Rob shouted, standing at the door and staring at McLintock, the character he'd given so much of himself to. "This is incredible. What the shit are they doing to me out there." He sat on the bed as the shock set in. "Coma." He smiled weakly at McLintock. "I'm in some sort of a coma and hooked up to god knows what out there."
"Stepney warned me you sometimes spoke irrationally." McLintock handed Rob a slim glass of wine and Rob knocked it back in one go. "And drank irrationally."
"I drew all this, and you." Rob said weakly.
"I believe you're an exceptional artist. Stepney was very impressed." McLintock sat back down on the chair by the fire. "This must be very confusing for you and I have no answers. Not even our high priestess has answers. We don't know why you're here."
"That makes two of us." Rob rubbed his eyes. "Good wine."
"Made from nightberries which contain a natural sedative. Stepney thought you might be distressed and told me to offer you some." McLintock explained.
"Can I see her? I think I'm entitled to that, at least." Rob began nipping his own arm in an attempt to wake himself up.
"She's resting. Is your arm bothering you?"
"It's fine. Resting? So it was so vitally urgent for me to be here but not vital enough for her to stay awake?" Rob complained and McLintock's face darkened and was creased with a scowl. "I thought she'd be here, is what I meant."
"That's not up to you. Stepney spent four days and nights in the temple and before that it was six days. It's because of you and her lack of information that she's exhausting herself. You don't get to say when she should rest and when she shouldn't and you certainly don't get to summon her." McLintock barked.
"I didn't mean it to sound like ... how long? Four days and six days? How long have I been here?" Rob asked in panic.
"Four weeks." McLintock answered and Rob just stared at him "Humans aren't noted for tolerating the effects of magic. Stepney reckons you fared better than she expected you to. Fenton reckons you should be mentally retarded by now."
"I'm tending to agree with him." Rob muttered. "McLintock I'm as clueless as you are. I have no idea what to do and I didn't even know the place was in danger. In fact, as far I knew, the place couldn't be in danger because I hadn't written any danger. You'll know what I'm talking about if Stepney has told you my side of the story."
"Even I was shocked at that claim and I'm human like you." McLintock said seriously. "To someone of the faith, like Stepney, that was very difficult for her to listen to, Rob. You basically told her that Dinsen the Wise doesn't, and never has, guided the life paths of mortals. In fact, you insinuated that you even created our creator."
"That's because ... she must have misunderstood." Rob couldn't bring himself to be disrespectful enough to belittle someone else's icon of faith.
"That's what I suggested too. We didn't tell Fenton." McLintock smiled and so did Rob. Fenton had been awarded a rather short temper to go with his general intolerance of anything not Lawlim. A tap on the door had Rob leaping to his feet again.McLintock unlocked it and opened it to a young, Lawlim teenage boy.
"Master McLintock. I was sent to cater for Master Rob."
"Well he's awake, as you can see. Rob this is Cripps and he's been appointed to you." McLintock introduced the lad.
"Cripps? You're called Cripps?" Rob frowned at the boy and Cripps and McLintock exchanged wary glances. "What's your first name? I can't remember you but Cripps is a name I'd pick."
"Thank you sir. I think." Cripps looked at McLintock who nodded his encouragement. "Cripps is my first name, sir. Cripps Newcross."
"See? See?" Rob exclaimed. "That's exactly the type of name I'd pick! Yours too McLintock, and Fenton's and even Stepney's. They're all my names!"
"You said you didn't remember him." McLintock nodded towards Cripps.
"I don't, no. I couldn't do much with it and it didn't seem fictitious enough so I dropped it." Rob frowned again. This was getting complicated.
"I've no idea what any of that meant so I'm sure Cripps didn't either." McLintock shook his head. "Now I'm not allowed to leave you with Cripps if you're unreasonably irrational. If I think that's the case, I'm to send for another adult guard."
"I don't need a guard!" Rob said hotly. "I'm not irrational either. You don't think he's safe with me? What do you take me for?"
"It's the rules, Rob. Stop squealing or I send for Grey. He's Fenton's bodyguard, by the way." McLintock threatened.
"Billy Grey, per chance?" Rob mumbled.
"Eamon, actually." McLintock glowered at Rob.
"Yes of course." Rob muttered. "I'm fine McLintock. Cripps is more than capable of catering for me, I'm sure. If there's a way to respectfully let Stepney know I'm awake, I'd be grateful."
"If I think you're being sarcastic, I'll lock you in here with Fenton himself." McLintock warned.
"Hell I can't win here! Just naff off, McLintock, respectfully." Rob gave him a false smile. McLintock glared at him again then left. Rob could hear him locking the door. "So Cripps! About this catering stuff. What's on the menu?"
"Cater for your general needs, sir." Cripps began unpacking his shoulder bag. "I have toiletries and a change of clothing for you. You're to attend dinner in the hall in an hour, providing you aren't ... irrational."
"I'm not irrational, just a bit overwhelmed." Rob took his new clothes from Cripps then took them into the wash room. He was in a whole two seconds before he came marching back out. "You jest?" He held up an electric blue baggy shirt and matching leggings. Not trousers, but leggings. "I'm not wearing this shite! No bloody chance."
"I chose the blue, sir. I could send out for you another colour?"
"I'm not wearing a blouse and tights Cripps! I'll keep my jeans on." Rob said decisively. They heard the door lock rattling and Rob set himself to stand his ground. "McLintock, I'm not wear ... Stepney!"
"What are you roaring about?" Stepney heaved. "I was assured that you wouldn't cause problems for Cripps. He's only fifteen."
"It's not Cripps, it's these!" Rob waved his clothes around. "I can't wear these Stepney. Come on."
"So you'd go to dinner with vomit on your clothes? McLintock got most of it off but you still honk." Stepney pulled a face.
"Honk? I don't think I've ever used that word. I'll just stay here." Rob looked at Stepney. "I am hungry though. Can someone bring me something?"
"If you wish." Stepney said stiffly. "I'll tell my mother ... "
"Your what?" Rob blinked in surprise. "You have mother? How?"
"Under the circumstances I'll ignore that disrespect to my mother. Of course I have one! I thought you knew everything?" Stepney said accusingly.
"Clearly not. I meant no disrespect Stepney, you know I'm struggling with all this. I'm sorry." Rob sat on the bed and felt like screaming. He wasn't even in control in a place he'd invented.
"Lady Julia Lions." Stepney's voice softened a touch. "I had a father too, if you're interested?"
"Had? Yes of course I'm interested. I'm fed up with upsetting everybugger."
"Lord Robin Lions."
"Hey that's ... nothing. Carry on."
"He died at the battle on the west coast. He was one of those that stayed so we could escape. Me and Fenton look like him."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I mean about his death, not your looks. At least I've heard about the battle." Rob exhaled loudly.
"I can still remember it, even though I was only ten. Here, look." Stepney clicked her fingers over the water jug and Rob looked eagerly on.
"What am I looking for? I don't see anything."
"No, you won't yet. I've caused a very fine water vapour over the jug. If I pull the sunlight from the window and direct it through the vapour ..." Stepney cupped her other hand towards the window and a beautiful rainbow shimmered into view above the water jug. "Spectral Phantasm."
"Is that what it's called? I think I just described the rainbows. It's fascinating." Rob was transfixed.
"I think it's called physics in your realm. The water droplets split the white light into separate colours according to their wavelengths." Stepney explained. "Your Brian Cox told me that on the jelly."
"Telly. Yes well I always was cack at physics. So that's what the Lawlims did?" Rob asked in amazement.
"Yep! They used the sea and the blisteringly hot sun that was out that day. Talk about giving it large eh?" Stepney smiled and Rob laughed. "As you can imagine, it was pretty blinding. The humans were staggering around and throwing up everywhere. The Lawlims, or ryanairs as we were back then, can tolerate magical effects much more."
"I gathered that when Mclintock told me how long I'd been sparked out."
"I shouldn't have done that. I apologise. I should have gradually acclimatised you over a few hours. What I did was very dangerous and I put you at risk. I've been apologising to Dinsen the Wise too for being such a dickhead." Stepney said seriously and Rob snorted a laugh.
"Ah well I'm still in one bit. Don't worry about it. About this dinner." He looked at his new outfit in despair. "As not to offend your mother, I'll be pleased to go. Thank you."
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